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Playstation 4 Review

No nonsense next-gen gaming.

Now you are probably asking yourself… isn’t it completely idiotic to review a system that’s not even a week old not knowing what games will be released and software updated? Won’t this system look completely different in one year let alone ten? Yes and yes. However, that isn’t going to stop me so buckle up.

I’m going to attempt to focus on the important things that make or break the experience and only scratch the surface of superfluous stuff. (You know what the PS4 looks like by now and you don’t need me to tell you in detail where the vents are or the type of RAM they used.) Let’s hop in.

DualShock 4:

Mmmmmm.

This is where the rubber meets the road of console gaming and one of the things that really separates it from PC gaming. This is one of the most important parts of any console generation and companies put huge money into getting it right. Usually you only see minor upgrades in the course of a console generation so we’ll be stuck with this bad boy for at least 6 years or more.

Let’s be blunt here. The DualShock 3 is a terrible controller. Yes the d-pad is nice, but that’s about the extent of the positives of the previous regime. If anyone recalls the Playstation 3 unveiling you’ll remember the boomerang controller that was shown, but never mentioned. Obviously Sony knew they needed to upgrade, but this laughable concept forced their hand to leave the ergonomics the same and make an updated DualShock 2. I’m not sure if they rushed the next controller, but they then released the SixAxis controller with no force feedback before finally updating to the DualShock 3 which was a SixAxis with rumble included. This strange journey basically brought us in a loop back to the PS2 controller. I would argue that the Dreamcast controller had better ergonomics. The handles were stubby and left your hands sore and pinkie fingers with no clear space to rest. The analogue sticks were way too close together and for some god forsaken reason they were convex with an annoying texture to boot. This left your thumbs feeling awkwardly close and slipping off the sticks constantly. The deadzone on the analogues was also far too large. The triggers were basically just glorified L1 and R1 bumpers and many shooting games simply used R1 for shooting. The Xbox 360 decimated the competition in every way outside of the d-pad (which sucked). First person shooters were dominated by Xbox and any console competition worth its salt would be played on Microsoft’s platform.

Enter the DualShock 4. I’ll be honest, I was highly skeptical of all the praise this thing was getting. Being a common peasant with no early access I was forced to read review after review stating the DualShock 4 was as good as the Xbox One controller while waiting for my PS4 to arrive November 15. In my head I was screaming “of course you think it’s awesome, but that’s just a byproduct of the DualShock 3 being so terrible! It better impress comparatively to that ancient design!” I was wrong.

Just let me buy the blue one.

The DualShock 4 is awesome. The extended handles settle into your fingers like it was molded for you. They use a two piece design that keeps the front shiny and smooth while the back has a subtle texture that is just grippy enough to be comfortable without being distracting. The entire package feels solidly made and expensive. (Think HTC One sexiness not Samsung Galaxy plastic.) The d-pad is better than ever and is simply the gold standard for what every d-pad should be. The four piece design is so superior to every other platform that patents must be keeping it unique. If that’s not the case, everyone should be stealing from Sony. The wider controller design makes the parallel analogue orientation far more comfortable. I still prefer the offset analogues of Xbox, but only slightly after playing with the DS4. The sticks have a nice texture and are smaller with concave surfaces that make it a joy to use if you are a thumbs-on-the-stick player or a thumbs-on-the-edge player (like me). Also, the deadzone is almost nonexistent. The largest improvement, though, has to be the general feel of movement. The DS3 suffered from having to apply inconsistent pressure from center to edge which made it very difficult to be precise. These analogues have a silky smooth feel throughout the movement zone and it’s already made a huge difference in shooting accuracy when playing KillZone. The triggers, similarly, have a consistent level of feel from unpressed all the way down to fully pressed with a slightly upward curving tip that allows your trigger finger to comfortably rest on. Another subtle texture is employed on the bumpers and triggers make them a joy to use. Everything has a nice clicky feel to it from the analogue buttons (L3 and R3) to the d-pad to the face buttons and bumpers. The controller has a built in battery that charges, finally, when the system is in standby using a micro USB cable. You get decent usage out of a full charge(at least 6 hours and usually more), but nothing close to the DS3. That said, if a single gaming session outlasts a full charge you should probably sit down and rethink your life decisions.

Now it’s time to discuss some unproven features and a little general nitpicking. The touchpad is a neat addition to the controller. The only game I’ve used it in is Kill Zone and the implementation feels tacked on and adds little value. You simply swipe a direction to change your OWL’s (think droid buddy) current mode of operation and that’s the extent of the usage. It’s less intuitive than simply, say, using the d-pad. I’m looking forward to a full implementation where you need to use fine controls in some sort of mini-game or better yet a developer smarter than me to blow my mind. I kind of wish they had gone with the rumored plan to implement a touchscreen, but that would probably increase the price of controllers and Nintendo hasn’t shown that it’s a worthwhile implementation as of yet. I just think there are truly “next gen” things to be done there. Both the PS4 and Xbox are going to go with the route of adding in-game touchscreen usage from a smartphone or tablet you already own so hopefully developers can think of some neat ideas going forward. As stated above I still prefer the offset analogue orientation of the Xbox, but that’s a purely personal preference. The buttons have excluded the analogue press feature and are purely digital now (on or off). This isn’t a big deal since the only usage I can even come up with in the past is throwing bullets or lobs in Madden based on how hard you press the button. (Also, I’m not even positive that wasn’t simply how long you held the button since I haven’t purchased a Madden since they monopolized the NFL and squeezed out the superior 2k sports.) My only issue with the face buttons is that the pressing depth is slightly too deep for my preference. I think if they were a little shallower it would facilitate faster button mashing. The LED light is a complete waste since it was originally designed to supplement the PS4 camera. (More on the PS4 camera and its unfortunate demise later.) The light turns red when you die in certain games and can designate which player is which based on the color currently displayed. The problem is the light is on the opposite end of the controller and is impossible to see when playing. Thus, though LED lights are very energy efficient, I’d love to eliminate the light and conserve as much battery power as possible since it can’t be helping the situation. There is also a speaker in the controller like the Wii U. It adds a second layer of audio that is more in your face. I actually think it’s kind of neat and, if used subtly, could add a little more immersion to certain games.

Nitpicking aside, the PS4 controller is a dream to use and I’m excited to use it for the next generation as well as possibly plugging into my computer or tablet for alternate gaming experiences. Sony has come a long way from the DualShock 3 and they should be commended. I’m not ready to say it’s better than the Xbox One controller because I haven’t laid hands on it yet(Update: I have and they are both incredible), but I can’t imagine it blowing the DualShock 4 out of the water. The larger picture is lost when breaking down each technical and ergonomic feature of a new controller. The greatest controllers are simply forgotten about in the best way possible. When I’m holding the DualShock 4 I never think about what’s in my hands and that’s the magic conduit for which every gaming company should strive.

Operating System/UI:

Don’t select Knack.

The PS4 is a major step up from the PS3 for navigation and general ease of use. The PS3 menu was bulky and inefficient. One thing that clearly separates the PS4 from the Xbox One is the system UI. The PS4 is a no-nonsense straight forward way to quickly get to your games. While it has your basic apps such as Netflix it doesn’t feature media functions the way the Xbox does. PS3 was a great media hub, but for some reason Sony has removed DLNA and MP3 support on the PS4. This seems ridiculous in 2013. Whether you use home streaming or music playing features they should be given assumptions on a new console. After the uproar Sony has promised to patch this in so let’s hope this happens soon. Also, no external storage is supported although internal storage can be upgraded. Xbox supports external hard drives(soon), but no internal swaps. I think PS4 probably has the edge here if you are looking to massively upgrade your storage, but it definitely kind of stinks to have to throw away a 500gb hard drive to do so. I enjoy installing games to a thumb drive and taking them to a friend’s house on my 360.

I like the idea of the news feed that keeps you up on your friends, but it could definitely use some work. Right now it’s just a wall of information that’s hard to sift through. I’d much rather know about uploaded videos and what my friends are playing than basic trophy acquisitions. In fact, unless it’s a rare trophy that takes some skill or a hilarious time sink I really don’t care about trophies at all. Removing the common ones would significantly clean up the feed.

Sharing and streaming videos is a huge part of the next generation. PS4 supports Twitch and Ustream out of the box and it’s awesome. The first thing I did upon getting my PS4 running was to Twitch live gameplay of KillZone Shadow Fall online. The app takes up more screen real estate than I hoped for, but it allows for live comments from viewers on screen that you can respond to via your headset. My friends get a notification when I start streaming and commonly log in to make fun of terrible deaths I suffer. Sharing videos on PS4, however, needs a lot of work. First of all the only way to share videos is to link your PSN account with Facebook. Yeah. No YouTube. No anything for that matter. Also, the PS4 records the last 15 minutes of gameplay at anytime which is awesome. However, when you press the share button you have to immediately edit, name and upload the video. This fact makes it basically useless for me. I only see myself uploading online multiplayer clips versus real competition since if anyone I know wants to see single player action they’ll probably just go to YouTube. (Where, for now, only motivated PS4 uploaders will be found due to the Facebook restrictions above.) Thus, if I want to upload a great multiplayer “play” I hit share and it takes me out of the game to an upload screen in order to upload the video immediately. Thus, uploading videos means you will probably get dropped from your current session. I pray in the near future hitting the share button will simply temporarily save the clip for later uploading even if they need to shorten said clip. To share longer clips you can double tap the share button and it will start a recording that you can manually end later. The editing features right now are bare bones and pretty much just let you trim a video. You can only add voice overs to your video while recording and not after recording a clip. (Update: it has been brought to my attention by a gamefaqs forum poster who kindly updated me that if you back out of the upload session you can quickly get back into your game and the clip will be saved for later. While this isn’t ideal yet since you still have to briefly exit multiplayer, it is still much better than I thought it was. Thank you bearinbluehouse!)

Since the PS4 off is really “idle” now you can set it to wake itself up and download and install updates. This is awesome if you’ve used the PS3 which not only needed updates incredibly frequently, but also required an absurd time to download and install even small updates. Now every time I turn it on I have notifications for the updates of which it already downloaded. This ties into the overall theme of this UI: maximize getting into and playing games and get everything else out of the way.

The Playstation store is straightforward and looks pretty with high res pictures and animations. It’s pretty much what you would expect.

Another small note that is one of the coolest things on the new system is the ability to pipe all audio through the controller. There is a setting to allow the headset jack to send through all game audio and not just party. Since the port isn’t proprietary you can use any set of headphones. (Finally I can get some use out of my Beats Studio. Thank you baby Jesus.)

Hardware:

Sad camera.

The PS4 is very nice looking. I’m not going to go into much detail since you’ve seen the thing all over the internet and don’t need me telling you if you should like how it looks. I will say that it’s impressive how much they packed into such a small frame and with no power brick to boot. The console runs quiet and looks great. The games look extremely good and run extremely smooth. This is one powerful console.

I’d sum up the camera as “haha who cares.” The PS4 Eye was killed before it ever got started. It’s heavily rumored and basically taken for fact that Sony was originally going to package the Eye with all systems, but at the last minute cut it so they could get down to $399 to win the price war with Microsoft. (Something further evidenced by the now useless and battery consuming LED lights on the controllers.) This is obviously a clear advantage for Sony, but unfortunately it ended any chance of the Eye being a must buy item. The only way motion controlled gaming or any new technology for that matter will thrive is if developers can depend on the consumer having it. Developers want to make money and why use precious time and resources in the game building process to add value to even 80% of consumers let alone 20% or less? In the long run it’s probably for the best since the Eye is understandably well behind the Kinect 2.0 in technology and hardware due to Microsoft putting such huge R&D into it. I suppose if you want some simple games for the kids then go for it, but as far as a transformational technology: R.I.P. PS4 Eye, we hardly knew ye.

If you have a PS Vita (I don’t) you can remote play most PS4 games and, say, beat that last boss in bed while your wife watches her Housewives of Anchorage marathon. This is a great feature. Obviously you wouldn’t want to play anything multiplayer since you’d get destroyed playing from a handheld, but anyone with a full house can attest to the usefulness of being able to play while others use the main television. The problem for me right now is that the Vita doesn’t have enough games to stand up on its own as a portable game device. $199 for something I’ll only use for remote play is too much, but hopefully this integration has the effect of getting the Vita in more hands and, thus, gets more developers to make great Vita games.

The PS4 comes with a headset. Throw it in the garbage. Its terrible sound quality is only outdone by its painfully bad ergonomics. It is basically one original iPhone Apple headset that hangs from your ear. Luckily you can use any set of headphones with a mic or headset that plug into the port.

Playstation Network:

Prepare to hear surprising things about your mother.

This is more of a “remains to be seen.” FINALLY the Playstation Network has a dedicated party chat that will persist between any game or part of the console experience. The fact that the PS3 was never able to handle this was a huge black eye for Sony. It’s one of the best parts of console gaming as an adult(-ish). I can log in and chat with my friends and family while getting ready to game or not gaming at all.

Xbox Live simply wiped the floor with PSN last generation and it was the main reason I preferred my XBOX 360 for any online gaming. Last generation PSN went down for a month when just about everyone’s personal information was stolen. Between the updates, no party chat and sketchy security and stability it made for a less than ideal experience.

The launch brought about some major technical difficulties with logging in and downloading games, but by the second day I was able to consistently connect and game on KillZone with no noticeable lag. This was a massive launch and I would say so far so good for PSN. The notice they sent that they were changing passwords if they detected any suspicious activity is hopefully a good sign that they’re being proactive and not a bad sign of more security breaches to come.

Playstation+ will be required like Xbox Live Gold to play games online this generation. I just take both of these as a requirement since they are only about $50 per year and add so much to the experience. Sony does an awesome job offering genuinely good monthly downloadable games that are free to play as long as you subscribe to Playstation+. This really adds to the value.

Games:

I will be writing a couple reviews for the games I own, but rest assured, as with most launch lineups, the pickins are slim. That’s not to say there aren’t some fun games and those that will show off the power of your new system, but there isn’t a Halo or Super Mario 64 on either system that makes it a must buy. Go get Resogun immediately as it’s free for Playstation+ members and, even if you are silly enough to not get Playstation+, the console comes with a free month on the house.

Too long/Didn’t read:

Sony has put together a very powerful machine in a sleek attractive package that focuses on gaming first and foremost. Should you buy it at launch? Short answer: no. There is no game or experience that bridges the generational leap to make your old systems obsolete. The old systems still have incredible games coming out this year (GTA 5, The Last of Us, GT6 etc etc.) As with most launches you are going to go through what is basically beta testing the experience with bugs and crashing network services as well as games that don’t fully test the hardware or even approaching “must play”. This system will look completely different by the time the next generation starts. When the last generation began Netflix had no streaming service and only rented physical media. That should sum up how far we’ve come with only software updates that really changed the machine from day one to the last day.

All of that said: If you’re like me and feel that testing the bugs and going through the painful process is part of the journey of a console generation then I say go for it. If you’re like me and want to have the new systems because “I just do” then I say go for it. The price isn’t going to drop anytime soon. The next batch of hardware will probably be better and run cooler, but who knows when that will be? Must have games are coming out starting early next year starting with Destiny and many more to follow soon after that. At the end of the day $399 is not even as expensive as a many tablets and you’ll be using it for 8 years. I will hopefully be posting an Xbox One review as well, but if you can’t live without God of War, Naughty Dog games and all of the other awesome Sony exclusives then just buy the damn system. You know you’re going to anyway.

Follow me on Twitter: @AndyPolidore

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