The PS4 improves on nearly all of the PS3’s shortcomings, and that list of shortcomings grew over its long lifespan. For starters, the PS4 is a compact and quiet package that will fit nicely in any entertainment system. Its asymmetrical design feels solid yet light, and is smaller than any model of PS3. Sony’s minimalist design is pleasing to the eye.
With an internal power supply, and an ultra compact design, I have a slight cause for worry about the failure rate in the future. The rear of the system tends to run hot during long gaming sessions. There’s a lot of high tech parts in a slim body; ones that generate a lot of heat. I haven’t had any hardware problems with my PS4 at the current time, but I’ll be keeping a close eye on this.
The front of the device has a hidden disc slot next to two USB 3.0 ports. These front ports are hidden within an indentation. The power and eject buttons are two vertical touch-sensitive buttons that lie between the disc drive and the USB ports. These buttons are so hidden, I had to read the manual to figure out how to power on the system for the first time (you can’t use the controller for the initial startup). The rocker switch that was found on the PS3 is gone.
The controller, the Dualshock 4, fixes many of the common complaints that surrounded its predecessor, the Dualshock 3. The Dualshock 4 sports firmer analog sticks, concave triggers, longer handles, and a new touchpad. The result is one of the best feeling controllers in the business, though it suffers from a short battery life of about eight hours.
The new touchpad is an impressive addition that reads multi-touch gestures. Its application depends on the game. Sometimes it’s implemented well, and other times not implemented at all. For example, it’s used in “Assassin’s Creed IV” to navigate the map, quite poorly I might add. I don’t know if the touchpad is unable to detect with pinpoint accuracy, or if it’s just coded poorly for the game. In “Madden 25,” it’s just a replacement for the select button to call timeouts. I look forward to seeing how developers can implement the touchpad in future games. I see a lot of potential here.
Speaking of the select button, the classic controller format with “start” and “select” buttons are officially gone in Sony’s eyes. The two buttons that closely resemble them are the “options” and “share” buttons. Options is basically the start button’s replacement. I’m still not use to seeing “Press Options to start game” in the title sequence of games. I’m sure we’ll get acclimated to this in the near future considering the Xbox One controller is without start and select, as well.
The user interface
The inner workings make a console what it is, and the PS4 doesn’t disappoint. Sony gave its new console a completely new user interface. This new menu system is more responsive than the guides on the Xbox 360 and PS3.
The guide can be accessed at any time by pressing the PlayStation button, even while in the middle of a game. The user can check other applications, a friends list, or system settings, and return to the game at any time. The guide’s simplicity is hampered by its rigidity. The game library cannot be customized, and keeps the user’s games housed in a cluttered horizontal line. Literally every game that is installe (physical or digital), additional media like Hulu or Netflix, and additional buttons for the Library and the new “What’s New” button are thrown in a single-file line. I’ve had the system for a week, and it’s already a mess. I hope this is rectified within this first year. A grid view, or folder options would be a big help.
The PSN store has received a substantial facelift. It’s both faster and cleaner than its predecessor. Categories are kept in a column in the left of the screen, similar to the PS3 store. Since this is a new system there isn’t much in the PS4’s store, but it seems like a nice upgrade. Hopefully it stays as clean as it is now.
If the store has one problem it’s finding game updates. Usually a game automatically updates when played if an update is required. This happens in the background, but it’s so hidden that I can’t find its progress. The game then has to be restarted for the update to be installed. In the specific case of “DC Universe Online,” this game of mine needs a new update. I cannot for the life of me find out how to download it. Starting the game kicks me out since the update is required to play online, and the game is completely online. I’ve tried checking the PSN store and exploring the game details itself. No luck. The overall experience for game updates is a bit muddled.
Simple game downloads on the other hand are a breeze. Downloading one game at a time at a snail’s pace is in the past. I was downloading five games at once while playing a different game. They system handled all the processing in the background, providing a nice notification when each download completed. Games can even be played while they download. The system will download just enough to get you started, and you’re on your way while the rest of the download completes off-screen. Updated hardware unlocks the power to do such things.
I have experienced the occasional app crash if I try to do too much in rapid succession. Fortunately, it doesn’t completely lock the system. After a brief waiting period, the system will force quite the application causing the problem, and the system will ask you to send a message to Sony explaining the error. This process is reminiscent of a game crash on a PC, but it happens much less frequently in my experience.
This is by far the weakest aspect of the PS4. There just aren’t enough games to play on this system yet, and the games that are there can either be found on another console, or aren’t very good.
After looking at graphics generated by hardware that is nearly a decade old, the PS4’s graphic production is a welcome sight. The first-party exclusive “Killzone Shadow Fall” shows what the PS4 is capable of by displaying sprawling vistas and richly detailed textures.
When you look past its glossy finish, the game feels more like a tech demo than an inspired first-person shooter. This is the problem with much of the PS4’s launch lineup. It lacks quality titles. In its out-of-the-gate library of roughly 30 games, only three are exclusively available for the PS4. Every other game can be found on other gaming platforms, including the PS3. Granted, those versions won’t look as sharp as the PS4 versions, but a console with just a few next-gen games makes for a hard sell.
PlayStation Plus subscribers receive two free games: an indie puzzle title called “Contrast,” and an exclusive horizontal space shooter called “Resogun.” “Resogun” is excellent, but brief. “Contrast,” while clever at times, is littered with bugs. These two games don’t exactly steal the show from the rest of the games, but free games are always nice.
Launch lineups for new consoles are generally lackluster in either quality or quantity. The PS4 isn’t an oddity in this regard. Its library will grow substantially in just its first year, but the lack of games is the best reason to postpone the purchase.
Streaming and sharing
The PS4’s killer app is its live streaming ability. Users can broadcast their gaming sessions live for the world to see via web browser or mobile device, and it’s all possible with the push of the “Share” button. Game streaming has become a big business for video games, and the PS4 is prepared for it on day one. The game quality isn’t affected by game streaming, but a fast upload speed is necessary to produce a clear stream.
The experience is even customizable to a degree. If a PlayStation Camera ($60) is connected, you can stream with your face in the corner of the screen. Commentary with a connected mic, and viewer comments can be enabled or disabled depending on your preference. Right now, there is no way to balance game and commentary sound, but I haven’t received any complaints about how the default sound balance.
The format is user friendly, with the picture and comment section taking up about 20% of the television screen. Only two user comments can be displayed at a time, and there’s no way to scroll up to see if you missed any.
There is some room for improvement with the built-in streaming app, but Sony nearly nailed it with their first attempt.
If going live isn’t your thing, the share button also gives the option to share screens or video recording. Screens can be posted on Twitter and Facebook, and up to 15 minutes of video can be posted to Facebook alone. Unfortunately, those are the only sites that are supported at this time, meaning YouTube is a no-go.
This opens the floodgates for potential spoilers, but Sony thought about that, too. Developers can make the decision to enable streaming for their game. They can even bar streaming for specific parts.
Sony’s handheld, the PlayStation Vita, has been given new life thanks to the PS4. The Vita now acts as an optional companion to the console. Its new feature called Remote Play replicates the picture on the television on the Vita, giving it similar functionality to the Wii U’s GamePad. This is handled through a local wifi network, which means no wires are needed. The feature works with virtually no delay, but some of the picture quality is lost in the transition.
Certain games will enable the Vita to be a second screen, similarly to how it displayed a real-time map in “Guacamelee.” In that instance, the Vita had to be hardwired to the PS3. Now it can be handled through the local wifi network. I haven’t played a game that enables the Vita’s second screen feature.
Is the PlayStation 4 worth the $400 asking price? It’s currently a powerful gaming device with an obvious lack of games. Of course, this will change over the course of the next year, but the sparse library is an obvious hole for a console that is supposed to play video games. Owners have various multimedia apps and cross-platform titles to enjoy. That will be enough for some, but the PS4 is still waiting for the game to make it a must-buy device.