The PlayStation 4

Last night, weeks and months (and years, for some) of speculation about Sony’s next home console were finally ended.  Or were they?

In what was styled the “PlayStation Meeting 2013”, Sony unveiled their PlayStation 4, the successor to their current console, amidst a flurry of new IPs and sequels.  The conference, which ran for over two hours, touched base on many important factors about the new console; with lead software architect Mark Cerny describing how the hardware of the console is built, and a slew of first-party developers (Guerrilla Games, Media Molecule & Sucker Punch among them) as well as third-party (Bungie and Blizzard) declaring their support for the new console.

I, myself, as an owner of the PS2 and PS3, was naturally excited.  Granted, I also bought myself an Xbox in the middle of the last generation, so I’m not a fanboy.  I’m very interested in the PS4, and will be following news around the console eagerly.

The highlights of the conference was the announcement of 8GB of unified RAM in the PS4, which means that the console will compete with some of the higher end PCs that are on the market right now.  The figure isn’t exactly astronomical, and will certainly seem slightly outdated when the next console launches, but is significantly more powerful than the PS3’s 512MB of RAM, which is split between main memory and graphics.  This split is widely believed to be the reason why the PS3 couldn’t support cross game chat, a feature so important and successful on the Xbox 360, and thankfully the PS4’s architecture has let Sony introduce the feature.

On a slightly less techy front, although not by much, Sony was clear to announce their intentions to bring significant new online features to the PS4, that have not been seen on any console thus far.  You will be able to watch your friends play, upload video of you playing at the touch of a button and play games as they are downloading.  The online features have definitely taken a step forward.  Sony say that your gaming habits will be logged, and used to recommend games you would like from its store, and these games will be downloaded to your console before you even express an interest.  Quite a useful feature for sure, but the strain on your internet connection could prove rather hassling.  On a related front, Sony have announced that they will include a second CPU within their console to manage upload and download solely, which means that game updates, and video uploads will take place in the background leaving you free to play.  These updates sound excellent, and truly next-gen, but the features won’t mean anything if the bread-and-butter services of the PlayStation Network aren’t up to scratch.

Of course, the most important thing about a games console is the games, and Sony delivered quite a collection to choose from.  Guerrilla announced their latest Killzone game, Shadowfall, with a stunning cinematic and gameplay teaser.  The graphics looked incredible, certainly on par with high end PC games.  It was clear that the leap to next-gen would be as big as the one from SD to HD.  Sucker Punch announced infamous: Second Sun, with another sleek trailer.  MediaMolecule & Quantic Dream decided not to announce games, but each showed off tech that matters to them, and the games they make.  MM showed off an interesting demo, where they sculpted using the PlayStation Move controller, and then created a song with multiple instruments.  It was cool, but how it works, and if it fits in with a game at all, is still up in the air.  Quantic Dream showed off an extremely detailed face of an old man, showing the new console’s ability to create such detail that the faintest emotion can be created on the faces of characters, which as basic a demo as it was, was very impressive. Evolution Studios produced what was possibly the most exciting trailer of the night, to me anyway, for its new IP Driveclub.  The studio of Motorstorm fame is taking a more realistic approach to racing, but with team based ethics that are new to the racing game genre.  A beautiful game too.  It will be interesting to see how this game pans out, especially as it competes, surely at some point, with Polyphony’s new Gran Turismo game which is almost certainly in the works.  Notable by its absence was the announcement of a new Uncharted game, with Nathan Drake, PS3 poster boy, nowhere to be seen.  Certainly Sony is keeping some cards up its sleeve for the next few months before E3.

We also got to see the Dualshock 4, the PS4’s controller, last night.  Much like it’s father and grandfather in appearance, this one comes with a new touchpad on the front and an LED light beside it’s shoulder buttons.  All I’ve heard about the controller is good news.  The triggers have been improved to be more responsive, and the controller is going to be heavier to give it a more sturdy feel.  Perhaps most interestingly, the button has a share button, which can be used to share screenshots or edit recent gameplay for upload to the internet. The LED display will bring a more advanced way of showing which controller is whose, and can, we’re told, be used to indicate things such as players’ health in FPS games.  The touchpad and the LED sensor also make the controller a motion controller.  The Playstation 4 Eye, which will capture in twice the resolution and frame rate as Xbox 360’s Kinect, can sense the Dualshock via the LED sensor, allowing for motion gameplay.  It’s a really innovative design, whilst keeping with traditional style.  It’s certainly the best controller Sony has shown at launch.  Much better than last time.

Arguably, the most important things from a console’s launch though were not answered last night, though. We haven’t seen the console itself, for crying out loud!  Add to this, the lack of any price points or SKUs, and I’m left wondering if we really found out much at all.  The only essential info that was announced last night, other than perhaps the name, was the intended launch window: Holiday 2013.  Whether us Europeans have to wait any longer than this, which I’d assume is a North American target, is unclear.  This does mean that we are sure to hear much more about the new console as the game industry’s conference season begins, with GDC and Pax East next month and, the big one, E3, taking place in mid-June.

The ball is well and truly in Microsoft’s court now, with regards to the next console arms race.  Nintendo’s quick trigger finger with regards to the ‘next-gen’ has proved to be wholly unsuccessful.  Sales figures for their Wii U, which launched last year, have been tracking far behind its predecessor, the Wii, with developers stating very early into the console’s life that they will not support it.  The hardware of the console is dwarfed by the PS4, and will surely be trumped too by the Xbox 360’s successor.  Many rumours are circling regarding the next Microsoft console, including persisting ones regarding the inclusion/exclusion of disc drives, and the ability to play used games.  In my opinion, not including either of the above will severely limit the console, and would give the PS4 an edge.  However, Microsoft’s track record with regards to online experiences, with its Xbox Live makes me very interested in what their new hardware will do in relation to the PlayStation Network, which was undoubtedly behind in the last generation.

On the whole, Sony’s announcement was solid, and exciting, leaving me and millions of other gamers around the world satisfied, but with a thirst for more info on the next iteration of the highest-selling console series of all time.  But, eyes are certainly on the rival in the shadows, waiting to show its new protégé.

It’s your move, Microsoft.

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