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Is PlayStation Now Actually Any Good?

Sony has recently made a new push for its PlayStation Now service. For those who don't know, PlayStation Now is Sony's gaming streaming service, allowing you to stream select PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 games on PlayStation 4 and PC. Essentially, it's Sony's version of Netflix for video games as well as a competitor for Microsoft's similar Xbox Game Pass.

With Xbox Game Pass starting to dominate the streaming space and Google Stadia around the corner, the time seems right to see how PlayStation Now is fairing these days.

So, here is an assessment of PlayStation Now after a seven-day trial.

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THE SERVICE

As previously stated, PlayStation Now allows you to stream PlayStation 2, 3, and 4 games. The PlayStation 2 titles are the same ones that have been ported over to the PlayStation 4, so technically PS Now allows you to stream PlayStation 3 and 4 titles. However, one feature that doesn't seem to be mentioned much is PlayStation 4 titles on PlayStation 4 can be downloaded instead of just streamed. As PlayStation 2 titles are PlayStation 4 ports, this applies to PS2 games as well. It's very specific to a platform but it's a notable feature due to reasons we'll get to later.

The UI for PlayStation Now on the PS4 is pretty useful. The home page has numerous suggestions under a variety of pre-made playlists similar to Netflix. The UI, in fact, resembles Netflix a lot. It's also possible to browse by console, genre and letter. You can also search by name, have your own queue of titles you enjoy, and more. The UI for the PC version of PS Now is much more simple. It doesn't have different tabs to scroll through and only has the home page with the browsing and queue tacked on to the bottom. It isn't as intuitive, but at least the option is still there.

The library for PS Now varies depending on what you're looking for. There seems to be a decent variety of titles on the service. However, there are very few new titles available there. There's a lot of PS3 and PS4 titles to choose from but the PS2 library is abysmal.

The quality of the titles on the service is fairly decent. There are some big titles like Uncharted 4 and Grand Theft Auto V, some smaller titles, and some switch out after some time. It's not great that titles get removed sometimes but Netflix does something similar so this is no exception to these types of services.

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THE PERFORMANCE

To test streaming performance, seven games were played, two PS3 games, four PS4 games and one PS2 game. Both the PS4 and PC were connected to the Internet via ethernet cable, the PS4 in question was a slim model and the PC was an older one with nearly 10-year-old components.

First was Castlevania: Lords of Shadow for the PS3. On PS4, the graphics were grainy and slightly pixelated, but it didn't stutter or lag. Controls did have a slight delay but it was entirely playable. It never felt sluggish or unresponsive. It appears PS Now prioritizes inputs over anything else. However, upon checking a digital copy of Lords of Shadow on the Xbox 360, the game isn't that much of a looker to begin with. On the PC, the game looked slightly better but played the same.

Next up was Street Fighter III: Third Strike Online for the PS3. On PS4, the game looked great with only slight pixelation here and there, but there was some slight input delay. Most casual players will probably be okay with the delay as it doesn't feel sluggish but if you're someone who enjoys fighting games a lot, it won't be good enough. The performance on the PC was the same. Interestingly, there didn't seem to be an online match on both PS4 and PC.

Next, Prey on the PS4. On the PS4, streaming the game felt sluggish and there was a noticeable lag in the controls. It looked fine but it was not what you would call a playable game. However, when the game was downloaded it played perfectly and looked flawless. When you download a PS4 game from PS Now, it's just like having the digital version. The PC version was more responsive and is actually playable.

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Moving on, Grand Theft Auto V was next. Only the PS4 version was checked out and it played extremely well. It also looked flawless, with no pixelation or stuttering. Killzone: Shadow Fall was next and the multiplayer was tested on the PS4. While there was a slight delay in inputs, the game was surprisingly responsive. Definitely playable and there's only some slight pixelation in the visuals. After playing Mortal Kombat X on the PC to test multiplayer, PS Now downloaded the save file from the console. So, PS Now clearly works in tandem with PS Plus and cloud saves. (Side note: save data is not shared between streamed and downloaded games.)  The performance, input and online connection were all solid, even better than Third Strike Online. There is a slight delay in the inputs but this is probably being overly critical.

Finally, it was the turn of Dark Cloud for the PS2/PS4 on the PS4. Throughout the opening cutscene, the game stuttered multiple times and at one point, froze for a couple of seconds. There wasn't any input delay but the game didn't feel stable. Luckily, as it's technically a PS4 game, it can be downloaded.

THE FINAL ASSESSMENT

Overall, PlayStation Now is more impressive than you might expect, but it's not quite the Netflix of video games it wants to be. However, it is good enough for a useful rental service. The quality of the stream might vary a bit from title to title but it is often good enough that you can assess a game and decide if it's worth your time. If Sony were to add new games to this service, this approach would be even more viable.

It's here where Xbox Game Pass trumps PlayStation Now and its just a better service. It used to also be at a better price, which makes the recent price drop a smart and necessary move by Sony. As far as video games' answer to Netflix is concerned, we're not there yet, but we're are so very, very close.

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