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PS4 – Staff impressions

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Many of us at Gaming Age were able to get our hands on a PlayStation 4 at or around launch day, so after ripping ourselves away from the console (and real-life obligations) for a few moments, we were able to gather some casual  thoughts regarding Sony's next-generation console. And yeah yeah, it's been more than a week since launch at this point, but not everyone was able to crack their systems open on day one.

Anyway, we expect to expand on these impressions in the near future, though for now, here is what we're thinking.  Stay tuned for a similar Xbox One impressions wrap-up in about a week.

Dustin

It’s nice to finally see next-gen at home with the arrival of the PlayStation 4 last week, and having spent the past week or so with my new system I find myself suitably impressed.

It’s not entirely perfect, obviously there are some defective units out there, and I know that the initial patch download and install was troublesome for a few of you out there. I didn't have any big hang-ups outside of a sluggish download process for the 1.5 firmware patch, but with that out of the way I can't point out any real negatives with the hardware. And for those that have experienced problems, Sony has been really proactive in resolving issues quickly for those affected, so good on them for that.

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I’m most impressed by the DualShock 4, which I think is an absolutely great controller. Everything about this thing, from the new trigger buttons to the analog sticks, feels like a step in the right direction and it’s one of the biggest evolutions the DualShock format has seen. I’m not entirely sold on the touch pad as of yet, but my only real experience comes from its limited use in Killzone: Shadow Fall. The controller just feels great to hold, and I think it will make both previous PS3 and Xbox 360 owners pretty happy.

The UI for the system feels snappy for just about everything, whether that’s jumping in and out of a game to initialize streaming through Twitch.tv or Ustream, or switching between the initial apps available to install. The boot-up from a cold start isn't any longer than what we've grown used to, whereas game loading seems significantly better for what I've played so far. I saw a huge difference in load speed between Assassin’s Creed IV on PS3 via disc with caching compared to using the $10 download upgrade (which still requires info from the disc to be cached). The store interface is certainly better than the PS3, and while the dashboard is pretty bare bones at the moment, you get the feeling that this is a solid foundation for Sony to build upon over the next couple of years.

It’s also worth mentioning that the initial software line-up is one of the best launches I've ever seen. While there might not be any A+ titles present, there’s a lot of variety in 1st party and 3rd party multiplatform releases, and the excellent upgrade for $10 program available for games like Assassins Creed IV is super easy to take advantage of. Resogun seems like the stand out favorite here, and inclusion of a PS Plus trial, along with a $10 store credit, is a pretty solid incentive for new buyers. Considering Sony’s excellent track record with PS Plus on the PlayStation 3, I think new PS4 owners will fall in love with the service over the next few months despite it being required for online play now.

All in all, I’m happy with what my $400 bought here, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the PS4 has to offer over the course of 2014. The next big release on the horizon seems to Infamous: Second Son, which looks fantastic. But I imagine we’ll see a surprise or two in between, and hopefully some more fantastic support for independent developers as evidenced by this strong and unique launch line-up.

Travis

First impressions straight out of the box, wasn't thrilled about the look and form factor of the PS4. It doesn't look modern and sleek. It's a bit of a throwback look for me. I still love that Sony puts the power supply in the system as I hate having a big power brick to manage on the floor. The system is kind of sexy when you turn it on and the lights start glowing on it. The controller is fantastic. A nice upgrade in features without losing the old comfortable feeling of previous pads.

My current launch games are Assassin's Creed IV, Injustice, Contrast, and Resogun. No disappointments in anything I've played. AC IV and Injustice look awesome in high resolution. As good as they both look and play, I get the sense (just like I did at the beginning of last generation) that the next round of games designed for this system from the ground up are going to blow me away.

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The new features of the system itself are what has me most excited since launch. I started Twitch streaming earlier this year with some PC games but never bothered with the trouble to do it from a console. Streaming to Twitch (and watching others) straight from the PS4 is so simple and so incredible. The new front end is a huge improvement over the PS3. I thought it ran considerably faster. Downloads run in the background while you are playing a game, and most importantly, I can get to many features of the menu without having to leave the current game. I haven't tried uploading to YouTube yet, but I'm excited of the prospect of all my gameplay being recorded in case something awesome happens.

The last thing worth mentioning is also quite possibly my favorite thing about the system, off screen play on the Vita. I played both Injustice and AC IV on my Vita with the PS4 on and the TV off. Hooking it up was simple. The visuals were fantastic on that gorgeous Vita screen. This is such a great feature for a dad like me that wants to be in the same room with the family without monopolizing the TV.

Matthew

At this point, roughly ten days into its lifespan, the PlayStation 4 is still basically a blank slate to me. None of the three games I've played so far (Knack, Contrast and Super Motherload) have blown me away, with each of them feeling like games that very well could've come out on the PS3 (or, in the case of Super Motherload, pretty much any console going back to the Atari 2600). The cutscenes look a little better, I guess, but it's not like the drastic improvement I saw when I jumped from the PS2 to the PS3, or the PSP to the Vita.

As for the nuts and bolts…again, I'm still unsure of how I feel. As one of the few people who genuinely liked the PS3's XMB, I'm finding the PS4's version a lot less intuitive. It definitely seems to move a lot faster, but at the same time, it's harder to find things — and, when you do find them, harder to do anything. Case in point: whereas PS3 downloads are easy to find and easy to manage, I had to search around to find them on my PS4, and I still haven't figured out how to pause them (which meant I spent hours waiting for competing game downloads to finish). Similarly, I'm not sold on the new controller's design; the Options button (which replaces the traditional Start button) is harder to reach, the whole touchpad seems kind of pointless so far, and, as someone who holds steadfastly to the notion of gaming as a single-player-on-the-couch kind of thing, Share just baffles me.

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All that said, who am I kidding? Ask me this question again sometime next year, after inFamous: Second Son is out, and suddenly the PS4 will be my favourite console ever.

Chris L.

First few days with my PS4 were a mixture of ups and downs. First the ups. Extremely easy to install and setup. Getting connect to my wireless was painless and easy. Once the PlayStation Network was working again, transferring my PSN name and PS+ subscription was very easy. Forming a party for voice chat was easy, however, once a 3rd person was added, we had some strange issues with echoing from the 3rd person that joined. Not sure if it was an issue with his setup or an issue with the party system.

Second, the downs. Of course, download speed was really slow at first. I left my system on all night to download updates for all my games, it took 3 days to get the system completely up and running with all of the downloads. The biggest issue that I had was with Battlefield 4. That game was unplayable for me until the recent patch. Joining games for about 10 seconds then getting dropped. Losing my save games because of some strange error that EA attributed to the firmware, etc. I’m also not a huge fan of the UI and the way the library is shown. Once a game is installed from disc, it shows an icon for that game in your library. If you try to launch it, it tells you to insert the disc. I liked the UI from the PS3 better when it showed you the disc that was in the drive, and you just started it from there.

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All of that being said, and it looks like my downs list is longer than my ups list, I still am happy with the PS4. The games are fun, once they get going. Resogun I’m totally addicted to. Killzone is beautiful and great to play. Knack is just the right speed for my wife to play through, and the Injustice release for PS4 is well done and the add-ons for the game are great. I have been playing some DCOU (DC Universe Online) and have been enjoying that game as well.

Overall, the PS4 has been a good experience once I got past the rocky start brought on by the initially slow PSN downloads.

Jim

Hmmm… where to start. The PlayStation 3 end up being my main console for the latter half of this current generation, so it should be obvious that I was super hyped for what a next-generation PlayStation platform would bring to the table. Sony has clearly learned from their mistakes, and if you compare the state of the PS3 at launch with the state of the PS4 right now, you'll see quite the improvement there. Entertainment devices, which includes consoles, tablets, smartphones and a whole lot more, are ever-changing these days thanks to the ability to push out new system software and add services and features on the fly. So devices at launch can and will be very different than the same devices nearing end-of-life, so they are understood as being a work in progress. The PlayStation 4 is clearly a work in progress, though Sony was able to get off on the right foot this time.

Seemingly inspired by the iconic PlayStation 2 console design, the PlayStation 4 is a modern thing of beauty in my eyes. The angular, swept back lines makes it just melt into my entertainment center, and other than the glowing LED strip up top (if in the horizontal position), it's difficult to even notice it there sitting on the shelf. The form factor is certainly smaller and more compact than I expected. I find that the console is, in general, quieter than my PS3 slim, though it's not always whisper-quiet during games. The Blu-ray start-up squeal is somewhat noticeable for the first few seconds, as is the variable-speed fan that slowly increases during parts of certain games, then slowly quiets down afterwards. It's damn near silent when idling or navigating the UI or playing Blu-ray movies, and compared to my original 60GB PS3 launch unit, it's dead quiet. Considering the compact design and relatively powerful components packed in there alongside an internal power supply, the PS4 design is impressive.

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I've grown to love the PS3's DualShock 3 (and formerly the Sixaxis) controller over the years and actually still prefer the symmetrical analog sticks over an asymmetrical layout. The convex sticks themselves were adequate, though the mushy, rounded L2/R2 triggers were most definitely the low point. So dropping $5 for a pair of Real Triggers was money worth spending.  With the DualShock 4, Sony fixed both of these shortcomings, made the controller itself a little larger and more solid feeling, improved the d-pad with more prominent directionals, and added a nifty (but so far underutilized) touchpad.  The tightened, slightly longer analog sticks with concave tops, and the springier better shaped triggers make all the difference.    The battery life seems to be a little less than the DualShock 3 at this point, though not by all that much overall.  Using the controller's improved Sixasis motion sensors to enter text must be some sort of black magic. So yeah, I like it.

Sony ditched the XMB as found on the PS3 and PSP for a hybrid XMB/tile-based interface called the PS4 Dynamic Menu.  This new UI is ultra snappy, and while a little bit unpopulated in areas, is a nice evolution of the XMB.  The addictive What's New activity feed shows, at a glance, what your friends are up to, including game milestones such as trophies and when levels are completed alongside shared screenshots, videos and live-streamed sessions.  The Twitter card-style events and tiles that are generated while using the PS4 provides for a more connected feeling with those on your friends list.  Each game in your library, like the PS Vita's livearea screens, compiles information about that specific game including trophies, friend activities and game updates which are displayed in a card-like interface right on the Dynamic Menu.  I'm enjoying these new UI features so far and I hope Sony builds upon them in the near future.

I can't not mention the awesome built-in PS Vita and PS4 remote play feature.  Not only can you play nearly any PS4 game remotely on the PS Vita (within your local network and over the internet), you can also use the Vita as a second controller and Remote play device simultaneously, which is a nice perk.  It even works with Skylanders: SWAP Force, which my kids immediately took advantage of.  The game's portal needs to stay connected to the console and someone has to be on hand to physically swap the figures of course, but it was neat that it even worked.

The ability to record up to 15 minutes of video and take captures of games to share with PS4 friends, and on Twitter and Facebook is a nice, forward-thinking feature.  The same can be said of the Name Request feature which allows you to use your real name and photo (via Facebook) with select people on your friends list (after you both accept).  Easily one of the coolest standout features of the PS4 is the livestream functionality via Twitch and Ustream.  I was surprised how streamlined and dangerously easy it is to just start broadcasting video directly from the console.  The same could be said for consuming live video, since it's an option baked right into the UI.   Notifications on the PS4 are way more granular, which is very much appreciated (I don't mind them all on, personally).  There are some options which are hidden under menu items and difficult to find, and it would be nice if you could sort/filter/group games and applications within the library and on the menu, though I don't doubt that such options are on the way.  There are limited voice commands built into the PS4 interface which can be triggered either from the packed-in chat headset or the optional PS4 camera. It works decent if you're trying to launch a game or a limited set of apps.

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As for the games, if you factor in the free-to-play downloads and 3rd party PS3/PS4 cross-generation launch titles, the lineup isn't too shabby.  If you include the free PS Plus downloads like Contrast and Resogun, it's even better. I actually sort of liked Knack, gasp! Your mileage may vary depending on your personal interests of course, but thinking back to all the previous console launches I've taken part in, this isn't bad at all.  I would have liked to see more PS4 demos on the PS Store, which, by the way, looks almost identical to the latest PS3 store, but is integrated into the UI and runs many, many times better.  When playing a disc-based or digital game, game installations, downloads and updates,  for the most part, are quick and transparent. The ability for games to cache/install soon after the disc is inserted or download initiated has worked well so far.

As for other random criticisms, I wish my Harmony PS3 Bluetooth remote adapter were compatible with the PS4, and future support for PS3 USB peripherals like the MadCatz Fight Sticks would be nice as well. Support for a wider range of media and audio files, along with DLNA devices, certainly can't hurt either. Hopefully sending video direct to YouTube will be an option we see soon, along with a proper YouTube viewing app.  Most of these additions and tweaks aren't critical must-haves for me personally, so we'll have to wait and see when/if we get them.  I'm counting the days until we can suspend games while putting the console into sleep mode.

I can probably go on forever, dissecting the console and digging through settings, options, features and whatnot, but I'll quit while I'm ahead.

It feels like the PS4 is off to an excellent start given how much more Sony is trying to do with the console as compared to the PS3 and PS Vita at launch.  I've been more than ready to move onto the next generation, and so far I'm happy that I have.  Now bring on the new games.

TL;DR: I'm enjoying mostly everything about the PS4 at this point, and am excited to see where Sony takes the platform in the future.