The fourth iteration of Sony's flagship console, the PlayStation 4, is upon us. Launching a full week ahead of Microsoft's Xbox One, the PS4 has officially ushered us into the era of next-gen (apologies to all you Wii U supporters out there, but it’s the truth). Many of you have had your pre-orders lined up for months, eagerly awaiting the doorbell chime signaling the arrival of your new console. Others will revel in the communal excitement of a midnight launch, waiting for hours in the cold to be the first proud PS4 owner on the block.
But what if you're on the fence about Sony's foray into next-gen? Or maybe you want to know if your investment was worthwhile. We've put the PS4 through its paces, playing games and surfing the dashboard in search of all the positives and negatives of the system. It's all in the pursuit of answering that most salient of next-gen questions: Is the PS4 worth your $399, right here and right now? Read on to find out, then be sure to check back later for additional impressions.
Updated on 11/21 with more impressions.
You'll hate: The social walled garden around Share content
The PS4's sharing functionality is something of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it's extremely cool to be able to share any moments of any game with your friends, be it in video or screenshot form. The bad news is that, at least for now, the only way your friends can consume these chunks of immortalized gaming is through social networking. Currently, pulling the trigger on the Share button can only push the video/screenshot to Facebook or Twitter. If you don't believe in social media, you won't be sharing your standout moments for now.
Sony does plan to patch in YouTube support, which makes the most sense for a feature like the Share button. But until that happens, you'll be pestering your Facebook friends with constant uploads (and trophy notifications, if you don't explicitly disable them) showing up in their news feed. It feels like a needless detriment to the act of sharing; if you can't share when you press Share, what, exactly, is the point?
You'll love: The greatly improved ergonomics of the DualShock 4
When the PS3 launched, some gamers found the DualShock 3 to be somewhat… lacking. A primary complaint involved the joysticks: jabbing your thumbs into each other was all too common, particularly while strafing about in shooters. Such irritating quirks are officially a thing of the past, because the DualShock 4 is basically the same controller layout you've grown accustomed to, with a little extra heft and refinements throughout. The joysticks are nicely spaced apart, with depressions to keep your thumbs from slipping (relevant, for the sweaty palmed among us). The D-pad excels once again, and feels even more precise than previous DualShock models. And every input, from the face buttons to the triggers, feels far less mushy than the DualShock 3.
The touchpad justifies itself by being incredibly responsive and simple to use, though only a few games utilize it thus far. Killzone: Shadow Fall lets you guide a tactical drone with touchpad swipes, while Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag ties pinch-and-pull motions to mini-map control. We're skeptical that the touchpad will ever be the primary control method for games, but the hardware seems like it could support such a concept, should it ever materialize.
You'll hate: Reconfiguring your muscle memory with the new controller layout
We've been pressing the Start and Select buttons for decades, whether on a SNES controller, the original DualShock, or the most recent DualShock 3. As you've probably heard, the DualShock 4 does away with those iconic inputs, replacing them with the Options and Share buttons and using the newfound space to insert a touchpad. Problem is, games still use the Options button for all the functions you'd expect: pausing, checking out the in-game menu, or skipping cutscenes. And it'll be days before your thumb can remember to flick up and to the left instead of the center of the controller to perform these actions.
It seems like a trivial gripe, but it can be fairly disorienting for PS4 newcomers, especially in cross-gen games. And while the purpose of the Share button is awesome, pressing it accidentally prompts a jarring half-second of confusion while the PS4 UI pops up. You'll almost wish that the touchpad button would act as the Star...err, Options button, but that hasn't been the case in the PS4 games we've played thus far.
You'll love: How easy it is to livestream via the PS4
At one point or another, most of us have contemplated playing games in front of an online audience. Sharing your experiences with a community of like-minded people can be incredibly gratifying, and who knows--maybe you have what it takes to be the next big streaming personality. Until now, there have been some hurdles to get over before you could try your luck; downloading streaming software, getting the right gear, configuring capture equipment. The PS4 takes this once-complicated process and makes it drop-dead simple. After navigating some simple, instructive menus, you can start streaming to Twitch or Ustream within minutes.
All you need to get going is a Twitch or Ustream account; punch in your info, and you're as good as live. It works just like you'd expect, with the additional options to monitor chat via a sidebar window or show off your lovely mug with the PlayStation Camera. Taking away all the barriers between gaming and streaming could work wonders for the PS4 community, letting anyone with a passion for games pursue an Internet following. With how simple and reliable it is, there's really nothing to complain about.
You'll hate: Using the flimsy packed-in headset
Picture the cheapest, most cost effective headset imaginable. What your mind's eye is currently envisioning is probably a step above what Sony decided to pack in with the PS4. Microsoft put Sony in a tough spot when they boasted about the spiffy Chat Headset included with every Xbox One. And rather than ship the PS4 without a headset, it's as if Sony opted to hurriedly toss earbuds from the local dollar store into every box.
Actually, "earbuds" is a misnomer--there's only one bud, shaped in the classic iPod half-circle that never seems to fit quite right in your ear. As you run your finger down the needle-thin wiring, you'll also find a mic (which at least has an on/off switch) and a shirt clip. The sound quality is adequate, outputting a mono audio channel that can get tinny-sounding messages across, and the mic will pick up your voice as well as any background noise. If you plan on arranging party chat sessions on your PS4, you'll definitely want to invest in a better headset. The one included is certainly better than nothing, but not by a whole lot.
You'll love: The next-geniness of the launch games
With every console launch so far, the initial wave of games has varied in quality. This generation's a bit of an oddity, what with the plentiful amount of cross-gen games that have been beautified on the PS4 and Xbox One. But what most gamers want from their brand-spankin'-new system is power, and the PS4 definitely delivers. With the top fleet launch games so far, the graphics clearly exhibit detail that has not been seen on current-gen (...last gen?) games. While the jump isn't as staggering from the PS3 to PS4 as it was from the PS2 to the PS3, the upgrade is still quite noticeable.
You'll be utterly in awe of the particle effects in games like Resogun, or the expressive faces and intense plumes of explosions in Killzone: Shadow Fall. In terms of framerate, the PS4 runs like a well-oiled machine, pumping out crisp visuals with minimal-to-no slowdown. And you can always throw the whole 1080p resolution business in the faces of your Xbox One-owning friends.
You'll hate: Settling for some merely average titles in the launch lineup
If there's any drawback to the PS4 library, it's that nearly half of its actual launch games are kind of mediocre. Titles like Knack and Contrast are disappointingly average, while Killzone: Shadow Fall is entertaining without being revolutionary. It's not that you'll be disappointed in the selection, but there's nothing that'll instantly blow your mind on sight and make all your friends loathsomely jealous. For every amazing game in the PS4's starting lineup, there seem to be two just-OK titles.
But the best of the cross-gen best, like Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag and Battlefield 4, deliver graphics and performance that have thus far only been matched on high-end PCs, with intricately detailed visuals and dynamic, expansive gameplay.. If you waited patiently for the next-gen versions of released games (or plan to use Sony's generous upgrade deal), pat yourself on the back--you made the right choice. For everything else, you should pick and choose your day-one game purchases accordingly.
You'll love: Messing around with the PlayStation Camera
Make no mistake: There's pretty much no reason to run out and buy a PlayStation Camera on day one (it's not included with the PS4, if you were wondering). But if you decide to pick one up, you'll actually have a good deal of fun fiddling around with The Playroom. This app comes pre-installed on the PS4, and though it's little more than a tech demo, playing it is probably one of the best discovery moments you can have with a console camera. The Playroom boils down to a "tickle or smack robots" simulator, but it's awfully cute, what with the adorable little Wall-E-looking droids that gleefully wave to you or have a dance party inside your controller.
The Camera also responds to voice commands, and though the functionality isn't at Kinect's level in terms of browsing through the UI, it's still impressive. For instance, by enunciating "PlayStation; [app name]; Start" in your regular, indoor voice, your PS4 will boot up the requested game. We have yet to see how the Camera will work with games, but so far, it's off to a good start.
You'll hate: How dang hot the PS4 gets
This could get ugly. Even when the PS4 is idling, without any application or game running, this system gets heated. The top of the console won't get hot enough to fry an egg, but the heat exhaust from the back of the system is palpable. If you're planning on some marathon gaming sessions with your new console, you could make it double as a space heater. And we highly advise that you don't leave it in an enclosed home theater case--our best guess is that it'd be cooked to well done in an hour.
Thus far, the PS4's heat hasn't been an issue; then again, we've only had it for less than a month. We're not saying that the first generation of PS4s is destined for a mass red-ring-of-death/yellow-light-of-doom scenario, but if you're nervous about sending your console in for repairs, you might want to consider waiting to see how the initial production run fares in the wild.
You'll love: Using your Vita for remote play
We didn't quite believe it till we saw it for ourselves: the PS4-to-Vita streaming is immaculate. After a simple sync-up with your Sony handheld, you'll be able to play any PS4 game from your handheld, with almost no noticeable delays or latency issues. Everything feels as it should: actions occur right when you press a button, and the sound and video feeds into your Vita without any discernible hitches. Playing games like Knack and Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag on the small screen is unreal, and makes a Vita that much more of the perfect companion to the PS4.
Amazingly, you can still use the Share functionality from the Vita, with--wouldn't you know it--the Select button in place of the Share one. You can also play local multiplayer with one player on the Vita, the other on the PS4, which is incredibly convenient. Finicky gamers might complain about the Vita's rear touchpad acting as the stand-ins for the L2, R2, L3, and R3 inputs, but everything else runs like a dream. Remote Play could very well change your bedtime gaming sessions forever.
You'll love: Perusing the upgraded PlayStation Store
Truth be told, the PlayStation Store couldn't get much better than it already was. The most recent iteration of the Store on PS3 took out most of the unnecessary clutter, leaving an interface that felt smooth, responsive, and easy to navigate. That same design has carried over to the PS4's PlayStation Store, with even more refinements. Browsing feels even faster than before, and each promoted game gets a lot more space on the page.
Signing in to PSN and the Store is a snap; if you've already got an existing account, simply punch that in and you'll be strolling through the digital aisles in seconds. And with the advent of Amazon's PSN storefront, price drops and deals should be more frequent than ever.
Should you buy a PS4?
Yes. Sony has vaulted us into the next generation with style, delivering a powerful system that's sleek, speedy, and most importantly, user friendly. Even if you don't plan on picking up many PS4 games at launch, the system feels like an affordable and worthwhile investment that will do right by early adopters, with the best console versions of big-budget games like Battlefield 4 and Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag. As long as your PS4 doesn't cook itself, the two of you should get along just fine as you embark on the journey into the eight console generation.
Will you be buying a PS4 as soon as possible? Or are you still having second thoughts? Let us know in the comments, and be sure to ask any questions you still have; we'll do our very best to answer them. We'll keep building this review as we form more impressions, on stuff like online Share functionality, streaming with Twitch, and a host of other cloud operations. Be sure to check back!
For more PS4 info, check out our comprehensive list of all the upcoming PS4 games.
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