Editorial Feature PlayStation

Editorial: PlayStation At 25 – My Love Affair With Sony’s Gaming Powerhouse

PlayStation At 25

When the very first PlayStation console touched down worldwide on December 3, 1994, the gaming industry would be changed forever. Emerging from the 16-bit jungles of my youth, the very notion of such a frighteningly capable 32-bit console absolutely staggered on just about every level. With my Super NES traded in, Sega Genesis boxed away and Ill-fated Panasonic 3DO passed off to a gullible relative, I was *ready* for what Sony was going to bring to my favorite hobby.

Or, at least, I thought I was.

The Sony PlayStation – A Trailblazing Industry Pioneer

Here was a home console that, for the first time, could kick out full, three-dimensional worlds the likes of which we had never seen before in the living room and showcased such technical prowess in groundbreaking titles such as Final Fantasy VII, Ridge Racer and Metal Gear Solid that would all go on to become legendary franchises in their own right.

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Even the startup screen for the original PlayStation was like nothing I had ever seen (or heard) up until that point. The subtle wind chimes speaking of far-flung origins and of something new and fresh.

Indeed, the release of the original PlayStation home console signalled more than just a disruptive hunk of hardware hitting the market, it was about the seeding of brand new IP and ideas that would affect the sort of games that we would play for decades to come. Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid, itself a sequel of sorts to the Metal Gear games previously released on Sony’s ill-fated MSX hardware, was nothing short of a revelation that would bring the stealth genre kicking and screaming into relevance in a way that it had just existed previously.

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Likewise, Squaresoft’s Final Fantasy VII was an absolute game changer in every definition of the term. Indeed, it effectively seeded Western minds en masse with the potential that JRPGs had in regards to telling epic stories, and intertwining it all with a deftly constructed battle system and a massive world that begged to be explored in order to reveal its innermost secrets.

Another genre that was given a loud and raucous resurrection by Sony’s PlayStation console was survival horror, as Capcom’s Resident Evil franchise intertwined cutting edge visuals and atmospherics in a way that simply hadn’t been done to this level.

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Sony’s PlayStation console also signaled something of a paradigm shift in arcade ports. Here was a console that, at last, was able to replicate the arcade experience of titles such as Tekken and Ridge Racer better than anything that had come before.

And then there were the arcade conversions. Lest we forget that the original Sony PlayStation launched at a time when the likes of Tekken, Ridge Racer and Time Crisis were all doing the business at coin-op emporiums everywhere, and now, at last, you could have those experiences at a decently comparable level of fidelity in your very own living room/bedroom.

The Sony PlayStation then was a bold, pioneering entry into a then entirely foreign market for Sony. With the spectre of its failed Nintendo CD partnership now firmly in the rear view mirror, Sony and the PlayStation platform would look set for global domination – which would be something that they would uphold for over a decade, beating back traditional industry rivals Sega and Nintendo in the process.

The PlayStation 2 – An All-Time, Industry-Conquering Great

Riding a wave of global popularity that no home console before it had ever experienced, anticipation was extremely high for the PlayStation 2 – could Sony do it again? Was the success of the first PlayStation a fluke? Yes they could (and they did), and no, it absolutely wasn’t.

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Though the launch line up for the PS2 left something to be desired (The Bouncer was actually objectively awful), it would soon make up for such a deficit in spectacular fashion.

Launching towards the tail end of the year 2000, Sony’s PlayStation 2 console took a little while to get started thanks to availability issues and a launch line-up that can perhaps be charitably described as ‘thin’. Things however, would get better. Much better.

In addition to heralding the dawn of online play for the PlayStation platform with the external modem add-on that supported such pioneering online enabled titles as SOCOM and Twisted Metal Black, Sony’s sophomore PlayStation offering is arguably best known and remembered for the frankly insane quantity of quality titles it boasted across its lifetime.

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Perhaps more than any console ever put on the market, the PS2 had something of an embarrassment of riches when it came to games. Indeed, off the top of my head the PS2 played host to the stellar likes of Metal Gear Solid 2, Metal Gear Solid 3, Devil May Cry, ICO, Shadow of the Colossus, God of War, God of War 2, Ratchet & Clank, Jak & Daxter, Grand Theft Auto 3, Vice City, San Andreas, Final Fantasy XII, Final Fantasy X, Dragon Quest VIII, God Hand, Okami, Resident Evil 4, Bully and Burnout 3: Takedown – and that’s just for starters as I’m sure I have accidentally omitted a whole bunch too.

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The PS2 would kick off some of the industry’s legendary first-party IPs, such as God of War and Ratchet & Clank.

The PlayStation 2 was awash with reasons for players to buy Sony’s latest console then, and that was a fact that proved to be true as the console went on to be one of the best selling home consoles of all time.

Beyond the sales figures and the avalanche of great titles, the PS2 truly felt like a watermark in our industry – a new standard that all consoles should and would aspire to. So it was then that its successor would endure comparisons that it simply could not survive.

The PlayStation 3 – A Game Of Two Halves With A View To The Future

Of course, nothing is perfect and by the time the PS3 rolled (well, more like stumbled) around, it was clear that arguably Sony has lost its way a little bit with its third home console offering. I mean, just look at the somewhat comical video below of Sony’s deathly cringe E3 2006 press conference. Jesus wept.

Debuting to the questionable and arrogant bluster of a price point that framed the machine as a ‘luxury purchase’ that folk would have to work harder and more hours to buy (yeah, that statement went down like a rain of iron turds when the now departed Ken Kutaragi made it in 2006), the PS3, at $599 SRP, was further hamstrung by Sony’s newfound hubris.

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Seemingly earned after two generations at the top of the console pile, Sony would double down on its unattractive haughtiness by not only fashioning the most powerful hardware box of that generation, but also one that was a total bastard to develop for. You see, the seemingly all-powerful CELL processor which sat at the heart of the PS3 made it super difficult to program for, with the somewhat unpleasant end result being that many multiplatform titles, such as Red Dead Redemption and The Orange Box actually performed better on Microsoft’s less powerful Xbox 360 console.

Compounding Sony’s colossal misstep further was the fact that Microsoft’s Xbox 360 console was largely on the rise (RRoD issues notwithstanding) with better online infrastructure, better multiplatform games on average and a cheaper offering all round.

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The PS3 would bear witness to the meteoric rise of a new action hero – Nathan Drake, whose Naughty Dog developed adventures would push the PS3 to its technical limits all the while capturing the imaginations of millions across the world.

Thankfully, things would begin to pick up toward the tail end of the generation whereupon Sony’s own first party engineers would begin to tap more deeply into the exotic PS3 hardware, bringing forth some tremendous results in the form of God of War 3, Uncharted 2 and Naughty Dog’s other magnum opus, The Last of Us.

Worried that this act of redemption might have been fleeting, I began to spare towards the end of the last generation, despairing quietly as to how Sony might fare against an emboldened and newly fortified rival in Microsoft. Honestly, I needn’t have worried.

PlayStation 4 – The Pinnacle Of The PlayStation Concept Made Startlingly Real As The Tables Turned

With Ken Kuturagi now gone from Sony, the platform holder desperately needed a new technical figurehead, one that was not only personable, but who also could wield the techno-jargon as needed without causing those listening to drift into a deep sleep. Under the leadership of Mark Cerny, Sony feels like it finally has something approaching a true father figure; one who is driven soft-spoken logic and sensible practicality, rather than by arrogance and hubris.

And so it was that in 2013 the era of the PlayStation 4 began, a ruthless strike back at the industry’s new console king in Microsoft, Cerny unveiled a sleek new version of the PlayStation vision. A purring powerhouse curated from off the shelf PC parts, every inch of PS4 is indicative of a console that has internalised and learned every hard lesson endured during the previous generation.

Efficient, powerful, easy to develop for and with a super fast UI and intuitive online infrastructure, the PS4 was well placed to take over the industry. And that’s pretty much what happened.

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Continuing to focus on a super robust first-party output, Sony would press their advantage in this area, bringing in sequels to previously established IPs such as Killzone, InFamous and God of War, all the while engineering all new properties to energize the PlayStation faithful such as Horizon: Zero Dawn, Days Gone and Marvel’s Spider-Man, for starters.

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One-upping Microsoft in spectacular fashion, Sony’s loving embrace of the now thriving indie scene meant that titles like Rogue Legacy were put front and center at the vanguard of the PS4’s push to the top of the industry.

Sony was also making strides in other areas too. Seeing the substantial success that Microsoft had in cultivating the indie scene for its Xbox 360 console via its Xbox Live Arcade initiative, Sony was keen to go one better with the PS4. For years, the PS4 was *the home* of console indie darlings, playing host to the likes of Rogue Legacy, Resogun, Helldivers and many, many more.

With PlayStation 4, Sony was also leading the industry in other areas too. With the ability to share our gaming experiences now arguably the defining aspect of this generation, Sony led the field here through simple and pragmatic approach – you tap the Share button, save your video or screenshot, and away you go. It’s that simple.

Sony seemed to have a Knack (sorry) of absolutely smashing it at trade shows too, with one great show after another. Indeed, the E3 2015 ‘Show of Dreams’ sticks long in the memory, whereupon Sony announced Final Fantasy VII Remake, Shenmue 3 and The Last Guardian – three games that had, until then, existed only in fanciful thoughts.

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Even though the PS4 certainly represented the indies well, it had not forgotten on what brought it to the dance – first party exclusives. In addition to new instalments in the Uncharted, Killzone and InFamous franchises, PS4 also brought us new IP in the form of Horizon: Zero Dawn and Days Gone, too.

And then there was the future. More than any PlayStation console before it, the PS4 was very much a forward looking machine and nowhere was this more obvious than with Sony’s embrace of Virtual Reality technology.

Though the sector itself is still very much in its commercial infancy, Sony nonetheless managed to carve itself as a leader in the field – boasting an install base that was greater than that of all of the PCVR platforms combined. And though the PSVR was technically the weakest of all the full-fat VR solutions available it succeeded because of the reason that all gaming hardware ultimate succeeds – the games.

From Moss to Blood and Truth, Ghost Giant and Resident Evil 7, PSVR had no shortage at all of full fat gaming titles that were much more than the ultra-thin and ultimately disposable VR experiences that every other piece of VR hardware out there seemingly prided themselves upon having.

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If the wealth of first-party exclusives wasn’t a big enough differentiator between the PS4 and Xbox One, than the PSVR certainly was – as Sony’s take on VR brought the tech to the masses, not with throwaway experiences, but instead with full-sugar, full-fat games.

Of course it didn’t hurt that Microsoft was enduring its own troubles. With Xbox One, the platform holder found itself plagued early on by a controversial stance on not allowing players to trade Xbox One games (a stance that was quickly reversed once common sense had prevailed). Elsewhere, the Xbox One itself was not only a notably less powerful console than the PS4, but it also initially cost more on account of the bundled Kinect camera add-on too, which like the ill-fated no trade-in policy would also be ditched in short order.

In a way, with the focus on improved online infrastructure, easier development and the cultivation of indie titles, Sony had actually managed to develop a better successor to the Xbox 360 than Microsoft did. If there was one chink in the otherwise unbreachable armor of the PS4, it was one caused by its predecessor. Indeed, the somewhat odious legacy of the PS3 on account of its exotic architecture meant that the PS4 could not natively play PS3 games, forcing Sony to instead resort to something of an esoteric solution in game streaming – a hardly ideal result.

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PlayStation has always simply felt like the place to be – a feeling that has resonated even now. And so, as I peer over the precipice and gaze down towards the steeply rolling slopes leading to the next console generation, I do so with a sense of hope for the future, knowing that despite the sky high caliber of the PS4, that PlayStation’s best days still remain firmly ahead.

Thank you Big P. Here’s to PS5 and the next 25.

Editor’s Note: Don’t worry – I didn’t forget about Sony’s beloved handheld offerings. The PSP and PS Vita deserve to have editorials of their own; and so they shall! Stay tuned.