Last June, at a crowded venue in Los Angeles, Sony was prepared to hold its E3 press conference and finally give some concrete details about the debut of PlayStation 4. The console’s announcement had already taken place a few months prior, but gamers were still left wondering about specifics, such as price and launch lineup. With Microsoft having just cast a shadow over themselves due to the less-than-favorable policies initially in place regarding their Xbox One console, Sony came out swinging. Not only did the company undercut their closest competitor on price, but they followed up with the announcement that Microsoft’s strict policies regarding used games and frequent internet check-ins would not be present on PS4. Sony had won the praise of millions of gamers that night.
The hype did not stop there, though. The icing on the cake was the announcement that Sony’s popular PlayStation Plus service would be available on PS4 on day one.
PlayStation Plus, a service that provides discounts and a rotating catalogue of free game titles, is a subscription that has always been held in high regard by PlayStation gamers. Originally launching on PlayStation 3, and making its way over to PlayStation Vita shortly after the handheld’s launch, Plus has been one of the best values in gaming for years now. Plus not only adds several relatively recent titles to its Instant Game Collection each month, but many of the games happen to be among the most critically acclaimed titles available. With Sony launching PlayStation Plus right out of the gate with its newest console, it provided hope that some of Sony’s best early titles would be available free of charge to early adopters.
A year has now passed since the launch of the PS4 and we have seen quite the assortment of titles available through Plus. It has truly been a mixed bag of sorts in regards to the service’s free offerings and there’s no denying that it has seen its highs and its lows during its first year. Now that a full year’s worth of titles are available in subscribers’ libraries, it seems like the perfect opportunity to take a look back at how PlayStation Plus has performed on PlayStation 4 so far.
At PlayStation 4’s formal E3 unveiling, Sony seemed anxious to get PlayStation Plus started off on the right foot for the console. During a presentation for their new first-party arcade racing title, Driveclub, it was announced that a free, albeit smaller, version of the game would be available on day one of Sony’s newest machine. Gamers rejoiced; the thought of Sony releasing full retail-sized titles free-of-charge for a new console launch was unheard of. Not even Vita launched with the Instant Game Collection available right away. Things seemed too good to be true.
Unfortunately, they were. Less than a month before PS4’s launch, Sony decided to delay Driveclub until the spring in order to give the game some extra polish. This delay also applied to the free PlayStation Plus version of the game, which vowed to still be free when the game did get its eventual release.
Despite the absence of Driveclub, early PS4 adopters were still given a pair of great games on launch day: the twin-stick shooter, Resogun, and shadow-manipulating platformer, Contrast. Resogun proved to be an immediate hit; the fast-paced gameplay and addictive nature made for a game that is still arguably one of the best titles available on PS4, even a year later. Contrast, while not quite as visually impressive as Resogun, also provided an enjoyable experience. The game was not without its flaws, and certainly didn’t appeal to everyone, but for a free title, Contrast was worthy of many gamers’ time. It was disappointing that Driveclub was delayed, but PlayStation Plus still got off to a mostly positive start on PS4.
As we entered 2014, PS4 owners began to look forward to the announcement of more free titles that would be available with their subscription. The dust had settled on the console’s launch and gamers were thirsty for new games on Sony’s young platform. Unlike launch day, though, which offered two free games, the months that followed removed Contrast from the library and provided gamers with but a single new rotating title each month, with Resogun remaining as the staple of the service on PS4.
It was slightly disappointing that free games would be added to gamers’ libraries at a slower rate, but the situation certainly is an understandable one. After all, with a shortage of titles available during the console’s early life, Sony would be foolish to make a large percentage of them free right away. With the quantity of titles steadily growing, at least gamers could hold out hope for some meaty experiences.
Although the lengthy games that gamers had hoped for were still seemingly a ways off, PlayStation Plus did offer some worthy distractions until then. Early 2014 offered new titles that were mostly hit-or-miss, such as Don’t Starve, Outlast, and Mercenary Kings. The service also released upgraded ports of several PlayStation 3 titles, such as Dead Nation: Apocalypse Edition and PixelJunk Shooter: Ultimate. While none of the titles offered in the first half of the year were outright bad, none of them truly stood out as special, truly next-generation experiences. The Instant Game Collection was comprised of some solid titles, but nevertheless, it was still a library mostly made up of indie games and last-generation rehashes that wouldn’t hold gamers’ attentions forever. On the other side of that coin, PlayStation Plus was thriving on PS3, offering some of 2013’s most critically acclaimed titles, such as Tomb Raider and Bioshock: Infinite. It was still great to be getting free games on PS4, but the service was still a far cry from the greatness seen by the same freebies available on the console’s older brother.
Thankfully, the second half of 2014 was considerably more favorable. Sony decided to provide a shake-up to PlayStation Plus by offering two free titles per month on each of its three main platforms. Games were now coming at a slightly quicker pace. With the annual summer video game lull about to arrive, Sony’s digital service was prepared to offer some games of increasing quality too.
Games like Strider and TowerFall: Ascension, while not new releases, helped carry gamers through a summer barren of new titles, especially on the new generation of consoles. Cross-buy titles also helped increase the Instant Game Collection’s library by adding multiplatform games like Fez and Doki-Doki Universe, which could be played on any of Sony’s three current platforms. There still wasn’t exactly anything to write home about, but the service did seem like a notable improvement over the releases seen earlier in the year.
As fall approached, fans could finally look forward to PlayStation 4’s first major PS Plus release as Driveclub’s October launch drew near. Unfortunately, it still wasn’t meant to be. While Driveclub did recently race onto store shelves, the PlayStation Plus version was nowhere to be found on launch day. The PlayStation store updated and October’s newest offerings, Dust: An Elysian Tail, Pix the Cat and Spelunky (all entertaining titles on their own), could all be found, but Driveclub’s absence was deafening.
With gamers suspecting something was off, Sony finally issued a statement. Driveclub in its entirety was riddled with severe server troubles, and while Sony and developer Evolution Studios were working on a solution, the Plus version had been delayed indefinitely. The full game turned out to be quite an enjoyable experience (read our review here), but the last-minute problems following a major delay are cause to be concerned. As of the time of this writing, Driveclub has been out for a month and there is still no sign of the game’s Plus launch. For PlayStation Plus subscribers, Driveclub officially went from being a promising launch title to a constant disappointment. There is no doubt that it will come eventually – it was promised to gamers, after all – but for gamers who have been waiting for their first major PlayStation Plus release, this is almost inexcusable. I’m not usually one to defend gamers when they act “entitled”, but it’s hard to argue in this case. Sony dropped the ball here.
The future of the service does look bright, though. Sony recently announced the titles that will be available on PlayStation4 in December and January and things seem to be looking up. While Driveclub is still nowhere in sight, gamers can finally look forward to their first full-sized retail release when Injustice: Gods Among Us joins the Instant Game Collection in December. January, while not continuing the trend of offering a major release, is proud to give away Infamous: First Light and The Swapper, a pair of titles that are among the best digital releases that the young system has seen so far. PlayStation Plus may be slowly hitting its stride, and you can bet that larger titles, such as Killzone: Shadow Fall or Knack, perhaps, are most likely not too far behind.
With PlayStation Plus rounding the corner on its first full year on PS4, the service has gone from very hopeful to slightly disappointing. To be fair, there are some absolutely enjoyable games that have been offered this year, and not a single game in the collection has been truly bad. When you look at the heights that the service has achieved on PS3 and Vita though, expectations are understandably high. Let’s be honest – it would have been unrealistic to expect the same caliber of games to be offered on PS4 so soon, especially when the console has so few games in its first year altogether. With that said though, while the first year can be given a pass, subscribers are going to be expecting a little more from the service in its second year. As the console’s overall library is starting to see some truly amazing titles, PlayStation Plus will start to see an increased potential for some awesome free games. With the promising lineup offered in December and January, the service finally seems to be reaching towards greater things. PlayStation Plus may have had a slow start on PS4, but the future certainly looks bright.