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PS4 Backwards Compatibility: Can you play PS3 games on PS4?

Sam Loveridge

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PS4 pic
PS4 pic

Can I play PS3 games on my new PS4?

PS4 backwards compatibility has become a hotly debated issue amongst console owners, especially since the Xbox One backwards compatibility is so effortless.

Sony has a few solutions to the PS4 backwards compatibility issue, but they're certainly nowhere near as elegant as Microsoft's slick – and mostly free – alternative.

For the PS4, you can play PS3 games via the streaming service PlayStation Now. Unfortunately it doesn't come cheap, and fails to take into account physical and digital games you may already own.

Sadly, you can't just play your old PS3 games on PS4, neither by inserting the disc or downloading them again from PSN. The systems are fundamentally not compatible with each other.

For PS2 games though, this is starting to change. Sony has built an emulator that allows you to play very select titles on the PS4. But, there's a lot of potential to enhance the availability for PS2 titles in the future.

What makes the complications around PS4 backwards compatibility worse is that Microsoft has solved Xbox One backwards compatibility by creating an Xbox 360 emulator within its latest console. That means you can simply slide any supported Xbox 360 games into your Xbox One and they'll play straight away. Or you can download digital titles from the Xbox Live store. And this is all for free, so long as you own them, that is.

Related: Xbox One backwards compatibility explained

PlayStation Now

So, can you play PS3 games on the PS4? Well, not exactly, but there is a solution. It’s called PlayStation Now, and it will let you stream older PlayStation games to your PS4 (and eventually PS3 and other devices) over your home internet connection.

PlayStation Now was first announced at CES 2014, and since then the service has been launched in full with both rental price options and subscription tiers.

It hit PS4 first, and before making its way to PS3 on May 12 2015. Eventually PS Now will spread to PS Vita and PS TV. It’ll even come to 2014 Sony Bravia TVs too along with select Sony Blu-ray players and the latest Samsung Smart TVs. Exactly when has not been announced yet, though.

In the US and Canada, PS Now costs $19.99 (£13.20) for a one-month membership or you can go for a three-month membership for $44.99 (£29.77). Rental prices range from $1.99 to $19.99 depending on the title and the duration of your rental period, which can last for 4 hours, 7 days or 30 days.

Playstation Now is a costly service in the UK, as there's currently no membership options available. Rentals are in two pricing tiers here in the UK. Games will either cost you £2.99 or £4.99 for a two-day rental (over a weekend perhaps) or £5.99 or £7.99 for a 30-day rental period.

If you haven't used the service before, Playstation Now offers a free trial period for new users. This should allow you to make sure your internet connection is suitable and you don't encounter any latency issues.

Related: PS4 vs PS3

PlayStation Now

But we know what you're thinking, are all PS3 games available through PlayStation Now? Well, the answer is no. PlayStation Now is home to a growing collection of over 100 PS3 games.

These include:

  • Dead Space 3
  • God of War: Ascension
  • Ratchet and Clank: Into the Nexus
  • Ultra Street Fighter IV
While these are all fairly high-profile releases, PlayStation Now is also features some smaller, slightly more unusual indie games too.

The UK PlayStation Now offering currently includes titles such as:

  • The Wolf Among Us
  • Batman: Arkham Origins
  • NBA 2K14
  • Killzone 2
  • Saints Row The Third
  • Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
PlayStation Now will eventually offer games from the PS1, PS2, PS3 and PS Vita catalogues, but currently there's only PS3 titles available.

Related: What is PlayStation Now? A guide to Sony's streaming service

PS4 vs PS3

Why can’t the PS4 play PS3 games?

The PS3 and PS4 use completely different system architectures, which means the PS4 would need to emulate the PS3’s system in order to make the games work. The figure often quoted is that a system needs ten times the power of the thing it’s emulating in order to do so at full speed.

Sony does claim that the PS4 meets this ‘ten times’ more powerful mark, but producing a workable emulator also requires a whole lot of work when working with a system of the PS3’s complexity. And that means a healthy cash investment, too.

Sony decided not to do this, and it’s sure to be one of the most common complaints about the new console. We can imagine many people simply assuming they’ll be able to play their old PS3 games on the thing.

Related: Best PS4 Deals

What about PS1 and PS2 games?

Although PS1 games are still an elusive beast, PS2 games are now available on your PS4 – albeit in limited form.

Sony stealthily introduced a PS2 emulator to the PS4 through the new Star Wars bundle. The title packages together four classic franchise titles: Super Star Wars, Star Wars: Jedi Starfighter, Star Wars: Racer Revenge and Star Wars: Bounty Hunter.

But rather than a physical disc, the titles are supplied via a single PSN code, with three of the titles hailing from the PS2 era.

Digital Foundry quickly realised that these games were running on an emulator through a number of indicators such as the upscaled PS2 logo, a system for emulating the memory cards and controlling remapping (something third party developers wouldn't be able to do).

When it was exposed, Sony released a statement that reads as follows:

"We are working on utilising PS2 emulation technology to bring PS2 games forward to the current generation," Sony told Wired. "We have nothing further to comment at this point in time."

But now, PS2 games are officially available via the PSN store. To begin with, Sony is offering eight PS2 games to "celebrate its PS2 heritage".

They are as follows:

  • Dark Cloud
  • Parappa The Rapper 2
  • GTA 3
  • GTA: San Andreas
  • Rogue Galaxy
  • The Mark of Kri
  • War of the Monsters
  • Twisted Metal: Black
  • Manhunt
  • Bully

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