Going Hands On With Sony’s PlayStation 4

This past weekend I headed down to London for a day of gaming and general geek debauchery at Eurogamer Expo. After awaking from my slumber at Ridiculous O’Clock, spending ninety minutes on cramped public transport and then queuing in the bowels of the Earls Court dungeon, the show doors opened – and the day of my PS4 hands-on had come.

First impressions? It’s a bit bloody special.

I spent the majority of my day on the PS4 or Vita, and thankfully managed to play a fair selection of upcoming titles. Those ever-generous folks at Playstation Access had also given me fast-track access to what shall henceforth be known as “the cordoned off area of dreams”, and with the queues well into two-plus hours by mid-afternoon, for that I am eternally grateful. There are not enough hours in the day to experience everything Sony had to offer, let alone explore all the other goodies dotted around the expansive show floor.

The Dualshock 4 maintains the tried and tested ergonomics of it’s predecessors, including the iconic four face buttons, twin analog sticks, and shoulder buttons. This time around, however, Sony have made some notable changes, which, whilst impactful enough to enhance the overall PlayStation experience, still remain faithful to the proven control method we all love.

For starters, there’s the stonking great trackpad right there on the front, which is both clickable, and allows for two-point touch input. This new capacitive touchpad sits neatly above the redesigned analog sticks, pushing the old Start and Select buttons – now Share & Options – to the side. The 2.5” 16.9 pad is surprisingly easy to get to with your thumbs during gameplay, that said, however, I’m not so sure about using the multitouch component in practice; Even though clicking and swiping the panel whilst still holding the controller naturally was a breeze, It felt somewhat uncomfortable and counter-intuitive to perform precision motions on.

Whilst it’s still very much early days, the DualShock4’s touchpad, if used correctly – quickly flicking up to throw a grenade in an FPS for example – will in my opinion prove to be a revolutionary attribute. Sadly, I can’t help but worry it’ll be shoehorned into every single launch title, utilised badly, and as such receive a negative reaction from consumers – leading developers to all but forget about it thereafter.

Say Hello to the DualShock 3’s SixAxis, won’t you?

As you’d expect, the face buttons and d-pad are present and correct, and thankfully all have solid and satisfying clicks to them, a trait afforded by the DS4 reverting to a digital button array, rather than emulating the DualShock 3’s analog approach. This switch comes at a cost, of course – the on / off nature of digital means the loss of pressure sensitive action buttons, which, whilst tricky to master, were still remarkably handy for sports titles and some racing games in particular, on my PS3.

There’s also the required charging port, which is now Micro, rather than Mini-USB, and sits on the bottom of the pad alongside the newly introduced headset jack. A wired headset will be included in your PS4 box, which is by no means a system seller, but will certainly please those who’ve been using a similar set up with their Xbox 360 previously. Let’s not forget Nintendo’s influence on Sony’s new masterpiece either, as the Dualshock 4 now touts a small mono speaker up front – you know, like the one on your Wii-mote which you simply couldn’t have lived without.

No? Nevermind.

The Dualshock 4’s shoulder buttons and dual-analog sticks have been tweaked to improve the player’s experience, too. The triggers slightly larger, with a greater travel and a new concave design which, like the slight recess in each thumbstick, makes using the control for any considerable period of time far more comfortable than previously.

Between those reshaped triggers sits the DualShock 4 Light Bar, a curious little thing which seems to have two defined features; When I saw it used at the weekend, this glowing oddity served as a secondary visual feedback which accompanied the game, but didn’t really enhance anything. It sat shining ‘PlayStation Blue’ for the most part, occasionally flashing red, or yellow, to replicate the goings-on on screen. A cursory gimmick. The Light Bar’s true appeal, and ultimately the reason for it’s inclusion, is that it can be tracked via the PlayStation Camera however – Wizardry last seen with the PS3’s Move wand peripheral.

The newly designed PlayStation Eye, now called the PlayStation Camera, is, afterall, a wonderful bit of kit – its dual-camera and quad-microphone set-up all housed in a surprisingly unobtrusive device not dissimilar in width to the DualShock – but coming at an additional cost, it’s bound to deter potential consumers, and in turn, delay or entirely deter development of games utilising the Light Bar.

These concerns are not to take anything away from the new controller though. All in all, what Sony have achieved with the Dualshock 4 is brilliance. The glossy front and matt rear afford it a stylistic identity to match the forthcoming console and whilst It’s slightly larger, and nearly 20g heavier than its PS3 companion, the DS4 appears to be far more user-friendly, comfortable, and dare I say, a little less sweaty during those lengthy play sessions.

The PlayStation team have refined their iconic controller and crafted what is, in my eyes, the definitive next-gen pad. We’ve come a long way from A & B buttons on a rectangle.

A particular talking point for both Housemarque’s Resogun and Guerilla Game’s latest Killzone outing has to be the lighting effects and sheer visual vibrancy in their design – both titles looked absolutely stunning.

Resogun is being described as the spiritual successor to PS3’s Super Stardust – which was not only the first HD title to release on Sony’s current-gen machine, but later also became the first to support the system’s 3D capabilities – and boy does it show; The gameplay borrows enormously from its elder brother, and just like in the Super Stardust games previously, every single button press in Resogun results in a ridiculously beautiful explosion of ocular delight. This is one to watch.

Similarly, Killzone: Shadow Fall features an abundance of shimmering light effects and hues traditionally unseen in big-budget console shooters. Shadow Fall’s multiplayer was a joy to play too, with the DualShock 4’s new triggers lending themselves nicely to the genre.

Drive Club, the latest creation from Motorstorm developer Evolution Studios, is PS4’s big social racer for launch, and is set to compete with the likes of Xbox One’s Forza Motorsport 5 and Ubisoft’s cross-platform The Crew as we embrace the next-gen “connected” experience.

Either way, both Resogun & Drive Club will be included for free with PlayStation Plus at launch, so you’ve no excuse not to check those out for yourself.

To close, It’s fair to say everything Sony had to show, with regards to the Hardware, right down to the games, was, in a word, awesome.

It would have been nice to have seen first hand just how Sony are implementing their Remote Play features with regards to the Vita and such, but none the less, my little jaunt to London on Saturday has undeniably rejuvenated my desire for Sony’s PlayStation 4.

Personally, I just can not wait to tear into such amazing games all over again a few short months from now.

Is it November 29th yet?

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Going Hands On With Sony’s PlayStation 4

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