….yeah, it’s pretty damn good.
….yes, of course, review and whatnot. It’s a little weird reviewing a system though, especially one that is more in flux than any other system launch ever experienced. The thing’s been out about a week and a half, and already gotten two refining updates. Same goes for games, where Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag already got a patch bumping the resolution up to glorious 1080p, making an already very pretty game kinda godlike, and Battlefield is no longer gimpy. Prose and definitive statements simply don’t serve a system launch well, so, in lieu of just word vomit, I’m gonna just try and answer the prevailing questions I’ve been asked ad nauseum by the non-next-gentrified population after a week of heavy use.
First impression of the system, out of the box?
SMALL. Again, I had seen the system up close at E3 behind glass, but didn’t really have the sense of scale until I actually unhooked my waffle-iron first-gen PS3 and put it in its stead. Not only is it as lightweight as your average hardback novel, the PS3 dwarfs this thing by a good inch in height, 2-3 by square inches. My Syd-Mead-edition-Wii comment from E3 still stands. Also, seeing the system itself is whisper quiet, the damn-near-hydraulic noise the thing makes when putting in a game disc is cartoonishly hilarious.
How bad is setup?
Not bad at all. The day one patch took about 5-6 minutes to download, another 2 to install, and then off to the races. There’s been another bug-fixing update since then. I forgot that the system can download updates while it sleeps, and had to do it manually, but even that was 360-speed, and I was able to play a game while it did it, just not when it reset to install. Controller sync takes all of two seconds. Logging into Facebook and whatnot was also pretty pain free. They don’t explain the whole “Who can see your real name on PSN” thing very well, though, so I just left it off. I’m open to anyone who can clear that up. No, I don’t have a Playstation Eye, so I can’t tell you how well all of that stuff works. Yes, that means I haven’t played Playroom, but I think the tangible downside there’s been pretty well documented by now.
Am I really SOL if I don’t have HDMI inputs?
Yup. HDMI input only. FUTURE IS NOW.
Do you miss the XMB?
Surprisingly, yes. The UI for PS4 is definitely functional, and I’m sure this is a “you’ll get used to it” situation, but it’s a little bit of a mess, with the arrangement of programs not following a logical progression. One row is all account/system stuff, one row is all games and apps, which expands into more info/links to DLC. The XMB, for all its faults, let me throw all my games in a tidy folder, gave audio/video apps/Blu Ray stuff their own rows. It’s easy enough to figure out, and the info available in the bottom row for each app is plentiful, but there’s an elegance missing. The 360 dashboard/XBone dashboard by extension, even in that digital clusterfuck of a Windows 8 configuration, still wins at this in terms of structure. It also doesn’t help that the system’s missing the PS3’s customization options (font, wallpaper, etc), though that’s apparently something we’ll get down shortly down the road. Different background music options would be nice too. The new agey, ethereal tones that play by default are pleasant, but after about an hour comes the feeling like it’s the last thing Edward G. Robinson heard in Soylent Green.
Is it at least faster to use?
Yes. No asshole delays going from program to program anymore, though Blu Ray playback is still feeling like its own separate thing, and I’m not the biggest fan of how those controls are laid out now. At the moment, the big gimmick of being able to suspend games is inactive, but you’re still able to pause a game, duck out to look up an FAQ using the browser, watch something on Netflix, then go right back to what you’re doing in your game pretty easily. It’s pretty slick, all things considered.
Is the browser still shitty?
It’s less shitty, especially with the app keyboard, but it also still doesn’t support Flash, and that’s pretty shitty. Still, it kinda had no choice but to be less shitty, now that almost every game manual is digital and links to a page on Sony’s website.
So, how about that Dualshock 4, eh?
Everything I hated about Dualshocks 1-3? Gone. In their place are contours to the palms, comfortable, finger-hugging triggers, rimmed and concave thumbsticks. The touchscreen hasn’t gotten too much of a workout yet–it’s how you get to Battlelog in Battlefield 4, pull up the map in Assassin’s Creed, and Injustice has cute little minigames you control with it–but it’s also surprisingly inobtrusive for taking up such a wide swath of front real estate on the controller. I could mention the fancy front light that changes color depending on your game, or the Wii-like front speaker. I’d rather talk about the headphone jack, allowing you to use ANY old set of stereo headphones to funnel in game audio, which, for those of us who play late at night/have significant others with sensitive ears, may be the greatest gift Sony could’ve ever bestowed on gamerkind. Meanwhile, someone at Turtle Beach is no doubt hiring an assassin. My only complaint is that battery life runs down a bit on the fast side–maybe about 4-5 ish hours?–but it also charges using Micro USB, meaning chances are pretty good, if you own a smartphone, you already own 2 or 3 different ways to charge the controller, and keep it charged all day. I love this thing hard.
Have you used the Playstation App yet?
Yep. Aside from the ability to remote start game downloads, and having a nice portable keyboard, it’s still on the “eh” side. So, it’s about on the same level of useful as Smartglass right now.
Own a Vita?
No. But starting to seriously consider it, especially since Tearaway looks like the best thing ever, and Remote Play is the wave of the future. The wave of the future. The wave of the future.
So, should I really give a crap about the social media stuff?
Not really. I mean, it’s neat. The Facebook wall of friend updates is kinda cool, though where the PS3 would generally post one update per game when you synced your trophies, the PS4 will post EVERY TROPHY as a separate news story. As a courtesy to my dearest Facebook friends and followers and because I value my own life, I turned it off, so now it only posts when I’ve started playing a game. The editing feature is super intuitive, and having a button on the controller dedicated to it is actually more useful than expected when it comes to this, but it’s not something that’s going to be an everyday fact of gamer life unless you’re a games journalist. Meanwhile, the heads of every capture device manufacturer have all hired assassins.
Should I be concerned about the dreaded Blue Light of Death?
Not nearly to the extent that you feared the Red Ring. Not even close. From all accounts, it’s an issue with how the system is shipped, combined with the typical “we didn’t solder something as tight as we should’ve” thing that might be a larger issue, if the system had the same overheating problems the 360 and the PS3 did. But it doesn’t. So, more than likely, it won’t.
Never mind that shit, what about the games?
Well, as I and many others have been saying, there’s not exactly a dearth of games, just no killer, system-selling apps yet. That said, much as I’ve been apathetic about the lineup leading in, in practice, this is actually one of the better launches in recent memory. Yes, there’s a bunch of games that are out on current gen cousins, but for the most part, these are games that were very obviously built for next gen, dumbed down for the current gen plebes.
WHAT. ABOUT. THE GAMES.
I HEARD YOU. JESUS. Here’s what I got:
Need For Speed: Rivals–Watching Criterion with Need for Speed is what I imagine its like watching your free-thinking, tattooed mom who conceived you backstage at a Black Sabbath concert marry a stockbroker. There’s just this whole other awesome side of Mom that he’ll never appreciate. Rivals is still a solid bit of racing, it is really damn pretty, especially when the weather starts to come into play, and having also played the current gen version, the load times being reduced to seconds rather than minutes is a huge point in its favor. That said, it’s still very stodgy with the joy. Northern CA is nice racing country when it’s one of several locales, not the main event. The always-online stuff allows for some fun stuff with random strangers taking up the chase against you out of nowhere, but thanks guys, I will still be needing my ability to pause. Even though there’s fun options for destroying some cars, nothing compared to the visceral joy of side swiping someone into a railing, having the camera stop everything to watch the destruction, and seeing your boost bar jump up again. The world needs Crash mode again. The world needs Burnout again. Also, it’s not the end of the world for the game, but I’ve been spoiled on custom soundtracks for racing games since 1995. This is the game where the no CDs/MP3s/external player thing officially chapped my ass.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag–God help me, it works. All my ACIII apathy was neutralized within the first hour, and once you take to the open sea, it’s just spectacular. The irony is that I’m less engaged by the game when it’s an Assassin’s Creed game. Not that the land stuff is bad: it’s solid and the setting’s a lot more engaging that the American Revolution–just that the pirate stuff is so damned good. The Abstergo stuff is as subtle as a brick to the head, but the idea, as a flimsy framework, is okay. As I type this, the 1080p patch is a couple days old, and it’s not a stark difference, but there is a difference. Mostly obvious on the water. Almost terrifying that this is the PS4 not even breaking a sweat, graphically.
Knack–More like a really simple demo for the fancy particle physics system than a full fledged next gen game, and definitely not worth $60 unless you’re buying it for the pint-sized among you. It’s simple enough, though: run, jump, climb stuff, hit things. Giant Size Knack feels like a next-gen Lego Hulk game, except it does more to remind me I need an actual next gen Hulk game than anything, one not headed up by an adorable mascot character what sounds like a post-coital Dr. Dre.
Resogun–Basically, what Geometry Wars was to the 360 at launch, Resogun is to the PS4, though Resogun is deeper in every single logical way. Gorgeous, addictive, and hard as a diamond-encrusted son of a bitch. Doesn’t quite go bullet hell with it, but the enemies are legion, with not even a hint of slowdown, despite MILLIONS of things happening at once.
Contrast–Mostly just a 1080p port of the game it was on current gen, but it’s also free with PS+ right now, and most of you weren’t playing it on anything else to begin with. Anyway, it’s floaty and lacking a level of polish, but the story, the atmosphere, and the shadow play are great. It’s kinda what I’d imagine Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman teaming up on a game would look like.
Injustice–I had skipped this on PS3/360, mostly because there was other stuff to play around the time, but also because of major psychotic hate issues with DC of late, for varying reasons. Damn if the game doesn’t make me forget all that, though. It’s a LOT of fun, and it leaves a lot more of Mortal Kombat at the door than you might expect to be its own thing. It’s the one game on PS4, however, where its current gen pedigree sticks out. The 1080p bump during gameplay is nice, but there’s a pretty drastic and annoying snap back to reality when the cutscenes are pre-rendered and lower res. Load times are a bit of a problem, but more upon the first time playing than anything else. Still, it’s also the only next gen fighter out there. The only next gen fighter that you don’t have to pay out the ass to experience in full anyway.
So, is it worth $400 right now?
I would say if you should so happen to blow $400 on one, you wouldn’t regret your decision. Compared to previous launches, there’s a lot here to keep gamers busy until the AAA hammer starts coming down around March/April next year (Infamous, Thief and Evil Within). Also unlike previous launches, the next gen versions of multiplatform games have a vast, clear advantage over current gen. There’s still a few more scraps coming for current gen, though, so until Sony figures out this backward compatibility option they supposedly have in the works, I wouldn’t sell my PS3 yet. But on its own terms, as a platform for the new hotness, it’s a sound investment in the future, and there’s more than enough current proof to reassure you made the right choice.
So, better than the XBox One?
Well, if we absolutely must turn this into a playground war: Way I see it, Sony and MS decided to switch places this gen, where one of these systems is an awesome gaming hub that just happens to have media applications, the other wants to be the many-tendriled multimedia god of living room. I wanted a gaming system, I got one. You may have other needs. Thank you and good night.
…So, you’re Team Sony, then?
What’s the going rate for hiring an assassin now, anyway?