After months of rumours and non-news, we finally have something to talk about when it comes to Playstation 4 (and 4 it mercifully is, no Orbis here). While a lot was still held back (we can keep those dodgy hardware renders!) we are able to deal in some hard facts about the system ahead of the projected release date of this winter.

The Machine

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The actual shell the PS4 will sit in is still being kept a mystery, and will likely remain so until E3. What was left then, watching Sony’s live stream from New York Thursday morning Japan time, was cutting through the vagaries of marketing speak (the word ‘synergy’ was used, unironically, on more than one occasion. Shudder.) to get to the nerdy nuggets. It is, we’re told, a ‘super-charged’ (read ‘will look old hat compared to new’) PC with an x86 processor and 8GB of memoryzzzzzz. Sorry about that, no more number talk. What this does mean from a gameplay perspective is the luxury of being able to suspend games when putting the system into standby (although saving and powering down altogether would be better for your carbon footprint, of course), and, more useful to those frustrated by interminable PSN downloads, installs and updates, the ability to play games as you download them from the store.

The machine’s design may still be a mystery, but clearer were details on the Dual Shock 4 controller. Looking similar, but sleeker and more refined than the prototype leaked out last week, the DS 4 will feature stronger rumble than before (remember Sony covering themselves with talk of ‘rumble is a last gen feature’ in 2006? The next-gen feature is more rumble. wrist dislocation is the new motion sensing!), and triggers and sticks that are more ergonomic and concave instead of convex. The expected touchpad is there, along with a share button and a headphone jack, so now there are even more gubbins inside a controller that mean pad throwers like myself will either have to get trousers with deeper pockets or undergo anger management training. Missing are traditional start and select buttons, making this the first console to be without the inputs for decades, as start, select and the home button are now merged into the ‘option’ button.

That light bar we all thought was for move tracking meanwhile? Well, we were half right. In basic use, the bar will be a more soothing and simple way of displaying who player one is in the living room, but it will also be used as an anchor point for the next generation of Playstation Eye for motion sensing. The new PS Eye has two cameras for depth sensing, a la Kinect; motion is not going anywhere, and if anything, with the new Xbox’s reliance on Kinect, the annual shovelware rush is now easier to convert to the Playstation format than ever.

The Services

As expected, sharing was a big part of the PS4 presentation. An entirely separate processor will handle the social aspect of the system, allowing the user to hit the share button at any point and instantly be able to upload a screenshot or video portion of the last few minutes of play, or even begin streaming gameplay footage, allowing spectators to see what’s happening and join sessions. Along with sharing comes increased social connectivity, with more apps launching across various platforms and combining information from various social networks. This of course, will lead to the sort of timeline spamming and targeted advertising you may well fear, but that’s the price we pay for being ‘social’ in the 21st century.

In today's 'everyone's a journalist (even us!)' age, live streams via ustream will appeal to content creators, but more interesting is the ability to drop in or out of friends' games remotely.

In today’s ‘everyone’s a journalist (even us!)’ age, live streams via ustream will appeal to content creators, but more interesting is the ability to drop in or out of friends’ games remotely.

The most exciting part of the presentation for this reporter was in Gaikai’s integration with PS4. Speculation as to how the service would operate has been rampant for months, and the answer is that streaming will be quite the tool. For one, downloading a demo will likely be a thing of the past, as Gaikai will allow timed trials of games before you buy right off the storefront. Gaikai will also allow for second screen remote play on PS Vita, and potentially smart phones and tablets. Yes, we’ve heard the promise repeated so very many times before with the Vita and the PSP, but, dare we say it? It might really be happening for real this time.

The biggest Gaikai tease, however, was the idea that while it was confirmed that PS4 will not be backwards compatible, that PS1,2 and 3 titles will ‘in the future’ be streamable to any Playstation device, PS4 included. This is huge news, not only for those who want to keep the PSN titles they’ve bought over the last few years while freeing up space under the entertainment centre, but the potential for having a subscription model allowing unlimited streaming access to thousands of games from the last 19 years is phenomenally attractive, especially if PS3 streaming functionality is present at launch to aid the transition over to new PS4 games. Speaking of…

The Games


It seemed oddly appropriate for Sony to bring out Guerilla entertainment to kick off the games section of the PS4 presentation. The progenitors of the ‘bullshot’ with their Killzone 2 ‘target footage’ last gen, they would be forgiven for trotting out that same footage from seven years ago and saying ‘it’s real time, this time’. Instead we got Killzone: Shadow Fall, very clearly being played on stage (the demo player even shared footage of the game to Facebook after it ended), and this time, much more legitimate and believable. Though Guerilla have finally discovered colour, Shadow Fall being exceptionally bright and shiny, there seemed to be nothing in the trailer footage we haven’t seen before, from taking cover behind convenient tables, to a bit where time slows down for you to take in an explosion.

Killzone wasn’t the only familiar face. The Internet was briefly incredibly excited when Blizzard was announced as a key PS4 partner, and then collectively scoffed at the reveal of last year’s Diablo 3 on PS3 and 4. Infamous will also return on PS4 in the form of Second Son, although nothing that could really be deemed gameplay was shown off. Even in the new IPs being shown off, there seemed to be little in the way of truly new experiences, at least at this incredibly early juncture. Evolution, known for their work on WRC in the PS2 days, and the well-balanced, knockabout fun of Motorstorm this generation, showed us Drive Club, a social racing game, that definitely showed us some lovingly crafted cars, but little of interest apart from that; the overwhelming feeling was of curiosity at how long GT5 will take to make if Polyphony are going down the same route of modeling the way suede seat covers reflect light after someone sits in them. Even Knack, showing potential as a charming 3D platformer that could easily appear on a Pixar driven big screen in trailer form, looked a bit more pedestrian when shown on stage as a demo for Vita based remote play.

More excitement seemed to come from offerings of third-party partners that will likely be multiplatform. Square Enix couldn’t impress with the same tech demos shown at last year’s E3, but Capcom’s Deep Down was more impressive, looking like a spiritual successor to Dragon’s Dogma, and while the footage shown clearly wasn’t playable, it was being manipulated in real-time. Watch Dogs (there’ll be no underscores on this site) will be multiplatform, and, in fact, multi generation, but the next-gen versions will offer the kind of busy streets shown in the PS4 driven stage demo that looked glorious from the perspective of gameplay potential, if not entirely technically, with some worrying screen tear.

Dinosaur Jr. fans were catered toward by J. Mascis- the game.

Dinosaur Jr. fans were catered toward by J. Mascis- the game.

If Sony have learned anything from the Call of Duty franchise’s success on XBox, it’s that exclusive DLC can almost be as big a feather in your bow as exclusive titles. Bungie were present to show off some limited teaser footage for Destiny, and to announce that the PS4 will see exclusive downloadable content. For those concerned that Sony were only bringing out the big guns, meanwhile, Jonathan Blow was on hand to show off the first publicly released footage of the long in development first person puzzler The Witness, which will aim to show Sony’s continued commitment to courting independents when it appears first on PS4 before migrating to PC and iOS (as an aside during the presentation, it was let slip that self publishing of work to PSN would be an option to PS4 developers, which suggests the presence of an indie channel akin to the one on the XBox).

Then, there were, of course the tech demos for us to marvel at. The PS4 didn’t see any rubber ducks or T-Rexes, but we did see Quantic Dream’s David Cage walk out to show us what Hulk Hogan would look like if he had laid off the juice during the 80s, and Media Molecule using a sculpting tool to offer a modicum of hope to the five people who still owned a Playstation Move. How, or if, these demos become parts of full products remains to be seen.

The Verdict

In the same way that Miiverse is the only real killer app on a Wii U thus far, PS4 seems markedly more exciting as a service at this point in time than as a product. It’s definitely early doors yet, but while the games shown didn’t really blow this reporter away, the potential offered by Gaikai was amazing, and Sony certainly have the infrastructure to deliver a social gaming network on a scale that Nintendo can’t hope to pull off. It’s worth noting, too that this generation of console wars will be a one horse race in Japan, with Nintendo targeting a different demographic, and Microsoft unlikely to appear at all here (for that matter, the Japanese PC games market is fairly small as well, which really makes it appear that Sony will be all but uncontested). That makes the PS4 a certainly viable purchase to anyone gaming in Japan, but what would make us take the plunge and adopt early? Certainly games are a big factor, and with the ‘difficult first quarter’ an issue with any console’s life, it would make a huge difference if Gaikai were able to provide at least a limited PS3 back catalogue to stream day one. Of course, whether we here are able to adequately stream games released in western markets, or whether this will be a soft region lock restricting us to the frankly dismal Japanese store front remains to be seen.

Of course, discussion has been running wild online for the last couple of days, and our forums are no exception. At the time of writing, a slim majority are willing to put down the cash for a PS4 day one, with some spirited debate going on:

redland avRedlandcanniabal: I am IN. I swore off consoles for next-gen and was planning on going forward with just my PC, but holy shit today’s announcements sound fucking fantastic. I feel something in the pit of my heart, something that resembles joy. I… I want to hold onto this feeling.

 

radical avRadical dreamers: So far nothing to really turn me off. If the exclusive library is looking good down the line when it gets a bit cheaper, I’m probably in. Definitely not day one no matter what happens, but if there are four or five good exclusives when the system hits about $300 or its equivalent, I bet I’ll cave.

 

macroth avMacRoth: I am all over that shit first chance I get.

….unless it’s region locked.

 

endekks avEndekks: The 360/PS3 announcements years ago essentially only promised prettier graphics, but today offers a glimpse into the next stage of gaming, I feel. Are things prettier and faster, of course – but now I can actually DO more, and without cumbersome peripherals many developers will ignore.

 

redhero avredhero: Not enough information yet. Only one of my concerns was (positively) addressed [ed note: Contrary to earlier rumour, Playstation 4 will not lock out used games], so I take them holding back on the info as a strike against them. If you are going to have a release event and hold back so much information… that sucks.

Price will be the biggest thing, because Sony has pretty crap first party games IMO. Infamous 3, Killzone 4, LBP 3 I couldn’t care about.

I want something new besides social and things that can already be done on a PC where I can buy games much more cheaply.

Noob: I’m a simple man with simple needs. I have no need for online socializing, gaming, updating or steaming. I also have no real need for the few games that utilize the touch pad or motion controls. Everyone better in the know than me is frothing at mouth about the power of the console but as long as it can play the games I want, I don’t care what’s inside. The presentation addressed nothing I care about.

Oh, Hey, Vita Still Exists, Too

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But wait! There’s more. Sony also held a small Vita themed event earlier this week, and were keen to incorporate the struggling console into their PS4 presentation as well. In an interview with IGN, Shuhei Yoshida, president of worldwide studios stated that ‘it’s my expectation that remote play on Vita will be available for all PS4 games day one’ , and of course, if the hopes for Gaikai streaming come to pass, Vita will also be able to play that Playstation back catalogue.

Of course, with a software collection that is still sparse at best, the Vita is still an expensive prospect for a remote PS4 controller. In an attempt to address this, Sony did announce a price cut for the Vita in Japan, with both 3G and Wifi SKUs now available for the hardware at 19,980 Yen. That the two systems are the same price will cause quite a lot of head scratching, but with the few people who do own a Vita not really making use of 3G connectivity (apart from Near, there are few apps that do), one can only assume that this is a stock clearing move, and that the 3G model will be phased out entirely within the year.

With repeated evangelising about the potential of Vita or PSP remote play becoming cliche in Sony marketing speak, it’s hard not to be sceptical over whether Vita and PS4 will in fact be bosom buddies, and really 15,000 Yen, or a bundle with a deluxe PS4 SKU would be the magic price point at which having a Vita as a second screen becomes viable, but nevertheless, there is a bit more hope in Vita’s future than there was last week; even if it isn’t as a standalone console.

What do you think? In? Out? Or undecided on a PS4 purchase. Let us know below, or join the debate in our forums.

About The Author

Gamer, Educator, Writer of Stuff, wrestler of professionals (sometimes)