The launch of Sony’s PlayStation Classic has not gone well. From a strange selection of games – people didn’t like the PlayStation port of Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six at the time, and it has aged like fine milk – to emulation issues, to packaging the European versions of many releases - an issue for technical reasons, since different television standards made European games play slower - it has not been a great launch for the gaming giant.
The unfortunate thing is that some people are using the mini-console’s problems to point to the idea that the PlayStation, in general, doesn’t deserve the same kind of nostalgic celebration as other consoles. Nintendo’s NES and SNES Classic consoles deserved their success, they argue, but they claim that PlayStation games have not aged as well and don’t deserve the same revenant treatment.
These people are wrong.
Early, low-poly 3D graphics, which made up the majority of PlayStation games, have a unique look. It’s not something people are actively trying to replicate, but when well used they have a simple, appealing look. The low-res textures, often warping on the PlayStation, give the console’s games their own personality. Nothing else looked like a PlayStation game, and the flaws of the console actually contributed to a unique experience. The games often look like they’re made out of cardboard and slight-of-hand, which I find extremely charming. Of course, modern games can’t be rivaled when it comes to visual fidelity, but the limits of the era could net you unique images that would never be attempted now.
But the real appeal of the console is how it unpredictable it was.
At the time, 3D gameplay was a new and exciting frontier, but an intimidating one. Developers had to worry about the camera, how it affected technical performance as well as how it affected the game itself. Controls were a complete unknown, how would people actually move around in a 3D space? Not every control solution worked, and it took them a couple years to work out that the digital-only early controllers were not adequate, but you did get some unique games as a result, often using awkward control schemes to their advantage. Konami’s Silent Hill, for example, was a game that used every technical fault that the system had to its advantage, making a thrilling horror game out of a short draw distance and awkward control scheme.
The thrill of the PlayStation era was the thrill of discovery. Every new game seemed to be trying something different you had never seen before. It didn’t always work, but that’s the nature of an experiment.
In the modern era, where we’ve figured out what works and what doesn’t, it’s difficult to have that same thrill of invention. Even going through old PlayStation games feels more exciting than exploring the latest crop of new games, because the old ones are more likely to do something weird you hadn’t seen before. The budget pressures of AAA game development makes it difficult to go as far out as a developer could on the original PlayStation. One failed experiment wouldn’t kill a developer like it would now.
The PlayStation was great. The PlayStation Classic isn’t, but that doesn’t mean you should dismiss the console’s entire legacy.