The PS4 is set up to be the next Xbox 360 or PlayStation 2. With almost 15 million consoles sold, it’s a lock to be the lead development platform for the immediate future. If you are looking primarily for a box that plays multi-platform games like Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty, this is probably the one to get — if for no other reason than it’s sure to be the one most studios will want their games on because of the bigger install-base. Right now this is really important because the list of exclusive AAA games on the PlayStation 4 is weak. At the moment the big ones are Infamous: Second Son and Killzone: Shadow Fall, which aren’t even especially good games. Runners up include The Last of Us: Remastered (one of the best games of 2013), and the now unreleased Little Big Planet 3 (which is also coming to PS3).
But that’s not what’s interesting about the PlayStation 4; what makes the PS4 great is the rhetoric of SONY’s marketing. At Gamescom 2013 Mark Cerny came out on stage and declared we were entering a gaming renaissance, and he’s right. Independently developed games are the most interesting thing happening in videogames right now. Period. The PlayStation has not only outclassed the Xbox One at having wide swaths of phenomenal games priced between $15 and $30, but at having such a diverse and constantly growing catalogue that I’m constantly loading up the store saying, “Huh? When the hell did this or that come out?” It’s great, and if you’re keen about the more avant-garde stuff happening in games --and you happen to want a console-- the PlayStation 4 is the place to be.
But here’s the flip side of that coin: If you have a PC —or even a semi-recent Macbook— you have access to almost of all of these games already, and (in some cases) you’ve had access to them for years. Moreover, games in general are a heck of lot cheaper on the computer -- especially the ones that have been out for awhile already.
Sony has mitigated a lot of this problem by offering a seemingly neverending supply of free games through their $60 annual subscription PlayStation Plus. This service is a fantastic value (for now.) In fact, it’s such a great value you’ll forget that you need it to play online for the PlayStation 4, where you didn’t for the PlayStation 3.
Let’s get one thing straight, if you want to play games by putting a disk in a console and then hitting go, the PS4 is REALLY good at that. However, if you had any inclination your next-gen console would feel as futuristic as your smartphone, I’ll tell you right now the PS4 misses this mark by a mile. My honest biggest concern is that it seems to take SONY a really long time to iterate on the platform’s UI. Where the Xbox One has had tangibly beneficial updates every single month, the PlayStation 4 has only had two significant patches. To top it off some of the major features that were promised for launch, such as suspend/resume, which allows players to pick up a single player game from the pause menu instead of having to button through publisher info each time you want to play, are still missing from the PlayStation. It’s one thing to not have snazzy features at launch, but if the intention is that your console will last 10 years, one would hope feature updates wouldn’t be so few and far between. If the PS4 that came out in 2013 is nearly identical to the PS4 in 2020 there will be a problem.
What the PlayStation 4 has nailed is being a box that plays videogames, which sounds underwhelming, but in doing so they’ve managed to make something that caters to game enthusiasts who want access to the biggest catalogue of games they can get their hands on, and simultaneously casual players who just wants to plug a box into a wall and start playing. It’s a very simple, uncluttered experience, which is great. What’s most damningly absent from the PlayStation 4 right now are those games that can’t be played anywhere else. The Xbox has shown relative ease in making sure to have games like D4, Dance Central, and Sunset Overdrive that uniquely Xbox experiences, now Sony needs to get some of those fan-favourite sequels out the door before this time next year.
It’s still too early to call. Neither of these systems are ‘better’ or the obvious pick. No matter which machine you land on there’ll be a huge library of wonderful games to play. I’ll end by saying the same thing I would have said during the last console generation: Get the console your friends have so that you can play together, or talk about the great games you are playing. Don’t keep games a secret — they don’t keep secrets from you.