Reviews

PS4 System Review: Evolution Awaits


Sony’s next generation console is finally here and we’ve got our verdict as to whether it lives up to the hype or fizzles out. The PS4 promises a lot of amazing things but how much of that does it really deliver? Game streaming, improved online functions over the PS3 and a great new controller are just a few of the biggest changes with Sony’s new console. It does feel more like an evolutionary step than a mind blowing leap though. It certainly doesn’t bring with it the same visual impact that the jump from standard definition to high definition possessed.

Should that be held against the console on day one? I don’t think so. I understand that not every new console will rewrite the rules of gaming like the N64 did with Super Mario 64 back in 1996. The PS4 is a step near the middle of a greater path of evolution. That doesn’t mean it can’t amaze us in new and exciting ways while we wait for the next big leap in gaming.

The system’s blue UI is the first thing you notice about the system. Sony is calling this menu “Dynamic” but it is essentially two PS3 XMB’s stacked together. One XMB bar houses things like your friends list or settings while the other shows what games are in your library or your video/music apps. It feels new while at the same time familiar. The XMB was a very good UI even if it lacked style so I’m more than happy to see remain with a few changes. It offers a lot of functionality while being simple to navigate and remains uncluttered.

ps4ui

The PS4’s user interface borrows a lot of elements from the PS3’s Xross Media Bar. It is also very, very blue.

Where the PS4’s UI stumbles is the lack of features. The system currently needs to connect to the web to sync with your Trophies every time you want to view them. This is particularly annoying when compared to Microsoft consoles who allow you to view your achievements without an internet connection. Its a minor gripe but an odd one to be there in the first place.

Another UI related issue is the lack of organization with the system’s game library. Since the console is still young no one’s library should be hard to navigate but once more games arrive the library system will begin to be unpleasant to use. Some extra sorting options, folders for example, would have been appreciated. You also can’t change the system’s blue background at all which is disappointing. I find the blue to be aesthetically pleasing but I won’t forever. Hopefully users will be able to change the system’s wallpaper in an upcoming update.

Overall everything works great and super fast. Load times between system applications are almost non-existent and even games load up pretty quick. You can multi-task between games, apps, and web at all times. Just press the PS button while playing Killzone and you’ll be able to check your online friends, browse the web, and other things. Its nice and surprisingly a faster experience than Nintendo’s Wii U multi-tasking experience. You’d think a device with two screens would feature fast multi-tasking, at least with web browsing but the PS4 beats it despite having one TV screen to use. Everything loads quickly on the PS4 with the exceptions of your Trophy list and the Playstation Store. At launch PSN was a bit of a mess but that shouldn’t be held against the console. These things happen during busy system launches.

ps4-store

While the new layout for the PS Store is nothing we didn’t already know about, it still could use some improvements.

The PS4 store has a very cover-flow like set up when you first launch it. Some will like this but I’m not a huge fan of it. It does give more attention to the games being featured and does have more visual flare but I’m a big fan of lists or grid icons for dozens of titles on screen rather than just two or three.

Internet browsing is very fast but ultimately useless due to the Dual Shock 4. Sony’s new controller may be the best next-gen controller for gaming but it still can’t make web browsing on a console an enjoyable experience. The most enjoyable web browsing console experience is still on the Wii U and that’s entirely due to the Dual Shock 4 lacking a touch screen.

Speaking of the new controller, the Dual Shock 4 is an amazing step up from Sony’s past controllers. It has its feet firmly planted in the future while retaining much of what was loved about past Dual Shocks. It keeps the same overall shape while making massive improvements to the controller’s analog sticks and triggers. The triggers are especially improved and put the Dual Shock 3 to shame. It feels light weight and fits perfectly into just about any size hands. I dare say it fits even better in my hands than the Xbox 360 controller which many (myself included) consider to be one of the greatest controllers ever made.

You can use touch controls via the DS4’s touch pad but you’d forgiven if you forgot it existed. The system’s OS uses the touch pad for very little and very few launch games support it. Maybe this is Sony playing it safe, not trying to annoy gamers with it but I don’t feel like they use the touch pad enough. It works great to control your OWL in Killzone but most third party titles don’t even acknowledge it. It is very odd that Sony didn’t program any notable touch pad related functions into the OS. Using the pad to move your own screen mouse in the web browser seems like a no-brainer but Sony didn’t even include that.

ps4headset

The Dual Shock 4 is the biggest leap forward that the system makes. It fits comfortably in your hands and is truly delightful to use in just about any game genre.

You’d also be forgiven if you forget what the Dual Shock 4’s light bar is for. You can only use this light if you have a PS4 camera connected to the console. If you don’t buy the camera the light serves little function. It will change colors depending on how your character is doing in-game which is kind of neat but ultimately a forgettable feature. If you’re taking too much damage in Killzone for example the light bar will glow red instead of its normal blue color. Sony includes the camera app, The Playroom, with every PS4 but without the additional purchase of the $60 camera it serves no purpose.

Ultimately the Dual Shock 4 is a major leap in terms of Playstation controllers. You will enjoy using it more than any past PS controller and you might even prefer it over Microsoft/Nintendo’s offerings. Battery life isn’t all that long coming in at around a dozen hours but its obviously preferable to the battery life of some other console controllers. I’m looking at you Wii U Game Pad!

Since a majority of the PS4’s launch titles are multiplatform games you won’t see a huge leap in visuals if you don’t buy Knack, Killzone or Resogun. Sure, Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed look a little bit better but nothing nearly as impressive as Shadow Fall. Killzone Shadow Fall is the game to show off the impressive new visuals that the PS4 can offer. If you don’t plan on getting Killzone then Resogun is your next best graphical showcase title.

killzone1

Killzone is the most visually impressive out of all next-gen launch titles this year. Check out dat next-gen lighting!

The casual gamer may not be able to tell much of a difference in graphics at launch. I even had a close friend whose last big trip into gaming was playing Gears of War 2 online religiously in 2008 ask me, “so are the graphics any better?” He was watching me play Killzone when he said this, completely unaware of just how much visuals had improved between Xbox 360 and PS4 while Shadow Fall looked him in the face. Not everyone will notice this leap in visuals, at least not right away. That contributes to the overall theme of the PS4 being more of an evolution than massive shift in gaming. Heck, the back of the system box even describes it as “evolutionary”.

The launch line up is filled with ports of current-gen games, the system’s UI looks very similar to the PS3’s XMB and most games/apps don’t use the system’s unique features like the Dual Shock 4’s touch pad or light bar. Sony dropped the ball in the US with only one alternative color available for the Dual Shock 4 whereas Europe is getting red and blue controllers at the end of this month. Those are the things that stick out like a sore thumb when I think about the negatives relating to the PS4.

For some an evolutionary step up from the PS3 won’t be enough to justify the $399 price tag. It might even be enough to convince some to stick with PS3/360 for until 2015 or so. There are still a bunch of great games heading to 360/PS3 so its hard to convince someone that they need a PS4 right now. That’s probably the system’s biggest problem, the large amount of last-gen ports. Sony’s own PS3 console is probably going to give the PS4 its toughest competition over the next few months as so many of the big 2014 titles are still coming to last-gen devices. Once the plug is pulled on 360/PS3 then the PS4 will dramatically shoot up in relevancy and importance to the average consumer.

ps3vsps4

The PS4 (thankfully) doesn’t repeat the many mistakes Sony made with the PS3. The system is sleek and powerful while also being reasonably priced for the average consumer.

That isn’t the whole story though. The positives far outweigh the negatives. You can’t put the console at fault for not having more must-have games at launch. While it certainly would have been nice to have InFamous and The Order today, we all know that Sony can’t show all their cards on day one. I’m not going to fault the system for only having Knack and Killzone as notable launch exclusives, though that would also be ignoring the stellar Resogun and puzzling Contrast. Games will come to the PS4 so why would I count a mediocre launch lineup against it?

Especially considering the system’s slam dunk Japanese support, games are on the way. This is basically given to the PS4 by default since Microsoft consoles never get much Japanese support. Its also no secret that the PS4 has a lot of great titles coming to it in 2014 with Ground Zeroes, The Order, Dying Light, and Destiny leading the way. Add into that the fact that Sony has a great relationship with indie developers and you can see that the system will have a lot of third party support over the course of its life. The future honestly looks brightest for the PS4 out of all next-gen consoles and I can’t help but get a very PS2-ish vibe from it. Maybe it’s the design of the console, which bears some similarities to the PS2. Or maybe its the fact that Sony has come out swinging with realistic expectations like they did in 2000 when they firmly took the (at the time) next-gen crown back from Sega’s Dreamcast. While the PS4 can certainly be a great entertainment hub for your home, it puts the biggest emphasis on games.

They’ve made the most powerful console on the market yet again but with an affordable price point this time. No $599 fiasco from Sony. They learned their lesson and while they still try to throw everything and the kitchen sink into the console, they clearly left enough on the cutting room floor to make it a great value at $399. That shows an increase in discipline and self-control that the company did not have when it launched the PS3 in 2006.

A lot has changed in gaming since 2006

Sony isn’t making the same mistakes they made with the PS3 in 2006.

Not only that but they managed to fit all of this horsepower (and power supply!) into a unit the size of the PS3 slim. The system also looks like it will probably lower in cost at a more reasonable rate than the 360/PS3 did, so you can actually look forward to the PS4 dropping in price more often than the PS3 did. It has taken the PS3 7 years to get a $199 SKU on shelves and it looks like the PS4 will not keep consumers waiting nearly that long for a cheaper price of entry.

The future is very bright with the PS4 even if there isn’t a whole lot of stuff that justifies the $399 price on day one. That said, early adopters don’t buy systems on day one for all the great launch titles, they buy them for the future. Sony has designed a system with a flashy yet still easy to navigate OS, revamped their signature Playstation controller without destroying tradition, and packed the most powerful console hardware into a sleek box.

It’s hard to not get excited while oohing in awe of Killzone’s visuals and think to yourself, “What will God of War, Ratchet and Clank, Twisted Metal, and Uncharted look like on this?”. Whether a $399 PS4 is right for you today or next year you should be getting excited about what the future holds for the system as it seems destined to take us to great places.

Launch Games/Apps 85%
Visuals 95%
Design/Aesthetics 85%
User Interface 80%
Value 95%
Final Thoughts

The PS4 might be a hard sell today for the average consumer but it is a purchase that should definitely be made over the course of this next-generation of gaming. The Dual Shock 4 just might be the best next-gen controller and Sony has revamped other aspects of their online services with the additions of streaming, party chat, and social networking features. The only real problem is that it feels more like an evolutionary step forward than a full-on revolution though to ask for more might be expecting too much.

Overall Score 88%