Sometimes there’s just no beating the classics. New games may shock and astound us with increasingly fancy graphics and features, but there’s a simple pleasure in revisiting the games of yesteryear, in going back to a simpler time before online multiplayer and loot box controversies. Of course, the optimal way to do this is to dust off your old PS2 in the attic and hook it up to the ancient CRT TV you’ve still got stashed away in the spare bedroom. There’s nothing quite like experiencing Metal Gear Solid 3 on its original hardware.
Of course, there are many reasons you might not be able to do this. Perhaps you sold your old TV many moons ago, or your trusty old PS2 simply gave out on you years back. If that’s the case, then you might want to look to modern hardware to provide the retro fix you so desperately need. There is but one question you should be asking in this instance: is my PS4 backwards compatible? Can I play old PS2 and PS3 games on it? What about PS1 games? (Okay, that’s three questions, but they’re related.)
The short answer is “well, sort of”. The long answer is a little more complicated. Put simply, your PS4 isn’t capable of playing games from any previous PlayStation generation through hardware alone. If you try to play a PS1, PS2 or PS3 disc on your PS4, it won’t recognise the format, so you can put paid right now to those hopes of playing the original Shadow of the Colossus on your PS4 (although the remake is excellent).
There’s more bad news. PS1 games are, at time of writing, not available to play on PS4 in any format. Whether you want to play Ape Escape on the original disc or Final Fantasy VII digitally, you won’t be able to do so on your PS4. If you’ve still got a PS3, then that machine will still play PS1 games just fine, so perhaps you’re better off hunting that down from the attic if you’re determined.
You can also play these games via the PS Store on a PS Vita (or PSP if you’ve previously downloaded them). Experiencing PS1 games on the move is a surprisingly fun and satisfying way to play, so we’d recommend this if you just can’t stay away from the original Resident Evil but don’t have a PS1 handy.
For those who aren’t after PS1 backwards compatibility, there’s a silver lining to this cloud. Although you can’t currently play your PS2 discs on your PS4, the PlayStation Store does have a wide variety of PS2 classics available to download. At time of writing, there are around 70 PS2 games available on PS4. This number varies by region; some games aren’t available to download in the US, while others can’t be found in Japan.
70 might not sound like a huge number, but the list is a pretty strong one. The Final Fantasy series is notable by its absence, but if you want to experience the best PS2 Final Fantasy game, then the Final Fantasy X / X-2 Remaster is available. The absence of Metal Gear Solid is also keenly felt, but the HD collection of MGS2 and MGS3 is still available for PS3 and PS Vita, so that’s a great place to go if you’re hankering for a spot of Big Boss or Raiden.
There are some bona fide gems on the list, though. From Jak and Daxter to Max Payne, Grand Theft Auto to Psychonauts, now is an excellent time to experience some of the PS2’s grandest achievements (and its lost curios) via your PS4. JRPG fans should consider themselves extremely lucky; some of the best offerings of the genre are available to download on the console, such as Level-5’s masterpiece Rogue Galaxy and underrated Sergio Leone Western-inspired romp Wild Arms 3.
Here comes more good news: all the PS4 versions of PS2 classics have been fully updated and remastered, with widescreen support, HD textures and more visual enhancements to modernise the experience (your PS2 memories don’t quite live up to the real thing, sadly). There’s also trophy support, so you can experience these old-school triumphs as if they were modern remasters. A smaller number like 70 makes more sense when one considers that a huge amount of work is being put into remastering and updating these games for the modern age.
So that’s the state of PS4 backwards compatibility right now. It’s arguable that Sony could be doing a little more to compete with their rivals Microsoft, who are implementing backwards compatibility with previous console generations. Still, Sony is clearly putting way more work into updating and modernising their catalogue, which is to be commended; the PS4 versions of PS2 classics will survive subsequent console generations thanks to these visual and gameplay enhancements. In the end, we’ll take a dedicated team of developers working to make games look like they do in our heads over a more sizeable library any day.