First Impressions – Playstation 4

Well the next generation has arrived, and fortunately I was able to get my Playstation 4 on launch day. This weekend I’ve spent a great deal of time with it. Now I’ve always been a fan of the Playstation 3 and it’s features. I love the Dualshock 3 controller, I enjoyed using the XMB, and I found the overall layout and functionalities of the PS3 to be the best I’ve used. So for those of you who have been worrying about the Dualshock 4 feedback from the pro-Xbox 360 crowd, or who love the PS3 and fear that they might have strayed too far… read on, and you’ll be able to find out if your fears are warranted.

Setup

First and foremost, setting up the Playstation 4 with controller and camera was an extremely painless process. Everything worked well, the patch downloaded smoothly, and the setup all told took me maybe 5 minutes. There was a brief day 1 PSN outage that delayed my ability to sync my console with my account for about 15 minutes, but I expected that – launches are never completely smooth.

Once the outage ended, I synced up my account, and was able to download and play with ease.

The User Interface

Their new UI takes very strong design influences from the previous XMB interface. I haven’t fully delved into it, but it is just as functional as the XMB was, but a lot more user friendly. I’m looking forward to playing with the advanced features, but at first use the UI is quite nice.

When you first start the console, you are greeted with a list of recently used/installed games and services. You can easily navigate among these just by going side to side, or with voice commands. Simply by pushing up on the analog stick, you get to the menu bar – this is where the XMB influences are strongest. Conveniently located right on the far left are the store and your friends list, and since you can access your library from the main screen itself, all of the most important options are presented to you right from the start. The inability to rearrange the games and apps manually is an oversight, but I imagine that was just a low priority that will be patched in later. Still annoying, but probably not permanent.

There are a few flaws… an inability to sort your news items as things are right now means that important things are likely to be drowned in a flood of trophy notifications and the like if you have even a fraction of the total number of friends the PSN allows. The interface seems to react really negatively to any interruption in its connection to the PSN, randomly taking you back to the main screen – sometimes even while inside an app or game – when it has troubles connecting. I doubt this will be a big issue in the long run, but it did make navigation on the first day somewhat awkward.

One other rather interesting thing I’ve noticed is that games try to do as much as they can behind the scenes. Shortly after you start downloading a game, you’ll get access to parts of the game while it downloads the rest. If you have a game and a patch comes out, it will update itself for you and allow you to play parts of the game not affected by the patch(usually the single player) while the game updates. Even the day 1 update background downloads while you run other parts of the system if you have something you want to do while downloading it.

The Dualshock 4

Here’s the big one. I’ve been very concerned that the Dualshock 4 would be a bad fit for me… a very large number of media were touting how great it was and these are the same folks who say the 360 controller, a controller which I have been vocal about saying is one of the worst controllers I’ve ever used, is their favourite controller.

And while the first few times using it were a little awkward – the shape is a little less comfortable for me and it’s a bit heavier.  But that’s more muscle memory than anything… once you’ve used it for an hour or two it feels right at home. I’ve played for several hours now, and while my hands hurt a little at first, it has grown on me. I don’t know for certain that it’s more comfortable than my beloved Dualshock 3, but it’s certainly no less comfortable.

The biggest improvement lies in the analog sticks, which are no longer quite so floaty. They have a bit of resistance, which allows for a bit more precision. While playing Resogun, I noticed myself having a lot more fine control than I ever had in previous twin-sticks on other platforms – which is probably partly due to design, but the controller played a big role in that.

I’m still of mixed opinion on the R2 and L2 alterations. They’ve contoured the buttons, which does allow for tighter use in shooters, but shooters aren’t the only games out there. I find that the buttons have a strange level of resistance, and keeping your fingers in the contour can result in some odd use cases. This may just be a case of familiarity, and it may take some more time to get used to it.

At this point, nothing I’ve done has really used the touchpad for anything, but it’s there and it’s easy to access/push. So when they start using it, we’ll see how it works. The one problem I have is that it occupies a large enough space that the start button has been relegated to an incredibly awkward place to push. It is also so small that if you’re just pausing the game you’ll probably end up just using the PlayStation button, which is located in nearly the same place as previously.

The last interesting feature of the controller is a small speaker. This speaker may seem like an annoyance, but it allows for an interesting dimension to sound design. It allows for a more personal form of audio, with it being so close to you. If you had a true surround setup with the controller I could see some games being a really amazing experience. Codec messages in MGS5 anyone?

The Camera

The PlayStation 4 Camera, formerly known as the PlayStation Eye, does not come with the PlayStation 4, but it goes hand in hand with the console so I took some time to use it. It offers a few different types of functionality… the first being voice commands. The voice commands, for the most part, work quite well. There were a few games and apps that didn’t seem to be able to be triggered with the voice commands – most notably Crunchyroll – but aside from that they seemed to work. The other big downfall is that with no sleep mode, voice commands are unable to be used to start the console. This is another aspect that will be patched later, but it’s still unfortunate.

The second key functionality is a fun and free series of software known as the ‘playroom’. More than the Wii, the Wii-U, Kinect, or anything else… the playroom makes me see the possibilities of this type of experience and become excited. It’s not going to win any game of the year awards, but it’s just a truly joyful and fun toy to play with. And Sony has promised that other companies are making software for it as well which means that someday soon this may be more than just air hockey and some robots to play with.

The third piece of functionality worth mentioning is that it does still work with the PlayStation Move controller. I don’t have one, so I can’t talk about how well it works – but if you do like the Move, you won’t need to worry – once there are some Move-supported PS4 games, the controller will still work.

Final Thoughts

Just as a final afterthought… the PS4 is a very pretty piece of hardware. It’s sleek, black, and has a nice finish on it. It will fit right in and be the standout piece in any entertainment stand. The controller matches the console well, also, making a nice pair.

They’ve also finally fixed one of the most painful parts of PS3 ownership: the controllers will now charge while the console is on standby.

Overall

I’m impressed. Everything I was afraid about has turned out to be merely ephemera and things I never expected to like have proven to be features worthy of excitement. I won’t say it’s perfect, Sony still has a lot of work to do to get all of the kinks worked out, but it is a great start. And I’m really excited about the future as more features and more software get rolled out for this platform.

There are still a few things I’m planning to test that I haven’t had a chance to yet, such as the various share functionalities and when I am able to, I’ll give you a little update to let you know how they work.

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