No more press conferences touting features, no more secrecy, no more embargoes, no more waiting. Sony’s PlayStation 4 is finally available in North America, and after seven days with it, I am in love.
Right out of the box, the PlayStation 4 makes a statement. It is jet black with a matte and gloss finish, boasting an angular and aggressive design that screams performance, but a minimal profile that allows the PlayStation 4 to remain approachable. A LED light runs horizontally through the upper portion of the console, acting as a light indicator. For example, during game-play, it displays a white light that gives the PlayStation 4 a distinct futuristic look. It’s a beautiful piece of hardware that feels wonderfully crafted by the engineering geniuses at Sony, and I am more than happy to display it on my entertainment center. As far as noise goes, the PlayStation 4 is no louder than a quiet steady hum, however, when compared to my other consoles, the PlayStation 4 did seem to run a bit hot. I had to move it from an enclosure in my entertainment center to the top because it gave off so much heat. This may not be a big deal, but I was being cautious, maybe a bit paranoid, but given the “Red Ring of Death” fiasco from last generation, who can blame me?
Capacitive sensors act as the power on and eject buttons on the PlayStation 4. Not only are capacitive buttons, in my experience, nonfunctional and unreliable, but the PlayStation 4’s power and eject buttons are invisible at a glance. They are itty-bitty slivers that unfortunately blend in with the rest of the console. Very, very small decals are on the power and eject buttons, but you have to look really close to see them. I wonder if that aesthetic decision outweighs thousands of people asking, “Where is the power button?”
The DualShock 3 was a decisive controller, some hated it and some loved it. I think I can safely say the DualShock 4 is the best controller Sony has ever created, and next to no one will be disappointed with it. Every single inch of the controller is an improvement over its predecessor. Analog sticks on the DualShock 4 have more tension than they did on the DualShock 3. In addition, the analog sticks are no longer convex and have a comfortable concave depression for your thumbs to rest in. Triggers also get the same treatment, they are responsive with the perfect amount of give and pull, and have a lip at the end of them that contours to the tip of your fingers. Combining the new triggers and analog sticks give first-person shooters new life on the PlayStation 4; the little bit of Battlefield 4 I’ve been able to play felt natural. Ergonomics seem to be the main goal of the DualShock 4, and the added width of the controller made it fit snug into my hands.
A few new additions dawn the DualShock 4: a speaker, light bar, and touch pad. My favorite of the three has to be the touchpad. In Killzone: Shadow Fall it acted as four more buttons, freeing up the d-pad by mapping certain commands to swipes on the touchpad. I was worried that the touchpad wouldn’t be responsive, but it seemed to pick up all the swipes I put into it, and luckily reaching from the thumbsticks to the touchpad isn’t as inconvenient as it might seem. After a few tries it becomes second nature. Killzone: Shadow Fall also accounts for the best use of the in controller speaker. The game would play audio logs that were picked up through the controller. While the speaker may not be something revolutionary (Wii did it), it is one of those small touches that’s cool enough to warrant a smirk. A light bar is on the back of the controller, and has to be my least favorite feature on the controller. It is really bright when in a dark room, and there isn’t an option to turn it off at the moment. I’d hate to use Killzone: Shadow Fall as an example again, but it attempts to use the light bar in interesting ways. When playing Killzone: Shadow Fall the light acts as a health indicator going from green, when health is full, to red, when health is depleted. Nevertheless, like I said, the light is really bright; if I am dying in-game, a red light emanating from my lap can be distracting. It’s not something I hate, but I would like the choice to turn it off if I desired.
The Start and Select buttons have been replaced with Options and Share buttons on the DualShock 4. In most cases, the option button operates similarly to the start button on the DualShock 3, but the share button controls the paramount features of the PlayStation 4 (more on that later). My problem with these two buttons is, unlike the touchpad, they are troublesome. Their placement, first and foremost, feels foreign, and they are a bit recessed, so they are easy to miss with your thumb.
Another great feature of the DualShock 4, is the ability to plug any 3.5mm pair of headphones into the controller, and pipe the audio from whatever you’re doing on the PlayStation 4 into the headphones. You can also use the built-in headphone mic. It’s a thoughtful feature, especially since the mic that comes with the console is hot garbage.
Like the DualShock 4, the PlayStation 4 user interface takes the foundation its predecessor laid and improves on it. Sony has been constantly reiterating their emphasis on simple, fast, and intuitive design. I’m happy to say the UI reflects this. While the Xross Media Bar makes a return, it’s newly improved while remaining familiar. Gone are the days of waiting for the XMB to load. Snapping in and out of games, accepting game invites, checking trophies, and even browsing the PlayStation Store is easier and quicker. Not only is the store a vast improvement from the PlayStation 3 store, but the PlayStation Network infrastructure seems to be improved. When I downloaded Warframe, a nine gigabyte download, it only took around fifteen minutes, and more than one game can be downloaded at once.
The PlayStation 4’s UI also personifies one of Sony’s other messages leading up to the launch of the system: games, games, games. Most of the home screen is dominated by games aligned across the screen. I do have my gripes with this. There doesn’t seem to be a folder option nor any way to sort the games by alphabetical order. They do show up in accordance of your last played game, but I currently have fourteen games on my home screen, and it already seems cluttered. If you scroll to the far right of the home screen, there is a library folder, although, it only seems to contain all your digital content. Disc-based games do not show up in the folder, for some reason. Of course, this is something that could be patched, and is only a mild annoyance, but it does muddle the otherwise clean UI.
Party chat and the ability to join a friends game seem like novel features since they have existed on the Xbox 360 for so long. This is area the PlayStation 4 is playing catch-up in, and although late, the inclusion of these features have made things that were literally impossible on the PlayStation 3, surprisingly easy on PlayStation 4.
At a UI level, Facebook integration is built into the console, and the use of real names helps to create an experience that mimics a social network more than it does a video game network. Of course, this information has to be requested, and both players have to agree to it. Sony’s attempt to create something a bit more social is also apparent with their latest What’s New section of the home screen. Here players can find out any and all information about what your friends have been doing on the console.
Remote Play is a feature I probably had the most skepticism towards. Sony had already promised remote play between the PlayStation 3 and the PlayStation Portable, but it never got working quite right. I was expecting the same thing for remote play between the PlayStation 4 and the PlayStation Vita. Fortunately, I was wrong and Remote Play is an impressive feature. It works seamlessly with close to no lag. However, I did come across some occasional artifacting, but it was nothing that hindered the experience. Undoubtedly, the biggest issue with the Remote Play feature is the lack of buttons on the Vita. The back touchpad on the Vita isn’t an acceptable substitute for the R2 and L2 buttons. Fortunately, some developers created their own custom controls for Remote Play, like Ubisoft for Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag, that better utilize the buttons on the Vita. Remote Play also has a surprising amount of range; I was easily able to reach about 20 feet away without losing connection.
The PlayStation 4 is a console built around the idea of sharing. I mentioned earlier that the share button was key to the paramount features of the system, and that cannot be overstated. Live game-play streaming is built directly into the PlayStation 4. By simply pressing the share button, players can instantly broadcast game-play to Twitch or Ustream. You can set the quality of the stream, and allow a template that displays the chat, along with how many folks are watching your stream at the bottom of the screen. Doing so will push your game to the upper portion of the screen. It works if you don’t have a laptop or iPad close, but the template only displays two lines of text and overall isn’t a pleasant experience. The PlayStation camera comes in handy for streaming; you can use it to display a picture of yourself in the top right of the screen. Although, there are a couple caveats for the camera. The camera zooms really, really close to your face, so I had to sit in the perfect position in order for the camera to capture me properly. I’m assuming it was intended to be used from a greater distance than I am from my TV, but the ability to adjust the zoom would be a great convenience.
In addition to streaming, the share button can also be used to capture screenshots and fifteen minute game-play videos. For some reason you can only upload these screenshots to Facebook, or Twitter. Also, it should be noted that the quality of the camera’s capture is sub-par. Even in a well lit room, the picture is fuzzy. While it’s not a perfect experience, the simplicity of having the ability to stream available at the press of a button is something every console should have from here on out.
Sony nails almost everything with the PlayStation 4, however, it is lacking in the media area. Netflix, Amazon and Hulu are readily available at launch, but if you are looking for something all encompassing when it comes to entertainment the PlayStation 4 just isn’t it. Sony’s latest feels focused to make playing games as simple as possible, and that comes at the expense of certain features.
Using the PlayStation 4 the past week has been a joy, and Sony has repeatedly stated since the initial reveal in February: they love developers, and they love games. That sentiment is apparent throughout the entirety of the console. It still does mostly everything, but not at the price of the thing that matters most. Games. Now comes the question on everyone’s mind, is it worth buying? Yes.