PS4 impressions MK. II & next-gen launch conclusion

Things didn't start off well with my PS4. After struggling to get online (required for me to play the games I have bought, so that I could download them) for hours, my impressions of the PS4 had been soiled a little.

It didn't ruin the day however, I did manage to get on and start playing some games. After just over a week with the PS4, I'm ready to write something down.

Forgive the mistakes. I'm not proof reading this.

The operating system

The PS3 had a nice elegant UI in the form of the XrossMediaBar, but as the years passed, it was evident that it wasn't quite up to the expansion required of it. Both from a UX and technical perspective, Sony faced many problems that Microsoft pre-empted by designing for from the very beginning.

A set of standard system functions that developers hooked into meant that Microsoft could make changes to existing features, and add all new functionality and have it available in current and future games all the same.

Sony notoriously struggled with this and found they couldn't meet the demands of users for a cross-game party system.

Thankfully, this is all behind us. Sony have learned, they seemingly have taken the same intelligent approach from top to bottom, and such issues are, as far as I can see - non-existent.

The OS is smooth, it is extremely quick and snappy, and whilst it isn't as full featured or ambitious as the Xbox One OS, it benefits by being simple, easy to pick up without much of a learning curve (the same cannot always be said for the Xbox One).

The secondary ARM chip and 'share' functionality

Still one of the most exciting features about the PS4 for me is that Sony have included a secondary, low power, ARM processor with 256MB of dedicated memory for background tasks and low power operation for standby updates, installs and downloads.

In practice, it seems to do everything Sony set out to utilise it for. Updates and installs happen seamlessly in the background and in standby.

But most interesting is likely its utilisation for the 'Share' functions of the console. Being able to record gameplay, upload screenshots and broadcast your game live to Twitch or UStream has been made a core function of the console and it does work magnificently.

Quality on both the screenshots and broadcasting isn't the greatest, but given this is the first time we're really seeing such functionality on the consoles, I'll give it a pass and expect some improvements in the future.

The streaming functionality of the PS4 gets rid of all the setup pain previous associated with streaming and makes it as easy as 3 - 4 button presses. More serious streamers will likely want more options and better quality, but for others - this is likely their first exposure to the online game streaming world and it'll be perfectly sufficient for them.

I said back in February that the background processor represents a lot more than just its physical inclusion and utilisation in the device. It represents a change in philosophy at Sony, an understanding of user experience and design - and I think this is probably THE feature of the console Sony has executed best on.

The controller

There is a big stupid fucking light on the back of it. Which is great, because I can always see where my controller is. That is reflecting back at me in my TV, of course. Just in case I forget I'm holding it.

Annoying for people with LCD TVs, extra annoying for people with Plasma TVs. It is there for the camera to track (which I haven't bought), it can't be disabled (yet).

Fortunately, that is pretty much the only negative thought worth mentioning I have for the DualShock 4. What I found most surprising is, despite expectations, it feels remarkably familiar.

The shape and feel of the controller is a definite improvement over the Dualshock 3 and below, it fills your hands and moulds around it. The face buttons and dpad have been replaced with something with a little more click. I'm not entirely sure if it is for the best, because with this saw the departure of one of my favourite features of the DualShock in the past, the pressure sensitive face buttons.

Admittedly, their use in games slowly disappeared outside of a few first party games here and there, likely due to the absence of them on the Xbox controller, but it was always nice when you did get a game with them.

Perhaps what has caught the attention of most however, has been the improvements to the analog sticks and the triggers. The analog sticks are shorter, are more responsive and are more tighter than both the DualShock 3 and the Xbox One controller, from what I can tell - they feel about as tight as the 360's.

The analog sticks are now concave and placed further apart from each other. L1 & R1 (top shoulder buttons) feel much the same as they always have, also with a bit more click than previously, and a slightly different shape - but their positioning and general feel is as good as it always was (always had a preference for these over the bumpers on the Xbox).

Gone are the weirdly shaped 'triggers' of the DualShock 3, in are something you don't have to fight to stop your fingers slipping off - they feel a little more like triggers this time around. An undeniable improvement.

Overall, this is an excellent controller. This is my new favourite controller. It is better than the Xbox 360 controller, it is better than the (still excellent) Xbox One controller, and better than the DualShock 3.

The other stuff

We have a touchpad! This generation's SIXAXIS (although this is still present and actually a lot more responsive and accurate), Sony has put a clicky touchpad on the front of the controller that can apparently be used for.. things. I expected some good uses for it in the general UI of the OS, but it is strangely absent from things such as the web browser.

The PlayStation button is also smaller with added 'click' (seeing a trend here?). The controller accepts a standard microphone/headphone jack that can be used for communications, along with a proprietary port for something else - potentially a chat pad or other kinds of headsets (perhaps it provides more power?).

Remember the little Gameboy speaker in the WiiMote? Sony has one too, but here, it is surprisingly powerful and clear - the first time I heard it was for audio logs in Killzone: Shadow Fall and due to the clarity of it, and me completely forgetting there was a speaker in the controller at all, it startled me for a moment.

It isn't crackly, it isn't tinny, it is sufficiently loud when it needs to be, and seems to be used rather well at the moment. Not a new feature, but the best implementation of it so far.

The games

As I probably don't need to repeat. The consoles aren't my primary gaming systems, I don't buy multi-platform games on consoles for a variety of reasons, so the launch lineup for both the Xbox One and PS4 have been quite poor for me.

But I having said that, I think the PS4's exclusive launch games are especially poor. Despite being a huge fan of what Killzone 2 did, the path they have continued to take with the series since has been one that I haven't liked, and where they have landed on with Killzone: Shadow Fall has left me completely cold.

I quit the game before getting to a check point, when coming back to the game I found myself about 5 minutes back. My tolerance for that sort of stuff for various games is significantly higher than that, but the fact I was having basically no fun playing it as it was meant that even that 5 minutes was enough to basically make me give up on it.

The multiplayer seems equally bland, boring and tedious. It's a huge shame, because in a sea of similar FPS games that all exactly the same, Killzone 2 stood out as something that felt designed to be a good console FPS. It was deliberate and interesting, it had some problems, but everything from how it played to the online setup combined to be the best online FPS on the consoles last generation - they threw that out as soon as they got to Killzone 3.

After a week or so of barely touching the console, I searched for something to salvage the PS4's launch - it came back to Knack. Something that has looked rather unimpressive s ince the first gameplay video. The mediocre to negative reviews probably helped my expectations, but I actually am enjoying it. It isn't great, but it is fun.

Resogun, a schmup from Housemarque is probably the standout exclusive title, a game included with your (now mandatory for online gaming functionality) PS+ subscription - it followsSuper Stardust HD and Super Stardust Delta which both appeared as launch games for the PS3 and PSVita. It is great fun, has some rather great graphical effects and plays brilliantly.

Graphically, the PS4 is the most powerful console available - but still with rather conservative specs regarding CPU and GPU performance, I can't say I have been all that impressed with the system - but this is from the perspective of someone who games on their PC, who has a GPU that is over twice as powerful (TFLOP performance) as the one in the PS4, I have seen game graphics evolve over the past 7 years, whereas they've mostly remained static on the consoles.

Someone who has stuck to the consoles will find plenty to be impressed with, on both multi platform games and exclusive title s such as Killzone. It's a pretty game if nothing else.

Remote play

Despite promises as early as 2005 that Sony's handheld (then the PSP) would be a great companion for their home console owners, remote play never really lived up to the promise. Game developers had the option to make their games remote play compatible but likely due to the performance sacrifice and control difficulties, very few did, and when they did - it typically wasn't good.

Remote play is now built in a system level, no performance is taken away from games when enabled, in fact, game developers cannot even disable it! It is there and it works. The only times you'll find a game that will not work is for games with special control inputs (e.g. camera, motion control, etc). Developers can submit a custom control scheme otherwise a default Vita optimised scheme will be applied using the touch screen and rear touch pad to make up for the fewer inputs on the Vita.

Performance is stellar, your image is always mirrored onto your TV and Vita (should you be near your TV and have it on) and on my network, both via the direct connect option and over my LAN, latency is practically non-existent.

People will have varying results with this due to different levels of wireless interference where you are attempting to play, but my experience has been nothing but fantastic.

Conclusion

As with the Xbox One, I am left impressed by the consoles themselves, they seem well setup for the generation ahead. I am frustrated by the conservative specs on both machines, and obviously due to the considerably less powerful GPU on the Xbox, more so frustrated with that - but I have found lots to be happy about.

Sony are clearly the company that has learned the most, that has come the farthest. After an uncharacteristically savvy launch campaign from everyone from Sony marketing to executive engagement with the fans, I am more impressed, and relieved that we're seeing a stronger competitor for Microsoft and Nintendo out of Sony.

The game library isn't great at the moment, launches rarely are, but I have found one excellent game in Forza 5 on the Xbox, and the other exclusive titles on that system looking more promising (especially Killer Instinct), that I have to give the Xbox One the slight edge over the PS4.

I like the OS more and I have played the system a lot more due to my preference for its games. But as with last generation, I do find myself more confident in the PS4's future thanks to Sony's first party studios that I expect to deliver the PS4 a better library of exclusive games.