Hands-on: Sony PS4 review, our first impressions from E3 2013

Sony has now fully revealed the PlayStation 4, and with it placed a strong emphasis on the gaming aspects of the next-gen console.

Over the course of E3, Pocket-lint has played a number of games, fumbled with the controller, and been caught on the Eye Camera to see how Sony's offering stacks up as a console you might want to buy, but also against the Nintendo Wii U and the Microsoft Xbox One.

The PS4 console

Considerably slimmer than the Xbox One, the PS4 has a mean industrial look about it. Like Microsoft's transition from curves to cutting lines, the PS4 follows suit. This isn't cute and cuddly, this is sharp lines and big vents - presumably to help displace some of the heat generated from the powerful processors and graphics cards inside.

READ: Xbox One: A first look at the new console, Kinect and controller

Designed to be stood either vertically or horizontally, it will easily fit into your home cinema rack or wherever you are planning on placing it near your TV. Design wise, it is much smaller than the Xbox One, noticeably so.

In terms of technical specs it's all here. Blu-ray player, Wi-fi connectivity, and powerful processors. Bolt on the Eye Camera and you'll get extra features although it doesn't go as far as Microsoft's Kinect sensor.

The PS4 DualShock 4 controller

A new console means the chance of a new controller. Sony has introduced a number of new features including a touch-sensitive panel, PlayStation Move integration and a share button that will help you share game clips to Ustream at the touch of a button.

The controller is now flatter in design and more curvaceous, and more akin to the XBox One controller. Sony has been clever enough to make sure the seams don't irritate and from playing a number of games at various stands at E3 we have no major complaints. It's well balanced and comfortable to hold. Our hands did get very sweaty, but we have a feeling this was more to do with the hot environment we were in - a convention centre in Los Angeles with numerous screens and computers kicking out heat - than because of a fault with the controller. Button positioning is spot on and the shoulder buttons and triggers are comfortable and responsive.

Move capabilities are included and they work as promised - something we found out playing Playroom, a demo by Sony that shows what is possible when it comes to gestures and using the Eye Camera. 

The demo in question sees you looking inside your DualShock controller on the screen (it's a computer animation) and the three dozen or so robots that you get to shake around. It's cute and fun with them rumbling the controller (physically) when you bash them around on the inside. 

The trackpad, it's rough rather than smooth and clickable too. 

The good news is, it is a better experience than the current PS3 DualShock. Sadly for PS3 owners hoping to benefit from the new design, you won't be able to: it isn't backwards compatible.

The PS4 Eye Camera

There's not much to say about the Eye Camera for the PS4 at this point, mainly because it's a standard webcam (which will cost £44.99) with little intelligence of its own.

The design is minimalist, the field of view okay, and the possibilities dependent on what game developers do with it. Sony's efforts so far include the Playroom, a cute little demo of what is possible that lets you interact with the camera and what's going on on the screen. The fact that is it an optional extra rather than included as standard, suggests it will be treated in the same way the current Eye Camera: forgotten except by all but a handful of games.

PS4 Games

We've played Killzone: Shadowfall, DriveClub, Knack, Need for Speed Rivals and a few others, as well as being treated to hands-off demos of Destiny, Call of Duty: Ghosts, FIFA 14 and more. The experience is good, but nothing groundbreakingly different from the PS3 we are already enjoying.

DriveClub PS4 was sadly disappointing, although to be fair it's only 35 per cent complete, and while Killzone's graphics are stunning, complete with waterfalls and huge skyscrapers, the core gameplay is the same as Killzone on the PS3.

Destiny however is likely to be Sony's Halo moment, and although it is coming with exclusive features for the PS4 it will also be available on the XBox One.

Aside from graphic enhancements none of the PS4 games we saw offers something vastly different from what we can already get on the PS3. Sony's cause isn't helped by just how good The Last of Us on the PS3 really is.

PS4 cloud gaming

We've not been able to test this as there were no demos being shown at E3 and the Gaikai-powered Cloud gaming service isn't coming until 2014 (US only at the moment).

Sony did tell us that some of the cloud features will be available to all at launch - like the ability to play games on the PS Vita, Sony's handheld console, but we weren't able to test any of the Gaikai functionality at E3. 

PS4 second screen experiences

Leveraging the company's Android devices and the PS Vita, a number of games developers were showing off second-screen experiences showing that the tablet will be key to gameplay in the future.

EA's Battlefield 4 is using the tablet to allow a "Commander" to organise all the action on the battlefield and send in Tomahawk air strikes or supplies, all from a tablet while sitting on the bus.

Likewise Ubisoft will also see gamers to getting involved in Watch Dogs and Tom Clancy's The Division. The two experiences we were demoed showed tablet users having a core involvement in the game. We've moved past mini-games and achievement stats apps thankfully.

PS4 entertainment

It's business as usual here. You'll still get a Netflix app, a Music Unlimited app, and the chance to download movies via the PlayStation Store in the exact same way you can on the PS3. You also get a Blu-ray player and if it is as good as the PS3's offering it's likely to retain the crown of being the best one available on the market.

We weren't able to hear how loud the PS4 fan is so can't judge whether or not it will be something that will cause issues in your living room.

First impressions

Of course there is still plenty that we haven't experienced yet. Sony didn't show us whether the menu interface has changed, how the share button on the controller really works, or what other treats it has in store.

In the battle against Microsoft's Xbox One the feeling on the show floor was that Sony has the upper hand, mainly thanks to the gaming press's hatred of the way that Microsoft is forcing gamers to connect their console to the internet every 24 hours, and that trading and sharing used games will be a lot harder than before on the new Microsoft console.

The PlayStation doesn't come with the same limitations. It is keeping everything simple, including region free support for games (we suspect movies too) and that will appeal to many.

Whether the issues over sharing games and connecting to the internet will still dog the Xbox One in two years' time is yet to be seen. Digital downloads are increasing day by day and we can't remember meeting someone who didn't have Wi-Fi access in their home. As for selling games, when was the last time you complained that you couldn't sell that iPhone or iPad app you've completed - but that's a discussion for another time.

Add all that to the cheaper price than the Xbox One and you can start to see why gamers are excited for the "Now".

From our time with the console, playing games (admittedly on dev kits rather than a retail version of the console), and talking to Sony it is clear the focus here is very much about delivering a state of the art games machine and trying to deliver as many games as possible to those who aren't fussed with anything but. Sony is promising 100 PS4 games with in the first year. If that becomes a reality that's a huge choice for gamers and one that will be welcomed by many. 

For us that makes the PS4 a console for now. It's an incremental upgrade on the PS3, a PS3S if you like, just like the iPhone 4S was to the iPhone 4. It's not as ambitious as the Xbox One.

Sony, seemingly, hasn't wanted to muddle the experience with web browsing, Skype calling, TV controlling, voice activating, Kinect sensing, and internet requiring elements in the same way Microsoft is being accused of.

A combination of an aggressive price, a good line of up launch titles and Sony's urge to claw back lost ground (the Xbox 360 has sold over 3 million more units globally over the history of the device) will mean this is going to be a big seller come Christmas.

Those who buy the PS4 won't be disappointed, but we can't help feeling that the Xbox One's more ambitious goals mean it will offer far more potential, especially to those who want more than just an amazing gaming machine, beyond the next 12 months.



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