Sony PS4 review
- Powerful spec
- Great controller
- Stylish looks
- Lack of exclusive games
- Not backwards compatible
- Media a bit light
Update: We've got our grubby mitts on a Sony PS4 unit but we wanted to give it a full, fair test before giving you our verdict. Stay tuned for our full review - coming very soon. Below you can find our first impressions from E3 plus our thoughts on the new interface and launch games that we've been testing out over the last few days. You'll also find our exclusive unboxing video and some gameplay from launch titles Resogun and Knack.
Deep in Sony's bunker at E3 at the Los Angeles Convention Center, T3 spent a good few hours investigating the veritable might of the new PS4
In a series of demos, we got to grips, quite literally, with the new DualShock 4 controller, the PlayStation Camera, the companion iOS and Android app, and a smattering of new titles such as DriveClub, Killzone Shadow Fall and Knack, plus a Play Room demo.
Sony PS4: Controller
The controller itself is sturdy and reassuringly weighty in the palm compared to the always-a-bit-light-for-us DualShock 3, which is interesting as the Xbox One has slimmed down just as Sony has homed in on heft. It's not bulky though, and its sleekness is married to an almost textured coating on both the base and dual sticks that helps grip.
Xbox One vs Sony PS4: Next-gen showdown
The dual sticks feel stiffer compared to the PS3's, and while this initially jars, we found with more exposure to them we actually preferred it for accuracy, though it takes some getting used to.
The triggers are now really very trigger-like indeed (although Killzone, rather bizarrely, still doesn't assign them as aim and fire) and their close placement to the shoulder buttons is a good design move that aids quick changes.
Sony PS4: Touch panel
The central touch panel is very responsive when navigating menus and a satisfying click acts as a surrogate Start button in its absence.
We actually really missed Start and Select to, well, start with (how do you pause?!), but the more time you spend with the touch panel, the more you realise what an increasingly exciting addition it is. Indeed, it's as at home replicating a touch screen as it is the movements of a PC trackpad.
Check out our Sony PS4 unboxing video:
On Killzone it brings up a secondary menu of attacks, while on Play Room it was used for everything from throwing things onto the screen to rubbing to interact with on-screen characters to moving on-screen paddles for air hockey. The bridge between smartphone games and the new raft of independent developers that PlayStation's busy pleasing is a very palpable one.
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The motor rumble of the controller and speaker combine to generate some very impressive feedback, though not quite of the standard of the Xbox One's new joypad.
There's no rumble in the triggers here, but there is a real feeling of weight being moved around. At one point in the Play Room, AI bots fill the controller, and you can hear and feel them moving around inside the pad as you manipulate it. Alas, none of the demos used the new Share or Options button so we were unable to test their use.
Sony PS4: Camera
The PlayStation Camera is a bit of a micro-Kinect, following in the best tradition of EyeToy. Like Move, it reads the light bars on the rear of the DualShock 4s so that you can manipulate items on screen with it, but also reads your flailing arms to interact, too.
The resolution is decent if nothing too scary – it doesn't track your expression or engagement, but it can tell if you've covered your eyes (the crowd of AI bots on the demo hushed, before we pulled our hands away and they all cried in a really quite charming game of Peek-a-boo). It will also set your head on fire – virtually, at least – in that AR style that Reality Fighters and its Vita brethren did.
Sony PS4: App
Even more exciting was the PlayStation companion app, which will be available for iOS and Android smartphones and tablets (in this case an Sony Xperia Z tab, obviously) as well as the PS Vita.
This is what the likes of Ubisoft are using in Watch Dogs and The Division as Sony's answer to SmartGlass, but here it was used to draw objects on a very simplified version of art package and literally 'throw' them on to the big screen. It's basic so far, but again, there's real potential there if they can expand the options.
The Play Room, a thoroughly enjoyable tech demo that's not confirmed for any official release, makes great use of the cam and we think Sony would be bonkers not to include as a getting-to-grips-with-the-hardware retail release. Maybe it could be packaged with the PlayStation Camera now Sony has confirmed that omitting that from the PS4 box was a way of keeping the costs down?
Sony PS4: Interface
On the PS4's interface, the XMB-like user management bar sits above the new, picture-led, Windows-like front end.
Interaction is swift and responsive, the smartphone/tablet ways of instant access and multitasking finally ushered into the home space. A hold of the PS button always takes you home, while the integrated social overlay has a raft of notifications and settings to toggle, not to mention devices to connect.
Some of the new interface tech is used well, such as navigating the keypad entries with the DualShock 4's gyro (just hit R3), while others are ignored: no mouse-like, touch-panlled menu controlling, alas. With the camera attached Kinect-style voice control takes over, the command precursor switching, of course, to 'Playstation...'.
The Sony share button has limited use before Sony turns on the online back end, but we tested it locally. A tap gives you video, screenshot or boradcast options, while an extended hold takes an auto 450kb screen grab for sharing, complate with contextual metadata.
Sony PS4: Games
DriveClub is a decent racer with some nice features, although graphically we weren't as blown away as we expected (though the 'Pre-Alpha, 35% complete' sign should explain that). Handling is decent, with a focus on drifting with the shoulder buttons, but the system of Fame points is what is really interesting.
Sony PS4: Games we want to play right now
You race in clubs, but as you make your way round the track, independent challenges pop up with headshots of other drivers attached. You then have a variety of durations to better the random opponent – be it cornering, average speed or, yes, drifting – for extra goodies. It certainly keeps you interested, even if you've raced well ahead, and we can only imagine the online integration that will follow.
Take a look at our Sony PS4 Knack gameplay video:
Knack is a rather basic combat brawler that has you smashing up scenery and growing your body, Katamari-style, before beating up a succession of bulky henchmen. Some twitchy camera angles aside, it's fun, though very much a 'first wave' title at first glance. Update: we've got a copy of Knack and have been playing foitr the last few days - check out our Knack review. You might also like to check out our Resogun review - another title in the launch lineup.
Have a watch of our Sony PS4 Resogun gameplay video:
Finally, Killzone Shadow Fall looks rather gorgeous, although, in forests and detailed shrubbery, the particular level we played looked bugger all like typical Killzone.
The sheer number of combat options across triggers, d-pad and touch pad baffled us to the extent that we blew ourselves up twice with a grenade before we knew what was going on, but with persistence we actually killed some people and left intrigued by exactly where the extensive weaponry and drone assistance would take us.
Sony PS4: Verdict
While we've had a bit of a play with the PS4, it still too early to reach any definitive conclusions, although we have now played some of the games (see above) and checked out the UI and Share button.
The DualShock 4, for us, is an improvement on its predecessor, more comfy in hand and with a wealth of immersive bells and whistles to see it through years of innovation. The PlayStation Camera is clever and fun rather than intrusive and being removed from the console package to keep the price low makes financial sense, though this could stymy software development focusing on the new tech in the same way Xbox struggled with Kinect support.
Stay tuned for our full review - coming very soon.
Sony PS4 release date: 29 November 2013
Sony PS4 price: £349 | Pre-order from: Amazon | Zavvi | Tesco | GAME