So, the PlayStation 4 released last week. Midnight on Thursday, November 15th to be exact. I was one such Sony devotee, waiting patiently in a Best Buy line for the timer to tick down to midnight. The experience was a lot calmer than one might expect, after the bloodbath surrounding limited PlayStation 2 consoles in NYC.
Everyone waiting in this particular line was cordial; no pushing or shoving. In fact, Best Buy embraced the midnight launch with plenty of on-hand staff to direct preorders inside to pay off remaining balances and secure a numbered ticket. Numbers were called in order and at 12 past the hour, I walked outside the Best Buy sliding glass doors with the PS4 in hand. Easy peesy. I was excited to see what this new generation of hardware could deliver.
While a considerable jump in processing power, the overall setup of the console remained as easy as past consoles. One power cord (no sizable “brick power supply”), Sony’s new Dualshock 4 controller with micro-USB charge cable, and an HDMI cable rounds out the bundled accessories. I happily unplugged my aging Xbox 360 console, then ran to the kitchen for some Pledge to tackle the thin layer of dust before placing the PS4 down. The console itself is farily lightweight and can either be laid down flat or stood up straight. The versatility here should be welcome for those with cramped spaces, although I’d be wary in standing the console up vertically if I had cats or small children running around.
I found the PS4 UI to be aesthetically pleasing enough, though some might find the introduction of tiered tilesets to be a little cluttered. The games install horizontally on the interface bar, which began to look cluttered after installing Resogun, Battlefield 4, Assassin’s Creed 4 and Contrast. I preferred the XMB’s approach to organizing content vertically, much more so. For those interested in a digital-only console experience will be happy about the vast improvements to download speeds and the ability to play a game at 10% installation while the game completes its download in the background. Most importantly is that the PS4 interface is quick, allowing the user to pop back in at the click of the PS button (say for example, to respond to friend messages or accept a party chat invitation).
Sharing video gameplay on the fly is also something new to next-gen and the Dualshock 4 controllers have a “Share” button where gamers are accustomed to seeing the “Select” button for menu configurations. How does this work in practice? I tested it out during a FIFA match when my avatar (ridiculously accurate representation, thanks to GameFace technology) scored a winning header from a lofty, corner cross. Yes, this is me, in all my ridiculous glory.
It was hysterical to see my virtual self running around in celebration and I immediately pressed the “Share” button to see how I could deliver this joy to all my gaming friends. The PS4 UI instantly zooms out, giving you a choice to post video, or start sharing gameplay on Twitch or UStream, probable only after you “marry” either of your existing log-ins to start broadcasting. A friend later advised instead of posting the entire last 15-minutes of FIFA footage, I could have used the inclusive editing tools to post only my winning header without subjecting anyone else to the prior 12 minutes of me fiddling around in game menus before the match. But hey, good to know (right)? I was initially skeptical of how much I’d use such a function but because it’s completely unobtrusive, doesn’t detract from the PS4 experience and just intuitively works, it’s a welcome feature I can see gaining a lot of interesting traction. Streaming on Twitch actually started to show its strengths prior to launch, thanks to Amazon delivering a lucky few PS4 consoles early. Several friends and I watched live Need for Speed and Call of Duty: Ghosts gameplay being broadcast the day before launch. I’m curious to see how media-starved gamers embrace this new technology and suspect it won’t be long for new pay service ventures crop up in order to “teach” gamers ways to improve their K/D ratio for popular shooters.
So how do games look? Well considering that several triple-A PS3 games were released in sub-HD resolutions, the jump to 1080p offers impressive fidelity and a far wider array of visual clarity. Take a look at the Resogun or Killzone trailers and you’ll see plenty of visual flair with destructive backgrounds (voxels) and particle effects.
However, those who are less intimately familiar with the graphical ceilings of the current gen offerings may be more underwhelmed at what the PS4 can offer. This is nothing new, as the beginning of any console generation offers incremental ‘ticks’ to the eventual ‘tocks’ that come in much later years, when development teams fully understand the hardware and begin to fully exploit their capabilities. So individual mileage may vary here, though it’s hard not to come away overall impressed and eager to see what comes out over the next several years when heavy franchise hitters like Elder Scrolls, Grand Theft Auto, Uncharted and Final Fantasy come along. I for one, cannot wait to see the potential for such yet-unannounced titles like Fallout 4 and Dead Space.
Perhaps it’s the mere acknowledgement that the PS4’s arrival signifies a new era of gaming where consoles are once again, leaping closer to current PC tech – the mere promise of expansive gameplay without sacrifice to graphical fidelity has me excited more than anything that’s currently available to play at launch. Nevertheless, I’m certain it won’t be long before the big heavy hitting franchise titles come along and one by one, erode even the most staunch of PS3 aficionados because the graphical leap, new controller and sharing features are too worthy to ignore. Kicking or screaming, next-gen is here. I say jump in now and get those pixels flying.