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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Let's talk about the PlayStation 4's potential to be the finest console ever


The PlayStation 4 turns 18 months old this month. It's been a whirlwind 18 months, but I know I couldn't go without the console now. It has done everything that I expected a games console to do with plug-and-play ease of use, and then has an expanding range of media services to turn it into a general entertainment box. As a consequence there isn't a day that I'm not actually using it for one purpose or another.

And, while I generally dislike this "best console ever" argument, having come to the conclusion some time ago that it's so completely subjective that it's pointless, there are a couple of things that I've noticed, especially in the past six months, that have truly impressed me about the direction this console is taking. Given that I've never been an early adopter of Sony consoles - I picked up both the PS2 and PS3 a couple of years into their respective lives - I only know by reputation the dearth of content that both consoles had at launch. But the PlayStation 4 developed its catalogue rapidly. Very, very rapidly, in fact. The last six months, especially, has seen an deluge of quality content, and if the PlayStation 4 continues on that trajectory, then I do see a lot of people listing this as their favourite console of all time by the time it's ready to retire.

A couple of recent games have really highlighted this for me; Tropico 5 and Omega Quintet. Tropico 5 is a city building simulation that conventional wisdom would insist is just not possible to do well on console (at least, not since Nintendo's Sim City skin way back on the Super Nintendo). There's been attempts in the years since, but they've always struggled to handle the control inputs of a gamepad. But not with Tropico 5. It's the best city building simulation that we've seen on a console in a very, very long time.

Omega Quintet, meanwhile, demonstrates how developers with niche audiences can really make use of the hardware to craft something that doesn't look cheap, while never needing to target the mass audience. The PlayStation 4 has been absolutely brilliant in attracting independent and mid-tier developers already. Games like Hand of Fate, Tower of Guns, Child of Light, Zen Pinball 2, Don Bradman Cricket and Life is Strange, among many others, show an absolute breadth and depth of content that offers creativity, artistry and a wide range of different, unique experiences. I don't see how anyone with a PlayStation 4 could possibly say they are starved of content, and the year ahead is only going to bring more. Much, much more.

Part of the reason that the PlayStation 4 has had such a good start is because it has sold so many units already; over 22 million globally to date. That's attractive to game developers, especially when you consider that the basic architecture of the console makes it relatively easy to port games from both the Xbox One or PC to it. Having a potential audience of 22 million more for relatively minimal work is surely appealing.

But it's more than that. The PlayStation 2 never had a download portal. The PS3 had one, but it was tacked on after the console launched, and it was clearly a tacked on addition. With the PlayStation 4, the download software portal is integrated into the experience of using the console, and because of that developers are seeing it as that much more of an opportunity to gain exposure, liberated of the retail system.

Sony's also making great use of the PlayStation Plus subscription model to expose players to a wide range of different gaming experiences. I know this is anecdotal, but I know dozens of people with PlayStation 4s playing games they admit that they would never have touched, were it not for the fact they got them for 'free.' This month's lineup, which includes The Unfinished Swan and Hohokum, is the perfect example of this; people who would typically only play the blockbusters are getting a chance to experience a wider range of creative experiences, and hopefully that has the effect of broadening their palettes and encouraging more developers to experiment even further with their projects.

If there's one complaint about the console that I think remains relevant, it's that Sony itself has been slow to bring the kind of killer in-house exclusives to the console that saw the PlayStation 3 have such a spectacular twilight. We haven't seen games that have the impact of The Last Of Us yet (HD Remaster aside), and Sony's bet that The Order: 1886 would be at least something like that game didn't quite pan out. That being said, Bloodborne is certainly destined to be a cult hit, Sony has been active in supporting independent developers in bringing their games to the platform, and no doubt we'll hear more about the next Uncharted game in a month or so as E3 rolls around.

Even without Sony exclusives, it's not like the console is lacking for the blockbuster experience. Call of Duty and Battlefield are there on the console as with any other, as is Assassin's Creed, Dragon Age: Inquisition, and any other blockbuster that isn't made by Microsoft or Nintendo studios.

I think the PlayStation 4's main strength, 18 months in, is the raw variety that it offers. Unlike PC platforms such as Steam, there is an element of quality control, so games of genuine quality are not drowned out by masses of Early Access nonsense, let alone games that were Greenlit because trolls latched on to them, but at the same time Sony has clearly worked hard to open the platform to as many developers as possible. The result is a weekly stream of games, ranging from one man projects through to AAA blockbusters, and all presented in a way that the games that deserve to get noticed do so.

So. In my completely subjective view on the topic, the PlayStation 4 is on track to become my favourite console of all time. It's got serious competition, with the PlayStation 2, 3, Vita, SNES and Nintendo DS all very genuine contenders, but the depth and breadth of content is so good already, that it is truly exciting to thing what will come to the console over the next four or so years that it has to go yet.

- Matt S. 
Editor-in-Chief
Find me on Twitter: @digitallydownld
Let's talk about the PlayStation 4's potential to be the finest console ever
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