First review of PlayStation 4
Tom Hoggins gets to grips with Sony's next-generation console.
Sony finally revealed the physical form of the PlayStation 4 at their press conference. In pictures it cuts a curious shape, almost a cut n' shut of the PS2 and PS3. But up close, it's a lot more sleek, the slanted front catches the eye, and the two-tone design works. There are a lot of harsh lines, and I think you'd have a hard time describing it as beautiful, but at the very least it's a design that has character. It's relatively compact, particularly compared to the large Xbox One and the first version of the PS3. Will likely split opinion.
When compared to the Xbox One's superb controller, the PS4 loses out somewhat. The analogue sticks are slightly rubbery and still positioned in the middle of the pad, and it's not quite as comfortable to hold as its rival's. However, it is a considerable improvement on the PS3's pad, and has a few tricks up its sleeve too. The analogue sticks, while rubbery, are far better; responsive, sturdy and without the infuriating dead zone in the middle of the stick like the PS3.
It also has the touch pad mounted on the front. The convenience of this new addition was best felt in Killzone: Shadow Fall, where a simple swipe on the touch pad equipped different gadgets and weaponry. Nothing spectacular, but quicker and more intuitive than calling up a radial wheel with the triggers. There will be some creative use of the touchpad, no doubt, but its biggest benefit will likely be in streamlining controls for more traditional titles.
The motion-control technology in the controller is much more accurate, using the same gyro-scope as in the PlayStation Vita. Tilting the controller to steer in DriveClub was very responsive.
Sony announced that the PlayStation camera would not be bundled in with the PS4 console, citing consumer choice in order to keep the PS4 at that attractive £349 price-point. The camera uses the coloured light mounted on the front to identify players, similar to the PlayStation Move, and tech demo PlayRoom showed the tech at its best, with its impressive depth perception. A small robot was flicked out of the controller onto the screen. It then flew around the room, fluttering behind the players on-screen and able to determine when a person is in its way, bumping off heads and body parts. The PS camera has face-tracking technology which can tell when someone is in the room, cover your face and the robot got upset that you left.
The camera can also track movement. When a troupe of smaller robots were shot out of the controller, they would recognise when you waved at them and wave back. If you were feeling particularly mean, you could also kick them from the floor.
Physically the camera is a lot more attractive than the PlayStation Eye; a small discrete bar that can sit under your TV. The camera isn't as impressive as the Xbox One's Kinect technology, but as an optional extra to enhance games, it's a nice piece of kit.
Killzone Shadow Fall was the hands-on highlight. A gorgeous shooter that displayed the PS4's graphical grunt with a lush, wide-open forest on the coast of a sea that stretches way into the distance.
DriveClub also impressed. The racer was only 35% complete on the show floor, so it wasn't as graphically impressive as, say, Forza, but it's likely it will approach parity with the Xbox One racer come launch. However, the connectivity of DriveClub was terrific. You race for your 'club' and earn points online by posting fast times and performing well in micro-tasks. Every so often during your race, the game will randomly assign a task, such as drifting or maintaining an average speed, and pits you against a rival's score. That way, players can earn points for their club without having to be the overall fastest racer. Very good.
Cartoon adventure Knack disappointed, however. It looks nice, with your character Knack absorbing debris from the environment to form and grow his body, but the stealth and combat gameplay was awfully basic and not particularly compelling.
Overall the PS4 is the natural evolution of the PS3 you perhaps expected. It would have been great to have seen a real system-selling title on the show floor. But with games like The Order, and studios like Quantic Dream and Naughty Dog waiting in the wings, the PS4 looks to have a bright future.