The new Share Play feature that came in this week's PlayStation 4 firmware update is everything we wanted it to be – and a bit more besides.
When it was first shown off at Sony's E3 keynote – facilitating a little Far Cry 4 online co-op between players that, for the sake of the demo, it was suggested both did and didn't own the game – Share Play was certainly impressive.
But through the promise of "virtual couches", we figured it would be a fairly fledgling, locked-down feature to be implemented by certain signed-up publishers on a case by case basis to pull in new blood at certain times, etc etc. "Share this mission and get DLC at half price when you buy" kind of thing. No way was everyone going to go for that.
However, as we found out when we got hands-on with the new PS4 system software 2.00 features last week – the console's biggest update so far, hence it not being Firmware 1.73 or something – Share Play will actually now be the standard across all PS4 games and the restrictions are surprisingly low.
Sure, each session is capped at an hour, but the host can re-share in seconds via the Share button's option screen and there are no immediate limitations on what parts of the game can be shared, either – multiplayer, campaign, whatever.
The three options within the new Share Play menu are: share your screen so that someone can watch you play, a la OnLive Viewer; play a multiplayer or co-op game together on a title that only one of you owns; and share your controller with a friend so that they can take over your game.
Now, the latter is interesting, as while it's intended for you to get temporary assistance from afar for tricky bits, it is perfectly possible – with a very amenable host, that is – to be able to save your progress every 59 minutes and play through an entire game you don't own (with your friend getting paid in all those Trophies you win on their account, obvs).
Now, that's certainly not the spirit in which it's intended – and we'd question at what point it just becomes less laborious to go and invest in the game. But then if you can, someone will, and this is why we generally can't have nice things. People who only ever play multiplayer FIFA with their friends may, while they try desperately to hold on to said friends, never need buy the game again.
Indeed, we played FIFA 15 in a very controlled and unnatural environment – two PS4s right next to each other, both online via Ethernet – so it's hard to get a real-use handle on the performance, but there was no palpable lag at all. The visuals were slightly softer than on the host's screen – they set them up side by side – but nowhere near as unplayably blurry as such fast-paced titles can quickly become on PS Vita Remote Play. We felt in control at all times and as reassuringly average as usual.
All hosts must be subscribers to the £37-a-year PlayStation Plus service, as must anyone wanting to join in the shared multiplayer or co-op. But just for watching or sharing the controller? No payment required whatsoever. The only games that will not be eligible immediately are those where peripherals are necessary to play the game, which sharers will, of course, be lacking.
We're big fans of this new system, although fully expect it to be "finessed" at some point, not only for the above but because there's also a potential real-money market in the making here in players battery-farming Trophies for the less talented. We can see daily share limits in our future… But in trying to replicate the social ritual of passing a controller across the sofa, as was Sony's aim, it's a really simple-to-use success.
Here's the official walkthrough video to see it in action…
Utilising some of the Gaikai compression tech that's powering PlayStation Now, resolution on the sharer's end is limited to 720p and the frame rate will be "adaptive", too, though Sony wasn't letting on to what. Interestingly, it also reckoned there would be no recommended broadband speed, either, as you can't guarantee the service will work for all internet setups everywhere.
For those particularly private souls, any visiting players can't access your system menu or see any of your notifications, and you can cut their controller off at any point. The session creates a private party between you automatically, where the usual voice and text chats can be undertaken.
The PS4 had been a little update-light compared to its predecessor until now – some would say that's a good thing – but that's all about to change with 2.00, or Masamune as it's codenamed (Japan's greatest ever swordsman, for those slow-of-Google).
As well as Share Play, the 2.00 update also brings a more streamlined app hub with 15 "recent" icons only before the rest is stuffed in a Library, gameplay video sharing direct to YouTube, the ability to play music files direct from USB sticks (although you still can't store them on your hard drive), a more simplified voice command system and – at last! – custom themes for individualising the hell out of your home screen. Or just changing it to a preset colour. It's the little things…