The PlayStation Classic launched Monday. We've kept a close eye on developments since its original announcement, speculating on the games we'd like to have seen included and reflecting on those that finally made the cut. I haven't had the chance to review a unit myself, but having come this far, it's worth taking a good look into what those lucky enough to get their hands on a Classic make of it. Be warned: it's not a pretty picture.
Perhaps inevitably, the focus of many a review is the choice of games included with the hardware. Remember: as with the NES and SNES Classic, there is a hard limit to the games included with the hardware, and it won't be possible to add more without hacking the unit to bits and voiding the warranty. Licensing limitations will inevitably have restricted Sony's hand, here, and all in all, we felt PlayStation Classic offered a decent variety of games. Not so most reviewers, though.
"A lineup of 'classic' PlayStation games without a Gran Turismo, Tomb Raider, Wipeout, or Crash Bandicoot, to name a few of the most glaring omissions, makes for a compilation that feels decidedly incomplete and not really reflective of the system at its best," writes IGN's Tristan Ogilvie. "It's basically the gaming equivalent of getting front row seats at a Guns 'n' Roses concert and having the band not play anything off Appetite for Destruction."
Tech Radar's Nick Pino strikes a similar chord: "Using Sony's retro console is therefore a lot less like walking down memory lane, an experience we had with the SNES Classic and NES Classic Mini, and a lot more like a sample platter of what the PlayStation had to offer 20-some-odd years ago."
A consistent theme among the reviews is that many of the games look, quite frankly, terrible. "The graphics of these games simply haven't aged well," says Ogilvie, comparing them unfavorably to the stunning high-definition 3D vistas of modern gaming, but also to the sublime 2D pixel graphics of the SNES era.
The problem is exacerbated by modern HD and 4K displays, Pino, among others, observes. "The console doesn't even attempt to upscale the games and the years haven't been kind to sub-HD graphics." Ogilvie argues that such problems could have been mitigated by the inclusion of filters which emulate old school CRT displays. The NES and SNES Classic included just such a feature, but it's missing from Sony's bare-bones offering.
Further, Pino rightly points out that the original PlayStation was at the bleeding edge of 3D game development, and including very early PlayStation titles like Battle Arena Toshinden and Jumping Flash, Sony is effectively thrusting some of the very first forays into 3D gaming back into the limelight. By contrast, the NES and SNES Classic celebrate the absolute pinnacle of 2D gaming, and are therefore the more desirable machines from both a gaming and a nostalgia point of view.
The playability of some of the included games is hampered by the inclusion of the original PlayStation controller design, without the analog thumbsticks which came later with the first DualShock controller. "Rainbow 6's rigid button-based reticule movement makes it borderline unplayable, to the extent that it seems baffling as to why this game was included at all," writes Ogilvie.
Meanwhile, The Verge's Andrew Webster puts Syphon Filter under the magnifying glass. "As a snapshot of early 3D action games, Syphon Filter is a fantastic choice," he writes. But does it stand up to playing today? "Not especially. You need to dig through a menu to do something as simple as swapping your gun, and playing a third-person shooter without the ability to control the camera is incredibly frustrating."
There's more praise for the 2D games included on the Classic, namely Mr Driller and Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo. "The 2D games hold up a lot better visually," argues IGN's Ogilvie. "And perhaps that's why I spent most of my time with the PlayStation Classic returning to beat my best scores in Mr Driller and Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, which both remain as wonderfully addictive today as ever."
Digital Foundry's appraisal is rather kinder to the game selection, though the same cannot be said for the quality of the emulation. The Classic "should offer more than enough power to emulate the original console with ease," writes DF's John Linneman. "The problem is, it doesn't."
Though many reviews point out that the Classic includes a mixture of both PAL and NTSC games, Digital Foundry is scathing on this point. "As expected, all nine of the included PAL titles run slower (though the letterboxing is eliminated) but the problem is exacerbated on PlayStation Classic. The reason? The 50 Hz gameplay of these titles is dropped into the Classic's 60 Hz output resulting in significant judder." But even the NTSC titles, like Ridge Racer Type 4, suffer. " There is actual slowdown on the PS Classic that was not present on original hardware."
In fact, Digital Foundry laments performance almost across the board, labeling it "quite possibly the worst piece of console hardware Sony has ever released," complaining that even the 2D games are "reduced to a blurry mess."
There's a small disconnect here between Digital Foundry and most other reviews, as in the Foundry's case it's the hardware and performance that's the problem, not the game selection. Few other reviews touch on frame rate issues, which raises the question of whether those reviewers are familiar with the original hardware and games, or whether Digital Foundry is over-emphasizing performance drops, reducing them to the numbers game. For my money, Digital Foundry makes a compelling case for the performance issues being a noticeable problem for anyone familiar with the originals. Which is a shame, as this means a piece of hardware designed to honor the original PlayStation ends up doing it a disservice.
And remember – this thing doesn't have an internet connection, so there's no hope of a patch to fix said issues. Perhaps Sony will see fit to rectify them for later models. As Linneman says, if your goal is to revisit PlayStation classics, there are better ways to do so. "A PlayStation 3 is a great choice and shouldn't cost much more than a PS Classic. The PSP and Vita are also excellent for enjoying PS1 games," as is the PSP Go, he writes.
On the other hand, if you're looking for pure retro nostalgia or a lightweight machine to take on vacation, then perhaps look at the SNES Classic which seems to be unarguably a better machine with better games.
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