Review: PlayStation 4

Nov 18, 2013

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What an incredible thing it is to stand in the future and reflect upon the past.  So much has changed: our world, our habits, ourselves.  Now, finally, after seven years our consoles are changing.  What will this “next generation”, that we so excitedly sit on the precipice of, change in our entertainment experiences and our daily lives?  That is something that cannot be answered at the moment.  Straddling the fence between old and new, the known and the unknown, can anyone truly know where it is that PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One will take us?  The answer is no.  Sure, there might be some good guesses but they will be simple predictions until those predictions become reality.

It is with that in mind that I must state that no critic, professional nor layman, can accurately judge this new generation of consoles until we approach the next “next-gen”.  One might go as far as to say that the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360 shouldn’t be reviewed even now as we have not yet reached the end of their lifespans.  Far more homes in the world will continue their daily or weekly use of the last generation of consoles well into the life of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One than will immediately embrace these latter consoles. 

As it stands, I have had the PlayStation 4 connected to my home theater for three days.  No more.  As this is Geeks With Wives and I am a married father who works full-time, I have not been able to spend the full 72 hours experimenting with this glorious piece of gaming machinery. Therefore, this review will be a living thing that will be updated as the PlayStation 4 ages. The idea is thus: I will give you my original impressions as they stand.  After spending more time with the system (say, one month), I will edit this review to reflect my new opinions.  If you have any questions or comments please feel free to Tweet at me or interact with me in the comments below.  If there is something that you would like to get my opinion on (or any of the other Geeks, for that matter) let me know and I may just add it in a future update.

Now, what you came for: a gamer’s review of the PlayStation 4 on launch week.  Enjoy.

-Kenney Newville

 

Design and Hardware

PS4 - Front

The PlayStation 4 certainly is an odd-looking addition to your home entertainment setup.  Sure: it’s a black plastic box with wires sticking out of the back, but its slanted design (as if it was stuck in a wind tunnel prior to cooling the plastic) is definitely new.  A lot of people are talking about this new design and I’m not convinced that I really like it.  It looks odd to me, so I guess that it’s a good thing that I’m far more concerned with what the box displays on my screen.  One new design feature that I can get behind completely, however, is the new status indicator.  This thin light bar runs from the power button (more on that later) to the rear of the console and lights-up with a myriad of colors to indicate the status of the PlayStation 4.  It’s sexy, it’s functional, and I think that it looks “next gen”, whatever that means.

As I mentioned though: it’s not the design of the box that counts, but what’s under the hood that matters.  Here are the specs of the PlayStation 4 straight from Sony’s website:

PS4 Specs

Woah… so, in layman’s terms: it’s powerful (for a console).  Currently what it’s able to run is impressive (see Killzone Shadow Fall and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag) but, like the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, we probably won’t get a chance to see what it’s fully capable of for quite some time.  However, I forecast that we’ll see a far smaller performance gap between the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 than was a cornerstone of the last generation of consoles.  This will be due, in large-part, to Sony eschewing the Cell processor this go-round.

DSC_0289

“So, what’s in the box?”  I’m glad that you asked!  In case you missed Joe’s unboxing video, I will describe the contents for you here.  When you open the box you will be greeted by the console on the left and the operator’s manual and DualShock 4 controller on the right.  I was a little nervous about the lack of padding within the box, especially concerning the console and the controller, but everything appeared to have survived shipping.  As you dig into the contents of the box, you will find the power cord (which is the same as the PlayStation 3), an HDMI cable, a micro USB cable, and a headset.  You might not think about it at first but it is interesting to note that the system forgoes traditional video cables (component, composite) for HDMI exclusively.  That means that you will only be hooking this console to a device with HDMI inputs.  You have been warned.

The back of the console has your usual ports: power, Digital Out (Optical), HDMI out, and LAN.  It also sports an Auxiliary port which is used by the PlayStation Camera - a nice feature considering that there are only two USB ports on the front of the console and even those are hard to access.  The two front USB ports will easily accept a standard USB cable but has difficulties accepting standard- to large-sized thumb drives because of the port placement.  This was a disappointing discovery since I had downloaded the 1.05 system patch to a thumb drive prior to receiving my console in the hopes of bypassing a longer system download.

PS4 Ports

The easiest thing to overlook on the PlayStation 4 is the location of it’s Power and Eject buttons.  They are, quite conspicuously, located in-line with the status light bar on the front of the console.  The Power button is on the top, the Eject button is below, they are touch sensitive, and they are quite sensitive.  Although they work well (although I use the DualShock 4 to power-on and eject disks) they are very easy to brush accidentally.

Known Issues

I would be remiss not to mention that, in the days following its launch, the PlayStation 4 has had a few reported issues.  The most prevalent would be the “Blue Light of Death” which acquires its name from the status bar flashing blue while the console has no video output.  Another issue seems to be due to a faulty HDMI input where a piece of metal can, when not fixed prior to connection with a cable, tear-up the inside connectors.  While some may argue that Sony has not been quick to fix effected user’s consoles, they have reacted vocally with some haste by creating a PlayStation 4 troubleshooting page dedicated to the recent issues.

It is currently estimated by Sony that only 0.4% of consoles will be effected.  While nobody wants to hear “failure” when spending $400 on a new electronic device, that number is actually really good.  For what it’s worth, SquareTrade.com suggests that consumer electronics have a 15% failure rate.  Even if that number is completely made-up, a 99.6% success rate is still really, really good.

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DualShock 4

DS4

All that talk of failure made me really depressed.  Then I thought about the DualShock 4 and that put a huge smile on my face.  Let me get this out of the way: the DualShock 4 is my favorite controller that I’ve held.  Ever.  I didn’t mind the old DualShock 3s (Gasp!  Wait for it…) but after using the DualShock 4 all weekend, picking-up the DualShock 3 was torture.  So what’s changed?

Let’s talk improvements first.  The DualShock 4 is a little heavier and a little wider than the DualShock 3.  I really like this change and can’t stress strongly enough how much of a difference it makes.  The analogue sticks are also spread farther apart and have concave tops for better grip.  These too are welcome changes to the older, more compact style that the DualShock 3 presented.  The L1 and R1 buttons have been made smaller and the L2 and R2 triggers finally feel good due to the redesigned shape.

Now what’s new.  Arguably the biggest change in the DualShock line comes by way of a touch pad in the middle of the controller.  It’s about as wide as an iPhone screen, has a great feel, and also has a nice click when pressed.  I’ll be interested to see how developers implement this new feature.  Also new to the controller is a small speaker.  From what I’ve heard it has pretty good volume, but, like the touch pad, it will require some creativity on the part of developers to utilize.

While I don’t want to get into game-specifics too much here, I do want to point-out two great uses of these features.  The best use of the touch pad goes to Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.  During gameplay, clicking the touch pad brings-up the map where you can zoom in and out using your fingers similar to the way that you would zoom on an iPhone.  It works well and I didn’t feel like it was a stretch to use.  The best use of the speaker so far goes to Killzone Shadow Fall.  Throughout the single-player campaign the player is tasked with locating audio recorders.  When found, the audio recording plays through the DualShock’s speaker which gives the player the feeling of holding the recorder.  Bravo to Ubisoft and Guerrilla Games for not necessarily shoehorning new features into your games.

Another change to the controller is the Start and Select buttons being replaced with the Options and Share buttons.  The Options button acts as you would expect the Start button to act and is located to the right of the touchpad.  The Share button is located to the left of the touch pad and is an entirely next-gen button!  By clicking it (clicking vs holding can be switched in the system menu), you take a screenshot of your gameplay footage.  If you hold it down a share menu pops up where you can upload video clips or screenshots to Facebook or Twitter, or begin an instant live stream to Twitch or Uplay.  Let’s go over that in order.

The PlayStation 4 actually records video in 15 minute increments.  Let’s say you just had an awesome kill-streak that you want to share.  All you do is press and hold the share button, edit your video, and post your video to Facebook (at this time, you cannot post to YouTube or Twitter).  Done.  Pretty easy, right?  While I believe that we will all grow tired of being inundated with our friends’ gameplay videos, I think that this is a great feature to add.  Similarly to the videos, you can also use the share menu to share screenshots that you’ve taken in-game to Facebook and Twitter.  Pretty cool as well.

Now we get interesting.  The third option is live streaming to Twitch or Uplay.  After linking your PSN ID to Twitch (extremely simple), you can select Broadcast Gameplay from the share menu, set if you want your mic to be heard, what you want the title to be, where you want to post a link (Facebook or Twitter), start the stream and your done!  It is simple and effortless and worked great each time that I’ve tried it.

Probably my favorite new feature of the DualShock 4 is the way that you can type using Sixaxis.  Any time a keyboard pops up and you have to input text, all you have to do is press R3 and start moving the controller around to select your keys.  I know, it sounds funny and maybe there are better methods, but I feel like it is calibrated just right and it is a breeze to input text.  I don’t see myself buying or needing a keyboard peripheral anytime soon.

The DualShock 4 also features a light bar that can communicate with the PlayStation Camera (if you have it) and alert you to various things within a game.  Another decent example of implementation can be attributed to Killzone Shadow Fall where the light bar is used as an indicator of your health.  The light starts green and, as you take damage, the light changes to yellow and then red.  Neat!  Like the touch pad and the DualShock’s speaker: I’m sure that we’ll see more creative implementations down the road.

The final feature of the DualShock 4 that I want to discuss is the addition of a headphone/headset jack under the PlayStation button.  Using any headphones that you like (I used the Apple iPhone ear-buds and they worked just fine) you can set the system to output all of the volume through that jack.  This is a great feature for those of us who have to have “quiet time” or for folks who have less-than-excited significant others to please.  As I mentioned earlier, Sony included a single ear-bud headset with mic inside the PlayStation 4’s box.  It’s cheap, it’s hard, it’s not terribly comfortable, but the times that I’ve used it I’ve been pleasantly surprised by just how good the chat is and how clear the mics are.  Still, upgrading will most-likely be a necessity in the future.

PS Camera

While I am very interested in getting my hands on this piece of the PlayStation puzzle, I decided to pick up a secondary game instead.  Eventually I will buy this.  When I do, I will revisit this section and update it.

The User Interface, PlayStation Network, and Online Play

The user interface on the PlayStation 4 is clean, intuitive, and smooth.  Gone is the old XrossMediaBar, although you can certainly tell that this is an evolved version.  My attempts to post a picture of the new layout using the Share feature were thwarted by software.  If you would like to see the picture in a Tweet, check here.  If you would rather just look at it on the Vita’s screen, see the picture under the “Remote Play” section.

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Finally we can all understand what Sony was doing when it redesigned the PlayStation Store.  Sure, the new layout is beautiful.  It’s beauty didn’t change the fact that it ran like absolute garbage on the PlayStation 3.  On Sony’s latest console, however, the PlayStation Store is a joy to use and flows quickly and gracefully.  Downloading is quick and effortless and you are able to download multiple items at once while playing a game or watching Netflix.  The multitasking capability of the PlayStation 4 is definitely a game-changer.  The ease of popping in and out of a game using the PS button while managing your downloads and participating in Party Voice Chat (you read that correctly: PARTY CHAT that supports up to eight participants) is something that I have gotten completely used to.  Going back just isn’t an option.

Online play has also been fun and problem-free.  I did have a few connection issues while in Killzone Shadow Fall’s multiplayer, but all-in-all I’ve not had a bad experience with online play.  As mentioned earlier, Sony did include cross-game party chat this time around.  It works quite well and although I don’t see myself chatting with people while playing different titles, it was nice to be able to change games with people while not dropping out of voice chat.

Remote Play

Probably one of the most anticipated features of the PlayStation 4 is its ability to work hand-in-hand with the PlayStation Vita to offer Remote Play.  This was also the feature that most were skeptical would function as-advertised.  Well, I’m hear to tell you that the answer to the question “will remote play work at launch?” is “yes… and no.”

PSVita Remote Play PS4

First of all, there are two ways to utilize your Vita in conjunction with your PlayStation 4.  First is Remote Play which, in theory, allows you to play any game on your PlayStation 4 over WiFi and through your Vita.  The second is Second Screen which, as the name suggests, allows you to use your Vita as a second screen.  This would really come in-handy if games were to allow you to manage an inventory or use the Vita as a map screen, but I’m not sure if any current games make use of it.

Still, the most interesting of the two is certainly Remote Play, and guess what?  It works.  Kind of.  What I mean to say is that at any time that you are playing the PlayStation 4 you can connect your Vita and immediately pick up on the Vita where you left-off on the PlayStation 4.  You can also power-on the PlayStation 4 from Standby mode using the Vita.  When you are sitting on the couch and watching the Vita’s screen work seamlessly along with your TVs screen, it’s very impressive.  I could easily play Resogun, Killzone Shadow Fall, and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag with nary a drop in frame-rate.  However, the farther that you use your Vita from your PlayStation 4 the worse the experience is.  For example, playing anything from my bedroom, which is upstairs, with my PlayStation 4 downstairs is very hit-or-miss.  Sony has made the statement that, for best results, you should connect your PlayStation 4 by cable to your router and us the same network with your Vita.  I did this and I still have issues when being a certain distance from the PlayStation 4.  Also, the strength of my WiFi in my bedroom isn’t terrible.

I think that once they get this connection issue hammered-out that this will be a huge plus for being a PlayStation gamer.  The idea of being able to sit in your favorite coffee shop, on an airplane, or in a hotel room across the country and play PlayStation 4 games on your Vita is a grand one.  When Sony gets this up and running, and I firmly believe that they will, it will be a game-changer.

Not to say that, connectivity aside, the experience is flawless.  Obviously, the Vita has a few less buttons than the DualShock 4.  L2 and R2 are typically mapped to the L and R buttons on the Vita, whereas L1 and R1 are mapped to the top left and right (respectively) quadrants of the Vita’s rear touch pad.  L3 and R3 (the stick buttons) can be mapped the the lower left and right quadrants of the Vita’s rear touch pad or, as is the case with Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, they can be mapped to the lower left and right corners of the front touch screen.  This latter option feels far more natural and logical to me, since I have enough trouble as it is utilizing the Vita’s rear touch pad in any non-humiliating, comfortable way.

The analogue nubs also prove problematic in first-person shooters such as Killzone Shadow Fall.  There simply isn’t as much range of motion as on the DualShock 4’s analogue sticks to allow the precision that is necessary.  With games such as Resogun and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, the nubs do a fine job.

Launch Weekend Conclusions

Damn it feels good to be a gamer!  We are staring down the barrel of the future and it looks bright.  After playing the the PlayStation 4 longer than I should have, but less than I wanted to, this weekend, I can firmly say that I am loving my experience with Sony’s latest console.  The experience from front to back is smoother, more intuitive, more comfortable, and more beautiful than was on offer on any of the last-gen consoles.  There are a few disparaging comments out there that say that you shouldn’t buy the PlayStation 4 because the launch line-up of games is weak.  Guess what: most launch line-ups are weak.  Personally, I don’t feel like what’s on offer is that bad.  I am enjoying Killzone Shadow Fall enough (it’s gorgeous…), Resogun (free for PlayStation Plus users) is a blast to play, and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag looks very good on PlayStation 4 while having the same solid gameplay that we’ve come to expect from the series.

There are people who say that you shouldn’t buy the PlayStation 4 because it might come bricked (i.e. dead on arrival).  Well, you might get hit by a cement truck while crossing the street to go to work.  Are you not going to go to work?  In all seriousness, however, the chances of getting a bricked PlayStation 4 are few and far between.

The fact of the matter is this: Sony has designed, manufactured, and shipped a fine piece of electronic joy.  They have improved upon the PlayStation 4’s predecessor in every way imaginable and at $400 (considering the hardware that you are buying) it’s a good deal.  If you are able to pick-up Sony’s latest console you will be able to join the more than 1,000,000 other consumers who decided that the PlayStation 4 was the next-gen console for them.

 

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