Day after the night before.
So, last night was the official reveal of the Playstation 4.
Or rather, it was the promotional side of it. Truth is, the actual unit design for the PlayStation 4 was notably absent throughout the conference, but of course visual aesthetics are only one minor aspect of a whole – they’re an important aspect, but hardly the real deal. There were a LOT of things being asked so let’s crack through some of this stuff.
Q. Is the PlayStation 4 more powerful than the Wii-U?
A. Yes – or rather, yes, because it needs to be. The machine will be powered by a customised 8-core AMD “Jaguar” x86-64 with integrated graphics APU, and a “next-generation” AMD Radeon graphics processor capable of driving 1.84 teraflops. The machine also comes with 8GB of GDDR5 RAM, which is about average for a top-end PC these days. Of course, memory isn’t all that expensive (don’t tell Nintendo that!), so this was to be expected really. There was of course no real word as to what size HDD’s that the system would come with, which is an oversight that Sony are avoiding cleverly. Some have said Sony may take the Nintendo approach of not bundling a hard drive, and expecting the consumer to go and buy one of their own choosing. This is not a terrible idea, but comparatively the Wii-U was cheap. With these specs, I’m not expecting cheap to be a part of the equation (notably, price was an issue that was skipped entirely!).
The reason it needs this ferocious power is the monstrous new Firmware that lurks underneath the hood – and it’s a ferocious beast at that. Not only is it an always-on social network, predicting and pre-loading content to suit your needs, but it will be streaming, it will be transferring, uploading and encrypting all on the fly with very little in the way of delay. Most of this sort of thing takes a little while even on a decent brand-new PC, so a games console needs the kind of system specs that are bleeding edge to perform such chicanery. The games will pre-record footage for you to share on your network. It will stream to friends on your social sphere who can watch and drop in at any time they wish. It will be constantly sharing and downloading background content digitally if need be; a digital purchase will be almost immediately playable, as the game continues to download in the background. The machine will also remember exactly where you left off in a game, saving the state as-is when you exit or shut down your machine.
With so much for the machine to do, it’s not a surprise that the specs are fairly beastly. Although comparisons with the Wii-U are difficult; the Wii-U runs on wholly customised hardware and as such there aren’t any comparisons yet, nor are there any real serious examples of what the hardware is capable of. Still, do remember that the Wii outsold the PS3, so power is good – but it ain’t everything!
Q. Do you approve of the new controller?#
A. I suppose I do. The first thing to say is that the controller looks a lot larger and more comfortable – which has been the sticking point of the PS3 Six-axis for a while, I’m afraid, because it’s small and a bit hard. I do approve of the disappearance of the Start and Select, as relatively few games have used them in a long while and most people now on the Wii-U pause by opening the HOME menu, rather than a pause screen, which is fair enough. There are more options that way, after all. The touch panel replacement looks very slick and sleek, and reminds me somewhat of the Ouya design that was revealed last year more than any attempt to copy the Wii-U, which arguably was a comparison Sony were eager to avoid this time around.
The “Share” and “Options” buttons on either side of the touchpanel are your Start/Select replacements and they make more sense. The “Share” button will obviously utilise the hardware to share your most recent gaming triumph or perhaps more realistically, your latest gaming fail. The “Options” button will likely give you a menu on-the-fly, which makes more sense than a Start button ever did. It’s nice, and the materials – a matte finish grippy-looking plastic – certainly lend it a more quality air than the rushed Six-axis. The D-Pad looks much, MUCH improved and sturdy, whilst the joysticks now have more of an actual comfortable design than before. The addition of a headset jack means it will likely have a decent Live-style VOIP system too.
And of course, the triggers are MUCH better. Another major complaint solved.
Q. Doesn’t the new Eyetoy thing look like… well… err…
A. Kinect? Yep. Actually, it was not the only Microsoft-inspired thing as the new layout of the Firmware had a distinctly Metro-like feel to it. I think you could sort of sense it in the audience that we all thought this, but it’s hard when people liked that sort of layout to not want a piece of it. The new camera system does look incredibly like a Kinect, to the point I’m sure Microsoft are currently jumping up and down at the prospect of a legal fight with their arch-rivals in the market, but whether it will operate like one or, you know, work properly is yet to be unveiled. On the upside, they found an artistic use for the Move controllers in sculpting and modelling software, so you know, plus points for that!
Q. Did the games look good?
A. Of course, but do note that many of us have crossed this bridge before with Sony – twice, even, with the PS2 AND the PS3, being shown trailers and gameplay footage that simply weren’t truthful in the slightest (which will be a serious question in the next few weeks after the whole Aliens: Colonial Marines scandal). That said, what we saw was quite interesting so rattling through a couple of those which peaked my interest;
— Killzone: Shadow Fall —
Killzone is the one notorious for not being entirely honest about its final build so many of us took the footage here with a large handful of salt. What seems like a routine patrol day turns out to be a surprise Helghast ambush, and the transition between the FMV and the Gameplay section was surprisingly noticeable; it just clunked together, which isn’t what you would expect when you’ve had games like Resident Evil 6 and Dead Space 3 demonstrating the seamless joins between them. Otherwise, aside from pretty visuals and gorgeous setpieces, it did look like business as usual, which may be a good thing after all – it might just work as a super-pretty FPS. But we have played many pretty FPS on PC. Hopefully Killzone: Shadow Fall will have a unique selling point all of its own. We certainly hope so.
— Drive Club —
Gran Turismo? Hahaha, not a chance. It seems Sony are moving on with Drive Club, a team-based racing tournament title focused on “challenges” (unfortunately not in the Top Gear vein). There is an obsessive amount of detail in this title, everything has been modelled and rendered and painstakingly crafted to be as exact as they are in real life, so much that materials can be left with hand marks, suede can reflect light realistically and so forth. There wasn’t much time left for actual locales, but one can surmise that they’ll be as obsessive about the roads and tarmac as they are about the cars. Welcome to the next generation of Gran Turismo; the ultimate driving experience. And you won’t need to marry Bernie Ecclestone to enjoy it all!
— Deep Down —
Capcom are always good with new hardware, so Deep Down is clearly their own attempt at marrying the RPG stylings of Dragon’s Dogma with the tense build and challenge of Dark Souls. Unfortunately we got to see very little in-game footage (what there was reminded me more of Hunted: The Demon’s Forge than anything else) but there was a very big dragon, a shield and lots of fire and death. The tagline is are you a hero or a coward, which largely tells me you’ll have the option to run from most fights in the game – but that does seem like a strange addition into a game of this kind. More information is very much needed before I can say if this is a game to look forward to, or to give a wide berth because it has dragon-sized levels of bad breath…
— Watch Dogs —
If last years Watch Dogs on current-gen hardware looked good, then on PS4 hardware it was mindblowing. There is a really incredible sense of live and consequence in the playable segment we were shown, as our smartphone-style apps gave us information on everything; to the point it could predict crimes as they were about to happen. It’s quite impressive and there’s a really odd sense of being both a hero and a villain at the same time, but it just looked stunning and sensational right from the off and it’s obvious that UbiSoft are doing everything they can to push the boat out with this one. Watch Dogs is a new IP and it appears to be a huge financial gamble for them as well; I do hope that it pays off for them in the long run.
There were others – inFamous: Second Son, for example. And Diablo 3, although that’s hardly the sort of title that will push the hardware it must be said, so we shall see what Blizzard are really up to in the future with Sony (I suspect Project Titan may be involved!).
Q. Kaz Hirai?
A. Nope. No “Hit crabs weak point for MASSIVE DAMAGE!”. No “Riiiiiiiiiiiidge Raceeerrrrrrrrrr!”. Sorry. Although we had David Cage if you wanted someone you could imagine punching in the face.
Q. Was there anything missing?
A. Plenty, here’s a quick run-down of what was absent for me.
- No actual hardware design yet. Some of us like to see the unit in question.
- No talk on European release dates. We do generally get shafted by Sony on this front.
- No mention of The Last Guardian. BOO I say, BOO and HISS!
- Light on backwards compatibility, or whether this is a Gaikai thing now.
- No sign of old Sony IPs from the PS2 era coming back, which is a shame.
- No pricing, which isn’t surprising but still worrying.
There was also the impression that the whole conference was very safe and measured. The visuals are exciting, but that was probably it for me. Not being into the “Social Gamer” scene (I don’t really relish the idea of someone jumping in and taking over my game of Dark Souls 2 if I die a few times, because then I will be forced to wheel myself over to their property and apply a cricket bat to their forehead repeatedly and with great velocity!) not much of it excited me. Visuals alone don’t tickle my fancy now. I appreciate that the PS4 needs all this power; but anyone expecting Wii-U levels of pricing is frankly living in a fantasy land. This hardware is really potent, and unfortunately I sense is going to cost similar to what the PS3 did on release. And even there, I sense Sony will be making a loss.
Q. What games do you want to see?
A. Actually, I want to see stuff like Primal again – with such new hardware and potent power, the transitions and the scale could be ramped up exponentially. We jeft Jen at the end of Primal hoping there was a chance for her boyfriend to recover, perhaps Skree can come back having found a potential way of doing just that?
I also want to see experimental Sony back – stuff like Overboard!, which was superb on the PS1, and Arc the Lad and various other decent IPs. I totally understand that right from the off Sony needed to just get the things people wanted out of the way, but I was hoping for that little spark that we’ve been missing with Sony for a while. That crazy, experimental, mad and left-of-field mindset which did get us titles like MediEvil, and Ape Escape and the like.
I sort of miss that element in Sony. I’d like to see it back for the PS4, especially with this kind of power at their disposal.
Q. Will it be worth buying on release?
A. Pass. We’ll likely see more games and ideas at E3 in June, so my guess is stay tuned for that. I also believe that is where the pricing structure will be revealed.
Q. Any other games planned for the launch window?
A. Plenty; The Witcher 3 was confirmed today, and 169 companies are signed up to make games for the PS4. So it’ll be interesting to see what more comes forward.
Q. No PS Omni?
A. No, but I surmise this is more an American-led approach, because of all the criticisms in the past over Wii-U and X-Box 360 and how people wouldn’t be able to tell the difference (which is utter rubbish as far as I’m concerned). It might of course have a different tag in Japan, where the number 4 carries some superstition, which isn’t really going to affect us in the West at all. But I have to admit, I liked the name “Omni”, and the new Eyetoy being an “Omniviewer”. It sounded so menacing and cool. I would have bought it for that alone. Sad but true.
Q. So, yay or nay?
A. I’m totally “Yay!” to the hardware.
Expensive as the hardware will inevitably be, if it has proper long-term capacity and Sony can offer a good warranty period on it (which is more and more important as the generational limits are lengthened) it might not be quite as awful as people think. Sony are generally very good on this front however; having replaced my very out of warranty PS3 lately, they are more willing than any other company to keep their fans and customers very happy indeed. Time will tell if there are hardware hiccups in the first year or two – it happens – but for the most part, I have no reason to fault or doubt Sony’s customer care in the last few years. I find it strange that they’d suddenly change their minds at this point.
Software wise, I’m sort of “Nay…”, not because I don’t like the games – Drive Club looks like a total riot and I do want that game – but because everything was either CGI trailers where they didn’t expressly point out in-game footage moments, or it was traditional styles of gaming. Sony have a wealth of IP at its disposal, and some much-loved franchises under its belt. I think considering many of those watching would have been long-time PlayStation users, a few nods to their past would have been truly appreciated. As it is, Killzone seems to be the main nod – and that’s hardly got a clean reputation, sadly.
I guess we’ll have to wait for more information on games.
Q. That’s awkwardly open-ended!
A. It is, and I apologise. Perhaps it’s because I was up very late last night and got very little sleep. I’m looking forward to what is to come, and it’s not likely I’ll see it in the UK until much later next year (thanks Sony…) so there is plenty of time for stuff to come to the fore and convince me that it’s worth the expense. I’m counting on it, even. I do buy all the new consoles and my savings next year will clearly takr a bit of a hammering, but that’s fine.
I just sort of hoped for something more than trailers and CGI. And that’s probably my biggest downfall.