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Sure, it can throw together an extremely well-edited and nostalgic video highlighting the glory days of the PlayStation launch and the pill-influenced mid 90s hype of WipeOut and Parappa.
However, when it comes to making those games playable, outside of the disappointing miniature PSOne, there’s a strange absence of PlayStation’s history on its modern consoles, and no generation is more conspicuous by its absence than the PlayStation 3.
The PlayStation 3 wasn’t a failure. Not by the end, at least. Sure, it was undoubtedly Sony‘s most challenging home console – it reportedly lost billions at launch – but by the time that generation ended, PS3 actually marginally outsold the Xbox 360, a console that’s widely regarded to have ‘won’ that particular race.
But the negative sentiment was probably a good thing for Sony in the long run. Without the PS3 and the disastrous messaging that seemed to permeate throughout that generation, it wouldn’t have made such a huge splash with the PS4, laying the banana skin for Microsoft to make its own mess with the Xbox One.
As one exec involved in the consoles remarked: “The PlayStation that emerged at the end of PS3 was a much more gritty, determined, focused entity than the much more hubristic organisation at the beginning of the PS3 era.”
By the PS4 era, Sony was doing its best to make you never have to touch your PS3 again, namely by porting all of the big games from the system to the PS4 in flash new remasters. No longer would users have to dig out something the size of a George Forman grill to play the Uncharted series or The Last of Us.
Sony seemed burned by it. While, again, it wasn’t a disaster, it’s the first console, and only so far that hasn’t been a giant success. It’s the only PlayStation home console (not counting the PS5) not to break 100 million sales. It’s still the 8th best selling console of all time, but even that wasn’t enough for Sony, which very swiftly moved on.
At launch, neither the PS4 nor the Xbox One supported backwards compatibility. But eventually, in its fight to regain some of the ground lost in 2013, Microsoft invested millions into creating an Xbox 360 emulator that could work in the Xbox One’s software, opening the door to hundreds of classic titles.
Many expected Sony to follow suit. But then… nothing. While a few PS2 titles were ported to PS4 and PS Now had a modest suite of streamed PS3 games, no proper backwards compatibility function was added to the system.
That’s why when patents emerged implying that the PS5 could support backwards compatibility across all generations of PlayStation, people were excited. But this wasn’t present at launch.
Now, the new PlayStation Plus has been announced. When the service launches, players will be able to download PlayStation, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 games as part of its expanded offering. However, those looking to play PS3 games will have to settle for streaming them. Just like PlayStation Now.
That’s very disappointing.
While this hasn’t been stated publicly, the consensus is that due to the unique architecture of the PS3 and its infamous cell processor, emulating the system within the PS5 in software, (in the same way that the Xbox Series X emulates an Xbox 360), would be incredibly difficult.
However, fans aren’t convinced. YouTuber and developer at Night Dive Studios ModernVintageGamer tweeted in the wake of the announcement that emulating the PS3 on the PS5 was “absolutely possible” but that “Sony has never been interested in investing the millions to make it happen”.
Sadly, his second point is probably the real answer. Ultimately, Sony is a business, and outside of the hearts and minds of players and the preservationist community, what does it get from allowing you to download PS3 games onto a PS5?
It would argue that you can still play the games, and even though the library isn’t complete, or anywhere close, neither of the modern consoles offers full backwards compatibility anyway. There’s a romantic idea that one day you’d wake up and put every PS3 disc you own into your shiny new console, but it’s not one that’s realistic. There’s also the licensing factor which absolutely cripples certain genres of games, like sports, wrestling or driving, due to the expiration of contracts and server closures.
However, there are some series that Sony has completely marooned on the PlayStation 3. The inFamous series, PlayStation’s superhero series before they had Spider-Man, is only playable on the PlayStation 3. Despite the series getting a PS4 entry early in the console’s life cycle, and an almost yearly rumour of a collection, the three games, inFamous, inFamous 2 and inFamous: Festival of Blood, can only be played on modern consoles via PlayStation Now.
The same is true of the Killzone series. And the Resistance series. These franchises that Sony built its first-party empire on are forgotten, while only Naughty Dog’s Uncharted and The Last of Us seem to remain in the zeitgeist. Both inFamous developer Sucker Punch and Killzone developer Guerrilla have moved on to new franchises, Ghost of Tsushima and Horizon respectively, but it’s a shame that there’s no way to play these games in a modern setting outside of a streaming solution that is far from ideal.
That’s another factor in all of this. If the streaming solution was good, I don’t think as many people would be disappointed by this announcement. Not only is the steaming of PS3 games not available in every region, even in regions with fast internet, and on the best consumer internet you can currently get in the UK, PS Now is a latent, blurry and frankly, ugly way to play them.
The input delay is horrible and the image is muddy and constantly tears. I understand that in most cases it’s a 720p image, further compressed by streaming, but when blown up on any modern TV, it just looks bad.
Sony’s attitude towards the PS3 era looks clear: ‘If we didn’t bring it to PS4, it doesn’t matter’, which, considering this new £100 a year service is going to be targetted to the hardest of the hardcore Sony fan, feels like a mistake. We’re yet to see how the PS1 and PS2 are handled, but considering the games from those consoles will be downloadable, it’s likely the games will at least feel better to play, eliminating the streaming lag.
It’s truly a shame to see how PlayStation continues to treat its third generation. Much of what’s so good about the platform now, namely its focus on big, shiny first-party experiences was birthed from the PS3. The excuses about how technically challenging it might be to get PS3 games running natively on the PS5 hold less and less water as more emulators emerge in the PC scene, running on hardware far below that of a PlayStation 5.
But for now, this is how the legacy of the PS3 lives on. Instead of focussing on the great things it did and the franchises it started, it’s remembered as a hard to develop for system that has architecture so awkward that Sony would rather leave it in the past. But for many, especially for those for whom the PS3 was their first gaming generation, it’s a disappointing erasure of an important era in gaming.