Ahh, the Playstation 4. The generation of Xbox 360/Wii/PS3 has been the longest one yet and we’ve been itching to see what’s next. Well, what’s next is finally here is the form of the PS4, but does it fulfill everything we’ve been waiting for and truly usher in the next generation? Let’s find out.
The Playstation 4 is a slick piece of kit. It’s curved industrial design looks like a modern piece of technology while still being reminiscent of the PS2. It functions (and looks good!) both horizontally and vertically, with a really slick, pulsating light that can change colour depending on the functions the console is performing.
On the back we have all manner of outputs – HDMI, optical audio, power – and included in the box is everything you need to get going. It’s about time Sony included and HDMI cable. On the front you have two USB 3.0 ports.
We won’t get into the technical specs in this review. There are sites out there that can do a far more thorough analysis than I can.
I’m sure at this point everyone one seen, if not used, the PS4 controller. IT’s an evolution of the Dual Shock design Sony introduced with the original Playstation but with some interesting new design twists. The biggest change is the absence of the Start and Select buttons, which have been replaced with a clickable touchpad . This touchpad feels smooth and easy to click and could be an interesting way to interact with games even though nothing much has been done with it yet (and nothing at all in the system’s OS). There are also two new buttons, the Options and the Share buttons. Options performs similar functions to the old start button, while Share activates the sharing functions of the console (see below).
The controller has seen a size upgrade from the Dualshock 3. It’s now more comfortable to hold and the handles fit the shape of your hand better. The sticks offer more resistance than their DS3 counterpart and are covered in a rubber that offers more grip. With regards to the triggers, the L2 and R2 buttons have been vastly improved over the triggers of the DS3 both in feel and how they no longer press themselves when you set the controller down.
The Dualshock 4 comes equipped with a headphone and mic jack on the controller itself which allows the use of any 3.5mm headset. It’s great not having to rely on a proprietary headset and it’s a great addition to allow all game audio, not just online chatter, to be piped through the headset. This was a smart move from Sony.
The only useless part of the controller is the lightbar on its back side. The lightbar is meant to interact with the Playstation Eye which is well and good, but it is sorely missing an option to turn the light off if you aren’t using the Eye. Without the camera the lightbar only serves to reduce the battery life and provide a distraction.
The XMB on the PS3 started off as a great interface, but by 2013 the once great UI became an incredibly slow, bloated mess of an interface that fought against you as much as it helped. With the PS4, Sony has created an interface that resembles the XMB, but resolves all the issues it had with speed.
As is to be expected, the PS4’s UI is fast. Pulling up the menu in game is no longer the excruciating process of having the game pause as you watch the icons slowly take the place of the rotating “Loading” symbol. Instead, you’re automatically pushed from the game into the fullscreen menu in the blink of an eye, and there’s no more choppiness as you navigate it. Everything is smooth as butter and has awesome, relaxing music to boot.
The PS4 also has limited multitasking abilities. Even with a game open it’s possible to open certain other apps and upload screenshots and videos. The game pauses and everything else just works.
Things aren’t perfect, however. The main interface is broken into two menus, a top bar that resembles the XMB and has all your main options (Profile, PS Store, Settings, etc.) and a lower portion that contains all your games and apps. This lower portion gets cluttered extremely quickly: every single app or game you play on the system gets a large icon in this lower section, meaning even with only 4 games my PS4’s menu has grown considerably. As the years go on and the number of games you play rises I expect this to become a bloated, cluttered mess that’s hard to navigate through. To Sony’s credit, the icons are filtered so that the more recently played games are closer to the left, but it would be best if it only showed the disc in the tray and instead pushed everything else to the “Library” collection they’ve provided.
To tie into this, there’s always icons for Sony’s Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited services that are present on the UI. These are things I have no interest in using (and I’m betting many of you are in the same boat) and wish I could get rid of. Hopefully Sony allows for a little more customization in the future and allows us to remove unneeded icons.
The PS4 doesn’t exactly have a lot of features that the PS3 didn’t. In fact, the Playstation has lost some features during the switch to next gen. The media streaming across a home network that the PS3 was able to do is gone. Taking music, video, and pictures from your computer and putting them onto the console or streaming them from your computer to the TV is no longer possible. For me personally, these were features I never once used and their absence will not be missed. For others, this is a deal breaker.
The other major feature of the PS4 is the video sharing and streaming services. At any time you can hit the share button to share your last 15 minutes of gameplay and upload it to Facebook (or upload screenshots to Facebook or Twitter, or save either to the hard drive to do things with later). You can also, at any time, stream your gameplay session to Twitch and let other people watch, turning even single player games into a social experience and capitalizing on the streaming trend that has taken the games industry by storm.
Downloads have been greatly improved, with updates occurring automatically in the background and many games allowing you to start playing them before they’re fully downloaded. This last point in particular is a feature that once you get used to it’s existence will make it very hard to go back to a platform that doesn’t have it. Download speed seems to have been vastly improved over the often agonizingly slow download speeds on the PS3.
Beyond the admittedly awesome streaming and sharing options, the PS4 is relatively barebones. You have your traditional services like Netflix and Sony’s video and music services, but looking past that the PS4 is focusing on games. Whether this is good or bad mostly depends on personal opinion, but from my perspective the focus on gaming is a great one. We buy game consoles to actually play games, so having a console that focuses on doing just that is a big positive in my book.
Is the Playstation 4 everything we’ve been waiting for? Short answer: yes. Long answer: Yes, but it’s a little rough around the edges.
The number of upgrades from the PS3, and just how damn fast and smooth the experience is, makes the console feel next-gen on it’s own. The roughness comes from what was mentioned under “Interface” up above: the lack of customizability in any way and the excess of icons makes it seem a little rough and unfinished.
In the end, it comes down to the games. If you like what the PS4 is offering in terms of gameplay, there’s absolutely nothing about the hardware of system software to hold you back. The Playstation 4 really does feel like a generational leap above the PS3 and is poised to age much more gracefully than the last generation consoles.