November has certainly been one of the best months this year for the gaming industry, not only with the sheer number of titles that are hitting store shelves before the Christmas rush but also Microsoft and Sony Computer Entertainment releasing their brand spanking new consoles the Xbox One and Playstation 4. While the Xbox One may have been the first off the bat in Australia, the Playstation 4 launched in the region on Friday morning at 12:01AM to sizable crowds around the country – including my own local EB Games store which saw a sizable turnout in the triple digits.
It has been a little more than seven years since the Playstation 3 launched around the world, and while it may have been behind in sales in comparison to the Xbox360 and Wii consoles initially, it made up for this with a stellar line-up of first and third party games, many of which have walked away with awards on The Otaku’s Study. But while the Playstation 3 may have support still lined-up for the next couple of years at least, Sony Computer Entertainment have moved forward with their launch of the Playstation 4… bringing with it some really nice system specs and prospects for future gaming.
Do note that as with my review of the Xbox One, this will look at some comparative elements between the two consoles, however a full and comparison review will be written up for this over the next couple of days.
1. The Design
As I said in my Xbox One review, the design itself isn’t really a major talking point when it comes to the console itself, but as someone who likes to display all his consoles with pride, I always desire something that looks nice. The Playstation 4 is easily the most attractively looking Sony console released to date. While not overly elaborate, it features a slightly angled design, with hidden buttons and a rather nifty coloured streak at the top of the console serving as a status indicator rather than a few flashing lights at the front.
While it can be practically stood up vertically, the console felt more appropriately designed to sit horizontally (There are stands available to provide more vertical stability). It’s two-tone gloss / matte casing looks very modern, and its darker design and location of buttons mean that unless you are looking at the console head-on, you may not even notice where any of the frontal buttons / slots / ports are. In-fact, due to my not reading the quick start manual I spent five minutes trying to find where the power button was when first setting the console up. Lightly touching the top groove in the middle of the console will turn it on, while the bottom groove ejects the disc from the blu-ray drive.
While Microsoft chose to keep their USB ports hidden away at the back and side of their console, Sony chose to be more generous and practical with two frontal USB port offerings next to the blu-ray drive at the front of the console for recharging controllers and plugging in USB thumb drives. In return they are pretty much the only USB ports you are given access to, however there are additional accessories available for purchase to allow you to charge more than one controller on a single USB port.
Given that my console area doesn’t have a lot of space, the one thing I welcomed with the Playstation 4 in comparison to its competitor was the internal power supply rather than the big, bulky box. It is also slightly smaller and lighter, and should fit in most enclosed gaming set ups, but be warned that the ventilation in comparison to the Xbox One is considerably less. The ventilation however is an improvement over the Playstation 3, and should run at cooler temperatures – to date and leaving the console on for extended hours at a time I have not run into any heating issues.
2. The Dualshock 4 Controller
The Playstation line of consoles have retained the same controller style since their Playstation 1 days. While there may have been a few technological improvements and slight aesthetic changes over the years, much of what was present on the 1st Dualshock controller design was present in the 3rd. While maintaining a similar overall structure, there have been many new inclusions and key mapping changes on the Dualshock 4…. and is by far the best release to date.
First and foremost, while the controller may take a little bit of getting used to it is much more comfortable on the hands than the DS3. For someone like me with bigger hands the handles of the controller are bigger and allows easier movement of the fingers across the buttons, the thumbsticks have indentations to better hold your thumbs in place and contains superior concave trigger buttons from the rather lackluster ones present on its predecessors. But that is only one element.
Unless you own a Playstation Camera you may not see a purpose for the coloured light that shines atop the controller (At the moment) even if some games use it for small, simple reasons. But more notable is the inclusion of a small touchpad that allows some degree of interaction with the game environment in some instances. Unfortunately those “some instances” are very limited at the moment and asides from a few small uses, most of the time you will be using it to check leaderboards in titles such as Killzone: Shadow Fall and Call of Duty: Ghosts. More details on how individual games used the touchpad / front light functionality will be discussed in individual reviews. The start / select buttons have also been replaced with Share / Options buttons at either side of the touchpad, but their location don’t make either button easy to access to in a rush.
At the bottom of the controller are two ports, one for the headset (Which in the case of the Playstation 4, the one included is an okay but nevertheless tacky) and a micro USB port to connect to the console and charge it. Unlike the Xbox One which gave users a choice, the Dualshock 4 only comes with the built-in rechargeable battery – but comes with a long enough USB cable that (Provided you are on a small screen like me and sit relatively close to the TV) you should be able to continue playing the game with it plugged in. For the purpose of this review, I have not done a test on battery life.
If there was one issue with the controller during my playtesting it was that after only a couple of hours, the bottom of my left thumbstick showed some textural wear and tear. I cannot dismiss that it could have been a rogue fingernail that may have slightly jammed into the damaged part, but this is not something that should have happened on Day 1.
3. The New Playstation Camera
My first experience with motion capture gaming was on the Playstation 2, when Sony Computer Entertainment released Eyetoy Play. This was infact my very first Playstation game, and I can’t even count the number of hours I spent cleaning windows, getting my boogie on and juggling UFO’s. While this line of games lasted for a while, it didn’t survive the long haul. Its adaptation the Playstation Move never really kicked off on the Playstation 3 either, although warranted a number of fairly enjoyable games over the years.
While deciding that they wouldn’t bundle the camera in with the console, Sony have released an individual accessory at around $70 – $80 AUD which while boasting much better quality, also features proper motion controls rather than conspicuously designed controllers with big coloured balls on the top. In terms of games, there are no games that exclusively use the camera aside from the free “PlayRoom” app, which serves as a good half an hour time sink into showing you the capabilities of the camera. One user recently drew attention through the Playroom app by hosting a call-in talkshow through it, which started a trend causing Twitch to apparently ban streams made through the title.
Two additional functionalities of the Playstation Camera are facial recognition and voice recognition. Facial recognition worked like a charm and after a single run-through of the face capture works like a charm every time. Given the coloured lights on the front of each controller, it also requires you to identify which controller you are using which was also a nice inclusion. The voice commands however are a mere shell of the Xbox One, and very limited in scope. Honestly… just use a controller.
The Playstation Camera may be something more useful in the future, but unless you plan on doing a lot of live-streaming it may be more cost-effective to just wait.
4. The Playstation 4 User Interface
While it received a few updates over the years, the XrossMediaBar on the Playstation 3, Playstation Portable and selected Sony TV’s saw very little in terms of visual changes over the years. Unless you purchased or acquired one of the few really good dynamic themes released for it (I use the one given to those who took part in a Heavy Rain campaign), the design isn’t something I would consider visually impressive or exciting. Unfortunately in return for the fancy new design, the customization of it at this time is almost zero.
The new Playstation 4 user interface is derived from more recent Sony TV releases, for the most part being easy to use and boasts much faster response times than its predecessors. When turning on the console you are presented with a screen much like the one above, where everything is presented in tiles with sub-menu’s coming down from them. This screen generally consists of games you have downloaded, have in the disc drive and other apps / tools that have been acquired with the console including a specific TV / Video header, live streaming section and more. Once this list becomes too long, games should be stored in the “library”, which is a neat and tidy storage menu for all downloadable and owned games. The only way to directly access save files / data and recorded footage is to go through the options menu, a decision that seems to be made to idiot proof the save files from being deleted instead of data files.
On the Playstation 3, when you hovered over a game you might see a background change and perhaps a small musical snippet. This still happens, albeit when highlighting a game you will also be given access to a three-sectioned menu, providing access to an overview of news / store items / direct access to components of the game, recent acitivites you have done in the game and other related items. Unfortunately at least over here in Australia…. all the games have empty menus other than Overview – but I can’t say if it is due to the select network services temporarily being taken down due to excessive demand at this time.
Accessing other menu options not directly related to a game can be performed by pressing up anywhere on the main menu, with a static menu list granting access to your own profile, trophies, friend lists, notifications, the Playstation Store and more. Each of these menus feature brand new designs and are for the most part more approachable and quick to load than on the Playstation 3.
Out of all of these menus, the one I would like to highlight are those relating to the friends list – which on the Playstation 3 was tedious and laggy to use at the best of times. For whatever reason Sony has still chosen to forgo allowing users to change their ID’s – and if you made your account on day one like myself it is quite possible that it is one you now DETEST. Now, sending a friend request still requires a User ID, but after acceptance a subsequent Name Request can be send which grands both parties access to personal photo avatars and full names. While it isn’t something you might want to do for people you play Call of Duty: Ghosts with, if you are regularly playing with friends it can be a big help in keeping track of who is whom. In-game activities are also showcased, and trophies don’t take a year to sync with the Sony Entertainment Network servers.
Interestingly they have also forgone the new Playstation Store design, and instead gone with the original, more responsive design that remains present on the Playstation Vita. While lacking the range of titles that is present on the Playstation 3 / Vita stores and lacking the ability to purchase even user graphics, we will have to wait and see if this decision pays off in the end.
There are a few features that really need to be considered for future releases however. There is no current way to access any pre-existing music or video library unless you go through their Music Unlimited service which does cost money, even if you already forked out the $60+ dollars a year for the Playstation Plus membership. Also it is not possible to share any of the content you have captured onto a USB thumbdrive, something that I thought would have been an obvious inclusion.
5. Apps and Entertainment on the Playstation 4
Do note that this next section of the review is based on the Australian release of the Playstation 4 and does differ between regions.
The biggest issue when booting up the Playstation 4 is the lack of apps – you have the livestreaming app which allows you to watch Playstation 4 streams from Twitch and UStream, you have the Music Unlimited App and…. a single TV / Video app from IGN. You would have thought with the prominence of Youtube that they would have offered support at launch. This also becomes problematic as aside from sharing your videos on Facebook with friends, there is no direct route to upload previously captured content on other services. I hope that Sony Computer Entertainment gets their rear’s into gear and offers support for more services soon – especially considering the PS3’s ABC iView and Youtube app was used regularly by myself.
One of the most exciting things I found out about the Playstation 4 was that while there are still region locks on DVD’s, all my US blu-ray discs worked, a very welcome first for a video game console and a feature I will certainly be taking advantage of. I implore Sony Computer Entertainment to go the one step further and provide an update to remove the region lock’s on DVD discs entirely. If this were the case, then the Playstation 4 would be the default for me whenever reviewing anime.
Edit: This celebration may be premature, with a friend of mine reporting that his US blu-ray discs are not supported on the Playstation 4. So far I have tested the only US blu-ray discs I own, those published by NIS America which have not functioned in any other blu-ray supporting console I have in my possession.
Whenever you are playing a game, the Playstation 4 is working behind the scenes to record the last fifteen minutes of your gameplay which is ready to share whenever you desire to hit the “share” button. While this may not be ideal if you want to record your epic victory in an hour long boss fight, but having this ready and available is welcome and very handy. This is in comparison to the Xbox One’s five minutes, although given the 500GB HDD included in the console by default, I would love to see the option to provide longer snippets of time. Recorded footage can be run through a rudimentary snipping tool, but lacks any post-production features. Shown a victory pose you want to capture? Pressing the “Share” button also stores a screenshot to share on Facebook and Twitter.
In addition to being able to play around with the 15 minutes of pre-recorded footage with the click of a button (and a few menu prompts) you can live-stream your experience through both Twitch and Ustream services. This system provides access to a live-updating stream of comments and other nifty tidbits to make your livestreaming experience better. The Playstation 4 has a specific app which allows you to look at currently ongoing streams, and the video quality varies considerably from fine to terrible.
The Playstation 4 requires a Playstation Plus membership to enjoy any online gameplay and in return removes those frustrating online access codes from circulation with Playstation 4 games. However, while some may not like paying for online multiplayer when they already own the game, the few online apps they have provided at launch do not require a PS Plus membership to enjoy (Eg. the web browser).
The Playstation 4 has the bare bones in terms of next generation app support and in this particular area risks being left behind by the Xbox One who already has a number of services under its wing. Even if they aim at being more about video games than entertainment services, why not go the extra mile and at least provide the basics with online entertainment?
6. The “Getting Started” Experience
A word to the wise, when setting up your console if prompted to plug in anything at the back of the console be wary of your elbow as it is possible to accidentally brush it against the power button which turns off the console even during setup. Other than this, the set up and “Day One Patch” process for the Playstation 4 was uneventful and over in a matter of minutes.
7. Launch Titles
You should never judge about what a console is going to be like from its launch titles alone, and while I won’t be naming any individual titles, the launch range provided by Sony Computer Entertainment and third party studios was lacking in comparison to the Xbox One. More on this will be covered during the reviews of each launch title and the comparison review in the coming days.
Provided you are willing to provide Sony Computer Entertainment with your
soul billing details, you will be given access to a 14-day free trial of the Playstation Plus service which includes two free playable games – Resogun and Contrast. While neither game is particularly long, it is good to see that they are at least trying to offer new users who may have made their purchase to avoid pre-order wait times something to play with while waiting for 2014 releases.
The company should have considered porting titles like Grand Turismo 6, BEYOND: Two Souls and The Last of Us to the Playstation 4. While they wouldn’t have been exclusive, they would have given a bit more weight to the consoles launch lineup.
Final Verdict on the Playstation 4
Usually this is the part of a review where someone such as myself would usually provide a brief blurb on the console and then give it a score out of 10, 5-stars or some other deviation of the standard review score. I won’t be as in the end – everything that has been discussed above may very well only remain valid for a few months or even weeks into launch as new titles are released to take advantage of everything the Playstation 4 has to offer. So instead, I will end with this:
The Playstation 4 has a bright and prosperous future in the gaming industry, perhaps not today, perhaps not this month, but in the new year when we start seeing more titles released exclusively for next generation consoles it has the capacity to offer the best experience in this new generation of consoles. At this point in time however, the console only offers a small range of games to play, noticeable limitations and a lackluster variety of apps in comparison to its counterparts which Sony Computer Entertainment should address in the short-term. For now however with potential waits of many months to even get your hands on a console, it is more of an investment than anything else. Just how long we need to wait for that investment to bloom into the PS4’s full potential remains a mystery.