The secret power of the PlayStation 4’s Share Play feature

Offering couch co-op where there was no couch co-op before

It’s Monday night. It’s the kind of evening that feels like a Monday, too; cold and drizzly and miserable. It’s blowing gustily outside. All I can hear is the sanity-sapping sound of next door’s wheelie bin whacking against the garden gate.

This is the best kind of night for gaming usually – no-one can give you shit for not being out in the sunshine when there isn’t any. But I feel rubbish and knackered, and every game I fancy playing – and I’ll admit that I usually dip into my comfort games on nights like these – needs to be reinstalled because today’s games have absolutely outstripped current-gen’s storage capacity. I flick idly to Twitch instead, but none of my favourite streamers are broadcasting, and so I flop onto the couch. And then I get a text: “Fancy some Dishonored 2? Sent you an invite.”

Dishonored 2
Dishonored 2. Credit: Arkane Studios

There’s no co-op in Dishonored 2, of course. There is no way to invite anyone to join you on your journey through Karnaca. But with a smile, I realise that this is the perfect way to spend a rainy Monday evening, and so I jump onto my PlayStation 4 and accept the invitation. A few moments later, I’m watching as my friend arrives at the Clockwork Mansion.

The clue’s right in the name, of course: Share Play. I’ve already told you about why I love taking screenshots – yes, I still maintain it’s one of the greatest things to have come out of this generation of gaming – but Share Play runs a close second, I reckon. Because while the Share button next to the DualShock 4’s touchpad does plenty of fantastic stuff – including taking screenshots and broadcasting my very particular blend of below-average gaming skills and curse words to the world – Share Play is there for those unscripted moments, too. The catch-ups and the how-was-your-days. It’s as if I’ve poured myself a cuppa and sunk down onto the sofa next to you. It gives us couch co-op where there was no couch co-op before.

The trouble with streaming is that, as tremendous as it is, it’s not a private conversation, is it? It’s less of a quiet chat in Starbucks and more a booming conversation across a crowded pub. There’s also a time delay, which means it’s difficult – and nigh on impossible sometimes – to play collaboratively; there’s little use pointing out a missed collectable if it takes 15 seconds for them to get your message.

God Of War
God Of War. Credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment

Share Play, however, lets you see what your pal is seeing in real-time. You’ll see the action as it happens, able to revel in every moment, from the good to the bad to everything in between. A revisit to Dishonored 2 is special not just because I’m utterly in love with the broken world brought to life by Arkane Studios, but also because of the myriad of ways each level can be completed.

And spectating permits you to soak up the details – the stunning vistas, the striking architecture, the sneaky open window you’ve never seen before – in a way you simply can’t when you’re in the heat of combat. It’s one of few games that’s as delightful to watch as it is to play, and few things make me happier than curling up with a steaming cup of Yorkshire Gold and watching a pal enjoy it for the first time

Because even now, it’s hard to couch co-op, isn’t it? Even if my best pals didn’t live miles away, we might struggle to justify meeting up on an evening to eat, drink, game and catch up while many of our major cities succumb to local lockdowns. But the magic of that button brings us together in a way that melts away the miles that separate us, and in a way not even online co-op can emulate. It’s pretty much the only way players can couch co-op even when their respective couches are cities, sometimes continents, apart.

Destiny
Destiny. Credit: Bungie

Is Share Play perfect? Not even close. For some reason, regardless of your internet connection, it usually takes a half dozen attempts to connect to each other, and even when you do, it’s a bit wobbly and unreliable. Sessions are restricted to an hour and while you can extend them as many times as you’d like, reconnecting after each hour-long session elapses is a bit of an unnecessary faff.

But these issues do nothing to dull the magic of Share Play. It doesn’t matter if I don’t own the game you’re playing – I can still watch it unfold in uncensored glory; I can even join in, too, if there’s couch co-op in the offing. Though admittedly a little janky, it even lets us relinquish control of our game to our pals, too – well, we all need a little help from time to time, right? (In my case, it was to reach the summit of the mountain in Destiny’s Rise Of Iron expansion).

We’ve yet to see how Share Play will live on in the PlayStation 5, but I can only hope the feature is not only retained but evolves. I suspect we need it now more than ever.

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