So the PS4 is out of the bag. We still haven’t actually seen it and don’t have a defined release date, but at least now we have some concrete details and finally something to cling all our hopes and expectations to. I should say that despite owning a PS3, I’ve been an Xbox-man since 2001 and that’s still where my preference and loyalties lie as a gamer. However, I am very impressed by a lot of what Sony hinted at and if they can pull off the potential of these features, I might end up reconsidering where my next-gen cash goes come release-day (yes, I use next-gen cash, it’s far more valuable than your current-gen cash). Here’s what I liked and what I wasn’t bothered with:
What I Likes:
Sony’s massively expensive purchase of streaming service Gaikai looks to be an integral part of the PS4 and it’s the thing I’m most excited about. The service will allow you to stream games from your PS4 to your PS Vita, so you can continue playing when you’re kicked off the TV for Grey’s Anatomy or some shit. Even better, they revealed that you can continue to play your PS4 games on the go. I spend a frightening amount of time on a bus every week, so this would be freaking amazing (albeit, a potential whopper of data-usage). On top of that, Gaikai will allow users to stream games instantly to their console to try them out before purchasing – no more seeking out an old demo, then downloading it and running it, just to decide whether you want to purchase it or not, just click and play.
Putting the Focus on Games
Sony made some very stupid moves with the PS3 and it looks like it’s learning its lesson. The introduction of the Playstation Move was a knee-jerk reaction to the Wii and a complete gimmicky waste of everyone’s time. Playstation owners are into gaming, they’re not casual and it looks like Sony have moved the PS4 back in line with the wants and needs of its audience and developers, by making the system easier to develop games on. Lead system architect on the PlayStation 4, Mark Cerny, said the goal is “freeing developers from technological barriers.” He said the platform is “by game creators for game creators” and that its architecture is “like a PC, but supercharged.” Indications are that the PS4’s innards will be a lot easier for developers to work with than the tricky PS3. Hopefully, this will help avoid another PS3/Skyrim incident.
It Doesn’t Block Used games
There’s been rampant and unwarranted speculation lately that Microsoft’s next console will be online only, to allow for online game activation and essentially end the used games business – a constant thorn in the side of game publishers and developers. The problem with this move is that it would potentially alienate the high street retailers, who make the majority of their profit from used games. However, Shuhei Yoshida, Sony’s head of its first-party Worldwide Studios, told Eurogamer that the PS4 will not block used games. If this is confirmed, it would be suicide for Microsoft to go ahead with these plans, if they were ever any truth to the rumours.
A big surprise was that Bungie’s new IP “Destiny” is going to appear on the PS4. This is a big blow to Microsoft, and great news for Sony. Great news for Bungie aswell, who will surely make more money now. However, with console exclusives diminishing year on year, it’s looking like the battle won’t be fought with software anymore, and probably not even with hardware. It’s the network and services that will win out this generation and Sony has made some very impressive and clever moves, particularly the streaming options. We haven’t seen much of Destiny yet, beyond some very brief in-game moments, but it’ll surely be an amazing game with Bungie behind the wheel.
The big hit of last year’s E3 has expectedly been confirmed for the PS4. We saw a bit more gameplay at the conference (see below) and it just looks so unbelievably good. Highlights from the demo include hacking into a guy on the street’s bank account, then withdrawing his money from an ATM, the neat-looking parkour, what he does with the train, and the barricades stopping the police car. I was a bit perplexed by the screen that showed us that a woman was likely to become a victim of a crime (very Person of Interest), and even more perplexed at the moral decisions of the main character. Stopping a crime – very noble. Potentially killing dozens of innocent police officers in the escape attempt – not so much. I guess it’s a sandbox game, so that’s all up to the player. The open-world and crazy-looking hacking options make this game look insanely good though – I just hope it can live up to the wild expectations I’m starting to create for it.
In a completely obvious, but essential move, Sony is trying to turn the PS4 into a social platform for gaming. There’s a big “share” button right on the controller, which will allow you to instantly stream your live gameplay, have your friends comment on it or even jump in and help you if you’re stuck. This is quite impressive, but ultimately I can’t see much value in it. Watching someone else play can often be incredibly tedious (remember us all fighting over the controller when we were kids?) and the thought of handing the controls over to a friend seems intrusive and defeats part of the fun of video games – the challenge.
Even if I’m absolutely stuck on something, the most I’ll do is look up a walkthrough and then do it myself. Handing the controller over to a friend just seems demeaning and depressing. The last time I did this was when I was 5 and couldn’t get past the notorious electric seaweed level of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the NES. This one:
So eventually, driven mad by frustration, I asked my mother to try it, in an act of desperation. I sat there for 5 whole minutes and watched as she effortlessly sailed through that seaweed like some sort of secret-video-game-playing-ninja-woman. Not only did I have to sit there and watch somebody be a million times better than me at something, but the salt in the wound was that it was my freaking mother. If she gets a PS4, I won’t be adding her as a friend.
Despite being really ugly, I wasn’t really impressed with any of the new features of the Dual Shock 4. Additions are a headphone jack (about fucking time), a share button (could be interesting), a “light bar” (works with the other announced accessory, the Kinect-esque “Eye”) and a little touch-pad (seems pointless). Sadly, but necessarily, the Start and Select buttons have now disappeared (we’ll miss you Select, even though we can’t remember why you were there). That said, I haven’t seen it in action and who knows how these features could be utilised, so I’ll keep my mind open on this.
Yes, they were impressive, obviously, but the graphical power of the PS4 didn’t bowl me over and certainly wasn’t revolutionary. Graphical improvements are becoming more subtle and it’s harder to impress. Gone are leaps and bounds, replaced with slight tweaks and improvements on the amazing standards that have already been set. Graphics don’t shock and amaze as they used to, like when we first saw Halo or when Mario jumped to 3D on the N64. The best we saw from the PS4 conference was graphic-kings Quantic Dream’s old man demo – I’ll hold it out for something a bit more impressive for now: