The PlayStation 4 Announcement: An in–Depth Analysis – Part 1
So it’s been almost two months since Sony finally pulled back the curtain and revealed the PlayStation 4 to the world.
In that time since we’ve heard a few more rumours and several title confirmations as well as a talk at GDC which offered a few nuggets – but not much else. Right now the industry and indeed the world beyond are looking towards June’s E3 super blow-out in anticipation of one final Sony “Megaton” spectacular.
With rumours swirling about an imminent Microsoft Next-Gen XBOX announcement, codenamed “Durango”, I wonder if Sony is waiting to reveal another tantalising feature to spoil the Microsoft party. Of course this course of action could backfire if said hypothetical Sony reveal underwhelms and if Microsoft blows everyone away with their next XBOX. If history is anything to go by, this is one industry that’s definitely not afraid of a fight and taking risks. Well, some of the time anyway.
So as we look to Microsoft’s launch, what better time to reflect and take a closer look at the February 2012 PS4 announcement and ask; did Sony deliver and live up to the hype?
In this two-part feature we will be breaking down the announcement into it’s core components.
The show itself was something of a surprise. Sony always delivers great staging when it comes to these types of events and this was no difference opening with a video screen that appeared to bleed out all around the arena. Imagery of past PlayStation glories such as Parappa made me realise how Sony has now truly earned its position as a mainstay in gaming. I still remember them as the brazen upstart taking on Sega and Nintendo in the nineties, and for a few years that impression remained. Today, Sony have undoubtedly earned their place in the industry, with a heritage and legacy they can be proud of.
One positive thing that was somewhat unexpected was the sheer technical emphasis of the show. Considering this was heavily promoted and live streamed for the whole world to see – the developers, the wider industry, the media and the gamers – I was impressed that they were willing to go into details, and Lead System Architect Mark Cery was an engaging and credible host alongside the more familiar Sony execs. The absence of our old pals Jack Tretton and Kaz Hirai was a shame but on the whole this was a slick, well paced launch.
The only surprise was, well, the lack of surprise! It looked identical to the PS3 Slim theme. Every PlayStation has launched with its own branding identity – until now. Of course it makes sense to create imagery that feels familiar to established customers, but surely they could have added a more unique spin to the “new” logo? Sony have often innovated with their marketing (This Is Living, It Only Does Everything, Kevin Butler, Michael, S.A.P.S, The Third Place, David Lynch, Alien Girls), and I hope the PS4 offers up something as memorable when it’s campaign kicks off properly later this year.
Ok, I’m afraid to say it but this is where I was disappointed. Don’t get me wrong the titles all revealed (or in the case of Watch Dogs re-revealed) all look interesting and fun but none of them delivered that killer impact. Graphically we were treated to more complex iterations of Kill Zone (NOT pre-rendered this time!) and Infamous but apart from Quantic Dream’s undeniably impressive tech demo, nothing pushed any real graphical boundaries. Also it remains to be seen if the visuals represent the fidelity of in game characters in Quantic Dreams next gen title as opposed to just proof of how many polys the PS4 can push. It was also surprising to see that the very first demo of any PS4 title ever was for Knack, a game that looks entertaining enough but not one capable of dropping jaws. (Shuhei Yoshida explained by saying he didn’t want the PS4 to kick of with an FPS.)
What was most disappointing was the actual lack of new play ideas. Media Molecule as ever offered up some original ideas but everything else felt a little too familiar. Perhaps their newfound prominence on indie games will counter this? The next generation should not just be about more polygons and more realistic animations but also offering the player experiences they simply could not have had before. My one hope is that we will see some truly ground breaking titles at E3 – although with the way the show has been going in recent years it’s difficult to expect many major launches .
Somehow the PS4 controller managed to be both a familiar sight and a pretty drastic change to the classic DualShock design we all know and love. Although many of the features were leaked before the announcement (including the touch pad and instant share button) there were still some surprises to be revealed. Move integration with the light bar and a jack for headsets (possibly just included to appease Call Of Duty fans) were both talked up, as well as other more subtle tweaks to the DualShock 3 that gamers will appreciate. It was also interesting to see that instead of abandoning Move as some predicted, we were introduced to the new Move/PS Eye concept that included a Kinect-eqsue camera that will apparently ship with every system. Not much was mentioned about it so either Sony is saving that for another day or its capabilities are not too far removed form the current PS Eye. Kinect 2.0 may be more advanced but by shipping with each system Sony has at least ensured that Move 2.0 won’t be forgotten as quickly as its forerunner.
PSN & PS+
We were all sceptical when PS+ was launched. “They’re gonna charge us to just play games! How dare they!” seemed to be the general consensus but it only took a matter of months for us to realise what a fantastic service PS+ really is. In the past few months PlayStation gamers have had the chance to play AAA blockbusters like Batman: Arkham Asylum & Mass Effect 3 as well as indie favourites like Limbo. With the concept now well defined and the ability to transfer over profiles from the PS3 era PSN, gamers will have a fully featured online service right from the get go.
The most interesting aspect was of course the long awaited answer to the question of Gaikai’s role after the $380m+ buyout by Sony in 2012. Veteran developer and Gaikai boss David Perry took to the stage to talk up streaming game demos, playable games during download and a future where every key PlayStation title would be made available across multiple devices via cloud. In principle this could mean the PS4 has the biggest title line-up in history – whether Gaikai’s steaming service is ready at launch is however still unclear.
Next week we take a look at the hardware and the controller in more detail, and discuss whether Sony has done enough to ‘win’ the battle for next generation consoles.