The video game demo has been around since immemorial; a complimentary slice of introductory gameplay to showcase what the full title has to offer. We may no longer be in the glory days of magazine demo discs packed with dozens of free trials for the latest in gaming but, as betas, early access previews, and free multiplayer weekends continue to prove popular amongst players, the demo is starting to make its own secret comeback.
On PlayStation 4, you can find a healthy selection of free trials and experiences, especially if you own a PlayStation VR headset, and some multiplayer demos will even let you play without the need for a PlayStation Plus subscription (opens in new tab). Let’s rundown the best PS4 demos that are (quite literally) worth your free time. Many of them are for the best PS4 games around, or showcase the many upcoming PS4 games you can buy.
It’s hard to understand the incomparable excellence of Nier: Automata (opens in new tab) until you play it for yourself, and you really have no excuse for not doing so at this point. There’s a free demo on the PS4 that throws you headfirst into the first 30 minutes of its blistering campaign.
In truth, the more you play Nier: Automata, the weirder and wackier it gets, so you won’t be able to truly appreciate the scale of its insanity from this small spoonful, but it will give you a decent idea of what to expect and almost certainly will leave you wanting more. At the very least, it’s a great way to while away the time if you’re looking for something to play, with a strong sense of challenge that can justify repeated playthroughs.
The Doom (opens in new tab) demo is playable on both Xbox One and PlayStation 4, but id Software’s purist reboot of the genre-defining FPS will take up less memory for a better performance on the latter. And you’re going to want this thing to run as smoothly as possible, because the first half hour of Doom’s campaign is an intense and immediate punch to the gut, which never stops to take a single pause for breath. Congratulations; you’ll be playing one of the best, most subversive video game openings of recent memory, all for the sweet, sweet price of nothing.
Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn
If you don’t know the story behind Final Fantasy 14 (opens in new tab), allow me to bring you up to speed. When it first released, it was bad. Square Enix rebuilt and re-released it, and it became good. Now, with it’s most recent expansion, Stormblood (opens in new tab), it’s getting better every day. Want to give it a try? You can freely enjoy its massive online world all the way up to level 35 for no cost, which makes it one of the most valuable free demos on PS4. Even better, if you do decide to pay up after reaching max level in the trial mode, all your character progression and stats will carry over into the subscription model. It’s a win-win situation.
Mass Effect: Andromeda
Mass Effect: Andromeda (opens in new tab) doesn’t exactly have the greatest reputation, but it definitely has some merits. In fact, with all the negative buzz surrounding its technical performance and visual redundancies, it’s become easy to overlook the fact that there’s a decent and worthwhile Mass Effect game to be found somewhere in there, especially for fans of the series.
So ignore what you’ve heard for a moment, and just give it a try. See for yourself whether it’s something you might be interested in. You can play both its singleplayer and multiplayer content for up to ten hours, so even if you decide it's not your cup of tea, at least you gave it your best shot.
Gravity Rush 2
It only gives you 20 minutes of playtime, but Gravity Rush 2 (opens in new tab)’s demo should be commended for the way it both caters to newcomers and series veterans. Once the demo begins, you have the choice to experience one of two paths; one made for those unfamiliar with Gravity Rush’s uniquely freeform gameplay, and another more difficult path which offers a challenge to those who played the original game.
That’s pretty neat, as the last thing you want to be doing in a demo is wasting your time on some tutorial telling you what you already knew. At the same time, the easier path is a fair introduction to the physics-defying world of Gravity Rush, and doesn’t instantly overload first timers with its wild rejections of Newton’s law.
Resident Evil 7
The real beauty of Kitchen (opens in new tab) is that, even when it first scared the pants scared off of players at conventions and trade shows, no one knew it was a tech demo for Resident Evil 7 (opens in new tab) until long after it had first been revealed. Returning to it now, the brief but memorable experience is still a powerful showcase for what horror can achieve through virtual reality, and its simplicity (players aren’t able to do anything except look on in horror as an increasingly disturbing set of events unfold) makes it perfect for showing off to your friends and family.
While I’m on the subject, here’s a shout out to Resident Evil 7’s other great demo, Beginning Hour (opens in new tab), for offering a four hour standalone prologue to Biohazard as a non-gratis trial for anyone interested in Capcom’s horror revival.
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Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection
What’s that? You haven’t played an Uncharted game before? You need to change that right now, even if it means just playing the demo for The Nathan Drake Collection (opens in new tab); the PS4 remaster of Naughty Dog’s action adventure trilogy. The demo takes place right in the middle of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (opens in new tab) (which, as everyone knows, is the best game in the series), in which Nathan Drake traverses war-torn Nepal alongside colleague and, uh, ‘companion’ Chloe Frazer.
Even if you’ve played them all before, the demo is a nice way of seeing how Bluepoint Studios has touched up Naughty Dog’s graphics for the next gen, and allows you to relive a time from the PS3 golden era, with a standout level in a truly standout game.
PlayStation VR Demo
If you’re lucky enough to own a PlayStation VR headset (opens in new tab), then there’s no question as to whether you should download this demo collection (opens in new tab) or not. Basically a tech showcase for Sony’s new gadget, the free bit of software contains 15 demos (yes, 15) rolled into one, including trials for Driveclub (opens in new tab), Eve: Valkyrie, Job Simulator, Rez Infinite (opens in new tab), Until Dawn: Rush of Blood (opens in new tab), and a bunch more.
It’s a fantastic way to come to terms with the sheer variety of VR experiences out there, as well as letting you figure which ones are worth buying and which ones aren’t quite up your alley. Get it, and watch on with glee when your grandma comes round and goes full metal jacket in Battlezone (opens in new tab) this Christmas. Probably.
Dragon Quest Builders
Find me another demo that lets you leisurely partake in the restoration of a fantasy town. I’ll wait. Dragon Quest Builders (opens in new tab) is an immediately affable marriage of Dragon Quest (opens in new tab) and Minecraft (opens in new tab), so of course its demo is going to be just as fun as the rest of the game.
You’ll get to learn some of the core mechanics, engage in the RPG inspired combat, and begin work on rebuilding the first town in the game’s open world. You can spend as much time as you like in the demo, but it's only limited to the first island, so if you find yourself yearning for more Dragon Questing, that’s a good indicator that the demo has done its job.
As Destiny 2 (opens in new tab) continues to trundle along with its live service model, Bungie has recently put out a free trial for the game across all available platforms, but the studio’s partnership with PlayStation gives the PS4 version a slight edge over its Xbox One counterpart. The trial lets you enjoy the story campaign all the way up to Destiny 2’s second planet, Titan, while giving you access to The Farm (the game’s first social space) and all quickplay modes in The Crucible.
You can even join a clan, but your level will be capped at 7, so don’t expect to be doing any Nightfalls or Raids without investing in the full game first. For what’s it worth, we think Destiny 2 is totally worth the price of entry, but why not let the game speak for itself with this newly available demo?