The 20 Best Games on PlayStation Now
Photo-Illustration: by Vulture; Photos by Annapurna Interactive, SUPERHOT Team and Sony Interactive Entertainment
Playstation Now, Sony’s gaming subscription service, doesn’t boast the same catalogue strength as Microsoft’s equivalent, Xbox Game Pass. The titles available are usually older and past their zeitgeist, which doesn’t compete with Microsoft’s willingness to put brand-new games on the service as soon as they release to the public. But, as always, Sony has an ace up its sleeve; the vast, varied, and consistently enthralling archive of Playstation classics. Sony has spent the past 20 years establishing itself as the premiere destination for ambitious single-player experiences, and that means that the Playstation Now gallery is lined with Metal Gears, God of Wars, and Uncharteds. If you missed out on the reigns of the PS2, PS3, and PS4, the service is an absolute trove.
We collected the 20 best games currently available on Playstation Now with a focus on that tradition. The entries below are mostly single-player, and almost all of them soaked up a few Game of the Year nominations when they were first released. Ideally, in the future, Sony will grow more aggressive with its subscription service and allow for, say, last year’s The Last of Us Part 2 to be part of the package from the start. Until then, we’ll just need to be satisfied with dozens of masterstrokes from the storied history of the Playstation, which is quite a compromise indeed.
Shadow of the Colossus is a puzzle game. A hapless boy with a magical sword is hunting down 16 mammoths, primordial giants strewn across a forbidden land. Each of them could crush him like a bug, but he succeeds by noticing small openings in their routines, which let him scale the colossi like King Kong and the Empire State Building. The boy plunges the sword into a seal printed on their bodies, and moves on to the next one. The fights are exhilarating, but what makes Shadow of the Colossus transcendent is its subversive, understated story. That creeping sensation in the back of your head — the floating guilt that comes from toppling these ancient, peaceful beings — comes full bloom in the game’s waning moments; 16 years after release, Shadow is still one of a kind.
About a decade ago, indie studios around the world started putting out these first-person horror games that feature an unarmed solitary protagonist excavating a world gone very, very wrong. Frictional Games pioneered the movement with Amnesia: The Dark Descent, but for my money, Soma remains their best work. The studio’s suspense instincts are still here; this is a game that takes place in a rotting underwater research lab stalked by some truly upsetting barnacalized mutants. (As before, your only offense is to hide and pray.) But Soma is at its best when it digs into its setting, and forces the player to address some esoteric questions about the nature of consciousness. If you’re a Matrix fan, or a defender of Mass Effect’s digital synthesis ending, this is right up your alley.
The first game in the Last of Us franchise feels a little clumsy by modern standards. Developer Naughty Dog broke new ground with last year’s sequel, which showed up with a sublimely fluid stealth-combat apparatus. But the original Last of Us still packs an incredible, airtight narrative with no languid, middle-chapter glut dampening the playtime. You take control of Joel — a sad Gen-X dad, broken in so many ways — who is tasked with escorting a teenager named Ellie across a United States that has long since collapsed under the weight of a zombie infestation. That might sound trite, and The Last of Us certainly does worship at the altar of a whole litany of grim, dark, post-apocalyptic fiction, but Naughty Dog hits some surprisingly sobering notes along the way. The ending, in particular, has an argument of being the boldest storytelling risk ever ventured by a game studio.
Speaking of recently released video games that faced the daunting task of living up to a beloved original, here’s Red Dead Redemption. Its sequel, (well, narratively, its prequel,) Red Dead Redemption 2 arrived in 2018 after a ludicrous eight year development cycle. With that amount of time between games, it’s likely that some of you haven’t absorbed where the legend begins. Red Dead Redemption essentially deals with the fallout of its successor; the Van Der Linde Gang is shattered, its remaining players are in hiding, and John Marston has been recruited by the government to put the rest of them down for good. The gameplay mirrors the sequel on limited specs — this is an 11-year old game, so don’t expect the scintillating vistas that Rockstar miraculously cranked out on the PS4. But all of its themes are right in place. Marston ventures through the countryside, methodically opening old wounds, with the faint hope of atoning for his sins and finally living in peace. You know, redemption.
Metal Gear Solid V is great in ways that all the other Metal Gears aren’t. Hideo Kojima, the franchise’s legendary director, gives Solid Snake a calamitous open world and more tools on the table than ever before. Each mission begs the player to screw around with the mechanics. This is a video game where you might capture a prized operative by shooting your cyborg arm off like a rocket, and weaving it around a tight corridor to knock him out cold. For a series that frequently swings between world-weary solemnity and Three Stooges-style comedy, Phantom Pain is the purest articulation of that deranged spirit.
Unfortunately, The Phantom Pain’s narrative is famously unfinished, which is likely due to Kojima’s messy breakup with publisher Konami during the development cycle. So, if you grew up playing the first Metal Gear Solid and have a soft spot for those overwrought 45-minute cutscenes about the military industrial complex, The Phantom Pain might leave you cold. This is a video game built to showcase its absurd engine, and all the misadventures you can find within it. For the most part, that’s good enough.
Anyone who was turned off by the plodding, punishing, shield-heavy dungeoneering of Dark Souls owes it to themselves to at least see if Bloodborne better fits their appetite. Developer FromSoftware ditched all the regal, gothic low-fantasy for a trip through eldritch hell. Your character — who, as per tradition, is dropped into a beguiling alien world with no context, direction, or moral orientation — starts by slicing through packs of werewolves, before slowly circling down the rabbit hole into beastlies that are stranger and scarier. Most importantly though, Bloodborne is fast, agile, and diametrically opposed to the other action games that made FromSoftware famous. There won’t be a moment where you’ll raise a shield and tank through damage, which can be liberating for a certain type of restless player. It’s one of the greatest Sony exclusives of all time, and worthy of being one of the standard bearers for Playstation Now.
What a bold premise. A prehistoric earth populated entirely by… titanic robot dinosaurs? And we’re hunting them down with bows and arrows? Of course, the deeper you get into Horizon Zero Dawn, the more its well-considered worldbuilding reveals itself, (there’s some Skynet business afoot.) But frankly, it’s tough to worry about all those implications when you’re salvaging a cybernetic triceratops for parts. Developer Guerilla Games just announced a Horizon Zero Dawn sequel that’s due out later this year, so now is a perfect time to get in on the ground floor.
One of the more fascinating subdivisions on Playstation Now is the wide swathe of Sonic games on the service. They aren’t all consolidated in the Genesis golden era either. You can jump on here and play Sonic Adventure 2, and grind through the braindead, scavenger-hunt Knuckles levels all over again. (If you know you know.) But we’ve decided to highlight Sonic CD here, because it remains one of the underrated gems in the canon. The game was released in 1993 for the scarcely-remembered Sega CD, which itself signaled the downfall of Sega as a major hardware brand, and it features all of the gaudiness the company could fit on the limitless potential of a CD-ROM. There are fully animated cutscenes storyboarded by none other than Toei Entertainment, (the Dragon Ball guys,) as well as an incredible funk-lite soundtrack that led to a whole tradition of indelible Sonic music. It quickly went downhill from here, and that’s why Sonic CD is worth seeing.
One of the joys of the gaming subscription revolution is the chance to dig deep into the weird curios that sneak onto the service. I mean, you probably aren’t going to sign up for Playstation Now specifically to play LocoRoco, but now that you’re here, may I introduce you to an incredibly charming physics platformer that was, *checks notes* released as a PSP exclusive in 2006? You take control of a big, plushy blob which is equipped with the terrifying ability to split itself up into dozens of tiny, smaller blobs. Your goal is to roll your way to the end of a whimsical, Seussian landscape, solving some elementary puzzles along the way. All the while, a soundtrack composed of children’s choirs and ukuleles rattle off in the distance, like the outtakes from a very productive iMac commercial studio session. It needs to be seen to be believed. Come to Playstation Now for the Metal Gears and God of Wars, stay because you’ve found yourself 100-percenting LocoRoco.
Bionic Commando Rearmed was one of the first hits of the downloadable boom. In 2008, studios grew tired of exclusively releasing $60, disc-based extravaganzas, and instead opted to put out smaller, shorter, cheaper games that could be digitally transferred directly into Playstations and Xboxes around the world. Bionic Commando Rearmed fit the order perfectly. It’s a remake of the classic 1987 NES game of the same name, and it’s built around a singular satisfying mechanic: Using that bionic arm of yours to swing around the level geometry. In 2021, when every other action franchise is integrating a grappling hook, take this as a refresher. Bionic Commando remains the granddaddy of them all.
Playstation Now has all the mainline, pre-reboot God of War games in its rolodex, and each of them is worth your time, but we’re highlighting the 2007 middle chapter as the pinnacle of the trilogy. Free of the tired overindulgence of the third game, while still carrying more meat on its bones than the original, God of War II is the epitome of vintage, uber-masculine, mid-aughts excess. Kratos, the newly-crowned God of War in the Greco-Roman tradition, is a hollow psycho animated solely by vengeance. His adversaries are the other seats of the Pantheon, and he spends the entire narrative brutally dismembering every figure from the legendarium. (In this case, that means Zeus, Icarus, The Sisters of Fate, and dozens more.)
The bloodlust grows so gauche that when Sony finally went back to the well for a new God of War game in 2018, Kratos spends most of the runtime quietly ruminating on all the pain and suffering he’s caused others. Even gods can be cancelled! God of War II is juvenile depravity, but it’s also an incredible snapshot of that particular, Mountain Dew-soaked era in gaming. Also, it doesn’t hurt that it still packs some of the best boss fights ever to feature on a Playstation console.
Similarly to God of War, Playstation Now also hosts the PS3 Uncharted trilogy, which means enterprising gamers can witness Nathan Drake’s evolution from a rapscallion ne’er-do-well to, well, an older rapscallion ne’er-do-well. We’re again recommending the middle chapter here, because Uncharted 2 represents the moment where Naughty Dog transformed into a true super studio. After years of low-stakes Jak & Daxter games, the developer beefed up its fidelity thresholds and storytelling ambition, and started churning out some singular cinematic sequences. There are chapters in Among Thieves that fundamentally changed the public’s expectations for big-budget action games — the Die Hard effect for consoles. Naughty Dog would double and triple down on those ideas with The Last of Us and the later Uncharted sequels, but Among Thieves remains perhaps their boldest statement as a team.
Fighting games have been saddled with the same problem for decades. It’s no fun inviting your casual friends for a night of Street Fighter if you’ve already been researching all the Akuma combo trees online. You’ll wipe the floor with them and end the evening on a sour note. Nidhogg solves that problem by reducing the fighting game formula to its bare essentials. Two players take control of a pair of Atari 2600–looking stick figures who are equipped with either a dagger, a sword, or a bow. They engage in quick, deadly combat, before sprinting towards their end of the screen to achieve victory. That’s it. That’s the entire game. It is certainly possible to get good at Nidhogg, but even the most disengaged of participants can pick up a controller and chuck a dagger in their opponent’s back. There’s so much fun to be had when nobody needs to worry about a super meter.
Get it while it’s hot! Last year Microsoft announced that the company purchased Bethesda, and it became apparent that all future Bethesda properties would release exclusively on Xbox and PC. That means it’s likely only a matter of time before Fallout 4 is removed from Playstation Now, especially considering how the entire Bethesda back-catalogue has just been imported to Xbox Game Pass. So, if you’re up for a lengthy jaunt across the radiated Massachusetts wasteland, you better get to downloading. Fallout 4 isn’t the best RPG in the Bethesda oeuvre, but it did introduce a surprisingly in-depth base-building component. After a long afternoon beating back the mutant hordes, players can retire to a musty lounge constructed entirely out of tin cans and bobbleheads in that indelible retro-futuristic aesthetic that belongs to Fallout and Fallout alone.
Superhot has one rule: Time only moves when you do. With that handicap, the player creates these insane, John Woo sequences of protracted bulletime. Maybe you unload a clip at a gunman before stepping to your left in order to avoid the shotgun shell frozen inches away from your nose? For as flimsy as that premise sounds, Superhot is downright enthralling. The full campaign will take you less than three hours which ensures that the game doesn’t overstay its welcome. If you have Playstation Now, Superhot should be one of your first stops.
Doomguy awakens on a ravaged planet Mars to discover that humanity has condemned themselves to damnation by attempting to harvest “Hell Energy.” Yes, in this absurd universe, multinational corporations are attempting to put raw, uncut demon-juice into our cars. The 2016 Doom reboot succeeds by leaning all the way into its farcical worldview, while still delivering one of the greatest single player campaigns of all time. This is a video game where you’ll waste entire corridors of inter-dimensional monstrosities with the BFG. (Read: “Big Fucking Gun.”) The primary antagonist is a malevolent robot-scientist named, “Samuel Hayden.” Or, “S. Hayden.” (Or, “Satan.”) A masterpiece in excess, and living proof that Doom still hits different 30 years later.
Everyone who loves turn-based tactics games has spent some portion of their life believing that the scene was too heady, or too slow, or too heedlessly nerdy to welcome them. If that’s you, then XCOM 2 is your antidote. Compared to the other mainstays on the market, XCOM is fastidiously approachable. Players take control of a ragtag squadron of humans fighting back against the alien overlords, and all of the information you need for each decision you make is neatly presented on screen. (“Shotgun, 74 percent chance of hitting, three to five points of damage.”) That lack of ambiguity allows newcomers to quickly transform from overwhelmed outsiders into hardened commanders. Before long, you might even find XCOM 2 strangely relaxing, which is quite a thing to say for a video game about the end of human dominion on Earth.
The meanest multiplayer game in the world isn’t Mortal Kombat, or Among Us, or Counter-Strike. Those titles might be cutthroat, but none hold a candle to a colorful puzzle game populated with chibi, hyper-deformed Street Fighter characters. The goal of Puzzle Fighter is to punish your opponents with huge payloads of impenetrable blocks on their side of the screen, and you do that by Bejewel-ing harder and better than them. In that sense, Puzzle Fighter does a great job of mirroring the one-on-one fighting games it’s inspired by — you’ll know in an instant if the person sitting across from you is a much better player. A stone cold, ragequit-inducing classic; our only complaint is that Capcom hasn’t made a true sequel in decades.
Speaking of long-neglected franchises in desperate need of a reboot, here’s Bomberman Ultra. The game first arrived in 2009 with the simple mission of recreating classic Bomberman multiplayer in its purest form. If you’ve never seen the series in action, essentially you and your fellow Bomberpeople are stuck in a walled-off grid, and are each equipped with some highly volatile explosions that can break down barriers and (ideally) send your friends flying off the map. Each match deteriorates quickly, and within a minute or two, you’ll likely lose all track of where the fireballs are coming from. That’s when Bomberman is at its best — hiding behind a blackened bit of rubble, hoping that your latest detonation isn’t about to kill you. There hasn’t been a great Bomberman game in over a decade, and it’s a shame that we need to go all the way back to 2009 for a taste of its unparalleled mania. But at the very least, Ultra hits the right notes.
Journey remains stunning. Even rendered out on outmoded PS3 tech, the golden sands still shimmer in the sun, the hallowed mountain looms in the distance, and the pillars and minarets of this lost civilization proudly boast their ruined grandeur. This is a video game about going from point A to point B with very little exposition, and yet Journey manages to make the fundamental sensation of player movement feel euphoric. Think of it like the Playstation version of Fantasia; an intersection of visual flair and mechanical precision that makes an argument for what the video game medium can be in the right hands. It speaks to Journey’s triumphs that the argument is still resonant, almost ten years after it was released.