The launch games
There are going to be 25 PS4 games available on the UK launch date, ranging from first-party tech showcases such as Killzone and Knack, to big-hitting third-party franchises including Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty, Battlefield and FIFA, plus a bunch of indie titles.
It’s a strong line-up overall, but while there’s always a large degree of subjectivity to these things, we can’t help but feel that in terms of exclusives the Xbox One has a slight upper hand – Killzone: Shadow Fall is a cracker, but we’d swap Knack for Forza 4 or Dead Rising 3 in a heartbeat.
The lack of backwards compatibility is also a disappointment, albeit one that’s mitigated a smidge by the fact that some first-party games (Flower, Flow, Escape Plan, etc) bought on PS3 or Vita have enhanced PS4 versions that can be downloaded for free, and that streaming of last-gen games via Gaikai is promised in the future.
For now, though, let’s concentrate on some of the PS4’s big-hitting exclusives.
Killzone: Shadow Fall
Almost unbelievably, this is the sixth game in the Killzone series, which began way back in the days of the PS2. Occasionally accused of a spot of unoriginality and dreariness, the series is under pressure to deliver as the flagship title of the PS4 launch, and it largely does.
There’s a sense of Crysis to the fairly open first-person gameplay and drone helper, which can be commanded to help in ways that make it feel similar to using the famous Nanosuit, but if you’re going to draw your inspiration from anywhere it might as well be the benchmark FPS.
As a technical showcase Killzone is very compelling. Terrifically crisp 1080p visuals, hugely detailed character models, massive explosions and glorious lighting, all running at a silky-smooth 60fps, this is one game that really does deliver on the next-gen promise. There are occasional oddities that hark back to the bad old days – enemies that apparently won’t fire through barbed wire and water that kills upon contact – but all told this is every bit the showpiece it needed to be.
The surprise hit of the launch line-up, Resogun plays like a graphically glorious mashup of Defender and Super Stardust HD. Scrolling around a cylindrical world in a spaceship while shooting waves of evil aliens and rescuing trapped civilians might not sound like anyone’s idea of next-gen gaming, but this is brilliantly fast-paced, colourful and explosive, not to mention addictive. But you don’t have to take our word for it – you can download it for free if you’re a PS Plus subscriber.
Mark Cerny, the man who spearheaded development of the PS4 console, is also the man who brought the Crash Bandicoot, Spyro and Jak and Daxter games to the world, so perhaps it’s no surprise that his contribution to the launch line-up of games is another family-friendly platformer.
By “family-friendly” we don’t mean “easy”. There are sections of Knack that are nails-hard, but thanks to instant reloads and fairly friendly checkpointing it rarely frustrates.
The cartoony graphics look great in super-sharp 1080p, too, but we can’t help but wonder whether it’s going to find an audience. The story isn’t really knowing or funny enough for adults and we suspect many children will find it too difficult. Perhaps we’re underestimating the kids, but we wouldn’t put Knack at the top of our launch day wishlist..
The game that’s replaced the delayed Driveclub as the other free PS Plus game at launch, Contrast is an interesting third-person platformer that revolves around moving from the real, 3D world to the flat realm of shadows, which can be used as platforms to reach otherwise inaccessible places. The character design and noir setting sets it apart, while some of the 3D-to-2D puzzles are fiendishly tricky. It shouldn’t be the first game you play when you get your PS4 out of the box, but it’s worth a look. And it’s free.
Online: living the digital distribution dream
These days a console lives or dies on its online offering, and the PS4 is a very well connected console. The PS Store already has plenty of digital-only games to download, and every disc-based release is also available digitally. Unlike on PS3 you don’t pay a premium for the privilege, either. As discussed at the start, we’re currently looking at the US Store as the UK version isn’t yet live, but even third-party triple-A games such as Assassin’s Creed IV and Battlefield 4 cost $60, the same price as the disc is on Amazon.com.
The UK PS Store is now up, and it's not good news - games cost more here than they do in the States, and more than they do from online retailers such as Amazon.co.uk. Sony's argument is that it doesn't want to kill high street shops by undercutting them, but hasn't yet explained why Sony US has managed to overcome that particular predicament. We're still chasing for a response, but in the meantime the cheapest way to get games is to buy discs from online retailers. Expect to pay £47-50 per game.
We’re also sorry to say that connecting to Video Unlimited and Music Unlimited isn’t currently possible in the UK. The promise of being able to listen to tracks streamed from Music Unlimited while playing games is especially tantalising, but we’ll have to wait until it’s live in the UK before we can test it properly. Ditto Lovefilm and iPlayer, which are also due to be ready for the UK launch on the 29th November.
Thankfully Netflix does work right now, and the PS4 has a new version of the app that’s even quicker and easier to navigate. It’s compatible with the Super HD streams (really just 1080p), which look superb, and outputs audio in Dolby Digital Plus 5.1. Essentially it’s as good as Netflix gets, and that’s very good indeed.
Lovefilm and iPlayer are live and performing very well, as is the Video Unlimited store. In fact, Video Unlimited performs better than Xbox Video, with movies looking sharper and not suffering from the judder that seems to be a problem on the Xbox. The movie and TV show catalogues are impressively broad, and you can rent or buy on a pay-as-you-go basis. Tip: remember to enable 5.1 by opening the info panel if you want surround sound.
There’s also a web browser built-in, and this time it’s less afterthought and more fully featured application. Google results appear rather small and difficult to read from across the room, but actual web pages behave pretty much as they do on computer and most embedded video plays without issue.
And if the only thing you want to watch when you’re not gaming is other people gaming, the Ustream and Twitch channels in the TV & Video section are where you want to be. At the time of writing this area is pretty bare, but given how easy it is to stream your gaming activity (a quick press on the Share button and you can upload your last 15 minutes of gameplay) we expect this section to be rife with ridiculous videos mere moments after the official launch. And if you think some guy’s doing a terrible job with that Resogun boss you can helpfully tell him so in the comments that appear on the right-hand side.
Slick, powerful and packed with stand-out features, the PS4 delivers on the next-gen console promise