Gaming Reviews

Sony PlayStation 4 Australian Review: Gamer's Paradise


Sony has been carefully brewing the PlayStation 4 to be a gamer’s dream machine. How close did it get to fulfilling your every fantasy, though? Pretty goddamn close, given a bit of time..

What Is It?

The PlayStation 4 is the latest salvo in the console wars from gadget giant, Sony. It’s designed for gaming first, media second with a little bit of social on the side. Sounds like quite a dish.

You can pick it up for $549 from EB Games, $548 at JB Hi-Fi and $548 at Dick Smith.

Those packages include the console, a Dual Shock 4 Wireless Controller, headset, AC power cable, HDMI cable and a USB cable for charging that controller.

It’s probably worth pre-ordering at your store of choice right now, considering that shipments are back-ordered all the way into early-2014.


Why Does It Matter?

In the arms race that is the console wars, Sony needs a wildly successful follow-up to the PlayStation 3. One could argue that it technically “lost” the last generation of console wars to the Xbox 360, but the grounds are now starting to shift underneath Microsoft’s feet as consumer sentiment quickly swings back around to the Sony way of thinking. Mostly because the PlayStation 4 looks to do what Sony says it will: no backflips, no 360-turns so to speak.

The Xbox One is a radically different product to what was first announced, what with the ditching of several key features. Sony, however, has managed to keep its hype train on the tracks through the development period, showing off great games, cool exclusives and most importantly, a better price.


Design

First of all, it’s better looking than the Xbox One, but that doesn’t count for much these days considering the new Microsoft console looks like a retro-futuristic VCR with some silver accents.

Console

The PlayStation 4 looks like a next-gen console somebody sat on by accident. Either that or a two-tier carbon black cake. This is getting weird already…

Looking at the console from the front, you’ll notice that Sony’s latest offering slants backwards, presenting a two-toned matte and gloss black frontage with a grey Sony logo on the left hand side and the “PS4” logo carved into the right hand side. A single accented stripe runs down the front and along the top of the console, serving a dual purpose: to act as a sort of status bar and to separate the matte and gloss black finishes.

Stashed discreetly on the top and bottom of the front-end stripe is both a power button and below it an eject button. Both of these are touch buttons and provide no feedback to the user when touched, other than a pleasant little BEEP! noise.

Make sure you figure out which one is which before you plug in your console, as it can take a close look to figure out the difference. In-between the two touch buttons is the disc tray, hidden from view by the slant of the console. Adjacent to the disc slot is two front-facing USB 3.0 ports.

The left and right panels of the console are uninterrupted black plastic, save for a few copyright logos hidden in the fold of the layers.

Turning to the back of the console, you find massive vents to keep the thing cool, HDMI-out, LAN input, Optical Audio-out and an Auxilary port. Those are all situated on the top tier, while the bottom plays host to just the power port.

This rear design is actually pretty clever, as it gives you ready access to your console’s most important ports on the top — where you’re likely to be looking from — while leaving unimportant stuff like the power cord on the bottom to save space and fiddling.

Controller

The Dual Shock 4 is spectacular to hold. The DS4 is wider than the DS3 thanks to the addition of a nifty gloss trackpad laid into the centre of the controller. The traditional directional pad is back on the top left of the handheld, while the iconic Sony shapes are symmetrically situated on the right.

The two analogue thumbsticks are back, only this time they both have slight depressions in the centre and a circular ridge to improve grip. That’s true of the Xbox One’s new controller too, mind you.

In between the two thumbsticks is the PS button for your main options menu, as well as the Share and Options keys on either side of the trackpad.

On top of the controller you’ll find the new Left and Right triggers. The L1 and R1 buttons are now curved outward for quick taps — aiding functions like throwing grenades, using a knife or triggering a quicktime event — while the L2 and R2 buttons are concave to match the contour of your index and middle fingers as you hold them. There’s a greater amount of resistance on the triggers these days, and combined with the curve, it makes first-person shooters more fun by giving your brain the impression that you’re actually holding a trigger, for example.

It’s lighter than it has ever been and as a result, more comfortable for your inevitable gaming marathons.

On the rear of the controller is the Light Bar, which will now serve to indicate which player is which on the console, as well as give you brief status

You’ll also use the Light Bar in the new Playroom AR app too. Playroom is less of a game and more a show off for the PlayStation Camera that lets you throw cute little bots around the room with your controller, deprive them of light, tickle them and generally muck about with cool AR stuff.

While we’re on it actually: this thing really should ship with the PlayStation camera if they want people to use it. We give Kinect a lot of shit for being pretty much compulsory on the Xbox One, but it means that developers will start thinking about how they can integrate it better into their games.

Back to the DS4 controller.



Putting dual rumble motors in the hand-grips of the controllers makes for a subtle yet immersive shake effect, but having used the awesome rumble in the Xbox One’s new controller, we were kind of left wanting more, especially from the triggers. The DS4 makes up for it barely by being way more accurate and responsive when it comes to tilt response from what I guess we’ll keep calling the SIXAXIS system.


Using It

The PlayStation 4 is a dream to play. All those gorgeous next-gen graphics.

Skin tones look better than ever, as do little costume details. We’ve mostly been playing games like Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag, Killzone: Shadow Fall, Call Of Duty: Ghosts and LEGO Marvel Super Heroes and we can confidently say that the addition of 1080p gaming could not have come soon enough. So much jaw-dropping pretty to perve on.

Gameplay

All 24 Of The PS4's Launch Games, Reviewed

We play games, but our friends over at Kotaku Australia live them. We’ll link to their reviews with a few of our initial thoughts attached. The more we have to say about a game indicates the more we played it.

Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag

Note: This is a Let’s Play from a PS3, but you get the idea of how cool the game is either way.

This has to be the best game we played in the stable of launch titles for the PlayStation 4.

You’re both a pirate and an assassin in your role as 18th Century attractive-man, Edward Kenway, fighting for plunder, freedom and eventually redemption. You know how it goes.

Where Assassin’s Creed III was a rigmarole of endless tedium, Black Flag is the opposite, throwing you straight into hot, piratey action. In the first half hour, you will be introduced sufficiently to the character, free-running around an island, stealthily killing bad guys and sailing your very own ship. Awesome intro for an awesome game that we can’t wait to finish.

Call Of Duty: Ghosts

Call of Duty: Ghosts: The Kotaku Review

I’m going to be sick. Not because of how bad this game is, but because of how obnoxious the head-bob is that cannot be turned off.

After placing a bucket next to my chair and fixing myself a strong tea, I dove back into the shoot-em-up world of Ghosts, and do you know what? It’s exactly the same as pretty much every CoD game before it from Modern Warfare onwards.

The only novelty we found was playing out a scene reminiscent of Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, only with more guns. Bad guys descend on a space station in order to garner control of a massive space gun which just happens to be pointed at the US for some reason. It’s your job as a specialist to grab one of their guns, repel the invaders and eventually destroy the giant freaking space gun before it can destroy any more of the continental United States. That sequence ends with you rodeo-riding said space gun into the atmosphere, and essentially taking your own patriotic life in the process. Then the near-future shoot-em-up begins.

Take me back to space, Activision: I’d play the crap out of a game where I lived in a space station and tried to keep it going.

We couldn’t get into online mode for some reason, but it sure looks like fun, and it’s pretty much what you’re buying this game for anyway, right?.

LEGO Marvel Super Heroes

Wish that Joss Whedon’s The Avengers were kid-friendly and twice as funny? Meet your new favourite launch title!

LEGO Marvel Super Heroes is one of the best LEGO games we’ve played to date, and considering how much fun LEGO City: Undercover was for Wii U, that’s saying a whole lot.

The whole game will see you pitted against or playing with over 100 Marvel Universe characters in block form, including Howard the Duck. If you’re a Marvel and/or LEGO fan, this one is a must play.

You can check out all reviews for all 24 PS4 launch titles here!


Social

With every game you play, there’s a huge push towards social interaction. Usually whether you like it or not. With the PlayStation 4, we can comfortably say that the social integration isn’t too in your face.

As you drop into a game, it has its own bespoke menu and title screen within the dashboard experience, which serves to display everything from shortcuts into various game modes and/or missions, et cetera, as well as related downloadable content (DLC), recent activities you’ve been participating in like matches and trophy earnings, as well as how many Facebook likes the game has.

There’s also a Party mode in the top menu which runs rings around the group chat functionality offered by the PlayStation 3. It’s universal, which means you and your seven friends (we wish it were more!) can jump into a party and talk to each other no matter what you end up doing. You could all be playing different games, the same game, or even be on a PlayStation Vita. Awesome.

You can also have up to 2000 friends on PlayStation Network now, so you can keep in touch with your thousands of close mates.

Once you get into a game, you can activate the Share function to capture the last few minutes of gameplay and throw it on either Twitter or Facebook. We’ll get to that soon.

Finally, if you’re a big fan of seeing what all of your friends are up to at once, there’s a What’s New page on the second level of the dashboard, which shows you who is earning what in terms of trophies, who is playing what and other new content like videos from Sony.


Dashboard

The new Dashboard is very similar to the old Cross-Media Bar on the PlayStation 3, only it’s better at navigating through menus and around your content with depth. Rather than have a drop-down menu for just about everything like the PS3, the PS4 has a top row of icons, including Notifications, Party Chat, Profile, Options and a Power menu which now lets you enter standby mode rather than leaving your console on 24/7. There’s also a tier of tile-like icons situated below that chock-full of your games, entertainment apps and other cool stuff like the What’s New pane, which we’ll get to.

The real stand-out for us here was the Notification pane, which holds everything you need to know about what’s going on with your console in the one place. Downloading a game update? You’ll find it in the Downloads tab. Sharing a video to Facebook? You’ll find its progress in your Uploads tab. Did your friend message you back? Check the messages tab! It’s all in the one place and it’s a deceptively simple way to handle what’s going on around your PS4 without ducking in and out of apps needlessly.


Media

For all the crap we give Microsoft and the Xbox for being all about TV, it would be nice to see a greater commitment to content from the PlayStation 4. It’s a fantastic gaming device, but it’s not about to replace everything in your living room.

The PlayStation 4 comes with Sony’s-own music and video services baked-in. Those come in the form of Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited. Both have ample catalogues of entertainment, although you’re not about to ditch your Netflix subscription in favour of Video Unlimited when it comes to the catalogue available.

Other media apps for Australia include the official IGN app and VidZone, whatever that is. Quickflix will come to PS4 on 4 December, and thank God too: it’s about the only third-party service we recognise.

Of course, US users will have access to the goods on the PS4 when it comes to using it as a media centre. They’ll get Amazon Instant Video, Crackle, Crunchyroll, EPIX, Hulu Plus, NBA Game Time, Netflix, NHL GameCenter LIVE, Redbox Instant, VUDU, YuppTV as well as the Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited offings we have.

Compare the selection of Australian-compatible TV and media apps on the PS4 to those on the Xbox One, and you find that Microsoft wins this round. Xbox One comes with Crackle, Machinima, MUZU TV, Network Ten’s tenplay, Quickflix, SBS On Demand, TED and Twitch. We gave the Xbox One a serve when this came out, but now we want to praise Microsoft for having a huge stable of content by comparison.

That’s a pretty poor entertainment showing from a so-called “next-gen” console in 2013 to be honest. Gaming is the wheelhouse of the PS4 rather than TV, movies or music.


What’s Good?

The time between inserting a game into the console and actually playing it on the PlayStation 3 could easily be described as an age. In truth, it’s not that long at all, but more than five or so minutes between inserting and playing feels like a lifetime when you have a shiny new game you want to pwn to pieces. The PlayStation 4 has rectified that issue, and then some.

The time between disc-in and playing is now seconds. You’d be lucky to wait minutes with this thing, and that’s a phenomenal improvement. Go out and buy one right now just for that.

It can take up to 7 minutes to install a game on the Xbox One, whereas the same game on the Playstation 4 knocks it on the head in 42 seconds. SOLD.

We threw the disc for Killzone: Shadow Fall — a game that sizes up at an impressive 40.8GB — into the console, and were able to launch it in less than a minute. Bravo, Sony. Of course, there’s still obnoxious day one game updates that are required before playing (looking at you, 700MB Call of Duty: Ghosts update) but that’s par for the course.

The PlayStation 4 console is also way smaller than the Xbox One, making for an easier install into your home entertainment cabinet or whatever you have.

Here’s just how small it is by comparison.



What’s Bad?

The launch titles for the PS4 don’t really do the console justice. That’s not to say it has no good games right now: Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag is an amazing game and a huge boon for what was becoming a boring and stale series. Games like Killzone: Shadow Fall and Call of Duty: Ghosts are just great-looking, by-the-numbers first-person shooters at the end of the day.

This generation of consoles will get its fair share of must-haves eventually. We can’t wait for The Division, Watch Dogs, Destiny or The Witness to name a few, plus whatever Naughty Dog comes out with in the next few years. We just have to wait for this slow start to pick up a bit before we can say it has any killer titles that are next-gen must-haves.

It would also be nice if the Dual Shock 4 had some form of fast-charge. Realising you’ve forgotten to charge your controller then having to wait a while before you can play is a bit of a pain. Weirdly, we also noticed that the controller won’t charge on just any USB cable, so keep that official one close.

The PlayStation 4 also isn’t the best multi-tasker in the world. Whereas on the Xbox One you can just snap a window like Twitter or even your streaming TV shows onto the side of a window, the PS4 simply can’t. It’s easier than ever to pop in and out of a game to check stuff like your Notifications, open up a Browser window or read your Messages, but it’s near impossible to do those two things at once.

It’s also not backwards compatible. Which blows. (Apologies to those who were confused by our original assertion that it was).

The Worst Part

All that multiplayer goodness you got for free on the PlayStation 3? Yeah…you have to pay for that now. Online multiplayer gaming requires a $US70 annual subscription to PlayStation Plus.

Sony tries to make it worth your while by giving you access to an awesome collection of free games included in the price, as well as access to cloud saves and a few discounts here and there, but it sucks that you now have to pay for what was once free.

This Is Weird…

As you may be able to tell from the above image, this thing is a freaking dust magnet, especially the glossy surface on the front near the Sony logo. We buffed it for ages with a microfibre cloth and between us cleaning it and us photographing it (literally minutes), it had guffed up again.

There are now scratches on the top of our console because of the stupid cloth we used too. Be careful!

It’s also worth noting that the trackpad on the DS4 controller picks up fingerprints like a boss.

Should You Buy It?

The PlayStation 4: The Kotaku Review (In Progress)

Yes, absolutely. It’s a bit of a marketing gimmick, but the PS4 really is for the players.

If you’re a gamer who plays games, loves games and only uses a console for games to game your gamey face off with, you should definitely buy the PS4. It really knows its knitting, which in case you haven’t guessed by now, is playing games.

What the PlayStation 4 is not really for is the future of your lounge room. The Xbox One makes a better play for your home entertainment dollar than the PlayStation 4 can right now.

Ultimately, our recommendation won’t mean much here. If you have decided on buying a next-gen console, your mind is probably already made up based on the available games, content and general look of the console. If it helps put your mind at ease, the PlayStation 4 is certainly worthy of this generation of consoles.


Test Notes

• Whenever I try to open a menu, the PS4 always hangs for a few seconds. Here’s hoping it’s just pre-release bugs and it doesn’t make a habit of that. We already wait too long for fancy animations on our phones, doing that on our consoles is an obnoxious bore.

• Console security is clearly a concern this time around on the PlayStation, with users able to deactivate automatic sign-in in order to throw a profile selection page at users. Users can also choose to sign in with their face via the PlayStation Camera (which isn’t bundled), or set up a passcode. Nice.

• You can also now monitor where games are saving their information, be it on the console, in the cloud or on an external storage device. Handy.

• It sure would be nice to be able to use that nifty touchpad in the web browser. Seems weirdly counterintuitive to use the thumbsticks.


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