PS4 Impressions

Almost 7 years after the PS3’s European launch and 9 months after its reveal in February, the PS4 has finally launched to a lot of anticipation. As such, the question on many a gamer’s mind is how is this new machine: I’m here to say that it’s pretty damn good.

The first thing that I noticed about Sony’s latest creation is just how well designed it is. The console itself is a sleek parallelogram and next to my original PS3, it looks ridiculously small. The LED light around the console looks great when turned on too. On top of that, the console is incredibly quiet, except for when first reading a disc.

When turned on, it is impossible not to notice the increase in speed and ease of use of the operating system. The XMB of the PS3 has been suitably upgraded, with the top of the screen being dedicated to similar previously available options, with sections for PSN, notifications and the like, whereas the bottom half of the screen shows your games library, ordered based off when you last played them. It took very little time for me to adapt to this new set up and it more importantly emphasises the focus of the PS4 (to play games, of course!) as this design means that no matter what you’re doing, you’re never more than a couple of button presses from being in-game. On top of this, with the PS4 now sporting 8GB of RAM, you can do anything in the settings whilst a game is running. No longer do you need to quit whatever you’re doing in order to change the internet settings or whatever, but instead the game stays running, once more showing the game centric focus of the machine- you’re never more than seconds away.

Another major improvement is the PlayStation store. From my experience, regardless of whether I was using a PS3, PC or Vita, the store was always slow. This is no longer the case. Whilst the design of the PS store is unchanged from the PS3, the functionality is, with the PS4 store being surprisingly fast. The download speed is also increased, although anything more precise than that would be something of a guess on my part. The wait of downloading is shortened even further in some instances, with some games asking you whether you want to download the single player or the multiplayer first and allowing you to jump into that section of the game whilst the rest downloads.

However, whether or not you plan on going solely digital this next generation, hard drive space is going to get eaten up. Every single PS4 game installs itself in its entirety to the hard drive, meaning regardless of whether you buy a disc copy or download it, the effect on the hard drive is the same. There are benefits to this: load times are quicker, once installed there should be less of an issue if game discs are damaged and there is no need for the disc drive to be in operation whilst playing, allowing for it to be so quiet. Moreover, unlike on the PS3, installation times are ridiculously quick- I don’t know when the 40GB installation for Killzone: Shadow Fall took place- and often the game will install a little bit first, let you play that and then install the rest. However, all of this does mean that, from my 500GB hard drive already in the PS4, a mere 175GB remains.

My personal favourite improvement with the PS4 though is the new controller. I can’t speak for all when I say this, but personally I was not a fan of either the Dualshock 3 or the Xbox 360’s controller. The Dualshock 3 was too small and cramped, and neither the analogue sticks nor the triggers were particularly good. On the other hand, the Xbox’s controller had a poor D pad and the triggers were too thin, so I found after extended sessions on racing or shooting games that they were beginning to dig into my fingers. Yet in regards to the Dualshock 4, I have no real criticisms. The D-pad and face buttons are essentially the same as the previous controller, which is no bad thing. But the triggers and the sticks have been changed completely and it is a significant improvement, especially in the triggers. There is now next to no dead zone in the sticks, which allows for aiming far more precise than previously possible. The triggers now feel more ergonomic and natural, L2 and R2 are now used for aiming and shooting as standard, which is a welcome change.

On top of this, there is now a touch pad in the middle of the controller, with an options button on the right, and a share button to the left. The options button effectively operates as the ‘start button’ on the Dualshock 3. The touchpad is not something I thought I’d like, but at worst it is unobtrusive and does sometimes work as a good addition, adding extra inputs in games that require them or allowing for an easier way to navigate world maps. There is also a light bar on the back of the controller, with the primary focus on that being motion controls, an area I personally have little interest in. These additions do however come with one drawback: the battery life is now about 6 hours, compared to 20 for the Dualshock 3, meaning you need to consciously have a controller on charge most of the time you’re not using it.

Another big new feature on the console is streaming and sharing your gameplay, and whilst this is not something I am interested in doing myself, the dedicated share button seems to make this feature accessible to those who are (although the system is not implemented perfectly yet). Another new focus is Remote Play with the Vita. I have briefly tried this out and it seems to work well, although it has little benefit to me, living alone in a small room in halls.

Now it is worth mentioning the games briefly. The launch lineup is solid, although not particularly interesting. On the third party side, there are strong entries to long running franchises such as Battlefield, Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty, FIFA and Need for Speed. In general these games look a marked improvement over their current gen versions, although only Battlefield (with now 64 players online rather than 24) and FIFA (now running on a new engine) have any substantial improvements. From Sony’s own studios, Killzone: Shadow Fall (a visually impressive shooter) and Knack (a family-friendly brawler) are the big releases but neither have won over the critics. With the improved controller, shorter loading times and impressive graphics, they feel like a decent starting point for the next generation of gaming, even if there are no must play games yet. However, one aspect worth noting is the difference in playing shooters like Battlefield and Killzone. With frame rates now reliably at 60 frames per second, the games feel far smoother. On top of that, draw distance is vastly improved which, combined with the Dualshock 4’s great analogue sticks, allows sniping to be far more enjoyable than before.

Overall, I am really enjoying my PS4. The operating system is far faster, waiting hours for installations is a thing of the past, the controller is the best I have used (I am yet to try out the Xbox’s One controller, although that also looks like a marked improvement), the Playstation Store now works as it should and the games are solid entries into franchises that I’ve enjoyed over the past few years. Yet what excites me more is the future for this machine. In just the next year we’ll be seeing games that strike me as far more interesting than anything in the launch library (Infamous: Second Son, The Witcher 3, Watch Dogs and The Division to name a few), and with the solid basis already provided by the PS4, it is a future definitely worth getting excited for.

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