By now, it's undeniable that Sony has become one of the stalwarts of the video game industry. The consoles and handhelds that the company has released have helped to define generations of gamers. Their systems are home to some of the industry's most recognizable and longstanding franchises (God of War
, Ratchet and Clank
, and Twisted Metal
, just to name a few) that countless gamers hold near and dear to their hearts. Last week, Sony entered the next generation of gaming with their most technologically advanced piece of hardware to date, the PlayStation 4. The system represents the evolution of gaming, both on and off of the couch, and it's making a statement about who gamers are, and what they like to do, that hopefully the industry will hear loud and clear.
Right out of the box, it's clear that the PlayStation 4 is a workhorse. It was designed from the ground up to have an architecture that is more in line with gaming PCs than traditional video game consoles. This makes the development environment more friendly for the people that make games, whether you're a small indie studio, or working on a AAA title for a multinational publisher. This approach is a win-win for everyone involved, and will allow players to reap the benefits of expertly crafted titles, both big and small. The small ones are actually one of the things that makes the PlayStation 4 so interesting.
The PlayStation 4's launch line-up
includes some of the biggest name games of the year, like Battlefield 4
, Call of Duty: Ghosts
, Killzone: Shadow Fall
, and Need for Speed: Rivals
. The quality of these games clearly can't be questioned, but they cost millions of dollars to make and market. One of the promises that Sony has made to their fans is that these won't be the only kinds of games they'll be able to enjoy on the PS4, and to prove it they have been actively pursuing indie developers to bring their games to the new hardware. This isn't how the industry has typically operated in the past, but it's already working, and promising titles like Octodad: Deadliest Catch
, Tiny Brains
, Don't Starve
, and Contrast
are either slated to be released, or are already available on the PS4. Anyone that is looking for unique experiences, outside-the-box development ideas, or just a game where you aren't shooting things all the time, should rejoice at the potential for the platform.
One addition innovation that the PlayStation 4 is introducing is an all new controller, the DualShock 4. It's an updated version of their controller line that dates back to the days of the original PlayStation, and it not only brings with it a redesign, but also a fresh take on functionality. The new controller feels more comfortable in your hands, and includes concave analog sticks, which feel very natural, making them a good fit for all games. Other smaller tweaks like rumble being updated, a new light bar in the back of the controller to stand in for the Move controller, and a new headphone jack, round out some of the DS4's best talking points. However, the two most important updates appear at the top of the controller: the touch pad and the share button (more on that in a second). Following in line with the PS Vita's touchscreen, the PlayStation 4 also offers a more tactile input sensor for developers to mess around with. It's an interesting inclusion, and full of possibilities that will hopefully reveal themselves over the life of the console.
As you step back and look at the PlayStation 4 as a whole, one of the most important statements that the console is trying to make, and likely the one that it will be remembered for, is its forward-thinking take on social gaming. As soon as you load up your PS4, you're thrown right into a living world of what's going on with you and your friends, as part of the consoles What's New feed. Similar to Facebook, the What's New section aggregates all of the latest updates from you and your friends into one place, allowing you to see who is playing what, when, and how well. Even for players that my shy away from using Facebook, using this feature to check up on your friends via the feed is surprisingly compelling, and the next step forward in social gaming.
The system itself boasts a host of impressive new features
, including ideas that make it easier to game (Play As You Download and Remote Play), to interact with the system (the PlayStation app, motion controlled input), and to brag about your skills (Trophy rarity and live broadcasting). It's this last one that's truly what's going to make the PlayStation 4's community thrive.
Up until a few years ago, console gaming used to be an experience that never left the couch. Whether you were pouring hours into a single-player RPG, or battling, split-screen, against some of your friends, games remained within the four walls of the home. The slow introduction of online gaming on consoles helped to broaden the reach one's gaming experience, but it's the steps that Sony is taking that will truly bring sharing social gaming to the next generation. The addition of the Share button to the DualShock 4 controller makes it easy to post your gameplay videos to Facebook and directly stream your gameplay on Twitch and Ustream. Since this exercise was going to happen anyways, Sony made it easier for fans to do something that they've been doing on their own for a while now, while cutting out middlemen like capture cards. These live streamed gameplay sessions are all the rage with the kids these days, and to be able to do that at the touch of a button is revolutionary.
Like all console launches, the PlayStation 4 does have small bumps to smooth out. The mandatory game installations for disc-based titles (up to 49 GBs for some games in the launch line-up) are going to eat up the 500 GB harddrive very quickly. On the plus side, like the PlayStation 3, the PS4 allows you to swap in a new harddrive, but that comes at the cost of having to purchase one. The really bothersome thing about the installs is that they don't necessarily make the games load any faster, and it can take a surprisingly long time for some titles to load up.
The launch of the PlayStation 4 has proved that major players in the video game industry can learn from their mistakes. The missteps that were made during the launch of the PlayStation 3 and the PS Vita have seemingly been avoided. These changes illustrate that Sony can put their hubris aside, and deliver the hardware experience that they promised, at a price that's appealing to consumers. While the launch lineup comes in a little on the light side, early adopters should be pleased with the selection, and anyone else that is holding off should find that their patience will be rewarded with a wealth of content. However this generation of consoles is going to be defined has yet to be seen, but Sony's sleek, black box has just drafted the next page in the gaming history books.