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PlayStation 4 hardware and software hands-on: the next gen starts here

Wednesday, 13 November 2013 14:01 GMT By Stace Harman

Ahead of the launch of PS4 in North America on Friday, Stace Harman visits Sony’s UK HQ to poke at a handful of launch titles and zip around PS4’s shiny new UI.

PS4 Additional Reading

A host of details, screens and videos for cutsey-platformer Knack can be found through here.

The Killzone Shadow Fall trailer dropped yesterday, watch it here.

Friend of VG247, Dave Owen, has spoken to Resogun developer Housemarque about the pressures of being a PS4 launch title.

A rundown of the new features of the PS4 UI can be ingested here, while Sony has also shared its thoughts on the future of PS Plus.

Smell that? That heady aroma of raw power, untapped potential and expensive plastic lets us know that a new generation of console hardware is about to drop.

It’s been a long time coming; so long that a whole new generation of video game players has been born, progressed through several years of school and become effortlessly better at many games than some of us old crusties will ever be. I’m not bitter, you understand, I’ve just had to stop humouring my friends’ kids and start really trying to beat them.

It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that since the start of the current gen in November 2005 and the beginning of the next on Friday of this week, an awful lot has changed with regard to attitudes towards games, too. Playing games is now a legitimate form of family entertainment and an increasingly connected and social experience.

Visiting Sony’s UK HQ this week it was plain to see that the blockbuster titles will continue to provide just as loud and shiny a focus on PS4 as they have on PS3, but also that there’s ample room and serious intent when it comes to more varied experiences for a wider audience. This isn’t just in terms of games, but also in the manner in which we experience content and share it with people; myriad small things that add up to a more complete whole. But enough theorising, let’s take a look at some tangible examples of what I’m talking about.

The Games
I spent time with three games over the course of a morning’s play and all three offered something different in terms of focus, content and takeaway message.

The first was Knack, the child-friendly platformer that its creator – and lead PS4 system engineer – Mark Cerny intends should call to mind titles like Crash Bandicoot. With its bright visuals, bold character archetypes and some the cutest goblins you ever did see it screams “KIDS GAME” and yet even on normal difficulty it’s no cake walk.

Knack, the titular hero of the piece, is built of an assortment of relic pieces and grows in stature and power upon collection of them. He starts off small, cute and somewhat reminiscent of Ratchet’s robot sidekick Clank but can grow into a much larger beast-type character that bears similarities to Street Fighter’s Blanka. Stringing three moves together nets you a slow-motion finisher, while collecting sunstone energy opens up a number of special smart-bomb style attacks. Some basic puzzle elements require Knack to use pieces of himself to power machines, which reduces his size and power, and hidden secrets harbour power-ups and sunstone energy.

Knack’s biggest surprise is the challenge it presents. Dodging is essential if you’re to prevent Knack being smashed into tiny pieces and so adults or older siblings who might start by indulging a younger member of the family with the local co-op may find there’s more to keep them occupied than they first supposed. Some of the check-pointing feels a little wonky but overall, Knack serves a prime example of how the younger generation are being catered for but not pandered to.

Killzone Shadow Fall, on the other hand is targeted very much at the core gamer who wants something shiny with which to show off their new console. More than sexy lighting and particle effects, though, Killzone also offers a very clear indication of the simple but effective way in which the DualShock 4’s touchpad might be utilised by the first wave of shooters to grace Sony’s console.

As is currently standard, the D-pad directions are used for selecting weapons, gadgets and highlighting objectives. However, Killzone Shadow Fall’s USP is its OWL drone, which has a number of functions and modes that are accessible by the touchpad. So, you swipe up to set OWL in attack mode, right for a deployable zip-line, left for an electrical overcharge and down to select a static shield. Then a tap of L1 activates the chosen command in addition to some context sensitive actions such as hacking alarm turrets.

In this example, the touchpad effectively becomes another set of D-pad shortcuts that, owing to the touchpad’s placement in the centre of the DualShock 4, can be easily accessed by either thumb. It’s not the most sensational use of the new controller technology, perhaps, but it’s encouraging to know that developers won’t necessarily be trying to force needlessly elaborate touch controls into a game when it can be better served by simplicity and function.

The third of the three launch titles I played was Resogun, the side-scrolling score-attack shoot ‘em up from Super Stardust developer Housemarque. This one has old-school shooter written all over it and yet is being delivered by the comparatively new method of being free on day one to all PS Plus subscribers.

The most immediately unique thing about Resogun is the curiosity of its cylindrical level design. Each of its five levels – consisting of multiple phases – is best described as a side-scrolling level whose ends meet to form a cylinder. You can see the far side of the cylinder in the background, which has useful game play implications and move left or right to traverse back and forth.

New ships with varied weapons, strength and manoeuvrability can be unlocked and each has an Overdrive facility that provides a focused beam weapon that both pulverises enemy ships and actively increases your score multiplier. Saving pixel-based humans from death and abduction confers various bonuses while huge boss ships move around the cylindrical level structure and present hard to reach weak spots.

Despite Killzone’s grand nature, it was Resogun that most impressed me with its aesthetics. At 1080p and 60fps it might not be doing anything that wasn’t once upon a time promised as the future of PS3 gaming but being mesmerised by its slick and sleek visuals (without a smidgen of slowdown) serves as a reminder of difference such performance can make to the overall experience, not just to numbers on a page.

Each of the three titles offers a different hook for Sony’s refreshed and overhauled approach to its audience and while none of these titles scream next gen in terms of game design, they all incorporate elements of PS4 in their DNA – watching Killzone Shadow Fall run seamlessly on a Vita via real-time wireless Remote Play highlights just how far the tech and net code has come in the last few years.

Underpinning the game experience is the PS4 UI, which features a raft of new social features and refined design that serve to highlight just how sparse and dry PS3 XMB has been for many years. Some of these new features feel quirky or throwaway, such as the ability to control the PS4 with Kinect-style voice commands via the PlayStation 4 camera or headset, and the option to log-in to your profile via facial recognition.

However, some others have some immediately appreciable advantages and perks. The PS4 activity feed shows you what your friends have been up to, what games they’ve been playing, achievements they’ve been collecting, and pictures and videos they’ve been sharing, while the option to manage the friends list with Facebook-style levels of privacy options means you can separate out your real-world friends from your virtual-only buddies.

There’s also a great deal of related content available for all games, be it developer videos, notifications of new DLC or PS Trophies (ranked by global rarity) to have a crack at. All of the PS4 interface options can be quickly accessed thanks to the increased speed of the OS and switching from one area to another is near instant, without the need to wait for options to load or lists to be populated. This, really, is just the tip of the improvements to the PlayStation UI and they’ll likely be more news on this coming over the next couple of weeks leading up to the console’s EU launch on November 29.

Many of the things I’ve talked about here, both in terms of games and interface are small, seemingly incidental changes but after several hours spent navigating through them and understanding how one informs the other I believe that they are going to translate to real improvements in how we interact with the next generation of consoles. Change in this instance isn’t something to be feared but something to be celebrated.

PS4 launches in North America this Friday Novemeber 15; in the EU and Australia on November 29 and throughout the rest of the world through December and into early next year.

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6 Comments

  1. Fin

    itshappening.gif

    #1 1 year ago
  2. Legendaryboss

    @1
    I would do that in style. My style more like.

    #2 1 year ago
  3. Nephilimator

    sony wins again

    #3 1 year ago
  4. debug

    “Novemeber” ;)

    #4 1 year ago
  5. Playmaker

    @3 necrofiliac dude you’re a troll and prob live in basement. U eat shu comes out butt. Lol

    #5 1 year ago
  6. noamlol2

    i still wait for the steam box with the steam OS

    PC gaming has no replacement
    and console peanstery has no good exclusives at the moment

    PC is still first place at the moment

    #6 1 year ago

Comments are now closed on this article.

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    PayDay 2 is coming to SteamOS, Overkill has announced. Still under development, a release date will be announced at a later date. “Making sure PAYDAY 2 is available on SteamOS felt like a no-brainer,” said Bo Andersson Klint, CEO of Starbreeze in the press release. “With PAYDAY 2: Crimewave Edition coming to the next generation […]

  • Magicka 2 has a release date and a crazy new trailer

    Magicka 2 has a release date for PC and the PlayStation 4, and Paradox Interactive has released a trailer featuring “Vlad’s latest lyrical triumph,” which is his rendition of the Game of Thrones theme. Magicka arrived on PC and PS4 May 26 and the game can be pre-ordered on PC beginning today, with PS4 pre-orders […]

  • Nintendo eShop schedule: Don’t Starve: Giant Edition, Never Alone, others

    Nintendo has sent over a list of titles heading to the eShop in 2015. The schedule contains titles such as Affordable Space Adventures, Runbow, Swords & Soldiers 2, Don’t Starve: Giant Edition, Never Alone and Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars. Below a preliminary list of games scheduled to launch in the Nintendo eShop on […]

  • Week 8: Can you win the weekly VG247 GTA Online playlist? Play tonight at 8pm UK time!

    We’re hotdogging tonight. I don’t even know what that means. Eight weeks of ridiculous death. Such a brave, true milestone. We’re going to celebrate two entire months of playing weekly GTA Online playlists with VG247 readers with Hotdogging, a set of six jobs I named completely at random. This one ends with a straight-up border […]

  • Puzzle platformer Four Sided Fantasy coming to PC, consoles in early 2016

    Curve Digital and developer Logan Fieth’s studio Ludo Land are bringing puzzle platformer, Four Sided Fantasy, to PC all major consoles in early 2016. Ludo Land are developing the PC version, with Curve Digital handling the console and Vita versions. Four Sided Fantasy tasks players with venturing across “dreamlike levels” by controlling and manipulating the […]

  • Tropico 5 arrives on PS4 in April – video

    A release date for Tropico 5 on PlayStation 4 has been announced. This is the franchise’s first foray onto PlayStation consoles. It arrived in Europe on April 24 and in North America on April 28. A Limited Edition has also been announced, and it includes The Big Cheese DLC and the Bayo Del Olfato sandbox […]

  • Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain Limited Edition PS4 releasing in Asia

    A limited edition Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain PlayStation 4 system will be released in Asia. The system and its DualShock controller were designed in collaboration with Konami Digital Entertainment and targeted for the Asia region, per Gematsu. It will be released as part of PS4 Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain […]

  • This video shows Sid Meier’s Starships being played on iPad

    Sid Meier’s Starships will be released on iPad alongside Mac and PC, and to give you an idea on how it plays on the tablet, a new video has been released. Watch below as Pete Murray and lead producer Stuart Zissu show off the iPad version. The 4X space-strategy releases on March 12.

  • Wolfenstein: The Old Blood announced as standalone prequel to Wolfenstein: The New Order

    Wolfenstein: The Old Blood, a standalone prequel to The New Order, will release May 5 on PC, PS4 and Xbox One. The game takes pace in 1946, and and players take on the role of B.J. Blazkowicz as he embarks on a two-part mission in Bavaria. Part one, Rudi Jäger and the Den of Wolves, […]

  • Observer Mode coming soon to Evolve as a free update

    Observer Mode will be released for Evolve as a free update for all platforms, 2K and Turtle Rock have announced. The community feature was designed to give Evolve players the ability to observe and add commentary as well as livestream, allowing a sixth user to “passively enter a custom game” with the ability to switch […]

  • Dragon Quest Heroes and PS4 top Media Create charts in Japan

    The PlayStation 3 and PS4 skus for Dragon Quest Heroes were the top sellers on the Media Create charts in Japan, moving a combined 594,749 units. Elsewhere on the chart, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D was in third place with 39,751 units moved, and last week’s top seller, God Eater 2: Rage Burst, […]

  • Watch Hideo Kojima answer lots of your burning Phantom Pain questions

    What’s better than learning the official release date of MGS5: The Phantom pain? Hideo Kojima talking more about it, of course! Hideo Kojima has decided to answer a few fan questions about Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain, to help boost everyone’s hype to insane levels. He talks about the game’s story, his relief […]

  • MGS5: The Phantom Pain Day 1 and Collector’s Edition revealed

    Konami has officially revealed the release date of Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain alongside the game’s Day 1 and Collector’s Edition. Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain will release September 1, worldwide, as previously leaked. It will be available on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One. The PC Steam […]

  • EU Club Nintendo: Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds soundtrack back in stock

    Club Nintendo members in Europe can once again pick up The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds soundtrack. For 3000 Stars, members of the program will receive the double-CD soundtrack which features 89 tracks with liner notes from Ryo Nagamatsu and 12 sheet music excerpts. It also comes with 16 Milk Bar Musician pieces. […]

  • HTC apologises over “confusing” Half-Life VR comments

    HTC has misspoke when it talked about Half-Life coming to VR headset Vive. HTC chairwoman Cher Wang has apologised over the comments she made yesterday about the possibility of Half-Life coming to Vive, the VR headset it’s manufacturing with the help of Valve. Sources close to Valve, have indicated to the BBC that the developer […]

  • What do Heists and Daily Objectives tell us about the future of GTA Online?

    Daily Objectives could be more important to GTA Online than Heists. These theories and more, from a giddy Matt Martin. Yesterday Rockstar dropped a bombshell. Not only is it releasing Heists next week – the mythical 4-player missions for GTA Online – but it’s also going to be introducing daily challenges and more modes to […]

  • Breaking down Hardline Premium, is it worth it?

    Having been announced just a few days ago, the Premium service for Battlefield Hardline has been a topic of constant debate among the Battlefield community. Many look at Hardline as a Battlefield off-shoot that will just tide everyone over until Battlefront comes out in the fall. EA has other plans however, announcing a $50 Premium […]

  • Watch Dogs sold more than GTA 5 and FIFA 15 in Australia in 2014

    Watch Dogs outsold GTA 5, and FIFA 15, at retail in Australia last year. According to data obtained by the Interactive Games & Entertainment Association (IGEA) from the NPD Group Australia, last year’s year retail sales charts look a bit different in Australia. The top-selling game was Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, followed by Watch […]

  • Watch PC footage of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt from GDC 2015

    The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has a new gameplay video available that shows a bit of action from the PC version. The video below was captured from Nvidia’s GDC conference live-stream. Developer CD Projekt RED was on hand to show off The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt‘s graphical prowess running on a PC. Thanks, GamesHQMedia.

  • Dying Light: Hard Mode and Ultimate Survivor Bundle out March 10

    Dying Light’s second DLC drop, the Ultimate Survivor Bundle, and the free Hard Mode, have been given a solid release date alongside a new trailer. Dying Light developer Techland has confirmed that the Ultimate Survivor Bundle, the game’s second DLC drop, will release March 10. The DLC is part of the season pass, but will […]

  • Exploration puzzler Ether One is coming to PlayStation 4

    Ether One, the first-person exploration game that puts you in the minds of other people to help change events of their past is coming to PlayStation 4 this year. Ether One is coming to PlayStation 4 this year, developer White Paper Games announced at GDC 2015. A retail version will also be available alongside the […]

  • Larian “murdered” Divinity: Dragon Commander to focus on Original Sin

    Divinity: Original Sin developer Larian talked very candidly about the business side of development and the many unfortunate events that took place for the game to come out as it did. Larian Studios founder Swen Vincke gave a post-mortem on the troubled development of Divinity: Original Sin, and how it managed to overcome all of […]

  • Firewatch probably has the most natural dialogue of any game to date

    Firewatch developer Campo Santo has revealed the first ever gameplay footage of the upcoming exploration game. Firewatch is the first game from super indie studio Campo Santo. The game is set in the Wyoming forests where the player will be exploring the environment and act as a fire lookout. The game features extensive voice-acting as […]

  • White Night launch trailer is a noir thriller trip

    White Night is here, not long after it was revealed and with a mysterious launch trailer. White Night, the black-and-white survival horror set in 1930s Boston, has revealed its launch trailer. White Night is mix of old-school horror, exploration and puzzling solving in an eerie, noir setting. The game’s main mechanic is light. any object […]

  • Free-to-play is “a significant part” of PlayStation’s digital future

    Free-to-play games on PlayStation 4 have seen enough growth that Sony is now considering the model a major part of its future digital business. Sarah Thompson, senior account executive for PlayStation’s free-to-play business said at a GDC panel that Sony has witnessed impressive growth in the free-to-play sector. “We’re really looking at this as a […]

  • Double Fine Adventure Kickstarter documentary releasing free on YouTube

    Broken Age making of documentary Double Fine Adventure will be made available to all. When Double Fine turned to crowdfunding, changing the industry forever, it promised to give an unprecedented look behind the scenes with a professional documentary of the whole development process of Broken Age. That documentary was initially restricted to Kickstarter backers, but […]

  • Gone Home console ports cancelled following Midnight City difficulties

    Gone Home won’t be made available to the console masses after all. Indie hit Gone Home was announced for console release almost exactly one year ago, and we’ve heard absolutely nothing since then. Turns out, that’s because it’s not happening: developer the Fullbright Company confirmed to Eurogamer that the ports have been cancelled. “Our publishing […]

  • Microsoft rang Mojang the day Notch joked about selling

    Minecraft developer Mojang was sold because founder Markus “Notch” Persson made a joke on Twitter. Ever wondered how Minecraft came to be a Microsoft property? It’s actually a pretty great story. Remember when Notch tweeted this? Anyone want to buy my share of Mojang so I can move on with my life? Getting hate for […]