PlayStation 4 review: Sony's best console yet is off to a shaky start

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Resogun is the outstanding exception to an otherwise unappealing launch game lineup.

The only exception is Resogun, a vibrant side-scrolling shooter that pays fantastic homage to Defender. It’s a PS4 exclusive that’s free for PlayStation Plus members and developed by Housemarque, a Finnish studio with an excellent track record. Since every PS4 comes with a two-week free trial for PS Plus, there’s no excuse for you to skip this game.

Problem is, Resogun is a great game that would work equally well on the PS3 or the PS Vita, not to mention the PC or a competing console. The best launch game on Sony’s latest console does nothing to showcase the console’s unique capabilities, and that demonstrates a real lack of foresight on Sony’s part. The Playroom demo does interesting things with the PS Camera, but that’s all it is—an interesting tech demo.

The PS4 is a gaming machine without any games worth playing, and that’s a real problem.

Also, get a PlayStation Plus membership

PS Plus is your best stopgap while we wait for Sony to address the PS4 game drought. Plus members can play both Resogun and Contrast on PS4 for free as of this writing, though more games will cycle through in the months to come. A year’s worth of membership will cost you $50, and it’s a pretty good deal when you factor in the free games and the discounts you’ll receive on the PlayStation Store. Also, you must be a Plus member to play PlayStation 4 games online, a change of policy from the PlayStation 3.

Yup, you’re gonna need PlayStation Plus if you want to play games (badly) online.

Thankfully, if you share a console, only one person has to shell out for PS Plus membership. Once you set the console as your primary PS4, everyone who logs in can play games online. The console allows for you to store up to 16 accounts' worth of information, but you can also log into a PS4 with a “Guest” account that allows you to download your PSN ID to play games and earn credit for trophies, then delete it when you leave.

It’s also worth noting that the dual local ID/PSN ID system that plagued the PlayStation 3 is gone. You log into your PS4 with your PSN ID, and that’s the only account you’ll use across all aspects of the system.

Classic XMB interface needs an overhaul, not a facelift

Unfortunately, Sony failed to overhaul the PS3’s venerable Xross Media Bar (XMB) interface. The new interface, which Sony calls the PlayStation Dynamic Menu, is still built on clunky rows of icons stacked atop one another.

The PS4 interface is functional, but confusing. Why are all these notifications important, for example, and why are they ranked in no discernible order?

Minor changes abound: The Trophy system, for example, has been updated retroactively across all PlayStation consoles so that each achievement sports a little icon indicating how rare it is based on how many other players have earned it. I would have preferred that Sony update its firmware so that we didn’t still have to manually sync our trophy data with Sony servers, but no dice. You can also initiate Real Name transfers with people on your friends list: When one of you asks and the other agrees, both players can see each other’s real names (or whatever you have tied to your PSN ID).

Adding rarity indicators to every PSN Trophy was a small but much-appreciated touch.

The interface feels snappy and fast to navigate, due in part to the PS4’s capacity to keep an app and a game running in suspended mode simultaneously. In practice, that means you can quickly flip back and forth between a game of Resogun and an episode of Breaking Bad streaming on Netflix. You can spend as much time as you like browsing the PDM or even putting the console into suspend mode without having to worry about losing your game or your place in the episode.

Bottom line

The PlayStation 4 is going to change the gaming market with an eclectic library of downloadable indie and free-to-play games running on a revamped operating system that can support things like game streaming, social sharing, and remote play. It won't change it with whiz-bang graphical upgrades or exclusive software—though those would be greatly appreciated.

It’s easy to see the potential here. What if one day I could wake up, use my Vita to boot up the PS4 in the other room and launch Planetside 2, then invite my friends into a squad via PSN, Facebook, and Twitter before leaping into a massive firefight and streaming the action? Gosh, that sounds like a pretty good Saturday.

But right now, it’s just potential—the PS4 doesn’t do much except play and stream games, and it currently lacks a game library worth paying $400 for. And that’s troubling, especially when Microsoft is fielding a competing black box in an effort to gobble up the lion’s share of the console market before Sony has time to find its stride.

This story, "PlayStation 4 review: Sony's best console yet is off to a shaky start" was originally published by TechHive.

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At a Glance
  • Sony's latest console is a powerful, intelligently designed gaming machine without a game to recommend it. It's poised to perform well in the years to come, but it's an underwhelming proposition at launch.


    • New DualShock 4 controller feels great in the hand.
    • Prescient inclusion of excellent system-level sharing functions.
    • Remote Sharing is neat—if you stay close to the console.


    • Meager, unappealing game library.
    • System interface remains cluttered and unintuitive.
    • Controller has terrible battery life and a seemingly pointless lightbar.
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