PlayStation 4 is quite a different beast to the Xbox One, most noticeably in its design.
Sony sent me down a PS4 for a week to get some hands-on time with it and where the Xbox One is very boxy in it’s shape – it keeps reminding me of an old VCR player from when I was a young person – the PS4 is a lot more futuristic in its design, with a slanting front panel. It’s as if Sony took a rectangle then squished the front and back into its current shape. I actually think I like the PS4 design better than the Xbox Ones if you’re going off looks alone.
The PS4 is smaller than the Xbox One, and just as quiet when it’s on, but it doesn’t have as many inputs as Microsoft’s console does (at the back there’s one USB, ethernet, optical audio and power; on the front there is two USB ports). And it doesn’t have an HDMI in, like the Xbox One does (it’s used for a set-top or cable box). Whether that’s going to be a costly omission for Sony, I don’t know but I guess time will tell.
One thing did confuse me though when I took the PS4 out of its box: How do I turn it on? Did it have a capacitive on-off button like the Xbox One? If it did, I couldn’t find it, despite just about pressing every inch of the consoles jet black surface.
I pressed the PS logo: Nothing. I pressed the PS4 logo: Nothing. So I just turned it on using the PS button on the Dualshock 4 controller, which is what I do with my PS3. (Update #1: Earlier this week, I just pressed the front area a whole lot – and it turned on. Update #2: Oh, I see there are tiny buttons next to the drive slot with an on/off logo and eject logo. Hey, Sony you need to make those a bit bigger so people with old eyes like mine can see them better).
Talking of the Dualshock 4 controller, it’s vastly improved on the PS3’s Dualshock 3 controller, which I thought couldn’t be beaten. It’s a lot more organic than the Dualshock 3, and feels more comfortable to hold, with L1, L2, R1 and R2 buttons feeling firm and responsive. It has a touch pad above the two sticks, which you can use for games (it’s used in Killzone Shadowfall to control your OWL). and a sensor bar on the front, which can change colour depending on the game (in Killzone it shows green meaning your health is good but red if you’re close to death).
The only issue I had was getting used to the fact that the controller now has options and share buttons (share lets you post video or screen shots to social media) rather than select and start. All in all, it’s a great controller.
Turning the PS4 on and you’re greeted with a new user interface (UI), which looks much better than the PS3’s cross-media bar, which while functional was a little too clunky and cluttered. It’s been replaced with a much more user-friend two-level, with notifications, settings, chat, messaging,trophies that sort of thing in the top line, and details about the games you’ve played, your library and an internet browser in the other line. It’s tidy, uncluttered and pleasing on the eye.
Ultimately, though, the PS4 is a machine aimed at gamers so what are the game like?
The review unit came with Killzone Shadowfall, Knack, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Lego Marvel Superheroes and Call of Duty Ghosts (I’ve already played ACIV and Ghosts on last-gen Xbox 360 so I’m not going to waste column inches discussing those here. For what it’s worth: ACIV is much better than ACIII and Ghosts is pretty much like every other COD game, except it has a dog in it this time).
Killzone is definitely the pick of the PS4 exclusives in terms of showing what the PS4 can do – and it really does look stunning, pumped out at 1080p.
A couple of times I actually just sat back and took in the surroundings: rocks looked so real I could touch them, god rays streamed through windows, dust particles hung in the air. It looked great. Shadowfall’s game mechanics don’t deviate much from previous Killzone games, apart from this time the game’s hero is accompanied by a flying robot called an OWL, which can be ordered to attack enemies, hack turrets and fire a zipline from point to point. It’s a handy gadget but I felt at times it turned the odds in our hero’s favour too many times: Send in the OWL to clear out the enemy then our hero comes in an mops up the remnants. Peel away the stunning looks, though, and Shadowfall is an entertaining yet by-the-numbers first person shooter. It doesn’t re-invent the wheel, which is perhaps what I was hoping for.
Knack is an interesting platformer where you control a creature made out of magical relics that he can bsorb to make him bigger and more powerful. Sometimes he’s small, other times he’s large, depending on how many relics he absorbs. It’s fairly standard fare, though, but it’s got a pretty nice cartoony look to it, especially compared to the realism of Killzone Shadowfall. Knack sort of follows along similar lines to other past Sony characters like Sly the Racoon or Crash Bandicoot in that when you defeat enemies there’s no blood: So it’s pretty family friendly. Sadly, thought, Knack becomes boring pretty quickly, and there are only so many times you can bash enemies and jump about avoiding electrified platforms.
Something that I really liked and something that shows the PlayStation 4 is definitely aimed at gamers first and foremost is the remote play feature using the PS Vita. Once I registered my Vita with the PS4, I was able to play Killzone Shadow Fall on my handheld: What my TV screen showed was displayed on my Vita’s screen. It’s a great feature, especially for those of us who have our main TV in a lounge where it’s used for nightly TV watching by the other half!
I haven’t even had time to look at the PlayStation camera, which is an optional extra. I’ll try to get around to that over the next few days.
I’ve rambled on for long enough, I think, but I’m impressed with what Sony has come up with in the PS4 and it’s definitely geared towards gamers rather than multimedia enthusiasts. There are a few niggles regarding multimedia playback but I’m sure things will be sorted out over time.
The PS4 has had a successful launch and I can see why. I love the controller but the launch games, like those on the Xbox One, are a bit of a mixed bag. Still, it’s a solid launch and like the Xbox One things will improve with time.
it’ll be interesting to see how the console war pans out between the two new consoles, with things surely kicking into high gear next year.