In what can only be described as a very foolish economic move to rank along with a George Osborne budget, I went and bought me a Playstation 4 last month. I refrained from writing about it, because this blog is mostly about music and food, and gaming is not my specialty. I like gaming a lot, but I bring nothing to the table.
I do feel that there is a gap in the market for people with passion and articulacy to write about games online, which is not currently filled, but it is not here and I am not that man. Given the ‘Gamergate‘ controversy, it hardly seems worth the effort when it’s clear there is a vocal minority who make me feel ashamed to even own a console, who played a large part in me thinking that there is no point in writing anything at all on this subject, and that make it seem these machines are definitely for children. But anyway, here is my two cents on why I bought it, whether I like it, what it is, and what I hope it becomes, to a degree.
First of all, it is primarily a smartbox for my telly. The most used items on there, for me, are Netflix and BBC iPlayer. At the start of the last console cycle, the idea of my games console being my main source of telly was alien to me (much as in the prior cycle, using it as a DVD player, and the one before, a CD player!), and this is a development I can happily get behind. I now actually delay watching more exciting fare, such as Doctor Who when it’s initially on, as I know within an hour of broadcast, I can watch it in full HD. The remaining telly apps are of little use to me. As any citizen of the UK knows, catching up on Channel 5 would require that they had something worth missing on there to begin with, and I can’t justify the extra fiscal hit that Amazon Prime would require, at least not yet. I assume that the gaps (More 4) will soon be rectified, so I can’t be too annoyed about this.
But beyond things that I can do through other means, the more unique capabilities of the machine are the justification for the bundle of money I handed over. I went for the Wii60 combination in the last console cycle, mostly using the Xbox 360 for games and films, and the Wii for Wii Fit, and the occasional exclusive that nobody else could make (may the lord bless you, Shigeru Miyamoto). I think I chose correctly, but then, I have always chosen right in my mind. Atari was better than Amiga, Nintendo better than Sega, Sony then edged Nintendo out, and then Nintendo and Microsoft nipped ahead of Sony. But this time round it looks like their big comeback, and I’m hedging my bets on this, and probably a Wii U, again for the exclusives, for the next decade or so.
The first thing I noticed is how uncluttered and intuitive the menus are. No video adverts blaring out unwanted, just a clean and simple interface, from which I can find anything. Perfect, as I become grumpier and less tech savvy. You can also switch between this menu and any game or video at the push of a button, which is great when you want to take a minute to do anything.
The pad is also very nice, if more than a little overpriced, at £50. I have had to delay getting a second pad, which precludes any fighting games with my wife, who is a hideous cheat (ie. better than me) at Tekken. I hadn’t realised how much I had missed using the simple, intuitive Dualshock pad until a few days into using it, when it just felt Right. The new additions are largely redundant, but amusing. There is a touchpad, which is useful for typing (and ports of iPhone games in future?), a speaker, which can be entertaining when playing a game, and a context sensitive light, which… lights up in different colours. I don’t know what they mean.
Two new bits I like a lot are Playstation Plus, and Share. The first is the new, inevitable online subscription. It costs £5.50 a month, but you do get two or three free games a month, as well as all the online multiplayer stuff I rarely bother with (I have a pathological loathing of racist, 13 year old Americans). The free games sell me on this, as they’re often games that are £20 or so in the shops, so it works for me! Share, I think, is more for the kids who upload interminable amounts of gameplay footage to YouTube, and while I don’t understand them, I certainly had fun tinkering with it. Here is a video of FIFA 14, complete with the horror of the sort of dead eyed monster you can create when importing your own face into the game.
But that’s more than enough hardware talk. This is not Top Gear. Indeed, I abhor bigotry. It is a games machine, and the question is, are the games any good. The answer, by and large is no. It feels ungrateful to say this, as the games are bloody good, but nothing so far has shown me anything that has made me say, wow, this is what all that extra power is for. My favourite games so far have been The Walking Dead, Lego Marvel Superheroes, Fifa 15, and Infamous. Of these four games, three of them have come out on old systems, and the last, barring some graphical prettiness and functional extras, really could have too.
The graphics are amazing, and there are very nice new flourishes, such as busier crowds, and terrifyingly real physics, but so far, no game has come out which states that this is what my fancy new machine was made for. That game will come, I’m sure, but it has taken more than a year so far.
As such, it’s hard to recommend a gaming machine at £350, which does little more than older ones that cost £150. If you are careening towards middle age, as I am, and want to splurge on a thing you don’t need, maybe wait a year. They’ll probably have better games then, and cost about £100 less. You’ll get a 100% better machine, for 30% less money. That sounds like a good deal to me.