The Sony of 2006 and the Sony of 2013 are two totally different beasts. Whereas the Sony of 2006 was designing overly-complicated software architecture, trying to push BluRay, and pricing their console at a price point whose only justification was “gamers will buy it anyway,” the Sony of 2013 made things a lot simpler: “The Best Place to Play.” Sony is once again all about the games, and has concerned itself with little else. The PlayStation 4 shows this to both its benefit, and to a fault.
As a disclaimer from the get-go – I am a technical layman. I don’t read into the software architecture or dive into all of the different things I can plug into a console. I just want to play the damn thing and have a reasonably streamlined experience while navigating the dashboard. If you’re looking for something extremely technical, you’ve come to the wrong place. I’m only here to tell you how easy/entertaining the console is to use.
I will join in with the majority of the gaming press in saying that the PlayStation 4 is the most attractive piece of hardware Sony has designed to date. Taking on the sleek, slender form of a parallelogram, the console exudes a light and agile feel. The half gloss, half matte finish looks great and really keeps things minimal. Sony managed to go no-frills in the best way with this device.
Making the console even more attractive is the light bar that runs along the side (or top, depending on whether you have the console lying horizontally or standing vertically). The bar isn’t just there for looks – it’s white while the console is powered on, orange when it is in standby, and simply off when the console is off.
This streamlined feel extends into the ports that are available, as well. Gone is the excessive amount of USB ports that cluttered up the front of the PlayStation 3, replaced by a mere 2 ports. It is here that you will also find the barely-noticeable power and eject buttons, nestled in the center of the side of the console. I found them both by accident. It seems strange that they would be so small.
On the rear of the console, things are equally clean. Those who haven’t upgraded to an HDMI-capable TV will have to in order to play, because there is only HDMI and optical ports – no more analog! Along with the HDMI and optical ports, you will also find an Ethernet port for those of you that don’t have wifi available to you, along with, of course, the power cord plug-in.
Up until now, the Dualshock line of controllers has never been my cup of tea. It always felt cheap – from the flimsy joysticks, to the chinsy (if precise) D-Pad, to the mushy triggers. Those with bigger hands, like myself, also cramped right the hell up when using the thing for extended play periods.
With the Dualshock 4, however, all of this has changed. Starting with the heft on the controller, it feels a lot more rugged and substantial. It is slightly larger with longer, slightly curved and contoured handles, making it fit the hand like a glove and much more comfortable to use for marathon gameplay sessions.
The triggers have also been improved. They feel firm to the squeeze, much better than the strange mushiness of the Dualshock 3 triggers. Along with them, the joysticks have also received an upgrade. They offer more resistance to the push, and the centers are concave to help hold your thumbs in place, making it much easier to use for shooters.
The build quality is not the only improvement, however. There is now a touch pad akin to one you would find on a computer located smack dab in the middle of the controller. To accommodate this, the Home button has been moved down right between the joysticks, which is by no means a problematic area to reach.
As for actual use of the touch pad, it proved useful when quickly swapping between gadget modes in Killzone: Shadow Fall, but was just a little bit laggy when I used it to cursor around the map in Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag. Time will tell if this lag is a software or hardware problem, but it would be nice to see this feature put to use in more games.
Another unexpected new feature of the controller is the built-in speaker. Games such as Shadow Fall used the speaker to play audio logs through, which was undeniably cool. However, by and far the most useful feature is the ability to run all of the audio through the controller, just by plugging in the provided headset, or just about any other pair of headphones. Not all will work, I’m certain, but my Beats by Dr. Dre, for example, worked just fine. It’s a great feature for those that share rooms with people or play late into the night.
Also located on the controller is a jack that allows you to plug in the included communicator headset, which is finally on the controller. It’s much easier to have a headset plugged into the controller than running one from your console.
The last and most pragmatic feature of the new controller is the front-facing light on the controller. The light can indicate any number of things, from which player you are when multiple controllers are synched up to the system, to where it is at in its charge phase.
Killzone put it to use to indicate your level of health, glowing a solid green when you were at full health, turning yellow when you were injured, and blinking red when you were inches from death. It will be interesting to see what other developers use this light for.
While vastly improved over the Dualshock 3, the Dualshock 4 isn’t without its faults. The Start, now called “Options” and Share buttons have been moved towards the upper middle part of the controller. While this location isn’t problematic to reach, the buttons don’t protrude from the controller enough, and require too much pressure to press. It’s not a deal breaker, but it’s not ideal, either.
Once you have the PlayStation 4 all unboxed and wired into your television, you are literally only minutes away from playing a game. The day 1 patch I had to install took no longer than 10 minutes, and games installed even faster. Boot time for games takes only seconds, as well.
Like I said earlier, logging into an existing PSN ID is a smooth process, and took about as long as it takes to log into any other account you would have on, say, Facebook. There was no large data importing process. My trophies and (short) friends list were all loaded onto my console in seconds.
The largest problem is encountered was with updates for games. Killzone: Shadow Fall, for instance, required an update to get into online play. While I was playing the single player game, I got a notification that claimed the update had been downloaded, but it wouldn’t install. It took shutting down my console and restarting it for the update to register. I’m not certain if this is a bug that needs ironing out or a hardware issue, but it’s worth noting.
The User Interface
This was where the PlayStation 4 both made strides and stumbles. One of the most noticeable improvements just how easy it is to hop between profiles, which you are asked to do when the system boots up. The ability to temporarily download your profile onto a friend’s PlayStation 4 is also a nice feature to have when you’re someone who is often playing over at a friend’s house.
The dashboard is impeccably simple. Apps and games are shaped like tiles, and simply run right to left across the screen. While this may seem ideal and clean at first, it actually makes things a little more cumbersome. There is no logical organization to your apps and games. They simply line up in the order that you last used them. This makes navigation a long process, and it will only get longer as your list of games and apps grows.
When you press up on the controller, you are taken from the tile-looking games and apps screen up to where your notifications, friends list, PlayStation Store, and other similar features are located. Much like the PlayStation 3, there are an awful lot of menus and submenus to navigate on the dashboard, and it is often bewildering and a little overwhelming.
Despite how unorganized everything feels, the new UI isn’t without its perks. You can now suspend a game or an app by pressing the home button, navigate to your dashboard, then hop right back into the game. You can’t, say, open up another game or start running another app, but you can do subtle things like tweak something in your settings, without quitting out of the game.
The only real problem I found with this feature is that the console doesn’t seem especially great at doing other things while a game is suspended. Navigating the dashboard was noticeably slower while a game was running. It remains to be seen if there will be any patches put in place to improve this, but for the time being, don’t expect the world when you are navigating the dashboard while a game is suspended.
One of the biggest disappointments comes from the video capturing and sharing options of the console. The quality of captured video is poor and heavily compressed. While the “Share” button certainly works well, the video itself isn’t all that great, which saps some of the enjoyment out of it. Hopefully, Sony does something about this in the future.
I was expecting PSN to run slowly because it was just launching, but I never had any problems connecting on launch day. In fact, it took me only minutes to have my PSN ID transferred over to my new console. In minutes, I was logged right in, something I was not at all expecting.
The first place I went was the Marketplace, which is honestly almost identical to the current marketplace. It’s not perfect, and it could definitely use some cleaning up, but it served its purpose, and I never had much of a problem finding anything. I downloaded several games and several updates in about 45 minutes tops, a reasonable speed for several gigabytes of data.
For those of you that have tons of friends and spend a lot of time online with PSN, you are in for a lot of good news, and a little bit of bad news. There is now a cross-game party chat feature, something PlayStation gamers have desired for quite some time. You can also join friends’ games right from your friends list.
For you socialites out there, you can now have up to 2,000 friends. The bad news? There is no way to organize your friends list, so once it starts growing, so will the amount of work it takes to find anyone.
The “What’s New” tab fills you in on what your friends are up to. Clicking on it shows you what they’ve been playing, what they’ve accomplished, and what they are live streaming. None of my friends have PlayStation 4 yet, so I have no idea how well this works, but I have heard that it can get a little too crowded if you have a lot of friends.
The last thing I should note is that you now have to pay to play with PlayStation Network. It’s more than just paying for access to online multiplayer, however. There are regular sales in the marketplace, and Sony is very generous in handing out free games, as well. I got two arcade titles on day one for free. Don’t worry, though. Netflix and similar apps are not blocked if you don’t have a paid PSN account.
The PlayStation 4 shows a lot of potential. The simplified user interface, if made more organized, could be one of the easiest to navigate of all the consoles. The Share button also has me dreaming of the day I can show a friend how to do something by just inviting them to a live stream of a game.
The biggest complaints are honestly all aimed at just how unorganized the dashboard seems to be. Hopefully, over time, Sony will smooth out navigation. All in all, the PlayStation 4 is a console with a lot of promise, but a lot of work to be done in order to fulfill it.
Score: 7 out of 10