If history is any guide, there’s a good chance the PlayStation 4 won’t be defined by any of the things Sony showed off at its new console’s public unveiling Wednesday.
Sure, a bunch of folks got up on stage and said stuff designed to get us hyped about plunking down somewhere in the neighborhood of $400 on a new video game machine. They showed off some sweet-looking trailers, some of which featured actual gameplay. But anyone who’s bought new gaming hardware at launch can tell you that the best reason to line up at midnight on release day is just so that you can feel like an early adopter. It’s not usually so that you can pick up some great games you’ll be talking about for years to come.
Even if “Infamous: Second Son” (above) looks pretty cool right now, there are plenty of historical reasons to be wary of spending hundreds of bucks on a new game system, plus $60 a pop for a couple of games.
While there are a few exceptions (“Super Mario Bros.,” “Halo: Combat Evolved” and “Wii Sports,” to name three), video games that launch alongside a new system usually aren’t very good. Do you fondly remember “ExciteTruck,” “Kameo: Elements of Power” or “Genji: Days of the Blade?” Yeah, me neither. Furthermore, a bunch of the games Sony trotted out on Wednesday night will likely be delayed and fuzzily be described as releasing in the “launch window.” As a guy who preordered an Xbox 360 because “The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion” was slated as a launch title, I speak from experience. (The Xbox 360 launched in November of 2006, while “Oblivion” came out four months later.)
If anything, hearing that Ubisoft’s “Watch Dogs,” a promising-looking title that had a bunch of folks drooling at E3 last summer, is going to launch alongside the PS4 made me slightly less excited for “Watch Dogs,” not more excited for Sony’s console. Launch titles, by their very nature, are developed in a relatively short amount of time, by developers who are working with unfamiliar hardware and who have to have the game ready to hit a specific release date not very far into the future. It’s not a recipe for success.
Anyway, now that I’ve rained all over Sony’s parade, it’s time to talk about the stuff that Sony has done right, and things it’ll likely do right with the PS4.
Sony has, in many ways, surpassed what Microsoft’s Xbox Live Gold offers with its PlayStation Plus subscription program. PS3 owners who pay a yearly membership fee gain access to some fantastic sales that are generally better than the comparable offerings on the 360. What’s more, the Instant Game Collection service that lets gamers download and play a number of titles for free so long as they keep their membership current ranks as one of downloadable gaming’s greatest triumphs. I still haven’t bit on PlayStation Plus, mostly because the majority of my friends play on the 360 and I love that console’s cross-game chatting.
Everything Sony showed off Wednesday, though, pointed to a more “social” experience on the PS4 than the somewhat isolationist one we have on the PS3. With the option to spectate on friend’s sessions, record and share gameplay video clips and just generally be involved with your friends the whole time you’re online, it’s clear Sony gets what a disadvantage they’ve had by not having an equivalent of Microsoft’s party chat on the PS3. Expect Microsoft, in turn, to have to offer more online services to compete with Sony whenever it announces its console. This is an example of the video game console wars working in our favor. Now that Sony’s announced all these cool features, you can bet Microsoft executives are looking at ways they can beef up their offerings. (Although Microsoft hasn’t officially announced its successor to the Xbox 360, I expect it to launch virtually alongside the PS4 sometime this fall.)
The DualShock-style controller that Sony showed off with the system will no doubt please longtime PlayStation gamers, but disappoint those of us who think even Sony’s current controllers feel a bit dated. Still, it’s hard to judge a piece of plastic until you’ve held it in your hands and gamed with it for a couple of hours. I’ll be interested to see if the new trigger-style L2 and R2 buttons are as ergonomic as the Xbox 360’s. And I’m definitely looking forward to trying the touchpad.
While Sony hasn’t announced much in the way of hardware specifications, it sounds like the system will launch with eight megabytes of RAM and a robust hard drive. The RAM is roughly equivalent to what I have in my halfway decent gaming PC, and the promises of a large hard drive show that Sony is serious about selling us downloadable games. (Remember, the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 launched with 20 GB and 60 GB hard drives, an amount of space that seems laughable in 2013.) With a game system likely soon to be announced by Microsoft, you can expect the two console manufacturers to play chicken on hardware specifications and price for as long as possible.
Until at least E3, probably, we’ll be stuck watching videos like the one below, and drooling.
Just don’t get too carried away.