Playstation Now, Marvel's Avengers, and the Allure (or Lack Thereof) of a Promising Future

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Nodima

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Edited By Nodima

If you're the sort to notice regular names on the forums you hang out at, you've probably noticed I spend a decent amount of time talking about MLB The Show. In the past four years, it has supplanted the NBA 2K franchise as my go-to timekiller, a game in which the audio quickly becomes repetitive, the gameplay likewise becomes practically 100% muscle memory and 0% creativity and there is an endless drip of Diamond Dynasty content to keep fans coming back for more. As a big fan, I spent much of the past week examining how the fanbase (and curious onlookers) were reacting to the news that the game would debut on XBox as a Game Pass title rather than a $60/$70 retail product. Between the positivity of the franchise's core fanbase and the fickleness of "sports-only gamers", the results were predictably mixed.

(Here's where I'll say: I'm not going to come to any conclusions or make any sweeping predictions at the end of this blog. This is just a blog for me that I'm sharing with you. If you think that's a waste of time, I can't disagree with you!)

That's not what I found most interesting, though. What I found most interesting is that on forums like r/games and r/baseball, most of the discussion came back not to why Sony wasn't immediately offering the game on PlayStation Plus for either PS4 or PS5 as well, but that everyone (and I mean just about everyone) was comparing Game Pass to PlayStation Now. I don't know about you guys, but until this January Playstation consoles had been the only gaming system I'd owned since an ill-fated year with a Gamecube sitting idly next to my PS2. I really like Sony platforms, and I like video games enough that I'm writing this blog on the Giant Bomb forums right this second - I do not think about Playstation Now, like, ever. Does PSNow have some kind of strange market penetration I'm not aware of? Is it just an easier phrase to keep in mind than PS+ despite most other streaming-style services going with "plus" or some variation of?

I didn't care much about that either, I guess (2.2 million is the number, down 16 million from Game Pass' base) but Playstation did happen to be offering a 7-day free trial last week and so I decided to check it out. The first thing that struck me was that, and I'm sure I was aware of this at some point, the service has slowly pivoted to a 50/50 hybrid of streaming and downloadable titles. Now, there's a lot of turds in the downloadable section, but a quick scroll shows some pretty substantial titles:

  • Abzu
  • Ace Combat 7
  • Ape Escape 2
  • The Bioshock Series
  • Beyond Two Souls
  • Bloodborne
  • Brothers
  • The Darksiders Series
  • Dead Island
  • Detroit: Become Human
  • DOOM 2016
  • Dishonored 2
  • Fallout 4
  • God of War III Remastered
  • Horizon: Zero Dawn
  • inFamous Second Son
  • Injustice 2
  • Knack
  • Metal Gear Soild V: Ground Zeroes and Phantom Pain
  • Street Fighter V
  • Until Dawn
  • Wolfenstein: The New Order

And I skipped several games after MGSV just in the interest of my time. Point is, this isn't nearly (nearly) the amount of games available to Game Pass subscribers, but a person with limited budget for gaming in a world without brick and mortar rental stores could, feasibly, reasonably justify paying for this service over buying games directly. If I think back to my childhood of begging for $6 to walk down to the nearby Blockbuster and browse the shelves for an hour every Friday evening, browsing this list isn't all that different from your average trip to the PS2 section in 2002. So, trial in hand, I figured I might as well download Marvel's Avengers and give it a shot. After all, the one consistent bit of positive criticism I'd heard about the game is it's campaign is both enjoyable and manageably brief. What's the worst that could happen?

...But first, what good is a free trial if I don't give the primary function a spin? Obviously I had to stream several games and see where we're at with that tech, right? I won't spend too much time on this because anybody reading this should be able to guess what I'm about to say here, but just in case you're terrifying optimist: the situation, mostly, is pretty bad. Tellingly, if the game is downloadable, the first splash screen you see while the game loads is some friendly advice to download that game instead. The second screen is a tip that you can also use the service on a PC, which I imagine they put upfront because you're absolutely not going to want to use this service on your primary console television. The service also seems to pose a threat to the Playstation 4 itself, as these were the games I tried over the past week (here's where I'll note I stream movies on this PS4 with no hiccups or resolution problems at any time):

  • Fantavision: This game is still an unenjoyable mess to me, but it does look mostly how I remember it looking on a 17" CRT. It comes out of the gate hot, however, as I had to cut my normal volume level in half just to not fear pissing the neighbors off. A success, I guess?
  • Uncharted 2: I actually didn't have issues with controller responsiveness anywhere else, but here I just kept jumping off the damn train to my death. Weird! The game also looked like a heavily remastered PS2 game which is...not a compliment, exactly (it's an interesting look if you're a doofus like me, but I digress).
  • God of War: Felt great but with all the brown, red and black in that opening boat level it looked like absolute hell.
  • MX vs. ATV: Danny O'D has been talking these games up on the podcast lately and I figured it'd be an easy modern game to just dive into and see how it looks. Reminded me of Dave Mirra or Matt Hoffman BMX for the PS1. Controlled great, though.
  • Wreckfest: What was nice about this was I could squint and tell it was a PS4 game. I tried it with both a one-on-one and 24-car 3-lap race on a figure 8 track and it was nice to see that, relatively, the service doesn't perform any better or worse than an actual PS4. I wanted to download this game afterward, which felt like the potential of the PSNow service fully realized.
  • Bloodborne: ...And then I played Bloodborne. Or, I loaded Bloodborne. See, the service will notice if you have a save for the game already, and while I suppose in many ways that makes me the idiot for attempting to stream Bloodborne when I already own and have beaten it, this was still a pretty rotten experience. See, the Old Hunters DLC is not on Playstation Now, but my save file contains that information and so the game couldn't load either online or offline. To make matters worse, it seemed I didn't have any control of either the virtual console nor my own until I could get through to the game's actual menu, which I couldn't...and the service didn't seem interested in booting me for idling too long as advertised. I left Bloodborne running on Playstation Now for two full days with the console going in and out of rest mode (thankfully) until eventually I had to unplug the power cord and cross my fingers through the database reconstruction process for the umpteenth time. Yikes.
  • inFamous: The game booted without sound, and originally I thought this was a funny flaw in the service. I played through the intro (the game launches with inverted Y axis controls!) that doesn't allow you to pause and when I finally could paise, realized the game doesn't have audio controls at all! I dipped out to the XMB and realized I had no audio, period. I had to go into the system settings and switch to Digital Out and back to HDMI to get audio again. The game looked about as good as God of War did. I was done streaming games.

The TL:DRof it all is this: overall I think the games play perfectly good over streaming, look slightly worse than they either do currently or I remember them looking, and eventually I ran into issues that had me worrying for the safety of my entire console. I can see a significantly small use case for playing these games on a much smaller screen where the graphical issues would hopefully be diminished, but considering those last two games, I'm not sure that's worth $10/month. Right?

Anyway, Avengers!

I've already written a lot here and we all know the deal with this game so I'm going to try to limit myself to just a couple of paragraphs, but I did want to talk about this game a little bit somewhere and this just felt like the best place to do it because it sat comfortably alongside my experience with the greater PSNow framework in my head. For the low price of nothing, I finally got to experience this game beyond it's beta and see the launch campaign through to it's conclusion. You know what? This game has so much potential that I can see why it still has fans. But it also so clearly should've just got to focus on its campaign and suffers greatly from not having been able to do so. Through the five main Avengers Crystal Dynamics was tasked with summarizing the entirety of modern game development in a single six to eight hour campaign. You've got a ton of Tomb Raider in there, a lot of Destiny, a frankly daunting amount of Diablo, just a smattering of Sekiro (or whoever we want to blame for health/stun-based combat since Jedi Fallen Order also came out in 2019) and not enough polish to make any of it feel as good as it should.

But it's also a pretty charming homage to the beat 'em up arcade classics of the Avengers' earliest forays into gaming (lovingly highlighted in an arcade during the opening A-Day sequence) if you can contort your brain to interpret it that way. All of the characters feel good and just unique enough to develop personal preferences (IMO, anyway) and the combat threatens a complexity it thankfully never fully demanded, at least during the campaign. The performance of Kamala Khan is a huge highlight in the first half of the game, and while ultimately a weird hard rock remix of the MCU's Infinity War story filtered through different characters (this time it's Thor who rescues Iron Man from dying in space, and you'll never guess who's along for the ride!) on a dramatically more brief timeline, you can see that the Crystal Dynamics team really tried the best they could with the limited time they had to make a game on par with the Marvel's Spider-Men of the world.

Unfortunately, I enjoyed my time with the campaign just enough that I figured I'd give the endgame a shot and...the endgame sucks, lads. There's some vague notion of what to do immediately after besting the big bad thanks to power requirements and some hint-laden VO, but it's immediately clear that these missions are just the same mechanics you'd been tutorialized throughout the campaign. I figured matchmaking and getting to see some gloriously overpowered superheroes fighting alongside me would dull the numbness I felt hovering over each activity I was leveled enough to attempt, but in all three missions we were loaded into one of the game's bland vacant city overworlds, tasked with a mission and then given no enemies to fight. That's right buds, the enemies just didn't load in! We ran around opening chests, solving light puzzles and running in circles around Inhumans supposedly held hostage by AIM bots (heh, remember AIM bots?) only there were no AIM bots to be found. Sure, they'd load up at random elsewhere in the level as we scrambled about, but the game seemed to get these weren't the bots we were looking for and showed no interest in granting us progress for robots destroyed purely out of a sense of duty. No, it was the droids what held the hostages or nothing, and those droids seemed to have lost their RSVP.

Am I mad I played Avengers? Hell no, it was free! Would I have been mad if I'd paid the $9.99 PSNow typically costs? I suppose I'd tentatively say no to that, as well. Having experienced it first hand, I'm reinvigorated in my belief that the Anthem of Marvel games is not gonna be my bag any time soon. But I also scroll back up to that list of games and think...if for some reason I had just bought a PS4, and was otherwise fairly strapped for cash, I'd probably strongly consider the subscription for the downloadable games alone. And it made me realize that PSNow really isn't that far off the Game Pass service, as it heavily favors Sony first-party and Sony-funded third-party games, or games that are at least broadly associated with the platform due to their communities or countries of origin (again, I skipped over a good chunk of games, like Dark Cloud 1+2, the God Eater series and Valkyria Chronicles Remastered).

Which, hey, brings me back to baseball! While David Jaffe has hewed closer and closer to gaming's equivalent of...some fallen comedian I can't think of (I was gonna go with Dennis Miller but couldn't decide who that was less fair toward) these days than a treasured voice in games, he did decide to ruffle some feathers this week insinuating he knew a guy that knew a guy who knows Sony's own version of Game Pass is on the way sooner than we think. And despite being widely mocked at the time, Jim Ryan did say just this past winter, "there is actually news to come, but just not today. We have PlayStation Now which is our subscription service, and that is available in a number of markets." I see where he's coming from! Playstation Now is a lot more similar to Game Pass than I'd ever thought it was, it just lingers on in my mind as the muddy, buggy streaming service that it is rather than the curated rental platform that it's slowly expanded into being as well.

Like I said at the top, this is truly as bloggy as a blog can be so I'm not arriving at any conclusions here nor am I throwing out predictions or hopes for what Playstation Now can be, but I had a really interesting, sweet-and-sour kind of week with a trial of it and simply felt like sharing! Cheers!

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bigsocrates

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PlayStation Now has two major issues. The first is that people perceive it as a streaming service first and foremost, and think that game streaming mostly sucks. Sony has been pretty quiet about the way the service has evolved, and isn't really making a strong pitch for the download feature. Whether that's because they also perceive it as mostly a streaming service and think that should be its focus or because they are cooking up something else, I don't know, but they just haven't put that message out there strongly. And of course a lot of games have no downloadable option.

The second issue is that it lacks both the game selection and the commitment of Game Pass. PlayStation Now has a fair number of good games, but fewer than Game Pass and they come and go at unexpected intervals. Game Pass cycles third party offerings in and out in a somewhat similar way, but every Microsoft first party game (which now includes Bethesda games) is permanently on the service. And Microsoft has committed to day 1 launches of all their first party games and other games too. Sony hasn't done any of that. It means that Game Pass subscriptions will "save you money" at least in perception if you were going to buy titles like Gears and Forza Horizon anyway (or something like Outriders) while for PlayStation Now you need to wait, and the game might leave the service while you're playing it anyway.

Those differences mean that while the services are comparable in some ways, they really aren't the same thing. Game Pass lets you download a bunch of new games, a catalog of older games (many of which are permanently in the catalog) and know that there's always going to be fresh content you haven't played on the way. PlayStation Now gives you access to older games that enter and leave the service seemingly at random, with no guarantees of what's to come.

As for Avengers, what a disaster. I played the single player and I liked it fine, but it could have been so much better if it wasn't such a live service mess. Even with the decent story there weren't enough bosses, the levels were too samey and repetitive, there weren't really set pieces, and the loot still sucked, as well as many of the skills.

You see in the last level of the campaign (and a few others, like the first level with Hulk) what that thing could have been if it had focused on being a compelling single player/co-op adventure and worried about the multiplayer later. Instead it was built around the horrible end game and just ended up as a mess.

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Nodima

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but fewer than Game Pass and they come and go at unexpected intervals.

I can't speak to how unexpected/irregular the intervals are, but I will say if you look at Ace Combat 7 right now it says it will be gone in 50 days. Avengers was also announced with a finite window. They may be trending in the direction Netflix is, who has also started openly broadcasting when something is leaving their service when browsing the app.

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@nodima: If that's something they've started doing that's good, though the windows are a little bit short, especially for a "live services game" like Avengers. Regardless, there's no base catalog that's always there like Game Pass has, and I think that catalog is important, especially insofar as it includes multiplayer games (guaranteeing a large base) or "evergreen" games like Skyrim that people like to go back to. It makes it easier to rely on Game Pass as an alternative to buying stuff, while PlayStation Now is more supplemental because you don't know whether you'll like the service's selection in 6 months, while with Game Pass you at least know you'll have Forza Horizon 4, Master Chief Collection, Gears of War, and all that Bethesda stuff.

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AV_Gamer

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#4  Edited By AV_Gamer

I currently have a year subscription to PSNow that will be up by the end of April and I plan to renewal for another year. Overall, I believe the service is worth it, and the ability to download the PS4 games that are available is a big help in getting to play games I'd likely wouldn't buy. I just finished Darksiders: Genesis not too long ago on the service and enjoyed it a lot, before that game was Ace Combat 7. And I believe Outriders is destined to become a future PSNow game.

With that said, the streaming service can be a hit or miss depending on the timing, I guess. I have a direct LAN internet connection to my PS5, (was using PS4 in the past) and I have pretty good speed using a fiber optic connection. Even still, sometimes the games don't fully load in, so the image can be grainy. And sometime the game will drop. This doesn't happen a lot to be a pain, but its clear you need a powerful internet to get the most out of the service. I haven't tried it on PC, but I'll assume the connection is better since Sony is notorious for having capped internet on their Playstation consoles.

For me, the main problem I have with PSNow is the issue with PS3 games. I personally don't own a PS3, as I chose to skip that whole console generation for PC gaming. I don't regret the decision I made, but because the PS3 was made using a uncommon CPU, a IBM Power CPU, games can't be downloaded like with PS4, or even the PS2 which I'll talk about later, because of the effort Sony would have to give in making those games fully backwards compatible is clearly too much for them to invest in. So subscribers are stuck with the streaming, which again works most of the time, but does have its hiccups even on a good connection. And while the PS3 library is large and have good games, they are also missing a lot of good games because... reasons.

Which brings me to PS2. The library is very lacking which doesn't make any sense. The PS2 was the most successful console in gaming history with hundreds of awesome games available, but only a small number are playable on PSNow. You can download the games which is good, and the games available are classics, like Rouge Galaxy, Wild Arms 3, Dark Cloud 2, and the Destroy All Human and Hotshot games, but that's pretty much it. This section needs to be a lot bigger. I still have my PS2 and a good amount of games, which I could still play if I choose, but that's beside the point.

Microsoft's game pass is better because all of the Xbox consoles used a common and popular PC build. The original Xbox was a Intel Pentium III gaming system. This is the reason fully backwards compatibility exist with their first party titles. They also have more money than Sony and can pay third party developers to put their classic games on their service. Sony seems to only be willing to go but so far with that. And now Microsoft seems to be willing to spend lots of money to pull the rug out from under Sony. Like I said in another post, MLB The Show is just the beginning. Sony will have to do something to keep competing.

Finally, because I know this post is long. The original poster wanted to name a fallen comedian? I'll give that person another Dennis... Dennis Leary. After that blow up on Comedy Central over a decade ago, he never recovered from it.

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Nodima

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@bigsocrates: Oh, I agree. I only know Game Pass by headlines and hearsay but I'm well aware this isn't that. But in playing around with the service this week, I found that what's it's known for is...subpar, fine and problematic all at once (which means it could be rounding the corner soon?!) while this other thing it's doing would totally placate me if I were either a low-to-middle income parent or the child of that/those parents who didn't know much better or had no reason to complain. Seen another way, not so much unlike the Playstation Plus offering for PS5 owners to download 20 or so of the PS4's greatest first party hits: for a lot of us it means nothing, but given the right messaging, Sony is on to something.

Where I waffle on the whole thing (shout out to @alex: I neither pancake, truly cake nor onion on this question) is an easy metaphor given your current front page thread: Sony could be so bold as to position themselves as the "HBO of the 2000s" of "gaming of the 2020s", and create a subscription service that is perhaps limited in scope but argues you won't stumble into a "Shit My Dad Says" sitcom because a meme you emailed your aunt wound up on a broadcast station your grandpa watches. You buy a Sony platform, pay a Sony subscription and play a bounty of Sony-branded titles from then and now. Unfortunately, Sony's approach to the business of games appears to be...well, less than "catalog oriented".

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Nodima

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@av_gamer: I'll admit, I was shocked when I pulled up the PS2 category and realized it was about...20 games big? Smaller? This is a major space where the death of the PS3/Vita library could signal a rebirth of the PS Now library, were Sony so committed.

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Nodima

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#7  Edited By Nodima

And without addressing to anybody, I did drink a little rosé and follow up on the endgame of Avengers a bit. The matchmaking worked..."flawlessly", in that I could apply for missions I needed to play at a difficulty above my level and consistently be matched with players at what appeared to be max level or close to it and be shepherded through them. Sometimes I even survived the whole way through! I like the way the abilities interact and I think it's a little cruel that every character's most interesting stuff is locked...behind...a real Everest...of an experience system....and so despite getting matchmade and finishing many missions and generally having a good time jamming out combos with Thor and using big abilities that made the screen go boom, I wound up back where I was before. Who is this for, other than those who choose it to be for them?

And sure, that's a dumb enough sentence it could be said about literally everything were you cynical enough to do so, but I'm saying it about Marvel's Avengers. Who needs decimal representations of God of War, Uncharted, DOTA, Destiny, Diablo, Assassin's Creed, the MCU and mediocre netcode all in a single package wrapped up in Marvel IP? At the very least, wouldn't you hope this moment in Marvel would amount to more than a hope and prayer that every very good to great game from the past generation could coalesce into the game some people want to play forever?

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bigsocrates

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@av_gamer I am fairly certain that the PS2 selection is basically just drawn from the relatively low number of games that Sony ported to their PS2 emulator on PS4. Maybe they have some of their PS3 ported titles there too? But I think the PS2 titles are all downloadable and have trophies, so they're PS4 versions.

It's actually not true that Microsoft's consoles all used a common architecture. The Xbox 360 was PowerPC based (same base architecture as the PS3, though a more common and easier version) and is pretty hard to emulate on an x86 architecture. The reason that the Xbox One has backwards compatibility is that Microsoft spent a lot of time and effort (and had a lot of incredibly talented people) building and tweaking an emulator on a title by title basis. Sony could absolutely have done the same, especially with the PS5, if it wanted to. There are also licensing issues (this is the main issue around the PS2, because the games aren't popular enough on PS4/5 to justify the licensing hassle)

The original Xbox was also difficult to emulate on modern hardware for various reasons. Microsoft just put in the work, probably because they had to because they needed some positive press and also because they had a lot of software geniuses who actually could do it, the same way that they're doing a better job with enhancing Xbox One titles than Sony is enhancing PS4 titles so far (though Sony has done a lot of good work there with big games like Tsushima and God of War.)

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I think PS Now is a flawed service but it is significantly cheaper than Game Pass if you commit to the yearly sub, and thats not counting streaming on GP which is tied to ultimate.

PS Now being streaming service has limited Sony's ability to roll it out to more than a handful of countries. I think it would make sense to seperate streaming and download into seperate services, Sony could then launch a download only option into many more countries, having first party games on the serivce a year or so after release would help the appeal without hurting their sales potential to much.

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senorsucks2suck

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Hot take #7321. PS Now is a better service than Gamepass. Only problematic part for me is they never actually give you games to keep when your subscriptions lapses with PS Plus. I haven’t touched my XBox One since I played Scott Pilgrim in January. I’ve got too much going on. My subscription will lapse this October after about 6 of the last 10 years with an active subscription. So in total I have about 144 Xbox 360 games that are permanently in my collection that I never really touched because I was playing about 20-25 games. Sure the games in my collection are collecting dust but once my subscription lapses I’m going to just explore what I have an kind of leave gaming in its current form. I’m from the NES era where a game like Duck Tails or Chip and Dales could carry me for the whole summer. So a full fledged game times 114 + what I already own is enough. With PS plus all the games I get for “free” vaporize once my subscription ends. And most importantly with PS Now I’m not presented the opportunity to buy those games. Despite my interest in the games on Ps Now plus all the free games from “stay at home” I just can’t get behind there unwillingness to let me peace out of their service with anything permanent.

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@bigsocrates: I may be wrong, i don't personally use PS Now or Game Pass, but i believe the majority of the games on PS Now are more permanent and stay on there longer/indefinitely. I believe The Long Dark being added this month is staying on there, while Avengers and Borderlands are temporary. They only recently started doing the rotating catalog with a handful of newer games, along with adding downloading when Game Pass became a thing and they had to compete with newer games on a competing service. And i believe they have always stated when they are leaving when posting when they are being added that month.

---

But overall Microsoft has been pushing Game Pass much harder, especially with there first party commitment, expanding there streaming options, newly released tiles, the option of native PC versions, and even EA Play, which makes Game Pass a more appealing service personally for me. Sony has slowly built up a fairly big catalog of some older great games, made it half the price of Game Pass, added online play, but they haven't committed like Microsoft with first party games, and they cut back significantly on streaming options.

There both appealing in there own way. Game Pass has more relevant games being added and more platforms to play them on, but a smaller selection. While PS Now has apparently over 800 games and is fairly cheap, but only downloadable on PS4 and streaming on PC and all older less relevant games.