Since 1994, Sony has strived to provide users with a sleek look, ease-of-use user interface, and the best gaming console they can provide. Just 19 years later, the PlayStation 4 reaches its digital arms high and reaches for the stars, and almost achieves its goals entirely but not without bumps and bruises along the way.
She’s Got the Look
The PS4 is a stunningly beautiful piece of hardware for how much is stuffed inside its small housing. At an incredibly small 305x53x275mm build, the PS4’s slick parallelogram design adds an aesthetic that looks futuristic yet confined in just about any home theater setup. Some may find the design a little too gaudy and distracting amongst their slew of box-shaped devices, but it becomes quite apparent that this is 100% the intention of Sony.
People will notice the console immediately which, when all things considered, is a sort of advertising. In the box-topia that is my entertainment center, The PS4 stands out but not in a way that is embarrassing like I felt for the original PS3. It stands out in a way that makes me show my friends, “Look at that sexy box,” which is by far the last thing I ever thought I would say about a box of any kind.
Adding a touch of flare to a mostly entirely black box is the laser-like light shining atop the system. While your system sleeps soundly downloading updates and games, a quite hue of orange illuminates from the top. Power it on, and it blinks blue to indicate it is loading a signal to your television. After it boots completely it emits a white light to let you know that it is working properly. The lights are a small but welcoming touch as it’s easy enough to see from my couch but not blinding enough to make me put another box on top of it. This was obviously intentional by Sony’s design team to make sure consumers have their product in the foreground at all times and it works.
Beauty Is Only Skin Deep
A wise person (my Mom) once told me that beauty is only skin deep so while the outside of the PS4 is a beautiful looker, it’s what on the inside that really counts. What’s on the inside is an impressive array of hardware aimed at provided the maximum gaming experience possible while staying reasonably priced.
Touting a powerful Single-Chip Processor CPU designed by Sony and an 8 GB GDDR5 memory, the PS4 can go to battle with most mid-range to medium-high PC’s and stand tall. It’s a noticeable difference when going from the 256 MB memory of the PS3 to 8 GB of top of the line memory and almost staggeringly so.
It was rather incredible how quickly a graphically intensive Killzone: Shadow Fall booted up after I selected to start. From the push of the button to the menu screen took all but a few seconds, and after selecting to start my campaign it just took a few more. In a time where speed is key, Sony has all the rights cogs in motion to get gamers into the action as quickly as possible. On top of speed, the games look incredible due largely in fact to the increased power giving games like Killzone and Battlefield 4 those “Holy s***” moments. The next generation is beautiful.
One issue that does need to be addressed about the hardware is one that may not become noticeable to some but will become quite a nuisance to others – like myself – is the storage space. At just 500 GB’s, the PS4’s hard drive is sure to fill up in just a matter of time. The operating system takes up a large chunk of the storage at 92 GB’s and the launch lineup of games alone take up a large chunk of the rest. After installing nearly the entire library of games and the preinstall software and OS, I was left with only 90 GB’s of available memory. Keep in mind as well that the PS4 is constantly recording 15 minute chunks of gameplay which can also eat up large chunks of prime needed space.
To combat the space annoyance, Sony made upgrading the hard drive just as easy as the PS3. Unfortunately, the largest hard drive available for the PS4 is a 1.5 TB laptop drive which is the necessary type of drive needed for upgrading. Again, it isn’t something that everybody will have an experience with, but for gamers with an intense need to play every available game this could turn out to be quite problematic.
yoU & I
Taking up close to 92 GB’s is the mostly impressive user interface that has an increased focus in games and sociability or, rather, the combination of the two. The first notable difference in the new UI is how it combines what was done right in the XMB with a social gaming focus blending the two seamlessly. Upon booting up, and after updating with the mandatory firmware update, I was delighted with the new grid-based system. Moving left to right presents my most recently active applications first while pressing up provides me with the my user profile, trophies, the PlayStation Store, and settings among a few others.
One of my personal favorite aspects of the UI had to be the initial setup. Yes, this is a highly silly thing to be excited about, but sometimes the most surprising features are the most mundane. My personal experience setting up the PS3 was quite a pain. Having a surround sound system was an inconvenience during setup to say the least as I had to use the manual setup to make sure some options were disabled. The PS4 made this process a breeze. When setting up audio, I had a simple option of DTS surround or Dolby surround. That was it. In fact, the entire setup process, although lengthy, was incredibly simple as it gently walked me through linking my Facebook, Twitter, Twitch, and UStream accounts.
In theory, this new UI is intuitive and attractive to the eye. Where it falters, however, is when the library was reaching up to 15 or more games providing some gripes as I tried to track down Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. Flicking the DualShock 4’s joystick to the right 12 times until I reached the game one time only to have it only be four flicks another time was a hassle at times but minor one in the scheme of things. What could be more intuitive perhaps is a grid that places the most recent app in the first box with the rest of the apps aligned in alphabetical order or even some customization.
One other complaint I have is with the download process. Even though some games allowed for play while it downloaded, “playing” meant playing an exhibition game in NBA 2K14 while listening to Coldplay (?) without announcers. Sure, it’s more entertaining than staring at a cycle of pictures a la Grand Theft Auto 5, but I’d be more interested to see what this technology can do in the hands of, say, Naughty Dog.
Take Over Control
Rest in peace DualShock 3 because your older more attractive sibling is in my hands and it feels so good. The DS4 is a massive improvement over the previous version in such a way that I now wonder how I even tolerated any controller before it.
For years, Sony has gone with the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach and, sure, that can keep your audience comfortable for a while. After holding the DualShock 4, I realized that I wasn’t comfortable. I settled. The DS3 was a girlfriend that I knew I should leave but I had settled and just accepted my future. With a solid build and ergonomically comfortable grips, the DS4 (not the before mentioned girlfriend) feels good enough to play on for hours in a row without strain in my wrists; something I couldn’t do on the last 3 PlayStation controllers. After playing for nearly 24 hours straight, I woke up and went right back to work without any irritation. Holding the DS4 feels right.
The new concave R1 and R2 triggers feel much more at home when playing shooters in comparison to the convex nature of the previous model. Pulling the trigger on a sniper kill in Battlefield 4 feels like how it should: powerful. In addition to concaving the triggers, Sony also added a little form to the left and right sticks. One of my personal gripes about the last 3 controllers was how my thumb would constantly slip off of the joysticks and in the process, violently remind me that I’m playing a video game with something not quite fully developed for my gaming style. Many games – especially shooters – demand lightning fast reflexes but once that new rubber grip wore off, staying relevant in a shooter environment was almost impossible. The way the new sticks hug my thumbs is a welcome breath of fresh air.
Say goodbye to the long common “Start” and “Select” buttons because “Share” and “Option” have replaced them. It took some time getting used to, but after a couple of hours and a few games, I am much happier to have immediate access to share with my friends. Upon pressing Share, options to Upload a screenshot or video as well as begin a broadcast are right there. I simply select one, select the service I would like to use, and submit. The process is rather seamless. Now the waiting game begins as to when we will get access to upload directly to YouTube or save to an external site to access via a computer.
When I first heard about the new touchpad in the middle of the controller, I felt I had a very warranted reason to worry. After playing on it for a few days now I can safely say that I’m still a little worried. I can see how the implications of a feature like this could be great, but I’ve yet to see a game utilize it in a way that tells me that it is worth having in a spot that takes up a lot of real estate. At this point, the ability to use it to maneuver the PS home page is non-existent which is perplexing. In Killzone, sliding left, right, up, or down tells your drone, OWL, what mode to be in. When other games use it, it’s in a very limited fashion. The touchpad is also used as a button but I have yet to see that used in an interesting way, if at all. It is still very early in the stages of the PS4, but I sincerely hope companies like Insomniac, Naughty Dog, and Sucker Punch adapt creative ways to incorporate it into gaming.
Another feature of the new controller is the new light sensor, which could be looked at as Sony not ever wanting to let the Move die but with some usable functionality. While holding and playing games, the light is unobtrusive and even adds atmosphere. Taking bullet upon bullet? The controller transitions colors from green to yellow and yellow to red to indicate health levels. In Sound Shapes, the color is of a shade of pink and goes with the beat acting as a metronome of sorts. The times where I could be less interested are when I’m using the console for anything other than games. The light is constantly on and when it isn’t being used in games, it is the brightest blue light in the history of lights. If I were a betting man, I would assume that enough people have complained about this for Sony to take notice and hopefully make the light disabled while the controller is in anything that didn’t need it.
One final feature of the DS4 that I overlooked as a gimmick is the built-in speaker. Upon seeing the controller for the first time I couldn’t help but think how weird it was to put a speaker in a controller. I ranted to friends that it was, by far, the silliest design choice. Ok Sony, I was wrong. I obviously didn’t know I wanted it, but I am glad you did. It blew my mind while playing Killzone and the audio logs that I collected played through the controller. It was completely unexpected and a delightful one. During Resogun, the announcer tells me when a human is ready to be picked up and, unfortunately for them, when they die. It is a very nice addition that I have been pleasantly surprised by every time.
All Eyez On Me
Sony has attempted two previous attempts of a camera device with the EyeToy and PlayStation Eye and, for the most part, failed. The PlayStation Camera is a step in the right direction, but still falls incredibly short and crumbles under its own ambition of added voice recognition.
The goal for Sony is for players to say “PlayStation” and then follow by telling their gaming assistant to “Play (insert game here)” or “Home Screen” with ease. Where it falters though is in the actual recognition. I tested this feature while playing Need for Speed to see if it could pick up on my voice while police sirens rang and dubstep music added background noise. My average gaming experience is played at around 32 on my system but to get the camera to recognize “Take a Screenshot,” the volume had to be reduced to around 25. It is quite the irritation when I have to pick whether to enjoy the game and scream at my TV or bring the volume to low levels to use the still spotty recognition.
Where it really comes in handy is for Twitch live streaming where players can insert their faces for thousands to see at will by using the DS4’s Share button. Before this feature, myself and other stream enthusiasts needed capture equipment like a Hauppauge or Elgato device ranging upwards of $200. For $60, users get a dumbed down version that works well enough to reach an audience craving to see the new NBA 2K14 or FIFA 14. Although it lacks many features that these external devices bring such as brand stamps and constant streaming as you maneuver menus, it provides a quick broadcast after just two or three presses of a button. If broadcasting gameplay is something that interests you, the camera is a necessity. If you don’t care about it though, there are not enough games to warrant a purchase.
Remote Play is a feature that Sony has wanted to work for years. Its attempt with the PSP was more than mediocre and the Vita to PS3 access was extremely limited (read: 5). With that being known, Sony had to prove the worth of its Vita handheld with a functional Remote Play feature in addition to more games. Lo and behold naysayers, Remote Play works.
After setting it up, I was able to easily transfer gameplay to the Vita with the tap of the PS4 Link application on the fly. The distance allowed isn’t as great as I would have hoped for but the ability to watch football on my TV and play Resogun was fun and made the gaming experience all the more addicting. Living with 2 roommates and a child means sharing time with the TV. With Remote Play, I was able to plug in a pair of earphones and keep playing on the bright OLED screen.
I did run into a few hiccups as I noticed the occasional 1:1 ratio get muddled up by a slight lag but it generally worked as advertised. I would not however recommend using the function in a multiplayer environment as even the slightest amount of lag can destroy a kill to death ratio almost instantly. It also takes some getting used to using the back touch pad of the Vita as secondary buttons as L2/R2 get remapped to the left and right triggers, moving L1/R1 to the top left and top right quadrants on the back. It’s an extremely odd feel, but it is completely doable.
The End of All Things Will Be Televised
It has been a long time coming for the next generation of gaming consoles. Seven years for Sony in fact. Is the PlayStation 4 a perfect machine? Not by any means, but the goal set forth to provide a fast and powerful gaming rig full of possibilities is more than apparent. It’s power console built for an audience that wants to play high fidelity experiences from Indie to Triple A and does so in a sexy way. If developers begin to utilize every aspect of the console, controller, and camera, then the PS4 is well on its way to becoming a staple in video gaming home consoles. Hello next-gen. Meet the PlayStation 4.
Editor's purchase suggestion: The PS4 is $399 without a physical game or camera. As stated above, if you plan on streaming gameplay, I highly recommend picking up the camera. With a PlayStation Plus membership, 2 free games are available now and the system launched with 3 free-to-play games; Blacklight: Retribution, Warframe, and DC Universe Online. As an added bonus, Sony included a free 30 days worth of PlayStation Plus in the box so in theory, each new PS4 owner has 5 free games out of the box. Any of the AAA games are based upon preference but Battlefield 4 is especially pretty as is Killzone: Shadow Fall. For sports buffs, go with NBA 2K14. Overall, the lineup is decent but still slim. Reviews to come shortly.