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Forty-Eight Hours With The Playstation 4

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Sony’s ambitious bet for next generation dominance, the Playstation 4, is finally here. Ditching the convoluted cell processor of the PS3, and tightening just about every quark that befell its previous system, Sony has crafted a system that feels modern without getting away from its main goal: providing a solid, powerful framework for the next five plus years of gaming.

Video game consoles are difficult to review upon release, and it’s probably harsh to do so. Nearly all of the problems I’ve encountered in the past 48 hours–namely UI hitches and a uniformly broken online experience–are hopefully going to be non-issues a week from now. That said, this weekend of gaming has left me with a lot of opinions about the first next generation console, so let’s talk for a little, okay?

This Is The Best Controller Ever Made

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I think that, in hindsight, we can all admit the Dualshock 3 was a pretty sub-par controller. The sticks were loose and slippery, the shape was awkward and uncomfortable to hold, and the triggers weren’t really triggers as much as they were mushy abscesses . These flaws, however, just make Sony’s next Dualshock all the more impressive. Not only does the Dualshock 4 fix nearly every problem of its predecessors, it’s honestly the best controller I have ever used–including the Xbox One’s gamepad.

It all starts with the shape of the controller. Wide without feeling unwieldy, and light while still feeling solid, the Dualshock 4 is immediately at home in the hand. The two handles are perfectly placed, and the textured material feels very high quality. A major sticking point of the Dualshock 3 were the mushy fake-triggers, which Sony has thankfully replaced with a more responsive and snappy set. While they lack the innovative rumble sensors of the Xbox One’s gamepad, the triggers here seem to have a substantially better amount of throw and resistance. For the first time ever, first person shooters feel natural on the PlayStation.

Around the front, Sony has retained the symmetrical stick placement. I still prefer the way Microsoft arranges its controllers, with sticks on opposite diagonals of the gamepad, but I’d gladly take this placement in exchange for the new stick design. They feel brilliant, endlessly better than any analog stick from the previous generation. Meanwhile, Sony has retained the fantastic gamepad and buttons from the Dualshock 3, albeit it with slight improvements in tightness. Even the Sixaxis-like motion sensing is widely improved.

“I can’t imagine going back to any other controller”

There are some minor problems with the controller, of course. While we haven’t seen much implementation of the front touchpad in the launch titles, what’s here is not great. Battlefield and Call of Duty both treat the pad like an extra button, which seems like a missed opportunity. Assassin’s Creed 4, at least, uses it to control the map, in a way similar to Google Maps on smartphones. Sadly, this method works finicky at best, and the touchpad’s large area means the option and share buttons are awkwardly flush with it. Meanwhile, the controller’s prominent LED light is futuristic, but quickly becomes distracting. However, these are minor problems, which quickly fade into the ether upon use. After just two days with the Dualshock 4, I can’t imagine going back to any other controller, and that’s probably the most praise I can bestow. It’s truly a fantastic piece of hardware.

 

The Console And OS Are Improved, But Still A Little Rough

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“…something that feels decidedly next generation.”

Sony has gone with a surprisingly bold design for the Playstation 4, and it immediately impresses. The aggressive corners and bright LED strip looks futuristic and cool, while the system itself is thin and light enough to easily disappear into any entertainment system. Functionally, the two-slab design leaves a little to be desired, as it leads to recessed and difficult to press “power” and “eject” buttons.  There isn’t a whole lot to say about the hardware, really; it’s pretty and–spec-wise at least–mighty powerful, but it’s also probably just going to disappear into a cabinet.PS4-UI

Meanwhile, the OS powered by the hardware is substantially more exciting. Gone is the confusing and poorly-designed XMB, replaced with an operating system that feels modern and equipped for the connected future. It’s fast and pretty, and rife with small tweaks and improvements. For example, OS is always accessible, allowing for actual multitasking between utilities (like the store) and games. This is a small change, one that seems obvious in the age of smartphones, but it does wonders in making the system feel more cohesive. You can download full games day-and-date with the retail release, and the download speeds actually feel reflective of your online connection, rather than being bottlenecked by slow servers.

Another thing to note is the connectivity between the Vita and the system OS. The PlayStation 4 can stream a select number of games to the Vita through a service called Remote Play. It actually works surprisingly well, with a indiscernible amount of input lag. Of course, there’s some pretty heavy artifacting on-screen (it is basically streamed video, after all) but the fact the feature works as well as it does at launch is encouraging.

There isn’t a single “wow” feature in the Playstation 4’s operating system–and digging deep into its menus reveal traits of Sony’s trademark confusing design–but little things add up, creating something that feels decidedly next generation.

 

There Isn’t A Killer App, But The Games Are Definitely Prettier

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I’m really feeling the absence of Watch Dogs. No matter how good or bad that game ends up being, there’s an undeniable “newness” about the experience it promises, one that is uniformly lacking in the current PlayStation 4 lineup.

“I’m really feeling the absence of Watch Dogs”

That’s not to say the games available at launch are bad, because they aren’t. While first party exclusives like Killzone: Shadow Fall and Knack are disappointing, the third party line-up is great. Battlefield 4 is a uniformly fantastic combination of Bad Company 2’s tactical destruction and Battlefield 3’s well-tuned mechanics, while Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag is the most exciting entry in the series since the Ezio’s first adventure. Call of Duty: Ghosts is probably the least exciting the franchise has been since World at War, but it still appeals to a lot of players, while strong sports games like NBA 2K14 and Madden round out the lineup with some truly impressive graphics.

But really, there is a decided lack of excitement in the lineup. For how pretty Battlefield 4 is, it doesn’t have a whole lot new to say, it’s not exclusive to the next generation, and the increased player count and higher fidelity graphics are already available on the PC. The same can be said about just about every other third party game on the lineup; they’re all prettier version of already released games. That’s great in itself, but as someone looking for new experiences, I’m disappointed with what’s available at launch.

The future, of course, is bright for the platform, especially in regards to the first party department (next-gen Uncharted!), and Resogun is pretty fantastic. But with the disappointing first party lineup, and the great-but-unoriginal third party lineup, there simply isn’t a whole lot to recommend yet.

Man, I Hope They Fix These Online Bugs Soon

Obviously, I don’t expect everything to work perfectly on the first weekend of launch. But man, the PlayStation Network has been really busted. The service itself has been going down frequently throughout the weekend, and even when it’s up, I’ve commonly been unable to access the online store. Online connectivity in games has been spotty at best, with frequent disconnect errors in Need For Speed and Call Of Duty.

Battlefield 4, however, has been the absolute worst of the launch titles in this regard. Since launch, many players (myself included) have been unable to join any Conquest games, the title’s headlining mode. Meanwhile, disconnect errors are rampant, and sometimes lead to errors that overwrite the user’s campaign save data (this has happened to me three times since Friday.) These issues will most likely be fixed in the coming weeks, but for now, the PlayStation Network is in a pretty rough place.

I’m Excited, And You Should Be Too

“While some might see the Playstation 4 as something to get cynical about, it just makes me really excited about what the next generation will be able to bring.”

It’s easy to be cynical about the PlayStation 4’s current state. The system is lacking any killer exclusive games and the online service is buggy. Sony has positioned the console as an eminently dedicated gaming system, which makes this poor launch lineup all the more noticeable. And being able to only play Rush in Battlefield 4 is akin to only being able to play Team Deathmatch in Counterstrike.

But as with any new hardware product, you’re buying the PlayStation 4 partially based on potential, and there is a lot here. The technical issues will be polished out, the lineup bolstered in the months ahead. Sony has crafted a remarkably solid foundation for the next generation of games, with a fantastic controller, blazing technical specs, and a truly modern operating system. There isn’t a single groundbreaking feature here, like motion sensing and high definition was last time around, but so many things add up–like the better controller and the better graphics–to create an experience I never want to step back from. While some might see the PlayStation 4 as something to get cynical about, it just makes me really excited about what the next generation will be able to bring. And even today, it’s a damned good system.



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