So, I was lucky enough to be able to get a PlayStation 4 as a post-Christmas treat for myself.
It’s going to be a few more weeks at least before I’m fully familiar with my new machine but for now I want to share with you some of my first impressions of Sony’s new games console.
1. People have salivated over the PS4’s design and I must admit I can see its two-tone black plastic look does have a certain aesthetic appeal, but I think it looks, well, weird too. Looking a bit like the lovechild of a computer base and set-top TV box, the console looks a little awkward to me. It’s obviously there to accommodate the disc slot and other sockets, but the deep indent around the perimeter of the machine makes it looks a bit like one unit’s been glued to the top of another. I’m not a big fan of the sharp pointy corners or the slanted front and back either, although the look doesn’t matter too much to me as my PS4 sits inconspicuously in a dark space under my TV – and, most importantly, all the bits inside the console work like a dream.
2. The power and eject buttons are well hidden and almost invisible on the front of the PS4. Each time I use of them of I have to look carefully to find it. The buttons are close together and it seems to only take a light brush with the finger to press them - I’ve had a couple of instances when I’ve accidentally turned the machine off while trying to get a disc out.
3. The PS4 moves along noticeably more speedily and smoothly than the PS3. It begins when switching it on, extends to getting into games (you can begin playing while a game is still installing) and continues into the games themselves where everything including menu navigaion, load times and actual gameplay seems zippier and slicker than before. It's also been very easy to get around the new-look homescreen and find everything I've needed. The user interface is much livelier than the PS3's was, with more information about games and notifications.
4. The PS4 is a lot quieter than its predecessor was, at least so far. The new console's gentle PC-like hum is in sharp contrast to the louder growl which my PS3 had developed.
5. The new DualShock 4 controller feels more comfortable in my hands. It feels chunkier and sturdier, like the old DualShock 3 controller has been in the gym to tone up a bit and undergone some surgery to improve its shape. The thumbsticks are tighter with more resistance, and they're also less slippy. The new concave trigger buttons feel more like, well, triggers. Those familiar friends the D-pad and face buttons have been improved slightly but not massively. There is a built-in speaker and headset jack on the controller, with a light bar and touch pad also being added. None of the games I've played so far have really utilised these last two new features, or motion controls, so it will be interesting to see how they're used by developers going forward. Hopefully their integration into games won't be reduced to gimmicky afterthoughts like the PS Move features all too often were on PS3. I've only got one DualShocxk 4 controller so far as the £49 asking price for an additional one is steep to put it politely.
6. Another new feature of the controller is a share button which allows players to upload such things as videos and screenshots for other people to see. Beforehand I didn't think I'd use it, and now after getting my PS4 I know I won't be using it. Sure, it seems to be proving very popular so far but to me it's just a pointless feature. I can't think of anything I'm going to do that I'll be desperate to share with others, while I've tried watching other people's contributions and they've been tedious to say the least.
7. I've not done any online gaming since getting my PS4. It's not for the want of trying but because a £5-a-month PlayStation Plus subscription is required. I think this is a rip-off. When I've paid hundreds of pounds for a console followed by £50 a pop for several games I feel I've paid enough to be able to enjoy the full PS4 experience. I don't think I should be forced to pay more to access certain features, such as multiplayer.
8. Although none of the early titles have really pushed the boundaries, it's clear already that games look prettier on PS4 compared to PS3. Shooters Battlefield 4 and Killzone showcase some dazzling visuals while attention to detail in sports sims such as NBA 2k14 is markedly improved. Better animations, sharper graphics, enhanced physics and extra flourishes around the broadcast presentation are just some of the ways in which the PS4 version of Fifa 14 is a class above its PS3 brother.
9. They may look lovely, but the number and variety of games available for PS4 so far is disappointing. There are three shooters (the aforementioned two along with the mediocre Call of Duty: Ghosts), a clutch of sports games (including two basketball games due to EA's inexplicable decision to pitch its relaunched NBA Live series against 2K Sports' vastly superior offering), a few beautified versions of games that were already available such as Assassin's Creed IV and Need For Speed: Rivals, some oddities like the less-than-amazing platformer Knack and ... not much else really. Some of the much-talked-about exclusives such as Driveclub and Infamous: Second Son aren't arriving until later this year, and they can't come soon enough. I'm yearning for more games, partly because I think the PS4 roster badly needs some bolstering but mainly because I can't wait to see the potential of Sony's new hardware being fulfilled.
10. I knew it was the case, but the final realisation that my big pile of PS3 games were not going to work on my new PS4 was still a sad moment. There are good and clear technical reasons why the two systems are not compatible with each other but it's still a shame that many top games such as Grand Theft Auto V will have to sit unused or be sold. The PlayStation Now backwards compatibility streaming/emulation service will be along in the not-too-distant future but I fear this will either try to make me repay for games I already own (or have owned) or will come with a prohibitive subscription charge.
So, there are a few aspects of the PS4 which I’m not thrilled about so far, and a few areas where I think Sony has got off to a slow or unsuccessful start with its new hardware. But overall I've still been really impressed with much of what I've seen. The PS4 is clearly a massively powerful games machine, which offers huge promise for the future. With a lot of improvements made, it's a giant step forward from the PS3. The most exciting thing is it's just going to keep getting better from this point.
If you've been lucky enough to also get a PS4 tell me what you think of yours in the comments below. Or if you're an Xbox One player, tell me why that console is your preferred choice.
Meanwhile, stay tuned for a round-up of the games I've played so far which I'll be doing shortly. And also stay with us for the year as we'll be reviewing the big PS4 games as they come along.