Unless you speak Hardware, it's hard to see the difference, graphically speaking, between the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4. There's certainly some improvement and as developers get to grips with the hardware, it's bound to get pushed further, but for now the difference feels marginal.
Driveclub for the PlayStation 4 and Gran Turismo 6 on PS3 were both available to play at the Sony Summer Showcase in London this week, and you could have been forgiven for thinking they were on the same machine. Compared to the leap up from PlayStation 2 (Fight Night looked astounding) this next-gen feels like an optimisation.
There is some visible improvement. Killzone: Shadow Fall and Infamous: Second Son certainly look better than anything on PlayStation 3, with details like building destruction and enemy animation really shining through. That old maxim that next-gen gameplay looks like last-gen cutscenes certainly holds true with these two games, especially Infamous.
Killzone: Shadow Fall (Credit: Sony)
Textures and lighting effects don't have the ultra-new shine you might have come to expect from a console generation leap, but AI seems to have improved tenfold. It's not simply a case of the baddies in Killzone being more intelligent, or more devious. It feels more like - and bear in mind this is conjecture - the enemies are geared towards spectacle, like they'll always do something to make a sequence more impressive, if not necessarily more challenging. The action, in both Infamous and Killzone, often looks like it's scripted but doesn't feel like it is. There's something going on with the PS4 hardware that's harder to detect and more impressive than just fancier graphics.
Though we didn't get to tinker with the new homescreen, store or the Share button, we did have a chance to try out the PlayStation 4's controller - and it's light, very light. It also has smaller shoulder buttons. R2 especially has been trimmed down, but now sticks out more and is springier, so it really feels like a trigger button. Killzone, oddly, still uses L1 and R1 to aim and fire respectively, but you can expect most PS4 shooters to use the proper triggers, it's certainly what they're meant for.
The Dual-Shock 4 is also wider than the PlayStation 3 controller and, on the whole, feels more comfortable in your hand. It might be a little jarring at first for long-term PlayStation users, since the analogue sticks and d-pad have been moved around a few millimetres, but after you've grasped the button place, you barely notice you're holding the Dual-Shock 4.
And of course there's the biggest addition which is the touchpad in the centre. As you might have expected, it feels like the track-pad on the back of the Vita and is designed, it seems, to perform cursory actions like navigating menus or switching through your inventory. For now the touchpad is an uncertain prospect. On first impressions, it seems a little tacked-on and perfunctory, the only game on show to use it much being Killzone. Even then, it was a bit fiddly.
Remember how in Killzone 2 you were made to use the Sixaxis motion control to turn valves, and how it always felt like it would just be easier to use the stick? The touchpad is like that. It feels like a gimmicky addition that might never get properly utilised, but also one that first-party developers will try and justify for Sony by mapping to it basic functions. In Killzone: Shadow Fall, it was used to cycle through inventory items, something that would absolutely be easier if it was just handled by the D-pad.
Anyway, it's early days. Console launches tend to stutter, as developers aren't used to the new hardware and aren't sure how far they can push it. If the PlayStation 4's graphics don't look like much right now, in a year or so, once everyone's familiar with the new box, more lustrous games will start to roll out. Same goes for the controller. Users will need a little time to get to grips with the layout, and developers need to figure things to do with the touchpad, but all in due time, this will come good. Our first impressions of the PlayStation 4 are favourable. Despite it perhaps lacking the wow factor that its predecessors had pre-launch, there's a lot of potential to be unlocked here.
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