The PlayStation 4’s killer feature

In what departments does the PlayStation 4 have the edge over the Xbox One and Wii U? Riyad picks his key feature...

The PlayStation 4 is a strong gaming platform for numerous reasons, many of which I mentioned in my previous article. It is, on paper, a more powerful console, and the fact that Microsoft was trying to boost the CPU clock speed in the Xbox One just weeks before launch hammered that point home.

Unfortunately for Microsoft, no amount of CPU frequency tweaking can make up for the huge memory bandwidth advantage that the PS4 has. Granted, there are ways to level that playing field by making use of the Xbox One’s on-die ESRAM, but Sony’s decision to throw 8GB of GDDR5 shared memory at the PS4 has made it easier for developers to use the platform to its full potential.

The long and short of it is that cross platform games will often either run faster or at a higher resolution on the PlayStation 4. That said, most gamers would be very hard pushed to spot the difference, at least graphically.

Frame rates are a slightly different matter, though, and thus there are instances where the PlayStation 4 can maintain a steady 60fps compared to 30fps on the Xbox One. Steady is the key word there, and while a game like Tomb Raider is locked to 30fps on the Xbox One and unlocked on the PS4, the latter can’t maintain 60fps when the action hots up. But when it is running at full whack, it looks spectacular.

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Another largely unsung, but nonetheless impressive PlayStation 4 feature is Remote Play – essentially allowing you to play PS4 games on your PS Vita. The most obvious advantage is that you’ll be able to play your PlayStation 4 while someone else in your household is monopolising the TV, but it is possible to use Remote Play when you’re not even at home.

When it works, Remote Play is brilliant, although given the differences between the PlayStation 4 controller and the controls on the Vita, you do need to re-learn how to control certain games. And while the service can work properly remotely over the Internet, you’re going to need a very good connection at both ends for any kind of acceptable experience. Microsoft talked a good game with its SmartGlass alternative, but it’s pretty rudimentary compared to Remote Play with a Vita – the Wii U is a different matter, and the subject of my next article.

But as impressive as the PS4 base hardware is, and as innovative as Remote Play might be, neither of those are the killer feature for the PS4. In fact the best PlayStation 4 feature has nothing to do with the hardware at all.

For me, PlayStation Plus is an ace in the hole for Sony. It’s a service that elevates the PlayStation ecosystem to a level that Xbox is still trying to reach. And the irony of it is that online service is where Microsoft had Sony whipped for a very long time.

Anyone who remembers PSN in its infancy will know what an absolute nightmare it was. While the original Xbox was always designed with networking built into it, the PlayStation 2 required a separate Ethernet adapter. Just getting the hardware to work was hard enough, while the actual online aspect was even worse – anyone remember trying to play PlayStation 2 SOCOM in multiplayer?

Even when the PlayStation 3 arrived, PSN was still a poor alternative to Xbox Live, with Sony clinging to its service being subscription free as a positive differentiator. But then Sony created PlayStation Plus, a subscription aspect of PSN that brought something very compelling to the table – free games.

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But the real beauty of PS+ is that the more PlayStation platforms you own, the more free games you get. So, if you happen to have a PlayStation 3 and buy yourself a PlayStation Vita, your existing PS+ account will entitle you to free games on both your consoles. Then, if you buy a PlayStation 4, that same single PS+ account will get you free games each and every month on all three consoles.

Now, there was a lot of moaning when Sony announced that you’d need a PlayStation Plus subscription to be able to play multiplayer games on the PlayStation 4, but by comparison, Microsoft has insisted on that since day one of Xbox Live. And you’re getting a lot more for your money from Sony.

Of course you’re not getting brand new games for free with PS+, but you are getting genuine AAA titles that came out a year or so ago, along with some great indie offerings. Given that most gamers can’t afford to buy every game that hits the market, knowing that you’ll be able to play some of the top titles today for free down the line is a pretty comforting feature.

The big caveat is that you have to keep subscribing to PS+ in order to keep playing your free games, but the subscription fees for console online gaming services are, sadly, par for the course these days. So unless you’re choosing to switch platform allegiance, it’s unlikely that you’ll cancel.

The proof that Sony struck gold with PS+ came in the form of Microsoft blatantly copying it. Games With Gold essentially mirrored the PS+ model by giving Xbox Live Gold members free games. But the quantity and quality of games that Microsoft offered in the early days couldn’t compete with what Sony was dishing out. And even today, with only two platforms available, Xbox fans will never get as much value as PlayStation enthusiasts.

So, if you’re already a PlayStation gamer and have a PS3, PS Vita or both, the prospect of rolling your PS+ account onto a third platform makes the PlayStation 4 the more obvious choice. Not only will you have the most powerful gaming console on the market, but you’ll also receive a plethora of free games across all your PlayStation consoles. Good games, too.

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