When Sony announced the new “Share Play” feature for PlayStation 4 owners two months ago, it was one of the most unexpected and interesting possible uses for its cloud-based gaming infrastructure we’d heard of. The promise: a “virtual couch” that allows remote players to join your games as if they were sitting next to you. That means the ability to participate in competitive or co-operative multiplayer, even in games not designed for online play, or simply the freedom to “borrow” a friend’s system and screen to briefly launch a single-player title. to try.
With the launch of PS4 firmware version 2.00 this week, the Share Play promise has become a reality for millions of PS4 owners with PlayStation Plus. After spending nearly an afternoon tinkering with the new feature, we found Share Play on the PS4 to be far from unusable, but also far from the seamless experience of actually playing with a friend in the same room.
Setting up a Share Play session is a bit of a tedious process. First, both players must join a chat party. Then one player must start the Share Play session through the Party menu. The “guest” must then connect to that Share Play session. After all that, the host must virtually “hand a controller” to the guest through another Party screen menu, and the guest must accept the controller.
The system menus do their best to walk both sides through this process, but it still requires a lot of coordination and juggling between different screens. What’s more, when the host is navigating system menus, the guest is stuck staring at a blue screen that tells them to wait for the host to launch a game. Chat functionality is also limited when the Share Play host is navigating menus, meaning Skype may be a better solution for consistent communication.
Once everything is set up, the experience is quite intuitive: the host system acts as if the guest simply plugged in a controller from miles away, while the guest’s system displays video and audio streamed from the host’s machine. The main limitation, as always seems to be with these kinds of streaming game solutions, is lag. While the host gets a perfect locally run experience, there was a small but noticeable delay between the guest pressing the button and the on-screen response in our tests, ranging from about a fifth to a third of a second. The sensation is similar to what many players find when streaming games from PlayStation Now’s massive server farms, which is actually a point in Share Play’s favour.
How significant this delay becomes for the guest largely depends on the type of game you’re playing. On a game like The evil within, which already has some kind of loose, languorous controls, playing remotely wasn’t all that different from playing locally. In a game like Towerfall: Ascensionhowever, the host player had a huge advantage in multiplayer, as the guest struggled to time precise moves such as wall jumps against the small input lag.
To be fair, that lag became much more manageable when the host machine switched from a wireless connection to a wired connection to the router. A fixed connection configuration allowed the guest player to hold his own Sports friends battles and take part in a multiplayer spelunky walk without much effort. But even in this ideal setup, the guest still had to make unnatural adjustments for the delay.
Another drawback worth noting is the one-hour time limit for each Share Play session, which requires you to restart the share session after 60 minutes. If you were hoping to jump from game to game as your friend stepped away from the controller or spend hours bingeing on your friend’s remote system, too bad; each game had to be selected by the host. However, there’s no limit to the number of times you can restart a session, so this is a fairly minor inconvenience, especially when you consider that the host system doesn’t even have to own the game in question. We also ran into a strange problem with gameplay sharing in a new action puzzle game Pix the cat, which gave an error that sharing was “blocked in your region”. That’s a bit strange considering Sony has said in the past that the service should work with “all PS4 games released”.
Despite the light bandwidth and setup headache, Share Play is a nice, unexpected addition to the many features already offered to PlayStation Plus subscribers on the PS4. If you just can’t find a local friend to join in some couch co-op or want to try out the hot new game your friend in another state just picked up, there are worse solutions.
Sam Machkovech contributed to this report.