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I played Grand Theft Auto V on my phone

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PS4 Remote Play is finally on select phones and tablets, and it's amazing — when it works

I've spent much of the past few days replaying my favorite games from 2014. I slowly crept through the dark hallways of Sevastopol Station in Alien: Isolation, holding my breath while a xenomorph stalked me through the vents. I whizzed through the whimsical world of Hohokum, nodding along to my favorite Tycho songs. And I engaged in all manner of criminal activity in the new and improved Grand Theft Auto V. It was a great reminder of just how many awesome games came out this year.

The crazy part? I played all of them on a smartphone.

Ever since the PS3, Sony has tantalized Playstation owners with the idea of Remote Play, which lets you stream console games to a mobile device so you can take games with you throughout the house. It was a largely forgotten feature last generation, and Sony has put a renewed effort into Remote Play with the PS4. But it’s still incredibly niche: in order to use it, you need both a PS4 and a Vita. That's changed now that Sony has opened up Remote Play to its Xperia Z3 line of smartphones and tablets. And there's an incredible thrill that comes from playing a game as big and vibrant as GTA V on a phone. When it works it's amazing, but the problem is that it doesn't work consistently.

When it works, it's amazing

Remote Play on a phone works the same as on a Vita; you’re not really running a PS4 game on a Z3, you're just playing a mirror image of whatever is on your console. This means that, just like with a Vita, your phone will need to be connected to the same local Wi-Fi network as your console. One of the key differences is that, in order to play on a phone or tablet, you'll need a Dualshock 4 controller (there's also the option to use virtual buttons overlaid on your phone's touchscreen, but it is awful and under no circumstances should you use it). To make this work, Sony has released a small plastic contraption, sold separately for $39.99, that snaps on to the controller and features a suction cup-like mount that holds your phone in place. It looks goofy, but it's functional and comfortable, and aside from the phone occasionally slipping from the suction cup, I had no issues with the set-up.

In fact, playing games designed for a big screen on your phone works surprisingly well. Because these games were designed for a television, you'll run into some small niggles, like super small text or mini-maps that are hard to read. Action-heavy games like GTA play great, however. The Z3's 5.2-inch screen is big enough that things don't feel cramped, and with a strong connection, games look fantastic, whether they're bright and colorful like Hohokum or dark and sinister like Alien. I spent hours cruising around Los Santos, and it didn't really feel significantly different than playing on a console.

Xperia Z3 remote play

There can be a slight lag between the time you push a button and something happens on screen, and for games that require lightning fast reflexes, like the new Geometry Wars, that’s a problem. But everything else I tested worked just fine. (The one exception being Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, in which the controls were so delayed, or simply didn't work, to the point that it was completely unplayable. I tried a few times over the course of three days, and it didn’t work properly once. The problem was relegated to just that game, however, so it may be fixable through an update. So much for slaying orcs on your phone.)

The Z3's 5.2-inch screen is big enough that things don't feel cramped

As impressive as playing the latest console games on your phone is, the main issue is that things just don’t work smoothly most of the time. No matter how good your internet is, it always feels like the wireless connection between your phone and PS4 is tenuous. The first thing to go is the graphics, which turns places like Mordor and Los Santos into pixelated messes as your connection weakens. It's annoying, but unless it gets really bad (which only happened to me once or twice over the course of the last few days) games are still playable.

The real problem comes when the connection simply drops. This happened to me with alarming frequency, whether I was in the same room as the PS4 or on a different floor. Aside from one, wonderful afternoon of playing GTA V problem-free, every single time I used Remote Play, I experienced at least one disconnect. Worse still, several times I wasn't able to reconnect without turning off the console and starting over. It’s hard to sit down and relax with a game when you know your connection will almost definitely drop at some point.

it's hard not to get excited by the potential

This inconsistency makes it hard to recommend anyone go out of their way to play PS4 games this way. If you already have the necessary hardware, it's a cool feature, and being able to play violent action games on something other than the living room TV is a godsend for parents. But it's an added bonus, not a reason to go out and buy a Z3. When it does work, though, it's hard not to get excited by the potential.

Right now it's a feature that’s inconsistent and only compatible with a small number of devices. But if Sony fixes the connection stability and adds support for more phones, it could turn into something amazing, a feature that changes the way you play console games by letting you pick up and play the same game on multiple devices. That’s already one of the Vita’s strongest selling points: I can start a game on my TV, and then finish up my session in bed on a handheld. Adding in support for phones is even better.

We’re not there yet, and maybe we never will be. But I can't stop thinking about playing No Man's Sky on my iPhone.

From Polygon: Grand Theft Auto V Review