I had to wait almost the entire weekend to get my hands on the PS4. The wait was concluded by a four hour train journey that felt like an eternity. Safe to say, I was pretty excited to finally see my own PlayStation 4 console, and play around with the various games, apps and new things. As far as console launches go, the Xbox One and PS4 both feature plenty of things to try, so after finally getting home, me and my flatmates sat down and played into the night. I left my first session with a lot of thoughts, and here they shall be documented for your viewing pleasure.
A nice big box from ShopTo is the first step to next-gen. It’s cardboard, brown and has ShopTo written on it. I suppose expecting it to be delivered in carbonite by an unmanned air drone was a little optimistic. Oh well, things can only get better from here. Opening the box reveals a nifty collection of yet more boxes, coloured ones this time. The retail boxes for the PS4 games, Battlefield 4 and Killzone: Shadowfall in my case, are a little too blue for my liking, and somewhat reminiscent of the PS2 days. I expect Sony will change the packaging within a year or two, like they did with the PS3 and its horrific spider-man font.
Once I’ve dug out all the packaging, it’s time to open up the PS4 box itself and take a first glimpse at my own personal PlayStation 4. Of course, opening the box reveals more packaging and leaflets than pieces of technology, but after pulling the console out, my first up-close visual impression is very, very good. I’ve been a fan of the PS4 design since it was first revealed; in person, it looks even better. The famous slanted design gives it a futuristic vibe, while the exhausts to the rear of the device are reminiscent of a fighter jet. The two tone panels at the top are perfectly balanced and the small, but bold, PS logo is a neat touch.
I get straight to it, no point faffing about. I plug the console into the power socket with the somewhat short power cord provided, and use my own HDMI cable (despite one being provided with the package) to hook it up to the TV. A quick read over the start-up manual, because, yes, I’ve messed that stage up at least once before, then a quick tap of the power touch-button wedged between the two main panels. The console hums to life for the first time and the lightbar in the middle of the device glows a shaded blue. It’s a great introduction; I can practically hear the PS4 saying, “let’s do this”. Although it could’ve been saying anything; I don’t understand Japanese, afterall.
The initial set-up is relatively painless and easy to motor through. Just a few elements to deal with like internet, PSN and the usual licensing agreements. The day one update is a bit of a pain, it only takes about 5 or 10 minutes to download and install, but it’s a long wait when all you want to do is start playing. Once this PS4 has turned itself off and on a few times, we’re finally greeted with the User Interface. No violin crescendo or weird “electro-bwoahing” noises, just a simple PS logo like with the Vita. Perhaps a sign of the simplicity and speed that Sony have been pushing in the build up to release.
The UI initially feels like an odd combination between both the PS3 Xcross and the Xbox 360 Dashboard. The horizontal tab options like notifications, friends, trophies and settings hover over the Windows-esque tiles that are used for the various applications available on the PS4. If the word application scares you a little, try not to worry, it’s just the hip word Sony have chosen to title things like games, TV systems and other services. The whole interface feels refreshingly snappy, moving through the various menus is easy enough for an experienced PS3 player, although I fear that some of the more detailed settings may be tricky to find for those crossing over or starting anew. Overall though, it’s a brilliantly designed UI that perfectly compliments the next-gen PlayStation vibe that Sony are attempting to establish.
My first port of call is the PlayStation store where I can redeem my PS+ one year subscription and download both Resogun and Contrast. The store is instantly familiar; apart from core content, it’s practically unchanged from the current PS3 service, although a fair bit quicker and more responsive. Redeeming my voucher and downloading the free games is easy enough, so I leave them working in the background as I unwrap my first game. Killzone: Shadowfall is my choice, I figured that playing the technical powerhouse first would be the best way to be introduced to the next-gen.
After easily slipping the disc in, the game starts to install unprompted. It only takes a couple of minutes before I can load it up and start playing. Killzone developers Guerilla have been constantly touting the ability to get the player from the UI to the game menu in minimal time. This is certainly true, even on the first play. Shadowfall looks great, no doubt about that, and features some interesting mechanics. What really makes this shooter feel different, however, is the Dualshock 4. Like the console, the new controller looks really good, everything is neatly assembled and the build quality feels superb. However, a part of me isn’t so sure about the textured grey back panel of the Dualshock, I can’t help but feel that all black would’ve looked a bit better.
I quit Killzone after playing for an hour or so; a simple tap of the smaller PS button on the controller instantly takes me to the main menu from which I can quit the game and decide what to do next. What impresses me at this stage is the ease with which I can dart between applications, all while keeping Killzone paused in the background. If anything, this is the direct effect of the mobile age in which we expect technology to be instantaneous. In many ways, the PS4 is a lot quicker than my year-old Sony Xperia phone, so hopefully the console maintains its speed over time.
Both Resogun and Contrast had long since finished downloading by the time I was done with Killzone. I played these for a little bit and had some easy going fun with them, Resogun in particular is a brilliant little twin-stick shooter that’s great for short bursts of visually gratifying gaming. It’s worth noting at this point that I have no issues with the PS4’s performance; every game works as it should and I’ve not noticed any technical mishaps in any of the four games I own. Battlefield 4, which I saved (the best) for last, has some occasional internet-related hiccups, but EA’s servers for BF4 have been underperforming all weekend.
Me and my flatmates round the evening off by watching some Sharpe on Netflix, because there’s nothing more futuristic than watching TV on your PS4. It’s somewhat ironic that after all of Microsoft’s shameless TV focus, the PS4 is just as capable with TV streaming services. Which, for us in the UK, is pretty much the only option on the Xbox One. There’s some time for me to take a look at the finer details before I doze off for the night; a look through the new party chat system gives me confidence that the provided mono-headset will have a good workout as more of my friends pick up a PS4. The settings are simple to understand and adjust and the new trophy rarity system is a welcome addition.
My first evening with the PlayStation 4 was a great one. What I noticed while playing Battlefield 4 was that no matter how cool the new console may be, it’s the games that provide the real fun. Microsoft may be pushing their ‘home hub’ concept, but I’m fully behind Sony’s ‘for the players’ motto. Watching TV and trying out new technology is all well and good, but playing 64 player games of Conquest in the middle of a beautifully realised cityscape, passing the controller between friends, is the real reason to buy a PS4. PC gaming may be better overall, but it lacks the intimate feel of a video game console, that alone is a reason to make the jump to next-gen.