Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Gaming Review: Playstation 4

Note: Feel free to skip below to the picture of the PS4 if you don’t want a story.

Winter 1997
It feels like ages ago when the Playstation first came out in 1994. I’d looked at magazines article about it, played one at a friend’s house, begged my parents for one (with Final Fantasy VII), and somehow, in 1997 I was fortunate enough to get one for Hanukah… FF VII the following night of Hanukah… and a memory card the night after that (still Hanukah)… You can see that my parents have a good sense of humor. When I first turned on the Sony Playstation I was impressed at the graphics, the flashy visuals on my demo disc, the audio CD-playing capabilities (the first instance of a gaming console that did something that wasn’t directly video game related), the quality and diversity of the music on the games I subsequently played, and the added depth and storytelling capabilities this new machine could produce. I experienced fear through Resident Evil, sadness and frustration through Final Fantasy VII, and I loved every moment of it. Though the controller was strange, and the whole external memory card thing was a new and frustrating concept in the N64 era, I was willing to look past this for games like Tekken 3, Parappa The Rapper, Metal Gear Solid, and Resident Evil 3.

Driving to school in my tank during the PS2 Era.
It was a different time...
By the time announcements were being made for a Playstation 2 I was well aware of just how significant of an upgrade it would be. Playstation 2 games looked significantly better than anything the Nintendo 64 was capable of, the upgrade to dual shock controllers meant the FPS was now a viable genre on the console (as opposed to N64 and PC only), and I’d already had my sights on Red Faction, the first game that advertised a “completely destructible environment.” There were even talks of the PS2 being able to one day play games online somehow but almost no one seemed that interested in that feature at the time. As I was still young and gaming hadn’t really become a mainstream thing, my parents somehow acquired one and completely surprised me on Hanukah with a PS2 and Red Faction (in one night because the PS2 didn’t come with a demo disc), followed by a memory card (the following night), and for a second time Sony raised the bar on what we could expect from video games. This was a clear improvement over the Playstation and is widely viewed as one of the most successful consoles ever made. Even well into the early life of the PS3 massive hits like God of War II were still being released on the PS2 and I’ll fondly remember it for its broad diversity of inexpensive games.

Cue the Playstation 3, which I had been hearing about even before rumors were being whispered in my social circle. It, combined with its competitor: the Xbox 360, would truly be the next generation of gaming, complete with cutting edge graphics, internal memory, online gaming that worked, social elements like “Trophies”, a wireless controller that didn’t eat AA batteries in under a day, and the ability to cure cancer (through the Folding@Home application everyone was encouraged to download)! As a poor college student I really wasn’t able to afford the PS3 until well after the preorder units were sold out, so I did what I thought few others would do and camped in line outside my local Best Buy for 3 days to pick one up.

Happy Folks with new PS3's
(Dan on the far right)
The experience of the line could be described as a cold Florida winter, complete with hot Florida afternoons, sunburn, mosquitoes, and plenty of rain. Even though I was 23rd in line (The first person in line waited 7 days!) I was able to keep my spirits up because I was there with my friend Daniel, and a few other people I knew from college. We somehow got electric power, finished our finals papers (it was finals week), occasionally played Playstation 2 games on one person’s generator, read books, camped in literal tents, ate food out of cans, and shared stories around the light of a mosquito repelling wick. The memories from that week will always stay with me, especially combined with the news that I’d passed my calculus final which I’d taken just before leaving school to wait in line. Though most of the people in that line sold their PS3’s for a quick buck, Dan and I lovingly kept our PS3s. Since the initial release I’m told that PS3’s are no longer backwards compatible, but mine still is, a treasure and testament to my trial. A few weeks later I was also able to pick up another PS3 for my brother-in-law, Frank (one of my friends subsequently got hired by Best Buy and told me when the shipments were), as it was apparently impossible to get a PS3 in the state of New York.

It’s hard for me to realize just how long ago the PS3 release was because in many ways that winter in 2006 was the beginning of my adult life, so as people started mentioning rumors of a Next Generation of gaming consoles I’ll admit that I was entirely uninterested. The graphics from the Playstation 3 already impressed me, and I was content with the controller’s decent layout, the integration of blue-ray, internet services, and the free online network (PSN).

To clarify why I'm a bit Sony biased: In addition to not having to shell out $15/month for a PSN+ subscription just for Netflix I often prefer(ed?) to play games on the PS3 over the Xbox 360 because somewhere between Rainbow 6: Vegas, R6V2, Uncharted, God of War, Skyrim, Assassin’s Creed 2, Dead Space, Demon’s Souls, Battlefield 3, and countless PS1/PS2 games I can still play on my PS3, an Xbox controller just feels foreign to me. I should mention that I also own an Xbox 360, play it with some regularity, and I'm not someone who only likes Sony, Nintendo, or Microsoft products. They all have unique aspects I appreciate.

An actual slide from the Sony Playstation 4 E3 Presentation
As someone who’s been playing and loving Playstation games for over a decade I decided to give Sony a chance to explain why they wanted to phase out a system I thought was already pretty good in favor of one that wouldn’t be backwards compatible (even for new PS3 games!), and finally watched the various reports from E3. Despite being one of the most painfully one-sided “debates” (the Xbox One presentation vs the Playstation 4 presentation) in gaming history I tried to remove myself from the extraneous information (SONY SUCKS! XBOX SUCKS! Etc.) and focus on what the new generation of consoles meant. 

The new generation?
With a virtually identical lineup of games (I’m not a fan of zombie games), a $100 price tag difference, the lack of video camera (I’m not a big fan of having a video camera that’s attached to the internet in my bedroom), and a controller that I prefer, I decided that I was going to go with the Playstation 4.

The Playstation 4 promised:
  •  Better Graphics.
  • A larger storage space on the Hard Drive (from 60gb to “500”gb [actually closer to 410gb])
  • More processing power [speed]. (roughly 2.5 times more)
  • More Memory [another component of speed]… Than my computer.*
  • An improved online network (PSN+).
  • Easier online interactivity with friends through screen streaming/sharing integration.
  • New games that my PC can’t run (Dragon Age: Inquisition, Thief, Watch Dogs, etc)

*I should clarify here that I’m not a huge PC gamer and that beyond Starcraft 2 at low-spec my computer has serious issues running most games.

I didn’t see that huge of an improvement in the graphics from the PS3 to PS4 (or 360 to Xbox One for that matter) in the videos, didn’t have much money, and felt like I could live with what I had (Pokemon on the 3DS!!) until either Dragon Age or Thief came out, so I didn’t plan to get a Playstation 4. However, a week before the release of the PS4 I got an urgent message from my sister asking if I could use my awesome contacts to pick up a PS4 for Frank (the same Frank). I told her my friend had been fired from Best Buy years ago but that I’d stand in line for her on the release day to pick one up. The day before I stood in line, my sister (who has a track record of being awesome) told me to pick one up for myself too as a Happy Hanu-Christma-Ka-birthday-thank-you present. So, at about 5pm on release day my girlfriend and I went to Walmart and asked where the line was. We were surprised to find that we were the first ones in line! It seems that preorders were managed much better for this generation of games, that they made more of them to go around, and that people who really wanted one didn’t have to quit their jobs to pick one up. A mere 7 hours of waiting (indoors!) later we walked away with two Playstation 4’s! Because we are responsible adults we refrained from trying to play one of them until after work on Friday. 

The following is my report:

Photo by Mon Dean
The first thing that impressed me was the size of the Playstation 4 and its sleek design. Half glossy/reflective-black, half flat-black, and half the size of the original Playstation 3 it’s aesthetically pleasing and something you’ll WANT to showcase. Though people have already made fun of it for a supposed “wobbling issue”, unless you live directly next to a train station or on a boat the average person won’t notice that it wobbles slightly when intentionally wobbled. When I plugged it in, a colored light crossing the top of the PS4 caught my attention and the guide book informed us that the color of light is used to indicate different things, like if it’s overheating. The Playstation 4 controller is also a significant improvement over the Playstation 3 controller, offering improved triggers, better grip, a touch pad, a “share” button (that allows you to easily share your screen with friends or the internet), and a few features that require a PS4 video camera attachment to use. It's hard to quantify in words just how much better this controller is so I found a picture:

The new controller
Though there was a “Day 1” patch that took all of 5 minutes to download/install and a bunch of terms and conditions to agree to, I was ready to play in under ten minutes from plugging it in. However, an issue with the PSN not working prevented me from logging into my old PSN account. In this age it’s to be expected that a launch console might not have working internet capabilities on the day of its release (like Diablo 3 or the Sims), so I was impressed that it was up and fully operational by Saturday morning. Luckily you don’t need the PSN to play games, and gaming happens to be the reason I wanted a PS4 in the first place. Regarding the basic interface, they’ve condensed a lot of the menus that used to be scatted across my PS3 “desktop,” like putting all of the video viewing services (Huloo, Netflix, etc) into one tab. It’s fairly convenient and while subtle these are the sorts of things that made me feel good about the PS4.

Once I was able to log in I took a few minutes to also look at the PSN+ (the PS4 comes with a 1 month free subscription to the Playstation Network +), and felt like it was almost identical to the way it was when subscribed on a Playstation 3. This was the only technical “shortcoming” I’ve experienced thus far in the things that were promised though I’ll admit I’m not much of an online gamer so this has little effect on my opinion of the system. However, despite the PSN+ requiring a monthly fee, Netflix and other video-services do not require you to subscribe to the PSN+ fee to be used. This was a surprise and a clear advantage over the Xbox 360 and Xbox One, which both require you to pay for a Gold Subscription each month (~$15) in addition to your monthly Netflix/stream service fee.

The only game I own for the Playstation 4 is Assassin’sCreed: Black Flag so I have a limited perspective to share. For starters, the notorious Assassin’s Creed Series loading times were dramatically reduced. I can’t begin to express how happy this made me. When the first loading screen for the vast open world appeared and went away in under 15 seconds I understood that even without vastly superior graphics the PS4 is a vast improvement over the last generation. Once the world loaded, most of the important visuals of the game, the water, the scenery, and the weather looked fantastic! Thought the character models often resembled good PS3-level graphics (which isn’t a bad thing at all) I noticed subtle improvements to detail like actually having stray pieces of hay fall off the main character after brushing through a hay pile, or splinters of wood flying off a boat after it gets battered with chain-shot. I also noticed that the backgrounds were actual locations you could visit, as opposed to two dimensional painted pieces of scenery!

Who knows what new adventures await?
It’s just the start of the new generation so don’t know if the Playstation 4 will show as vast an improvement in graphics as the jump from the launch PS3 games to the latest releases, but I’ll attest that I’m already happy with how it looks, the huge reduction in load times, the capability for a higher particle/model count, and the improved controller. While there are probably people who will knit pick at this generation of consoles for one small thing or another there is no doubt in my mind that the Playstation 4 is the best console I’ve played. Though it doesn’t boast an enormous array of titles, the ones available are massive blockbusters that will easily take as much time to complete as Super Mario World, Sonic the Hedgehog, Mario 64, Luigi’s Mansion, or a Halo game (the major launch titles from previous generations). I’ve already started having a good time and I think that the vast majority of people who get one will feel the same way.

For a more detailed review on the PS4 check out this page.
To read about how they made the PS4 check out this article.


  1. Wow, I'm surprised there's no comments on this one. Absolutely great read. Felt really connected and somewhat emotional seeing a boy become a fully grown man through 4 generations of Sony consoles. Cheers!

    Btw- I found this entry looking for PS1 vs PS4 comparisons on google. Just putting it out there if that helps somehow.

    1. Thanks Friend! I'm really glad you enjoyed reading this :)

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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