This is how the PlayStation 2 emulation works on PlayStation 4
It’s been quite a while since we first talked about the fact that PS1 and PS2 games would work on PlayStation 4 under emulation. So long, in fact, that we even began to think that Sony might have canceled the project. The Japanese company originally explained to the developers the existence of the emulator at the same time that it informed them of the plans for the implementation of the PlayStation Now cloud service, in January 2014. Since then we have only seen glimpses of the subject in a list of the PEGI and mentions of PS2 classics in some documents during the beta phase of the PS4 firmware 3.0.
But it seems that the PS2 emulator for PlayStation 4 is already available, published without any fanfare within the Star Wars bundle that includes four “classics” from the well-known franchise: Super Star Wars, Star Wars: Jedi Starfighter, Star Wars: Racer Revenge and Star Wars: Bounty Hunter. All four come in a single PSN code, rather than on the physical disk that includes the hardware. As many of you will remember, three of these games are from the PlayStation 2 era, and after downloading them it is evident that they work under emulation.
How can we affirm it? For starters, a system prompt warns you that the Start and Select buttons are mapped to the left and right of the DualShock 4’s trackpad, and developers cannot access the operating system at that level. Second, just like the PS2 emulator for PlayStation 3, there is an emulation for PS2 memory cards. And finally, all the signals within the game refer to the PlayStation 2 controller, so as there are no changes in this regard, we rule out a remastering.
You probably don’t even want to hear the word rescaled in games that haven’t aged too well visually, considering that our initial information said Sony would emulate these games in high definition. We have good news and bad news about it: all 2D artwork is rescaled – nothing can be done about it and the result is a bit seedy. However, the 3D elements are substantially improved and also receive an effective increase in resolution.
The original PlayStation 2 games ran at different resolutions, but 512×488 and 640×488 were the most common (God of War 2, in fact, even allowed you to choose between the two). It is a first contact, but right now we have the feeling that the emulator works with a native resolution of 1292×896. Two black bands are added above and below the image, before finally resizing it to 1080p. This, for all practical purposes, is a four-fold increase in resolution – or even more depending on the game. Texture filtering also seems to be improving, but a closer look suggests that this increase in quality is solely due to the extra resolution.
The overall impression is positive. There is little that can be done to improve the quality of 2D assets, but improvements to 3D elements are more than welcome. It seems that a post-processing effect is applied to mimic anti-aliasing, because the edges are surprisingly smooth and flickering doesn’t occur. Oh, and there is also another interesting addition: the emulator includes trophies, something that we can confirm by having unlocked several in Racer Revenge. A priori this would rule out emulation (the trophies were not in the original games), but this patent explains how it is achieved. Basically the emulator monitors certain conditions required to activate specific trophies, greatly simplifying the process.
The question that remains is that of performance. We have a substantial improvement in image quality, but are the games performing as they should or maybe even better? It is too early to affirm one thing or another. The truth is that it has been a long time since we reviewed PS2 games, and getting a clean 480p feed is not easy, even with a backward compatible PS3. However, the situation is promising: the emulator clearly moves these games more smoothly, with Jedi Starfighter hitting 60FPS when the original PS2 hardware did not reach that metric anywhere.
We don’t have any numbers yet, but just playing Racer Revenge side-by-side with the original version also shows a big improvement in fluency. Obviously these are not the most suitable games to test the emulator and others could perform in a totally different way, but imagine Metal Gear Solid 3 with a higher frame-rate, God of War with stable frame-rate or Gran Turismo 4 without tearing. We really want to see what this emulator is capable of.
The arrival of PS2 emulation on PlayStation 4 is important. We asked Sony and they did not answer, but it is strange that such an interesting technology capable of generating a lot of interest is published almost in secret. PlayStation 2 is one of the mythical consoles, and the possibility of accessing its catalog with visual improvements is a frankly attractive idea. Bearing this in mind, it’s a shame that the emulator comes with three such mediocre games, rather than some of the console’s greatest hits.
We also can’t help but wonder if the launch of backward compatibility on Xbox One has had any influence on Sony’s internal strategy. The Redmond company allows users to use their Xbox 360 discs on the new console (albeit as validation for a digital download). Meanwhile, it is believed that Sony’s plan for the PS2 emulator is to sell the games again in digital format, just as it did in the previous generation. With PS2 emulation already in the hands of consumers, let’s hope Sony unveils its plans for this technology soon.