Sony, bless its heart, accepted the challenge of kicking off the next round of new consoles when it announced its surprising "PlayStation Meeting" press conference at the beginning of February.
A bit of a double-edged sword, the decision allowed Sony to get some leverage over Microsoft by announcing the latest PlayStation ahead of the new Xbox, but put a tremendous amount of weight on its shoulders at the same time. The entire industry, from developers and publishers on down to journalists, critics and fans, was watching on the night of the 20th, nursing the kind of expectations for a new system that can only ever end in some level of disappointment. Now that the whole thing has wrapped up, though, it seems like it might be worthwhile to try to take a more objective look at how the announcement went. To try to examine what there is to be excited — and what there is to be wary — about.
Wishful thinking or not, repeatedly stating that the PlayStation 4 has been created with "players and developers" in mind made for probably the best news of the night. The PS3 is considered to be notoriously difficult to develop on and its user interface is lacking in many critical areas. Sony's insistence on making its new system as friendly as possible for both those who make the games and those who play them can only help to diversify the system's catalogue over time. If this is the case it could also helps to attract smaller developers and bring some of the PC's fantastic indie scene over to consoles.
The DualShock 4's tighter-looking analogue sticks, and the move from big, wonky L2/R2 triggers to a more rigid button-like design seems nice. Couple these upgrades with a headphone jack and the suspend button (that allows the PS4 to temporarily hibernate in lieu of a full-on power down) and the new controller could make for a nice improvement.
The big push toward built-in, Gaikai-enabled video streaming also seems like a smart idea. Sharing and uploading clips from multiplayer games is only getting more popular with time. Integrating ways to accommodate for this trend on a system level may not make for the flashiest hardware hook, but it's a great way to share game experiences for those without capture kits or Twitch accounts. Using this feature for Vita-enabled remote play is a great idea, too. Tethering the faltering portable to a new console (that is sure to attract a healthy user base on novelty alone) could help give the Vita a much-needed boost. It would be nice to see such a neat little system finally giving developers a reason to make games for it.
Some of the games also look extremely promising as well. Watch Dogs continues to looks like a fantastic reimagining of the Assassin's Creed series, Capcom's Deep Down prototype — whether the final game resembles the gorgeous demo shown at the event or not — provides a glimpse into the graphical horsepower of the new console and if Bungie can pull off their plans for it, Destiny could be a whole lot of fun.
The most troubling aspect of the PlayStation 4 reveal is Sony's new concentration on bridging the gap between videogames and social media. The idea of sharing my Facebook profile with my PlayStation Network account isn't something that seems particularly appealing. I don't want to bombard my friends with status updates concerning Trophy unlocks and the games I've bought. When this is brought together with plans for adaptable operating system capable of "learning" personal gameplay preferences and tailoring automatic recommendations to suit a user's taste through predictive algorithms, Sony has crafted something that seems a bit scary. If the PS4 buries an ability to sell user information within its terms of service agreements it could also lead the kind of privacy-infringing data mining that's becoming all too common.
Saying that "someday" it may be possible to stream a catalogue of PSOne, PS2 and PS3 games doesn't really make up for the lack of full backwards compatibility either. Wishful thinking regarding a streaming service is all well and good, but it's always sad to see a console manufacturer axe the ability for players to explore the PlayStation's wonderful library of older titles.
Considering how grim software launch lineups tend to be, this could be even more important. Some interesting games have been announced, but big marquee showings like Killzone: Shadow Fall and Driveclub, prettier graphics aside, seem like experiences that can already be had on existing consoles. inFamous: Second Son's apparently prerendered trailer and Square Enix' unveiling of a rehashed engine demo/announcement of a Final Fantasy announcement were similarly uninspiring. Enough with the sequels! Let's see some fresh new games alongside our fresh new consoles!
Boil down all the negative and positive system features just announced and the PlayStation 4 seems like it could end up being a great console. There are still a ton of unknowns (the pricing, the online play ecosystem, etc.) that have to be cleared up before it's possible to really know for sure how appealing the new system will be, but, for now, I'm hesitantly optimistic.