Console Review: The PS4

Pre-order-ps4

After what seems like an eternity, the PS4 is finally upon us and for all intents and purposes it would seem that Sony’s new flagship console is on pace to do quite well in international markets.  During the first day of its release over 1 million units were sold, breaking new sales records in North America.  In fact, it’s been said that the PS4 in on track to be the best-selling console in history, even surpassing Japan’s PS2 launch sales figures (from 2000).  Technically speaking though, Sony is actually selling the PS4 at a loss (a necessary evil from their perspective, and perhaps the only way to remain viable and competitive in a dynamic marketplace).

Of course there is a method to the madness, as they say – the company plans on recouping all initial expenses via impending software sales, PSN fees, and service licensing.  Looking at the situation right now, it’s safe to say that they’re at least heading in the right direction with their investment.  Truly, the incredible popularity of the new PlayStation console cannot be denied, it’s no doubt going to be remembered as one of the most unforgettable launches in the history of video games.

PS4 Review

However, this isn’t to say that there haven’t already been problems reported.  Some intrepid new owners have already been treated to an entirely new scourge – the “blue light of death”.  Just as the PS3 had its fabled YLOD (yellow light of death), so too does the PS4 carry its own symbol of uselessness (which happens to be pulsating blue light in this instance).

Not to worry though, Sony has already handed down statements indicating that they’re on top of the situation, also reminding us that only around 1% of the total number of consoles shipped are actually defective.  Anyone that’s familiar with electronics manufacturing statistics can probably tell you that such a figure is not without precedent.  Here’s what Sony has to say about the matter: “We understand the frustration of consumers that have had a problem and are working with them and our retail partners to help troubleshoot issues and ensure affected units are exchanged.”   We really shouldn’t let a few hiccups mar an otherwise great release, especially given the overall affordability of the unit itself.  Moreover, this isn’t really anything new; Microsoft has dealt with similar issues during the Xbox 360’s formative years, if you’ll recall.

Enough with the formalities, it’s time to unbox the console and see what it can do…

First impressions

Taking a quick glance at the PS4 and its various accessories it doesn’t appear to offer anything particularly new in the way of its appearance.  We are after all, talking about yet another angular black box which features a gamepad with a very familiar design.  Don’t get the wrong idea though; this isn’t a complaint, more like an observation concerning the aesthetic choices made during the development phase of the PS4’s construction.  All in all, the unit looks extremely sleek, yet it remains neutral enough to blend in with any type of home entertainment setup or decorative scheme.  To put it another way – this is a console that pays homage to the machines of the past with its design, effectively being both forward-looking as well as stylistically comfortable.

The new DualShock 4 controller

As many others have no doubt pointed out already, the new DualShock 4 controller is perhaps one of the best things about the console.  Aside from its new shape, which is meant to contour to the gamer’s hands and prevents slippage in the heat of sweat-drenched action; this new controller also features a substantially-sized touchpad as well.  To the sides you have the options and share buttons, which have replaced start and select.  Most surprisingly, there’s also a speaker on the controller, which is a first for Sony (and probably all other console makers out there).

Dualshock 4 Controller

As expected, the DualShock 4 also incorporates an all-new lightbar which provides helpful in-game feedback, such as player health/condition, in addition to assisting with motion-capture features.  Currently, there’s not a whole lot you can do with these novel additions though, as none of the available titles actually make use of the DualShock 4’s new features in any major way.  Of course that’s all subject to change, especially considering the impressive number of games which are poised to hit store shelves throughout 2014 and 2015, many of which are already far advanced in terms of their development.

Hardware, connections and general observations

In case you weren’t already aware, the PS4 isn’t meant to be just another video game console.  No, no…Sony’s 8th generation machine is actually a fully-fledged home entertainment multi-tasker – a unit that’s fully capable of juggling multiple roles.  For instance, you can use the PS4 as a tool for connecting to various online services as well as conventional single player and online / multiplayer gaming.  In other words, this console can easily replace up to 3 or more devices in your home entertainment center if you should require it to do so.

PS4 connectionsLooking at the back of the PS4, you’ll notice that there aren’t that many ins and outs.  In fact, you’ll only see an HDMI output, a port for power, a digital audio out, a special port for the PS Eye camera, and an Ethernet jack.  Of course users can also connect via Bluetooth 2.1 and 802.11 b/n/g wireless, so there are other options for linking up with other devices, which is a plus.  On the front of the unit there are two USB 3.0 ports, which is comforting, and that’s basically all there is to it.

Inside the console you’ll find a 500GB hard drive which is fairly easy to replace should you desire to do so (especially given the fact that it can accept conventional computer drives now).   The PS4 is also packing some serious firepower with its 8-core x86-64 AMD “Jaguar” CPU and 1.84 teraflop GPU.  Add to that 8GB of GDDR5 RAM and you have a unit that’s built to perform like no other before it. Armed with this, the console is capable of delivering unheard of graphics with no performance loss, while at the same time accommodating other activities simultaneously.  In short, it’s the console for serious gamers who are ready to experience new levels of realism in their digital entertainment.

The User Interface (UI)

Regardless of what it might contain, any truly great console needs to feature a user interface that’s both easy to navigate and somewhat pleasant to look at.  In short, the PS4’s UI is both – it’s both aesthetically-pleasing as well as highly functional, just the sort of combination you want.  Specifically, you’ll find the following tabs at the top for optimal accessibility:

  • PlayStation Store

  • Notifications

  • Friends

  • Messages

  • Party

  • Profile

  • Trophies

  • Settings

  • Power

It might not be anything particularly new, but all the key info and access portals are there amidst a rather straightforward, uncluttered and largely elegant design.  Moreover, if you move downward you’ll find a side-scrolling list of all the apps and games which are available, installed or accessed.   There’s even a “what’s new” block which acts as a portal for quickly glimpsing what you and all your friends have been doing most recently.

Longtime PS users are probably most hyped about the notion of the PS4’s web browser, which is quite decent, to say the least.  Of course there are still issues relating to various compatibly issues, such as connecting to a flash device, which may very well limit the browser’s usefulness in the long run.  Likewise, since you’re going to be using a controller to navigate the browser, further complications are probably going to arise which will force you to relegate it to backup status (when you can’t access or connect to the net via one of your other devices).  Nevertheless, if they integrate motion and voice-activated commands with the browser, these problems might be seriously mitigated though.

ps4 user interface

As far as apps are concerned, there are plenty which connect to streaming video services such as Netflix, Redbox Instant, Amazon Video, and Hulu Plus.  In other words, there are plenty of non-game-related entertainment options at your fingertips.  Perhaps one of the most intriguing new features of the PS4 UI is “Live from PlayStation”, which connects you to Ustream and Twitch (both of which offer ways to connect to game-based streaming content).  Specifically, you can watch other people’s gameplay or even stream your own.  This new ability to bring live gaming to players isn’t just a great way to check out hot new titles, it’s also perfect for community building and socializing as well.

Test driving the PS4 with “Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag”

Don’t let lackluster statements from cynically jaded game reviewers and critics dissuade you from the PS4’s graphical prowess, it can deliver an experience like no other.  Loading up Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, the open-world pirate-themed title which incorporates many different types of gameplay, you get to see what all the fuss has been about.  To put it bluntly, everything looks fantastic in these higher resolutions, adding a certain sparkle and sheen above and beyond the corresponding 360 / PS3 (7th gen.) version of the game.  Anyone who considers themselves a fan of open-world, stealth-based gameplay is going to absolutely fall in love with ACIV, it’s perhaps one of the more intriguing launch games one could choose to break in their new system with.

ps4 Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag

Of course there are plenty of other games which are available, some of which are actually free-to-play and accessible only via the PSN (PlayStation Network).  The more astute gamers will probably take note of the fact that most of the launch titles don’t possess any sort of greatly expanded capabilities vs. their 7th generation counterparts, but don’t let that fool you.  The fact of the matter is that, all of these titles look and play incredibly, even if they’re not monumental advancements or fully taking advantage of the PS4’s assets.   Rest assured though, in mere months you’ll begin to see a crop of new games coming your way which will utilize every square inch of the console’s capabilities.

The bottom line

To put it succinctly, the PS4 is likely to be the greatest standardized gaming unit you’ve ever had a chance to interact with.  Not only is it the most powerful console to have ever been produced (up to this point), it’s also loaded with enough features to keep even the most ardent and explorative fans busy for months, maybe even years.  Nearly every facet of the unit is impressive too, from its customized hardware to its bespoke software – every single thing about the PS4 is designed to provide you with something interesting to do.

With its attractive retail price and positive DRM (digital rights management) policies in tow, the PS4 shines upon the video game industry like a beacon of hope for gamers.  Just being able to play used games and keep the console disconnected from the net, yet still functional, is enough to cause most gamers to breathe a sigh of relief, for example.

Moreover, those who might be looking for some type of all-in-one home entertainment solution will find the new PlayStation to be more than accommodating.  It’s almost as if Sony took note of every single qualm and quip from their fans regarding the PS3 and made it a point to address each and every concern.  The result is a console which will undoubtedly go on to live a long and storied existence amid numerous amazingly detailed blockbuster games.   In short, if you’re serious about video games, the PS4 is a must-buy.