E3 was a pretty epic moment for PlayStation fans. Following up from a rather disappointing Xbox presentation, Sony announced to thundering applause the future of PlayStation with the PS4.
Skip ahead to Digital NatioNZ and New Zealand gets a chance to lay hands on the actual console. For me, this was the number one reason for attendance. I’ve stated a couple of times that I’m an advocate for PlayStation. While I own both PS3 and X360 consoles, my library is overwhelmingly dominated byte PlayStation platform. When at home I play PS3, when out I play PS Vita, and each month I get a bunch of free games due to my ongoing subscription to PlayStation Plus. Coming into Digital NatioNZ, my PS4 preorder is already paid for, so I wanted to see what I was in store for on November 29th.
Sitting down with Drive Club, the first race I played was immediately forfeit. My competitor was already out of site on the racetrack while I sat there examining the controller. I know this sounds corny, but I was totally blown away. Firstly, this thing weighs nothing. This may not sounds overly important, but when you’re gaming for a number of hours, having a controller that isn’t going to burden yours hands becomes a pretty big deal. The overall experience of a game is enhanced when you don’t even have to think about what is in your hands because you hardly notice it is there. Gamers have been vocal for a long time about the elements of the Dualshock 3 that did not work, and Sony seems to have addressed all of them. The triggers are concave to a point where you can get real pull on them rather than having your finger slip off the end. Similarly, the analogue sticks feature concave tops for your thumbs to grip in, and even the d-pad has had a slight tweak to make it better for fighting games.
The most noticeable design change comes in the introduction of the touchpad, which replaces the position traditionally occupied by the Select and Start buttons. This redesign, while straying away from a concept that has been around since the original PlayStation, is also necessary to meet the demands of today’s gamers. I initially had concerns surrounding the inclusion of a touchpad on the Dualshock 4, fearing it may be a tacked on accessory that would allow for ports of games from mobile devices. Thankfully this isn’t the case. While the overall realisation of the touchpad is yet to be fully realised, its overall use in games like The Playroom seem intuitive and natural. As has been pointed out by SCEI President, Andrew House, a lot of people’s first interaction with a game is through a touch screen device.
PlayStation demo’d their latest console with Knack, Drive Club and The Playroom, but Killzone Shadowfall was unfortunately not available. The Playroom acted as a great demo for both the touchpad controller and the new camera for the PS4, coming bundled free with every console, The Playroom gives a great reason to get camera accessory if you are looking to buy for the whole family. At this point in time there is fun interaction with “AR Bots” and an awesome twist on air hockey, while continuing content addons have been promised over time. Drive Club was also a pleasant surprise for me, since I’m a total spaz at racing games.
The biggest thing I noticed was that it was a racing game and not a racing simulator, meaning I was forgiven for not perfecting every turn or braking at the split second I was required in order to not slam into a wall or go bouncing shamefully across mounds of dirt. Don’t get me wrong: the game is still challenging, but focuses more on the social competitiveness of you vs your friends, rather than you vs the in-game physics.
Knack’s demo was also great, but a little too short for my liking, while the Indie Corner featured 3 vastly different games also coming to the PS4. Octodad rocked a heavy difficulty curve, but kept just the right level of humour to it that the game never got frustrating or impossible. Hohokum is a game that seems to have no objective, but once you start playing you really don’t seem to mind (either that or I was playing it completely wrong and nobody wanted to tell me). The last game in the Indie Corner was a brilliant little gem called Contrast.
Contrast baffled me. The demo featured about 5 minutes of gameplay, but I must have spent about 40 minutes at the kiosk playing the same level over and over at different times throughout the expo… I just kept coming back to it. The game has that kind of charm you don’t see in a lot of games, strutting a 1920s kind of flare that faintly reminded me of Bioshock (without all the leaks), Contrast dabbled between light and shadow in a manner that blurs the lines between adventure and platforming genres.
Comparing the launch titles for both consoles I think the Xbox One has the stronger line up, particularly with Dead Rising 3. In the long run however, I think the PS4 will feature a much stronger and diverse line up of titles due to its cultivation of indie developers. Another point that was made to me was that the PlayStation 4 isn’t just being sold on the titles that are coming to it, but the titles that have come before it with the likes of The Last of Us, as well as the soon to be released Beyond: Two Souls. The fact that there is already a strong pedigree of developers working within Sony promises a number of titles of high quality yet to be announced (I’m looking at you, Naughty Dog).