Ladies and gentlemen, the next generation of video game consoles is here! The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 had their long moments in the sun, but it’s time for us to move forward, with both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One released into the loving and awaiting arms of gamers.
In North America, Sony managed to beat Microsoft to market by a week, so we’ve had that console in our hands for a little longer. Could that extra week be the push Sony needed to take back the console lead in North America? Only time will tell.
Introducing the Sony PlayStation 4
Sony is certainly no stranger to the video game market, after all the “4” in PS4 is not just a random number. This is the company’s fourth-generation console, not including the various iterations of the other consoles it has released. For gamers, this means the console comes from a manufacturer they can trust.
Sony’s new console exists in a space where there are only three major players: itself, Microsoft, and Nintendo. The Xbox One launched a week after the PlayStation 4, but the Xbox One’s $500 price tag puts it a full $100 over the $400 PlayStation 4. Nintendo’s Wii U is on an entirely different level, with far less raw power and an even lower $300 price tag. Still, it’s an option for gamers to consider, especially with its latest Mario game hitting the market at the same time as these two new consoles.
Before we jump too heavily into the actual review of the console, let’s take a moment to talk about what the PS4 has under the hood. After all, part of ushering in the next generation is experiencing just how much power the console can put out.
- Processor: The PS4 comes with two quad-core low power x86-64 AMD “Jaguar” modules. There isn’t much the processor can’t handle, but it will all come down to how game developers use it.
- Memory: 8 gigabytes of GDDR5 RAM is included, which is the among the highest performing memory on the market.
- HDD: 500 gigabytes user-upgradeable hard drive.
- GPU: For graphics, the PS4 has a 1.84 TFLOPS, AMD Radeon processor. Like the CPU, there is nothing this beast can’t handle.
- AV output: The PS4 includes HDMI out and optical out for audio.
- Optical Drive: The drive can handle both Blu-ray and DVD (music CDs are not supported).
- Communication: For connectivity, the PS4 supports ethernet and 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi. It also has Bluetooth 2.1+EDR for communicating with its DualShock 4 controllers.
Essentially, the PS4 features a very high-end gaming PC tucked inside of it. For anyone familiar with computer specifications, it’s easy to see that the PS4 is fully-loaded.
The PlayStation 4 comes in a surprisingly small box, especially when compared to the Xbox One. In fact, it looks more like the box you might find a laptop in, not a high-end video game console. That’s not a bad thing though, as there is nothing wrong with conserving some cardboard.
Once you open the box, you will see the documentation you need, a controller, the console, a headset, the power cable, the controller’s microUSB cable, and the HDMI cord. You will notice that, unlike the Xbox One, the camera is not included and is available for $60 as a separate purchase. Even with the camera, that still puts the PS4 $40 below Microsoft’s offering, which is a very appealing proposition for gamers.
Overall, I was very happy with what I saw when I first pulled the PS4 from its box. The console itself is beautiful (which we will get to later), the controller feels good, and it’s clear that Sony took care to make everything exciting for gamers taking this home for the first time.
Before we jump too heavily into playing games on the console, let’s talk about the hardware itself. To put it simply, the PlayStation 4 is the nicest-looking first iteration of a new console I have ever seen. Typically, the first iteration of a console is big and bulky (like the Xbox One), leaving extra room for heat dispersion. The PS4, on the other hand, is actually quite small and sleek, and it looks fantastic on the entertainment center.
The PS4 is 12 inches wide, 2 inches tall, and 10.8 inches deep. Next to the Xbox One, it’s tiny. While not necessarily a deciding factor between the two consoles, for gamers living in small spaces where room for electronics is at a premium, it’s certainly something to consider.
The slanted front and back create sleek lines, and the simple dark colors look incredible. Just based on looks, there is nothing negative to say about the PlayStation 4. You can clearly tell that Sony is a company that specializes in building hardware, as it knocked it out of the park with this console.
Sony has taken some great strides in improving its UI over the PlayStation 3. This is good, because myself and many other gamers found the PS3’s interface to be a little clunky, and it certainly needed some improvements. That being said, the new UI still has some glaring flaws, and some aspects that feel a little disorganized for an interface developed in 2013.
Let’s start with the good stuff: mainly just how fast the interface is. Everything you do on the PlayStation 4 is insanely snappy. Pressing the PS button in the middle of the controller instantly suspends the current game or app and brings you back to the home screen. I was blown away with just how quickly this happened. It’s a small thing, but compared to the clunky nature of switching around in the PlayStation 3, it’s clear Sony really thought about how to make this work.
Finding the app you want is pretty quick on the PS4, at least for now. However, the fact that it just populates a giant list of everything on your console will make things difficult once more games are available. It’s not really any worse or better than the PS3, but with many gamers opting to go digital with their purchases, it could make searching a clunky process, but as with the PS3 and Xbox 360, the UI will go through plenty of changes and improvements over time.
One thing I am really not a fan of is the store, which feels more like you are browsing a website than a dedicated store on a $400 console. It feels very poorly thought out. The layout hasn’t evolved much, and it could certainly use some enhancements; especially since most gamers will resort to buying new games from the digital store. Again, it’s something that can be improved with a firmware update, but for the time being, the store needs some serious work.
Sony offers the ability to navigate the console using voice commands, either with the included headset (which feels cheap and is not impressive) or through the PlayStation Camera. While not anywhere near as robust as the Kinect functionality on Xbox One, it works well, there is just a lot of things you cannot do with it. For example, if something is hidden a couple of menus deep, there is no way to jump to it with voice commands. Still, it was a pleasant surprise, as Sony did not tout its voice functions up to the release like Microsoft did with its Kinect.
All in all, the PS4’s user interface is leaps and bounds better than the PS3, but it’s still not great. I expect it to evolve in the next few months or years, but as it stands, some aspects are a little too clunky. I much prefer navigating the Xbox One, especially with the fact that most of it can be navigated almost entirely without touching a controller.
The PS4 is an average media player, supporting services like Netflix, Twitch, Amazon, and the other big media streaming services. However, it cannot play MP3s or music CDs, which could be annoying for some gamers. Instead, you may only use Sony’s own music service, which is, of course, an effort to attract more users to it.
When you compare it to the PS3, there really isn’t much improvement. It’s clear that Sony is focused on games, while Microsoft is aiming to take over the living room completely. Still, for watching movies and TV shows, it’s a competent device; it’s just not perfect.
One cool feature on the PlayStation 4 is the fact that it can stream games over a local network to the PlayStation Vita. This feature is very much like the NVIDIA Shield, which allows gamers to stream select games from their PC to the portable gaming console. With the PS4, almost every game supports streaming, which makes it feel a lot like the Wii U with its ability to use the second screen as the primary display when someone else wants to use the TV.
Of course, the PS4 does not include a PS Vita, so a substantial extra purchase is required to take advantage of this feature, and only a select subset of gamers will benefit from this. Still, it actually works pretty well, with only a small amount of input latency. Even in a game like RESOGUN, which requires a lot of fast reactions, I did not find the latency to be an issue at all. I actually walked all the way across my house, and pushed the Wi-Fi range to the limit, and it continued to work very well.
There is a problem with this feature, and it’s one that could be a huge issue in certain games. The Vita is missing the R2, L2, R3, and L3 button. To compensate for this, Sony has placed the L2 and R2 buttons on the back touch panel, and the L3 and R3 button are on main touch screen. This is fine for some games, but for shooters, where R2 triggers your gun, this is less than optimal. It would be nice if Sony included options for customizing the controls, but alas, it doesn’t. It’s a cool feature, but with the control limitations, it feels more like a novelty.
Sony has developed a fantastic controller for its latest video game console. As someone who has held the firm belief that the Xbox 360 controller is the best video game input device ever created, I was shocked by how much I liked the DualShock 4.
My main concern with the DualShock 3 was the stiffness of the sticks, which Microsoft perfected with Xbox 360 controller, The PS3’s controller sticks were too loose, and Sony has greatly improved that in the DualShock 4. In fact, they now have better resistance than the Xbox One, which have actually loosened up compared to the 360. Also, the sticks on the PS4 have been given a nice little recess to helps keep your thumbs in place.
The terrible triggers on the PlayStation 3 controller have been improved tremendously. Now they feature grooves that keep you in place, which makes a huge difference while playing shooters. After all, that R2 button, along with the sticks, are the two buttons that you need to press the most with that genre, and Sony most certainly got them right.
An interesting novelty on the DualShock 4 is the touch pad, which is not really being used for much right now, but could have some interesting gameplay implications down the road. For cross-platform games I wouldn’t expect much, but for exclusives, it could be exciting. Right now, most games just use it as an extra button, and Killzone uses different swipe directions to choose options for the companion drone. It could easily be done with the d-pad, but the touch pad works well, and can be very accurate.
The face buttons and d-pad are almost the same as the buttons on the DualShock 3. If it isn’t, broke don’t fix it; Sony always had solid buttons.
The last notable thing about the DualShock 4 controller is the light on the top. By default, it lights up to indicate which player you are on the console, but developers have the ability to change the color to set ambience for their games. The only issue with the light is that it’s very bright, so if you have a TV that reflects light, you can see it on the screen. It’s a small gripe, but when playing a horror game where you turn all the lights off and try to set the mood, it could be an issue.
Playing Games On The PlayStation 4
When you buy a PS4, you are buying it to play video games. As a video game console, the PS4 is a fantastic device. While the launch lineup leaves much to be desired, you can clearly see the potential, especially from a visual standpoint. For PC gamers who have been playing games on Ultra settings in the last year, nothing about this will be very new, but for someone migrating from a PS3 to a PS4, the differences are immediately apparent. That native 1080P resolution really does make a huge difference.
As I mentioned previously, the DualShock 4 is a fantastic controller that works incredibly well for playing games of all sorts. It feels incredibly comfortable in your hand, which lends itself well to long gameplay sessions.
For most of our game testing, we played Killzone: Shadow Fall. It looks absolutely incredible. The amount of detail like characters’ faces is insanely impressive, and when things open up, and you get an extended view of the city, it looks ridiculously good. As far as gameplay goes, well, it feels like playing a shooter. That’s actually a complement, because I never liked playing games in that genre on the PS3, and while playing on the PS4, I felt just as comfortable as I ever felt playing on Xbox, which is as good as it gets for me.
Side by side with the Xbox One, the PS4 is just a more powerful gaming machine. A quick look at the specs and you will see the difference. However, to the untrained eye, it’s hard to tell the difference between the games. Sure, some Xbox One games don’t run at 1080p, but they still look incredible. Either way, you are getting a fantastic console for playing games, but for people who want the best of the best from their hardware, there is a difference, and the PS4 comes out in front.
As you would expect from a modern video game console, the Internet plays a huge role in the experience. Whether it’s playing games online or streaming games to Twitch and Ustream, Sony has taken great strides towards improving the implementation of its online functions. Of course, playing online is no longer free, and a $50 PlayStation Plus subscription is required.
Starting with playing games online, Sony has finally reached feature parity with the Xbox 360 in that you can now join a friend’s game directly from your friends list, and create game-independent party chats for up to eight players. Microsoft, for its part, seems to have taken a huge step backwards in terms of online gaming, but we will get to that when we review the Xbox One very shortly. Overall, playing games online with the PS4 just works, and there really isn’t much more you can ask for.
The new “What’s New” section is also quite cool, allowing you to see, at a glance, what is happening with your friends across the PlayStation Network. Think of it like a Facebook news feed for you gaming life. It’s a neat thing to have, but at the same time, it’s a little cluttered, especially if you have a large number of friends. Speaking of which, Sony has increased the limit for friends to 2,000, which seems excessive, but for people in the games industry, this is a welcomed change.
The problem with this massive boost in friends is that there is no good way of organizing them. So if your list contains more casual acquaintances than gaming partners, drilling down and finding them will take a while. The addition of sharing your real name with friends helps, but of course, they need to accept your name request to actually show up on your list in this way.
One thing Sony absolutely nailed is the functionality of its “Share” button. When clicking this, users can quickly record a video clip of themselves playing and send it to Facebook, capture a screenshot and share it to Facebook, or even quickly start streaming. When it comes to streaming, it doesn’t get any easier than on the PS4. Once you’ve stored your credentials, it’s as simple as pressing “Share,” clicking stream, and naming your stream. You can even pin the chat to the side of the screen so you can interact with viewers. It’s incredibly well executed, and Sony gets a huge leg up here in my book, as Microsoft pushed Twitch streaming back to 2014 on the Xbox One.
All in all, PSN is not perfect, but it’s a huge improvement over the PS3, and it can only get better with time.
In the end, if the PlayStation 4 is one of the three video game consoles we are going to be using for the next seven years, I am quite alright with that. Sony has laid a fantastic foundation with which it can build on over the course of this generation.
Its UI has some clunky issues, but they will be fixed with patches. From a pure hardware stance, Sony knocked it out of the park, and that’s really all you can ask for from a video game console.