After years of having two different services that served different purposes, Sony has finally merged PlayStation Now and PlayStation Plus into a single three-tiered service. While subscription plans like always evolve and grow, this move is obviously a ploy to compete with Xbox’s tremendously successful Game Pass. PlayStation Plus Premium, the highest of the three tiers, is off to a decent start, especially for PlayStation-only players, but being decent is a bit of a harder sell when Xbox’s alternative has had so long to build to its legendary status.
PlayStation Plus Extra, the middle tier, is the one most like Game Pass and where it is easiest to compare the two. It has a selection of downloadable PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 games that run the gamut from absolute first-party bangers like Returnal, The Last Guardian, God of War, and Spider-Man: Miles Morales to a handful of excellent third-party games like Guardians of the Galaxy, Mortal Kombat 11, Celeste, and Red Dead Redemption 2 to, well, a lot of the leftover putrid shovelware that clogged the bottom of PlayStation Now’s catalog.
For those who have missed some of Sony’s first-party lineup, it’s undeniably stunning to have such easy access to some of the best games from the past few generations. It even has Sony’s undercelebrated gems like the Patapon remasters and the Gravity Rush games that are good titles in their own right, but also show how the company’s focus has shifted from these more niche experiences. It’s not a bad balance, although the sheer volume of crap is overwhelming at times and is an unfortunate holdover from the foundation it was built on. While that PlayStation Now filth can be ignored, the middle ground is more important and where most of the value is and is a key place where that streaming service stumbled.
The chasm between genre-defining experiences and OpenCritic’s Hall of Shame is large and where most games fall. Many people have played God of War, especially those signing up in the first month of this overhauled PlayStation Plus service, and almost everyone will ignore the worst games. While people like to rightfully praise Xbox for releasing its biggest games on the service, many probably get more regular use out of Game Pass through the newer games they have heard good things about, the titles they want to try first, or the ones worth a play, but not at full price. It’s why it’s been great that many Annapurna titles hit the service since the publisher usually puts out interesting releases that might not be worth immediately buying.
PlayStation Plus Extra has a decent selection of games that fall into this camp, like The Artful Escape, Telling Lies, Last Stop, Maneater, and more and those exclusively within the PlayStation ecosystem will likely find a good amount of games to play to justify their subscription. The new PlayStation Plus has stepped it up with this range of games and is where Sony should keep focusing its efforts. Game Pass has the upper hand here since Xbox often preemptively snags these sorts of titles and has them at launch. The same luxury can’t currently apply to PlayStation Plus since this is its first month, so hopefully Sony realizes that going forward and plans ahead.
The back catalog of these sorts of games is a decent gesture toward that direction, but Sony has yet to announce many games like this that are coming in the future. As of now, Sony has only revealed that Stray is launching on the service in July. One game, as cute as it seems, is hard to favorably compare to the utterly ludicrous amount of upcoming titles that Xbox has announced will be coming to Game Pass over the next 12 months. Having a back catalog of good older games has value, but possessing an onslaught of indie titles and mid-tier games to look forward to is the best outcome and, again, shows the high bar Xbox was able to set after years of experience.
PlayStation Plus doesn’t need to completely emulate Game Pass in order to be a good service or overly prioritize looking forward since Sony can succeed and also differentiate itself by looking back. There are simply more PlayStation systems to draw from and Sony has tried to tap into this with a selection of PS1, PS2, PSP, and PS3 games available on the Premium tier.
However, one of its most unique selling points has launched in an inconsistent state. Nothing points out this inconsistency more than the original PlayStation games. Adding save states, the ability to rewind a surprising amount, and a whole bunch of filters and aspect ratios (even a silly option that displays them in their tiny, native resolution) are thoughtful and necessary when rereleasing games that are this old. They work intuitively and make some of these archaic games easier to go back to. Trophies are also an excellent modern touch that give new incentives to check out these old titles for nostalgic veterans and newcomers alike.
However, not every retro release has trophies for some reason. In fact, many of them don’t. None of the third-party games do and not even Sony’s own Jumping Flash has these unlockable rewards. This lack of standardization is puzzling and makes the ones without trophies a little harder of a sell. It does not bode well that Sony isn’t mandating trophies, as the scattershot approach is likely to result in them being overshadowed and probably in just a small fraction of the games. Trophies can be the small motivation to get users to play games they may have otherwise missed or the difference-maker in choosing this service rather than emulation.
The PlayStation 2 games are weirder since none of them are new. All of the PS2 games on the services are just the PS2 on PS4 games that have been on the PlayStation Store for years. They’re technically PS4 games, so it’s peculiar for Sony to say that they are PS2 games, and seems like the company is using modern ports to cover up its lineup of weak offerings that have already been available. It’s still great to include them, but these don’t have any new features since they are PS2 games in a PS4 wrapping. This means they have trophies and run well, which is a great standard to have for all future releases, but there don’t have rewinding or save states like the PS1 games. Building out this library and expanding upon what was already there is crucial, given how many spectacular PS2 games there are and how many never came to the PS4.
The PlayStation 3 games are the sticking point since they are exclusively available through streaming. On a fast connection, they look surprisingly good and are relatively responsive, which shows how far the technology has come. It even has some of the better PS3 exclusives like the Infamous and Resistance 3.
However, it’s just not the best alternative, especially given how well many Xbox 360 games run on Xbox Series X|S. Playing these old games on old hardware that’s prone to hardware-driven slowdown independent of the internet connection when games from that same generation on the competing console run locally and better than ever is not a great position to be in. Sony has started a game preservation team and is reportedly looking into PS3 emulation on PS5, which are great ventures if it wants to beef up its PS5 library and PlayStation Plus offerings. What’s here is functional, but lacking, not ideal, and limiting since so many great PS3 games aren’t available. Streaming is fine as an option, but not when it’s the only option, especially when it is limited and doesn’t support the DualSense on PC or the Share button on any system.
Sony’s approach to its handhelds in this first month would be easy to skip, but the fact that it isn’t worth mentioning is worth mentioning. It only currently has one PSP game, Echochrome, and it’s bizarre because it’s a PSP port of a PS3 game (that’s coincidentally on the service, too). The PSP had a great library of its own original titles that weren’t ports, so not having a single noteworthy one at launch is a peculiar oversight (even though one is reportedly coming soon). Implementing a more robust PSP catalog and one day implementing Vita games would be the best way to capitalize on Sony’s long-dead venture in the handheld space. And while that can still happen, this inaugural month doesn’t give the best indication that Sony will move in that direction with PlayStation Plus.
The new PlayStation Plus has launched in a solid state, but it currently lacks in some areas when compared to Game Pass, which has had many years to find itself and achieve its greatness. The time gap makes it an unfavorable comparison yet an unavoidable one, but it’s not a death knell for Sony’s new service. PlayStation Plus was originally launched in a rough state in 2010. It only offered discounts, exclusive demos, a sporadic offering of games, and an odd digital magazine called Qore. Sony killed Qore, but expanded upon each one of those pillars and added more features like cloud saving and Share Play over the years. This history means it is possible for Sony to do the same with this iteration of PlayStation Plus and it’s starting at a much better place this time.