With the PlayStation 4, Sony opened the door to the next generation of console gaming and put forth a serious challenge to Microsoft's Xbox One.
It's packed the system with future proof specs, improved the controller, lined up tons of great developer support and undercut the competition on price.
We won't beat around the bush: it's a great machine. But is it worth diving into now, or should you wait for a that new Uncharted? Lets break it down.
Gaming on the PS4 is fantastic. The graphics are good, not mind blowing if you've used a expensive gaming PC lately, but a big step up from last-gen consoles.
It's not the visuals but the performance that's really impressive though. There's hardly thirty seconds of loading time between the dozen launch titles we tested, and multiplayer sessions can get massive, like the 64 player showdowns on Battlefield 4.
Setting up is a doddle, and we loved the no-fuss packaging and the ease of use.
The interface is fast too. Everything is speedy and responsive right from minute one, and the interface is full of clever design choices that speed things up. Games begin to install the second you pop in the disc, firmware updates download while the system is on standby and game patches do too if you have PS Plus.
The DualShock 4 controller is a significant upgrade. The most bothersome aspects of the DualShock 3 have been addressed, resulting in a comfortable controller that's more functional for games of all genres. The touchpad, while currently underused, is well built and nicely placed, the light bar makes player identification simple and the system can finally charge a controller while it's off or in standby.
PS Vita Remote Play works well over WiFi. Using it on a different network or 3G is a no go, but being able to play Knack in bed or Killzone when someone else is using the TV was reliable and lag free over our home WiFi, plus a lot of fun.
The system looks great and has no power brick. On a purely aesthetic level, the PS4 is very cool. The asymmetrical design is striking, even if it makes it difficult to get at the rear ports, and it's also a restrained size. It makes you wonder how the Xbox One could be so massive and still have a power brick.
PS Plus is totally worth it. While it's a bit disheartening to see online multiplayer go behind a $70 paywall, Sony has tossed in a lot of stuff to sweeten the deal. You get improved standby functionality, discounts on games in the digital store and freebie downloadables that are actually quite good, right now anyway.
It's cheaper than the Xbox One. You don't get a PlayStation Camera in the box, and it should be noted that it's not as powerful as the new Kinect, but if you don't care about that, then it's hard to argue with saving $50. That's practically a game and half.
The PS4 doesn't have enough great games yet. Historically, launch lineups are often mixed, and filled with games most players won't remember six months later. That's exactly where the PS4 is at right now. Most games don't feel like they're tapping the true potential of the hardware.
The interface is too stripped down, and the What's New feed is a mess. Having the PS4's Dynamic Menu constantly reorder is too simplistic, especially if you're going to tuck Quickflix into a Movies & TV folder. This is nitpicking really, it's the What's New news feed that needs work. All the useless trophy spam is burying genuinely engaging stuff like gameplay video and screenshot shares. Give us a way to filter it, Sony.
Sharing of gameplay videos and screenshots is shackled to social networks. There really ought to be a way to grab your gameplay videos with a USB drive, or a the very least upload them to a private link. Being forced to share them on Facebook or on the PSN just makes us not want to do it.
No DLNA sharing is a step backwards, the lack CD or MP3 playback is really strange. People who used their PS3 as a media server are really going to miss these features. At least Sony has said it's listening, hopefully it'll start patching this stuff in soon. We'd also like to know when we'll see the same collection of video streaming services offered on the PS3.
Sony's Unlimited services need work. Music Unlimited has a big library and a great interface, but as of this writing it's basically broken. The song matching is poor and playback frequently drops out. And Sony, not providing an Android app for Video Unlimited on anything but your own Xperia devices is downright miserly. Amazon may do the same thing and reserve streaming for its own Android devices, the Kindle Fire HDX, but at least it has iOS support and allows simple in-browser streaming.
We'll say it again: the PlayStation 4 is a great piece of hardware. It's fast, attractively built and has a streamlined philosophy that puts games front and centre and has helped it achieved a relatively attractive price point.
It's also in its infancy. It's worth owning, but not worth rushing to the stores for. It's only going to get better, when the truly next-gen titles start to arrive, when more streaming media apps are available, when its own media services gain stability and Sony patches in that much needed media playback support. Maybe it'll even clean up the What's New feed.
We really enjoyed our time testing the system, but as far as the games go, we failed to find a truly standout title. We're still waiting for the game that makes us say "yes, this is why you buy a PlayStation 4."
First reviewed November 2013