The PS4 is a fantastic console. From a hardware perspective, it was unmatched in specs at time of release. Software-wise, the PlayStation 4 UI also nailed it. It’s the most intuitive, easy-to-use menu system ever seen on a console and – as the recent 4.0 update showed – it’s improving all of the time.
The launch of the PS4 was always memorable for me, as we were holding back the publication of something I was the editor of to make sure we had an image of the console.
Then the launch happened and we didn’t get a glimpse of the machine, just the controller. It was pretty obvious that the PS4 was just going to be a black box, but what was actually/eventually revealed was a black box with style, not like the Xbox One which is one of the ugliest consoles ever conceived.
And its innards are equally impressive. AMD offered up its best APU for the console, there was 16x more RAM in the machine than the PS3 and 8GB of GDDR5 memory – which in itself shows how remarkable the PS3 was, given its absurd internal configuration.
This shift offered the PS4 blistering performance even with the most graphic-intensive games and meant that many of the problems of game loads and waiting for updates to download that hampered the PS3 disappeared, as the PS4 could handle doing a lot of this grunt work in the background.
But it isn’t just in sheer power where the PS4 excels. Sony took the sensible decision to embrace indie gamers with the PS4 and also improve openness. Where the Xbox One seemed to be initially DRM-ing its content to the max, making users jump through hoops to play its games, Sony looked to improve on how you could share your gaming experience.
It was this that forced Microsoft to make what’s been seen as the biggest backtracking in the history of gaming - it would reverse its DRM decision which would have seen gamers having to have an always-on internet connection and restrictions to second-hand games.
Keeping things open
And then there’s the Share button. At launch, it felt like something you may use from time to time, but now we live in a world where Twitch and live streaming are the norm, Sony knew exactly what it was doing including this feature.
The launch of the PS4 also saw PlayStation win the online battle. A battle that Microsoft had been winning for a very long time with Xbox Live. Xbox had online smarts that just worked - Xbox Live was a perfect showcase of how to do online - despite having to pay for it.
PlayStation tried something similar with the PS3 and even made it free but it lacked cohesion. Then it built its online offering from the ground up, throwing resource after resource after it.
This did mean that you would have to sign up to PlayStation Plus to be a part of online play but you also get a number of free games every month to offset this cost. In fact, PlayStation Plus remains the best-loved subscription service out there, because of the extras it offers. Sony’s push into cloud gaming also saw Remote Play actually work on PS4 and other cloud-based offerings that have come with varying success - including PlayStation Now and PS TV.
The numbers for the PS4 are impressive, too. It was never going to match the PS2 for popularity - console gaming is still strong, but we’ll never see numbers on that level again - but it has still managed to outsell the Xbox One and the Wii U. Combined.
Currently it’s close to 55 million sales and, while there’s no official information on the Xbox One, it’s thought that Microsoft’s console has only reached around half that, at 26 million sales. Couple this with the Nintendo Wii U’s 14 million sales and the PS4 is still ahead by 15-odd million.
And then there’s the games. For PS4 gamers, good things came to those who waited. Like we’ve seen with the Nintendo Switch launch, the initial game lineup was pretty slow.
Although Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, Call of Duty: Ghosts and Killzone Shadow Fall showed some promise, it wasn’t until the launch of Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition in 2014 when we started to see the console’s true potential.
Since then a mixture of cross-platform titles (GTA V, Alien: Isolation, Fallout 4) and PS exclusives (Destiny, Overwatch, BloodBorne) have pushed the console’s graphics engine to produce some of the most beautiful gaming moments.
And it’s still thriving. Despite the launch of the PS4 Pro - a console that offers better but not a huge leap in power - Sony is allowing PS VR support with the original PS4, has renewed it as one of the best home-entertainment machines out there by giving it HDR support and we are still seeing games released that are truly innovative, such as The Last Guardian.
With the world of console gaming now at a crossroads, where new consoles are set to come with limited lifespans and mid-cycle updates are full-fat console upgrades, we may never see a launch like the PS4 again.
PlayStation 4's greatest games
Uncharted 4: A Thief's End
A fantastic conclusion to one of the greatest gaming franchises ever, Uncharted 4: A Thief's End was a game that managed to balance all that was fun with Nathan Drake's adventures - crazy climbing, superb storytelling, propulsive action - and balance it with sadness and the feeling of closure.
The PS4's true masterpiece, BloodBorne takes the essence of the Dark Souls games - hard as nails but achingly addictive gameplay - and transposes it onto the gothic, Victorian-style city of Yharnam. Brutal, bloody and a game that will reward you the more you play it, BloodBorne is essential.
There is nothing like the PS VR on a console and it's likely there won't be for a very long time. Sony is riding the wave of virtual reality, offering a complete system that costs far less than its PC rivals. And it's got great games too. Whether you want to be Batman or scare yourself stupid in Resident Evil 7, there's some amazing experiences to be had. Oh, and it finally means you have a use for those discarded Move controllers.