This November, the PS5 will celebrate its second birthday. Despite some first party bangers – Returnal, I'm looking at you – so far, Sony’s machine’s got off to less of a running start and more of an agonising crawl. It’s a problem that Microsoft’s new boxes aren’t immune to either, but cunningly, Xbox has pulled a rabbit out of a hat. The name of its new floppy-eared friend? Game Pass. While Microsoft has been quietly collecting studios and Sony releases a steady stream of exclusives, by Year Two, there’s one clear winner of this console generation: Game Pass.
Boasting over 25 million subscribers and winning over the hearts and minds of value-loving gamers, the slow-build service has been genuinely disruptive to the video games industry. It’s seen this console generation defined less by ‘next gen’ release and more by a shiny new way to consume them. WIth fan twitter accounts happily parroting Xbox’s ‘best deal in gaming’ and fanboyism now gleefully extending to subscription services, it seemed the battle lines for this generation have already been drawn. It was inevitable then, that Sony would throw itself into the subscription service skirmish. It's chosen battle-ready champion? An all-new, three-tiered PS Plus offering.
Rolling out worldwide last month, in these early days, it’s hardly been the valiant comeback Sony hoped for. Following months of leaked information, PS Plus’s 2.0 ‘grand’ reveal was fired out with… well, less of a bang and more an inaudible whimper. Light on PS1 and PS2 classics and looking from a distance like Poundland Game Pass, Sony’s initial offering reeked of a quick money grab. A poorly copied scrap of ‘subscription service 101’ homework. Yet, it turns out, the reality is far from the disaster it seems.
Despite the internet trolling paid ads for the service and gamers gleefully stroking their Game Pass giftcards, after living with the PlayStation Plus Premium sub for over a month – it’s actually solid value. While it look suspiciously like a rip off from afar, after actually using it, I’m now very much a believer. The first thing that surprised me was how cheap the upgrade path is from ye olde PS Plus: if you’re a V1 PS Plus subscriber – now known as PlayStation Plus Essential – the fee to upgrade for the rest of the year is surprisingly reasonable.
Switching my existing membership to the top tier ‘Premium’ membership only cost me an additional £27.99, and it gave me the keys to an embarrassment of riches. Granting players immediate access to Returnal, Stray, Ghost Of Tsushima Director’s Cut, Demon Souls and Miles Morales – to name a few – you’re given free reign to most of the PS5’s crown jewels. Considering buying the £24.99 Stray or upgrading to Ghost of Tsushima’s Director’s Cut anyway? Just chuck the same price into your upgrade and you’ll find your score and a bit offering up a lot more.
For those equally insatiable nerds like me who also have Game Pass, make no mistake – this is not the same thing. Unlike Microsoft's first-party Day One launches, Sony President Jim Ryan has made it very clear that PS Plus won’t get release day access to every Sony blockbuster. Yet with all the PS5 launch year titles already here and Sony’s star-studded enviable back catalogue beckoning, it’s hard to really care.
On top of the aforementioned PS5 gems, both shiny new tiers of PS Plus provide enough beloved PS4 first party content to shake a Kratos Plushie at. From your God Of Wars, to the brilliant PS4 port of Shadow Of The Colossus, The Last of Us to The Last Guardian, and, er, Days Gone to Until Dawn, there’s an awful lot of critically acclaimed experiences for subscribers to dive into. And that’s before you even get into this virtual treasure chest of retro offerings. Boasting a growing collection of downloadable PS1 and PS2 classics, streamable PS3 bangers and cross-generation third party releases, PS Plus’ pricey Premium tier is – whisper it – good value.
While it’s missing a fair amount of the breadth of Game Pass’ third party lineup, PS Plus Extra and Premium’s early lineup shows promise. Boasting PS4 bangers like Red Dead Redemption 2, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla (and the best one in the series, Black Flag), Mafia 1 and 2 Definitive Editions, the Bioshock games and Final Fantasy 7 through 12 – just to name a few. Even in month two, there’s no shortage of genuinely brilliant releases. Add on the recent announcement of eight Yakuza titles to the mix and increasing Ubisoft support, and it’s plausible that many of Game Pass’s most beloved third-party releases will eventually find their way onto Sony’s service.
Still, it’s not all wins here. My main complaint so far is that there’s a massive amount of retro bangers missing from the growing catalogue. While there are undoubtedly some stone cold classics – Ape Escape to Tekken 2, Jak 2 to Dark Cloud and Syphon Filter to Oddworld: Abe’s Odyssey – there’s currently no Metal Gear Solid, SSX, Spyro, or Crash. Thankfully, the slyly rebranded streaming service for PS3 games fares much better: I’ve already gushed in a different article about what a delight it was to finally play Ico on PS Plus, and sitting alongside other lost PS3 classics like Tokyo Jungle, here’s hoping this is the first step to finally getting Metal Gear Solid 4 playable outside of your PS3.
PS3’s wonky processor-forcing streaming aside, what the new and improved PS Plus offers will look fairly familiar to anyone who’s used Game Pass. Amidst all the something old and something borrowed, there is one unique offering on Sony’s service, however - Game Trials. Only available on the priciest (Premium) tier, these extended demos give you five hours with brand new games. So far it's slim pickings, but the two biggest titles are Horizon Forbidden West and Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands. While first-party offerings on Xbox would simply be free, given Sony’s very public reluctance to do the same, it offers a fairly reasonable compromise.
If the ability to play anything pre-PS4 doesn’t interest you, PS Plus Extra tier simply lets you access the PS4 and PS5 game library for a tenner less a year, setting you back £83.99 for 12 months. For this writer, the extra £15 a year for Premium sub is a no-brainer, but if older games (blasphemously) do nothing for you, you may want to save that £15 and buy yourself five extra coffees.
For those who have yet to play many – or even a handful – of Sony’s first-party exclusives, PS Plus' two new tiers are the best introduction to PlayStation you could have. If you’ve just bought a PS5 and don’t really fancy shelling out £60 a game, this is by far the cheapest way to put your new machine through its paces. Sure, PS Plus’ priciest podium currently lacks the impressive third party extravaganza of Game Pass, but as PS2, PSP, PS3, and PS1 titles get added, it’s hard not to get excited by the new PS Plus’ potential.
Still, with times getting tough for people everywhere – and especially in the UK – I’m all too aware that costly subscription services don't exist in a vacuum. For this writer, however, being able to dive into a wealth of beloved PS Plus games has given me a reason to turn on my PS5 for the first time in months. Is it as good a value proposition as Game Pass? In its current state,definitely not, but given the steady stream of titles added to its burgeoning back catalogue, in a few months time it just might be.