I’ve had a good 24 hours (roughly) to digest last night’s reveal of the PS4, and figured I’d put some digital words to paper with my thoughts on what was shown. First off, I think it was a pretty great unveiling, and definitely one of the better press events Sony has had in quite a while. The PS4 looks like a really promising piece of hardware, surprising just about everyone with the announcement that it would house 8GB of GDDR5 RAM, a considerable step above what was previously rumored, and potentially more than we’ve seen rumored for the next-gen Xbox.
I’m not a tech/specs guy though, so what was going to wow me were the games and tech demos on stage, which for the most part did exactly that. The presentation kicked off after the general system announcement with an extension of Epic’s Unreal Engine 4 tech demo, which certainly looked impressive and showed off the horsepower behind PS4 fairly well. But when the reveal of Killzone Shadow Fall was revealed, with honest-to-god gameplay in what I’m sure is an effort to put to rest that long-standing resentment for Killzone 2’s not quite real debut, I definitely got the feeling that next-gen had arrived. I’m not even a big Killzone fan quite frankly, I played a bit of 2 and haven’t touched 3, but when the on-foot chase takes to the air during the Shadow Fall demo I found myself amazed at the visuals on display. It looked absolutely great.
Other titles, like Knack and inFamous: Second Son were also cool to see, but a little less so. Knack is a game that I’d really like to see more of, and know a little more about before I pass any real judgment. The visuals looked great, but something about it also seemed sort of flat. Granted, I’m watching this presentation through a stream, and even with “HD Quality” I’m not going to get the best representation of what some of these titles look like. inFamous: Second Son is definitely something I’m looking forward to as a big fan of the series, but that heavy-handed presentation leading up to the reveal wasn’t the way to go. It just felt forced and awkward for a game that’s going to depict a guy teleporting around and shooting fireballs out of his hand. I’m sure the oppressive, big brother aspect is going to play a big part, but it really didn’t fit the mood and excitement found in the rest of the presentations.
The Media Molecule presentation was interesting in the way it showed new potential from the already existing Move peripheral that will work in conjunction with the new Eye Toy 4 camera. I’m not the guy for these create your own fun type of games though; I rarely have the time or patience to get into them, despite having some very limited background experience in art. It looks like something that could be fun for a select group of people, and I’ll leave the more detailed analysis and critical thinking to those folks. It did sort of feel like the biggest interest drop-off point of the show, but not nearly at Wonderbook levels.
Bringing Jonathan Blow on stage was surprising for me, and showing off a new trailer for The Witness was definitely unexpected. I’m not sure that the trailer really did a whole lot for the game, honestly, but I’m looking forward to it regardless. I really, really enjoyed Braid, so I’m willing to give this one a go based entirely on my admiration for that title. What I really liked about bringing Jonathan Blow on stage, and showcasing The Witness as a PS4 title, is that it shows us Sony still wants to focus on these unique indie style games going forward, despite having hardware capable of rendering a lot of flashy bang-bang AAA explosions in new ways. Game Informer has an interview posted today on their site, wherein Sony president of worldwide Studios Shuhei Yoshida indicates that the option to self-publish will be available, and the storefront will be structured in a way that will let them set their own pricing and bundles. Very cool on Sony’s end, and I’m sure that’ll help bring even more indie developers on board when the system launches.
Ubisoft's Watch_Dogs presentation was another show stopper. The game looks as fantastic, if not more, than it did at E3. Most assumed that it was being geared for a next-gen release back then, so it's nice to see it confirmed during the conference. The new trailer was also a huge plus, showcasing a bit more action and some free-running elements that look very similar in design to Assassins Creed. I'm dying to lay hands on this one, and imagine most of you are too. I know that after the show it was mentioned that the game was actually running on a PC as opposed to an actual PS4 unit, but considering how remarkably similar the PS4 architecture is to a PC at this point, it gives me little cause for concern.
One more thing that I liked seeing Sony address was a lot of the front-end stuff for the PS4, detailing new features like the ability to suspend play states and enter a stand-by mode, similar to what the Vita is capable of. This feature is an absolutely fantastic addition to home consoles, allowing those of us with a busier home life the option to stop playing when we need to, regardless of how far away we are from a save point. Think of the amount of time it’ll save when needing to boot up your system and load your save file as well, which might only shave seconds off your day, but those are seconds better spent elsewhere. In light of the issues with the Wii U and some of problems with a slower, ram crunching OS, things like this were smart to address by Sony.
All the social functions shown off have me really interested as well. The idea of using a share button on the controller to upload streaming video to Ustream (and hopefully other sites down the road) is a feature that I’m really looking forward to. I’d love to be able upload game footage in some fashion, but rarely have the time or money for a decent capture device and video conversion, so this will be something I’ll really want to take advantage of. Being able to watch in on what other people are playing as they’re playing it via your system friends list is neat, and the concept of having someone take over for you when you’re stuck somewhere is also a very cool idea.
I’m also big on the PS4 / Vita connectivity talked about, and really hope the Remote Play functionality is there right out of the gate. It certainly sounds like that’s what they’re aiming for, making it a requirement that developers include optional Vita control-schemes for submitted games. The limited selection of titles on the PS3 that do this, like Shadow of the Colossus, work quite well in comparison to what the PSP was capable of. I’m hoping that remains the case, and potentially improves with the PS4 hardware backing everything up.
The material shown off by third-party publishers and the list of publishers issuing support for the system gives fans something to hope for. I like that Sony sort of focused on traditional Japanese developers like Capcom and Square Enix, instead of pushing for more “western friendly” companies outside of Activision. I’m sure you’ll see a lot out of that side of the development pond too, but there’s something old-school, familiar, and just sort of right with letting Japanese devs/pubs take the floor and give some indication of what they’ve got in store. For Capcom it was a pretty good showing, displaying a new engine called Panta Rhei that looked great in the demo for Deep Down. I’m not entirely convinced Deep Down was actual gameplay, the UI looked like something tacked on, and there were too many moments during that video that seemed uncontrolled and scripted. But still, it looks promising, and we’ll hold out hope that the real deal is something similar.
Square Enix was the one big outlier this evening for me, and I honestly wish that Sony had used their slot for someone that was a little more prepared to show something new. The tech demo for Agni Philosophy shown was identical to the one shown during E3 last year. And when Shinji Hashimoto took to the stage, cracked a joke that I don’t think anyone understood regardless of language barrier, and paused as if in preparation for a big Final Fantasy announcement, I got a little excited. But then he just blurted out that they’re working on a Final Fantasy game for PS4 and to wait until E3. I was sort of fed up with them at that point. To not have a single new thing, when standing side by side with every other developer and publisher that came on stage that evening was the sort of hubris that makes a lot of those critical comments aimed at current day S-E so dead on. Knowing that you'll make a Final Fantasy game for PS4 isn't a surprise. And yes, that Agni Philosophy demo looks really pretty. But if you’re going to get invited up for a new console reveal, try to bring your A-game at least. As a company you’re quickly hitting the point where a new FF game isn’t what it used to be, so if you’re going to tease one, at least do it right.
Finally, both the Destiny and Diablo III reveals were nice confirmations of things that were either assumed or rumored for a bit. I don’t think that anyone really thought Destiny wasn’t next-gen bound, but it’s nice to see those visuals shown off here, and if you’re a fan of Bungie you’re probably going to be on board this new venture for any system it shows up on. Diablo III might have been underwhelming for a lot of people that are either over the game at this point, or didn’t have any interest in it to begin with, but I’m really curious to see how it turns out. I still play a fair amount of it on PC, and it’s a game that has become exponentially better with every new patch, making a world of difference from its original release. It sounds like this version of the game will pick up right around where the recent 1.0.7 patch has left the game, with some new crafting bits and limited player PvP, so it shouldn’t be that far behind the PC game when it launches. Including local 4-player co-op is really nice, and the scant few screenshots showing off the console specific UI scheme are nice to see. I'm glad it's being released PS3 as well, and I’m curious to see what the significant differences are between the two versions. I’d also like to know if I can access my current character through my Battle.net login on the console version of the game, which will be a key factor in whether I pick this up or not.
A string of interviews today have given us other tidbits of information, including additional confirmation that the no backwards compatibility extends to PSN titles (assumed), and that the system will not be required to be constantly connected to the internet. Also confirmed last night is that there is no restriction for used games, something that a lot of folks were really concerned about going into this reveal, and something that would be a clear anti-consumer move if ever enabled. I’m absolutely disappointed in the lack of BC straight through the system, but have long assumed that would be the case considering the unique architecture of the PS3. The streaming option offered by Gaikai might be a good workaround, but my experience with streaming game services has been poor. Unless that improves considerably I’m not entirely sure how useful such a service will be. I’d also like to know how or if Sony will recognize what content you’ve purchased digitally, and if you’ll need to pay an additional cost to stream that content to your PS4. To their credit, it took them a while to get the PS1 BC up and running on the Vita, but at least they’ve established some sort of track record when it comes to not making you pay twice for previous purchased content (coughNintendocough).
Whew! I think that’s all I’ve got in me, but needless to say I’m looking forward to what Sony is bringing to the table this year. That Holiday timetable can’t come soon enough, and I’m eagerly anticipating more reveals and announcements at E3 this year. I’m also really curious to see how Microsoft handles this going forward, and I’m wondering if there’s any last minute changes being brought to the table in the house that Bill built today. Time will tell, shortly enough, but it’s an exciting time for the industry that we all love.