After several months of mudslinging and passive-aggressive low blows traded between Sony and Microsoft, the chips are on the table and it’s time for the companies to perform. The next generation is here. Last Friday, the PlayStation 4 was released, and I’ve had a few days to play around with it. After several hours and one sore behind, I can say that Sony has put together one hell of a machine.
Poised almost solely as a gaming machine (as opposed to Xbox One’s “it does everything except call your mom to wish her a happy birthday,” and I’m still not 100% on that), the PlayStation 4 sports some serious hardware:
CPU: x86-64 AMD “Jaguar,” 8 cores
GPU: 1.84 TFLOPS, AMD Radeon Graphics Core Next Engine
Memory: GDDR5 8GB
The PS4 is easily the more powerful system of the two coming out this month, and already some of the games are showing it. Call of Duty: Ghosts runs at a higher resolution on the PS4 that it will on the Xbox One, and a patch is due shortly that will kick Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag up to a shiny 1080p. Additionally, the infrastructure is apparently incredibly easy to develop for and should be very similar to PC development to maximize ease for indie developers. This is in contrast to the clunky and complex PS3 hardware infrastructure, and should significantly increase the overall technical quality of the games.
This may be the most sleek-looking console ever to hit the market. The surprisingly-small system looks a bit like an italicized PlayStation 2 (yes, I know there were jokes about that but it’s accurate). Half of the system has a matte black finish with the other half shiny. The line down the middle is a light that will pulse white, blue or orange depending on what the system is doing. Overall, the design of the system is stellar. Yes, it does “wobble” a tiny bit, but only if you push on the system. This should not be an issue. Apart from that, it looks great and runs extremely cool and quiet at all times. The internal power source (read: no “power brick”) is a wonderful surprise, and the console is incredibly light and easy to transport.
The only mild quibble with the overall design of the system involves the buttons—the power and eject buttons are both extremely tiny and easy to miss. I had plugged in my system and was setting up HDMI, leaning over the console, and it suddenly turned on. It took a good twenty seconds to actually locate the button after that. It’s right on the front, in line with the light across the top. The eject button is directly below it. They’re too small and lack any sort of tactile feedback. Luckily, ejecting discs and operating the power on or off can be done with the controller, similar to how the PS3 did things.
DualShock 4 is awesome. I don’t have a means of comparing it with the Xbox One controller (yet), but this feels like a natural evolution of the already-stellar DualShock 3. The biggest difference is, of course, the trackpad on the front. While it remains to be seen how developers will utilize this piece of the controller (Assassin’s Creed IV uses it as a map button), it still feels good and has the potential for some cool features.
Ergonomically, the controller boasts many improvements over the DualShock 3. The handles have a subtle grip attached, which doesn’t “feel” noticeably different upon picking up the new device, but makes it more comfortable to use in the long run. The sticks are concave as opposed to the slippery convex sticks of the past, and feel just a bit stiffer. The result actually feels fantastic. Sometimes while using the old controller I would have to adjust my thumb on the stick and hamper my game, but this is a thing of the past with the new stick designs. The same idea applies to L2 and R2, which now feel like legitimate triggers with their new concave design. The d-pad’s buttons are tilted in just slightly, which doesn’t make a great deal of difference, though later games that make more use of that part of the controller may refute that.
There’s also a small speaker on the controller, not unlike what the Wii controller had. It’s unclear why this was included, as it’s rather silly and kind of gimmicky. It’s a very good quality speaker, but the only experience I’ve had with it so far is with Resogun, and I promptly turned it down. It’s not in any way an offensive addition, but there doesn’t seem to be any reason for it to exist either. Finally, the light on the controller also feels a bit like a gimmick, but in a more fun way. The light will occasionally change from the standard blue to something else. Connect the controller to the PC and get a yellow hue, and the light changes from blue to red depending on whether you’re playing as a cop or a racer in Need for Speed Rivals. This is also supposed to act as a sort of motion control mechanism, but so far I haven’t had a chance to test this.
But what of the system itself? My snap reaction is how fast and fluid everything is. The ugly and cumbersome XMB has been heavily reworked. The bar is still there, but it’s not obtrusively at the forefront of the interface. Rather, the most important part of the console—the games—are the first thing you see, rather than being buried in a menu. Finally, everything just feels faster. A 25GB install for Need for Speed Rivals was initialized and ready to play in around 40 seconds. The rest of the game, as Sony advertised, was downloading in the background as I played, and was completely unnoticeable.
Apart from that, everything just feels more intuitive and smooth. Getting to the main interface from a game, which is done as always by pressing the PS button, is more immediate. The Share button on the controller allows almost instantaneous saving of game clips and uploading to Twitch.tv, but we’ll have to play around with that a bit more before passing judgment. A neat feature, if you hang out with friends and play games, is the ability to sign into another PS4 as a guest variant of your own account, which will remove all personal info from the console upon logging out. It’s just another little feature that comes much appreciated. Finally, there are many of the great apps you’ve come to love from the PS3, from the paid (and awesome) Music Unlimited to the myriad of free apps like Netflix and Amazon Instant Video. However, multiplayer will now require the paid PS Plus subscription, slightly hobbling Sony’s leg-up on Microsoft on the online front.
Overall, the PlayStation 4 is a fantastic new system. Most of the games look terrific, and the system itself looks sleek and runs like a dream. The initial slate of launch titles leaves a bit to be desired, however, and only a couple of them really feel like they’re worth playing (though there are two free Plus titles, Resogun and Contrast, and your subscription will carry over from PS3). Obviously this will improve, but right now the PS4 is an insanely powerful system with not a lot to throw that power into. Even so, the PS4 sets a high bar for its competitors, and the focus on creating a gaming machine as well as indie support only bodes well for the future. While you could probably live with not getting the system right away, this will likely be the go-to console for straight gaming.