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PlayStation Now (2015) Streaming Service Overview
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PlayStation Now (2015) Streaming Service Overview

Sony finally brings subscriptions to its unpopular streaming games service; Cory takes the updated PS Now for a spin.

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Way back in the dark ages of 2007 there was a service called GameTap. They advertised all over the place, had a brutal customer retention scheme that brought to mind AOL and loved to unrepentantly overcharge customers. Most people despised them. Me, I couldn’t get enough of it. For around twenty bucks a month you got unlimited access to GameTap’s enormous and varied library of games. It was more than you’d be able to play without question. As long as you were willing to fight with customer service when you were trying to cancel, GameTap was good stuff. They’re still around, but the service is now laden with C-list indie garbage and softcore porn games.

I mention it because PlayStation Now, Sony’s streaming service that so far has been known as a financial slap in the face to games consumers via absurdly-priced digital game rentals, has started offering an all-you-can-eat subscription option. For $20 a month, less if you pay for multiple months in advance, you get unlimited access to a library of around 100 games. Unlike GameTap, though, you’re not playing the games on your own system. It’s a little strange, to be sure, but how strange is it?

Well, one thing you’ll notice is that there’s definitely a little weirdness going on with the controls. The Select and Start buttons from the PS3 controller are mapped to the left and right sides of the touchpad respectively. Meanwhile, the Share button, which we’ll all look back on with a little embarrassment in five years when we remember that passively watching nerds play video games was once A Thing, still sits there as useless as ever. Expect to hit it ten thousand times expecting it to act as the Select button. You probably do that anyway while playing PS4 games, because it was a terrible idea and still is, so there’s that. Also, given the method by which you’re playing these games, you can expect a bit of input lag here and there. On my connection it was significantly less painful than I expected, but any lag at all is enough to make playing intense action games unnecessarily difficult.

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That lag is really the killer here. My connection is no slouch and I still ran into little hitches here and there, especially when it comes to audio. The experience isn’t anywhere close to as flawless as something you’d get by just playing a game on a PS3. It’s difficult to say whether it’s worth complaining about this; it’s a streaming solution, after all, so what did anyone expect? The issue is that I don’t think anyone was really chomping at the bit for this kind of thing and would’ve been just as happy with straight backwards compatibility for PS3 games. Expecting that sort of value for your money in The Year Of Our Lord Two Thousand and Fifteen is ludicrous, though, so PlayStation Now is what you’re getting and dadgummit you’d better like it.

And hey, you may actually like it! You do get a fair number of games for your $20/month. The lineup at the moment mostly consists of stuff everyone’s already played like BioShock Infinite, Batman: Arkham City and the latest annual iteration of Street Fighter IV. Sony is surprisingly generous with its heavy hitters, so God of War is present and accounted for…but as could be expected it’s not TOO generous, so there’s only the first Uncharted.

There’s a couple lesser known bits as well, largely PSN stinkers like Cuboid and Piyotama but with the odd niche classic like the HD remaster of Shadow of the Colossus. It’s also probably the best way of playing Siren: Blood Curse in its entirety without shelling out to the extreme if you’re into that kind of thing. Other good calls are a couple of Ratchet and Clanks and the entirety of the Sly Cooper series; PlayStation Now is actually pretty good at handling the sort of more orderly action you’ll see in this sort of game.

You’ll notice a couple of bizarre selections that were presumably made so the ad copy can announce 100 games at launch, like the option to stream the PS3 version of PS4 launch title Contrast. Warhawk’s there too, in case you want to try and find anyone playing a seven-year-old online-only console exclusive…well, I guess it’s got splitscreen, but you’ll probably want to stick with Goldeneye on N64 for that. And I don’t think anyone was really itching to play Planet Minigolf or Critter Crunch, but they’re here and ready for streaming. Finally, perhaps the strangest choice in the library is the otome visual novel Hakuoki: Stories of the Shinsengumi, a female-focused samurai love story that has nothing whatsoever in common with the rest of the list.  It’s the future, folks. What do you think of the future?

The more graphically intense games, like The Last of Us and Final Fantasy XIII, seem to choke just a bit more on PlayStation Now, so this is definitely not the way to go about playing those if you haven’t done so already. Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 and several fighting games, including several different versions of BlazBlue and Skullgirls Encore, were clearly added to show how well the system can handle more input-sensitive action games. It can’t. I don’t think anyone really thought it could, so it’s not going to come as a surprise, but let me restate: it can’t. Further, if there’s other people at your place using your connection, this just isn’t going to happen, so those of you with Netflix-addicted SOs or other device-loving family members might want to think twice.

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Aside from the graphical, audio and input lag it’s basically like you’re playing a PS3 game. Load times on the PS3 were never the console’s high point, so those are still pretty bad on PlayStation Now. Fortunately you can skip the system’s signature enormous half-hour mandatory installs, which is nice. Online features are also present and accounted for.

In the end, though, your mileage for PlayStation Now is going to bank on how many of the games in question you already own and whether or not you still own a PS3. You’re reading a game review site, so you probably have quite a few of them and you probably still do. In other words, it’s an interesting curiosity and not much more. If you somehow managed to skip that entire generation of games, though, then it’s a serviceable choice.

Either way, if you’d like to give PlayStation Now a shot, the service is currently offering a week-long free trial for downloading. Watch out! This is a free trial in the MMORPG sense, so they’re going to want you to sign up for automatic renewal with a credit card in advance. Make sure to cancel immediately after signing up for the trial until you’re sure you’re going to stick with it, otherwise Sony’s going to start slipping $20 charges onto your card in the hope that you won’t notice. Sneaky? Sure. Sleazy? Yeah. Pretty much what GameTap, a notoriously anti-consumer company that’s faded into a shell of its former self, used to do? You know it, and maybe that should tell us something…Either way, check out the service – and its growing platform compatibility – right HERE!