Sony PS4 review
|Review: November 2013|
In a nutshell: Sony has ignored its rival's attempts to take over the living room, as Microsoft integrates media services such as television into the Xbox One. Instead, the Japanese giant plans to focus the PlayStation 4's abilities on pure gaming.
Hear that screech of digital tyres on photo-realistic concrete and the sound of armies of avatars taking potshots at each other? Yes, the next-generation console war has begun and for once the battle lines have been clearly drawn. Microsoft has chosen a tactic that might see its games console become so much more, embracing features such as satellite and cable TV alongside its other content. Sony, on the other hand, is playing up its focused approach, hoping to capture those who are looking for a pure gaming experience first and foremost.
In Europe, Microsoft's Xbox One has already gotten the jump on Sony, selling out in most retailers as it shipped more than one million consoles in 13 countries in its first 24 hours. Debuting at a significantly cheaper price point than the Xbox One, Sony also sold one million units in one day in the US and Canada when it went on sale there on 15 November 2013. Sony will be hoping to match those kinds of figures when it launches in Europe on 29 November.
On Sony's side is a great looking machine, a £349.99 price tag and changes the fans and developers demanded – such as improved controllers and an easier system to build games for. Let battle commence...
There is an argument that says it doesn't matter what your games console looks like, it's the quality of the gaming experience it delivers. While that is, in most cases, true, there will be a few less committed gamers who base their buying decision on how well it complements their living room. In those cases, having looked at both machines side by side at a retailer, they're more likely to plump for the PS4 than the Xbox One.
Microsoft's latest console may not be as boxy as the original Xbox but it still takes up more space than the PS4 and it doesn't look as stylishly put together. Sony's machine, in comparison, is a slanted parallelogram that's all shiny angles. It's also considerably smaller than the One, its 10.8in x 12in x 2.08in form squaring off very favourably against the One's 10.7in x 13.1in x 3.1in dimensions.
The PlayStation 4 may win hands down when it comes to design, but it's not a case of style over substance. Under the hood, the PS4 shares most of the specs of its rival, giving it the hardware it needs to deliver a great gaming experience. The 8-Core AMD processor, 8GB RAM, HDMI 1.4 out, Digital Optical Out, Blu-ray drive, Gigabit Ethernet, WiFi and USB 3.0 are standard, although there's no HDMI out as Sony isn't expecting you to run your Sky, Virgin or Freeview TV service through it like Microsoft is with the Xbox One. There is an extra Auxiliary Port, for connecting accessories such as the Eye. On the plus side, the switch to a more PC-based architecture will make the PS4 easier to write games for (the PS3 being notoriously difficult for coders to work with).
Microsoft was thought to have had a small victory by overclocking its main processor to 1.75GHz, beating Sony's 1.6GHz chip. However, early signs suggest the PS4 chip may actually be running at 1.8GHz, beating the Xbox One. Expect that battle to rage on as both sides squeeze more from their hardware in the coming days, week and years.
To put it bluntly, the DualShock 3 was a poor controller, even though it was a step up from the rumble-free SixAxis the PS3 originally launched with. The sticks were too loose and the triggers a disappointment to anyone who had played with the Xbox 360's gamepad.
In comparison, the PS4's DualShock 4 is everything the DualShock 3 should have been and more. Although it weighs slightly more than the DualShock 3, the evolution is both dramatic and comfortable. Its redesign includes more ergonomic palm grips, more responsive analogue sticks and a useful touchpad in the centre. The Start and Select buttons are no more, replaced by an Options button for pausing and changing settings and a Share button for uploading gaming clips. A light bar on the top is used with the PlayStation Move motion tracker, while also changing colours to identify which controller is which.
At first glance, it seems as if Sony has followed in Microsoft's footsteps with its online services. Xbox Live has been charging gamers to battle it out online for years and players connecting to the PlayStation Plus service using Gigabit Ethernet or WiFi will pay £5.49 a month for the same privilege. However, unlike Xbox Live, Plus membership adds a monthly line-up of free games, with Res0gun (see below) and indie platformer Contrast both available at launch, while a version of Driveclub is on its way. Players get a 14-day trial when they buy the console, and those with PS3 and Vita consoles get free games for those platforms too.
What's missing from the PS4 is more media management. Sony may not have wanted to have free-to-air digital television channels sitting cheek by jowl with film and TV content players can buy online, but overall media integration beyond that decision is also poor. With tablets and smartphones increasingly being used to watch digital content, Xbox One users will be able to use those devices to access stored files on their console. Sony users won't, and so far this is the biggest failing of the PS4. The long lifespan of the PS3 did see many system updates add in extra features and this is one we'd want to see as early as possible from the Japanese company.
Launch titles can often be the decider between consoles in the early months and while the PS4 is an enticing package, its launch line-up is weaker than the Xbox One's. With Driveclub not available at launch and with Watch Dogs slipping into 2014, Killzone is the only real standout exclusive. A raft of PS3 re-releases also speaks to how thin on the ground must-have games are. One bonus should be the PlayRoom system, which showcases the features of the new PlayStation Eye. Not really a game as such, PlayRoom is effectively a set of augmented reality features designed to show off the PS4's capabilities. Unfortunately, its novelty wears off very quickly and it has all the hallmarks of a feature that will never get used after the first few days.
Launch titles include Angry Birds Star Wars, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, Battlefield 4, Blacklight: Retribution, Call Of Duty: Ghosts, Contrast, DC Universe Online, DiveKick, FIFA 14, Flower, Injustice: Gods Among Us, Just Dance 2014, LEGO: Marvel Super Heroes, Madden NFL 25, NBA 2K14, NBA Live 14, Need For Speed: Rivals, Skylanders Swap Force, Sound Shapes, Super Motherload, Trine 2: The Complete Story and Warframe.
However, the most interesting titles at launch are:
- Killzone: Shadow Fall. Set 30 years after Killzone 3, on a world where the Vektan and Helghast are only separated by a security wall, it's up to Shadow Marshal Lucas Kellan to secure the fragile peace when things go bad. Gorgeous visuals are matched by sharp controls, while much of the campaign is now more open and expansive.
- Knack. Possibly the sleeper hit of the PS4 launch, Knack follows a golem whose power comes from relics. As a Goblin army threatens mankind, he uses these mysterious objects and the materials around him to change his size and shape and defeat them. Certain elements – such as ice or fire – give him powers that can defeat his enemies and help him navigate the world. As well as being a visual treat it's also no kids' game, with Crash Bandicoot creator (and PS4 lead architect) Mark Cerny ensuring it's no pushover.
- Res0gun. This side-scrolling shoot 'em up headlines Sony's Plus service on launch day, basically making it free for all PS4 users. The wrap-around world design is a stunning take on Defender, mixed with a little Super Stardust – one of developer Housemarque's previous games. Players zoom around the neon environments dodging the bright, explosive enemy fire, rescuing humans from the alien forces and blowing everything into tiny pieces.
- Octodad: Dadliest Catch. The sequel to a freeware indie game from a few years ago might not seem like an essential purchase, but the charming physics-heavy silliness of Octodad needs to be played to be truly appreciated. Controlling an octopus trying to pass himself off as human, players battle the purposefully terrible controls to maintain the character's cover. It's a lot more fun than it sounds.
What first hits you about the PlayStation 4 is how small it is. Thinking back to the gigantic launch version of the PS3, this tight angular design seems sleek in comparison, with zero wasted space or bulk. While most would say good looks won't influence the purchasing decision, it also packs a powerful array of hardware inside. However, at this point the console takes an already pretty impressive gaming experience on the PS3 and only improves it slightly.
No doubt further updates will add more functionality – perhaps eventually even following Microsoft's lead if it turns out the gaming audience does want to embrace other media. So while the first shots have been fired in the first battle, it's safe to say a winner won't be declared in this latest console war for some time.
Sony PS4 features include:
- Size: (width x length x height): 10.8in x 12in x 2.08in
- Processor: 1.6GHz 8-Core x86 AMD CPU / 800MHz GPU
- Memory: 8GB GDDR5 RAM
- Drive: Blu-ray
- USB ports: USB 3.0
- Media Connections: HDMI 1.4 out, Digital Optical Out, Aux Port, Gigabit Ethernet, WiFi
- Number Of Launch Titles: 26
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