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BD Roundtable: PlayStation 4 Thoughts and First Impressions

PS4 impressions

Three of Boss Dungeon’s writers are no longer awaiting greatness, having jumped into the new generation of PlayStation at launch. Michael, Zack and Julian sum up their impressions after their first few days hands on with the new system.

The Games

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Arguably the most important part of any gaming system.What did we think of the launch lineup?

Julian Rittmayer

I chose Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag and Killzone: Shadow Fall as my launch pick-ups, as well as having ContrastFlower, Resogun and Warframe available digitally.

Despite my trepidation at playing yet another Assassin’s Creed title, positive buzz and promises that Black Flag was a vast improvement over the previous entry, Assassin’s Creed III. The PS4 version also promised exclusive content, and by all accounts seemed like a good choice for my new system. The sole hour I’ve spent with the game so far hasn’t been terribly promising, with the same free-running gameplay and weird overarching meta-game that the series is infamous for. I also wasn’t terribly impressed at the visuals, it looked like a slightly up-res’ed PS3 game. Ubisoft has since come out and stated that the title currently runs at 900p but they will soon release an update that will increase the resolution to 1080p as well as adding a new anti-aliasing technique to improve the overall look of the game.

Update: Ubisoft released their aforementioned update yesterday (11/19) which applied the visual update. The game is now noticeably better looking. Props to them!

Killzone: Shadow Fall on the other hand felt much more “next gen”, with a definite improvement in almost every department. The lighting and shaders are a step up from the PS3, and the facial animation (which the game REALLY emphasizes early on, hello close-up of dudes face) is pretty impressive as well. The singleplayer campaign is serviceable, but doesn’t stray far from the FPS path though it does some neat things to show off a few of the PS4’s more unique features such as playing audio logs through the DualShock’s built-in mic. The multiplayer is smooth and the matches seem varied and interesting, though I haven’t sunk much time into it.

As for the digital offerings, the pickings were equally slim. Contrast has definite potential, and the mechanics are clever and fun but unfortunately the game suffers from a rather dry story and uninspired puzzles. It’s a neat little puzzle-platformer, but hard to recommend for those who don’t have PS+. I only booted up Flower for a brief fifteen minutes or so, and there’s the definite visual improvement from the increased resolution but I’m not sure I feel inclined to play that game again just yet. I also haven’t sunk much time into Resogun but I have the feeling I’ll get more acquainted before the month is through, early impression of it are definitely favourable though. I’ve played some Warframe on PC and came away disliking it, but I thought I might give it another shot on PS4.

Overall the biggest thing I noticed with this new generation of games is how little I’ve been impressed by the visual side of things. I’m an avid PC gamer, and my PC is relatively powerful as I try to keep it updated as much as possible, so playing games at 1080 (or 1440p and higher) at a steady 60 frames per second is nothing new, let a lone impressive. The reason I’m still so invested in the console eco-system though, is because I’m interested in the exclusives and functionality only available on the system. That said, the visuals are still quite impressive and should wow more than a few gamers who are coming from the PS3 standard of visuals.

Michael Carey

In terms of retail games I picked up Battlefield 4, Killzone: Shadowfall, and Knack and then got Blacklight Retribution, Contrast, Flower, Resogun, Super Motherload, and Warframe digitally.

I can’t comment on Battlefield 4 yet, as it’s a title I got to play multiplayer for and that component has been having stability issues. I will say that it’s neat to see that it supports leaning through motion control. Killzone: Shadowfall is my first title in the franchise, and it’s definitely the most visually impressive game I’ve played on the system. What I’ve played of the single player has been good and the multiplayer, blending together multiple game types and objectives in one mode, is a lot of fun as well. Regrettably, Knack is something I’m soldiering through more than enjoying, as I just find the whole package to be uninspired and distinctly unfun.

I haven’t spent much time with Blacklight Retribution, but the game at least looks as good as I recall it looking from my, admittedly little, time with it on PC. The same can be said of Warframe. Contrast is so far the worst thing I’ve played on the system, being fundamentally broken and completely lacking in polish. It hardly feels like a game from generation seven, let alone a “next-gen” experience. Flower looks pretty good. Some textures are less than impressive, but the grass and fields look better than I remember. The stars of the launch for me end up being Resogun and Super Motherload, each being amazing experiences. Resogun is a very fun shmup that has a lot of replay value through co-op and Super Motherload offers simple gameplay with it’s mixture of roguelike mechanics, puzzles, and collectables and is honestly something I could see playing for months.

Zack Furniss

Though my time with the system thus far has been limited, I’m enjoying what little I have played. Killzone: Shadow Fall (which I can not for the life of me stop referring to as Calzone: Cheddar-Filled) has been great fun. I was never hugely into the series before, but this one is really sucking me in. Most of the impressions I’ve seen from people say that it’s rather by the numbers, but the pacing has been excellent so far at keeping things nice and varied. I haven’t yet dipped my toes into the multiplayer but I hope to play with these lovely gentlemen soon.

The only other games I’ve played are those that come free with PS+, Contrast and Resogun. Contrast is like a beautiful, vapid person, where you’re attracted to them from the outset, but quickly realize there’s not a whole lot going on there. While the music, aesthetics, and concept are all sound, the mechanics feel rough. There’s no friction to the way your player character walks, and you feel as though you’re ice-skating on the cobblestoned streets. That’s always been an instant turn-off for me. I’ll likely still end up finishing it.  Resogun, on the other hand, has been cooing my name softly from the Dualshock 4’s speaker, calling me out of bed, saying “Just one more time, Zack…please…” And who am I to say no to sexy, sexy Resogun? It starts off so simple and ramps up so satisfyingly that it is hard to put down. It’s also the prettiest shmup I’ve ever seen.

The Sharing

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Sony’s much lauded “share” button allows you upload pictures and videos, as well as stream your gameplay. How well does it work?

Julian Rittmayer

Despite my initial skepticism, Sony’s PS4 “Share” feature has won me over almost instantly. The process of uploading a picture or video, or starting a Twitch or Ustream broadcast is fluid and instant. You can then share these pictures or videos to Twitter or Facebook, which I fear may lead to spam filled Twitter feeds and Facebook walls once more people pick up the system. As you know I’ve been streaming several games over the past few days and so far it seems to work flawlessly.

The streaming resolution is capped at 720p, which for all intents and purposes is perfectly fine. The picture sharing however, is a bit too compressed for my liking, since much of the detail gets lost due it (Example).

The way the PS4 handles friends is pretty neat as well. You can add up to 2000 friends (though really, who has that many?) and you can see them by their PSN handle OR send them a second request to view their real name. I thought I wouldn’t like this aspect, but in reality, its better that I thought it would be.

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As you can see above, I can now see Michael by his name, though it still shows his handle underneath. Of course, if the person doesn’t have a PS4 you can only see them by their handle regardless.

The party chat actually works really well, though I only tested a party of 3 people (all in different games). My biggest qualm with it is that the audio from party chat does NOT get streamed on Twitch or Ustream. Hopefully this will get patched so we can do some collaborative streams too!

 

Michael Carey

Twitch sharing was one of the most interesting features of the PlayStation 4 to me, partly because I was really interested in how the logistics of it would work. Surprisingly, it’s really good for being a first attempt at this sort of thing. You can broadcast with minimal setup, you just have to log in to Twitch and bypass entering a stream key like you would with other streaming software, and you can choose to broadcast your microphone, PlayStation Camera, and if you want chat comments on stream. You end up seeing what you stream, so if you don’t mind your game getting windowed, you can stay engaged with the chat while playing. It seems to have a hard time with high volume chats and it doesn’t support emoticons, but it’s nice to not have to keep a laptop with a chat window open. It still needs some work, as Twitch currently doesn’t archive PS4 broadcasts even if you have your account set to archive footage, but it’s honestly very impressive.

As for general sharing, my biggest gripe is that hitting the Share button isn’t very customizable. Opening the menu will always result in your last 15 minutes of gameplay being saved to the hard drive, meaning you need to be mindful of your space. You get two configurations for three options (press, long press, and double press), but they only swap the function of the normal and long press. It would be nice to customize all three options and avoid situations where a half GB of gameplay footage doesn’t populate your hard drive just because you wanted to broadcast on Twitch or just fill your drive with shots of the home screen.

It would also be great if videos could be edited without going to share them first and if you could upload your videos to somewhere other than Facebook. YouTube would definitely be an ideal service.

Zack Furniss

I haven’t had a chance to try any of the sharing yet. All of my glorious PS4 time has been all mine.

 

The UI

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The PS4 UI features a new look, does it work and did we like it?

Julian Rittmayer

The PS4 has seen and slight UI overhaul from the PS3. The XMB is still there, in a sense, but the main menu features a tiered XMB type of set up. I do appreciate how snappy the UI is, switching between apps and menus is a cinch, but aesthetically much is left to be desired. The second menu tier, the one that features “blocks” reminiscent of Metro UI looks nice at first but it wasn’t long before I ran into issues with it.

Music and Video Unlimited, Sony’s subscription services, are both located on this menu and are currently unable to be removed or hidden. The video streaming icon expands into a drop down menu of video streaming apps, ALL the video streaming apps. I’ve only downloaded Netflix, Hulu and Crunchyroll, but still see a list of 10 or so apps including apps I’ll NEVER use such as NHL Gamecenter or Vudu.

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All the games I’ve been playing are also located on this second tier menu, which begs the question, how many games will be display on this menu until some start getting shunted to the “library” sub menu? The library sub menu is located at the end of this second tier menu and shows all games AND apps on your system. It’s a bit annoying.

I really hope that Sony allows for more menu customization in a future update, as currently the menu is a bit bland and disorganized, which for an OCD gamer like me, is quite a bother.

Remote Play has also seen a bit of an upgrade, being much more usable than the PS3 though the range seems super limited. It was already lagging when I was only one room over, about 25 feet away from my PS4. The good thing is that all games support remote play, which is a welcome step up over the PS3’s limited functionality.

Michael Carey

The UI has definitely taken some getting used to. At the least, it performs much better than the XMB on the PlayStation 3 and definitely seems to be focused around multi-tasking. It’s definitely not focused on customizability, though, as you can’t even assign games to folders or set an organization preference. At the moment it isn’t too bad, but I imagine in a year or two that the interface will become a monster for people as they accumulate more titles through PlayStation 4 and have more junk to sift through to find what they want.

There are social feeds tied into your games on the menu, which, when the network is working, are neat, but when the network is struggling, like it was launch weekend, they end up being problematic. You’ll have helpful quick links, like launching your most recently played Warzone in Killzone or a link to the developer’s blog, but the game’s manuals are also tied to this functionality and then launch in a browser window, meaning you have to have an internet connection and the Sony Entertainment Network has to be functioning to access that functionality.

The PlayStation Store especially is much more responsive and doesn’t feel like it’s going to crash every time you use it, though maybe I’m alone in that fear on the PS3. Being able to go into the store, queue up a download, and go back to playing a game is really nice, the speed is better, and the install process has been streamlined. There’s no way to check past purchases and downloads, which is more than a little odd, but hopefully Sony will work around these interface quirks sooner rather than later.

Trophies are also much speedier. The sync operation is still something that needs to be performed for some reason, being even more perplexing on a system that seems always be uploading your game saves to the cloud, but it isn’t the minute long affair it often is on the PS3.

Zack Furniss

The new UI is sleek, yet still reminiscent of the PS3’s. My only gripe with it right now is the lack of customization. Right now everything is easy to find since there are only a few games, but a year from now we’re going to be able to need to clean things out and move them around. I don’t expect a fully customizable UI like a PC, but let me organize things in the weird ways I want to.

As of now, the Playstation Store is easier to navigate than previous incarnations, but I worry that that’s only because there isn’t a whole lot on there yet. As time goes on, we’ll know if it maintains its currently pleasing speed.

The Hardware

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After three generations of Playstation, Sony has updated the design of the Dualshock. The PS4 itself  boasts an unique design. Are these design changes good?

Julian Rittmayer

The slanted design of the console is as glaringly in-your-face as many would have you believe, it adds a nice visual touch to what would otherwise just be a black box. There’s none of this “wobble” nonsense people have been complaining about. Currently I just have it sitting horizontally. The original PS3 definitely impressed me much more when I took it out of the box, that thing was a hulking shiny beast of raw gaming power at the time. In comparison, this feels a lot more sleek and subdued.

The Dualshock is excellent. It’s comfortable and feels great in my hands, the triggers especially are fantastic with their grips. There is a part of me that misses the classic Dualshock design, though perhaps they will make a “classic” controller for PS4 in the future. Overall a massive improvement in all aspects, so props to Sony for that.

Michael Carey

The system design has always been something I’ve liked. The angled look is pretty slick and I do like the color scheme. At the least, it’s a much better design than the most recent PlayStation 3, which looks like one of those dollar store knock-off systems that have a printed circuit board the size of a playing card inside a massive void. It also stands well on its own vertically, which is something I was initially a little worried about. I’m not a big fan of the power and eject buttons, though, as I’m still trying to figure out just what the system counts as being pressed, though it’s definitely less sensitive than the current Xbox 360 design. I have to admit that the first time I powered the thing on was by sheer accident, though.

The included cables are not fantastic, which is to be expected. The power cord is especially short and the charging cable for the DualShock 4 really makes me wonder how people playing on big couches yards away from their console ever charge controllers. The headset included has a decent enough microphone, but the speaker is absolute garbage and I definitely need to look into a more solid replacement that won’t break the bank.

The controller is something I’m very much enamoured with. The weight is excellent and it has a great balance to it. The d-pad and buttons have a very pleasant click and tactile feel, the shoulder buttons feel good with L2 and R2 being solid triggers and improvements over the DualShock 3, the sticks are definitely made to fit the thumb, and the finish on the back of to controller just makes it really comfortable to hold. The speaker in it is neat and the touch pad is, honestly, something I wish I could use more because it seems to work well. There are some growing pains, like getting used the the Options button’s placement compared to Start on the DualShock 4, but I’m definitely impressed with the DualShock 4.

Zack Furniss

Oooh baby, that controller. You might think you like the Dualshock 3, but that’s only because you haven’t touched the 4 yet. When I saw pictures of the DS4, I thought that the contour sticks might feel awkward, but that’s just not the case. This pad feels like it was tested over and over until they got everything just right. Those horrible triggers from the last controller are now gone, replaced with something that feels functional and fun. I look forward to shooting the mans in Calzone just because it means I get to touch those sexy triggers again. I’m very pleasantly surprised by the fidelity of the speaker on the controller. I loved it being used on the Wiimote, but the speaker quality was poor so it took away from it. Some of the audio logs in Calzone are horrifying and this is definitely amplified by it coming from your hands. Also, something most aren’t really noticing is the headphone jack on the bottom of the pad. Though this has already been done with the Wii U, it’s a feature I’d love to see implemented on all consoles since I own some great headphones and don’t feel like paying for a console specific pair. The only problem is that I haven’t found a way to adjust the volume yet.

The system itself is very small, and the slanted design is eye-catching. It is a bit at odds with everything else on my entertainment stand, unfortunately. It doesn’t really mesh well since everything else has a standard, rectangular shape. The wires are too short, but that’s not a huge problem for me. If it becomes one later on I’ll have to shell out for some longer cables. Overall I am very pleased with the design of the system.

 

The Verdict

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Should you buy one now, or wait?

Julian Rittmayer

Let’s be real for a second here, no one is buying this system for the launch games. You’re buying this system because you like experiencing a new generation from the beginning, you like having a new device to mess around with or something quite close to either of those. For me it was always a matter of when, not if, and I figured that since I was getting one anyway, I might as well just get one now. If I’m going to invest in the PlayStation 4 for the next cycle of consoles, I may as well start as early as possible to maximize my “investment” so to speak. Also, I’m really good at coming up with reasons as to why I need stuff I don’t actually need.

So if you have a spare $400 kicking around and were planning to get a PlayStation 4 eventually, then I say jump right in! It’ll only get better from here.

Michael Carey

The thing I’ve come to learn about hardware, through purchases like a 3DS, Kindle, and now the PlayStation 4, is that you can always come up for a justification to own a piece of technology once you have it. You get a system for just one game and, through looking at what else is there, end up with a pile of games you enjoy that weren’t even on your radar. The PlayStation 4 might not have an impressive pile yet, but if you’re at all receptive to what Sony’s doing this generation, I think you can easily make yourself satisfied with the purchase. If you’re into indie games, especially, I think the PlayStation 4 has a lot to offer. If you’re only looking for the big retail stuff, you can probably hang on to generation seven a little longer, but eventually tech envy comes for us all.

Zack Furniss

I didn’t need to buy this thing. No one does. Especially since there isn’t a huge wealth of titles to play at the moment. But that tech lust hit me something hard. I suspect if you’re reading this, it’s probably hitting you too. This is an awesome piece of hardware, and I am happy with my purchase. Is it necessary at the moment? No, I probably could have waited. If the PS3 streaming was already implemented, I’d say go for it. But as of now, waiting til inFamous: Second Son comes out in March isn’t such a bad idea.

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