One of the best things about the PS4 is the ability to jump between screens quickly. Hitting the PS button on the controller, for example, instantly brings up the main interface, where you can access other features without closing your game. Double-tapping the PS button, for example, takes you into the last app you were in. So, for instance, you can pause a game and quickly call up the console’s Web browser to check for hints on how to pass a part you’re stuck on, then immediately switch back into the game. It’s seamless and amazingly fast.
What about games?
Although it’s positioned as the console for core gamers, the PS4 is relatively short on big core launch titles, at least in comparison to the Xbox One. Killzone: Shadow Fall, as a first-person shooter, is the obvious flagship launch game. Its graphics are stunning and do a great job of highlighting the console’s technical capabilities, but the game itself is underwhelming. Knack, a brawling platformer, is also a visual showcase and a lot of fun – although it is aimed more at children and is a little too long for what it is. (My separate reviews of Killzone here, and Knack here.)
Otherwise, the PS4 is counting on visually buffed versions of current-generation games such Skylanders: Swap Force and FIFA 14, plus an army of indie games such as ResoGun and Contrast, to entice byers this holiday season. Sony is promising 20 exclusive games within the console’s first year, with a dozen of them being brand new franchises. The company has a solid track record of producing excellent exclusives, so there’s little doubt that more, good first-party games are coming.
Sony has put significant effort into redesigning its iconic Dualshock controller, to the point where it’s a thing of beauty now. Its handles are slightly longer, which provides for a better grip, and its bottom shoulder buttons are now more trigger-like. While the Xbox 360 was the console of choice for fans of shooter games thanks mainly to its controller triggers, the PS4 is now more on par.
The “start” button from previous Dualshock controllers has been scrapped, here most of its usual functions are merged with the old “select” button for a new “options” button. It’s conveniently placed adjacent to the right thumbstick, so pausing and accessing menus is quick and easy. The same goes for the “share” button on the left side. It’s amazingly easy to put the game on hold and launch right into uploading gameplay pictures and video (more on this below).
The entire controller is more weighty and comfortable, mainly because of the new touch pad squeezed in between its shoulder buttons. The pad also adds new functionality for game developers – in Killzone, for example, quick swipes on it sends instructions to your drone sidekick.
It’s possible the pad may prove to be an unnecessary gimmick: One big complaint among non-gamers is that console controllers, with their myriad buttons and thumbsticks, are already too complicated to learn. The touchpad, which potentially adds even more controls to games, only makes that situation worse.
The addition of a speaker within the controller itself, however, is more intriguing. I actually forgot it was there until I picked up an audio log in Killzone, which then started playing back through the controller. Even though I’ve experienced this kind of feature on Nintendo’s Wii U, it still gave me a start. It’s a small, neat touch that – in the right hands – will enhance games.
Last but not least, the Dualshock 4 has the PlayStation Move built into it. The front of the controller resembles a Battlestar Galactica Cylon of sorts, with an eye-slit-like light that glows blue, red or yellow. The light actually serves a few purposes – in Killzone, it’s a quick gauge of your character’s health (red is dire), but it also enables motion tracking. (More on this in the next section.)
All told, the PS4 packs an impressive amount of technology into its controller. It’s a huge step up from its predecessor that will not only make Sony’s console a more credible competitor for shooters, it also opens up enticing new possibilities for developers.
Downloads and interconnections
The PlayStation Store is largely unchanged from the PS3, although any purchased TV shows and movies are now streamed rather than downloaded. One nifty change to game downloads is the ability for publishers to offer prioritized downloads. Say you want to buy a digital version of Call of Duty: Ghosts – rather than waiting for the whole thing to download before playing, you can now choose to get the multiplayer mode first. When it’s finished, you can go ahead and play while the single-player continues to download.