Finally off the fence: I bought a PS4

Posted: March 17, 2015 by ryanlecocq in Features, Technology

PlayStation-4.jpg

For the past year and a half or so, I have watched the ads for the current generation of game consoles with only mild interest.  I’ve had the attitude shared by many that if these things can only run PC ports decently and have few killer exclusives, why bother?  I looked at the basic spec sheet and decided it didn’t look very impressive and I looked at the bullet-point list of features and decided none of them seemed essential.  I had a little experience with the Wii U and the Xbox One, which pretty much reinforced my views.  Both basically struck me as a more advanced and also more gimmicky version of the product that they replaced.  The PS4 however, did not get a fair share of my attention.  I had heard from critics that the PS4 was the more “hardcore friendly” of the three, but I assumed this just meant it lacked a mandatory sensor or funky tablet controller.  To be honest, I actually bought the system without even trying it.  I just saw an ad for one at a good price and I knew I couldn’t live without Bloodborne, so I reluctantly decided to purchase what I viewed as a necessary evil.  A betrayal of my loyal computer, which I believed could have done the game far better justice.

I don’t know if I’ve ever been so wrong about an electronic device.  The Playstation 4 is an brilliantly designed piece of tech that is truly optimized for gaming.  I’ll keep this brief, rather than break this up into essay format. I just want to start with a brief list of unexpected features that had I been told of, would have sold me on the system far sooner.

You can plug any stereo headset into the controller and hear game sound and chat, without any of the crazy adapters and cables of last generation.

The touchpad can be used for something like Swype typing to eliminate the now familiar issue of typing on controllers.

Share play allows you to remotely play as the second controller on a friend’s console, even if you do not have the same game or even the same device.  You can also hand control over to another player spectating in a single player game.

Games can be played within moments of the disc being inserted, long before installation is complete.

The network speed is actually really fast, unlike the PS3 where downloads were always slow, even on a fast connection with an upgraded hard drive.

Many of my past free Playstation Plus games were waiting for me to download.  Not just ones that had been featured as PS4 free games, but even others that had been later ported to PS4 and supported cross-play.

 

Overall I’m just very impressed with the PS4’s singleminded gaming-ness.  Sure, it does Netflix and browses the internet, but the PS4 is first and foremost optimized for games and everything peripheral to them.  I’m a late adopter, so I have no idea what it was like at launch.  That being said, right now everything from gameplay streaming to cross-platform play (between Sony devices of course) is ready to go.  As I mentioned above, there is even the share play option for game streaming that will allow spectators to actually join your game.  The whole platform just feels well thought out for the needs of modern gamers.  That’s very refreshing to me as Nintendo and Microsoft seem to be struggling to figure out what we want.

The controller deserves special attention as I feel it’s the perfect balance of futuristic gimmickry and practical playability.  On one end of this spectrum you have the Xbox One controller that plays things extremely safe, to the point of not offering any clear benefits over it’s predecessor.  On the other hand you have the various Wii controllers that push the boundaries of practicality and convenience to deliver a truly 80s sci fi version of what gaming could be.  I haven’t yet held the Steam controller, so the final match isn’t complete, but for my money the current gen best controller is the Dual Shock 4.  Just the right amount of gimmicks, that quickly justify themselves as benefits.  Then there’s that simple to use, universal plug-n-play headset jack, oh thank heaven.

Before I move on to my very short list of complaints or desired impovements, I want to talk briefly about the tech the powers Sony’s new game streaming services.  You may remember the press and patent office battle between the game streaming heavyweights; Gaikai and Onlive.  At first it seemed as if the two would go head to head, offering competing game streaming services.  Many shots were fired and then it suddenly became irrelevant when Sony bought Gaikai and OnLive’s CEO Steve Perlman managed to run OnLive into the ground by not getting along with anyone.  OnLive quickly faded into obscurity with the support of only a few major publishers and Gaikai went radio silent for years.  Now we finally get to find out: was Gaikai’s tech actually any good?

From my experience using a very fast internet connection, the answer is definitely yes.  Gaikai’s technology is at the heart of the Playstation Now game streaming service, the Share Play feature for parties and some of the new remote play features of the Playstation TV and Vita.  With Playstation Now I experienced almost flawless gameplay.  The PS3 and PSN games were all offered at 720p and looked at least as good as OnLive’s streaming, with no noticeable lag and minimal compression artifacts.  For the most part it was exactly like playing the games locally.  The other streaming services were extremely hit or miss depending on the speed and distance of other participants.  Although I am amazed that we can remotely play each other’s local games, I have yet to get a group of people playing the same game this way without issue.

 

Now for the things I would like to have or was offended by.  

Any game that is available on PS Now that I have purchased on PSN should be available to me at all times, without subscription.  If the tech is there and I own it, it’s only fair.

Cheap after-the-fact upgrades for games I already bought on PS3 that are now on PS4, even if they didn’t support cross-buy/play at release.  I would gladly pay $5-10 to upgrade.

The ability to use PS3 controllers for PS Now and PSN games that don’t require the Dualshock 4.  Would make it easier to get more controllers together for casual play, but shouldn’t harm sales of new ones too much as you still couldn’t play PS4 games with them.

 

At the moment I couldn’t be happier with my new toy.  It’s not quite the excitement I felt when I first got my Genesis with Sonic 2 or my N64 with Shadows of the Empire, but much more joy than I expected.

 

 

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