The long-awaited Playstation 4 launched this past Friday (November 15, 2013) after its hyped and heated criticism and praise ever since it was revealed earlier this year. We got our hands on the console and have been diving in, checking every single piece and component, understanding what makes this console “next-gen”. Though it has its flaws, the PS4 definitely lives up to expectations in terms of power and precision, taking its winning formula and upgrading it.
The PS4, for the most part, features many of the same elements as its predecessor. It seems that Sony has opted to focus on the features that made the PS3 great and strengthen them on the PS4 rather than implementing a slew of new designs and components. While this strategy lacks the innovation most gamers and critics clamor for these days, I’ll give Sony the benefit of the doubt because I generally prefer refinement over reinvention. With that in mind moving forward, however, there is something to be said not about which elements are included, but about which elements are notably missing.
First off the bat: the User Interface of the new PS4. The Playstation 4 features a sleek, streamlined version of the PS3’s XMB (Xross Media Bar). Two hotbars stacked horizontally are displayed on the home page: one features games, movies, television shows and apps that are recommended/purchased while the one above that features profile, friend and system information. It’s a simple design, easy to use and, most notably, quick; the frequent lag that accompanied the PS3’s XMB menu system is gone with the PS4’s iteration, allowing for fluid, unhindered menu use (the speed of jumping back and forth between games, videos and the menu is incredibly smooth).
However, as I mentioned before at the end of the second paragraph, the PS4’s UI lacks a few features that should be implemented. One feature that is inexcusably left out is the ability to quit a game from the main menu. The PS3 used to feature a “Quit Game” tab in the main menu if you wanted to exit a game from the XMB. This is not in the PS4’s menu system. The only way to quit a game now is to enter the PS4’s system menu and turn off applications manually, which is not a major, console-breaking hassle, just a tedious inconvenience that should have been thought of beforehand.
Furthermore, as you begin to build your game library and access certain applications, more and more shortcuts are added to the main hotbar. Unfortunately, you can only delete game shortcuts and not application shortcuts so far. For example, Music Unlimited music and video tabs currently take up two spots on my hotbar. As I use neither of these services, it’d be a nice option to reduce the clutter they create on the main menu. These lack of customization options may be patched in later, but I honestly feel they should have been implemented at launch.
What is new and almost fully implemented at launch is the PS4’s share function. This command (and subsequent button the controller) allows you to stream live gameplay or upload a screenshot or video. It’s a simple interface with a fairly simple system, as the game records as you play through DVR and you, as the player, decide which snippets and stills you want to share with friends. However, there are some hiccups currently that need to be resolved. At the time this review is being written, you’re only able to upload media to Facebook, forcing you to connect your PS4 and Facebook accounts. Sony has mentioned that other options will be added in the future, but forcing me to link two things I don’t need connected is absurd. Additionally, some games do not transfer audio when streaming or uploading video. These are certain bugs and restrictions that will keep my thumb off the share button for the time being.
It’s the graphical capabilities I’ve seen in the PS4 games I’ve played so far that win me over. The frame rates are fluid, the sheer ability to allow detailed lighting and particle effects are impressive, the ease and quietness at which the Ps4 is able to render and run it’s software is phenomenal; these are what have convinced me so far that the PS4 experience is a truly next-gen experience. The hardware kit holds up to Sony’s boasts and makes you hunger for what developers are able to produce with the new console.
We turn now from the console to one of its main peripherals: the PS4 controller. If you want a more in-depth look at the controller, check out our video showcase linked here. I just wanted to touch on how smoothly the touchpad works, how its size is just big enough to allow broad movement yet small enough to not appear awkward in the middle of the controller. It’s precise as well, as I found no trouble or lag with operating it in-game.
The PS4, at a $399 price tag, is a purchase well worth it and I wholly recommend the system to anyone wanting to jump in to the next-gen of console gaming. Despite it’s shortcomings and current bugs, the PS4’s design and hardware capabilities illustrate Sony’s commitment to focusing on the games rather than media in general. As a gamer for most of my life and an avid supporter and fan of the industry, this is a welcome philosophy in an age of multitasking and general media.
Written and Edited by Tim Atwood
Chief Editor at the Pixel Pen Review