PlayStation 4 Review: Is It Really For The Players?
It’s been painful to watch the US and UK launches all the way from over here in South Africa, feeling like we were totally left out of all the buzz and excitement. But as it usually goes, our turn was coming, although it did feel like time went into reverse before our local launch of December 13. But this past Friday we finally got it, and immediately we set out to explore the console and play around with it (these are not sexual innuendos), eager to see everything Sony’s newest box has to offer us. We’ve compiled a full written review, as well as a video discussion about the system, which you can find up above.
We’ve been waiting since February. It’s finally time now. Is the PS4 all that the hype made it out to be?
The PS4 is by no means an ambitious design, but it ventures closer towards Sony’s sexy smartphone look, keeps things simple and sets itself apart as a classy console in the finer details. We love the look, as its glossy panel on the top, the light strip and even oddly enough the slanted profile all come together to make a very attractive machine. What we found especially impressive was the compactness of the design, especially after its bulky predecessor at launch. Unfortunately, there are some issues, with the dominant one being that the USB ports are located in the indent around the perimeter, which means any big flash drive will have a hard time getting in there. Another small issue is that the eject disc and power buttons are so tiny that they’re hard to find, although both of these functions can be performed with the controller. At the back of the machine you’ll find your usual HDMI, power cable and sound slots. We particularly liked how the console can stand vertically without any hassle, which questions the existence of a vertical stand as it seems entirely unnecessary, unless your circumstances call for something sturdier. Overall the PS4 has a visually appealing design that will look good in your living room, and we feel it’s definitely much sexier than its predecessor.
The DualShock 3 is a controller that was good, but had glaring faults with regards to its analogue sticks and marshmallow L2 and R2 buttons. Enter the DualShock 4, and it improves on its predecessor in every possible way. The controller is a little longer with bulkier grips to allow for a better fit in your hands. The rubber grip underneath makes it comfortable to hold for lengthy game sessions. While the face buttons are mostly the same and the D-pad keys have been lengthened a little bit to allow for smoother pressing, the analogue sticks and triggers are the real cause for joy. The analogue sticks are now much more precise as there’s less wild room for them to move like it was on the PS3, and there are now indents on them for better grip. The increased accuracy has phenominal pay off in games like Killzone: Shadow Fall and FIFA 14, with regards to having much more control over your movement. The trigger buttons slightly retain the marshmallow feel of the DualShock 3, but they are far narrower and act like actual buttons, making them a joy to use. It’s now easy to know when they’ll activate, as on PS3 sometimes pushing them half-way even led to activation.
The iconic Start and Select buttons have been replaced by “Options” and “Share” respectively, and while we certainly don’t mind select going, we do miss our start key. On the top of the controller you’ll find the lightbar and micro-USB port, underneath you’ll find an earphone and headphone jack and on the front you’ll find the touch panel and, above the PS button, a speaker. The speaker is quite cool as, in Killzone: Shadow Fall, it came into action when an audio log was picked up. It’s fantastic how you can transmit your game sound straight through the controller, although it was a little bit on the soft side in our testing. Just to note, you have to go to settings on your PS4, “Sound and Screen” and choose “All Audio” under “output to headphones” to enable this feature. The touch panel is smooth and works great, although our only concern is that the screen doesn’t feel sturdy to the touch, and has a slight wobble. On the matter of the lightbar, the one function we enjoyed was it differentiating multiple players by colour, so for instance in FIFA one of us was blue and the other was red. Sadly, it does reflect off your screen, which could be problematic in a dark room, but there are ways to get around it and it can easily be unnoticeable when you’re playing, although there should have been an option to turn it off.
The biggest issue is the battery life, as the DualShock 4 lasts significantly shorter than its predecessor, matching the duration of the Vita at about 6-8 hours. That’s still great for lengthy game sessions, but you will need to charge it more frequently and it takes about a similar time as a smart phone to recharge completely – round about an hour or less. Finally, the vibration is more or less similar to what you’ll get on the DualShock 3, but it feels smoother and less wild, which we found pretty nice.
All in all, the DualShock 4 is close to perfect for your gaming, and it really is the best controller Sony has produced. While we haven’t tested it on a racing game (thanks DriveClub), it has performed impeccably at everything else so far, and there’s next to nothing to feel let down about when it comes to the playing experience. It’s incredible, and we feel we couldn’t have asked for better.
User Interface And Software
There’s very little to fault the PS4′s slick user interface for. It’s equal parts tiling and classic XMB. At the forefront of the UI is your recently used features and games, your PlayRoom, Apps and Live TV and so forth, and it can be customised to your liking. Pressing the up key takes you to the classic XMB bar with PlayStation Store, Profiles, Notifications, Settings and so on. The down key takes you to more detailed information about games such as overviews, leaderboards and the rest. It’s simple, elegant and extremely user-friendly. Not to mention that its gorgeous to look at. While its predecessor was bland and required a custom theme to make it pretty, the PS4 is stylish, slick and visually appealing. The general ease with which you can quite literally flow through the interface makes the niggles and issues all the more halting. Idiosyncrasies and poor menu design are evident in a few small areas, such as you not being able to turn off your controller by just holding the PS button, but have to go to “Adjust Devices”, “Turn Off Device” and then select the DualShock 4, which is weird. These issues are barely there but they’re an annoyance that could be fixed.
One of the most impressive things about PS4 is its ability to multitask and its astounding speed. At the touch of the PS button you can full minimise a game you’re playing and browse through your UI as if alt tabbing on a PC. There was a slight bit of stutter on the menu while Killzone was running, but it wasn’t anything serious. Downloads and installs now don’t stop you from using the console and doing whatever you please, which is excellent. We used a stopwatch to test game install speeds, and Killzone: Shadow Fall was done in 46 seconds. Knack took 55, FIFA 14 was done in 30 and Lego Marvel Super Heroes was about 40 thereabouts. It was absolutely incredible to see. They were all under a minute. The options to automatically update your games even while on Standby mode is awesome as well.
When we first tested out Remote Play, we had a great deal of anxiety because of our rather weak internet in South Africa and the fact that retaining possession of our Vita machine relied on this actually working. Well, the first thing we did after we tested it was send a Whatsapp message to the whole eGamer group shouting “it freaking works!” Although “freaking” may have been something else. Remote Play truly impressed and surprised us, feeling like a real “next-gen” feature and functioning astoundingly well. It’s really easy to use and setup. Provided you have the latest software on your Vita, all you need to do is fire up “PS4 Link” and, on your actual PS4, go to settings and add your Vita device. There will be a one-time code to link it up with your PS4, but after that it’s smooth sailing.
It was first tested on a PS4 that was connected by an Ethernet cable (in a room where there is no Wifi signal), and we connected the Vita through the PS4. This worked flawlessly, with the Vita essentially having a near perfect one-to-one parity. We tested it on Killzone: Shadow Fall, FIFA 14, Knack and Lego Marvel Super Heroes, and all yielded spectacular results. The games, especially Killzone, looked gorgeous on the Vita’s screen (we used an OLED Vita and not an LCD model), although there were some instances of blurry textures or loss of quality, particularly with FIFA 14, where it was apparent that it was scaled down. However, there are other moments where the Vita’s smaller screen actually leads to detail up close in games like Killzone looking better.
We then tested the Vita in another room, on the home WIFI away from the PS4, and the results were equally good, meaning near flawless. It is worth noting that it was tested on a 4mb connection, and in our upcoming Remote Play video we will talk about more extensive and varied testing. Our third test was using the Vita as a second controller, and this also proved to be amazing as we played Lego Marvel Super heroes co-op and went head-to-head in FIFA 14. It honestly felt like the Vita was born to do this at times. The main aspect that was an initial concern was that the Vita does not have L2, L3, R2 or R3 buttons, and as a result these are mapped to the rear touch panel in each of the corners. While this definitely took getting used to in a shooter like Killzone, it soon becomes quite comfortable to play on after practice, and in our FIFA 14 games we could play on Vita with almost the same skill level as using a controller. Of course it’s an adjustment and it is an extra challenge, but it works fantastically.
Overall, Remote Play as an absolute delight, and a real highlight of the PS4 and its capabilities, especially when you consider that every PS4 game, whether first party, third party or indie, will have this functionality. It has, on its own, enticed one of our members not to get rid of his Vita.
At present, we didn’t see a whole lot that the PS4 itself needs to do to improve. However, there are concerns we have. Firstly, it seemed to heat up quickly on a variety of surfaces including wood, granite and carpet, although admittedly it did main itself at that temperature which was good. It’s odd, but it does lead to the console’s fan being pretty loud. It’s not really annoying as you won’t notice it while playing and it by far is preferable to its predecessor’s scary disc-chugging noise which sounded like your game was dying. But it is something to be wary of. We also felt the UI could do with some small tweaks, which are bound to happen through updates. Our other concern is of course the battery life of the DualShock 4, but so far despite lengthy game sessions we haven’t felt as though it was too short at all. It’s just when you compare it to the DualShock 3 that it seems quite strange.
While the games may have a long way to go as is expected for a new console launch, the PS4 itself is without a doubt a lovely machine. To sum things up, it manages to tick all the right boxes with regards to being user-friendly and aesthetically pleasing. It has a fantastic UI, great software functionality, plenty of power and some features that truly feel “next-gen” already, with regards to its Remote Play functionality. Convenience is also a powerful thing that the PS4 has brought, removing nearly all of the things that held its predecessor back, namely lengthy game installs, no multi-tasking and lack of fluidity. There is certainly room for improvement but there isn’t a whole lot that we’d change. As a piece of technology the PS4 is great. As a potential investment for the next bunch of years it’s even better provided overheating doesn’t become a concern. There have been no noticeable technical issues yet.
We are completely happy with the PS4, and it has impressed us on so many levels. This one is absolutely for the players, and we forecast a great future ahead. We’ve been hard at work to see everything we possibly could. But it’s been an exciting and wonderful launch, and of course the best is yet to come. There are many aspects of the PS4 that convinced us the best is absolutely on its way.
*This review was compiled by Azhar and AG.