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What it’s like to play PS4 games on PS5

Playing your old PlayStation 4 games on a new PlayStation 5 feels mostly effortless and automatic. Of course, that’s how it should be; but the it-just-works (and in most cases, works much better) nature of backward compatibility on PlayStation 5 is one of the major benefits of upgrading. That’s especially true if you are, like me, transitioning to Sony’s new console from a sluggish, 7-year-old launch-day PS4.

Here’s how to get your PlayStation 4 content onto a PlayStation 5: During the setup of the new console, the system asks if you’d like to transfer game saves and installed games from your old hardware, if you have the PS4 on the same network. It’s a straightforward process that can be performed over a wired or wireless connection. The latter option, especially if you plan on wirelessly moving tens or hundreds of gigabytes, is slow.

Or you can simply transfer save data over from a PS4, and once you’re logged in to your PS5, re-download games that are associated with your PlayStation Network account. (Originally, I chose to transfer games like Overwatch, P.T., and Bloodborne from PS4 to PS5, but gave up on that process when I realized I had a seven-hour wait ahead of me, because I was transferring large amounts of game data over Wi-Fi.)

Another option, which PS4 owners can prepare for right now, is to use the PS4’s extended storage option, and transfer games installed on an external hard drive. Plugging my external HDD full of PS4 games into the PS5 worked immediately — once I plugged it into a USB 3.0 port in the back of the PS5, since the front USB-A port is not compatible with extended storage — and many new PS5 owners may want to choose this route to quickly transfer their PS4 content.

You can learn more about how to transfer PS4 games to PS5 in this video released by Sony on Thursday.

Once into the PlayStation 5’s interface, my collection of more than 100 PS4 games — some purchased, some accessible through years of being a PlayStation Plus subscriber — was there waiting for me in the Game Library menu. I could cue up PS4 games for download, which was quicker on PS5 than on the previous-generation console over Wi-Fi.

Image: Sony Interactive Entertainment via Polygon

The Game Library’s display of PS4 games can be a bit confusing at first glance. Games that aren’t playable have a small prohibited symbol on them, and a label saying that they’re only “Playable on PS4.” Game demos and betas also carry the prohibited sign, but it’s not immediately clear that what you’re seeing is a beta or demo. For example, I have a card for Resident Evil 2 in my Game Library, but it’s not for the full game; it’s the “RPD demo” released in 2019, and I was confused about why it was showing as unplayable, because it is not clearly labeled as a demo. Games that you’ve played from an Blu-ray Disc will also appear in your Game Library, though these titles show a padlock symbol because you’ll need to insert the discs in question to play them. In short, the Game Library section might be initially confusing, in terms of what PS4 titles you have access to and what you don’t on PS5.

The backward-compatible experience on PS5

Playing my favorite PS4 games on PS5 generally improved them in two major ways: better, more consistent frame rates and vastly improved loading times, when loading from the PS5 SSD.

Some of the first titles I tested were my favorites: FromSoftware’s Bloodborne and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. I was pleasantly surprised by the quicker loading times, as most loading experiences were cut by a third or more on PS5. While Bloodborne’s frame rate appears to still be locked at 30 frames per second, Sekiro’s frame rate on PS5 is a vast improvement compared to the standard PS4 version (akin to its frame-rate improvements on the PS4 Pro). Sekiro appears to maintain a mostly consistent 60 fps frame rate, but I’d refer you to the frame-rate experts at Digital Foundry, who will presumably be looking into more granular data.

One of the most-improved load times came from Destiny 2. On PS4, simply reaching the character select screen from booting up Destiny 2 takes me just over three minutes. On PS5, that same load takes just 50 seconds. Similarly, a trip from the Tower courtyard to Winding Cove on the EDZ was a one-minute, 56-second load on PS4; but on PS5, that same trip takes about 46 seconds.

Overwatch, which I’ve played for some 700 hours on PS4, performed better on PS5, as expected. The frame rate remained consistent even during the most frenzied clashes, and I no longer noticed the ugliness of low-detail textures loading in at the beginning of matches.

PlayStation hits such as God of War, Days Gone, The Last of Us Part 2, Shadow of the Colossus, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, and Street Fighter 5 all performed as expected, which is to say: smooth and slightly improved. It’s how I would expect these games — many of them unoptimized for a next-generation console — to perform. Smaller games, including Resogun, Thumper, and Tetris Effect, also performed well through backward compatibility.

During the early days of testing, there were occasional hitches such as display problems in Street Fighter 5 (the “ROUND 1” text overlay remained visible throughout matches) and a crash in Sekiro upon loading up the newly patched version of the game. My colleague Samit Sarkar noticed nonsensical information in text overlays in MLB The Show 20. But those issues appear to have been resolved as Sony has updated the PS5’s system software. Sony says the “overwhelming majority” of the 4,000-plus PS4 games are playable on PS5, but notes that some games may cause errors.

The biggest disappointment of PS5 backward compatibility comes down to an apparent request from Konami: P.T., the infamous playable teaser for the canceled game Silent Hills, is not supported through backward compatibility. But the story there is complicated.

In general, however, playing backward-compatible PS4 games on PS5 has been a great experience, and has made the decision to put my current-gen PlayStation into storage much easier.

How does the DualSense play with PS4 games?

The DualShock 4 is the best PlayStation controller Sony has ever made. But the DualSense is astounding, thanks to its impressive haptics and adaptive triggers. Going from playing a native PS5 game like Astro’s Playroom, which does spectacular things with vibration and the DualSense’s built-in speaker, back to PS4 games illustrates just how much the new controller adds to the gameplay experience. For example, walking through the sewers of Bloodborne’s Yarnham and sloshing through water, but receiving no matching controller feedback, immediately felt strange after playing Astro’s Playroom.

But the DualSense works just fine when playing PS4 games through backward compatibility, and I’m growing more and more accustomed to it after seven years with the DualShock 4.

Photo: Henry Hargreaves for Polygon

While I’m feeling more comfortable with the DualSense, some PS4 games’ vibration schemes clearly feel designed with the DualShock 4 in mind — because they were. The feeling of force feedback is not a one-to-one transition from DualShock 4 to DualSense. Playing Overwatch simply feels different in my hands, which is important, because contextual information — like taking damage — can be conveyed through different types of vibration. My colleague Samit Sarkar noticed similar issues with vibration fidelity in two games he tried, MLB The Show 20 and The Last of Us Part 2.

The vibration for MLB The Show’s analog pitching mechanic is not tuned properly for the DualSense, Samit says: It ramps up way more aggressively if you’re aiming at the edges of the strike zone (or beyond) than it does with a DualShock 4. As for The Last of Us Part 2, on PS4 with a DualShock 4, there’s soft vibration as you ride a horse; it gets a little more noticeable if you’re galloping. But with a DualSense, the vibration even when just walking or trotting gets annoying pretty quickly, and it’s aggressive when you’re galloping.

The upside here is that if you prefer the DualShock 4 for PS4 games, it can be used on PlayStation 5 to play previous-generation software.

PlayStation VR backward compatibility

While PlayStation VR games will be supported on PS5, it will require an adapter for the PlayStation 4’s camera, which Sony will provide at no cost through its website. Sony sent one to Polygon, but we didn’t receive it in time to test the performance of PlayStation VR software on PlayStation 5. We’ll test that more thoroughly in the coming days.

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