PlayStation Now is one of the more interesting streaming projects in the gaming sphere right now, promising to deliver PlayStation 3 games not only to game consoles, but directly to TVs as well. Now that the program has entered open beta, what it offers is exciting, but the service is still very far from a product that will really wow either experienced or neophyte gamers.
PlayStation Now gets one key thing wrong right off the bat: It's not easy to find. There's no main menu shortcut to PlayStation Now, so users will instead have to rely on an advertisement in their feed (which, for us, was buried under our friends' recent activities) or access the PlayStation Store manually. This is not difficult, and not likely to dissuade any fans from checking it out, but it's still a few more steps than it needs to be.
Pricing is also an issue, albeit one that Sony is already working on. Rental prices vary wildly, although they're generally obscenely expensive. Renting a game for four hours (the shortest time available) costs a minimum of $2, and can sometimes cost $4. Renting a game for 90 days (the longest time available) can cost up to $30. Considering how old the games offered are, you could easily buy one or more of the titles for less money than that.
(The pricing dilemma is hardly academic. If you want to play madcap open-world action game Saints Row: The Third, you can rent it for 90 days for $30, buy it on the PlayStation Store for exactly the same price or buy a physical copy from a third-party retailer for about $20. The only advantage of renting it, at present, is that you can play it on a PS4 instead of a PS3.)
The game selection is solid, but a bit uninspired. Big franchises such as Saints Row, Final Fantasy, Metal Gear Solid and Resident Evil are present and accounted for, but the series are often incomplete and don't always contain the best entries. There are a few cult classics such as Overlord: Raising Hell, Catherine and Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, but a big chunk of the available titles are casual and kids' games.
Of course, the most important thing about PlayStation Now is how well it actually streams titles. Our experiences here were mixed. We tried four titles: side-scroller Guacamelee, first-person shooter Killzone 3, vehicular combat game Twisted Metal and fighting game Dead or Alive 5. Each game played just fine, although their looks left something to be desired.
We had no trouble running, jumping and fighting enemies in Guacamelee, but grainy textures and screen tearing dimmed the game's superb animation and striking palette somewhat. Graininess was endemic in every game we tried. Twisted Metal's multiplayer death match looked fine as long as we sat perfectly still, but with our characters in motion, the game looked like a mid-budget PS2 title.
Dead or Alive 5 and Killzone 3 shared the same problems. Low resolutions, rough textures and minor lag plagued each game, especially during high-intensity action scenes. Even so, we had very little trouble shooting targets in Killzone 3 or pulling off impressive combos in Dead or Alive 5; they just didn't look so good.
One important thing to note is that we tested PlayStation Now on a Wi-Fi network instead of a wired connection, as PlayStation Now recommends. It's possible that a wired connection ameliorates these problems, but not every user will be willing or able to use one — especially when PlayStation Now comes to TV sets, which may be placed nowhere near a cable modem.
As it stands right now, PlayStation Now is a functional service that is just starting to make good on its enormous potential. If you have a PS4, it's definitely worth a look, although your wallet may be a little worse for wear afterward.