PlayStation 4 Launch Post-Mortem: What We Like (And Loathe)

Today, Sony officially launched the PlayStation 4 video game console, putting an end to months of speculation, rumour and touted PS4 logos. The launch event unveiled fresh details about the new machine and also showcased a swathe of next-generation games, including new epics from Bungie, Square Enix and UbiSoft. Here’s what we love about the new machine (and a few things we remain unsure about).

The PlayStation 4 Launch: What We Love

#1 PlayStation 4 Price (Tentative)

How much does the PS4 cost? Pricing was conspicuously absent from today’s launch event, but most reputable rumours are pointing towards an RRP of between $500 and $600. Last week, the respectable Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun reported that the PS4 would cost 40,000 yen ($A414). We’ll remain cautiously optimistic until we receive official pricing, but it looks like we could be getting a (semi) affordable console. Hurrah!

#2 It’s Aimed Squarely At Gamers

In stark contrast to the PlayStation 3’s launch — which attempted to position the device as a hub for “multimedia entertainment” — today’s event was all about the gaming.

SCEI President and CEO Andy House made it clear that this is a product for the diehard PlayStation fan, stating that it would “make the gamer the centre of the Sony ecosystem”. The launch focused almost entirely on games and game-related services, with only passing mention made to its additional capabilities. Frankly, we think this is how it should be. While we have nothing against video streaming, music subscriptions and the like, they should not be the focus of a console’s launch. Hopefully Microsoft has been taking notes.

#3 Improved Cloud Service (And Games Library)

According to Gaikai CEO Dave Perry, the PlayStation 4 will boast one of the fastest and most feature-packed cloud-streaming services in the world. If Sony and Gaikai are to be believed, downloadable games will be ready to play on your console before you’ve even pressed the purchase button. But the thing we’re really excited about is the prospect of having access to the entire PlayStation games library in the cloud: from the original PlayStation onward. “This would fundamentally change game longevity,” claimed Perry. Well, it sure beats having three or four consoles stacked in your living room.

#4 Better Graphics = Better Storytelling

The PlayStation 4 will come equipped with an eight-core x86 processor, a powerful AMD Radeon GPU and 8GB of high-speed memory, which puts it on par with a modern high-end gaming PC. During today’s event, Quantic Dream founder David Cage took to the stage to explain how the PS4’s engine allows for incredibly realistic skin and eye details. According to Cage, the rendering of human faces is so realistic, you can tell a great deal about a character before they even open their mouth. The examples he showed off were certainly impressive.

#5 Dual-Shock 4

They say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it and Sony appears to agree. The PS4’s Dual-Shock 4 controller is a refined version of what came before, with a few additional bells and whistles. These include an inbuilt touchpad, a ‘Share’ button, enhanced rumble feedback, a headphone jack and “a much tighter sense of control” — all of which sounds pretty great to us. Most of all, we’re just glad Sony wasn’t spooked into doing something completely different in a bid to become this generation’s Wii.

The PlayStation 4 Launch: What We’re Ambivalent About

#1 No (Physical) Backwards Compatibility

The PlayStation 4 will not be compatible with PlayStation 3 game discs. Boo-hiss. While this isn’t too surprising after Sony gutted PlayStation 2 support from the PS3, we were still holding out hope that the company would bow to popular pressure. After all, Nintendo didn’t turn it’s back on Wii gamers when it released the Wii U, so why should Sony? Apparently, you’ll be able to play all your old games through the cloud, but will you have to pay for titles you already own? Sony was ambiguous on that point, which doesn’t bode well.

#2 Too Many Extra Gizmos

Sony has always been guilty of foisting extra peripherals on its customer base and the PlayStation 4 is no exception. The company announced that the Move motion-controller will be making a return on the PS4. Did anyone get any significant use out of this thing the first time around? The vast majority of Move games were comical distractions at best and tiresome gimmicks at worst (and don’t get us started on the way it was shoehorned into normal PS3 titles).

Somewhat worryingly, the new Dual-Shock 4 controller has been tied to the Move’s camera peripheral which will be used to track the controller’s movements and “enhance” gameplay. If we’re forced to shake our controllers up and down and make figure-eights in the air, we not going to be amused.

Sony is also attempting to integrate its struggling portable Vita console into the PS4 experience (much like it did with the PSP on the PlayStation 3, with limited success). On the plus side, Sony claims that all PS4 games will be playable on the Vita via a remote play feature, which we admit sounds pretty handy.

#3 Where’s The Killer App?

Most of the games Sony showed off at the PS4 launch were sequels, samey looking shooters and multi-platform titles. With the possible exception of Watch_Dogs (which isn’t exclusive to the PS4), nothing really stood out in the way a next-gen title should. The most original looking game was probably Knack, which looks like a weird cross between Katamari and Kameo. Presumably more titles will be announced closer to launch, but as it stands, there isn’t a whole lot to get excited about.

#4 Extreme Social Networking

Sony spent a significant portion of the launch talking up the console’s enhanced social networking capabilities. The new PlayStation Network (PSN) will incorporate everything from tablets and smartphones to Facebook and Ustream to keep you connected to the gaming community at all times. You’ll be able to stream your gaming sessions to spectators, ping your friends when you need assistance in a game, send automatic alerts to friends when you buy a game they own and generally broadcast everything you do on the console. We’re not sure this is such a great thing. Those PS3 Trophy statuses on Facebook are annoying enough as it is.

#5 Has Sony jumped the gun?

One thing Sony didn’t show at today’s event was the actual console itself. We still haven’t the foggiest idea what it looks like. This has forced the journalists of the world to pathetically resort to photos of hairy programmers and fan-made mock-ups to illustrate their stories. Tch. It also makes us wonder whether the announcement was a tad premature. The only physical product Sony revealed was the controller — which may change prior to the console’s proper launch (anyone remember the PS3 ‘boomerang’?). Now we do appreciate Sony’s desire to get something out the door before Microsoft — the tardy arrival of the PS3 cost the company its crown — but you still need to show us something tangible. A split-second logo tease really isn’t enough.

What are your thoughts on Sony’s new console? Let us know what you like and loathe in the comments section below.

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