Despite the 3DS and Vita popping up on the handheld market over the last couple years, and the WiiU stumbling along somewhat since Christmas 2012, the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014 felt very much like the proper start of the next-generation of gaming. All the major contenders have arrived, and while the Xbox One won’t make it to our shores for a while still, we do have the PlayStation 4, released this most recent Christmas season. And boy oh boy, does it make me feel tingly.
It’s almost astonishing what could be done with the hardware of the PS3 from the time of its launch until now. Despite some physically alterations, what was under the hood in 2006 was running games such as Resistance then and still managed to produce games like GTAV now. What this does show is that everyone making games for a console get better at what they’re doing, what they can squeeze out of a machine increases and increases. And this does nothing but bode well for the PS4, because it looks and runs beautifully already.
On the technical side, it has a custom single-chip processor that combines an eight core x86-64 AMD “Jaguar” CPU with a 1.84 teraflop GPU based on AMD’s Radeon tech. As for RAM, there’s 8GB of GDDR5, a far cry from the 512 MB the PS3 had. Storage is handled by a 500 GB mechanical hard drive, which can be upgraded by the user to a larger model or even a SSD without voiding their warranty. The amount of inputs have been streamlined down to only a couple of front facing USB 3.0 ports, and the back only has options for HDMI and digital audio, together with an Ethernet port and a port for the PS Camera. While this means you can’t play your PS4 through the good old Red White And Yellow plugs that so many of us might still be familiar with, that ultimately shouldn’t be much of a problem, as everyone and everything seems to have an HDMI port attached these days.
What these stats also indicated is another improvement over the PS3: rather than trying to force developers to conform to their new proprietary CPU, making programming difficult, the PS4 has gone for a more universal PC style system, which should make life a lot easier for developers, and produce a higher quality of game. Further improvements abound: the machine is smaller than even the PS3 slim; it runs phenomenally quietly and unobtrusively; it doesn’t have that terrible SpiderMan 3 font at launch; while the PS3 was several hundred dollars more expensive than the other consoles at launch, this one is now noticeably cheaper than the Xbox One, its main competition.
Start up and launching a game is incredibly quick; when a game is used for the first time there is sometimes an installation period, up to 50 GB, but this is done in almost 2 minutes. The rest of the time, startup to playing your game can happen in less than 20 seconds easily. The menu systems bear a striking resemblance to the old XMB system, giving a sense of continuity. The PS Vita has Remote Play systems in place with the PS4, and can be used as an additional gadget or screen for many games, breathing some life into the ailing handheld. A lot of options have been added in to connect with your friends online through, including easy ways to follow their activities, join in their games, and share moments of your game with them. There’s even a button on the controller made specifically for this.
Speaking of the controller, it’s also very good. The shape of the plastic feels more ergonomic and comfortable in your hands, the triggers feel more professional, especially in shooter games, and new features include the aforementioned Share button, to stream pictures and clips immediately, a headphone jack; a small speaker, and a small touch pad, available to be used as a game sees fit. Rumble is included as standard this time, and the gyroscopic motions seem improved. I think it’s the best DualShock controller made up until now; with the only downside being a slightly lesser battery life; although that is mitigated somewhat by being able to charge while in standby mode now.
Downsides? Well, there are a couple. Firstly, there are fewer media options this time, with some files not being readable at launch. Sony seems to have upped the social aspect and gaming aspect, but downplayed the media center aspect. How bad this is can be a matter of debate, but it does make it a cleaner, more focused experience for gaming. Secondly, there’s now a cost for online gaming, which will need to be justified personally for someone, but it does include features of PlayStation Plus, such as free games and other options, along with it. Thirdly, the UI can get rather cluttered and disorganized, and the options to personalize it would have been appreciated; although those may come later. And lastly, while the games available at launch are fine, and look gorgeous and play gorgeously (look for my reviews on them to come) there are only two exclusives at launch, and several ports of older PS3 games or new, multiplats. It does seem like theres going to be one more year where PS3 games massively outnumber PS4 games, and for that reason, it does make perfect sense to hold out a bit until a few more titles are released. In my experience though, even the multiplats that are released on PS4 now look better and play better on the newer console, so perhaps also take that under consideration.
The other day I walked into a Dion’s Wired and saw a PS4 running on one of their shiny huge TVs, and I was absolutely blown away at how crystal clear and beautiful everything looked, even while blown up so preposterously large. And even with that, it looks fantastic still just on my 24” computer screen. While it seems a bit shallow to judge a game from its visuals only, as gameplay should count for a lot, what I mean by how beautiful it looks is not just the resolution, but also the amount of objects on screen, the bits of shrapnel and dust blowing around, the amount of people running around independently. All of this speaks very well for the PS4’s future, and while a system always depends on the software that is made for it, I have no doubt that, if not now, it would definitely be worth owning one in a short while. Despite all the fears about the Media-Center-fication of games consoles nowadays, the PlayStation 4 is a truly machine built for games, and is very enjoyable to use, with a bright future.