In my opinion, a lot of the recent issues come down to brand fatigue. Seriously, just stop for a moment and think back to what you were doing in 2005 when all of this began; it’s likely a lot further back than you realised. However, technically speaking, shouldn’t a longer generation at least mean more value for us as consumers? It’s a good question, and the answer is both yes and no. For several years now, the industry has been shrinking under the pressure of delivering high cost AAA titles. And yet, the unfortunate reality of it all is that many publishers have been forced to play it safe or go bust (so long THQ!). And as such, with so much sequel syndrome currently fueling the console economy, which subsequently resulted in a slow down of creativity, can you blame the general public for starting to lose interest? But still, why the PS4, what does this new system represent for the future?
Talking about video games is something I do often, clearly, so leading up to the PS4 launch, I was generally quite vocal with praise for the PS4 and what Sony was doing. I wasn’t the only one, and I honestly have to ask the question, why? Let’s be honest, it’s decent (arguably “better”) console technology, but that’s not what the loudest cheers at this years E3 were about. Essentially, Sony came out (whilst ridiculing Microsoft a little on Youtube shortly thereafter) by announcing NO changes to their current play policies (DRM, Disc-Based & Used Games). It was a clear message, and given the uncertainty from Microsoft, it was exactly what the people wanted to hear; an honest delivery with clear intentions. In fact, I was surprised how many people responded positively, even people who I don’t usually talk games with, and subsequently, how infamous the Xbox One had become in the process.
Truth be told, I got up early for the Xbox One launch as I wanted to see the crowds and to experience this “awful” machine first hand, and as a journalist, this was a process I got excited about, and thus, enjoyed writing about. However, when it came to the PS4 launch day, I was simply confident. I slept in a little, took my time, and casually strolled in to pick it up, albeit with enough genuine excitement justifying my purchase. And yet, when I got to the store, the staff at EB Games explained that it was actually a lot smaller than expected as many had delayed their console purchases in line with the delay of Watch Dogs and Drive Club. To clarify, this was not the case world-wide (clearly), but it was interesting all the same as the delay of Watch Dogs certainly strained my own excitement for playing on the PS4. I wasn’t keen on the first-party, and other team members were reviewing those games anyway, so I decided I was going to go with Assassin’s Creed IV as I’m a sucker for the franchise. And as such, I paid what was owed and walked away console in hand; admittedly, still with an excited hop in my step!
Naturally, the next part of the experience is the most exciting aspect for any “Console Gamer”, or as I call them, people who purchase consoles. I took the box home, tidied up a little bit as i’m quite meticulous in that way, and sat down to open the box. Admittedly, it was a lot quicker than the Xbox One unboxing, and subsequently, missing that Apple-esque “premium” feel Microsoft delivered with their packaging. However, this means pretty much nothing, it’s just packaging, and there was still an attractiveness behind the simplicity of the PS4 unboxing which really resonated well with me. As I picked out each component, it felt like it was well made, and my hands immediately fell in love with the controller when I held it. It was not my first time, but it was yet to be at my own discretion without a hundred people in line behind me. Yep, it was now time to plug it in, turn it on, sit back, relax, and experience that almighty boot-up process I would likely be watching for at least the next 5 years of my life.
To avoid any biases, I should clarify; I don’t dislike the Xbox One interface per se, but I am certainly not a fan of the Windows 8 visual inspiration or with consistent full-screen app switching. So, praises be to your deity of personal preference, because when I turned on the PS4, I was met with calming background music and an interface that was simplistic, as well as surprisingly effective in design. All the information I struggled to find in the PS3 (or at least without any convenience), was instantly available from the main menu and was displayed clearly with all of the users apps/games below a row of square boxes. Admittedly, I don’t get the squared obsession, but it appears to work well enough; sorting itself by what was most recently played. Honestly, this is exactly what an evolution should be, and while I didn’t have the same excitement of discovery I did with the Xbox One, I genuinely appreciated how logical the menu placements felt, unlike the Xbox One. However, there were still a few surprises!
I guess it’s better to start with the negative first, of which there wasn’t much, but the PSN was absolutely overloaded for the European/Australian release day. In fact, I did not get to play a single game on the machine until the mid-afternoon. Admittedly, I had a similar experience with the Xbox One as it’s update wouldn’t even begin without my modem first being port forwarded, so I place them quite equally, and honestly, not entirely unreasonable when it comes to a launch day experience. Subsequently, as a point of comparison, the Wii U launch experience was also similar; I guess we just have to get used to all this day one patching and overloaded servers! Anyway, shifting back to the topic of surprises, there were two things I was not actually expecting. Firstly, I was able to type using the controllers gyroscope (quite accurately) on the screen like with a Wii Remote, which most surprisingly did not require the camera. It wasn’t necessarily quicker, but I thought that was cool. Secondly, the PS4 has basic voice command functionality like the Kinect, and like the aforementioned, it also did not require the camera to function and could be activated with any headset being plugged into the 3.5 jack on the controller.
Overall, it was a positive experience, and confidently I state that the PS4 improves upon it’s predecessor in almost every way. It’s cleaner, more accessible, and the PSN store isn’t quite that lag-infested mess anymore. Additionally, being a member of PlayStation Plus meant I had two full games immediately available for free, and by immediate, I mean after a considerably long wait due to the server issues, but this was a nice feeling and a lot more reassuring than a demo & free-to-play offering on Xbox One. Sorry, Microsoft; I’m okay with those games generally speaking, but you need more value with Xbox Live Gold! Additionally, the PS4 also has it’s own unique “novelty” I couldn’t wait to try out, Remote Play. Essentially, the console will allow you to play most PS4 games on your VITA via streaming. It is simple to connect, and it works surprisingly well; though I should clarify on range and bandwidth. If you create a local network between the two devices, it’s perfect, but limited in range like the Wii U gamepad. However, the default setting actually uses the local WiFi connection, which considerably extends the range and allowed me to play anywhere in the house without too many issues. Technically, it “should” be possible to remote from another location or 4G, but if you’re on a standard ADSL2+ connection, 1Mb upload is not enough to get the signal out; so sorry Australia, unless you have NBN, you are limited to remote play at home.
Of course, this is not a full representation of all the features on the PS4, but a lot of what’s new most notably ties into the re-design of the controller itself. Sadly, we say goodbye to our good friends “Start” & “Select”, which have since been replaced with “Options” & “Share”. The first still functions similar to a start menu, whereas the share function is an entirely a new feature that has been discussed often in the lead-up to the launch. Essentially, this allows you to instantly upload game video from the last 15 minutes of play. Admittedly, the buttons are a little awkwardly placed, but at the same time, it’s a lot more accurate than the Kinect voice commands. Surprisingly though, recording seems to have taken a backseat to the concept of broadcasting, which allows players stream their game in realtime to other players, either on the web through services such as Twitch, or with an app on the PS4; adding in video of themselves with the camera also seems to be popular, with many players gaining their two seconds of fame the last couple of weeks. It’s interesting, sure, but what about the games themselves?
Honestly, I don’t have a lot to say about the first party games as I had played them all at the EB Expo, and had no compulsion to purchase any of them, and as such, the only PS4 exclusive game I could whole heartedly recommend right now is Resogun; it’s really good and comes from the creators of Super Stardust HD. However, I know this launch line up is not a true indication of what’s to come as I have also seen live demonstrations for both Watch Dogs & InFamous: Second Son running on the PS4, and was thoroughly blown away. Overall, I actually have a really positive impression about the definitive potential of the system, and genuinely look forward to 2014. However, should you really want to get now because of it’s popularity and the urge to have something new, Killzone is a good enough reason to own the console at launch if you’re looking for a competitive FPS that isn’t CoD or Battlefield, but otherwise, I can confidently recommend you wait until March, in which we can definitely expect a strong presence of First-Party & Third-Party titles alike. It will not be a waiting game like with the Wii U.
Initially, I asked the question: What is everyone so excited about with the PS4? And truth be told, I think the initial success of the console comes down to a good message and positive marketing. Simply put, Sony came out this year with a strong delivery that was clear, consistent, and presented really well by a selection core representatives the people felt they could trust. Mark Cerney, Jack Tretton and Yu Yoshida, just to name a few; with each of them having their own genuine way about them. It’s been a long generation, and one that has slowly been slipping into the realms of general mediocrity across the board, and honestly, above all else; from my own perspective, having a PlayStation All-Star such as Kaz Hirai as the present of Sony itself is a reassuring feeling. I also get the impression that these guys are genuinely out for the gamer, despite being a business, and that they understand what the audience want from a console, and are delivering on their promises in a way Microsoft just can’t seem to comprehend. Does this mean Sony can do no wrong? Of course not. Last generation, Sony clearly entered the race with arrogance based on the success of the PS2, made their fair share of mistakes and failed in several core areas. However, what sets them apart is that they recognise these mistakes, and whilst the PS4 isn’t a perfect machine, or a perfect offering; it is genuine, and that is what I see clearly sitting before me; beneath all the hype.