PlayStation 4: My First Two Weeks
I’ve owned the PlayStation 4 for a full fortnight now so it’s time for me to share my experiences with Sony’s new console. I have to say, it’s been pretty damn good.
The most immediately noticeable thing about PS4 is how small it is. The hardware case is smaller than the first PS3 Slim and it looks great under the TV with it’s slanted design and split gloss/matte finish.
Of course, the size naturally raises some concerns about temperature control, an issue which console early adopters are very nervous about after the Xbox 360 RROD debacle. My PS4 definitely gets warm during extended play sessions, but it doesn’t reach the temperature of my Xbox 360, or even my laptop. The fans are quiet too, but the disc drive is surprisingly noisy. Thankfully, it only spins when you first start a game as the rest of the data is loaded from the HDD after the mandatory installation.
The install process itself has been massively improved over PS3. Games perform their initial install from the Blu-ray in seconds. Some games require an extra level of installation on top of this, but are able to do so while you play. Killzone: Shadow Fall, for example, installs the first levels quickly, allowing you to get started while it does the rest. FIFA 14 lets you play a full “El Classico” match while it installs.
The biggest and best hardware change by far is the new controller, the Dual Shock 4. This is the first time in over 15 years that Sony has changed the basic form factor of the Dual Shock. The shape is larger and more comfortable in your hands and the triggers are a vast improvement, taking them from the worst on the market, to perhaps the best. The sticks have more resistance as well, making them much more precise, especially for aiming in shooters. There’s a nice grippy texture on the reverse of the controller too. I’m yet to see an interesting use of the touch pad though.
Along with the controller, some PS4 bundles come with the new PlayStation Camera. It’s functions are basic compared to the Xbox One’s Kinect, but they work as advertised. It can recognise you when you sit down with the controller, signing you in without you pressing a button. There are voice commands in the home screen as well. These work brilliantly but are very limited, only really allowing you to select a game or app by name, or turn off the console. There’s a Playroom app for the camera pre-installed on the console, but it’s only a very limited selection of EyeToy style mini-games and you won’t spend more than a few minutes with it.
Personally, I have had no technical problems at all in my first two weeks with the PS4 and the huge improvement in the controller means that I will definitely be playing multi-platform games here for the foreseeable future.
The PS4 home screen is a good step forward from the Cross Media Bar, but the legacy of the PS3 UI is still there. Like the PS3, the PS4 arranges items in rows and columns, so navigation is very quick and very smooth. The improvements come from much larger icons for games, which expand to show relevant recent activity from you and your friends, such as trophies and time played. Games and apps are ordered in the same row based on recent use. There are no folders or sorting options at the moment but this will surely arrive in updates.
The controller’s new Options button (which replaces Start) will give you extra choices for most items in the UI, such as deleting or copying data. The biggest impact the controller has on the UI is the Share button. This allows you to upload gameplay clips to Facebook and screenshots to Facebook and Twitter. It also activates the impressive Twitch and Ustream functionality. All of this combines to give the PS4 the best and most user friendly social media features on next-gen so far. There’s still room for improvement though. It should be easier to watch friends’ streams on TV through PS4 and the system really needs to support YouTube uploads for gameplay clips.
The PlayStation Store on PS4 uses pretty much the same layout as the PS3 one, but downloading content is a much smoother experience. Download speeds are much improved and there are no more slow installs to sit through after downloading a game. Just as Blu-ray games can be played while they’re installing, downloadable games can be started before the transfer has finished. You need to wait until the first chunk of the download is complete, but you’re free to start playing from there. It’s a vast improvement over the tedious and slow digital experience on PS3.
The console’s friend limit has been expanded to 2000, but if you get anywhere near that number you’re going to have trouble navigating the list, as there aren’t many sorting or grouping options and the list tends to load in pretty slowly. One neat feature is the “real name request” which allows you to ask friends’ permission to see their real name and photo (pulled from Facebook if they choose) instead of their PSN ID. It definitely makes it easier to keep track of who’s who on a large friends list.
Notifications haven’t changed much since PS3, but the home screen now includes a notifications tab which splits into trophies, friend requests, downloads, uploads and so on. You can choose individually whether each of these things will pop up in game. Trophies still have to sync manually, but the process now takes seconds, rather than minutes.
PlayStation Plus is now required for online multiplayer, but that’s hardly an issue considering all of the service’s other benefits. If you own more than one Sony console, then chances are that you’ll earn the £40 annual fee back in free games within a month.
I picked up the “Player Edition” PS4 bundle, so my first game was Killzone: Shadow Fall. This is by far the most technically impressive game on the platform. The environments create an amazing sense of scale and the texture quality and lighting are a big leap from Killzone 3 on PS3. It’s not the most thrilling game to play, the pace is surprisingly slow, but the sci-fi setting makes for a nice change from other shooters and the Warzone multiplayer is as fun as ever.
Perhaps the most talked about launch exclusive is Resogun, the 2D arcade shooter from Super Stardust developer, Housemarque. The graphics and intensity of the action are spectacular. The particle effects and destructible environments make this a great game to show off to friends alongside Killzone and it’s really challenging so you’ll be coming back again and again to compete on the leaderboards. The best bit? It’s free through PlayStation Plus.
Contrast is the other free game on Plus. This indie platformer has a really well written story, but isn’t quite as enjoyable to play. It relies heavily on the sort light and shadow puzzles that might feature once or twice in a Tomb Raider or Prince of Persia game, but structures the entire game and it’s mechanics around them. It remains enjoyable, but mostly for the narrative so it’s best played it short stints for its around three hour length.
The least interesting exclusive that I’ve played is Knack. It’s directed by Mark Cerny of Crash Bandicoot and Spyro fame and developed by Japan Studio, so I was hoping for a charming platformer. The charm is there, but the game is a repetitive brawler than only uses a few buttons and doesn’t impress visually either. One to avoid when you’re choosing your console bundle this Christmas.
If you’re disappointed by Knack and still want to play a platformer at launch, then LEGO Marvel Super Heroes is the way to go. As you would expect, the game pokes fun at just about every character from the Marvel universe and it’s great fun to guess who is going to pop up next as you go through the story. It’s probably the best of a limited selection of couch co-op games on the console right now and there’s a huge amount to unlock and explore and in the open-world LEGO New York. Don’t expect amazing visuals though. It looks good, but it’s not a big improvement over the PS3 version.
My personal favourite so far is FIFA 14. The quality of the game’s presentation is a vast jump from PS3 and 360, with ball boys, photographers and stewards all interacting realistically with the action, not to mention a big improvement in the crowds. Fans are now much more detailed and react convincingly to goals and other match events. There are many new animations for players too, making gameplay more varied because players are now able to improvise more authentically in tight situations. You simply have to get this game if you’re a football fan.
If you’re the sort of person who just has to have the shiny new experiences first, then you should definitely pick up a PS4. I’ve had no technical problems with the system so far and amongst my PS4 owning friends, only one person has had any issues at all. The controller alone makes it one of the most satisfying console launch experiences that I’ve ever had.
PS4 may well lose a bit of momentum in January because of a lack of new releases, but with Infamous: Second Son and Watch Dogs not too far away, the future looks very good indeed.