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PlayStation 4 (Hardware) Review

Sony’s hotly anticipated PlayStation 4 arrives, but does it have the punch that the electronics giant needs to get back on top of the console game?

PS4 in all its glory, shown with the optional camera array and stand

I’ve been a big fan of Sony’s in the past. Both the PSOne and PS2 are two of my absolute favorite consoles of all time and I played the pair of them to death. I can remember many an hour, huddled around the TV with the PlayStation fired up; jamming on the biggest fighting games of the day with my buddies in tourneys that would last all night and into the early morning hours. It was a great console and so was the PS2, who’s catalog of innovative and just plain fun games is matched by few systems in the history of the industry.

As for the PS3, I have a scant few good thoughts about that one. In my personal time (re: not reviewing games), I really never spent all that much time on it. God of War had gotten old for me and most of the newer franchises to come out of Sony and their stable of developers weren’t all that interesting. Killzone has been ‘meh’ in almost every incarnation (though I did like Killzone 2) and Resistance, a series I had high-hopes for, was something of a bore for me. Uncharted is probably the only franchise that had me glued to my console and it’s a terrifically visualized set of games- but that was about it for me. Other than a once in a while game, the PS3 was a Blu-Ray player (that received CONSTANT updates) and little else in my house. The PS4 though, the PS4 has only been out for a few days and already has me playing on it more than the PS3 did in the first few months I owned one.

First off, the console just looks cool. It has a great futuristic-meets-industrial feel to it that’s just fantastic. Despite from what some of the publicity shots show, the PS4 has a slanted look that makes the console look as though it’s moving forward, which I assume was one of the design ideas. If so, it came off really well in practice.

If it glows, it’s awesome- fact!

The controller is not what you’d expect from a typical Sony console in that it’s a pretty big redesign from the Dual Shock form factor that the company has been using since pretty much the first PlayStation console. The new grips are set wider apart and, although the face is laid out largely the same as it has been before, there’s now a touch panel mounted between the d-pad housing and the face buttons.

There really hasn’t been much made about the touch panel (which is click-able by the way) since its introduction last Spring, so I hope this isn’t a feature thats soon forgotten. It could be very cool in certain types of game, but based on the use it gets from the first round of software, it certainly looks like it’s destined to be more of an occasional novelty than anything else.

To the left and right of the panel another pair of buttons called ‘options’ and ‘share’. Options should be pretty self explanatory as it functions like the usual ‘start’ button would; much has been said about the revolutionary share switch though. This feature allows you to share the last 15 minutes of gameplay (the PS4 is always recording that) or a screenshot right from the console to social networks. In theory this is pretty neat, but honestly is something that I doubt I’ll ever really put to use.

For some reason, the basic idea just doesn’t really appeal to me in any major way.  That might be different for you, but I don’t see myself using it more than a few times (maybe). Judging form the frenzy of screenshots tweeted in the first day and the silence thereafter from the people I know on Twitter, that might be a common theme.

Those are the periphery functions of the pad, though the meat and potatoes work just as great as you’d expect. And the light-up panel on the rear of the Dual Shock 4, while it doesn’t do anything except interact with the PlayStation camera (which was left out of the box to save on cost), sure does look cool- that counts for something, right? Oh, and the pad itself is two-tone and looks awesome in its black and gray motif. Much like the console itself, it’s very futuristic.

The included ‘ear set’ is, uh… get a headset.

When you fire up the machine itself, you’ll be treated to a sign in screen that assigns the controller to your PSN ID for that gaming session. After that, you’ll head right into the blue-beyond-blue home screen. There you’ll have access to a menu of features and a listing of all your apps and games available for use or play. The interface itself is stunningly clean with little to no unneeded bits and bobs. It might be almost too simple and clean. It’s totally nitpicking, but I felt the screen was almost too bland and empty and longed for a dynamic theme to be plopped onto it- which I’m sure is on the way.

You’ll also notice a complete absence of ads of any kind as well. I was never bothered much by ads on my consoles, but if you’re the type to get annoyed by it, this is one home-screen to savor… while it lasts anyway. I can’t imagine that the console will be interruption-free forever, since the revenue from advertisements isn’t exactly bad, but if it is it’ll be a real win for gamers who’ve complained about ads on their favorite consoles since the practice began last generation.

Launching a game, either from the 500 gigabyte hard drive (which your probably going to want to upgrade by the way) or from a disc is as easy as you’d think too. Games that are just downloaded appear at the top (just under the main menu bar) and once fully installed are super-easy to find. The menus have changed from the PS3 too in that they’ve been made sleeker and easier to use and navigate- and the XMB? Gone. Sony did a great job with the user interface, really putting the emphasis on it being player-friendly.

Another really great feature is that Remote Play is actually being made use of. Using the PS Vita as a second screen a’la the Wii U’s GamePad was an excellent idea back when we were talking about the PS3 and the PSP and it’s great to finally see it in use. It was pretty great to sit on the couch and play Resogun without needing the TV in any way too!

While theres a lot to like about the PS4, not everything is perfect about the new console. When I first fired up the unit, it had no video. My television stared back at me blankly and not a single image popped to life on it. After some jiggling of cables and unplugging and re-pluggin in the HDMI cord, it finally came on. This obviously wasn’t a game-breaker of an issue, but it was aggravating. And after hearing about the 1% failure rate for the system (which is dangerously high in my opinion) I can’t help but wonder if I’m bound for more issues down the road with my console.

The unit itself (the hardware) also has an odd wobble to it. I’ve heard that this was overblown by some outlets, but it is a real occurrence. Does it affect gameplay? Not from what I’ve seen, but the unit does wobble and seem off-center if you touch it on the front left corner. Just kind of an oddity I suppose though I wonder here too if basic system use might lead to issues where the PS4 shakes and causes disc-read errors. I’m just kind of thinking aloud here though as there’s no evidence (yet) to support that.

The happy family!

Multiplayer on the PSN has also changed and is now a part of the paid PS+ service. Those who are used to services like Xbox Live won’t bat an eye at the alteration of policy, but if you’ve been spoiled by years of online gaming for free on the PS3, you might take issue. Honestly, it was probably a needed change just to try and get the service up to par with what Live offers in terms of being a superior, comprehensive experience and not quite as haphazard in feel as the PS3’s online world could be, so I have no problem with it. Of course, I was already a PS+ subscriber too so that might have something to do with my stance.

One more note about the camera system that originally was intended to be in the box- you can tell it was meant to be there. When you launch the UI for the first time to set up the console, it asks you to attach the new camera array. This might not seem like a big deal (and it’s really not when you get down to it), but it kind of does give you the feeling that the system is unfinished in some way right out of the box, even if just for a second. Not a phenomenal feeling.

Final Thoughts

So, is the PS4 better than the PS3? Certainly in the technical aspect it is, but the answer really depends on your feelings towards a few key elements like the online multi and the other minor quibbles I had with it. That said though, I think Sony has done a bang-up job with the console and should be commended for doing a brisk about-face on so much of what made the PlayStation 3 something of a drag. If you had asked me a few years back if the company could have learned from their mistakes, I wouldn’t have believed it.

It’s way too early to start thinking about the next-gen (or make that ‘current-gen’) superiority race and some outlets that’ve posted things leaning one way or the other are massively premature in my opinion. But that said, the PS4 is extremely compelling in just about every way.

And while the first round of games might not be all that spectacular (please Sony- lets not have a drought), I personally can’t wait to see what this thing can really do.

About Jason Micciche

Jason's been knee deep in videogames since he was but a lad. Cutting his teeth on the pixely glory that was the Atari 2600, he's been hack'n'slashing and shoot'em'uping ever since. Mainly an FPS and action guy, Jason enjoys the occasional well crafted title from every genre.

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