PS4 First Impressions – The Midnight Launch Scenario Edition

The next-gen era has officially started thanks to the midnight release of Sony’s PS4 console on November 15th. Hundreds of thousands of gamers flocked to their favorite retailers last night to pick up their new toy right at 12:01 am, and I was one of them. Thanks to Gamestop’s awesome new system for picking up pre-ordered items during a midnight release, I had my PS4 in hand by 12:15 am, and back home and unboxed by 12:30 am. I’m a bit anal about my entertainment center setup, so I already had a spot reserved for the PS4, complete with an ethernet cable and hdmi cable waiting to be plugged into their new home.

I had also pre-download the PS4 1.5 firmware to a USB stick so I could update the console right out of the box without the fear of a network outage due to all of the new consoles coming online at once. The update installed without a hitch, and I thought I was well on my way to beginning my foray into next-gen gaming, but after a reboot I quickly found out that my late night/early morning wouldn’t be full of non-stop next-gen gameplay.

Houston, we have a problem

Just like other recent massively popular video game product launches (think Sim City, GTA V Multi, Diablo 3) the PS4 suffered from network issues thanks to all of the early adopters flooding Sony’s PSN with login attempts and other networked based functions. For close to two hours it was nearly impossible to sign into the PSN using your official ID and password, which definitely hampered my excitement. Many of the features on the PS4 require a network sign-in such as the new sharing mechanics, which obviously couldn’t be used thanks to the outage. Luckily Killzone: Shadow Fall didn’t require a day 1 patch, so I was able to at least get some next-gen gaming in, but I was hardly able to test the network features in full, which was disappointing to say the least.

Many PS4 gamers who plugged the console in after midnight encountered network errors.

Many PS4 gamers who plugged the console in after midnight encountered network errors.

All I could think about was Microsoft’s cloud promises, which based on its statements these past few months, should prevent this type of outage from ever happening on the Xbox One platform. I’m not here to bash Sony for the slight misstep though, it just would have been a much better introduction to the PS4 if it could’ve connected to the PSN without issue.

Being slightly OCD when it comes to electronics, especially shiny new ones, I ended up spending a majority of my PS4 midnight launch experience researching the network error messages and confirming with other gamers if the outage was widespread. I would have loved to have been able to plop down in my leather gaming recliner and just started experiencing the new world of next-gen console action from the get go, but alas, so did hundreds of thousands of other gamers, which ultimately led to the main network issue.

With that being said, once the network kinks worked themselves out, I truly got to see the PS4 magic in action. It is without a doubt an amazing piece of hardware that is bundled with the most functional software that a Sony platform has showcased. I was able to get some gaming in, and wow, the visuals are absolutely stunning, and they definitely exude a next-gen quality. Once I was done ogling at Killzone: Shadow Fall’s gorgeous graphics I spent some time tinkering with the new UI and social features. The care Sony put into these pieces of software is clear from the start, and well worth discussing in detail, which you can read below.

UI

The PS3 UI has always been clunky and a tad messy, but that’s not the case with the overhauled PS4 version. The next-gen console offers a similar layout to what is found on the PS Vita. There’s still a cross-bar per se, but it’s no longer the main means of getting around the various features of the console. A new set of large tiles make up the beefiest portion of the PS4′s UI, which consist of loaded games, PS Store offerings, the new video sharing features, and the standard 3rd-party apps such as Netflix. Overall the UI is very minimalistic depending on what you have loaded and running on your PS4, so it does offer an almost zen-like experience compared to the muddled PS3 interface.

The PS4 UI is much cleaner and easier to navigate, plus it's fast!

The PS4 UI is much cleaner and easier to navigate, plus it’s fast!

What most impressed me about the new UI is its blazing speed. Nearly every operation is snappy, and long loading times when pressing the PS home button are a thing of the past. Installing a game takes no more than a few minutes, and switching between running applications takes no more than a few milliseconds. A game can be running in the background just like they do on a smartphone, making it very simple to leave the game to check on something else, or to just stop playing and move on to another piece of entertainment without having to shut the game down completely.

If you leave your PS4 in stand-by mode when you walk away from it, the new UI and hardware can instantly boot you back to your running game, or other open apps, without the need for a long boot up process. ADD gamers will no longer have to distract themselves while they wait for their console to load, which is ideal for someone like myself who loves to maximize my gaming time.

Social Features

Love it or hate it, but the socialization of gaming is here to stay, but at least it’s being implemented in a useful way on the PS4. The handy share button on the Dualshock 4 offers all sorts of options to allow you to showcase your PS4 gaming experiences to the world. While in a game, the button will offer options to share screenshots or gameplay clips, and you can also choose to stream your session to Twitch or UStream. I tested the clip sharing, and it worked flawlessly, allowing me to grab a quick 7-seconds of Killzone: Shadow Fall footage to share on Facebook.

Sharing gameplay footage is as easy as pushing the "Share" button

Sharing gameplay footage is as easy as pushing the “Share” button

Unfortunately, at this time, Sony is only allowing clips and screens to be shared on Facebook, and streams can’t be archived. Hopefully Sony will open up a few more outlets to share to like Twitter, G+, and YouTube, because Fb isn’t the most ideal place to be blasting video game shares to, and all the content gets locked up in its pages. It will also be nice to archive Twitch streams so they can be uploaded to YouTube for sharing, but for now Sony is remaining silent on the idea of unlocking the recorded streams. Regardless of the few social network limitations, the ability to share your gameplay moments is still light years beyond what was previously available, and it will surely evolve over time.

Link to a gameplay capture example posted to Facebook. Sorry, the embedded versions wouldn’t play.

Final Impressions

Outside of the PSN outage during the midnight launch window, my early experience with the PS4 has been positive, but not nearly enough to formulate a final opinion. I love the look of the console and its quiet hum, and the new UI makes navigating it a breeze. The fact that nearly every operation is lag free is a relief, so long waits to look at your trophies, or do other non-gaming functions while in a game should be a thing of the past. The Dualshock 4 is a fantastic controller that doesn’t feel cheap and fits well in your hands. The built-in social functions will surely spawn a new generation of streamers and people seeking Internet fame, but they’ll also allow you to share your passion with others like never before.

Quite frankly, new consoles are usually about their visual prowess, so all of these other features are ancillary to that, but I can say without hesitation that the PS4 can churn out some magic when it comes to video game visuals. My brief time with Killzone: Shadow Fall was proof enough of this fact as it showcased realistic lighting and deep background textures that just aren’t possible on the current generation machines. The wait is over, the next-gen is here, and so far the PS4 is making a great case to take the plunge.

Stay tuned for more coverage as we slowly get around to losing ourselves in the PS4 and it’s new features and games. If you had similar experiences during your midnight launch please feel free to leave a comment below.

 

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