The final next-gen console to hit the shores of the UK, the PlayStation 4 completes the set. Having had two weeks to be immensely jealous of our brethren across the pond, the eventual release has arrived, but was the console worth the wait?
Slender and contemporary, the PlayStation 4 is a stunningly beautiful console with it’s angled profile highlighted by the thin light bar that glows softly within the black frame. The dual-finish creates a complementary effect that results in an attractive console that won’t look out-of-place under any TV.
No longer supporting analog outputs, the rear of the console houses digital-only ports with HDMI and optical out. A dedicated port for the PlayStation Camera frees up one of the front-facing USB 3.0 ports for other things, but it’s the inclusion of an internal power supply that is more impressive.
That Sony’s engineers have managed to fit such powerful hardware in a sleek container, all-the-while keeping it cool and wonderfully quiet without the need to have a hefty power brick is remarkable.
Now into the fourth iteration of the DualShock, it sees a drastic evolution in several ways compared to both the PlayStation 3’s DualShock 3 and the history of more recent controllers. It’s larger chassis provides a more ergonomic and therefore comfortable feel that slots into the palms of your hand effortlessly.
The triggers have been curved to provide a seat for the tips of your fingers, a stark contrast to the slippery concave triggers of the past seven years or so. Analogue sticks have been tweaked to be slightly wider apart, fractionally smaller and given a ring of grip, though they do feel as though they could be worn down over time – something to keep an eye on. As for the d-pad, the excellent DS3 pad has been improved upon further to become sturdier and more satisfying to press.
Elsewhere there are some throwing out of the controller rulebook. The Start and Select buttons are sent to confines of the past being replaced by the Share and Options button – though the latter acts in the same fashion as the Start button in most titles.
There is a speaker located where the PS button used to be, thus pushing that particular button down a centimeter, and a microphone port on the underside for use with the supplied wired headset.
Two of the biggest additions though are the touchpad and lightbar. The former is a 2-inch by 1-inch capacitive surface akin to a laptop touchpad which also features a click mechanism – something that provides another input option for developers. Its smooth touch and responsive button press, as well as its placement, are delightful and, provided it’s implemented, will be a big addition to the controller.
The lightbar functions as a PlayStation Move-esque marker for the PlayStation Camera, something showcased via the bundled Playroom app, but it’s colour is generally more of an aesthetic one but certainly a welcome one.
With several colours, it can dictate which player is which, indicate your health in a shooter, or just display a colour related to the game you’re playing. Any concern that you won’t see the light given its location on the top of the controller is misplaced as the subtle glow it places upon for trigger fingers is mightily pleasant.
A series of minor adjustments and bold changes sees the DualShock 4 become one of the best controllers in history. It’s sturdy and a gratifying weight that comes packed with improvements. The battery life seems considerable shorter than that of the DS3 but standby charging on the PS4 alleviates that somewhat. Other than minor worries over the longevity of the thumbsticks the DualShock 4 is utter fantastic.
Although not bundled with the standard SKU, the PlayStation Camera is a compact device that makes for a more well-rounded PlayStation 4 experience and is an add-on that I heartily recommend. Even with the small uses currently of facial recognition for login or broadcasting yourself on Twitch or UStream, it adds that something extra.
Outputting at a 1280×800 pixel resolution it does what is needed of it. The implementation of the lightbar on the DualShock 4 will likely see more PlayStation Move like functionality within titles down the line although Playroom is the only game that really uses it currently.
It’s able to accurately decipher faces in even low-light conditions and you can use it for the PS4’s limited voice command functionality. This works well provided you speak loudly enough and follow the specific onscreen instructions – though of course you can also do these voice commands through a headset with nearing complete accuracy, though given that you’d have a controller in your hand are currently rather redundant.
No longer the XMB and now the PDM (PlayStation Dynamic Menu) the UI on the PS4 is simply glorious. A crisp and clean interface that is also fast, responsive and a breeze to navigate makes it tremendously impressive. The large icons for your library as eye-catching and the way the top menu changes once you navigate upwards is splendid.
There are many aspect to the interface including the PlayStation Store (which loads almost instantaneously), Notifications, Friends, Messages, Party, Profile, Trophies, Settings, and Power. Some of these submenus are merely iterations from the XMB and others drastically change your PlayStation experience.
Notifications is, similar to that on many smartphones, an area depicting your notifications – such as recent trophies and messages, invitations to games, game alerts, download information and uploads. From any of these you can see a list of recent activity and jump straight to whatever it is quickly and easily.
Friends are grouped similarly to before though the ability to show your full name (which is shown to other players via approved name requests) is most welcome. No longer do I have to try to rack my brain over whose strange username this is.
Messages are largely the same, although you can now send voice messages. Party chat is finally makes it’s debut on a PlayStation home console and is fantastic. You can have multiple chats on the go that you can dip in and out of; each on supporting up to eight people.
Your profile, which you can now sync with Facebook and import your profile picture from, displays your trophy list, information, current game playing, as well as allowing you to change your bountiful privacy options and sort through your uploads folder. Trophies haven’t seen much of a change other than the addition of the rarity for each trophy which gives you an indication of just how impressed you should be.
Settings are as you would expect with plenty of options to customise your PS4, whilst the power settings, currently missing the Suspend/Resume feature, offers the ability to log out, enter standby mode or turn off the console.
There’s plenty that can still be improved upon for the PS4’s UI and if the evolution of the XMB over the years taught us anything it’s that it will do exactly that. Currently the inability to filter or sort things on the main home screen isn’t an issue but within six months or so it could be. Right now though it’s simply wonderful and one of the slickest and most visually pleasing interfaces around. It is possible to get lost in the myriad of menus and options, but after a few hours of use – thus learning the system – it felt second nature.
A feature of the PlayStation 4 that will likely be one of the biggest. The ability to quickly and easily share a screenshot, upload video or even broadcast your gameplay is fantastic. With two variations of inputs available by either a short press, a long press or a double tap of the controller-based share button you can take a screenshot, begin broadcasting or access the share menu with ease.
With the PlayStation 4 constantly recording the last 15 minutes of gameplay you can edit and trim footage on the spot – or, by simply jumping into the share menu, save it for later – before uploading it to Facebook or Twitter. Currently being able to only push video to Facebook is disappointing, as is the level of compression, but it’s a good start nonetheless.
Over time I’d like to see more options with regards to sharing. Sites to upload content, ability to duplicate videos, editing options, upload quality, and watermarks to name a few.
Another feature of the PS4 I love is remote play. Having the ability to play my PS4 games on my Vita while I’m downstairs having breakfast or in bed is awesome. What’s even better is that it works flawlessly, assuming you’re in range.
There is no discernible input lag over a direct connection to the PS4, and the range is far enough. I can imagine myself spending many a late night bombing through Resogun again and again.
If you’re looking for a reason to pick up a Vita, but its games alone don’t quite sell you, this is as good a reason as any. Any game that doesn’t require use of the PlayStation camera (so only the Playroom at launch) supports it, and it really is fantastic.
I do wish some developers would put a bit more effort into adjusting the controls for the Vita though. While games like Need for Speed and Resogun translate well to the Vita, FIFA 14 is a game that noticeably doesn’t. Sprinting and tactical defending with the back touch (where L2 and R2 are mapped) is really unintuitive.