- Next-gen graphics
- New Dual-Shock controller
- 500GB hard-drive
- 2 USB controller charge ports
- HDMI only
- Bluetooth, Wi-Fi
- TV-mounted camera with voice recognition (sold separately)
- Price as reviewed: £350 (console only)
Frankly, the PlayStation 4, in its current form, is hard to review. It's the first brush stroke on a canvas, the first sentence of a book. Right now, with so much ahead of the PlayStation 4, it's impossible to tell if it's a failure or a success. In 10 years, when this console cycle is winding to a close, I'd like to come back and review the PS4 again, to sum up all it did well and all it did wrong.
Until then, it feels like anything I say about it has to be offset by the same caveat: "But it has the potential to be better."
- The PlayStation Camera doesn't work well - but it has the potential to be better
- Second-screen gaming via the Vita is tacked-on and complicated - but it has the potential to be better
- The games, lustrous though they may be, are not precisely the new world experiences I was hoping for - but they have the potential...you see what I'm saying
Any aspersions I cast feel like they'll be unfair, since the PS4 hasn't yet had time to grow.
Regardless, let's start with how it looks.
The PS4 is a small, nondescript machine, more resemblant of a DVD player or set-top box than what we might typically call a games console. The antithesis of the original PS3 "fatboy" model, the PlayStation 4 sits neatly under your television and can either lie horizontally or stand vertically.
On the front there are only two buttons, turn on and eject disc, and two USB controller charge ports (though the PS4 can support four wireless controllers at once, you can only charge two at the same time.)
Around the back, there is just one video output - HDMI - so that means no direct SCART or RGB outputs. If you don't own an HD TV however you can always buy an HDMI-to-component adapter, which run for about £5, so no worries.
Things get more complicated when you turn the PS4 on.
First off, to access any online functionality, you need to download system software 1.51. It's around a 300MB update which should take around 15 minutes to download and install, and once you have it, you'll be able to use the PSN digital store, DVD and Blu-Ray playback and online multiplayer.
Note that none of these things work until you have the update. It's a small barrier between plugging and playing, but not to be unexpected. The real problem is the interface.
Once you're hooked up to the net, the interface becomes cluttered with "What's New" updates, notifications, prompts and disclaimers. It does this really frustrating thing whereby every game you install gets a little permanent icon added to the Home screen, so you end up with this long, horizontal line of all the games you've ever played messing up your menu. You can't organise or hide it. Same goes for your online friend list. Sony has upped the friend limit to 2000, but since you can't stack the list by preference or alphabetical order, it quickly gets muddled and finding the people you want to play with is a bother.
There are some neat new features to how socialising works however. You can, for example, now join your friend's party in an online game straight from the dashboard. You can also form party chatrooms for up to eight people, so you don't have to listen to the insufferable natter in public lobbies.
There's also a headphone/headset jack on the Dual Shock controller itself and a headset included with every console, so the PlayStation, finally, is up to speed with the Xbox when it comes to talking and finding friends online. But still, the interface, is messy.
And in terms of other central online features, like the gameplay footage upload option and the PSN Store, not all of them work exactly as intended. After it's compressed, uploaded gameplay loses a lot of the PS4 graphics quality.
The PSN Store, while much better after the overhaul Sony gave it earlier this year, still suffers from some slow loading times and difficult menus. It's bound to get revamped again soon now the PS4 is out, but at the moment, it's still stodgy.
So here's that caveat. The interface and social functions on the PS4 are messy for now. But, they have the potential to be better.
PS4: PlayStation Camera and Vita
The same goes for the PlayStation Camera, which you'll have to buy separately for £45. It's primary function, currently at least, is to recognise voice commands, allowing you to turn the PS4 on/off and navigate the menu without pressing buttons.
But it has a bad ear for words.
Most of the time, your commands go unrecognised or unnoticed and it's a lot quicker to just use the joypad. Same goes for the facial recognition tech, which is meant to expedite the login process but only works in a bright lit room and on people who are sat close to the TV.
As for the Vita and second-screen gaming...Sorry if this sounds kind of belligerent, but really, who cares?
Second-screen gaming is disinteresting. Although I appreciate the idea of streaming PS4 games on the Vita via Wi-Fi, presumably, if someone can afford £350 for PS4 and £180 for a Vita, they also own more than one television. I don't think those people are going to struggle for somewhere to put their PS4. Maybe I'm behind the times but, like the Camera, I can't see the attraction in this.
PS4: Dual-Shock 4
Wider and heavier than the PS3 controller, the Dual-Shock 4 is nevertheless my favourite PlayStation controller to date. The rear triggers are easier to reach and press, the thumbsticks are positioned closer to your hands and have a groove in them to stop you slipping, and the Option button, which opens up in-game menus, is a handy conflation of what Start and Select used to do.
Even the touch-sensitive trackpad in the middle, which I complained about a lot in previews, feels right. It certainly works in Killzone: Shadow Fall, where it's used to flick between special abilities.
Battery life is an issue, though. Where the Dual-Shock 3 could last unplugged for 20 hours or more, the Dual-Shock 4 starts to flag after only seven hours of play. Most of my time on the PS4 was spent with the controller plugged in, which thanks to the 1.5 metre charge cable, meant sitting close to the screen.
Presumably it's the Lightbar, which is sat on top of the controller and used as a sensor in motion controlled games, that's responsible for the drainage. There's no option to turn it off either, so you're stuck with a controller that guzzles power.
PS4: Games and graphics
Finally, the games. Though I'm staggered by the PS4's graphics (more on those when I get round to reviewing individual titles) I can't help feeling that the current game line-up is lacking. Killzone and Knack are both strong games but hardly the bombshells a console launch needs.
Despite Sony's insistence that the PS4 is a dedicated gaming machine, the software available is just kind of...meh. Even looking at the launch calendar for 2014, it's hard to get excited. InFamous: Second Son and Watch_Dogs will no doubt prove to be winners, but I'm not seeing the whirlwind new games that the PlayStation 4 was supposed to be ushering in.
Hopefully, the unilateral support of indies that Sony is offering along with the developer-friendly x86 architecture beneath the PS4's bonnet, will change that.
And when I think about it, this is typical new console stuff. The PS3 launched with Resistance: Fall of Man, Call of Duty 3 and Tony Hawk's Project 8, none of them world-beaters, but the console nevertheless went on to boast a healthy catalogue. So again, that caveat.
And that, really, is the bottom line on the PlayStation 4. There's promise here.
With its clear marketing message, devotion to game developers and consistent undercutting of Microsoft's Xbox One, Sony has made a well-placed first-step into the next generation. Not everything clicks together yet and, like the PS3, the PS4 is going to be a long, iterative process. But the groundwork has been laid.
The controller's great, online play works better than ever and the PSN Store and internal gubbings are both optimum for independent developers. I'm not convinced that the PlayStation Camera and second-screen play on the Vita will necessarily find a place, but if they make the boys in market research happy, freeing the PS4 up to be a straight-shooting game console, then fine.
As it stands, there's not much delivery here but there is a lot of promise. The PS4 is the little engine that could. It just hasn't had time to yet.
Design: 8/10 - The PlayStation 4 is a great looking machine which slots neatly in amongst the rest of your living-room electronics. The Dual-Shock 4 is easily the best controller Sony has produced. The interface is disorganised but will hopefully be tidied up by a few imminent firmware updates.
Performance: 9/10 - It's a practically silent runner with the best in-game graphics I've ever seen. It only loses a mark because of the Dual-Shock's battery, which drains way too quickly.
Value: 9/10 - At £350, £80 less than the Xbox One, PS4 is a great value console. However, I'd say wait a while before you pick one up. At the moment, most of what you're buying is potential. Unless you're a determined adopter, give it two years to fill out and then pick one up.
Overall: 9/10 - Though it hasn't all come together yet, Sony's commendable focus on games with the PS4 is evident. Not everything works in tandem, and the game line-up in particular needs shoring up, but PlayStation 4 marks the foundation for some big and exciting next-gen possibilities.
- Great controller and graphics
- Clear dedication to games
- Scrappy interface
- Unnecessary (it seems) peripheral hardware