Streaming games on PlayStation Plus works well, except when it doesn’t

castlevania lords of shadow 2
(Image credit: Konami)

The PlayStation Plus revamp has now been live for a few weeks, and fans and critics alike generally seem satisfied with the results. In addition to facilitating online play and hosting hundreds of games to download, the new PlayStation Plus also lets you stream hundreds of games to a PS4, PS5 or PC.

While streaming games to a PC is not nearly as seamless as it should be, doing so on a console works just about as well as Sony promises. I recently streamed an entire PS3 game, start to finish, on PlayStation Plus. The experience was impressive at best, and passable at worst.

A fated encounter

catlevania mirror of fate

(Image credit: Konami)

First off, I should reiterate that the PS Plus library is simply excellent, particularly if you pay for the (admittedly expensive) PlayStation Plus Premium subscription. This gives you access to hundreds of downloadable games, and also hundreds of streaming games, largely from Sony’s PS3 library. The PS3 used a markedly different system architecture than the PS4 and PS5, making traditional backwards compatibility something of a no-go. Streaming PS3 games, however, doesn’t present too much difficulty. Sony has been doing it for almost a decade via PlayStation Now – which has essentially become a part of the revised PS Plus.

As such, it took me only a few minutes of scrolling before I found a game I really wanted to play. For whatever reason, I adore the Castlevania series but had never played Castlevania: Mirror of Fate HD. This ambitious sequel to Castlevania: Lords of Shadow debuted on the 3DS, but made its way over to PS3 and Xbox 360 less than a year later. Unlike Lords of Shadow, Mirror of Fate is a traditional side-scrolling Metroidvania, with the unique conceit that you play as three different characters in three different areas of the castle, rather than a single protagonist with a huge world map.

Mirror of Fate had something of a mixed reception when it launched, but I think it’s a solid adventure that doesn’t overstay its welcome. The story has a few good twists, and the gameplay is varied enough to keep it from becoming boring.

And, like any good Castlevania game, Mirror of Fate HD is quite difficult. You’ll need expert timing for the demanding platforming sections, and split-second strategies for the unforgiving combat. If the PS Plus streaming system introduced any significant latency to the game, it would be essentially impossible to complete.

Luckily, the vast majority of my experience with Mirror of Fate HD was uneventful. That’s admittedly not exciting to write about – but it’s great news for anyone who wants to stream a PS3 game. The game worked exactly as advertised, letting me run, jump and fight with the same fidelity I’d expect from a digital or disc copy of the game. I played on a wireless connection with more than 100 Mbps down, but Sony’s requirements are fairly modest: You could theoretically get the same experience I did with about 15 Mbps down.

As for what didn’t work, it was all pretty minor stuff, and should be familiar to players who have streamed graphically demanding games before. Sometimes textures took a moment or two to buffer. The initial loading times for the game, as well as its individual levels, were pretty long. Every once in a while, the game didn’t process a button prompt as quickly as it was supposed to – and, yes, sometimes this ended in disaster.

However, there were only two recurring issues that I might consider dealbreakers. The first is that the game would occasionally refuse to stop processing a directional command. My character would continue to run to the left or right long after I’d taken my finger off the corresponding D-pad button. This meant sometimes plowing headfirst into an enemy, or off a cliff. It didn’t happen all that often, but often enough to be annoying.

The second issue was that the game would occasionally get stuck in a loading screen loop. When this happened, there was no solution except to shut down the game and start again from scratch. Given the long load times, this is a pretty tedious process. More than once, I just decided to shut the game off for a while rather than have to go through it.

While Mirror of Fate HD is a difficult game, it’s also a fairly forgiving one, with plenty of health upgrades and frequent checkpoints. I could foresee these inconveniences being much more annoying in a game that required split-second precision at all times, and punished death with lasting consequences.

Downloadable conundrums

castlevania lords of shadow 2

(Image credit: Konami)

Nitpicks aside, my experience with streaming on PlayStation Plus was so positive that I was ready to start another PS3 game as soon as I was done. Since I had never played Mirror of Fate HD, I had also never played Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2. (The game has its ups and downs, or so I hear.)

I booted up Lords of Shadow 2, and immediately wondered whether Mirror of Fate HD had been a fluke. The game looked blurry and indistinct, and stuttered and lagged almost every other frame. After a while, I realized the culprit – a PS4 game that I was downloading at the same time. It’s admittedly a silly problem with an easy solution, but it does drive home the fact that streaming titles are prone to a lot of difficulties that simply wouldn’t affect a downloaded title.

After my download finished, Lords of Shadow 2 played beautifully again, even though it was much more graphically intense than Mirror of Fate HD. But before I could settle in for the long haul, I realized a critical issue: There was no DLC.

For those who haven’t played it, Lords of Shadow 2 has a substantial DLC chapter called Revelations, in which you play as Dracula’s wayward son, Alucard. I knew that after I was done with Lords of Shadow 2, I’d want to dive in and see what other surprises the expansion had in store. However, a quick Reddit search informed me that this would be impossible. The PS Plus version of Lords of Shadow 2 doesn’t include the DLC – and since you can’t buy streaming games à la carte, there’s no way to add DLC to them.

In fact, most streaming PS Plus games don’t include DLC, and offer no way to acquire it. The only exception is if you luck out with a Game of the Year or Definitive edition of a game, but those are the exception, not the rule.

In the end, I decided to turn off Lords of Shadow 2. I’m currently waiting for it to go on sale for another platform – maybe Xbox, since you can seamlessly play that Xbox 360 game on the Xbox Series X, DLC and all. 

In short, I was absolutely enthralled with PS Plus streaming, until I wasn’t. But as long as I know in advance that I’m getting a complete version of a game, I’d stream another title in a heartbeat. The performance may never be quite as good as that of a downloaded game, but it’s good enough for everyday play – and unless you’re going for a speedrun, no one is going to be impressed by how immaculately you complete a single-player PS3 game.

Note:  With Phil Spencer giving the world a peek at an Xbox streaming device they will do well to learn lessons from Sony. 

Marshall Honorof

Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.