Why PS4 is all about the second screen – E3 pushes companion apps hard

Tom Clancy's The Division PS4 E3 screens

One of the bigger surprises from E3 has been the enthusiasm with which developers have embraced companion apps to manage and, in some cases, play PS4 games. Sony have pushed Remote Play on PS Vita hard and after seeing demos of multiple second screen applications on PlayStation 4 it looks like the idea is going to be big.

Why PS4 is all about companion apps

Of the games I’ve seen so far The Crew, The Division and Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag all have companion apps remotely running aspects of management and, in the the case of The Division, letting you actually play in PS4 games. Albeit it as a Drone. Admittedly these are all Ubisoft games but that’s a lot of commitment from one company and suggests it has faith enough to invest in the idea. At the moment everything it’s showing has been running on Android, but clearly the second screen push is going to be a big deal. So I would imagine – although I wouldn’t want to say for sure – those companion apps would be released on Vita (and The Division developers openly admitted they’re looking into the options). Honestly? It would seem like utter insanity not to.

The crew PS4 e3 screensUbi’s street racer, The Crew, is a good example of the sort of basic interaction you can have with your PS4 game via a mobile device. I could change tires, put on spoilers, change the body kit, perform paint jobs, add decals and tweak other customisation options. It’s also possible to spend in-game XP to buy more stuff. Once I was done with my car I tapped start and the race started.

Management is an obvious way to exploit a second screen and Assassin’s Creed 4 uses it to offer another way to manage your pirate fleet and resources. During the game you can recruit new crew, add new ships and then look after them all though a tablet app. It enables you to make choices such as using the gains from a raid or captured ship to repair the damage done to your own ship in a battle. You can also use the app as a map and to set waypoints and, in a similar way to Assassin’s Creed 2′s assassins, send ships off on far away missions to plunder distant rewards.

It’s The Division however that’s set
the bar at E3. Using the companion
app you can control a drone, seeing
the PS4 game in real-time on the app

It’s The Division, however, that’s really set the bar at E3. The post-pandemic online shooter has a companion app that looks seriously impressive. Using it you can control an in-game drone, seeing the PS4 game in real-time on the app. It’s obviously lower fidelity than the console version – but you can see guys moving, see enemies. Using the app you can then buff your team – giving them damage modifiers and health – or take down an enemy’s shields. More usefully this can build up attacks and unleash things like rockets on opponents hiding behind cover. As far as uses of a second screen go it’s probably the most ambitious of the lot because you are actually playing directly in the game. There’s almost no lag so if something explodes on-screen on console it explodes on-screen on the app. So that’s definitely the most involving and immersive one yet.

Tom Clancy's The Division PS4 E3 screens

Based on what I’ve seen so far it does seem like accessing PS4 game elements through separate screens and apps is going to become increasingly ubiquitous. I wouldn’t say you’d lose anything without the app either as, for the most part, you’re only accessing existing in-game content remotely. It’s also unlikely I’m going to sit at home, not play the game, and fiddle on the app instead. But it’s nice to be able to do things like sending your Assassin’s Creed 4 boats away while you’re out and see them come back with resources and be waiting for you when you get back home. Especially if that saves you some time while you’re playing the game so you can focus on… actually playing the game.