PlayStation 4 Review: The path to greatness

  • Posted December 7th, 2013 at 00:56 EDT by PSU Staff

Review Score

PlayStation 4

PSU Review Score
8.5
Avg. user review score:
8.0

Add your rating

Summary

Sony's PlayStation 4 is an enthusiastic return to form disguised as a powerful, accessible game console. Equal parts forward-thinking and traditional, PS4 makes few missteps on a path to greatness.

We like

  • Marvelous physical design
  • Connectivity and ease of use
  • Most powerful console hardware to date

We dislike

  • Lack of customization
  • Some features are missing essential components
  • Underused light bar, touchpad

See PSU's review on Metacritic & GameRankings

Editor Review Scores

Kyle Prahl: 8.5

Sony's PlayStation 4 is a marvel of communication and connectivity. With a user interface and computer hardware that will undoubtedly power hundreds of riveting interactive experiences in the years to come, there are only a few hangups in the PS4 experience. Among them are a pervasive lack of customization and a couple features that don't quite meet the lofty standard of convenience set by Sony's platform convergence and PS4's general usability. But the future of the brand is bright. A marriage of technology, forward-thinking innovation, and an unrelenting focus on games and their culture; PlayStation 4 is one of the most exciting things to happen to the industry since the turn of the century.

Tim Nunes: 8.5

The enhancements to the PlayStation experience that Sony has put into PlayStation 4 far outweigh the underlying issues that the console itself has. The general ease of access, from applications to games, feels empowering, creating an expectation of nothing less from here on. Luckily, the biggest issues are ones that don't feel permanent, such as the lack of organization on the main menu and the inability to customize certain options and layouts, alongside some buttons having awkward positioning. Though the latter cannot be changed, gamers don't have to wait for greatness, and the PS4's potential has only begun its marathon.

Ernest Lin: 8.0

Personally, I am not fond of reviewing consoles at launch because they often aren't complete and contain an abundance of untapped potential. They are better defined by features that will arrive with later updates and, more importantly, their games. Nevertheless, I can't help but give PlayStation 4 the benefit of the doubt. Sony's latest is already a compelling beauty at its debut. PS4 is a sleek-looking console that's agile and straightforward to use. There are only a few areas where PS4 stumbles slightly, like the user interface and certain button placements. The level of accommodation and connectedness available on the platform is unprecedented, with social features that tease your appetite to play. This is where you should experience the next evolution of gaming.

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Average score: 8.33

FINAL SCORE:

8.5 out of 10

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THE PSU PLAYSTATION 4 REVIEW

Kyle Prahl, Tim Nunes, Ernest Lin

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The Hardware

The Console

What's striking about the PlayStation 4 design is how difficult it is to draw comparisons between Sony's angular box and any other electronics device on the market. Are there similar creations out there, somewhere? Probably, but in the moment, PS4 is occupying a space of visual uniqueness on retail shelves and in my entertainment center. The console, a three-dimensional parallelogram (or, parallelepiped) that measures about 11 inches wide, 12 inches long, and 2 inches tall when lying horizontally, looks cool, futuristic, and sensibly designed. When sitting next to a slim PS3 on the same shelf, it's impressive how close the PS4 size and form factor is to its predecessor, weight notwithstanding. The front (or, top) face is adorned with a silver, subtle PlayStation logo atop a glossy finish that covers one-third of the face. The other two-thirds are matte black. The contrast between these two materials might not please everyone--all matte would have been aesthetically safe, while all-gloss would turn the console into even more of a fingerprint magnet. But I like the duality because it also represents the console's construction, as the differently textured faces are separate pieces that can be removed for the replacement of a hard drive or deconstruction of the console.

You can choose to set your console vertically with a stand (sold separately), and I prefer showing off my PS4 in this fashion. Your box is safe, either way. Three rubber feet on the console's bottom face mean no danger of scratches when sliding PS4 around horizontally, and the vertical stand securely attaches via three hooks, with intake vents for cooling, to boot. Even when running games, I've found my PS4 to be a quiet, cool machine. It heats at a noticeably slower rate than my PS3 Slim, and only releases audible noise during start-up loading off a game disc or after a few hours of consecutive play.

Meanwhile, setting the disc loading slot and USB ports inside a thin recess that runs around PS4's perimeter smartly hides its obviousness as a game console. As box tech design becomes increasingly streamlined and minimal, Sony keeps with the trend and applies it to an electronics category not known for its subtlety. The disc drive and ports are still easy to access, but it might take bending down for closer inspection to insert games and cables smoothly. The inputs on the console's backside are inset in a similar way, recessed in a grill-like plastic outcropping. It's easy to access all of these inputs, from HDMI and Ethernet to optical, auxiliary, and A/C.

PlayStation Camera

Auxiliary is specifically designated for the PlayStation Camera, which is the most significant new peripheral for longtime PlayStation gamers. We've seen halfhearted attempts at a meaningful camera experience before, and the PlayStation Camera takes safe strides, not brave leaps, to revolutionizing the PlayStation user experience. In fact, the best reason to own a PS Camera--the reason I'm glad I do--is its Twitch functionality. Though features and customization are slim, you can insert video of yourself in the top-right corner of your gameplay broadcasts and use the camera's microphone in lieu of a headset for game chat and commentary. It's a great way to spur conversations with viewers, and the sound quality isn't bad, either--Twitch viewers reported that my voice sounded about the same (a bit tinny, but perfectly audible) whether I was using the camera's microphone or the wired mic that also comes packaged with PS4. There's no automatic movement or angling of the camera, either, so you'll have to get up and adjust it by hand if the zoomed image of your face isn't to your liking.

Otherwise, you and other users can register your faces with the PS Camera for somewhat-automatic user login (the camera will detect your face and ask you to hold the DualShock 4 in a certain position), but it's no faster than selecting the user profile with the DualShock D-pad. I can see the camera's voice navigation being useful down the road, when dozens upon dozens of game and app tiles fill the Dynamic Menu's horizontal stream, but right now, the commands are too limited and methodical to beat simply using the controller. Rather than saying "PlayStation, Start Killzone," it's a three-part sequence: "PlayStation." "Killzone." "Start," with two or three-second pauses between each command as the console deduces what you're saying.

DualShock 4

Unlike the PlayStation Camera, which, in its current functionality, will only hold much value for frequent streamers, the DualShock 4 is a wonderful device that has made an adoring fan out of me and, anecdotally, everyone who touches it. PlayStation veterans will notice the changes, almost all for the better, right away. The analog stick surfaces are now recessed; a ridge runs around the perimeter to prevent slipping, but the recessed surface is still convex like the rest of the DualShock line. The feeling of using the sticks is both comfortably familiar and refreshing, as other small touches, like smoother gliding and less "give" in pressing L3 and R3, improve on PlayStation's traditional tactile experience. All four triggers have also received updates, with dramatic improvements given to L2 and R2. Out with the outward, in with the inward: L2 and R2 are concave, like gun triggers. From shooters to racing games, pressing L2 and R2 is so much more comfortable without the extra effort applied to keep your fingers from sliding off, a la DualShock 3.

Elsewhere on the controller, almost every change is for the better. The handles are slightly thicker and longer. Even though I have large hands, the change wasn't immediately comfortable, as I had to slightly adjust the way I've been holding smaller PlayStation controllers for 15 years. But I immediately fell in love with better grip and reduced sweating, both coming from a lightly textured rubber surface that covers the bottom of the controller. Like the controller's lightbar, the grip material is mostly hidden from the player's view, so the attractive soft plastic of the controller's face is preserved. The lightbar, however, serves little practical function of interest. The PS Camera can identify the light to determine who's holding the controller, and different colors can indicate game states like player number, low health, and team, but I almost never look down at my controller when I'm playing, and the lightbar points away from the player anyway. There aren't many, or any, interesting applications for the lightbar at launch, and I'm left wondering if the light contributes significantly to the DualShock 4's reduced battery life: only eight or nine hours, versus the DualShock 3's 30.

Thankfully, you can now charge controllers while the system is in a mostly-off "Standby Mode," which we'll discuss later this week in our "Features" portion of the PlayStation 4 review.

The Start and Select buttons are gone, with Options and the touchpad often serving the same respective purposes. Options is a bit harder to instinctively reach than the Start button was, but it's even more detrimental that it sits very close to the controller face and isn't as easy to press as other buttons. The touchpad is almost the opposite: it's an easy, impulsive reach for my right thumb, and its large size makes pressing anywhere in its area highly accessible. L1 and R1 are the same way. A bit "clickier" than before, the two triggers (now, more like bumpers) have increased surface area and a rounded shape, serving attractive design and usability in equal measure.

When I look at and hold DualShock 4, I'm left with the same impression of the console itself: thoughtful usability, sleek presentation, and sturdy construction. All of the PlayStation 4's hardware components, regardless of how often they're useful or needed, are aesthetically unified, well-designed, and serve the system's greatest end: providing the best gaming experience. It's an excellent package.

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Timothy Nunes - Response

The PlayStation 4 has a shape that invokes a literal shift in tradition with its appealing and angular presentation. I can't help but look at it and still enjoy what it visually does on the shelf beneath my TV. My glass TV stand might be to blame, but whenever my PS4 loads a game, the console vibrates with the intensity of a cell phone on a table; my roommate has his PS4 on a wooden shelf, and it doesn't cause the same sound. Outside of that hypothetical issue, the only significant negative is how incredulously small the power and eject buttons are, which lay in the miniscule gaps that each layer of Sony's technological cake has.

Which leads to the DualShock 4. I once believed that the DualShock 3 was comfortable, but the DualShock 4 extends the length of the controller by angling the handles outward ever so slightly, making hand positioning on the controller much less crinkled than on the DualShock 3. The joysticks themselves aren't necessarily more responsive than those of their predecessor, but the ring that encompasses each convex joystick head allows for accuracy that the former PlayStation controller cannot match. Button clicks have more significance, too, but the actual pressing of the buttons takes no more effort than what PlayStation fans have grown to know. The Option and Share buttons are oddly placed at the top-front next to the touchpad, but the touchpad itself, with its easy access, makes for easier use than those clumsy buttons. So, their inconvenience only matters when a game needs pausing or a clip needs sharing. All in all, apart from the two odd button placements, the DualShock 4 is a gleam of success which shows that changing what works can have a significant, excellent impact.

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Ernest Lin - Response

If PlayStation 4 is trying to restore Sony to the console glory that thePlayStation 2 brought, its physical design reflects the push with borrowed design elements from PS2s of the past. The matte finish was present both on the fat and slim models of the PS2, while the PS2 Slim featured a glossy strip as well. The sharp, angular shape of the PS4 is striking with its vertical display being reminiscent of the monoliths from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Meanwhile, the Jet Black color gives the console an element of mystery while blending in with the darkness to avoid distracting your eyes from where you should be looking at: the screen. Personally, I find the PS4 design majestic, though I share the same complaint as Tim regarding the system's buttons. The power and eject buttons are slivers are often missed by my fingers when I reach out to them.

The DualShock 4 is the best controller Sony has ever made and the first one I sincerely like. The DualShock 3 always felt small in my hands, occasionally leading to uncomfortable aches or cramps. Let's be honest; the DualShock controllers' form factor really never changed before the fourth iteration. It's finally received a size upgrade and the grip underwent a serious makeover that makes the DualShock 4 slip nicely into your hands. The semi-concave design of the thumbsticks and their new placement add to the improved usability, as well.

To finally have real triggers on a PlayStation controller is a revelation, and in the future, I look forward to the unique ways developers will use the touchpad. What's there not to like? The Options and Share button share the somewhat problematic small size of the system's power and eject buttons. Hopefully, Sony will allow the option to turn off the lightbar, as I'm sure it's a drain on the battery and can cause glare on more reflective television screens.

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    Release date (US):
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