PlayStation 4 has launched. Millions of people are playing PS4 as I write this article. It’s caused some PSN issues, but hey, people are excited to play with the latest eighth generation gaming console and the fourth iteration of one of the most successful line of gaming machines ever.
With PS4, the hype has never been higher. Now that the system has actually launched, we can take a step back and judge it based on its merits. No more speculation, no more guesses, this is a comprehensive review of PS4.
Hardware and Accessories
The curved, rhombus-style design of the actual unit looks cool. It’s nice not having another system that is just a black square (or that resembles a VCR, if you will), and it certainly looks impressive.
In particular, I very much enjoy the “on” and “eject” buttons on the console because they’re not buttons in the literal sense. It actually took me five minutes to figure out how to even turn the thing on, which is a testament to the neatness of its design (and perhaps my own incompetence, but that’s another story). There are small touch-sensitive areas in between the two parts of the console (the disc drive on the left, USB ports on the right) that, with a slight touch, can turn the console on (on the top) or eject the disc (on the bottom).
For PS4, I have acquired two DualShock 4 controllers as well as the PlayStation Eye Camera. The controllers are fantastic, hugely improved over the DualShock 3. The lights on the back are sort of incidental since you aren’t actively looking at them, but the rest of the controller design is near flawless. All the buttons feel great; the analog sticks are placed in a non-obtrusive manner that completely trumps the sticks of the previous generation’s controller.
DualShock 4 also features far more advanced motion control capabilities, which also work like a dream. The main new features on the DualShock 4 are the touchpad and the speaker. The speaker emits very high quality sound at certain moments in-game, such as collecting audio logs in Killzone: Shadow Fall and it’s also used for various sound effects in other games such as Knack, which greatly improve immersion.
A lot of people I spoke to about DualShock 4 in the weeks and months leading up to launch were worried that the touchpad would be superfluous and pointless gimmickry. On the contrary, the touchpad hugely improved my experiences with Killzone, adding a whole new layer of functionality to the game, ultimately offering more input and therefore more gameplay opportunities.
The touchpad is very responsive and not once has it done something I didn’t expect it to do. Its uses in gaming are obvious, and I am extremely excited to see how it is implemented in the future.
Best of all, there is no annoying syncing process required! All it takes to link a DualShock 4 controller with a PS4 system is plugging the controller into the console using the USB 3.0 cord. Unfortunately, buying the controllers separately cheats you from a cord, but the system does come with one at least.
Finally, I also used the PS Eye Camera. The camera functions somewhat like Microsoft’s Kinect device, incorporating voice controls that make navigating menus and jumping from apps to games with ease. The camera quality is greatly improved over the iteration of the device that appeared on PS3, and it is extremely easy to set up. All it requires is that it is plugged in; no tedious calibration required.
Not only that, but the voice commands have worked for me 100% of the time so far. There was even one time when I coughed in the middle of telling the camera what I wanted it to do, and it still managed to comprehend my voice and what I was saying.
PS4 is built from the ground up as a machine for gamers. Unless there are unknown hardware issues like the Red Rings of Death that I have yet to run into, I have to say that PS4 has been my most secure system at launch since the Wii.
Pack-in titles such as The Playroom are greatly appreciated when it comes to exploring and discovering the capabilities of a new system. Basically, The Playroom is a free tech demo dressed up as a small suite of mini-games meant to show off the motion controls at work with DualShock 4, the PS Camera, the AR capabilities of the device, and how awesome the touchpad is.
Players can interact with an orb-like robot that can be punched to antagonize or can be left alone by leaving the room, which will cause it to get lonely, then bored, and then start playing a game of Pong against itself.
There is another mini-game that features a bunch of tiny robots that can be manipulated in various ways. These robots can be knocked down, sucked into the controller with a vacuum that comes out of the light bar, and more, though part of the fun of The Playroom is discovering all the cool stuff to do yourself.
Finally, there’s a game of “AR Hockey” that is a lot like Pong. The difference is that the length of the field that the game is played on depends on the distance between the two different controllers that are being used. This mode is also host to a lot of little fun secrets as well, so don’t be shy to experiment!
UI: Leagues better than PS3
I am in love with the user interface on PS4, especially coming from the clunky mess that was the UI on PS3. The UI is easily traversed, either with a traditional controller or voice commands. You can jump from Killzone to the PS Store in an instant, and the system saves your exact spot in the game.
My favorite improvement, however, is allowing multiple users to be signed in to their PlayStation profiles on one system. This feature, which was included on Xbox 360, was absent on PS3. What this did was kept a lot of games that featured offline multiplayer and co-op from reaching their true potential. Players’ inability to sign in to their own profiles when being the second player kept them from saving their progress (most of the time) and they were unable to earn trophies in almost every single PS3 game that was ever released, with the exception of LittleBigPlanet 2.
Now not only can the second or third or fourth player be signed in to their own profile, but they are able to have their own home screen as well. With the simple press of the PS Button, the UI changes to match theirs. They can also finally earn trophies and save their progress in offline multiplayer and co-op games as well.
I do have a couple of gripes about the UI. For one, the text seems too small. In Killzone, the text is even smaller than on the UI, and yes, I have an HDTV, and yes, it is of more than decent size, so I can’t think of any reason for why that would be. Another issue I have is that anyone that happens to be signed into the console at the same time as you’re playing a game will earn every trophy that you do, regardless of if they are actually actively involved in it. So while Sony did take a few steps in rectifying the local player trophy woes from last generation, they went a bit too far and still haven’t quite hit the bullseye.
EDIT: After this article was written, I discovered that there are at least three games in the PS4 software lineup that DON’T let the second player earn trophies. These games are the co-op centric Lego Marvel Super Heroes, 4-player party game Just Dance 2014, and the exclusive platformer Knack. It is a shame that Sony dropped the ball like this…those that want their local friends to get the full experience may want to go the Xbox One route for third party games. Score has been updated accordingly.
Unfortunately, where PS4 is failing right now is with the games. Almost all of the third party games are cross-generational titles with very little improvement from the previous gen to this one. The first-party titles are nothing to write home about, feeling more like glorified tech demos than full gaming experiences.
That being said, it’s hard to beat “free”, and those with PS Plus have free games right out of the box. Contrast is free for download, as is Resogun, one of the most well-received launch titles out of them all.
I was worried about all the required game installations taking away precious time that could be spent actually playing the games. However, despite requiring a 39GB installation, I was playing Killzone in a matter of just popping in the disc. The installation happens in the background and is non-intrusive.
Where the installation process can get annoying is with how loud and hot it makes the system become. During the installation process, the innards of the PS4 (and therefore the shell, too) rise in temperature and it also makes loud noises, which can be annoying. This seems to subside for the most part when the installation has been completed.
Is PS4 the be-all, end-all of console gaming? It’s too early to tell right now. I am hugely impressed by the controller design and the hardware. The UI improvements are great, and it seems that Sony has fixed virtually all of my annoyances that I had with the PS3. Will these early consoles be plagued with defects? How long will it take for PS4 to have a truly great gaming library? These questions will be answered in the coming years, but right now, this is how I would rate my experiences with Sony’s PlayStation 4:
This article was written by testing the following PlayStation 4 games:
Just Dance 2014
Killzone: Shadow Fall
LEGO Marvel Super Heroes