Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
The quiet, confident dominance of Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass has been a hell of a thing to behold over the last few years. Where its rivals at Nintendo and Sony have dipped into nostalgia and their back catalogues to lure players into multiplayer-supporting subscription services, Microsoft has adopted the oddly revolutionary tact of… giving players a whole bunch of new games to play, for a simple price tag of $15 a month.*
(*And here is where I acknowledge the total lack of permanence and ownership these services confer on subscribers, a state of affairs that thoroughly infuses pretty much every rent-to-never-own aspect of streaming culture. All hail physical media, etc., etc.)
Sony finally took a swing at correcting this lopsided state of affairs earlier this week, announcing an update/Brundlefly-ification of its two existing subscription services, the multiplayer-focused PlayStation Plus, and games subscription service PlayStation Now. (The fact that you also got a few “free” games a month for PlayStation Plus underscores how confusing differentiating between these two services has been over the years.) Starting later this year, the two services will be smooshed into a single one… which will then operate at three different tiers of pricing and content availability, because whoops, all confusings.
When looking at what Sony is using to lure people into going for the priciest plan being offered—the $18 a month PlayStation Plus Premium—it turns out that we find them relying on… nostalgia and their back catalogue, shock of shocks. Specifically, the new Premium service will differentiate from mere “Extra” ($15 a month) by adding an as-yet-unenumerated catalogue of games from the company’s entire library, stretching back to the PlayStation 1, and including the PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, and handheld PSP. (That’s in addition to the “up to 400” more modern games that will available through both plans, quality decidedly TBD.)
Now, look: I am not immune to the lure of the nostalgic—even nostalgia for the relatively anemic Sony catalogue. I could launch into a whole rant right now about the company’s persistent inability to keep the car combat-focused Twisted Metal franchise a going concern in the modern online era, which is just baffling because it would be so goddamn easy to… Ahem.
Point is: I do get it, and I do feel some anticipation for diving back into the greats (and not so greats) of the PS1, PS2, and PSP eras. (Y’all are going to get some Godhand in there, right? We’re all clear that you need to get Godhand in there?) But when it comes to the PlayStation 3—a console generation I skipped, admittedly—I have to ask: What is Sony going to sell to people here, that they haven’t already made available through a decade of dedicated autocannibalization of the console’s library?
The new PSPlus has already been criticized for its handling of the PS3 library, since, unlike the other generations, PS3 titles will only work via internet-demanding cloud streaming. The PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 can’t handle the emulation, apparently—which was always the reason Sony’s given for taking the PS3 catalogue and determinedly remastering, and then re-selling, every single major exclusive hit the console ever had. Which was a perfectly viable business strategy, until they needed to use the PS3 as a sort of digital anglerfish’s lure, and were left with… what? Puppeteer? A mid-tier Yakuza title? Fat goddamn Princess?
With the noted exception of Metal Gear Solid 4—a game that has remained trapped in very loquacious amber ever since new PS3s stopped being shipped to the U.S. in 2016—almost every major other PS3 title has now been either re-released, or (in the case of a game like Infamous) so aggressively recreated in sequels as to make this latest sop to backwards compatibility feel completely extraneous. Hey, kids: Who wants to play The Last Of Us?!
The end result is that Sony’s attempts to “make a Game Pass” remain a Walter White-style half-measure: Nowhere near as exciting as Game Pass itself, while lacking the blunt self-confidence of Nintendo’s whole “Fuck your Mother 3, play Eliminator Boat Duel and like it” attitude towards its own history. It’s a mess, which is exactly where the company’s subscription offerings were a week ago before they made all this noise.
That being said: Get a new Twisted Metal game, Sony, and maybe we can talk.