A few days ago Sony’s (NYSE: SNE) PlayStation 4 console celebrated its first birthday. A lot has changed for the system over the past year, and now is a great time to pull the trigger on PS4 if you’ve been waiting.
The console owes its transition and growth to software and games, with firmware updates bringing intuitive features like Share Play and streamlining the user experience. But Sony has had some stutter steps along the way, and the path hasn’t been perfect: PS Now has proven to be an unoptimized, poorly-planned disaster, and the console is still plagued with bugs and a badly executed online service.
Despite these faults, the PlayStation 4 has taken hold as the leading next-gen console, selling 13.5 million units globally as of October. There’s many reasons for its success, and in this anniversary year-one review we’ll take a look at how Sony continues to evolve the PlayStation brand to make the PS4 the centerpiece of an expansive game-centric ecosystem.
When the PS4 launched in November 2013, there was a marked lack of launch titles. Sure we had greats like Killzone Shadow Fall and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, but compared to last-gen launches, this one was clearly outstripped.
Next-gen consoles weren’t given their chance to truly shine until this Fall, when a huge bounty of high-profile games released. It was here gamers were reminded why they bought a next-gen system in the first place: for quality gaming experiences.
This Fall we saw innovative games like Destiny hit the market, and despite being over-hyped and locked behind DLC paywalls, it remains one of the best-selling and most addictive shooters in years.
Bungie’s MMO-style FPS was soon followed by horror hits like The Evil Within and Alien: Isolation. Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor brought players to Tolkien’s celebrated fantasy realm and empowered them for one of the most engaging and remarkably fun action-fantasy games in existence, pushing the bar for high-definition graphical fidelity in one fell swoop.
A full year later in November 2014, the PS4 was treated with one of the best RPG’s in recent years: Dragon Age: Inquisition.
The game has 200 hours of content and features such deep, player-centric mechanics that it proves BioWare are masters of their craft. The new Dragon Age is enough reason to pick up a PS4 right away, and it’ll take hold of you and never let you go–and I think you’ll be okay with that.
Far Cry 4 is another huge hit that deserves a holiday mention. Set in the vast region of Kyrat, gamers take on the traditional international despot in a brutal bloody game of civil war; but this one sets itself apart with its sheer level of exotic flair.
Kyrat is so incredibly different then what we’re used to in the series that it really immerses you in a new world, one that’s riven with cruel strife but also highlighted with incredible beauty.
Apart from AAA hits, Sony has used indies to successfully buffer the waiting times between big-name games. With PlayStation Plus on PS4 you won’t get great yesteryear AAA hits like the PS3 version, but you will get some pretty enjoyable indie games.
Now indies aren’t meant to replace AAA; they’re meant to compliment them. Essentially indies are bite-sized morsels that appeal to a wide range of genres and players, facilitating a sort of cultish flair along the way.
Notable PS4 indies include The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, the renown horror game Outlast, and Don’t Starve. Sony’s strategy has proven to be a successful one, although there are some–like myself–that would prefer a more expansive catalog.
But some criticize Sony’s indies offering as a way to deflect that the company really doesn’t have anything substantial to offer in terms of free games. This is evidenced by the abysmal launch of Sony’s first-party exclusive DriveClub, which was supposed to have a free (yet limited) release for PS Plus members.
After the game’s retail launch crashed–Sony’s still sorting out the mess–the PS Plus version was put on hold.
This proves that Sony is great at lining up third-party games and setting up an ecosystem, but they’re not so good at handling things in their own backyard. They could use some practice in this regard, and gamers have become reticent to embrace first-party games as a result.
PlayStation Now is another result of Sony over-stepping their ambition. PS Now was meant to be a means to play PS3, PS2 and even PS1 games on your PlayStation 4, effectively adding backwards compatibility to the console.
But there’s one problem: PS Now is a pay-per-play service that has exorbitant rental fees and a timing structure that doesn’t really invite players in.
For example, PS Now prices a 90-day rental of 2013’s Saint’s Row IV for $14.99, with the usual ridiculous one-hour periods starting it off. According to Half.com you can pick up the same game for as little as $8.99, or you can hop over to your local GameStop and pick up a copy you actually get to keep for $5 more than the rental price.
In theory PS Now is a great idea. But Sony mucked it up and still hasn’t fixed it, and instead of doing so, they’re focusing on new things like bringing live cable TV to PlayStations via PlayStation Vue and even their own virtual reality headset called Project Morpheus, which most likely will be obsolete compared to the Oculus Rift.
And it’s also run on the PlayStation Network, which is notorious for being finicky, slow and under-performing in various tasks. Multiplayer seems to be okay, but any time Sony’s servers have to be strained, players are met with considerable lag and disconnects.
Since PS Now is streamed from the network, players have to run a test to see if their connection is viable, and even then you’ll get unwarranted disconnects. The funny thing is that the service will let you rent a game even if your connection can’t support playing it, proving Sony needs to work on its online structures.