PlayStation recently overhauled their PS Plus subscription service. What was once simply a way to play online with a few bonus games every month is now a three tiered system offering everything from the previous basics to a massive catalog of games new and old along with a streaming service for good measure. First is the Essential tier, which is just like before at $60 a year. If you want a little extra, there’s the aptly named Extra ($100 a year) tier that includes a catalog of games on top. Finally, if you want the whole kit and caboodle, you can spring for the Premium subscription at $120 a year, which includes everything so far along with Game Trials, Cloud Streaming ala PS Now, and a host of PS1, 2, 3, and PSP classics. We’ve spent the last few days sampling everything Premium has to offer and, though it has some issues, there is a lot to like here.
Let’s start with PlayStation one games and go up from there. While this certainly isn’t as expansive as the PS1 Classics section of older storefronts, there is a decent selection of games here. Exclusive to the highest tier at $120 a year, you can access titles like Ape Escape, Jumping Flash, Wild Arms, Resident Evil Director’s Cut, Syphon Filter, and more.
Each game has some decent emulation, better than that seen on the PlayStation Classic but not exactly the best out there. The games look great on first glance, but compared to the original there’s some more texture wobble and the slightest amount of input lag introduced, though it’s possible this is simply because of HDMI. While playing you use the touchpad as Select and Start, while Options brings up an emulation options menu. Here, you can rewind a bit (a feature I always love to see), load and save states, as well as adjust visual options. Under Visual Presets are three settings: Default, Retro Classic, and Modern. Default was my go-to option not because it’s perfect – it gives the screen what looks like an overlay of dithered pixels – but because it has the least amount of weirdness. Retro Classic does have a decent scanline filter, but while it makes the image darker it doesn’t have any color bleed that those old TVs do, with pixels still looking overly sharp for the style this mode is trying to reach. Modern seems to only darken the image, so I’m not really sure what point this serves.
Moving on, you have several aspect ratios to choose from, which are equally baffling. By default, this is set to 4:3 for 16:9 which vertically fills the screen with black bars on the left and right of the image. If you have a taller display, there is also a 4:3 for 16:10 option for the same effect. It’s worth noting that the games have a boosted resolution up to 1440p internally before we move on to the next option: Native Resolution. This shrinks the image to an approximation of what the original PS1 resolution was… but needless to say it actually isn’t. The internal upscaling also seems to only benefit 3D assets, as UI and the entirety of 2D games like Wild Arms (the anime opening especially suffers here) and Mr. Driller just look bad. You’d think the Square Pixelsmode would fix this, but it actually results in a scrunched up image that doesn’t seem to replicate the original pixels in any way. Regardless, many old consoles don’t have perfectly square pixels anyway. For whatever reason, there’s a similar 1:1 mode that looks like you’re playing the game on an old flip phone. Finally, if you hate good image quality, you can stretch out the image to fill the screen. The 4:3 options are really the only ones worth using here and, while I do appreciate having arbitrary screen sizes, these options are mostly inaccurate and useless.
While there’s a lot to complain about with PS1 emulation here, I’m still happy these older games aren’t just being forgotten and are preserved in some way. For an industry that relies heavily on nostalgia with remasters and remakes announced all the time, we sure don’t take care of our history to any satisfying degree. With even licensed games like Toy Story 2 (a shockingly great 3D platformer), I hope we’ll eventually see the full PS1 library on the service because too often games are just buried, forgotten, and inaccessible. The addition of Trophies is nice as well, serving as motivation to see more parts of these classic games.
We also have a single PSP game on offer here: Echochrome. This has no emulation options but the 3D assets scale up nicely. The only issue is that the 2D assets like text and menus look horrendously blurry. If we see more PSP games on the service, I would hope they can fix this feature in the future to fall more in line with remasters like Patapon, LocoRoco, and Parapa (why isn’t this on the service?). Obviously I don’t expect full remasters, but it could look nicer.
PlayStation 2 emulation has some more positives, but the negatives still persist. Starting off, these are all PS4 apps with no PS5 versions like the PS1 games, which can already vary wildly in terms of performance. There are also no options whatsoever – what you see is what you get with no aspect ratios, filters, or rewind features. Some games like Ape Escape 2 and Jak and Daxter do have a 16:9 option built in however, which does fill the screen nicely, but I would have liked to see some built in resolution options. For example, emulators like Dolphin and PCSX2 can implement windscreen hacks. These aren’t perfect by any means, often exaggerating pop in outside of the original 4:3 screen space, but any sort of options other than nothing would be nice.
The emulation itself is very hit or miss here as well. For example, while better than the HD remasters on Vita, the Jak and Daxter bundle introduces some noticeable lag and a few graphical glitches while Wild Arms 3 feels like it runs flawlessly and looks better than the original to boot, which is surprising given that the latter game has a persistent sketchbook filter. If both of those can be considered hits, then Ape Escape 2 and OKAGE: Shadow King are huge misses. I covered Ape Escape 2 over a year ago (SEIZURE WARNING FOR THE VIDEO BELOW), and the game is still completely busted with textures and the UI flickering and glitching out. Okage isn’t as bad in terms of its 3D assets, but the UI can also break depending on how it feels that day. Frankly, it’s appalling how the new service was launched with these games still in this state, especially seeing as these only come with the highest tier.
The games on offer from this generation are more in number, but still missing a few classic titles like Ape Escape 3, Sly Cooper, and more. Personally I also take issue with the version of Ape Escape 2 being the PAL region, but I assume there’s legal issues there with the original game being published by Ubisoft in the states. In the future I’d definitely like to see more notable and rare titles added, like the Xenosaga trilogy, and of course more emulation features. If Sony wants to make this aspect of PS Plus appealing to users, the games should work, be more convenient and stable than emulation on PC, and have more features other than just trophies.
Speaking of Sly Cooper, the PS3 remaster trilogy has been completely removed from the streaming service. PS Now has been replaced by the new PS Plus streaming section, with titles from all console generations now lumped together. The PlayStation 3 was notoriously difficult to develop for, with Naughty Dog having to completely reverse engineer the Last of Us for the PS4 remaster less than a year later, so it makes sense these would only be available through streaming. The actual quality of the stream leaves a lot to be desired though, with very noticeable input lag that makes games like Darkstalkers and Asura’s Wrath unplayable. While you can’t take screenshots for whatever reason while streaming PS3 games, you can see in the Darkstalkers section of the streaming video that I get demolished in the first match of arcade mode as my main, Felicia. I swear I’m not that bad at the game, the input lag can become upwards of a second even with a good connection.
The image quality is also pretty bad, with a consistent blur across the screen in every PS3 game. Other generations of games don’t have this issue when streaming them, so I really think it would be worth Sony investing in a PS3 emulator and making these games available for download, especially if they’re going to severely downsize the selection for no discernible reason. Fan-made emulators like RPCS3 have been making great strides recently and, while not exactly perfect yet, do have options like increased internal resolution – and that’s FREE. While this generation of games did have its problems, I think they still deserve to be preserved better than this.
PS4 and PS5 games (which are included in the Extra tier as well as Premium) are more what you would expect to be standard; they run and play just fine with no emulation required. The selection here is pretty great too, though it could stand to be more expansive as always. You can play everything from games closer to the PS4’s launch like the masterpiece that is Bloodborne to more recent hits like Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. You can download or steam any of these games, and they stream pretty dang well too. I didn’t feel any lag whatsoever from Balan Wonderworld aside from the infrequent sutter from Comcast being garbo. Upon downloading the Director’s Cut of Ghost of Tsushima, I was able to import my PS4 save and start the Iki Island expansion with no hassle, and my save from the PC version of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla was right there ready to go – though sadly without the DLC. This is more so what I would expect from this service, and they should consider adding more first party games day one to compete with Xbox’s Game Pass.
In lieu of those day one games, however, we have the last part of the highest subscription tier: Game Trials. You can download and play the full version of select titles for a few hours such as Cyberpunk 2077, Crusader Kings III, Horizon Forbidden West, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands: Next Level Edition, Olli Olli World, and more. The times you are allowed to play can vary depending on the game, Cyberpunk gets about 5 hours while Crusader Kings gets 3. When trying out Crusader Kings 3, I was notified how much time I had remaining each time I booted up the game so thankfully your time doesn’t continue counting down when you’re not playing. You are also notified of your final hour, 15 minutes, and 5 minutes so you don’t get caught off guard and can save. While it will kick you when time runs out, the game doesn’t close so if you want you can purchase the game and continue playing right then and there. I actually considered doing this because I had just gotten the hang of CKIII when my time ran out.
While I think this is a neat feature, I would rather just have the full games so the service feels a bit more competitive with Game Pass (though this service is cheaper per year). Downloading a full game just for a few hours feels like a waste, and I’d rather these trials be used as demos for upcoming games.
With that price in mind, we really need to talk about the upgrade process and overall organization of the service, because it’s kind of a mess. If you already have a PS Plus subscription, you’ll automatically be induced into the Essential tier which has the exact same features as previously (online play, cloud saves, monthly games, etc.). If you want to upgrade, you first have to pay the difference of your remaining time to the new tier, for me this was $12 but if you have a lot of time left this can even go over the $120 for a full year of Premium. Once you’ve upgraded, only then can you actually buy a year and extend your time. It’s super weird and confusing, and while I was sponsored by GT for this piece I did have to pay a bit more out of pocket than was necessary.
Actually finding titles to play was a bit of a hassle as well. In both the PS5 store and the PC app for streaming you may find that some games just don’t appear on the list in categories they should, or are next to titles they shouldn’t be. For example, you’d think God of War Ascension, God of War Remastered, and God of War II would all be together but you’d be wrong. In the PS3 section, Ascension and II are separated by Resident Evil 4 and Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack in Time while Got of War Remastered is off doing its own thing in the Remasters section. I also found that some games were unavailable on day one of the service even if they were in the store. I couldn’t download Toy Story 2 because I “already owned the product” which makes no sense. This is probably because I own the PS1 Classic on PS3 and Vita, but that doesn’t make errors like this acceptable.
All in all, while I think the service is worth it so far, it has a lot of room for improvement. The emulation needs a lot of work, the storefront can be confusing, and actually subscribing to the service is a weird experience. While the sheer amount of games is well worth the entry fee, I can’t help but feel it’s competition like Game Pass or even the Nintendo Switch Expansion Pack offer something more polished and robust for the money. We’ll have to see if this new service can improve what it needs to at the bare minimum and even add more in the future, but for now if you’re on the fence I’d stick with the Extra or Essential tiers. Having said that, I’m off to play Ape Escape for the 10th time.