Canadians are, as usual, getting short-changed when it comes to non-game video apps, with only four – Netflix, Crackle, Crunchy Roll and NHL Game Centre – available at launch. Americans, in comparison, are getting 11, including apps such as Hulu. Still, Netflix is really the only one that matters.
While Microsoft has made its motion– and voice-sensing Kinect an integral feature of its own next-generation console, the Xbox One, the PS4 isn’t exactly lacking in these technologies. Sony, however, has wisely made them all optional – players can pick up the $60 Eye camera if they want, but it’s not necessary.
The Playroom is an included app on the console that shows off some amazing augmented reality possibilities by integrating the Eye, the Dualshock’s Move capabilities and the free PlayStation smartphone and tablet app. AR Robots, for example, lets you play with a group of comical robots. Wave at them and they’ll wave back, or hoover them up off the screen into your controller. Once they’re in there, you’ll see them huddled inside the Dualshock, where pressing buttons results in corresponding tremors in their surroundings. Their surprised reactions are amusing and delightful.
The app, which will be available soon after launch, lets you create toys that the robots can play with. You can, for example, draw a ball on your tablet, then flick it towards the TV, where it appears in full 3D glory. The robots then start batting it around. It’s cutesy stuff, to be sure, but it’s definitely got that “wow” factor that I’d really like to see expanded.
The social sharing features
Virtually none of the PS4’s online capabilities were working prior to launch, a fact that still holds true as of press time. It’s therefore hard to assess them and, more to the point, without public stress testing it’s highly likely that there will be problems once millions jump onto Sony’s servers on Friday. The best anyone can hope for is that any issues end up being minor and short-lived.
In a demo of these features at the New York event, Sony representatives showed off the controller’s sharing features. A simple push of the “share” button immediately gives players three options: they can upload a screenshot to Facebook or Twitter, up to 15 minutes of their latest gameplay footage to Facebook, or launch a real-time broadcast of their game via Twitch or Ustream.
The video upload function includes an easy-to-use editor, where clips can be shortened and chopped up. Similarly, players can launch live broadcasts of their games that others can watch online. The function allows picture-in-picture if the broadcaster has the Eye camera, so you can see the player as well as what he or she is playing. Observers can also input comments in real-time, which the person broadcasting can then answer “on air.”
Personally, I can’t imagine too many things more boring than watching other people play video games, and I’m dreading seeing my Facebook feed load up with such videos. Still, it will appeal to a certain subset of inventive gamers who will put it to good use, not least of which are those who want to immortalize their own humiliation of friends in multiplayer games. One note of caution for Canadians – where monthly broadband caps are relatively low – these uploading and broadcasting functions are likely to chew up a lot of bandwidth.
While casual games on smartphones and tablets have captured some of the game industry’s dollars, consoles aren’t going anywhere. They’re still the best way to enjoy immersive, interactive escapism, and the PS4 represents a new high-water mark in delivering that experience.
There will inevitably be hiccups with the PS4’s online functions at launch – it’ll be a minor miracle if Sony manages to avoid major problems – so early-days buyers should be prepared for delays.
For serious gamers, it’s not really a question of “if” they’re going to buy a PS4, but “when.” Despite the massive install base of the current generation, developers are shifting their resources to the newer, more powerful machines. It won’t be long before all of the good games are coming out exclusively on next-generation consoles, with the PS3 and Xbox 360 eventually resigned to the same dustbin filled with Famicoms and Sega Dreamcasts of eras gone by.
And one final note: unless you’re a PlayStation loyalist there are other choices in the console market you might consider. So stay tuned, next week I’ll have a review of the PS4’s main competitor: Microsoft’s Xbox One.