Playstation 4 First Impressions
The Games team discuss Sony's latest console
Now that Sony's latest console has been out for about a month, some of the Games team join together for a discussion of their time with the machine. Chatting away are Emmanuel Brown (EB), Leon Matthews (LM), Mark Botwright (MB), Niall Gill (NG) and Ste Carter (SC).Who’s jumped aboard the PS4 train then?
SC - I've got one as it was my first next gen console of choice, they just nailed their presentations at E3 and billed the console perfectly. Killzone was the main title on next gen I was looking forward to, say what you want about it, but I really enjoy the Killzone games. Plus there's Uncharted coming to it soon, and who can refuse Uncharted on next gen?
NG - I cancelled my pre-order a week before release, so I was a last minute drop out in the 'next gen'. I already have a pretty good gaming PC, I realised it'd be smarter for me to upgrade where I can with the £350 I was going to spend on the console. What really put me off was seeing the prices of games. With my upcoming upgrades things are only going to get better, a PS4 would have been an expensive paperweight for me.
EB - I was in the same boat right up until a month before launch. I have a decent PC and so the visual leap on the PS4 wasn't going to be anything particularly impressive. I went back and forth in my head about picking one up but eventually crumbled and got one anyway.
LM - Unfortunately the Microsoft chip implanted into my brain stem prohibits me from purchasing any other manufacturer's devices, but if I were to escape the Redmond giant's grip I would say looking at the PS4's library there is nothing there I’m too hot for. The second something I want to play is exclusive to (or significantly better on) PS4 ill dig this chip out and get in line.
MB - Waiting for games that you want to play? Pah, that's sane talk. I originally pre-ordered based on hype and price point. Now I just need to figure out which games to play to justify the decision.
SC - The remote play will also be a big feature for me, as using it whilst I’m stuck out (as long as I have internet signal) is a massive selling point, home console games on handhelds is great. Now that the Xbox doesn't have the evil online policies it's much harder to pick between the two consoles and at present, for me, it's boiling down to user interface and usability and the PS4 is ahead.
That's an interesting point about the UI, Sony have certainly gone for the streamlined approach, what does everyone make of that - minimalistic or a bit spartan looking?
EB - I'm a huge fan of the design. Everything is logical, quick to get to and generally works without a hitch. No doubt they'll improve over the coming years, but right now it's fully functional and easy to navigate with a game running, and that's what matters the most. You can get to the bits you need, fast. I also find myself taking screenshots all the time, so having that mapped to a dedicated button is a godsend. Really miss the functionality when switching back to the Xbox.
SC - I love it, I think it's the perfect evolution of the PS3 XMB. I liked the old menu, but it was a bit cluttered; the tiles for the games seem to have resolved some of that and it is much easier to navigate. Unlike the Xbox One interface, at present, you get notifications when you get requests and downloads are active/finished, and it just looks much nicer. I'm glad they didn't get influenced by the Vita homepage though as that is a bit messy looking. They've got it spot on with the PS4.
EB - The party system and game invites are light years ahead of the Xbox as well, which is a sentence I'd have never even thought possible to apply in the previous generation. It's just such basic stuff to get right, but no matter how people dress up the process on the Xbox One, it's far too convoluted for most folk to get their head around. People shouldn't have to re-learn that stuff, it's basic OS-level design that needs to be corrected.
MB - I'm really liking the streamlined approach, it all feels very easy to use and I like how the tiles reorder depending on which games you've been playing. It does sound weird to hear so many people enthuse over Sony’s OS though, it seems to fly in the face of the old hardware manufacturer versus software manufacturer analogy of Sony versus Microsoft. For those that own a One, is there any area Microsoft definitely hold the advantage?
EB - I really miss the ability to just say "Xbox record that!" and grab the last 30 seconds of footage; the PS4 video capture has been a bit flakey for me, recording random parts of games and sometimes not even recording anything at all. Microsoft's Upload Studio editing tools are also a lot more advanced than the solitary trim ability on the PS4, and I don't like being forced to share video to Facebook, period. I think Sony need to sort out their own video service on that end of things. It's a solid start for the PS4 though, and certainly a lot more compelling to use (in terms of gaming functionality) than the Xbox.
What about the new features, has anyone spent any time spectating the Live channel? Is it a worthwhile inclusion?
MB - I’ve been watching a bit and I’m finding it, slightly troubling. It's chock full of people in their living rooms and female gamers desperate for attention by highlighting their gender. The quality's not bad, but either I'm having problems connecting to some streamers or the channel list doesn't refresh frequently enough to remove ones that have gone off air.
EB - I've not explored it fully yet, but if it's anything like your average Twitch stream I can imagine what it'll be like. I tend to sift through that stuff pretty forcefully whenever I want to watch anything being streamed. I have used it to watch friends playing though. Whenever it pops up in the activity feed that somebody is live I'll usually tune in for a bit just to have a gander, or in the case of Resogun, to pick up tips from the ridiculous high score merchants on my list. The quality seems to be hit and miss depending on their connection and the stream quality setting they selected from the PS4 menu. I suspect a lot of people don't even know there's a higher setting than the default, which is resulting in some crappy bitrates.
Much has been made about Sony's leaps forward in ergonomics and usability with the Dualshock 4, does it live up to the hype?
MB - I read so many superlatives about the DS4 that, frankly, I felt a little let down when i finally started using it. Is that just me? It's a nice revision of the design, but it felt like it was a fix of issues rather than anything else, and as improved as the triggers are I'm not sure they're as praise-worthy as some are making out. Or was I expecting too much?
EB - I'm happy with the pad thus far. It's proven decent on shooters, sports games and arcade titles, so it's only really racers that could throw a spanner in the works. I like the form factor, the d-pad and shoulder buttons are excellent, and I prefer the stiffer resistance on the analogue sticks to the Xbox One variety; so it's only the triggers that fall a little short. Even then, they're totally fine during use, it's just that Microsoft have done a brilliant job updating theirs with rumble and that kinda spongy action that feels excellent.
SC - Whilst I find the pad to be good and a nice fit in the hand, I can't help but feel the Xbox One pad is slightly better, especially with the vibrating triggers. Saying that I do like the new triggers on the DS4 as well as the thumbsticks, and the touch panel could have some really good uses in the future if used correctly. I'm hoping this is the case and the integration isn’t ill-fitting like the Vita features were initially.
Which brings us nicely onto the Vita integration. This was a big selling point, tying in owners of the handheld to the Sony brand further, is it a novelty or could it be integral?
SC - The remote play works fantastically well and is an awesome feature, Sony are miles ahead in that respect. Playing your PS4 remotely via the Internet is an awesome feature and is a system changing feature. Some games arent suited to it however with a slight lag (of a reported 0.16 seconds on average) like battlefield or anything multiplayer. But its clear to see how the Vita was used as prior research for the PS4 pad and remote play and its really coming into its own now.
MB - The Vita use is where I'm getting that real next-gen feel. Resogun looks fantastic on the OLED screen, even if the sound is a bit weak. Remote Play is just an easy to use and really handy feature, which is great for those, like myself, who were early adopters of the Vita and may have to endure a lull or two in the release schedule for the handheld.
EB - I’ll echo what others have said regarding Remote Play, it's a brilliant bonus and remarkably usable, all things considered. The only real issue is the mapping of the shoulder or bumper buttons to the rear touch pad, which doesn't really work as a solution for games that need frequent access to them. I've happily played online games of FIFA through the Vita and bouts of Resogun in bed with barely any discernible lag though, and I'm happy with that. No doubt it'll improve as time goes on with regards to unlocking 60 fps streaming and higher video quality as well, but it's a fantastic start.
SC - The Vita integration is something I have been massively impressed with. Playing whilst someone is using the tele ( as per Wii U, Mark we get it!) is fantastic and is probably something that can shift units if you already have a Vita and are finding it to be unused.
EB - One thing I also tested was using Remote Play to connect to my PS4 from a bog-standard broadband connection in a different town (around 8 miles away from my house), and that also worked without much of a hitch. Input lag was obviously increased in comparison to a local connection, but it was still completely usable, which bodes well for playing when away from home. As long as you stick to titles that don't require split millisecond timing, it seems perfectly capable of relatively long-distance use.
That’s the tech, but what about the games - does anything stand out as offering that next gen feel?
SC - The only thing really that stands out is Killzone as that by far is the best looking title out on PS4 at present, despite being a bit of a shocker to play.
MB - I’ll confess to sticking to multi-plats for the moment, but the first thing that's struck me is how well the PS4 copes with anti-aliasing. It feels weird holding a Dualshock and not seeing jaggies all over the place.
EB - I'd single out Resogun and Killzone as both looking suitably spiffy on the new hardware. Resogun more for the sheer number of particles and objects on-screen, while Killzone's lighting and overall image quality is superb at times. I really like the art direction in the back half of that game, which was a pleasant surprise after a drab opening few hours.
MB - For a PS+ freebie, Resogun is a great advertisement for the system, which seems an odd thing to say about a shmup. The stage completion outro is absolutely insane with the amount of particles on screen; I don't think I'll ever tire of seeing that. I'd almost say it's the perfect PS+ accompaniment as it's easy to pick up, looks great but has real depth beneath.
It's all sounding quite positive, but what about flaws? Are there any niggles to be ironed out? Things that might have disappointed you?
EB - Plenty of niggles to sort out. Practical things mostly like having chat automatically broadcast through the camera during any game that you're in (that shouldn't be default), there should be places to dump pictures other than twitter, and a video posting solution that doesn't involve Facebook. The EU store isn't segmented or laid out intuitively either, which is weird when you log into the US one and see all their categories for the same content.
SC - There aren't as many niggles on the PS4 as there were for the Xbox One that's for sure! My main niggle so far has to be the touchpad being used as a stand-in back/select button. It defeats the object of having it if all it's there for is a push inwards to load an options screen or the Battlelog in Battlefield 4 for instance.
MB - There definitely needs to be a video alternative to Facebook and a way to quickly filter live streams so you can choose UK gamers. My main gripe is rather simplistic though, I'm not a big fan of the texture on the thumbsticks.
Impressions overall then?
EB - Overall impressions are very positive thus far. It's a solid start, and other than Battlefield 4, the games and overall experience is smooth and intuitive. Killzone and Resogun aside, I'm not blown away by the majority of the visuals we're seeing, but if I hadn't spent the last couple of years playing games on a PC, I could see the leap being much more pronounced.
SC - Altogether I’ve been impressed with the console and I can only see it getting better as we move into next year with infamous coming in February/March and then a whole host of multi-platform stuff that will look phenomenal too.
MB - I’m massively impressed with the hardware; fitting everything into a small, fairly quiet, jaunty shaped box is a marvel. The games will come, but it’s the interface and the use of Vita that stand out for me in this early period, which is a time we’ll all no doubt have little pangs of buyers remorse. I’m still happy I made the choice to pick one up at launch though.
EB - I'm definitely happy with the choice; there's something about being part of the launch phase when everybody is using the system together, figuring out the best bits, the kinks and the workarounds for all the problems, it's a load of fun.
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