Earlier this week God of War returned to Playstation Now on PC, which got me very excited about playing through this stone-cold modern classic again. I hadn't used Playstation Now on PC before, though I'd had a fiddle on the Playstation itself, but basically figured it would be a more-or-less frictionless experience and that, even if I was technically still playing a PS4 game, I'd be playing it on my PC.
How wrong can one BOY be?
The Playstation Now on PC client is what I'd describe as functional: it works, and it looks alright, but it completely lacks the slickness I usually associate with Sony products. A minor irritation was that it made me verify I was a human every time while I was trying to remember my extremely unguessable password, but compared to what came next this can slide.
When you choose your game in the library, Playstation Now will in short order start up a window and the game will begin launching (if you don't have a pad inserted, it'll prompt you to do this first). Initially I thought things were going to be just fine: sure, the game was running in 1080p but the frame rate seemed solid enough, and it looked great.
These first ten minutes or so were something of an illusion, however. God of War has one of those scripted cinematic openings where you're technically in control of Kratos as he and Atreus gather materials for a funeral pyre, but really you're just following prompts in an extended in-game cutscene. This opening has a slow pace, a deliberate contrast to the old God of War trilogy which started you off fighting the Hydra, then the Colossus in 2, before 3 began on the back of a Titan.
And slow pace is what Playstation Now does best. I imagine if you used Playstation Now to go through a Telltale game or something fairly relaxed, the experience would be OK. But halfway through God of War's opening you get served up the game's first fight, and here's where the wheels come flying off.
Playstation Now simply can't handle this type of game. I've played through God of War before and enjoy the challenge of hack-and-slash experiences, so I bumped up the difficulty to the second-hardest setting. Predictably enough I got filleted in the first encounter while I tried to work out the buttons and remember this combat system's kinks, but I was back in practice with parrying attacks on the second go.
Here's where I started to detect the input lag, which is fractional but basically makes actions that require tight timing (like parrying) a nightmare. I quickly realised that, while I was indeed playing God of War on my PC, I wasn't able to play it as intended. I decided to just play on for a bit and rely on dodge-rolls rather than parrying, but even here the tiny delays began to irritate me.
You can change the difficulty in God of War, so I whacked it down just to play on for a bit longer (one of the few blessings of PS Now is that, if I want to continue, the new save will be on my PS4). It's basically fine when you're not fighting. And for a game called God of War, that's a problem.
The coup de grace came when, during one encounter, I was nearly dead but hanging on. There were three enemies, I got one down, I was battering the other two, one of them swung and I dodged… just a split-second after Playstation Now lagged for what was genuinely one or two seconds. The game just froze momentarily, then started again, and of course Kratos got clocked and died. I can take dying, I can take a game's AI beating me, but bullshit like that is the only thing that would ever make me throw a controller at the wall.
Brilliantly, I took a break to make a cup of tea and faff about, and when I returned to my PC around ten minutes later… Playstation Now had kicked me off the server for being idle for too long. This in addition to the constant little 'latency warnings' that pop-up on screen, even when everything seems fine.
I'm so disappointed by the Playstation Now experience. It kind of works but, if games that depend on precision and reflexes are unplayable on it, what's the point? I don't want to subscribe to a streaming service where half of the best games are just going to be a lousy experience if played through that service. Sony recommends a 5 Mbps connection to use Playstation Now optimally: I was playing on a wired connection with 80 Mbps download and 75 Mbps upload. Wirelessly… this has got to be impossible.
If you're desperate to see something like God of War and won't ever get the chance to do it otherwise, you could maybe just about tolerate wandering through it in easy. Then again, you might as well watch a Youtube video.
I wouldn't recommend Playstation Now on PC to anyone, particularly at an eye-watering £8.99 a month. There are many streaming alternatives available, and the only thing this really has going for it is the Playstation exclusives: many of which are beginning to trickle onto Steam. Years from now this may well be in a better place, and worth it, but right now it feels like you're paying Sony to beta test something that might, eventually, work like it's supposed to.