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Sharing the Future of Gaming: Sony’s PlayStation 4, Reviewed

PlayStation 4

The PlayStation 4 is great. I think. There aren’t really enough games out for me to say so definitively, but I think it’s great. So far.

Available now in the U.S. for $399 (if you can find one), the PlayStation 4 took everything that was good about the PlayStation 3, got rid of (mostly) everything that was wrong with it, and added some nice new features and layers of polish on top.

The Bright Spots

The coolest feature, by a landslide, is the option to stream your gameplay to Twitch or Ustream. It works incredibly well and is amazingly cool. No matter what game you’re playing, a few button taps lets anyone in the world watch what you’re doing. (You can also upload pictures or videos through this menu.) You can also choose to add in audio voiceover (through the bundled microphone or PlayStation 4 camera) or picture-in-picture video of you playing (also through the camera).

Resogun

Resogun: The best launch title for PlayStation 4.

This feature lets everyone know how mediocre I am at most games! But it also gives people who are funny or entertaining or actually good at games simple access to become internet famous. My streams only average two or three people at a time – if anyone is watching at all – but the most-watched streams routinely hit four figures … and that was on launch day. As more people get the system and get involved in the community (there’s a prominent button on the PlayStation 4’s home screen that lets you just watch other people play games), those numbers are sure to increase.

Streaming your games is awesome because it lets people like my sister watch me play games, just because she can. But it also lets me tell people, “Hey, I’m streaming Knack now if you want to see if it’s as bad as most reviews say,” in case people want to get a first-hand look at games that are available. It also lets you check out other people playing the game you are, to see if you can get past wherever you’re stuck. The possibilities are seemingly endless, and it’s great.

Streaming is my favorite feature of the PS4, but that’s not the only thing I like. Here are some more:

  • The new home screen (formerly known as the XMB on PlayStation 3) is very clean, bright and easy to navigate. It sorts games by the last time you played them, so you can hop back in to Resogun at any time. (Though how this will be when I have a few dozen downloadable games is another story.)
  • Multi-tasking is a breeze. In the past, if you wanted to watch Netflix, you could only do that. Now, you can watch Netflix, pause it, head into a game with two taps. Returning to Netflix brings you right back where you are, fully buffered, still in 1080p. It sounds simple, but it’s amazing.
  • PlayStation Plus delivers. Already, from Day One, all PlayStation Plus members ($49.99/year and worth every penny) were given two free games: Resogun and Contrast. Those were the two games I was looking forward to the most, so getting them for free is awesome. You now need PlayStation Plus to play multiplayer, but if you’re a regular PlayStation user and you don’t already subscribe to Plus, you’re doing it wrong.

The Not-So-Bright Spots

The biggest problem that everyone will (eventually) have with the PlayStation 4 is storage. The console ships with a 500 GB hard drive, with 408 GB actually available after formatting and Sony’s software is accounted for. The three disc games I got – Knack, Killzone: Shadow Fall, and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag – require 102 GB of installs. That means that right off the bat, a quarter of the space allotted for everything I want to have on my unit is accounted for. That’s rough.

Knack

Knack is not a bad game, but is by no means a ‘must-play.’

The installs are easy – there’s no need to activate them. Once you put a disc in for the first time, it automatically begins installing. That’s great. But it’s sort of unclear when you can play the game. There’s a spinning dial and a progress bar, which mean different things, but tapping too early seems to get you hung up. I tried to install Knack and I think I hit X too soon, and I sort of got stuck at a loading screen. My console didn’t lock up, but I couldn’t get into the game. I ejected the disc, put it back in, deleted the previous install and went again. I waited for everything to finish (only took about a minute, or maybe even less) and was able to get in simply. Maybe the problem here is that I was too anxious, but it’s not going to be fun on Christmas morning when kids are anxious to play their new games. Speaking of…

All About the Games

Sony has re-vamped its focus with the PlayStation 4 and is catering to gamers. Sure, you can watch Netflix (and the experience is incredibly smooth) along with a handful of other video apps, but the real meat of the system is in its games. So how do they stack up?

I have seven games for the PS4. Three are disc games – Knack, Killzone: Shadow Fall, and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag – while the other four are downloadable – Resogun, Contrast, Flower and Sound Shapes. There are a bunch of games that are available for PlayStation 4 that I really want to play and I’m sure are great, but I plan on getting a lot of them on Xbox One. I’ve played all seven games to some extent – and have beaten all of the download games – so here are my initial reactions.

Assassin's Creed IV

Assassin’s Creed IV: You get to be a pirate! And steer ships!

  • Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag – I used to love this franchise, then got tired of playing versions of the same game. I didn’t even play Assassin’s Creed III. But this game feels like a completely new title. The mechanics are still there – you can still scale structures to synchronization points and get a gorgeous panorama of wherever you are – but masking it in the jungle does wonders for the series. Also, you can steer boats! And crouch around in bushes! And jump over turtles! I can’t wait to play more of this game.
  • Knack – Knack’s not a great game … at least not for someone my age. You play as a little creature called Knack, who can get bigger or smaller depending on the blocks you pick up. The goal of the game is pretty much just to smash everything: smash enemies, smash walls, smash chests, smash levers … run around, wail on the Square button, and watch the world crumble before you. It’s not a bad game … it has the distinctive PlayStation charm, is really pretty to look at, and can be fun. Playing as Big Knack truly gives you a sense of power, but it seems that as soon as you become truly big and powerful, you’re forced to activate something through your blocks, relegating you to Little Knack size. It’s kind of a bummer. I wish it was more like Katamari – where you had a real sense of control over how big you got – but it’s not. I’m going to beat the game (I can’t imagine it’s too long), but I probably won’t go back in and play more. It’s a shame.
  • Killzone: Shadow Fall – This is the PS4 game I’ve played the least. But what I can tell you is this: It sure is pretty. If you hop from game to game on PlayStation 4 (at least the ones trying to simulate and render people who look like they’re real), you’ll notice two trends: these games love to show off close-ups of people’s faces, and they love to show off the rain. Both of these are on full display in Killzone’s opening sequence. Killzone’s faces look great and the rain seems real. But it doesn’t look leaps and bounds ahead of end-of-the-generation PlayStation 3 titles (like The Last of Us).
  • Resogun – I’ve put a ton of time into this game, and I’ve loved every second of it. Resogun is a twin-stick shooter that puts you in a cylinder. You have to kill a bunch of enemy ships, save humans, get powerups, drop off humans … but even with so much going on, the game just throws you into the fray with no instruction. Once you get a sense of what’s going on, though, you start to figure things out, and it becomes awesome. I have a weakness for twin-stick shooters and Resogun is no exception – I think it’s awesome. I’ve already “beaten” the game (which isn’t tough, because there are only five levels you can beat in about 10-15 minutes each), but I’ll keep returning to get a respectable high score. I’m addicted.
  • Contrast – I had been really, really looking forward to this game for months … and it fell kind of flat. It was free through PlayStation Plus, so I can’t complain, and a lot of it was very cool. But the game was glitchy, short and had a lackluster story. You control an acrobat who can transition between the real world and the shadow world. If a bright light is shining on the wall, you can morph yourself into it and become a shadow, letting you reach places your physical body cannot. The idea is awesome – and seeing it play out right is even better. But the total package is just kind of … meh. If you have PlayStation Plus (again, why don’t you?!), it’s worth playing at the free price point. But I can’t say it’s worth buying.
  • Flower – Flower (along with Sound Shapes) is a cross-buy title, meaning if you’ve bought it on PlayStation 3 or PlayStation Vita, you get it for PlayStation 4 at no additional cost. Somehow, I never played Flower on PlayStation 3, even though the game is only about two hours long. The premise behind the game is simple – you control the wind, and you’re restoring life to the world by getting flowers to bloom and blowing petals around. It’s relaxing, intuitive and breathtaking to look at. Far and away, it’s the most beautiful game on the PlayStation 4 at launch (of the games I own). If you have a PS3, PS4 or Vita, you owe it to yourself to play this game.
  • Sound Shapes – I haven’t played Sound Shapes on PlayStation 4 yet, but it’s an awesome game that I beat on Vita. It’s tough (but, for the most part, not maddeningly so) with awesome music designed specifically for the game, which you create by progressing through the level. Another game that I highly recommend. It supposedly has new features made just for the PlayStation 4, so I’m excited to dive in soon.

Final Thoughts

The most important question is this: Is the PlayStation 4 worth $399? Yes. And no.

If you’re like me – who loves having new gadgets, who wants to make sure they can play every game, no matter which console it’s on – it’s worth buying. It’s a lot of fun, well-polished and $100 cheaper than the Xbox One. There’s a decent library available – 22 games from launch day, with dozens more scheduled to be released in the coming months – so you’ll have plenty to play.

It’s also worth buying if you want a new console, but don’t care which you get. I won’t have the Xbox One until Friday, but it’s $100 more and offers many of the same game experiences. The PlayStation 4 will be tough to find, but if you find one and just want something new, it’s worth picking up.

It’s not worth the money if you’re looking for a huge return on your investment right now. Like I said, there aren’t too many games out, and most of the games (aside from Resogun, Knack and the new Killzone) are available on older consoles, like the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Those systems will be supported for a few more years (and are much cheaper with much deeper libraries), so if you want to play the newest games and don’t feel like spending $400, you don’t have to.

The PlayStation 4 isn’t a must-buy. If you want to wait, I say go for it. Wait for a price drop, or wait for a cool bundle. I’m sure there will be one when the new Metal Gear Solid game comes out and probably also one with the new Infamous game. There are great experiences to be had on the console as it stands, but nothing that I’ve seen that makes me say, “You need to get this immediately.”

I’m having a great time with the games I’ve bought, and I’m glad I bought the system. You can wait, but if you want to jump headfirst into the future of gaming, grab a PlayStation 4 … if you can find one.

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Shelly Palmer is the host of Fox Television’s "Shelly Palmer Digital Living" television show about living and working in a digital world. He is Fox 5′s (WNYW-TV New York) Tech Expert and the host of United Stations Radio Network’s, MediaBytes, a daily syndicated radio report that features insightful commentary and a unique insiders take on the biggest stories in technology, media, and entertainment.

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