Where Does PlayStation Plus Go From Here? - VideoGamer.com
PlayStation Plus
Josh Wise by on Jul 4, 2022

Where Does PlayStation Plus Go From Here?

What does a former U.S. Army Special Forces operative, a Jedi on the moral downslope, and a troop of monkeys have in common? Well, two things: they all take their business very seriously indeed, and all are available as part of the new PlayStation Plus Premium subscription. I have spent the last week in the strange company of the man, the monkeys, and the monk. Which is to say that I have played Syphon Filter, Ape Escape, and Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. The latter, a PlayStation 3 game, was streamed to me, a process which, much like the Force, entails playing with ghosts, and is sometimes given to disturbance. But I am pleased to report that it was painless and smooth—not unlike the glowing follow-through as you swish a protocol droid in twain. The other two are PlayStation titles, which is to say that the former Special Forces operative and the monkeys were sharp-edged and quivering. One of the more touching things about games, in 1999, was the resemblance that they bore to anxious origami.

This is, of course, an almost unimprovable way to occupy one’s evenings. All the essential components are in place. Note the untamed swings of genre, from the spy thriller to the space opera and thence to the simian misdemeanour; the sudden surges of time, as one is consoled by old hardware; and the delicious and surreal proximity of one game to its neighbour—as though they were guests at a liquor-hazed gathering. Before Sony’s new subscription, it was entirely possible to hop onto eBay, buy an old PlayStation, hook it up to the TV, click a disk into the chamber, and squint, misty-eyed, through the electrical smog to make out your preferred game. And this remains a fine and honourable method. But the advantages of the new PlayStation Plus are soon pretty clear.

Not only are the games presented in sharpened form, with their resolutions peeled and crisp, but we are given custom save points and the power to rewind our progress as you would a videotape, spooling back through your mistakes. If you are of the firm conviction that a little fog is good for games of this era, then you can wreathe them in a retro fuzz, which rakes the image with scan lines. Funky. The shortfalls of the new service, at launch, are those of organisation and curation. It’s as if Sony had botched an attempt to wrangle the inventory of a museum, clipping its wings by displaying the genuine treasures amid the mere trinkets. Why Tekken 2, for example, rather than the universally superior Tekken 3? And why, when we have a modest selection of thirteen PS1 games, do we have Worms Armageddon and Worms World Party? Both are fine games, writhing with strategy and earthed in good humour, but even the most fervent Worms fan would admit that the two could well have begun life as one, before being sliced into separate offerings.

PlayStation Plus

As for Toy Story 2: Buzz Lightyear to the Rescue!—a licensed movie tie-in—I can’t be the only one to honour its arrival with the Buzz-like arching of an eyebrow. Nobody expects Sony to have gone beyond infinity with this initial batch of games, but you wonder about the logic behind some of these choices. You can’t help the feeling that some were plucked from the library with the cosmic indifference of the claw, and that we are expected to remain eternally grateful for the effort. Still, I would be lying if I said that there wasn’t some strange pleasure in this jumbled and erroneous approach. Imagine my thrill at discovering, for example, Super Stardust Portable, which had not been correctly filed under PlayStation Portable games but which appeared when viewing the full catalogue. In moments like that, one glimpses the potential of PlayStation Plus. Some of its titles may be in need of proper filtering, others have escaped and cavorted into the wrong categories, but its potential force is there, itching to be unleashed.

What is that force, exactly? In short, Sony has what Nintendoes: history. The Nintendo Switch Online subscription, suffused with its optional Expansion Pack, allows you to waft from Kirby’s Adventure to Kirby Super Star and on to Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards—and thus from the NES to the SNES to the N64—sucking up as much background as you wish. That way, you can inflate your appreciation for the most recent release, Kirby and the Forgotten Land. Sony, too, can provide something of a tour, taking you from Super Stardust Portable—or, if you would prefer, Super Stardust HD—to Resogun and yet further forwards to Returnal. In so doing, we trace a line through the PSP, the PS3, the PlayStation 4, and the PlayStation 5, tracking the obsessions of the developer, Housemarque, as they leap ahead and loop, intimately, back to the start.

This is where Sony and Nintendo differ from Microsoft. The Xbox, in its various iterations, dates back only to the 128-bit generation, and our pockets—alas—were never burdened by any black-and-green slabs of portable joy. No Xbox Minis, Xboxlets, or charming little Xbox 180s to speak of. (There were whispers, during the time of the Xbox 360, of the Zune, but whispers they remained.) In other words, Microsoft’s console is greener, so to speak, than the other two; it has no forgotten land of which to remind us. At present, Xbox Game Pass proffers only five original Xbox games (among them the unmourned likes of Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge, Fuzion Frenzy, and Blinx: The Time Sweeper), six if you plump for Game Pass Ultimate, which plugs an EA Play subscription into the bargain and rewards you with Black.

The primary role of Xbox Game Pass is to press onward, and in this regard it’s unmatched. Neither Nintendo nor Sony seem interested in launching their first-party lineups as part of a monthly package. And Microsoft has proven—recently with the additions of Trek to Yomi, Tunic, and Norco—to have a finely tuned nose for the reek of indie prestige. When you take into account the company’s general efforts toward backwards compatibility, it makes sense that Game Pass need pay only glancing homage to history. When your current console is already something of a fusion frenzy, selectively merging the generations into a dust-free menu, why not play time-sweeper with the past and recompense your subscribers with the promise of what lies ahead?

PlayStation Plus

So, where does that leave PlayStation Plus? Right now, somewhere in the middle. Like Nintendo Switch Online, it heralds the promise of what lies behind; but like Game Pass, it is stropped and strung with newer exclusives—Demon’s Souls, Ghost of Tsushima: Director’s Cut, Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, and several more. And the upcoming Stray will saunter onto the Extra and Premium tiers on day one. (Let us hope it doesn’t get lost and curl lazily into some hidden category.) In terms of numbers, Sony is out in front, with forty-seven million subscribers to Nintendo’s thirty-two million and Microsoft’s twenty-five million. Then we have the plenitude of PS3, PS4, and PS5 games, of which there are some seven hundred for your light-headed perusal.

How churlish it seems, then, to suggest that what PlayStation Plus really needs is more. More PS1 games. More PSP games, with special attention paid to its first-party spoils. More PS3 games, starting with the ones that were available on PlayStation Now, before the merger, but are missing in action here. I’m thinking of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, the equally cheerful Killzone triplex, and the absentee God of War entries—namely, the brace of handheld demigames, Chains of Olympus and Ghost of Sparta. And we need more of those polished-up PS2 games. Would that I could lower the blinds and dampen a broiling July weekend with the London of The Getaway—up-rendered and downbeat, where life was the colour of condensation.

Sony could use PlayStation Plus not just to burnish its best series, but to present us with pothole-free collections—and, who knows, to boost the profiles of its neglected properties. We have heard tell, for example, that Resistance: Retribution—a smart and tightly tailored PSP shooter from Bend Studio—may well be on its way. Good. But why not also give Resistance 3 the much-needed ground support of its console predecessors, Resistance: Fall of Man and Resistance 2? They are lesser works, to be sure, but, in their vision of Earth as a broken waste of inescapable brown, they tell about the shooters of their time; about the sumptuous mud of the PS3; and about their developer, Insomniac Games, whose parched craving for colour, through those drained years, doubtless led to the sugared glugs of Sunset Overdrive, and to the blasts of blue and scarlet that bind and clad Marvel’s Spider-Man. That’s the real potential of this thing: to deepen the PlayStation, to wrap its current output in context, and to send us reeling with choice. It’s little wonder that I have had a taste and all I want is more; more is what this subscription is all about. The clue is in the name.

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