Console Review: Playstation 4

I bought a Playstation 4 at launch. Since that time I’ve used it a fair bit; but not as much as I’d have liked to. So while this review is a bit late, I believe that what it lacks in timeliness, it offers a fuller, more considered review of Sony’s latest home console, and whether or not you should buy it.

The Console: The Playstation 4 is no slouch in the looks department. It looks slick, and sits comfortably on your entertainment unit. It also makes very little noise, which is a plus after some of the noisier antics of the Playstation 3. It has capacitive buttons on the front to turn it on/off and reset it, which give it an extra bit of help in the “cool” factor. And that glowing bar of light on top not only looks very spiffy, but it serves a practical purpose too, in that the color of the light imparts certain information about what the console is doing. In short, the PS4 has cool oozing out its kazoo, and that’s no bad thing at all.

ps4-1

The build quality of the controller, officially known as the Dualshock 4, is also really great. It’s an evolution on the much loved (among Sony gamers) Dualshock design, as opposed to a revolution, the end result being a controller that feels comfortable, sturdy and whose buttons are easy to find. The touch pad on the front, another bit of cool tech in what is already a fancy piece of technology, is also great, but sadly very underutilized by the games available at time of writing. This situation may improve over time, but the obvious comparison is the touch pad on the back of the Playstation Vita, which is similarly underutilized after a full two years on the market.

dualshock

The Dualshock 4 also has a light bar on the back. It’s there as a means of including compatibility for existing and future games that use Playstation Move, Sony’s answer to the Wii Remote and Kinect. Playstation Move was itself another underutilized feature back on the PS3, and its questionable if baking it directly into the Playstation 4’s design will improve its use in this generation. The light bar has already caused a fair degree of controversy, with many PS4 owners asking Sony to include an option to turn it off in a future firmware upgrade, a request to which Sony has said no. In regards to use, very few games have made use of the feature, though notably the HD re-release of Tomb Raider (reviewed here) makes the light flicker if you’re carrying a torch. So not an essential feature, sure, but cool nonetheless.

 dualshock2

The Dualshock 4 also contains a speaker and headphone jack. The speakers is quite loud and clear, and playing games like Resogun makes it readily apparent how clear that speaker is as your Dualshock bellows at you to “Save the last humans!” The headphone jack allows you to pull all sound through the headphones; if your headphones are equipped with a microphone, you can also use it for voice chat and for basic voice commands such as instructing your PS4 to go to sleep.

Note: There are other peripherals available for the PS4, such as the Playstation Camera, but these were not used in this review.

The PS4 uses an AMD CPU, which they recently revealed has a clock frequency of 8 x 1.6 GHz, making it 43 times more powerful than the PS2 console. The decision to use a CPU made by AMD is a promising one, as it means that developers will have an easier time making/porting games for the system, especially if they already have a PC version in the works. This is in stark contrast to the PS3, which used a custom CPU, which resulted in many developers experiencing difficulty in developing games for the system. This is arguably one of the reason’s that contributed to the problems that plagued Skyrim’s launch on the PS3.

 ps4-ps2

While the promise of more games due to a commonly used PC infrastructure is a good one, it’s also a double edged sword as it means backwards compatibility with PS3 games has been sacrificed. Sony has announced Playstation Now as a means of fixing that problem, but it’s not clear that this will be a perfect solution. Playstation Now is the result of Sony’s acquisition of Gaikai, a service that streams games from a remote computer to your system via video feed. Essentially your controller sends commands to the remote system, which then sends you back a video feed of that game being played by you on the remote system. As you can imagine, this will require a good, stable internet connection, and this isn’t available in all parts of the world For more on the potential problems with this cloud based backwards compatibility solution, see this article we wrote yesterday.

The Games:  The games situation on the Playstation 4 is, unfortunately, rather dire right now, putting the PS4 in the same boat the Wii U was in during its launch year. Whereas the Wii U has seen its games library go from strength to strength, the Playstation 4 has seen relatively few must own games in its first few months of life. Right now, the best games available on the system are probably Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag, the HD reboot of Tomb Raider, the incredible Rayman Legends (which we reviewed here) and Resogun. You could add Call of Duty: Ghosts and Battlefield 4 to that list if you really enjoy shooting people in the face, but those franchises are divisive amongst many gamers. If you were really stretched for entertainment, you could add Don’t Starve, Outlast and Dead Nation: Apocalypse Edition to that list… but you’d have to be really stretched for that to happen.

tombraider

There are some great games coming out soon which might help you avoid having to play any of the games already released. In the immediate future you’ll see Infamous: Second Son being released next week, and it looks fantasticMetal Gear Solid V drops not long after. You can also expect the following games in 2014, all of which are likely to be great.

  • Watch Dogs (May)
  • Destiny (September)
  • Diablo 3 Ultimate Edition
  • The Order: 1886

While there are a number of other promising games that might be worth including in the list above, their potential playability remains unknown.

Simply put, it’s likely that much like the Wii U, the Playstation 4’s library won’t start to really pick up speed until sometime in 2015.

resogun

The Interface: Sony opted to forego the Playstation 3’s well liked and understood XrossMediaBar (XMB) menu for a new system they’ve called the Playstation Dynamic Menu (PDM). As an essentially new operating system, it has its quirks and faults, but it’s not without its charms. If you’re a PS3 owner, you’ll likely find some comfort in hearing it shares some similarities with XMB, so it won’t be completely foreign you.

 ps4-dynamic-menu-screen

Upon booting up the system you can chose which user account to log into (if you have the camera, facial recognition software can log you in automatically), and following this, the PDM home screen appears. A list of games and apps installed on your system appears as a horizontal row of menu items. Moving left and right between these items is effortless and quick. Selecting an app or game will allow you to chose certain sub menus related to it, such as its Playstation Store page, news, friend activity and the like. Notifications pop down from the top right, letting you know a file has downloaded or started downloading, or that a friend has come online. You can press up to access a second row of icons, mostly relating to system settings, notifications and access to the Playstation Store.

 ps4settings

A quick tap of the Playstation Button takes you directly to the settings menu. Holding it down for a few seconds allows you to access the power settings, where you can tell the PS4 to power off or enter standby mode, the latter of which will automatically download firmware updates and game patches while the system sits idle.

The background is a moving wave on a blue background. At this time, custom wallpaper and dynamic themes aren’t supported, which is highly disappointing. Which is an apt way to describe the PDM in general, really; it’s functional, but not great. It has a tendency to get cluttered quickly, partly because it doesn’t allow for a lot of organization. It’s also lacking in features, such as wallpapers and music playback, especially compared to the feature rich menu of the PS3. However, it’s worth noting that like the original XMB on PS3 is hardly recognizable today, Sony will no doubt improve the PMD over time.

Other Features: Like the PS3 before it, the PS4 comes equipped with a Bluray drive. It’s slot loading, which is nice, but if there is one thing to dislike about the PS4s otherwise sleek design, it is that finding the slot on your first few uses of the system can be difficult. Another oddity is that on first use of the Bluray drive to play DVDs or BDs, you are required to authorize the system to do this, which requires an internet connection. It’s a one time only thing, so it’s hardly fair to call it an annoyance, but it’s odd.

The PS4 can connect with the Vita over your home WiFi network with a feature called “Remote Play.” Basically this is Sony’s response to the Wii U gamepad, with the added bonus of possibly shifting more Vita’s as a result. This function works very well, but the process of connecting a Vita is slow and cumbersome, sometimes taking up to 30 seconds to complete. This is opposed to the Wii U, which connects itself to the Gamepad almost instantly. Once the Vita does connect, however, the connection is fast and fluid and allows you to play your PS4 games away from the console (like in your bed, or the toilet) with ease. The range is decent; comparable to what the Wii U gamepad gives you, but not great. Remote Play also has a difficulty in that the PS4 has four shoulder buttons (two on each side) whereas the Vita only has two. The Vita tries to overcome this by using the back touchpad as the other two buttons, and for the most part this works, but sometimes can be awkward and fiddly.

The PS4 also has some cool video broadcasting options. Users who have a Playstation Eye Camera can use it to broadcast the room their PS4 is located in to the world, which can be viewed by other PS4 owners via the PMD’s “Live from Playstation” app. Mostly this will just result in you viewing a bunch of nerds being nerds, but the occasional racy act has been caught too.

Similarly, the PS4 can broadcast a live feed of you playing any game via Twitch and UStream. While playing a game, push the Playstation button, select your preferred streaming service, and voial! Your terrible game skills will be broadcast for all to see. If you link your Facebook account to your PS4, you can also publish your stream to your news feed, allowing friends to watch you fail and comment on it.

Conclusion: I recently wrote about how the Wii U is the best console you can buy right now, and that’s still true. Although it’s not as powerful as the Playstation 4 or the Xbox One, it has a larger games catalogue and has more upcoming games dropping soon that are bound to be great. But it’s clear that Nintendo has lost third party support, which is why I also wrote you should buy a Wii U and either a PS4 or Xbox One, to ensure you get the best of both worlds.

But should you buy a PS4 right now? The answer to that depends on your patience. It’s a good system that shows a lot of promise. But the same could be said of the Wii U and even the Playstation Vita, and while both systems have improved a great deal since they were launched, both have their fair share of problems. It seems unlikely the PS4 will share their fate (it’s sold over 4 million consoles already) but the fact remains that currently more games are being released for the PS3 and the Xbox 360 than the PS4 or even the Xbox One.

A year or two from now, the PS4 will not be the same system it is today. Sony will release firmware to add more features, including music playback, and more and more games will steadily release for the system (if it proves its commercial reliability). Do you want to get that system now, and go along for the wild ride, enjoying the Playstation Plus offerings you get along the way? Or would you rather wait and see? That answer is one only you can provide.

Score: Intelligent Gamer will revisit the Playstation 4 every year from now, at the anniversary of its launch. At this time we’ll update its score to reflect its value.

In 2013-14, the PS4 rates a 7 out of 10. 

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