Disclaimer: This review is based on my own, personal experience with the console over the year I have owned it. I appreciate that technology can vary from unit to unit, so I understand if you have had a different experience and, as a result, different opinions of the PS4.
As soon as I watched the livestream in which the PlayStation 4 was revealed back in February of last year, I went to my nearest game shop and preordered myself a console. I hadn’t even seen the competition’s console (mainly because it hadn’t been revealed yet, and wouldn’t be for another three months), but I knew that the PS4 was right for me. All I needed to confirm that prediction was a price point. Then, during E3 2013, the price was announced to a cacophony of overjoyed shouts and cheers: £350/$399. Needless to say, I was one of those overjoyed fans. Again, I was part of the pleasantly shocked crowd when the European release date was unveiled at Gamescom in August: 29th November, 2013. And that was the day I returned to the store and picked my console, took it home, and played it for the first time… and I’ve never looked back since.
Of course, it has its issues: some of its most promising features are yet to be patched in; some existing features of the controller and the console itself are overlooked by developers; and it has been known to crash every now and then. Still, these problems are completely and utterly overwhelmed by the seemingly endless reasons to pick up a PS4 as soon as you possibly can. The aesthetics of the console are the first thing you’ll notice (unless you watched the PS4 reveal event, in which case it was the controller). The shiny black plastic contrasts elegantly with the matte black majority of the PS4’s exterior. The two USB 3.0 ports, whilst detracting from the amount of space available for USB devices, add to the clean, uncluttered look of the console, which is also aided by all of the cable ports (one HDMI out port, one AUX port, one Ethernet port, one digital output port, and one power supply port) being located on the rear of the console along with the quiet, borderline silent, cooling fans.
A console can look as great as it wants though… what gamers are really interested in is the power of their next-gen machine; what the PS4 is really capable of. So for all you tech-whizzes out there, here are the technical terms, abbreviations and numbers that are packed into the PS4’s surprisingly small shell (though I won’t pretend to understand any of it). It has: a single-chip custom processor; a low power x86-64 8-core AMD “Jaguar” CPU; a 1.84 teraflops, AMD next-generation Radeon-based GPU graphics engine; GDDR5 8GB memory; 500GB of internal memory on a hard drive; and, of course, a Blu-Ray/DVD drive. But what does this all mean in English? It means that the PS4 is one of the most powerful gaming systems in the world, and certainly the most powerful console. This, in turn, means that the PS4 can handle games like no other console can, with developers easily able to reach the coveted 1080p, 60fps setting with most games (unless you’re Ubisoft, in which case “30fps is more cinematic”). This was because Sony used their initiative and asked game developers what they would like most in a console that they would have to develop for. They listened, and created that console. All in all, the PS4 is also the easiest console to develop for, which really shows just how much the Japanese giant learned from the PS3 era.
But this isn’t all that matters. What use is a really powerful gaming system if there are no games to play it on? Initially, there was a lack of proper first-party exclusives. ‘Killzone: Shadow Fall’, whilst good, was really just a way of showcasing the PS4’s power and potential, and ‘Knack’ was a disappointment with gamers and critics alike. The best of the games that arrived on the PS4 directly after its launch were third-party: ‘Battlefield 4’, ‘Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag’ and ‘FIFA 14’, just to name a few. However, the third-party titles that came to PS4 were best played on the PS4, alongside the PC. For example, ‘Call of Duty: Ghosts’ was native 1080p on the PS4, whilst on the Xbox One it was native 900p, upscaled to 1080p. Lighting was also considerably better on the PS4 version.
One year later, the story, unfortunately, isn’t that much different with perhaps the most notable PS4 exclusive being ‘The Last of Us: Remastered’, which is (as the name suggests) a remastered edition of a PS3 game as opposed to an original PS4 title. This, as you’d expect (and maybe even contributed to), caused a lot of controversy within the gaming industry. Many people argued that they had paid for a new console with new games, and not for a new console with old games they had already played.
With this being said (or rather, written), by the end of 2015 we should see a very different story unfolding. ‘Bloodborne’ and ‘Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End’, arguably the most anticipated announced game, are due for release next year, as are blockbuster, third-party titles like Ubisoft’s ‘The Division’.
Moving on from games, what can you expect out of the box from your PlayStation 4? Well firstly, you can expect a user friendly UI (user interface) that, much like the PS4’s physical looks, is clean and uncluttered. And now, with the newest system software update, users can customise the colour of their background as well as the general look of it. Also, fantastic sharing features are instantly available to you with a push of the aptly titled ‘Share’ button (located to the upper-left of the touchpad in the centre of the PS4 controller, the DualShock 4). By default, a push takes you to the share screen, in which you can choose to upload video clips to YouTube and Facebook, upload screenshots to Facebook and Twitter, broadcast your gameplay live using Twitch and Ustream, and tweak the share options to suit you and your preferences. A hold of the ingenious button allows you to take a screenshot, whilst a double-tap starts a 15-minute recording of your gameplay in which you can add your voice via a microphone located on your headset or through the mic embedded in the PlayStation Camera (an optional camera that costs an additional £50).
Speaking of the PS Camera, is it worth it? In my opinion, it would be if it were better utilised by developers. The best use I’ve seen of it to date is through ‘The Playroom’ game/application (downloaded on the PS4 as standard) which is specifically made for it, and the recently released ‘Alien Isolation’. In the latter, the game cleverly picks up your voice through the device and translates that into the game, meaning that if you make a loud noise in real life, the alien may hear it and come running for you. This option can be turned off in the settings, though. Also, in the same game, the camera is able to recognise head movements which allows you to peak around corners using real-life movements. To me, this feels like more of a gimmick than the noise feature does. However, as it currently stands, the PS Camera just feels like an unnecessary accessory. Hopefully, this will have changed in the near future.
The PS4 also comes with the best gaming controller I’ve ever used in the form of the DualShock 4. Gone are the Six-Axis controllers, and in are the wonderfully crafted controllers that make gaming feel genuinely great. The analogue sticks are made from a similar looking and feeling material that was used on the PS3’s controllers, except they now feature indents in the centre of them which enable your thumbs to grip them much more securely. Unfortunately, numerous people have told me of how their controller’s analogue grips are falling apart and ripping after not too much use, forcing them to buy replacement analogue covers. Thankfully, this isn’t the case for me… at least, not yet. Also gone are the extremely annoying triggers which plagued the PS3. Remember how every time you would put down the controller on any surface, be it soft or solid, during a game of Call of Duty you would throw a grenade? This is no longer an issue due to the DualShock 4’s frankly perfect, comfortable, concave replacements that allow your fingers to rest on them. In addition to this, the controller’s grips are much improved and allow for much easier holding of your controller. In hour-long sessions, you will never need to adjust your grip.
New additions to the controller are the light bar and the speaker. The former is currently useless, though it can be colour-coded by developers to indicate various things such as health, and it was admitted by Sony earlier this year that the light bar is in fact intended for use with their virtual reality headset, Project Morpheus. The latter is of a pleasantly surprising quality and, when used correctly, can really help immerse you in the gaming experience. (Just a tip, but I highly recommend – no, implore – you to turn the volume of your speaker right down, provided you like hearing). Also a new addition, and a welcome one at that, is the aforementioned touchpad. However, as with a lot of features the PS4 has to offer, most developers simply overlook it. Saying that, Sony-owned Guerrilla Games used the touchpad as a way of selecting which ability you wish your OWL to adopt in Killzone: Shadow Fall. More recently, Rockstar also made good use of the touchpad in the PS4 release of ‘Grand Theft Auto V’, with you using it to switch between radio stations and weapons whilst driving.
Despite all of these positives, the PS4 can occasionally fall flat of its optimistic aims. For me, the lowest point of my PS4’s life was when it simply stopped functioning to any extent earlier this year. It meant that I had wait three weeks for a replacement, which annoyed me. However, I should consider myself lucky when you consider that many people encountered these issues on launch day and the days following it. It does a raise a pertinent question, though: why do these issues occur? In the very early days of gaming, games were always released on time and consoles never crashed. Of course, consoles and games have dramatically increased in regard to their capabilities, but so has the technology to support those capabilities. Anyway, this for another article. Furthermore, it is a shame that a PlayStation Plus subscription is required in order to play online. On the other hand, it is understandable and the features you receive are well worth the price you pay (£40 for a year), on top of the monthly free games.
The PS4 also, as referred to previously, still lacks some of its most promising features. For example, the sleep mode, which allows the PS4 to be off for a certain amount of time and yet still picks up exactly where you last left off in a game, is missing.
Overall, the PlayStation 4 is easily the best console on the market today thanks to its immense power, innovative features, great library of games (which is only going to develop to become better and even more varied), fantastic accessories and amazing price. Give PlayStation a little more time to work and then patch in previously promised features, and the PS4 won’t just be the best place to play… it’ll be the only place.