You must subscribe to a service to play console games online. The Nintendo Switch has Nintendo Switch Online, the Xbox has Xbox Live Gold, and the PlayStation has PlayStation Plus (starting at $9.99 per month or $59.99 per year). Each one is necessary for its respective system, and the companies sweeten the deal by bundling extras like bonus titles and cloud saves. However, Sony's offering is the weakest of the bunch, with an inconsistent library and mediocre streaming. Xbox Game Pass Ultimate is the best subscription service for console gamers with its superior library and streaming features, while Nintendo Switch Online remains a great, bite-size $20 annual membership that lets you play some of the best NES, SNES, and Game Boy games ever made.
What Are the Different PlayStation Plus Plans?
PlayStation Plus is divided into three tiered membership levels: Essential, Extra, and Premium. Essential is the basic plan available for $9.99 per month or $59.99 per year and offers online multiplayer, cloud storage, Share Play, monthly free games, and discounts. This tier is basically the original PS Plus membership before the other tiers were introduced, and it's most comparable with the basic Xbox Live Gold membership without Xbox Games Pass (also $9.99 per month or $59.99 per year).
Extra is $14.99 per month or $99.99 per year and adds the Game Catalog and Ubisoft+ Classics libraries to the mix. These titles are always-present options, but the overall selections vary and expand over time. This tier is effectively the same as Xbox Live Gold with Xbox Game Pass ($9.99 per month or $24.99 per three months, in addition to an Xbox Live Gold subscription).
Premium is the highest-tier PlayStation Plus membership, available for $17.99 per month or $119.99 per year. This subscription adds exclusive game trials and PlayStation’s Cloud Streaming (previously known as the separate PlayStation Now). Cloud Streaming lets you play cloud-based titles (PlayStation 4 and older) in the Game Catalog. In addition, you can play these games on PC with the PlayStation Plus app for Windows. Overall, this membership is comparable with the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription ($14.99 per month, with no official multi-month or annual discount), though PS Plus Premium doesn’t offer installable Windows titles for PC users like Ultimate does.
What Games Are in the PlayStation Plus Library?
The games in the Essential plan vary from mediocre to excellent. For example, May 2023's lineup included Chivalry 2, Descenders, and Grid Legends, none of which are particularly big names. However, January 2023's roster featured Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, and December 2022's batch had Mass Effect Legendary Edition. Generally, you can expect a particularly appealing game to show up every two or three months. Once you’ve activated them, the games remain available for play as long as you’re a PS Plus member.
The Extra tier is where PlayStation Plus starts to step up in value with its Game Catalog and Ubisoft+ Classics. It’s a large library of downloadable PS4 and PS5 titles, beyond the three or four monthly games in the Essential membership. It's all one library; although Ubisoft+ Classics is framed as a separate collection, it’s ultimately just Ubisoft’s back catalog included with other, non-Ubisoft games.
The Game Catalog currently features approximately 450 games, ranging wildly in genre and scope. It has many big names, including Death Stranding Director’s Cut, Devil May Cry 5 Special Edition, Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade, God of War (2018), Ghost of Tsushima Director’s Cut, and Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales. There are also excellent, niche offerings like Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown, Neo: The World Ends With You, and Yakuza: Like a Dragon.
Overall, the selection is hit-or-miss compared with Xbox Game Pass. Microsoft has followed through on its commitment to include new first-party games on Xbox Game Pass at launch, and Sony’s lack of a similar policy is apparent in the PlayStation Plus Extra Game Catalog. God of War: Ragnarok is missing, as is Marvel’s Spider-Man Remastered and any The Last of Us release. Even Ubisoft is a bit stingy; the most recent Assassin’s Creed entry, Valhalla, is absent.
A second game library, the Classics Catalog, is available for Premium subscribers. This adds another 450 or so games from the PlayStation, PS2, and PS3 eras, and might be appealing to old-school PlayStation fans. Several recognizable games are here, like Devil May Cry HD Collection, God of War HD, The Last of Us Remastered, Ninja Gaiden Sigma, Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee, and The Sly Collection. There are also underappreciated gems like Dark Cloud 2, Gravity Rush Remastered, and Split/Second: Velocity.
Once again, there are some big holes in the Classics Catalog. You won’t find any Crash Bandicoot or Tomb Raider games, despite them effectively being the original PlayStation’s mascot series. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and the original Final Fantasy VII are also absent (Final Fantasy is an especially puzzling one, since FF8 Remastered, FF9 Digital Edition, FFX/X-2 HD Remaster, and FFXII The Zodiac Age are included). These are simply baffling omissions.
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Clunky Cloud Gaming
The Premium subscription also adds cloud-based gaming, previously a separate service called PlayStation Now. It lets you stream titles to your PS4, PS5, or PC, so you can play on the go on a notebook (or Steam Deck, with a bit of a web-based workaround). However, it doesn’t let you stream on Macs or mobile devices (Xbox Game Pass Ultimate's cloud gaming has clients for iPhones, iPads, Macs, and recent Samsung TVs).
The cloud streaming library covers the entire Classics Catalog and a good portion of the Game Catalog, but you’re out of luck if you want to play PS5 games on your PC. The streaming library ends at PS4 games, including ones that have both PS4 and PS5 versions. That includes games like Horizon: Forbidden West and Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy.
Streaming PlayStation Plus games on a PC is not a viable replacement for playing them on a console. Horizon: Forbidden West was fairly responsive and generally looked good, though it felt occasionally floaty. Plus, the streamed graphics were clearly being compressed.PlayStation Plus app
Hollow Knight was nearly unplayable, with a noticeable delay between my inputs and on-screen movement. This is a massive disadvantage in a 2D platformer that requires precise timing and control. The graphics also contained compression artifacts, not looking as sharp as playing it locally.
My internet connection is a gigabit cable line with a Wi-Fi 6 router within three feet of my PC, and I measured a downstream speed of 724Mbps and an upstream speed of 30Mbps during testing; that's well past the 15Mbps (up and down) Sony recommends for game streaming at 1080p. Streaming games on Xbox Game Pass Ultimate also isn’t perfect, but it looks and feels much better on the same network connection. Nvidia GeForce Now runs almost flawlessly under the best circumstances.
In addition, the PlayStation Plus app on PC is also an overly simple, frustrating experience. Games are arranged haphazardly in huge rows by recommendation and genre, and you must scroll down to find your list of favorites. There’s no search function or any filters for browsing, so looking for a specific game is a chore. There are few graphical options and no way to remap controls if you use a non-DualShock 4 or DualSense gamepad.Can PlayStation Plus Premium Surpass Xbox Game Pass?
Necessary for Online Gaming, But Otherwise Inessential
Like Nintendo Switch Online and Xbox Live Gold, PlayStation Plus is necessary if you want to play games online with your system of choice. As a result, we recommend the PlayStation Plus Essential subscription. However, neither the Extra nor the Premium membership tiers are particularly compelling; the Game Catalog might have some games you’d like to play, but it isn’t nearly as impressive as the Xbox Game Pass collection (and the Classics Catalog is missing too many actual classics to be worthwhile).
Cloud gaming might have sweetened the deal for PlayStation Plus Premium, but the streaming feature is a few steps behind Microsoft’s counterpart. Xbox Game Pass Ultimate is simply a better package all around, even if it’s a bit more expensive without an annual discount. Although Nintendo Switch Online doesn’t include recently released titles, it’s the most wallet-friendly subscription of the three, and includes classic NES, SNES, Game Boy, and (if you get the $49.99-per-year Expansion Pass) Game Boy Advance and Nintendo 64. Of the three memberships, PlayStation Plus is a distant third. However, considering each one is tied to its respective system, whether or not you need to subscribe depends on the console you own.
For more, check out PlayStation Plus vs. PlayStation Stars: What's the Difference? Want in-depth video game talk? Visit PCMag's Pop-Off YouTube channel. Eager to see the new titles on the horizon? Check out The Best Video Games Coming Out in 2023.