Back at that expo where they announced the PS4 and Xbox One (I forget which expo it was – E3?), I saw two products being offered.
Firstly the Xbox One, an always online DRM laden nightmare from the digital future nobody sane wants. It was also the true form of the home media trojan horse Microsoft had been trying to build all along, while accidentally making decent consoles instead. After the immense backlash they’ve done a 180 on nearly everything of course, and as it stands the machine has ended up being a rushed and barely functional mess which needs a day 1 patch even to run games offline. The whole thing has been design by committee and a company hell bent on ramming the unpopular Metro interface down everyones throats until they like it. It’s a stark difference to the 360 which was approached like a games console instead of a computer with ‘apps’.
Secondly the Playstation 4, a machine designed to be a games console first and everything else a clear second place. I don’t suppose we’ll ever know how much of Microsofts plan was included in the original PS4 vision, but by E3 Sony had clearly decided which side of the coin they wanted to be on. Since then they’ve been courting the gamers well, and offered up a machine which would cost less, work offline, be more powerful, region free and aimed squarely at core gamers. The response was pretty overwhelming watching the conference live feed and the positivity hasn’t stopped. I pre-ordered the machine as soon as the Amazon orders opened.
It arrived last week with Amazon meeting their day 1 commitment which made a nice change. Initial reaction was ‘wow, that’s big’ – when you see the photos online next to the Xbox One, the PS4 looks like a tiny little machine. The reality is that the PS4 is roughly the same size as the original slimline PS3, and that the Xbox One is just really big. Box contents were a little spartan – you get a bad quality HDMI cable, a power cable, a USB charging cable, the control pad and an awful mono earpiece – corners were cut there for sure. On the upside because there’s no power brick and I knew I wouldn’t be wanting to use the PS3 for a while, so I simply used all the cables in place for that.
Initial power-on and software update actually worked perfectly despite it being launch day. Logging into PSN however was broken for several hours, and certain parts of PSN were disabled for a day or so after that – but at this point everything seems to be working. Sony seem to want to encourage people to start using real names – but you can control this fairly strictly and I still just appear with a pseudonym to all but a couple of people I’ve known for years. The UI is nice and simple, clean – I hope they don’t mess that up with multiple updates. You can also jump in and out of it smoothly and quickly while in-game in much the same way as the Xbox Guide button used to, but it quickly brings up the entire UI instead of a mini one. Party chat seems to work fine cross-game, quality with the bundled earbud isn’t great though, anything with a 3.5mm jack should work.
The first thing I did was put in Call Of Duty: Ghosts – played through a few sections of the single player campaign – it’s nice enough, graphics are clearly more advanced than the previous title if not stunning, then again it’s running at 1080P 60fps. I’ve seen a lot of people whining and saying it looks ugly – those people are entitled to be wrong, it looks fine. One of the core aspects of CoD games recently has been very clean visuals. This is essential for easily seeing targets and I’m happy with how this new installment looks. Fighting the helicopters was cool, watching the dog run around was a bit of fun and I’m not sure why the it became such a focal point in online whining. I should probably state I am a CoD fan and all those people who so desperately want it to become less popular should just STFU for a bit – Black Ops 2 was an example of a perfect game, Treyarch knew what they wanted to do and executed it perfectly. Activision has been more than reasonable with DLC costs and content, they actively police the game more than most publishers, everything works and it’s fun. If you want more variety then do remember that this nice regular income from a lot of very happy customers allows Activision to stay in business making a variety of games. Not sure what the problem is, it’s good for the consoles, gamers and publisher – everyone wins.
Next I downloaded Contrast and Resogun. Contrast is what I’d hoped it would be, a quirky little platform game although I’d have preferred there to have been more soundtrack in-game instead of set pieces. It tries to run at 60fps but fails fairly often, better than locked 30 though. Some of the shadow based platform sections are really inventive and if you have a PS+ account this is free, there’s no reason not to try it. Resogun is a Defender throwback with voxels, honestly I feel the controls are pretty much horrible because they exclusively use the left analogue for movement – end result is you can’t move up or down quickly without killing your left/right speed. Newbie mistake there, makes it feel all wrong. This is the only game I’ve seen so far that uses the speaker built into the new Dualshock though, and it’s a really cool trick.
Finally I tried Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag, which looks very sharp with the 1080P update. I’ll not write too much about it here because I’m going to write a full story on that this weekend – suffice to say that the PS4 has played nothing else since.
While installing/playing all these games, the machine pretty much did everything for me, downloading/installing in the background with a minimum of fuss – very impressed. One of the new features which needs some work is the sharing functionality. Streaming to Twitch works brilliantly, no complaints. The creation of screenshots and videos is pretty good too although it takes a while to get used to. The machine is always recording. When you press the share button two things happen – a video of up to the last 15 minutes is created (less if you more recently created one), and a screenshot from when you pressed the button is saved. However, when it comes to uploading the system is lacking. You have two options – Facebook or Twitter. Um. How about the most popular video site on the net, Youtube? Not there – I don’t know why, I assume this will be fixed in an update. I tried uploading a screenshot to Twitter and it didn’t work – couldn’t establish an app link. The error message was not helpful but since the PS4 browser logged in to Twitter OK, it wasn’t the credentials. Next I created a Facebook account – obviously annoying because for very good reasons many gamers prefer not to use their real names but Facebook tries to force the issue. Uploads to Facebook worked fine, and you can download the screenshots unmodified and then upload them to a blog/photobucket/whatever. Videos you can download with the right browser plugins and re-upload to Youtube, but obviously that’s a quality hit going through two encodings. Sony need to fix this.
Overall I’m very impressed with the system though, it’s definitely the right machine to choose this generation – Microsoft need to suffer a crushing defeat such that nobody tries to push the anti-consumer agenda again for a while. It’s icing on the cake that Sony also made a machine which is clearly better on a price/performance basis.