Remote Play has been a welcome feature to Sony’s PlayStation 4 console. With Sony’s official Remote Play app downloaded onto your desktop PC/Mac, you can stream your favourite PS4 games to your computer. I find this feature very handy when at work, for a little lunchtime gaming session. It can also come in handy when away at friends or family and I just want to access my PS4 back at home. The sad thing about all this is not everyone has access to a desktop away from home, where as a mobile or tablet is more likely to be on your person whilst away from your PS4.
Remote Play on mobile devices isn’t anything new, Sony’s own PlayStation Vita has been doing this for years, but you may not be carrying your Vita as regularly as your mobile or tablet however. More recently, Sony’s own Xperia Android mobile devices came readily available with Remote Play support, allowing gamers to pair up with their PS4 controller via Bluetooth and game on the move; but Apple’s own iOS devices hasn’t received as much love in this department.
This is when R-Play – Remote Play for the PS4 app comes in to save the day. This little gem of an app has been tucked away on the Apple App Store since April 2017, and has seen a number of updates over the past few months that has addressed various bugs and improved the app’s connection and streaming quality.
The unofficial app has recently had a price increase this July, going from $9.99 to $11.99, and if you don’t want to jailbreak your iOS device, this is your only way to play your PS4 games via Remote Play on an iPhone or iPad device.
So how does it all work, and the all important question, is it any good? Let’s find out…
Simple setup and guides
Firing up the app greets you to a number of help slides to get your PS4 ready for Remote Play. There is also an extensive FAQ page in the app that should solve any issues you come across whilst setting up, however if you’ve already used Remote Play before with the official Sony desktop app, then you’re already halfway there.
Once your PS4 has registered your iOS device running R-Play, you’ll soon see your PS4’s home screen magically appear on your iOS device. You’ll first sit back in amazement of this sorcery, thinking of all the possible things you can do with this app whilst on the move. But, it isn’t too long until you realise the app’s limitations – on-screen controls.
The bane of on-screen touch controls
There has never been much success when overcoming the negative experience of playing mobile games with virtual on-screen controls, and this issue becomes ever present when you start to play specific games via the R-Play app and its on-screen controls. Things do improve when using a hardware controller though, and I’ll come back to that in a bit.
Navigating the PS4’s menus using the on-screen controls isn’t bad, and as long as your connection to and from your PS4 is solid, it’s quite responsive. The four face and four shoulder buttons are nicely displayed on screen, along with a large thumb-friendly virtual D-Pad. Simply tapping on either the left or right side of the screen, outside of these buttons, will popup the a virtual analogue stick. It is very intuitive to game with these virtual sticks, but for games that require more precise, fast reactions, you’ll soon be longing for a physical analogue stick and shoulder buttons.
Unless you’re gaming on a 5.5” iPhone 6/7 Plus, using R-Play on a 4.7” device can feel a little cluttered, with most of your display used up for the on-screen controls. I dread to think how much worse it is on a 4” iPhone 5 display. Luckily these can be toggled to auto hide when you’re not interacting with the screen, but they’ll mostly be visible, as you’ll be touching the screen most of the time whilst gaming.
This issue improves slightly on iPad, thanks to the extra screen real-estate that allows for a more ‘spread out’ interface. But still, with the thick bezels of the iPad whilst being held in landscape, you’ll have to have thumbs the size of ET’s fingers to be able to reach comfortably into an empty area to trigger the use of the on-screen analogue sticks.
Luckily, you can customise the location and size of each interface button (shown above), but the biggest downfall of on-screen controls is that the shoulder buttons require the same thumbs as the ones also using the on-screen analogue sticks. This makes playing games such as first-person shooters almost a turn-based experience – as you have to lift off the virtual-sticks and use your thumbs to press the R2 button to fire, which results in your character stoping from turning and/or moving. This regularly makes tracking and firing at your enemies at the same time almost impossible!
The desire to use a controller becomes almost immediate once you start to use the app more seriously, and with a controller connected, things do go from okay, to pretty great!
Night and day improvements with an MFI controller!
So we’ve already learned that on-screen virtual stick controls in gaming has never really been a success. Unfortunately, Apple is rather selective on what Bluetooth accessory it allows to pair with its iOS devices, so we’re out of luck pairing up a DualShock4 controller. R-Play does have a work-around for this, however it is rather complex and involves using two PSN accounts and being close to your PS4 – making this method kind of pointless when using your PS4 remotely.
The last breath of hope for the R-Play app comes with the support of Made for iPhone (MFI) hardware, such as our recently reviewed Nimbus controller from SteelSeries. With a wireless Bluetooth MFI controller connected to an iPad, the enjoyment of PS4 gaming on iOS improves greatly. The difference in enjoyment is night and day. No longer does the burden of on-screen controls become an issue, and playing without the clutter of fingers and on-screen controls all over the screen is fantastic! Going through the app’s settings you can set the output stream to run at 1080p at 30fps – 60fps is there too if your bandwidth can cope – but at 1080p/30fps over Wi-Fi, gaming looks and runs pretty sweat on my iPad Pro’s 9.7” display.
The one downside you’ll encounter is that the Nimbus doesn’t have L3 and R3 controls, and it is very likely that there are no MFI controllers out there that will support this either. R-Play also has this covered, with the ability to map at least two buttons together to trigger the L3 and R3 command in the game. I tried to bind L1 and L2 triggers together to activate L3, and the same with R1 and R2 for R3, but this took some getting use to after playing games with a DualShock, but at least there is support in the app for this.
PS4 gaming on iOS
I never did think I’d see the day, but it has eventually taken a third-party app such as R-Play to allow iOS owners a way to connect to their PS4 via Remote Play, all without the need of jailbreaking your device. It is a surprise Sony hasn’t done an official app for iOS, with the likely reason being the inability to connect a DualShock controller to an iOS device. But with that said, R-Play has filled this void very well.
The execution of this app is pretty stellar and at times, for me, it has proven to be worth its relatively small upfront cost. If you’re thinking of gaming regularly via this R-Play app, just make sure you’re prepared to pay a little extra for an MFI controller. The on-screen controls do nothing but frustrate the experience; to a point that it puts you off using the app regularly at all. But on the flip-side, pairing up with an MFI controller makes Remote Play on iOS an acceptable solution if you do not have a laptop or desktop around.
Your own experience with R-Play will vary. Wi-Fi is recommended, and 3G/4G is certainly possible, but as stable as mobile networks can be, it may create a loss in visual quality at times. It also helps to have your PS4 connected to ethernet, along with a decent broadband speed. The game that’s being played will also effect your enjoyment somewhat. If a game requires regular use of shoulder buttons, or the use of L3/R3 buttons, you might as well not bother, or get hold of an MFI controller and get use to the work around. R-Play can suffer with fast-paced FPS games, however games that have more of a slow-pace might work really well, even with on-screen controls.
For a quick game session away from home, or simply browsing PSN whilst on the move, until Sony offers an official solution with DualShock4 support (which seems very unlikely at the moment) you really can’t do much better than downloading the R-Play app.