What Is It?
Playstation Now (or PS Now) is a subscription-based game streaming service offered by Sony. Sitting alongside and distinct from the PS Plus service, PS Now offers a library of around 800 games across PS2, PS3 and PS4. The service launched in the US in January 2014 and made its way to UK screens a year later after Sony acquired the cloud streaming platform developed by Gaikai.
PS Now can be used either directly on PS4 or PS5 whilst a PC App option is also available. A PS Plus subscription is not required to use PS Now or to take advantage of online multiplayer, where available.
What Can I play?
Like any comparable movie streaming service, PS Now features a core of games that are seemingly always available, together with a rotating roster of games that are available for a limited time.
The headline grabbers are undoubtedly the AAA games. As at May 2021 for instance, this includes Marvel’s Avengers, released in September 2020, a true blockbuster game that adds credibility to the service. Previous offerings have included such notable titles as Control, Horizon Zero Dawn and our old friend, Lego City Undercover. As we discovered to our (temporary) cost with Lego City, these bigger budget games have tended to only be available for a limited time, the aforementioned Avengers for instance due to come off the service in July, 3 months after being made available.
Depending on when you subscribe then, you may be tempted to feel a little short changed when that game you were looking forward to or were half way through suddenly wants to change you £50 to carry on playing. Keep digging through and there is plenty more on offer. Sony exclusives are well served with Naughty Dog’s seminal Last of Us and Uncharted series, petrol heads can lose themselves in the latest F1 offering or the chaos of Wreckfest, shooter fans can prowl the corridors of hell in Doom whilst those looking for a more family friendly experience will be well catered for by a variety of Lego games, Little Big Planet and other recognised franchises.
Away from the top shelf, there are a plethora of indie titles to try. Our current house favourite is Hamster Ball, a bonkers ‘race’ game where you control your titular fur ball around and through a series of crazy tracks. Equally bizarre is I Am Bread, placing you in control of a slice of the white stuff as you try and guide it to the toaster. Or perhaps indulge your inner musician, with rhythm games such as Runner 2. Looking for a more retro experience? Step this way and lose yourself in Streets of Rage 4, or revisit PS2 and PS3 classics such as Ape Escape, God of War and Destroy All Humans.
With 800 odd games to choose from, you are almost certain to find something to while away the hours. Your satisfaction with the selection on offer will largely depend on what you are looking for and what you already have. A number of the games have already appeared as ‘freebies’ under the PS Plus offering whilst a significant number are dubious quality indie titles that you wouldn’t look twice at paying for individually.
The retro selection is somewhat lacking too. Only PS3 and PS2 are catered for, there is no representation for PS1 at all. This is a big disappointment when you consider that many of the biggest gaming franchises either began life or gained traction here. That means no Tomb Raider, Resident Evil or Metal Gear Solid, although later (PS2) versions of Metal Gear and Resi are available. Even within the PS2 and PS3 selection though, the choice is somewhat limited. Having attempted to replay the original Ratchet & Clank trilogy on PS3 recently, only to encounter a disc reading error, I was hoping to pick it up again here but sadly only the later offerings in the series are available. Similarly Resistance 3 is included but not 1 or 2, meaning completion enthusiasts are not always well catered for. There is nothing either for PSP or Vita and given discontinuation of support for those systems, it seems a shame not to have then included here, especially as I never got a change to play Uncharted: Golden Abyss.
These seem like such obvious and avoidable disappointments. Admittedly I don’t know the first thing about licensing restrictions or limitations on running some of the older games but either way, when I am paying decent money for a Sony-centric streaming service, I expect to be super-served with content, especially older games that are either no longer readily available or reliant on ever ageing tech.
Some justifiable cause to grumble then but it is worth setting these disappointments against the overall quantity of gaming on offer. Sure, there is an element of dross and churn as you might expect, including multiple iterations of some franchises when surely the latest version would suffice. Still, there is plenty more to get excited about; Vampyr, Street Fighter V, Injustice 2, Infamous, Dirt Rally, Overcooked 2, Nioh, Mafia II and Metro 2033 are just some of the big games available to play. And those indie games? In between many a dubious looking platformer are some true standouts, not least Journey and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture but no doubt other gems await to be discovered, any gloss or polish these games may lack versus their bigger studio counterparts often outweighed by the level of invention and risk taken by the developers.
One big thing to call out is the need for a stable internet connection. Whilst a handful of PS4 games can be downloaded for a seamless playthough, the majority of the collection is played via streaming and if you don’t have a solid connection, your playing experience can be seriously impacted. Even a somewhat less demanding game, say something from the PS2 or PS3 catalogue, can suffer from heavy glitching and frame drops on a poor wifi signal so if you can, use a LAN connection for the best experience.
Similarly the PC App is very much dependent on both your internet connection and PC. My rig is a fairly new build, albeit it at modest spec (AMD Ryzen 5 2400G, 8gb ram) and internet is via wifi. I tried running Control via the App and it was just straight up unplayable. Dropping down to something less taxing, I ran Ape Escape 2 for my boy to play and whilst it was tolerable, there were frequent pauses and frame drops, which were all too much for my demanding 7 year old, used to lag free gaming via the Switch.
The front-end presentation of the service is functional and largely gets you to where you want to go. The home screen gives you a snapshot of the latest additions to the service, trending games and a selection of titles based on various criteria.
Using the menu options allows you to filter more specifically, be it by genre, system or gaming mechanics. Often though I found the same games cropping up under multiple search criteria and inevitably reverted to just searching under ‘All’ and trawling through the list to find something in particular I was looking for.
Much like the PS Store, clicking into an individual title will bring up some info about the game and often let you see trailers, videos and gameplay stills, giving you a better sense of whether the game looks like your cup of tea.
Is it Worth it?
Subscription plans are available on 1, 3 and 12 month terms, with the price working out better the longer you opt for. The annual sub retails at £49.99 but shop around and you should be able to find up to a 20% discount from reputable sites. There is also a 7 day free trial option so that you can get a taste of the action without commitment.
Whether you find the package offers value for money is clearly a personal view, impacted by your current gaming library, free time to play, system set up and gaming preferences. I recently renewed my annual subscription and so this sits alongside my PS Plus sub. Overkill perhaps, especially considering the two free games offered up by the base package each month. Still, as a gaming family, PS Now offers a steady stream of content, with enough in the way of big hits, indie standouts and sheer variety to make it a worthwhile investment for us.
Not being an Xbox Live subscriber, I cannot compare it to their service. We do however subscribe to Nintendo Switch Online, which includes a retro game library and which falls someway short in comparison. Nintendo’s offering allows only a smattering of NES and SNES titles, with nothing at all from the Gamecube, N64 etc, although in fairness it is perhaps better compared as a service to PS Plus than PS Now.
The other question you may ask is whether you need both PS Plus and PS Now. Ideally it would be nice to see Sony either include them both under one subscription package or at the very least offer PS Plus subscribers a discount on adding PS Now. Again, the decision on whether to take both is certainly an individual one. Those looking for online play for games they have already committed to buy and with little interest in a wider catalogue are better served sticking with just PS Plus. Similarly those gamers who like to stick to one game at a time and consider themselves well served by the monthly offerings of PS Plus may not be interested. However for those gamers who want the ultimate in variety and options, or who want the ability to sample multiple titles without commitment to any particular one, or a gaming family such as my own seeking a games library that caters to all tastes, it is well worth taking a look.
If you had to pick one over the other, I would generally consider PS Plus to be the more essential purchase for any PS4 or PS5 owner. PS Now is however a fine standalone alternative for those gamers unlikely to ever be interested in online play and who are happy to rent their games library.
Existing PS Plus owners looking to expand their library at low cost and minimal commitment will find plenty here to enrich their current experience, with only a modest overlap with their current subscription.
PS Now is not quite a ‘Netflix for games‘ and its retro library in particular would benefit from some serious care and attention. That aside, for the price of a single game the service offers you a years worth of gaming content with a well balanced mix of AAA titles, indies and everything in between.