The next generation of gaming consoles is here with Sony’s release of the PlayStation 4 (PS4). Promising to be a versatile entertainment gaming system, is it a worthy of the PlayStation name? Let's take it for a run.
A New Controller
The first thing that surprised and impressed me was the new Dualshock 4 controller. One problem with the classic PlayStation controllers was that the handles were too short for me. I have averaged sized hands, but it always felt like their controllers were designed for much smaller hands. The new controller's handles are longer and bigger around which gives your hands something good and solid to grip. The L2/R2 is curved outward like triggers giving them a better hold than the inward curved style of past controllers. The button and thumbsticks are still in the classic positions that everyone knows and loves. Why change something that works? The thumbsticks have a slight change; their tops are indented giving better grip and control. The controllers also have the SIXAXIS motion controls that were introduced with the PlayStation 3. These have been upgraded to be more responsive. This was very evident when I played PS4 version of Flower.
The biggest change to the PS4 controller is the Select/Start and the addition of four new elements:the Lightbar, the Touchpad, a small speaker,an external jack, and headset jack.
The external jack does not currently have a use. If I were to hazard a guess, the mini-keyboard powered headset comes to mind. The headset jack is used with the Mono headset that is included with the PS4. The Mono headset is a single earbud with an inline microphone for communication during online play with other people. The earbuds work just fine, but I’ve personally never liked them because they either feel like they are falling out, or do fall out, of my ears. It’s a quirk of mine. The headphone jack is designed so that any headset with a 3.5mm plug or cell phone style plug will work. I was able to use my Tritton Kunai PlayStation 3 headset (without it’s PlayStation 3 cable adapter), though the online audio only came through one speaker.
The small, integrated speaker allows developers to further immerse players into the game by giving them separate audio cues. For example in the PS4 version of Flower when you collect special hidden flowers a separate chime sounds through it.
Select and Start have been replaced with Share and Options. The Share button is just that, it allows you to share your gaming moments, whether it’s a screenshot, video capture, or (if you have a Twitch or Ustream account) live streaming of your game. This was actually a really nice addition to the overall system. I was able to capture screen shots and share them via Twitter and Facebook, record up to 15 minutes of gameplay or, as I did one night, show off how bad I was at getting through the first level of Resogun. The Options button works a lot like the old Select/Start button in that it will take a game to its pause menu for game options.
The Lightbar is essentially the integration of the PlayStation 3's Move into the controller. If you have the PlayStation 4 camera it will help identify which signed in player is using that controller. I suspect more Move style game features in the future. One thing Sony points out is that developers can use the Lightbar to communicate information to players such as changing color to indicate health running low or a special presence in a room. The only problem I have with this idea is that the Lightbar is facing completely away from me, out of my sight. I’ll hold my opinion until I see it in action.
The biggest change is the addition of the Touchpad. Just like the touchpad on the back of the Vita the Touchpad is touch, flick, drag, and multi touch sensitive. The Touchpad also doubles as a clickable button. Killzone: Shadow Fall uses it well as the controls for your OWL drone. This is one addition I'm eager to see what great developers will do with it.
The PlayStation 4 Console
The PlayStation 4 console is pretty close to the same size as the "superslim" PlayStation 3. It can lie horizontally or stand on its side. Sony makes a stand for added stability if you want to stand it up, but it is capable on its own. Interestingly it has only the HDMI out for video, so anyone who still hasn't upgraded their TV to a HDTV will have problems (though I suspect in this day and age few have that problem). An optical audio, Ethernet jack, auxiliary connector (for the PlayStation 4 Camera), AC plug, and two USB 3.0 ports round out all the physical connections. Integrated 802.11 b/g/n WiFi and Bluetooth 2.1 are your compliment of wireless connections.
Connecting the system and setting up my PlayStation Network ID (PSN ID) was very simple. I connect all the cables, signed in with my existing PSN ID, and logged into my home WiFi and I was in business. I am really impressed with the new User Interface (UI). Sony calls it the PlayStation Dynamic Menu, I call easy and intuitive to use. It consists of two lines; I call these the main line and the settings/social line.
The main line shows recent games you have played and has dedicated boxes; Start, Live From PlayStation, Browser, TV and Video, Video Unlimited, Music Unlimited, and Library. Start is always the first box. It is like a news feed to see what is new with PlayStation and what your friends have been up to. The rest of the boxes rotate their spot in line adjusting to the most recently used to the last used.
Live from PlayStation gives you access to all the Twitch and Ustream feeds that players are broadcasting. You can watch these and interact with the broadcasters or other viewers in the chat interface to the right.
Browser is just that, a built in web browser. I found it functions very well, accessing and viewing web pages is pretty easy, even watching videos. The question is will Sony keep up with updates? The browser on the PlayStation 3 was initially good too, but as time went along certain functions were not kept up to date, making the browser less than optimal.
TV and Video has access to all of video streaming apps. These include Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, NBA Game Time, Crackle, and more. Expect this section to grow as more services get their apps on the PS4. While currently the PS4 cannot stream music and videos from your own personal computer library, Sony has heard the complaints and is already working on something. Keep an ear out for announcements from Sony.
Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited are Sony's own music and video services. I have a subscription to Sony's Music Unlimited service; it's like an "all you can eat" music service. It's great for finding new artists or just putting on for background music. I do wish there was a way of integrating my MP3 collection with it though.
Library is your collection of downloaded games and apps. Currently it looks like a nice, clean, and easy to navigate layout, but I hope at some point Sony breaks this down to sub folders (or allows users to create them). If my downloaded game collection becomes as big (or bigger) than what is on my PS3,it’s going to become a large mess.
The settings/social line sits above the main line; it includes the PlayStation Store, Notifications, Friends, Messages, Party, Profile, Trophies, Settings, and Power.
Most of these are self-describable; PlayStation Store accesses the store, Friends is your friends list, Messages are incoming messages, etc. Notifications is kind of a catch all area. Here you can find notifications that you received mail, friend requests, game alerts, invitations, and statuses on what is downloading or uploading.
While the UI is nice, clean and easy to navigate I do already miss one feature, wallpaper. I would like to personalize my PS4, but this is a minor gripe and fixable with a future update. Otherwise I really like it much better than the PlayStation 3's UI.
Being a new system the PlayStation 4 doesn't have much in the way of accessories yet, but it does have two really good ones right now: the PlayStation 4 Camera and the PS Vita.
The PlayStation 4 Camera is very different than the PlayStation Eye for the PlayStation 3. To start it has stereoscopic vision with two cameras. This allows it to view depth. For now this works with an app called The Playroom that is basically a tech demo of what the capabilities are with the Camera. The Camera lets players using the Twitch or Ustream feature to narrate their gameplay;it even has the option of doing a small picture-in-picture of the player as they are playing. The PlayStation 4 Camera has four built in microphones that allow voice commands to be spoken to navigate the PS4 and also be used for voice chat with friends online. The voice command navigation works well and I've not yet had a problem. The voice chat can be problem if the player using it is in a large room, sitting far away from the Camera. In this situation, it’s hard to hear the player speaking, but if they are close enough to the microphones it sounds great. All of the people I've watched on Twitch and Ustream who use this sounded fine too.
I've spoken before how much I like the PS Vita, now the PlayStation 4 makes it even better with Remote Play. This allows you to stream play your PlayStation 4 games on your PS Vita. This comes in handy for families with a single TV, allowing the TV to be used for something else while you continue to play your PS4 game on the Vita. I was able to connect my Vita to the PS4 downstairs, play games, and navigate the UI from the comfort of my bed upstairs. The button layout on the Vita takes a little getting used to with the L2/R2 and L3/R3 mapped to the rear touchpad. Think of the rear touchpad as being split into four quadrants. The upper left and right quadrants areL2 and R2, while the L3 and R3 are mapped to the lower left and right respectively. Now this might not be true for all games, it depends on the developer, but this logic seems to work for now.
Games, Games, Games
The PlayStation 4 system is impressive and I like what I see so far. I'm excited to see what they have for the future. As far as launch titles, like any system launch it is a mixed bag. Exclusive PS4 launch tiles that I’ve been able to play included Killzone: Shadow Fall, Knack, and Resogun. Third party and Indie titles that I’ve been able to play are Call of Duty Ghosts, DC Universe Online, Flower, Contrast, and Warframe. Some of these games I will have more in-depth reviews for later, but here are some of my quick thoughts of them so far.
Killzone: Shadow Fall is a first person shooter set in the Killzone universe. A graphical powerhouse, it shows how realistic games can potentially be on the PS4. It was also the one game that put to use the Touchpad on the controller. Overall I liked it for itsgameplay; the story hasn't really grabbed me yet.
Knack is one for the family household. It's a platforming adventure game where the hero, Knack, can grow, shrink, and take on various powers from items in the environment. I can't wait to play more of this one. What little I've played so far seems very intriguing.
Resogun is a retro space shooter that is best described as Defender meets bullet hell. You have to rescue humans that fall to the surface and can be kidnapped by the enemies. Meanwhile you also have to shoot enemies and dodge a bazillion bullets. It gets fast and intense quickly.
Call of Duty Ghosts continues the franchise that seems to dominate all consoles. The latest chapter finds two brothers in the near future fighting in a decimated America against the combined might of The Federation. It is a first person shooter that adds a new "weapon" to your arsenal in the guise of a trained German Sheppard. Call of Duty is pretty reliable for good first person military shooters; so far Ghost is keeping the reputation intact.
DC Universe Online and Flower are both games that were originally released for the PlayStation 3, ported over for use on the PS4 with some minor changes. Flower was improved to work better with the new SIXAXIS system in the Dualshock 4 controller. It's a short game that I finished the "storyline" in a matter of hours. DC Universe Online is a massive multiplayer online game set in the DC Comics universe with everyone playing as superheroes of their own making.
Contrast is an indie title with a unique platforming mechanic that not only has you moving and jumping, but also using light in a way to move and manipulate shadows. The game has a short storyline of a young girl and her imaginary friend trying to get her parents back together. I finished this and enjoyed it. The light mechanic was interesting.
Warframe is a third person squad based shooter game. Built for playing online with friends I jumped in and played with a random group. It certainly has an interesting art style and a fast pace, but it doesn't quite explain itself right out of the gate. Much of the game seems to be a mystery, interesting enough that I want to find out more.
So there you have it, the Sony PlayStation 4 is very strong entry into the newest generation of game consoles with many great entertainment possibilities to come. I'm looking forward to what is to come for the PlayStation 4.
For more information on the PlayStation 4 see their official web site.