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The (Surprisingly Bad) History of PlayStation Launch Games


With rumors stirring that we may soon get our first look at the PlayStation 5’s launch games, all eyes are once again on Sony’s upcoming console. Specifically, we’re all wondering which games we’ll be able to get our hands on when we finally boot up the PlayStation 5 for the first time.

As exciting as that is, we do have to issue a word of caution. Historically, some really great systems have launched with pretty bad titles. In fact, the PlayStation brand has surprisingly suffered through some awful launch lineups despite the overall quality of the consoles themselves.

So join us on a slightly sad trip down memory road as we look at the history of PlayStation launch titles.



Notable Launch Games: Street Fighter: The Movie, Battle Arena Toshinden, Rayman, Ridge Racer

Most of the PlayStation’s launch games suffer from a similar problem of not quite being ready for prime time.

The fact is that developers were still trying to figure out 3D design by the time the PlayStation was released. On top of that, they were discovering the ins and outs of the PlayStation’s unique architecture.

As a result, we have some games like Air Combat which were technically impressive, but an absolute nightmare to play. You’ve also got games like Battle Arena Toshinden which Sony hyped up as a revolutionary experience, but the game itself proved to be little more than a technical showcase. As for games like Street Fighter: The Movie…well, the less said the better.

Two standouts from the launch lineup (Rayman and Ridge Racer) represent two different design philosophies. Rayman was a relatively simple 2D platformer that didn’t push the limits of PlayStation technology. Ridge Racer was really the only launch game that both took advantage of PS1 technology and was (relatively speaking) mechanically sound.

It wouldn’t take long for the PS1’s lineup to gain momentum, but these initial offerings were rough.

PlayStation 2


Notable Launch Games: Tekken Tag Tournament, Timesplitters, Smuggler’s Run, Madden NFL 2001, Midnight Club, Ridge Racer V, SSX

Despite the premise of this article, we have to admit that the PlayStation 2 had a pretty solid launch lineup.

It starts with SSX. We named SSX one of the best launch games of all-time, and we stand by that claim. It’s also hard to deny the power of having Tekken Tag Tournament at launch at a time when fighting games were still incredibly popular. You’ve also got a trio of racing/driving titles (Smuggler’s Run, Midnight Club, Ridge Racer V) which varied somewhat in quality, but they were all at least impressive in their own right.

You’ve also got to give a shoutout to Timesplitters. While it wasn’t quite as sensational as GoldenEye or Halo, it was a fun and creative console FPS game released at a time when such experiences were not a given.

If we have to knock this lineup for anything, it would be for its lack of a true system seller. We love SSX as a launch game, but even at that time, it would have been hard to recommend buying a PS2 solely because of it. The PS2’s killer app at launch was always its built-in DVD player.

Still, this is a historically good launch lineup that really shines compared to what came before and after.

PlayStation 3


Notable Launch Games: Resistance: Fall of Man, Genji: Days of the Blade, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Untold Legends Dark Kingdom

It’s fitting that what may very well be Sony’s worst launch ever is reserved for what may be their worst console ever.

In terms of exclusives, the PlayStation 3 only has one launch title worth talking about (Resistance: Fall of Man). Even then, Resistance was an incredibly solid shooter that suffered from the weight of its own hype as a potential Halo killer. As good as it was, it wasn’t really a reason to buy the very expensive PS3 at launch.

The PS3 did benefit from solid ports (such as The Elder Scrolls IV), but its early exclusives were rough. Ridge Racer 7 was an undercooked disappointment, Genji: Days of the Blade is best remembered for its giant enemy crab meme, and Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom somehow managed to ruin the seemingly impossible to ruin Diablo formula.

The PlayStation 3’s launch lineup was a nearly total disaster rescued only by some decent ports of games that were not really enhanced by the console itself.

PlayStation 4


Notable Launch Games: Flower, Killzone Shadow Fall, Knack, Resogun, Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag

We’d never call this the worst PlayStation lineup ever, but it may have the distinction of being the least notable.

To be honest, the most complete PlayStation 4 launch game may be the incredibly simple retro shooter that you’ve likely forgotten about by now, Resogun. Killzone was not much more than “ok,” and Flower was an admittedly creative technical showcase.

It’s fascinating to think that the PS4 (a console defined by its stellar exclusives) suffered through a launch that was loaded with largely mediocre games. Granted, things were certainly not much better for the Xbox One, and the PS4’s lower price and better overall debut made it the more attractive prospect in the eyes of many.

With the ongoing COVID-19 situation, we suspect that the PlayStation 5’s launch may resemble the PS4’s. That is to say that it will likely just be solid, but as we’ve seen in the past, solid is still better than awful.

Matthew Byrd

Matthew Byrd covers the gaming industry including indies, consoles, PCs, iOS and Android apps, as well as topics related to entertainment and technology.