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Sony's new PlayStation 2 emulator tested - and it's another disappointing effort

Subpar image quality, poor filtering options and bugs do these classics no favours.

Through the magic of emulation, it's now possible to play a selection of classic PS2 games in native PS5 apps as part of the PS Plus Premium offering. For context, the first crop of emulated PS2 classics appeared with the new PS Plus tiers back in 2022, but the games came with major issues that made them hard to recommend, including PAL/NTSC compatibility problems, flawed scaling options and delivery in a PS4 app container. Sony has a chance to offer a substantially updated experience along native PS5 apps, but the revised offering is disappointingly subpar - despite the selection of some great games, including Sly Cooper, Tomb Raider: Anniversary and Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

The core of the issue seems to be a distinct lack of care when it comes to emulation, with some of the same issues we noted with the PS4 version of the emulator remaining unsolved two years later - and some new problems too, as John and Rich noted in the latest episode of DF Direct.

That's not to say that these releases are completely without merit - you can play through PS2 games with PS5-native menus to enable game enhancements like rewinds or save states, customised controls and a free choice of NSTC or PAL versions, adding welcome options. The problem is that the implementation of these ideas is often underwhelming, or even actively harmful to your enjoyment of the game at hand.

John Linneman and Rich Leadbetter discuss the new PS2 emulator for PS5 in the latest DF Direct Weekly.Watch on YouTube

Let's start with the presets. In Tomb Raider: Anniversary, you can choose between four options: the default image, modern (which crushes blacks), classic arcade (which adds an unconvicing CRT filter) and modern arcade (which adds a slightly different unconvincing CRT filter).

So far, so standard for official emulation efforts, but the video upscaling is significantly worse. Reports of unchanged resolution vs the PS2 original are unfounded but it's an easy mistake to make because the output is scaled in such a way that it looks about as blurry as the original. This is most noticeable on UI elements like text, which are the PS2 assets, but stretched (without factoring the anamorphic pixels that would have been used on the original hardware) and scaled with a simple bilinear filter for a fuzzy result. Given that third-party upscalers like the RetroTink 4K (and even software emulation) can make the game look better even on the original hardware, it's baffling to see how slipshod the scaling is here on PS5 hardware.

Beyond these topics, there are also some small differences in how these games run. On the positive side, some instances of slowdown on original hardware are fixed here, with Sly Cooper running at a locked 30fps on PS5. On the other hand, the same game exhibited some glitches on Sony's latest hardware, including a level that played out without music.

We also tested the current state of PSP emulation on PS5, including Daxter and Lego Star Wars 2: The Original Trilogy. In Daxter, we noted jittery uneven frame delivery and we've spotted similar and even worse frame-time issues in other PSP releases on PS Plus.

Ultimately, it's hard to accept Sony's efforts when the retro hardware community has collectively solved so many of the issues here - most notably developing a range of genuinely good upscaling methods and filters that you might actually want to use.

Given that this knowledge is out there in the retro community - and no doubt within Sony's offices too - it feels like Sony simply doesn't want to spend the time to present its classic titles at their absolute best. To paraphrase John Linneman, it's like someone booting up an emulator with default settings and just handing you the controller. Sure, you can play the game, but wouldn't you prefer for someone who knows and loves the title in question to set it up for you just right?

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