Wednesday, February 20, 2013

PlayStation 4 first impressions: Sony is playing it safe

PlayStation 4 first impressions: Sony is playing it safe

Sony began its PS4 press conference on Wednesday evening with a video that stated, "Imagination is the one weapon in the war against reality. But to win, we don't need to fight. We need to play." The soundtrack was a pop punk song by Metric.

For all its talk of war, though, Sony was definitely playing it safe with the announcement of the PlayStation 4.

There was nothing mind-blowing during the two-hour-long presentation, but the PS4 also has a lot of potential.

And while the announcement wasn't exactly disappointing, plenty of the things on our most-wanted list were notably absent.

The go od

Let's talk about the good first. For one thing, games like Suckerpunch's Infamous: Second Son, Guerilla's Killzone: Shadow Fall, Evolution Studios' Drive Club, and even Sony's first-party Knacklook promising, if not necessarily miles ahead of the current generation's offerings.

We were thrilled to see Jonathan Blow on stage talking about The Witness, the Braid successor that's been in development for three years, not to mention Blizzard's surprise reveal of Diablo 3 for PS4 and PS3.

Even Bungie's presence, while predictable given the dearth of information presented during Destiny's "reveal" last week, was well-received. Same goes for Ubisoft's Watch Dogs; expected, but welcome.

On the hardware side, TechRadar is perhaps most excited by the PlayStation 4's synergy with the PS Vita. Sony has been teasing true connectivity between its portable and living room consoles for years, but it looks like that may actually come to pass with the PS4 and PS Vita.

Other PS4 details - like the 8GB of memory, or the streaming demos thanks to Sony's acquisition of Gaikai - stood out as truly next-gen features. Nintendo critics will no doubt be able to point to these and other PS4 details as signs that the Wii U is not a truly next-gen system, and it's starting to seem like they may have a point.

The controller itself, the DualShock 4, brings innovation to the table while not abandoning the core features that PlayStation gamers love about the DualShock pads.

It's got all the same buttons, plus a touchpad in the middle, a light bar across the top (presumably for motion controls), a 3.5mm headphone jack, a "share button," and some aesthetic improvements, like the blessedly concave control sticks. Frankly, it looks great to us.

The missing

Unfortunately, there were plenty of PS4 details on our wish list that Sony somehow just couldn't fit into its two-hour presentation.

Most obviously missing was the console itself - we didn't even catch a glimpse of what the new system will actually look like. We actually got deja vu from the Wii U's announcement at E3 a couple years back, when Nintendo showed the GamePad controller, but not the c onsole. Confusion followed then, as it's sure to here.

The PlayStation 4's price and specific launch titles were conspicuously left out, as well.

On the topic of launch games, we liked what we saw, but one game was frustratingly absent, as it has been for years: The Last Guardian, the Team Ico follow-up that we're starting to think will never be released at all.

The format of PS4 games is also unknown; besides digital downloadable releases, it's assumed that the PlayStation 4 will use Blu-ray, though Sony didn't actually mention as much. (UPDATE: Sony revealed after the press event that it would include Blu-ray support, so there you go).

They also didn't mention rumors that the PS4 will feature DRM that will make it incompatible with used games, demolishing a large portion of the video game retail market - though we didn't really expe ct them to.

To top it off, backwards compatibility with legacy PlayStation titles was mentioned briefly and vaguely but not expanded upon. It's possible that the PS4 will support backwards compatibility via the cloud at some point, but it seems unlikely that it will do so at launch.

A new hope?

That said, what was shown of the PlayStation 4 has us salivating for more - more games, more details, more hardware specs, you name it.

Sony has clearly got a drawn-out PR plan in mind for the PS4, as the absence of the actual system itself at Wednesday's announcement proves.

But with a release window of "holiday 2013," sneakily inserted right at the end of the PS4 announcement, they can only stretch it out so long before the details are revealed and the PlayStation 4 is in our living rooms.

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//PART 2