Sony’s Reveal of the PlayStation 4 – Brilliance, Or a Mistimed Shot At Next-Gen?

The gaming world eagerly sat in front of their respective digital screens, anxiously awaiting the inevitable revelation of the future PlayStation 4. Sony hadn’t clearly mentioned they would reveal their next console, but ‘the future of PlayStation’ was enough of a tag to suggest something or the other regarding the much-anticipated PS4 would be spoken of.

Like always, gamers around the globe were right; Sony revealed the PlayStation 4 in their PlayStation Meeting 2013, held in New York. True that many journalists wrote that the news would come earlier, but the reveal seemed to have arrived at just about the right time – a time where one can put forth a few delicate but ever-important questions regarding what the next-gen console brings to the table.

The PlayStation 4 has been in development since 2006, two years after the delayed release of the PS3. Sony has had no less than four years to put their thoughts and efforts into creating a highly dependable and futuristic console that surpasses the current paradigms of gaming. Taking into account all that has been revealed, and all the speculations the stirred in the air prior to the February 20 conference, here are a few important questions that I’ll look forward to answering:

  • The release of a new console from Sony was inevitable, but is it the right time?
  • If so, then what new, never-before-seen changes does it bring?
  • How does it differ from its predecessor?
  • What’s the major selling point of the console?
  • Will there be sufficient exclusive titles?
  • How does it behave as a social media device?

The first three questions are perhaps the most difficult to answer, simply because opinions vary from person to person. My admiration for the PlayStation series of consoles has been consistent from the very first day the grey, simplistic PS came to be, and each new release has brought in a considerable change in the way games play, look, and feel.

The PlayStation 3 isn’t a perfect machine, but it certainly is a highly dependable one. The console has been in the market since 2006, and apart from minor changes like size and HDD space, its consistency is unparalleled. In fact, the PS3’s performance has been so good that it demands very high expectations from its successor.

Currently, there is no game that cannot run on the PS3. Some would argue that many multiplatform games seem to be visually more appealing on the PC than on the PS3, but this will remain true even for the future consoles, as the PC technology accelerates faster than that of consoles.

So, in light of that, why do we need the PlayStation 4? What major changes does it bring? We can talk all day about the social and interactive new features, but the core aspect of the machine, i.e. to play games in the best possible way, is what many would look at.

A number of hardware changes in the PS4 indicate that it will be fairly stronger than the PS3. Sony’s opted for the classic X86-64 chipset, developed by AMD, with an integrated custom Radeon HD GPU. The CPU is powered by 8 AMD x86 Jaguar cores, as well as multi-channeled 8GB of GDDR5 memory. Any PC owner would immediately notice the similarities with a computer, and that’s exactly why Sony is calling it a ‘Super-charged PC’.

This architecture has a numerous amount of benefits, particularly for the developers; the x86 technology has been around for a long time now, and devs already have ample practice with it. A competitor of this type of architecture is ARM, developed by the British company ARM Holdings.

The highly versatile ARM architecture is currently being used in all modern mobile devices, and is a forerunner in competing with the x86 technology. There are speculations that computers in the coming years may opt for the architecture over the x86 chipset. Though the idea is still slightly premature, its possibility is high, which may suggest that Sony’s preference of the x86 architecture may become an outdated choice soon.

However, as a gamer, my concern is not with the technology or fearing for the console’s future, but only of how ‘seamless’ and unequaled the gaming experience is. The new look and interactive features of the PS4 may be attractive, but I want to know how vastly the games I play on it will differ from the current-generation experience.

We saw the resplendent visuals of Killzone 4 Shadow Fall in the presentation, which clearly suggested that the PS4 was more powerful than its predecessor to be able to deal with so much graphic memory. However, the engine and experience seemed to be on-par with what is seen in today’s games like Crysis 3 (which, in my opinion, represents the ceremonial transition to next-generation graphics).

As a hardcore visual analyst, I could clearly make out the usage of currently available technology in Killzone 4 when it came to graphics. Of course, one can claim that the true potential of the console will be revealed as devs push the limits further, but that supposition of the future, in my opinion, was the weakest point of Sony’s conference. Sony didn’t point out the clear-cut difference between the PS3 and its successor.

Yes, it does boast superior hardware specs, but is graphic performance the only reason that we should transition into the 8th generation of consoles?

We also know of minor other additions, such as the capability of the machine to carry out updates in the background, or have the ability to remain in suspended animation. But again, one could always make a modified version of the PS3 that would do the same things, with a better firmware and a small secondary chip to take care of such hinderances.

It may seem to some as picking out non-existent flaws in Sony’s presentation, but an ideal skeptic would always welcome such scrutiny, as the most fundamental difference (how vastly the games differ) is what neutralists want to know.

Another major drawback is the lack of backward compatibility between the PS3 and PS4, thus completely closing the link, including the PSN purchases that have been made. This is primarily because of the vast architectural differences, and is almost inevitable as technology progresses.

So, it would be unfair on behalf of gamers to expect compatibility with such a monumental change the hardware. Sony promises to get rid of the problem with the Gaikai cloud gaming service, but that would seem to be a localized solution to an almost inevitable problem.

As for the final three questions, one can easily satisfy the asker with some collection of currently known information and accurate forecasting. The selling point of the console is that it is a next-generation gaming machine, and is simply an inviting door to all the developers (which they will gladly accept) to step into the future. This ensures that the PS4 WILL sell, and devs will perpetually ride on the success of the console.

The console also brings with it a whole new social interface, with a community-based system that will keep your friends and you connected. This may come in with a lack of privacy, as friends and contacts can spectate your game and disrupt the experience. But then again, Shuhei Yoshida promised high customizability, which should give you options to alter your social experience according to your likings.

Speaking of social experience, Sony was intent that one could have such opportunities on-the-go, and hence they integrated the ‘share’ button in the revealed DualShock 4 controllers. While I admire the ergonomic shape changes, the center touch pad and adjacent buttons seem oddly placed, making it appear as if they were forcefully fitted in that small space. Nevertheless, the retro feel, mixed with the adaptations of all the goods of the Xbox 360 controller make it both classy and alluring.

Another major questionable point is exclusivity. The amount of exclusive titles for any platform (except for Nintendo’s Wii series) seems to have thinned down, and it’s expected that the thinning process will be further catalyzed because of the familiar x86 architecture.

I’m quite certain we’ll see timed exclusive and the expected loyalties of the handful developers who develop series like Killzone and Infamous, but you could expect the less Sony-influenced devs to be intent on creating cross-platform games, especially since it just got considerably easier to port PS4 titles to PC (and vice versa).

So, it seems to simply boil down to a couple of things: We need to know the most distinct and major difference between the in-game experience of the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4. We also need to be ensured that the end of 2013 is the right time to release the console. The truly breathtaking games probably won’t be released for another couple of years, so is the revelation of the console slightly premature?

Having said that, the PS4 does seem to possess the capability to satisfy our desires of a fresh, impertinent gaming experience. Whether it is the right time is a question that may or may not be answered in the upcoming E3 event. Until then, we can only just theorize of the level of acclamation that the console will receive.