PS4 – One Month Later
Now that the console is out, the marketing hyperbole has (somewhat) calmed down and our hands are now conformed to the shape of the Dual Shock 4, it’s time to take stock of what it has been like to own and a play PlayStation 4 for the past month.
Don’t expect any ‘it’s better/worse than Xbox One’ here, today we’re just concentrating on the Sony’s little black box.
PS4 – Sony Rubik’s Cube
The opening moments of the my first month with the PS4 were great; the box exhibits that very Japanese obsession with precision, the console itself has a gorgeous art deco design that sits aesthetically pleasingly below the TV and there are no wiring requirements that we’ve not seen before. Simple stuff.
After that first unboxing, things get more complicated… Finding the power button took about an hour. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, it was probably closer to a minute, but it’s still a bit of an overdesigned chore to deal with.
Once you’ve located it you’re never going to forget where it is, obviously, but more than once a friend has come into the kitchen while I’m making a cup of tea to ask “How do you turn the PlayStation on?”.
It’s the console version of a Rubik’s Cube, satisfaction only attainable once the design has understood.
Anyway… once it’s powered up, there’s little doubt what PS4 is all about: firmware updates and Resogun. Sorry, I mean: the games. All joking aside, though, the highlight of the first month of PS4 has been Resogun – the brilliantly designed modern take on the old-school shooter genre that emits addiction rays more violent and absorbing than the ‘E’ numbers they used to put in Smarties.
It’s worth spending £350 just to play this £12 game… they should put that on the box (after paying me for the quote). The fact that it was part of the first batch of free PS4 games for PS Plus subscribers was a smart move (although the options were limited), demonstrating the future of the system as a console in which high-quality digital games will be available cheaply and easily.
Furthermore, Resogun plays perfectly into the PS4’s dashboard design and is the first thing I always look for when browsing through the ‘What’s New’ section upon powering up the console. The updates of your friends’ progress, via big, chunky boxes, is the only motivation needed for jumping back into the game time and again to beat new high scores – adding much in the way of longevity by means of a natural, self-perpetuating system.
Much of this is facilitated and deepened by the ‘Share’ functions, allowing you to post pictures and videos from gameplay on various social networks. Given so many of my friends are battling it out for the high score on Resogun, my ‘What’s New’ feed tends to fill up with images of leaderboards as people move up and down the rankings.
PS4 – All About Games
Gone are the days when Sony tried to turn their home consoles from gaming systems to ‘multimedia solutions’.
Netflix, Lovefilm, BBC iPlayer et al are all present and correct, but they’re very much given a backseat. That has created a bit of a problem, however. If you’re going to design your system so explicitly around games and gaming, you had better provide some good games to play.
Aside from Resogun, there has hardly been a dearth of quality interactive entertainment to choose from over the course of the first month. Assassin’s Creed 4 and LEGO Marvel Super Heroes are great in their own right – and have more than enough content to satisfy at least a few week’s worth of gaming- but they’re generation-bridging games (available on PS3 before PS4) rather than full-scale next-gen experiences.
Of those next-gen examples Killzone: Shadow Fall is a fine game while it lasts, but single player is far from exhaustive and multiplayer fails to legitimately expand on what has come before it. The less said about Knack the better, and Contrast is a game defined more by underachievement than advancement.
If the PS4 is going to be kept from becoming a magnet for dust in the days and weeks following the excitement of Christmas, more games are needed at a consistent rate.
While Netflix may be given reduced visibility on the dashboard, it has (along with the ever-present Resogun) been moved very much to the front of my personal queue over the past 10 days as interest in the launch catalogue wanes.
PS4 – Remote Play Functionality
The short-lived quality of the launch titles has given ample excuse to test out some of the PS4’s more extra-curricular functions, however.
Those of you who both 1) a PS Vita and 2) experience regular competition over ownership of the TV, should be making good use of the PS4’s Remote Play functionality. On multiple occasions a potential fallout over whether the TV should be used to play games or watch Strictly Come Dancing been avoided thanks to Remote Play and using the Vita as a PS4 screen/controller combo.
Not once in the few weeks of having the PS4 send the Assassin’s Creed IV/Resogun signal directly to the Vita’s screen has there been any hint of frame-rate drop or a complaint of over the handheld’s ability to map PS4 controls (the rare touch pad intelligently assigned the L2/R2 buttons).
That being said, I have not tried to use Remote Play when the two systems in question have been located on separate WiFinetworks, so how smooth that operation is remains to be seen.
In an act of shameful honesty, Remote Play is most useful for those longer excursions to the toilet. No longer does an assassin synchronising a watchtower need to be paused midway through for the sake of a number two. Yeah, I said it. It beats reading a week old newspaper.
PS4 – Controlling Progress
After very much adapting to, and preferring, the Xbox 360 pad’s asymmetrical positioning of the thumb sticks, the initial reaction to the PS4’s staunch dedication to the balanced placement of the Dual Shock 4’s sticks was one of doubt.
That doubt prevailed for a few hours until, either through being beaten into submission or through clever design (or both), the analogue sticks felt natural.
What can’t be denied, no matter what your layout preference, is that the build quality and approach to the new controller’s design is a massive upgrade from what Sony has previously provided. The sticks are stiffer and more responsive, making them a genuine asset for first-person games.
Similarly, the convex nature of the L2 and R2 buttons make them much easier to grip and give the pad as a whole a more pleasing, rounded feel in your hands.
The touch pad, while used sparingly in the games currently on offer, does work just fine in the glorified demonstration of the system’s features known as the ‘Playroom’. Although the jury is still out as to whether it will ever be more than a novelty.
On the other hand, and I promise I look after my equipment fastidiously, the textured rubber on the Dual Shock 4’s analogue sticks doesn’t stand up well to any kind of heavy impact or friction. After a couple of weeks predominantly playing Resogun, Assassin’s Creed IV and Killzone, a small chunk has somehow come loose from the pad’s left stick.
Just exactly how this happened is a mystery, but on close inspection it looks as though an air bubble had formed under the rubber skin and eventually burst through it – creating a tear has been slowly widening. It’s not a huge deal, the stick still works perfectly, but it is noticeable under your thumb.
PS4 – The Lasting Impression
The overwhelming sense of the PS4’s future, with one month under its belt, is one of positivity.
Given the general lack of quality games, there’s little incentive for all but the most ‘hardcore’ of players to own one at this point – but there’s no doubt that all of the key components are here to give the system every chance of becoming the console of choice as the years pass.
It really is the gaming-dedicated platform that Sony promised it would be.
The dashboard, the controller, the optional PS Plus subscription and the fact that finding the power button is a challenge unto itself, all point to a design mantra squared very much at gamers.
Perhaps that will be its downfall, that the wider audience does actually want a ‘do everything’ box and will plump for other options. It’s not that the PS4 can’t do multimedia functionality, it’s just that it hides it away to an extent that makes it feel clunky and outdated.
Still, if you’re a gamer at heart then this first month symbolises nothing but good things to come. Just bring on some more games, please.