Six months after its launch the PS4 is settling in quickly, a decent line up of cross-generational titles has kept things ticking over but with its first proper E3 coming up, everything is about go next-gen in a big way. The PS4 has taken an early lead in terms of sales over its main rival, the Xbox One, and here we’ll look at why it’s our next-gen console of choice.
Sony positioned the angular new PS4 as a purebred gaming machine, with a powerful hardware specification. Open the box and its clear that the vast majority of your £349 has been spent inside the casing. There's no bundled camera peripheral, only the bare minimum of ports on the back, and even the power brick has been integrated inside the chassis. It's neat, compact and powerful-looking. But it will it fulfil its early promise and be the console to own for the upcoming years?
PS4 APRIL FIRMWARE 1.7 UPDATE
The PS4 received its first major firmware at the end of April. The update provided one major new feature and numerous tweaks and updates the operating system, some of which we’ve been wishing for since release.
The big new addition is the ShareFactory video editing tool, along with a raft of other improvements to capturing, saving and sharing video. There’s also a new text input method using the touchpad on the controller, and you can adjust the lightbar’s brightness. We’ve updated all the appropriate sections of the review, but the video below gives you a quick rundown.
The PS4 is an incredibly sleek piece of kit. The raked front and back make it seem like a solid slab of technology hewn from a larger piece. The mix of matt and gloss areas succeeds in looking classier than an either an all-matt or all-gloss finish would have. As plastic boxes go, this is among the best looking we've seen.
The PS4 is a smart-looking piece of kit and, despite it having PC-related components inside, it looks nothing like a PC
A recessed central gully contains the slot-loading drive and twin front USB3 ports, while a line bisecting the console the other way integrates the power and eject buttons and a strip of light that lets you know the console's power status and can provide notifications. Around the back is the HDMI output, Ethernet port, S/PDIF output and an AUX port for the PlayStation Camera peripheral. Power is provided by plugging in a typical figure-eight power lead and it draws from 80W idling, up to 140W in game.
There's not much in the way of ports at the back, but there's plenty of venting
Placed horizontally it's practically silent when idling, which is good for Blu-ray playback or streaming TV. However, it does pick up considerably when playing a game, and even more so when navigating the main menu while a game ran in the background. It's notably louder than the Xbox One and we couldn't help but be a little disappointed, you'll want to keep it as far away from you as possible when gaming. Position it upright and the fan noise increases further still, so best to keep it lying down somewhere with good air flow.
Inside the console Sony has used similar components to Microsoft, with a powerful AMD chip at its heart. For the PS4 this single integrated chip contains both an eight-core CPU and a GPU with 18 compute units. That's 50% more compute units than the Xbox One, providing a significant advantage in graphical horsepower, which can also be turned to use in special effects and advanced physics simulation if preferred.
The PS4's memory system consists of a single large pool of 8GB of super-fast GDDR5 memory - more than we've seen on even the most expensive PC graphics cards. The Xbox One by comparison uses the same amount of slower DDR3 memory, with a super-fast 32MB cache to help make up the difference.
At present, the PS4's simpler memory architecture and superior GPU has proved easier for developers to get to grips with. The PS4 has smoother frame rates and higher resolutions in the demanding multi-platform shooter such as Battlefield 4 and Call of Duty: Ghosts. With time, the Xbox One may be able to close some of this disparity, but the PS4 is undoubtedly the more powerful console.
The DualShock 4 is a huge improvement over its predecessor, and it needed to be. Though still recognisably a PlayStation controller the new controller is larger and more comfortably rounded. The back has a non-slip micro-texture and the front is dominated by a light that reacts to in-game events, identify players by colour, and allows the PS4 camera peripheral to track its movements accurately. That light was a little too bright for our tastes initially, reflecting off our TV screen in the dark; thankfully, the April 2014 update allows you to change it from the original Bright setting, down to Medium or Dim (simply hold down the PS button on the controller and select Adjust Devices).
It has a built-in 800mAh battery that charges over a micro USB connection. It's very convenient but it's limited battery life of around eight hours means you'll want to leave on charge whenever you're not playing. Thankfully you can set the PS4's USB port to output power while the console is in standby.
The new controller is more comfortable to hold, has more precise controls and a couple of next-gen features too - it's a fantastic evolution of previous DualShock controllers
The analogue sticks have more resistance and very little deadzone before they react to your inputs; they're also further apart, so you thumbs never touch, and are very precise. The d-pad is responsive with good feedback, though the face buttons could have clicked a little more positively. The triggers are good too, though they lack the vibration feedback of the Xbox One's.
The new gamepad also adds a touchpad, so you can execute swipes and other gesture-based commands. This also clicks in to provide a way to select options from onscreen menus. Less obvious is the built-in motion controls which are beautifully refined, giving you instinctive input in supporting games.
We love that you can hook up headphones to the controller for late-night sessions ...
... and you can control the volume by holding down the PS button and accessing this menu
One feature we love on the DualShock 4 is its microphone port. As well as being used to add a chat headset for multiplayer games (a basic one comes bundled), you can also output full stereo audio from the PS4 (game, movie, TV catch-up, anything) through it. It's brilliant for late night sessions with headphones without disturbing anyone else or running cables across your living room. There's a crisp mono speaker too for up-close sound effects and you can talk back thanks to a microphone.
For its controls alone, we narrowly prefer the offset stick layout of the Xbox One's controller, but as a complete package the DualShock 4 feels more next-gen.
PS4 GRAPHICS AND GAMES
Playing Killzone Shadow Fall it is immediately apparent that this is a next-gen game. It easily matches the best the PC has to offer: there’s complex geometry, with trees blowing softly in the wind; high-resolution textures, which make rocks and the forest floor look photo realistic; volumetric lighting with rays of sunshine filtered by the canopy above.
The shooter itself is solid stuff, with far more tactical variation and space to manoeuvre than Call of Duty and its ilk. The plot starts strongly and though it's no classic, this is a technically-capable game you'll want to see through to the end.
Killzone Shadow Fall looks stunning, with incredible volumetric lighting, and it plays pretty well too
This is a good thing as the other full-priced PS4 launch exclusive is Knack, a promising-looking platform game, which turns into a bit of a trudge. It does however showcase the PS4's flexibility, using the GPU to great effect in realising the titular character, who is made up of numerous shards of material. Also of note is the exclusive arcade-shooter Resogun with its razor sharp graphics and frenetic pace its become an instant favourite - plus it's free with your PS+ subscription.
Since then we’ve had the pretty and capable inFamous: Second Son. It looks great with some fantastic particle effects and solid brawling, but as a whole it doesn’t feel like a true next-gen experience.
inFamous is a good game but it’s not a reason to buy a PS4
Multi-platform games shine on the PS4, bringing high-end PC versions of games to your TV without the fuss of maintaining a gaming PC in your living room. Playing either Call of Duty: Ghosts or Assassins Creed 4: Black Flag, you get Full HD resolution and a silky smooth frame rate. Black Flag in particular looks superb on the PS4, with its epic seafaring adventure bursting to life with the added power of the new console.
For now multi-platform releases will be the mainstay of your gaming choices, with the graphics matching up to a high-end PC
PS4 PS+ AND DOWNLOAD-ONLY TITLES
The current thin line-up of exclusive titles on the PS4 has been rounded out somewhat by some excellent smaller, less expensive, download only titles. Here's our top picks from such titles, with links through to the Sony Entertainment Store if you want to buy them. It's worth noting that most of these games are, or have been, available for free as part of the PlayStation Plus Instant Game Collection.
Buy it from the Sony Entertainment Store
Outlast is a serious survival horror that's only suitable for those over 18. We don't have an age-rating gate on our site so we won't be posting the trailer up here. If you don't like scary, gory games that set out to make you jump one minute and then try and gross you out the next, then you won't like Outlast. Set in an asylum, one packed with former patients that have been twisted into monstrous forms, you are a journalist who is trying to find out what's going on. In a change from the usual genre rules, here you have no weapons, so you must run and hide from the creatures instead of shooting them dead. It's all terrifyingly effective and well worth signing up to PlayStation Plus to play for free.
DON'T STARVE: CONSOLE EDITION
Buy it from the Sony Entertainment Store
Don't starve is another game where survival is a big part, you'll fear for your life at times but it couldn't be more different to Outlast. This charmingly rendered game drops you into a quaint but slightly hostile world and all you have to do is survive. That's not as easy as it seems though, as you have only the most basic tools, a big appetite and the night brings greater terrors. However, you'll quickly craft the items you need and start exploring your new world and uncovering its secrets.
TRINE 2: COMPLETE STORY
Buy it from the Sony Entertainment Store
Aside from sports, there aren't many games on the PS4 that let two people play together on one screen. Trine 2 does though and it's also one of the only games to support 3D on the console too. So if you have a friend and two DualShock 4 controller (and optionally a 3D TV) then this action-platform-fantasy romp is a must buy.
PS4 UPCOMING GAMES
After a few fairly dry months, the list of upcoming next-gen titles is starting to look mouth-wateringly good. Cross platform titles such as Destiny and Watch_Dogs look to be huge hits and ones that make better use of the new hardware than the few wave of cross-generational titles. Then of course there’s Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare.
For true next-gen games, though, you’ll probably be waiting until nearer Christmas time. This year we’re hoping to see Tom Clancy’s The Division, a single and multiplayer shooter set in New York after a disastrous event. The Order: 1886 looks to bring third-person action to a steampunk Victorian-era setting. While Drive Club is looking to fulfil racing fans needs.