The Playstation 4 has now been in homes for a bit more than two weeks, and I think I am finally starting to get a handle on the system and what it’s capable of. I think it is important to understand that I am a casual gamer: I have owned many consoles over the year and playing games is a great way for me to relax, but I do not always beat them, I barely engage in online playing, and I have many other passions that far surpass my interest in gaming. Thus, I bring only a limited viewpoint to this analysis, however there seem to be plenty of other casual gamers out there and I suspect that this is a market that Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft are increasingly interested in appealing to.
What is at first striking about the Playstation 4 is its size and design. Although decidedly more powerful from a technical standpoint, the PS4 is significantly smaller than its predecessor the PS3 and comes in a cute box with a handle that looks closer to a box you would get a laptop in as opposed to a new gaming system. The entire design of the console is streamlined, and instead of the bulky rounded look of the PS3 the PS4 is sleek and efficient. Dare I say sexy, even. Unlike the PS3, the PS4 does not do well standing vertically unless you purchase the additional stand; it wobbles. Placing it horizontally on a table is far more secure and it only takes up 11 inches across. The top of the system has ridges and a thin line of light. Differing colors of light signify unique notifications. The “Power” and “Eject” buttons are not clickable but rather turn on with a swipe of a finger. The disc slot is almost invisible. The power cable is a simple cable that goes directly into the wall; like the PS3 this system does not have a brick. The energy system is all inside the machine, which makes the small size all the more impressive. Although obviously not everyone will appreciate the design, I found the PS4 to be a handsome and surprisingly small device that looks sharp on my media console.
The controller is a real coup. I have held essentially every video game controller in my hands dating back to at least the original NES, and this is perhaps the most comfortable and intuitive design I have experienced, at least as far as traditional video game controllers go. It is clearly an evolution of the PS3’s controller (the name Dualshock 4 naturally suggests this), however the weight is more substantial and the contours feel terrific in one’s hand. The joysticks move efficiently and have a good pull, and the trigger buttons have a nice click to them that feels ‘right’ when using them. The biggest new addition is the track pad, which I have barely experienced thus far save for minor usage in Killzone: Shadow Fall (the direction on which you touch the track pad denotes what your drone does), however I am intrigued by the potential and look forward to seeing how future game developers utilize this new feature. I hope it does not go to waste. The other major change is the light strip, similar to the one on the system itself. It too denotes various notifications, notably whether or not the controller needs to be charged. As opposed to the traditional start button of past, this controller has a “Share” button and an “Options” button, although Options functions similarly to the start button. The controller also has the traditional PS button that can be used to turn the system on or access a system wide menu while using various applications. The controllers charge exactly like the PS3, by being plugged into the PS4’s USB slots, although the cable is not the same. A controller charging station is also available for an additional price. Also of note is that each controller can be logged in to a different user, which is terrific for local multiplayer play.
The menu/home screen of the PS4 is simple but attractive, with a standard blue hue. Various users can set up accounts on the system and the menu will reflect their past actions once they are signed in. The menu is noticeably streamlined, with a main line of the most commonly used functions including games, video services, the PS store, and the internet browser. Once a game has been installed (to that end, game installation time is noticeably quick and can often occur “behind the scenes” while you begin playing a game) it becomes part of this menu whether or not the disc is currently in, although of course the disc is required to play the games. If one is using the system to play a DVD or Blu-ray, that menu option becomes available on the main line. The first choice of the menu is “What’s New,” which displays information and icons below the main line regarding what has been going on in the world of Playstation , what your PS friends may have been doing recently, or any in-game trophies you may have recently earned. The second menu line is above the main line and is accessed by moving the arrow or joystick upwards. This features less used system items such as Notifications, Friends, Messages, Trophies, and Settings. The entire menu feels relatively simple and geared towards a more user-friendly, accessible experience. The PS3 had the tendency to be overwhelming in its menu and options. The PS4 seems designed for everyone in the living room and not necessarily a device for hardcore gamers only.
I watch a lot of Blu-rays at home, and in the past my PS3 was my main Blu-ray player. Luckily, the PS4 does play Blu-rays, however there is not yet a media remote available for the PS4. Using the Dualshock to play movies takes some getting used to. The visual quality is as good as any I have seen on various Blu-ray players, although I am not an expert. Interestingly, the system does not yet play 3D Blu-rays (the PS3 did), although this can easily be fixed with an update. Playing a DVD on the PS4 affords a noticeable quality up-conversion. The menus while using a Blu-ray are also clean and streamlined, with an easy way to return back to the disc’s menus or to the system menu. Apps such as Netflix and Hulu Plus are easy to use and access through the TV & Video menu, with many other options such as Amazon, Redbox Instant, and Vudu available. If one wants, the PS4 can become an all-in-one media machine, although I wouldn’t count on this just yet. Once a PS4 media remote is out I would sign off on using the system for this. As of now, games take precedence.
The two main PS4 exclusive launch games are the aforementioned Killzone: Shadow Fall and Knack. I won’t go into too much detail about the games themselves (Killzone is an above average shooter and Knack is a repetitive but fun platformer that plays more towards my particular gaming proclivities), however there is no denying that the graphics are absolutely stunning. For my money Killzone may be the most visually impressive video game home consoles have ever seen. The detail, layers, and textures are astounding. Depth of field and focus are killer, and the frames are often overwhelmingly filled with nuggets of imagery. Perhaps most impressive is the lighting effects. Rays of sunshine or flickers of light coming through raindrops feel tangible and genuine. Killzone looks so beautiful and impressive, in fact, that it is almost impossible to differentiate between cut scenes and gameplay. As game developers become more advanced, I can only begin to imagine what the PS4 will be capable of. We are fast approaching photo-realism. Knack also looks quite good, although it has a far more cartoony look. The detail in the various shifting parts of the main character do look incredible, though. Third party, non-exlusive games that I have played on the system include Lego Marvel Superheroes, NBA 2K14, and Need for Speed Rivals and I am constantly impressed by the visual texture and lighting. Perhaps even more so than Killzone, NBA 2K14 is a good way to show off the PS4 because of the realistic details in the faces of the well-known NBA players.
The PS4 is certainly not a perfect system, and like any new piece of technology there are disadvantages to being an early adopter. The library of titles isn’t stellar (I surmise that each new system needs that one game that will truly put it on the map, and the PS4 does not have that yet) and the software and Internet connectivity have experienced some glitches over the first weeks, although each week gets better and better. The system requires an update immediately after removing it from the box; otherwise Internet connectivity and movie playback are impossible. I have also heard stories about various problematic error messages (although only in a limited capacity), but I have experienced none of them. On the PS3 online gameplay was free, however the PS4 requires payment to utilize online multiplayer. The system also needs more peripherals to release to make the overall experience more robust. I can’t wait to sample the PS4 camera, which allows for audio control of the system, motion control, and video capture, however when I went to pick one up it was sold out. There are also many more features of the PS4 that I have not discussed yet or sampled myself, such as remote play with the PS Vita or social media usage. 2 weeks was barely enough time for me to scratch the surface. That being said, I have certainly enjoyed my time with the PS4 thus far and I see endless potential. The wonderful controller, streamlined system experience and stunning graphics truly point to a new generation even if, like any new device, kinks need to be worked out. I wouldn’t necessarily fully recommended everyone with a passing interest to immediately pick up a PS4, but if you have the money, the time, and the interest, I say go for it. If you are more hesitant wait until after the new year when titles like Infamous Second Son and Watch Dogs have the potential to truly make the PS4 shine.