pop culture | no politics
The Playstation 4 released in North America on November 15th, 2013 so as I write this we’re just a couple weeks past its two year anniversary. 24 months is a long time, especially when you consider that game developers had been provided access to the new hardware years before gamers ever got their hands on it. Has the PS4 lived up to the enormous hype that preceded it in the summer of 2013? Let’s take a closer look.
From a hardware standpoint, the Playstation 4 has been outstanding from the start. The performance is fast and stable, rarely crashing or freezing up. The menus are clean and intuitive, it’s much easier to navigate than its predecessor. The console itself looks great sitting in my entertainment center, simultaneously looking retro and futuristic. And it’s considerably more quiet than the Playstation 3, something I really appreciate since the console is located relatively close to where I'm sitting when playing it.
Sadly, the Dualshock 4 hasn’t been nearly as good. The touch screen and light bar are fun additions but clearly gimmicks, two years in and I’ve yet to see a developer use the former as anything more than an extra button. And running the light bar at the default setting of maximum brightness will have you recharging your Dualshock way more often than you want to. The controller has a weighty feel that gives you a false sense of quality, of the three Dualshock 4s I own I’ve lost the rubber coating that covers the analog sticks on one and broken the R2 button on the other two. I take pretty good care of my stuff and upon inspection the same plastic tab had broken on both controllers, it’s hard not to interpret this as a design flaw on Sony’s part. A replacement controller costs anywhere from $40-65 so it’s unacceptable to get 6-12 months worth of use from one, especially when you consider how relatively little I used the PS4 during the first year I owned it.
The Playstation Camera was also released along with the console and I picked one up at launch. I’ve become somewhat jaded towards peripherals over the years after tripping over countless plastic guitars and dance mats, but at least the PS Camera doesn’t take up much space. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean it was a smart purchase. It looks great and functions okay, but it’s simply not incorporated into enough games. My 6 year old daughter has gotten a few hours of entertainment out of the free Playroom software that comes preloaded on every PS4, a game that requires the camera and manages to use it in a variety of fun and interesting ways. But beyond that it just doesn’t offer a whole lot of entertainment value. There are better microphones and cameras available and I highly doubt many live streamers are willing to accept the mediocre audio and video quality that the PS Camera provides. The camera does offer some audio commands that are cool to use for awhile but the novelty of telling the PS4 to turn itself off fades quickly. The camera rarely accepts a command on the first try and by the time you tell it twice you could’ve easily powered the console down via traditional means. Even worse, several times during my gameplay the camera would pick up some background noise and unintentionally pause the game! My experience with the PS Camera was so disappointing that I haven’t even bothered to set it up now that we’ve moved, and honestly I haven’t even thought about the device until I decided to write this article.
One of the things that Sony really emphasized when the PS4 was announced at the PlayStation Meeting event in 2013 was the new console’s social media sharing features. The thought of posting video gameplay or screenshots with my Twitter friends initially sounded like a waste of time and hard drive space. But the introduction of one-button sharing to Twitch and Ustream are game-changers and my attitude towards them has done a complete 180. These services are ushering in a new era for video gaming and I’m finally ready to embrace it. Its become as much fun to share my gaming experience with others as it is to play the games themselves.
A console is only as good as the games you can play on it, and the PS4’s exclusive launch lineup was pretty underwhelming. Knack was a commercial and critical disaster. Killzone: Shadowfall was the first game I played on my PS4, and while it’s certainly a pretty game with tight gameplay the ridiculous difficulty spikes ruined the experience for me and I never bothered to finish it. The much-maligned Driveclub was originally penciled in as a launch title but ended up getting delayed almost a year. And honestly now that I’ve experienced that train wreck it’s probably a good thing as it would’ve only soured the console’s debut even further. On the positive side Resogun was a title that flew under the radar while the more high-profile and over-hyped launch titles got all the attention. The game was a pleasant surprise, arguably the brightest star of the console’s exclusive launch lineup. While a lukewarm lineup was disappointing it really wasn’t much of a surprise as we didn’t see a ton of quality exclusives at the Playstation 3’s launch either. The outstanding Resistance: Fall of Man was a launch title but it was a full year after the PS3’s release that we saw the first Uncharted game finally make it’s debut. That’s not to say there weren’t other games to play during this time, but in regards to exclusive killer apps there just wasn’t much out there, a situation that we saw repeated in 2013 with the Playstation 4.
To my surprise it was Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag that ended up distracting me from this as it became the first PS4 game to really get it’s hooks into me. I hadn’t really been invested in the franchise since 2011’s Revelations and I hated the naval battles sequences in Assassin’s Creed 3, so the idea of spending an entire game aboard a boat didn’t appeal to me at all. So I guess in that regard Sony’s relatively thin launch lineup did me a favor, if there had been other games to distract me I probably would never have taken a chance on Black Flag and wouldn’t have discovered what a great game it is. Call of Duty: Ghosts and Battlefield 4 were also solid experiences, but it was Black Flag that really carried me through the first 3-4 months of the Playstation 4’s lifecycle.
Early 2014 brought us another Playstation exclusive in InFamous: Second Son, and while the game received good scores it never recaptured the magic of the original two games in the franchise. That said, it was the first PS4 game that I felt really showed what the console was capable of, with its smooth frame rates and amazing particle effects. Games were starting to look next-gen instead of upgraded versions of their PS3 counterparts as developers combined their understanding of the new systems with feedback received from gamers. Games like Thief, Ground Zeroes, and Little Big Planet 3 were also released in 2014 and while being far from perfect they were clearly not last-gen experiences.
Playstation’s exclusive lineup got off to a pretty slow start again this year with the underwhelming The Order: 1886, but rebounded nicely after that. I’m not a Dark Souls/Dead Souls fan but Bloodborne was a massive hit that continues to be popular nine months after its release. This past summer Sony surprised us with an upscaled version of God of War III, and while the visuals were pretty indistinguishable from the PS3 version it was still a lot of fun to play as Kratos again while earning another round of trophies. Until Dawn was a game that I had completely forgotten about until it released in October, but it ended up being one of the most unique experiences I’ve ever had in a video game. With an amazing list of non-exclusive titles including The Witcher, Metal Gear Solid V, Fallout 4, and Arkham Knight it’s truly been a great year for the Playstation 4 and video games in general.
Overall I feel like two years in that the PS4 is considerably ahead of where the PS3 was at the same point in it’s life cycle. And the future is looking bright with Uncharted 4, No Man’s Sky, Horizon Zero Dawn, and Firewatch all set to release next year. It’s unrealistic to think all of these will turn out as home runs for Sony, or even that they’ll all stick to their projected release dates. A lot hinges on March 18th, the day that A Thief’s End drops. This could be a real turning point for Sony, and by that I mean that it could go either direction. If it manages to not only capture the same sense of adventure the previous three games had but also push the boundaries it could really set the tone early for Sony to have a monster year. But if Naughty Dog fails to incorporate enough fresh innovation and it ends up feeling like nothing more than the same old gameplay it could start the year off on a sour note. And after underwhelming starts the last two years that’s the last thing Sony needs.