PlayStation 5 backwards compatibility has been a big point of discussion in the build-up to the next-gen system’s launch – in fact, at times, it’s been the only point of conversation. Ever since Mark Cerny’s misjudged hardware deep dive in March – feels like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it? – there’s been questions about how exactly the console will handle PlayStation 4 playback. The discourse has intensified in recent weeks, with Microsoft shining a spotlight on its own approach to legacy software with its Xbox Series S|X configurations. So, is playing PS4 games on Sony's new system any good? We’ve tested seven titles, and in this article you’ll discover our findings thus far.
To be upfront from the off, we don’t consider ourselves to be experts; we have a marginally better understanding of framerates, resolutions, and other technical details than your average consumer, but we’re not interested in running scientific tests for the purposes of this article. As such, all of the content in this page is largely based on eyeball tests – no pixel counting, no zooming in on video footage, and no debug software to determine exact framerate fluctuations. We’re coming at this from the perspective of an everyday gamer, and telling you our honest opinion about what we’re seeing. We’re sure other more thorough tests will be published elsewhere.
To cut to the chase, though, PS5’s backwards compatibility appears to be a largely no-frills approach. We’ve experienced some improvements to loading times – although not to the extent that many may have expected – and there are definitely games that shine on the new console. Compatibility is good, although outside of the previously reported 10 titles which outright don’t work, there is 100 or so more that, while fully playable, may exhibit errors. You can find a full list of those through here, and we’ll going into more detail later in this article. Overall, we’re satisfied with the experience, but your mileage will vary, and the overall results aren’t as good as what you’ll find on Microsoft’s machine.
PS5 Backwards Compatibility Tested
PS4 games are treated identically to PS5 releases in the next-gen console’s user interface, meaning they’ll display in the main software ribbon. You’ll find all of your owned content in the Game Library, and you can download any title at any time from there. One minor frustration is that, if you have an existing save file in the PlayStation Plus cloud, you’ll need to download that manually; it’d be nice if the console grabbed that automatically. Alternatively, you can transfer saves using a USB stick if you don’t want to pay for Sony’s subscription service.
Just a quick note about our testing process: we booted all games using the PS5's onboard SSD hard drive and we're comparing to a stock PS4 Pro 1TB hard drive that's included with every console. With each cold boot, we tested a clean load from the console's main menu. With any circumstances like fast travel or save games, we compared like-for-like on both systems, loading the exact same saves and locations. While your mileage may almost certainly vary, we hope this gives you a quick glance at the kind of improvements you can expect on PS5.
Whatever your thoughts on Days Gone, developer Sony Bend’s inaugural PS4 open worlder was a looker – even if it did push the company’s current-gen hardware to its limits. It leveraged a checkerboard rendering solution to deliver a reconstructed 4K image at 30 frames-per-second on the PS4 Pro.
However, on the PS5 the studio appears to have been busy behind-the-scenes. Based on our tests, the title now runs at a locked 60 frames-per-second at a much higher base resolution. The image quality is vastly superior on the next-gen console, resulting in a much sharper presentation overall. Perhaps the only downside is that loading times are still relatively long, even if they are improved considerably.
|Loading Test||PS5||PS4 Pro|
|Cold Boot to Main Menu||42.11 seconds||182.86 seconds|
|Loading Saved Game||27.29 seconds||79.00 seconds|
|Fast Travel Across the Map||11.23 seconds||28.95 seconds|
This is one of the best demonstrations of PS5 backwards compatibility that we’ve experienced thus far. As we’ve spent the bulk of our next-gen playtime with jaw-dropping titles designed specifically for the hardware like Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, it’s easy to observe a downgrade in quality when replaying some PS4 games. However, Deacon St. John’s debut actually holds up remarkably well.
Grand Theft Auto V
Grand Theft Auto V was never even patched to take advantage of the PS4 Pro, so our expectations were low for the title running on the PS5 – especially with a remaster already announced. It’s one of the most popular games on PlayStation, however, so we had to test it out. Unfortunately, it looks as ancient as we’d expected it to.
Firstly, the load times are slow, partly because of the way the game’s designed to begin with. Rockstar’s lengthy boot sequence – which can’t be skipped – takes over 30 seconds to conclude, meaning you’re still looking at a good 50 seconds or so to load your single player game. Curiously, despite the promise of PS5’s SSD speed, early Xbox Series X tests that we’ve seen peg loading at a tick over 40 seconds on the new Microsoft machine, suggesting backwards compatibility hasn’t been as well optimised on Sony’s system.
|Loading Test||PS5||PS4 Pro|
|Cold Boot to Single Player||50.41 seconds||174.66 seconds|
|Loading GTA Online||94.78 seconds||96.29 seconds|
|GTA Online to Single Player||18.61 seconds||34.08 seconds|
Loading into GTA Online takes an eternity as well, but this isn’t the fault of the PS5; Rockstar’s networking infrastructure is notoriously slow, and there’s simply nothing that the next-gen console can do to circumvent that.
Visually the game looks extremely dated at 1080p with no native HDR available, although it does run at a smooth 30 frames-per-second – even when travelling at high speeds. The image quality is soft, with ugly aliasing and numerous graphical bugs, including aggressive shadow pop-in. It’s certainly playable, but it’s far from impressive.
The Last of Us: Part II
Many will have postponed playing The Last of Us: Part II in the hope of better performance on the PS5, but unfortunately the game looks largely the same to our eye. Load times are marginally improved on the next-gen console, but seeing as the title only loads once when starting a new game or jumping into a previous save point, it’s hardly a game changer. And to be frank, the improvements aren’t even that large.
The game obviously looked incredible on the PS4 Pro, and that’s also true on the PS5, with outstanding art direction and asset quality breathing fresh life into each and every scene. The resolution remains locked at 1440p, so its image quality is softer than some of the native next-gen titles you may be playing on Sony’s new system, which dates it a little bit. We haven’t noticed any framerate drops just yet, but the original experience on PS4 Pro was pretty rigidly fixed at 30 frames-per-second for the vast majority of its campaign, so that’s no real surprise. We couldn’t help but pick up on some pop-in to the grass textures, but we can’t be sure this wasn't present in the original version as well.
|Loading Test||PS5||PS4 Pro|
|Cold Boot to Main Menu||37.32 seconds||82.70 seconds|
|Loading the Downtown Chapter||50.38 seconds||97.99 seconds|
Overall, it still looks incredible, of course, but it’s just a shame Naughty Dog hasn’t patched the campaign to run at a higher resolution and framerate. If it had, this would easily be one of the best-looking games you could play on PS5 despite it effectively being a last-gen game. As it stands, it’s pretty much identical to the PS4 experience, which already looked breath-taking earlier in the year – but this is a 10/10 title that deserves to be taking better advantage of the new hardware.
Assassin's Creed Syndicate
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate was not among our initial list of titles to test PS5 backwards compatibility with. The London-based open worlder was by no means a bad game, but it was a largely forgettable instalment upon its release in 2015, and it prompted Ubisoft to reconsider the franchise’s tried and tested formula, culminating in the release of Assassin’s Creed Origins a couple of years later. The reason we decided to test it is because it was erroneously included on a list of Ubisoft games that are purportedly incompatible with the PS5, but that’s not technically true.
The game does boot, but unlike other backward compatible titles, a warning appears that it may exhibit some errors on Sony’s next-gen console. There are over 100 games that all have the same message on the PlayStation Store, and while they’re all playable, our findings suggest the experience is far from optimal in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate’s case. You can find a full list of releases with the same error message as the one on display here through the following link: All PS4 Games That May Exhibit Errors on PS5.
This game was updated for PS4 Pro, and runs at around 1620p – although its overall image quality is much worse than what you find in a game like The Last of Us: Part II due to the overall quality of the assets and implementation. Aliasing is a very real issue on some surfaces, while the white balance seems completely blown out, giving the game a bloomy, oversaturated appearance.
The biggest problem, however, pertains to a graphical glitch that occurs throughout the whole game. While it’s not immediately obvious, certain locations like the River Thames appear to be affected most damagingly by it. Effectively, it causes shadows to pop in and out of view rapidly during daytime scenes, resulting in a very ugly flickering effect. While the title does appear to be fully playable outside of this error, we’re not sure we’d want to play the game with this distracting bug.
God of War
The undisputed Game of the Year in 2018, and the Best PS4 Game according to our guide, God of War is destined to get a lot of playtime on the PS5 – especially due to its inclusion with the PS Plus Collection. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, it runs nicely on Sony’s next-gen console. As with the PS4 Pro release, you have two graphical options available: Favour Resolution and Favour Performance.
The original release used a checkerboard rendering technique to achieve a 4K image on PS4 Pro, and this mode still looks nice on next-gen hardware. While there were few framerate drops when using this configuration on the mid-gen console upgrade, it appears to be locked to 30 frames-per-second here, so any minor fluctuations have been cleaned up.
|Loading Test||PS5||PS4 Pro|
|Cold Boot to Main Menu||29.56 seconds||45.34 seconds|
|Loading Saved Game||40.11 seconds||65.22 seconds|
The biggest improvement comes to the Favour Performance option, which hovered around 40 frames-per-second on the PS4 Pro, depending on what was happening on screen. On the PS5 it’s close to a locked 60 frames-per-second give or take some teensy stutters, but it comes with the caveat that it’s restricted to just 1080p, which looks pretty blurry compared to the higher resolution option.
There’s no reason why a post-release update couldn’t marry the aforementioned configurations together, providing a higher framerate at a checkerboard 4K resolution. However, that would require additional patching from Sony Santa Monica, and it doesn’t look like it wants to invest the additional effort.
An iconic cult classic of the PS4 era, few games receive as much praise and adoration beyond their release window as Bloodborne does. This is the very definition of a fan favourite: a title that still gets talked about enthusiastically to this very day. Without ever receiving a PS4 Pro patch, fans had hoped that Japan Studio would put in some extra work to breathe new life into the title on the PS5 – but while it does perform well, it’s not the seismic upgrade that many may have been hoping for.
|Loading Test||PS5||PS4 Pro|
|Cold Boot to Main Menu||25.72 seconds||48.51 seconds|
|Loading Saved Game||12.15 seconds||38.42 seconds|
|Respawn After Death||13.77 seconds||16.82 seconds|
|Loading Hunter's Dream||5.73 seconds||12.45 seconds|
We get a generally smooth 30 frames-per-second with some frame-pacing issues present, but the resolution is still restricted to 1080p, meaning it looks soft and blurry as a result. A fan of the game recently made a patch for the release, enabling it to run at 60 frames-per-second on the PS4 Pro. There’s no reason the platform holder couldn’t do the same, but seeing as how the title’s last patch was released in December 2015, it sadly looks like the firm has moved on for now.
Ghost of Tsushima
Ghost of Tsushima, much like Days Gone, is another game that appears to take specific advantage of the PS5 hardware. As on the PS4 Pro, there are two configurations available: Higher Resolution and Better Framerate. On Sony’s mid-gen hardware, both targeted 30 frames-per-second, with the latter sacrificing some image quality in order to guarantee a locked refresh rate. It was widely accepted that, with only very minor framerate fluctuations, the Higher Resolution option was the better choice due to its checkerboard 1800p output.
|Loading Test||PS5||PS4 Pro|
|Cold Boot to Main Menu||43.56 seconds||44.19 seconds|
|Loading Saved Game||12.65 seconds||14.09 seconds|
|Fast Travel Across the Map||6.87 seconds||7.03 seconds|
It seems that, as promised by developer Sucker Punch, the PS5 retains these two modes but they now target 60 frames-per-second on the next-gen hardware. Based on our tests, the framerate is incredibly smooth with the Higher Resolution option enabled, with no visible fluctuations thus far. The game looks mesmerising, with its already extraordinary foliage animations particularly impressive at the higher refresh rate. It’s another example of what can be done when developers take the time to update their old code.
Unfortunately, we didn’t see a particularly meaningful change to loading times, although they were already blazingly fast on the PS4 Pro. Fast travel across the map is slightly quicker, but generally the results remain much the same. We should note that, of all the games on our list, this is the only one we tested using a Blu-ray disc, although this shouldn’t make difference as the code is installed on the console anyway.
PS5 Backwards Compatibility Conclusion
Based on our findings thus far – and, we should stress, there’s still a lot more to learn – PS5 backwards compatibility is a no-frills solution which may frustrate some fans hoping to revisit their old games in much better condition. The benefits of the SSD, while abundantly obvious in native next-gen releases like Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, don’t appear to make the monumental difference we’d anticipated – although loading times are undeniably faster.
Perhaps more disappointing is how few of the games take advantage of the additional horsepower available. While the likes of Days Gone and Ghost of Tsushima have clearly been patched to benefit from the next-gen console – and, unsurprisingly, return the best results as a consequence – others like The Last of Us: Part II disappoint due to the original design of the game and Naughty Dog’s reluctance to update it.
A lot of attention will be placed on the likes of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, and it is concerning to see such huge visual glitches occur, but it’s worth remembering that only a small percentage of the PS5’s catalogue are marked as potentially exhibiting errors. If you’re upgrading from the standard PS4, then the boost to 4K and PS4 Pro configurations is a significant jump. However if you did invest in Sony’s mid-gen machine, then perhaps the most meaningful feature here is the ability to play your entire catalogue in one place.
What are your thoughts on PS5 backwards compatibility thus far? Has Sony done enough with this feature, or were you expecting a bit more? Which games will you be revisiting on the next-gen system and why? Replay your opinion in the comments section below.