It’s been six years since the PlayStation 3 was first released. Some iterations later, we’re now presented with a next-generation games console from Sony, the PlayStation 4 (PS4), promising powerful graphics, speed and integrated social capabilities.
After carrying the box containing the PlayStation 4, I was half-expecting to open it and find the console missing. This is because the system is so surprisingly light.
Measuring about 2 inches tall, 12 inches deep and 10 inches wide, it’s smaller than even the updated PlayStation 3 Slim, and there’s no power brick as everything you need is integrated into the body of the console.
Sony has paid attention to design on the console body, opting for a parallelogram structure with a slanted front and subtle, sleek power and eject buttons. Also up front you have the optical drive plus two USB 3.0 ports, and at the rear you have ports for optical audio-out, HDMI, Ethernet and the new PlayStation Camera.
PlayStation 4 console
In the box you’ll get one DualShock 4 Wireless Controller, and I really can’t say enough good things about what Sony has achieved here in terms of comfort. Everything has been optimised, from the new shape of the analogue sticks to the matte finish on the underside and edges. Buttons feel sturdier, triggers are better shaped and, though you can’t see it, the motion sensor has been improved.
DualShock 4 Wireless Controller
A clickable touchpad now resides between the D-pad and face buttons, as well as an built-in speaker providing additional sound up close for a more immersive gaming experience.
If you like, you can have sound fed through headphones which can be plugged directly into the controller’s 3.5mm jack. If you use the mono headset supplied with your PS4, you’ll have a built-in mic for voice control or conversations with fellow gamers.
The cable that comes with the DualShock 4 is quite short and can be a pain if you’re playing while connected. The good news is, it’s a micro-USB connection and these have become so common these days, with just about every non-Apple smartphone using them, you likely have a longer spare lying about the house.
Of course, the controller is ideally used wirelessly and for this you should get about 10 hours of gameplay from a single charge.
Another new feature for the controller is a light bar at the front. This is used by games like Killzone: Shadow Fall to indicate your protagonist’s lifeline, declining from a healthy green, to yellow, to orange, to flashing red when you’re at death’s door. More importantly, though, it’s used by the PlayStation Camera to track movement, much like the PlayStation Move.
The camera is an optional accessory for the PS4 that will set you back €59 (RRP). It’s more advanced than the earlier PlayStation Move system, and you’ll get to see that when using the Playroom to demonstrate these new features.
The camera also has facial recognition features and can log you in when it recognises your face. You need to set up face data for this to work, which registers the image of your face at different angles and works best if you add additional data in various light settings over time. When this works, it works well, but it didn’t work for us 100pc of the time.
- 8-core AMD x86-64 CPU
- AMD Radeon GPU
- 8GB RAM
- 500GB user-upgradeable hard drive
- Six-speed Blu-ray drive
- Capable of playing 1080p games at 60fps
- Price: from €399 (various bundles available)
Set-up of the PS4 is straightforward enough – simply breeze through some settings, connect to the internet and run an essential day-one update. From our experience, this was completed much faster than set-up of the Xbox One and we were gaming in no time.
Another one-up on the Xbox One is that the PlayStation 4 has voice controls that work here in Ireland. When you’ve no background noise, these simple controls work smoothly and effectively, but throw in another person’s voice or background music and the system is easily confused.
Voice controls come in particularly handy with the home menu, which orders your games and apps by recently used. As you build up a large collection, this can make it frustrating to find exactly what you’re looking for as positions shift and you’ve no control over how things are ordered – but calling out ‘PlayStation’ followed by the name of what you seek is a huge help.
You’ll need to set up an account and sign into the PlayStation Network to make the most of the PlayStation 4. This is completely free and up to 16 accounts can be registered on one console, so there’s certainly room to fit the whole family on there.
Because the PlayStation 4 is based on x86 computer architecture (or because Sony want your money, whatever way you want to read into it), there’s no backwards compatibility for PlayStation 3 games. Some recent purchases may have come with a PlayStation 4 upgrade guarantee, though, and these can be accessed via the PlayStation Store.
A variety of new titles are available at launch, with 24 PlayStation 4 exclusives announced to date and more than 180 in development. Every game has to be installed on the hard drive but you can play as this runs so wait-time is kept to a minimum.
Games provided for the purpose of this review included Knack, a Crash Bandicoot-like platformer beat ‘em up that’s fun for all ages; Killzone: Shadow Fall, a first-person shooter that makes the best use of new features like the touchpad and light bar but, unfortunately, is dreadfully dull; Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, the sixth instalment of this open-world action-adventure franchise that maintains the standard set by its predecessors; Lego Marvel Super Heroes, an action-adventure title that’s challenging enough to keep both big and little kids entertained; and Call of Duty: Ghosts, the 10th edition of this fan-favourite first-person shooter that impressed us with its high-level graphics transporting you to locations around the world.
PlayStation 4 Knack bundle
In the likes of Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty, you could almost get distracted from the task at hand by admiring the beauty of the surroundings created by the developers, but high-level graphics come at a price and you will be left waiting during load-times. However, once the game starts, these impatient periods are quickly forgotten.
Plenty more titles are available both from retailers and via the online PlayStation Store accessed directly from the console. You’ll be encouraged to sign up for PlayStation Plus membership from the outset, which costs from €7 per month but will give you special offers such as Resogun and Contrast for free.
Mobile gameplay is enabled through connecting the PlayStation 4 to either a PS Vita hand-held console or to your mobile device via the reworked PlayStation App, which is available for both Android and iOS. The console must be connected to the same wireless network as the device for this to work, though, so if you’re connected through the Ethernet port, you’ll need to unplug for mobile play. We found internet connectivity was more reliable using the LAN cable rather than Wi-Fi, however.
The share button and menu on PlayStation 4
Using the ‘Share’ button, you can instantly post a screenshot of your gameplay to Facebook or Twitter, edit a 15-minute video of your most recent in-game activity for Facebook, or even live-stream via Ustream or Twitch.tv. Sharing is simple and fast, though image quality is greatly reduced for the sake of uploading.
While the Xbox One has positioned itself as more of an ‘entertainment hub’ than a games console, the PlayStation 4 has buried its additional media apps in its TV & Video menu, taking a definitive gaming-first stance. The first media apps available for Irish users include Sony’s Music Unlimited platform, IGN, VidZone and Netflix.
The PlayStation 4 is a compact box full of potential. The games available at launch don’t necessarily show off the capabilities of this system to its fullest, but I’m confident that, as new titles join the platform, exciting things will happen.
For those lamenting the difficulty of getting their hands on a PS4 pre-Christmas, I’d say that waiting until next year isn’t too much of a setback as it looks like 2014 will show us what the PlayStation 4 is really made of.
In terms of comparison to its chief competitor, there’s not much to separate it from the Xbox One in terms of performance, but the PlayStation 4 has killer consumer advantages – namely, a lower price, less restrictions on gaming, and a strong network of indie developers – and, at least for me, that means Sony is playing the winning hand.