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10 years on from the PS4, I'm lamenting the PlayStation that could have been

Should-a, would-a, could-a.

When I realised recently that the PS4 would be turning 10 years old today, I truly felt every single one of those years right down to my bones. I might only be 26 but, jeez, that amount of time sure does change a person. It gets you to reflect on just what those changes are; who do I still have in my life, am I happy with who I've become, and most importantly, does PlayStation finally have games?

Sorry to bring up that old bit of PS3 discourse when we're meant to be talking about the PS4, but looking back on the last generation (and all the time that's passed since it arrived), I've come to see just how much of a shift PlayStation made from the platform it was, to the platform it now is. And I don't think I like it.

For a moment, let's stick with talking about the PS3 (I promise it has a point). Those of you that were around for that generation of console wars probably remember the common dunk on the console, "PS3 has no games," something more relevant to its earlier years than later, but also a phrase that can honestly be applied to any console at launch. Over the years, though, I think that the PS3 did in fact get games. And some really interesting ones, too.

Gravity Rush 2 just did it like nothing else.Watch on YouTube

You had your bigger hitters like the Uncharted series, Ratchet and Clank, it even housed the birthplace of Soulslikes with Demon's Souls.

Yet like the PS2 (we're really going back in time here now), there was still room for the weird, rough, janky, but interesting titles like the wonderful puzzler Rain, the broken yet enrapturing Drakengard 3, and indie classics like Journey, possibly one of the best looking games of the generation. It was a console that had plenty of imperfect gems, at a time when making a game at a double-A scale felt like less of a risk.

Character from Gravity Rush 2 dives towards the screen, behind them is chaos - all suspended in the air.
Defying gravity. | Image credit: Sony

It's that double-A, sometimes maybe even just 'single-A', market that I sorely miss from the days of PS3, and it's those types of games that I felt like we started to lose more and more of during the PS4's lifecycle. I do need to be fair to the console, though, as it does have some of my favourite games of all time.

Arkane's immensely underrated Prey had emergent narrative gameplay out the wazoo, providing me with some of the best stories I've ever experienced in a game that weren't scripted at all. Then, of course, we have Bloodborne, my favourite of FromSoftware's works and potentially the peak of the PS4, a game that has such tremendous highs, and amazingly few lows. But there's one game in particular (that did even worse than Prey), that represents everything the PS4 could have been, but ultimately failed to be: Gravity Rush 2.

Gosh, what a game Gravity Rush 2 is. If there is a studio out there working on a Superman game that hasn't been announced yet, it needs to look at Japan Studio's defining masterpiece if it really wants to get the feeling of soaring through the air right. I do concede that "masterpiece" might be ever-so-slightly hyperbolic as a description. After all, it did have some frame rate issues, but none so bad as to completely ruin the experience. There just hasn't been a game that is so well realised as a concept, particularly something so video gamey; the only title I can think of in recent memory is this year's Hi-Fi Rush.

Gravity Rush 2 didn't help itself by being a sequel to a game that released on the failure that was the PS Vita (even if the first title did receive a PS4 port itself), but I just can't think of any double-A or higher title from that generation that truly screamed to me "this is video games, baby!"

Two characters from Gravity Rush 2 stand in conversation, faces turned away from the viewer.
Dripping with vibes. | Image credit: Sony

Instead, we had a push towards titles that seemed more likely to guarantee success. Games like Uncharted 4, the God of War reboot, and Horizon: Zero Dawn, all of which have their place but none of which exactly pushed the boat out when it came to interesting design. They're blockbusters, guaranteed to sell games, and likely to help sell consoles, and really cemented PlayStation as the home of IPs above all else.

This trend has continued through to the PS5; most recently Marvel's Spider-Man 2 surely helped move some PS5s, the Demon's Souls remake was a strong way to start out the generation, and Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart was good for the younger crowd. But we're just about three years into the PS5's life now, and all of that just feels all too safe for my liking. And it is the way that it is because of the PS4, for better or worse.

I really do mean it when I say none of these games that aren't Gravity Rush 2 are bad: Bloodborne is one of my favourite games of all time, and Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart is pure, unfiltered fun. I just want to feel like some amount of risk was taken.

Sure, the PS4's belters did shut up the "PS3 has no games" crowd once and for all, but it lost something in the process. I just hope that, as early as we are in the PS5's life, there's still time to change course. Considering how invested PlayStation is in live service games, though, I'm not so confident.

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