PlayStation 4 Reviewed
Alas, it seems like almost a decade has gone by since a console launch, and yet, here we are. The PlayStation 4 joins the lineup in the eighth generation of consoles in 2013. It’s been seven years since Sony last launched a console, and to the joy of the gamers that it serves, it seems to have done things right this time.
Out of the box, the PlayStation 4 is smaller than the Xbox 360 Slim and the PS3 Super Slim models, albeit slightly deeper from its slanted rectangular shape. The design is slick and simple, with no visible chrome plating anywhere to be seen. Only the trademark PS4 logo is set into the front face, and a light bar on top of the device serves to show that the system is on, thinking, or otherwise doing something. The centered gap running the width of the device is where you’ll find the slot for your games or Blurays, and two USB 3.0 device ports. Unlike the PlayStation 3, the PS4 doesn’t really bring a lot of attention to itself, and it shouldn’t have to.
The system was a snap to set up. Fortunately, the PlayStation 3 power cord could be used in the PS4, so I didn’t have to disassemble the back of my entertainment centre in order to install the new console. Once the system was powered up and I authenticated to the PlayStation Network, I was able to immediately begin playing games and downloading applications to my console. Compared to the four hours of downloading updates to my PlayStation 3, the PS4 installation was easy and painless, which is why it is unfortunate that PlayStation has managed to take the XMB (which was functional, albeit ghastly to look at) and made it worse.
The top bar – or Function menu as they call it – gives you access to the PlayStation Store, Notifications, Friends, and Messages, all which require no explanation. The Party icon allows you to create parties, which friends can join by voice chat or text. It sports the basic abilities to prioritize your party chat volume over game volume (or switch to just game volume if you so wish) along with adding friends or viewing other parties to which you’ve been invited.
Your profile icon gives you an at-a-glance view of your most recent achievements along with your player profile information such as name and gamer pic. The gamer pic can now be linked to your Facebook profile picture through the Edit Profile settings along with your personal description, name, and languages. Your trophies are displayed next in a nice, compact info bar that has your level, total number of trophies, and a breakdown of each type of trophy acquired. You can drill down further to see each game that you’ve nabbed trophies on, and even further to see which trophies were unlocked. Last but certainly not least, are your Settings menu and the Power menu, which includes the ability to close apps, put the machine in standby, log out, or turn it off altogether.
Where things get ugly is in the Content Area, which displays your games, the browser, Library, and other functions in a big, ever growing row that very quickly gets scary by ordering the bar with no organization other than what you used last, with the exception of the What’s New menu, a menu that gives you a Facebook-style tabloid view of PS4 news, your friends’ latest accomplishments, and your own Trophies. What really gets me about this view is that many of the menu items such as the What’s New, TV & Video, and Music or Video Unlimited channels give you a sub-menu or preview menu to play around with, but the games are strewn throughout the linear bar making it cumbersome to navigate altogether.
There are some excellent features to be had with the new system, however; the ability to suspend a game to play an app is a boon, allowing you to pause your game without bailing out to let your kids or the significant other watch Netflix. The system also warns the user if they’re about to close a suspended app in favor of another, which is very nice in case someone else attempts to start a game with yours suspended, as they’ll get a warning and hopefully let you know before you get tossed out.
Sony also takes advantage of the new technology to implement a limited set of voice commands, through the PlayStation 4 Camera or a headset plugged into the controller, which can be used in the PlayStation menus as well as in-game, but the available command set is very limited. For example, you can take a screenshot of your in-game accomplishments, but you can’t start a streaming session or access the Share menus using your voice commands. Or you can get to the library menu by saying “PlayStation, Library,” but you can’t ask it to access the Netflix app.
Speaking of apps, PlayStation has a decent number of them available at launch in the States – especially for movie and TV aficionados. Amazon Instant Video, Crackle, Netflix, Epix, Vudu, Hulu, Redbox, and YuppTV are available to viewers, as well as sports apps NHL GameCenter and NBA Game Time. For the anime nut, Crunchyroll is a day one available app as well. Canada gets a more limited arrangement of only Netflix, Crunchyroll, NHL GameCenter and NBA Game Time – a smart choice, considering a nerd’s penchant for anime and any Canadian’s affection for hockey. YouTube is notably absent from the list on both sides, forcing yours truly to spend his time surfing Imgur from the PS4 web browser because Flash isn’t supported either.
One of the most major improvements has been with the PlayStation 4 controller itself. While the button configuration continues to stay mostly the same as it has for the last 19 years, the design has been modernized to be more ergonomic, less flimsy, and pack even more technological punch. In comparison to the DualShock 3 controller, the DS4 has a bit more weight to it, giving the gamer a feeling of holding something more tangible than the previous iteration. This heavier construction is partly due to the thicker handles on the controller, giving it a more comfortable feel, especially during extended play periods. Also of note, the controller doesn’t squeak and creak as easily as the old one does, so there’s no fear of snapping it in half during moments of extreme frustration.
Like the Xbox 360 controller, the DualShock 4 now features the ability to plug in a headset if you don’t have a separate Bluetooth device to use. The Start and Select buttons have been replaced by the Share and Options buttons, which are used for accessing your film clips, screenshots, starting a stream, or accessing the menus. Film clips are run in 15 minute increments, but you can edit them with a basic tool that allows you to set a start point and an end point to trim the film down to a bite size chunk before uploading.
If you have the PlayStation 4 camera, you can also use the controller as a Move-type device. This function, as well as the built in facial recognition software was not tested due to the inability to acquire a camera at the time of this review.
Overall, the PlayStation 4 brings a lot to the table for the modern gamer. A beefier processor and RAM means that the games are better looking and are more realistic than ever. The 6x Bluray drive loads your movies faster, and helps to reduce load times. But a lack of backward compatibility with PS3 games means that if you want to continue playing your PS3 classics such as Uncharted, you’ll need to keep your current-gen system for a while.
But where the PlayStation 4 really suffers is from is a lack of organization, and introducing new features without (once again) implementing them fully at launch. While many of these problems will likely be fixed in later updates or upgrades, the disorganized content area and limited voice command sets are glaring issues. Couple that with the lack of backward compatibility with the previous gen games, and you have a system that isn’t quite matured yet. Fortunately, the PlayStation 4 is going to be around for quite a while, we expect, and that means that it’ll have time to live up to its full potential in the years to come.
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