Update: We've updated the title for the sake of clarity.
The PlayStation 4 recently turned one year old, and we put our heads together to have a look back over the inaugural year of Sony's latest console, and see how the PS4 has fared.
Sony are clearly winning, at least in terms of numbers.
However, to my mind, the PS4 faces the same questions this Christmas as it did last year, perhaps most chiefly where are the headline games? But really, that's a question born out of the previous generation. Back when the PS3 was lining up against the Xbox One, Microsoft had the headstart, the ease of access, and a flourishing indie initiative. The PS3 did a barnstorming job of playing catch-up largely thanks to Sony unleashing their stable of first-party studios and exclusive partners.
But the PS4 isn't in that position, and Sony haven't had to do that. It's even more clear now, writing at the crest of 2014 before we plunge into the craziness of Black Friday and the Christmas retail period, that Sony are playing a long game. Moreover, when Sony said #ThisIsForThePlayers and began heralding the accessibility of their platform, what they really said was "it's not about us", and that's rung true throughout this first year. Third-parties have been given the red carpet treatment, exclusive content deals have been the story of this first year, gaming services have come to the fore more than ever before, and Sony's pricing has been spot on.
But on a personal level, it's hard not to be a little disappointed by the PS4's first year, not to mention the state of new-gen in general. I love the fact that LittleBigPlanet 3 is to be the first year swansong, but for a company bursting with creativity, it's a little galling that of the few games that might be considered truly progressive in terms of this new generation, none of them have come from Sony. The wait and see mantra that Sony fans are constantly repeating is all well and good, and I do believe that consoles are an investment in the sense that you slap down a lot of money and expect to see that returned, but there's also a tipping point for that. And I'm not sure that the PS4 has reached that in terms of exclusives.
Still, if this first year of the new console generation has taught us anything, it's that exclusives really don't matter as much as they used to, and if you just wanted a machine to play the likes of Shadow of Mordor, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Destiny, Far Cry 4, FIFA 15, Dragon Age: Inquisition on, Sony have been there for eighteen months explaining how things are better (rather than only) on PS4.
The PS4 proves that beefy specs, canny pricing and goodwill can sell a console. Just look at it sell. Riding a wave of emphatic press conferences and hashtags, Sony's impressive machine romped to sales domination this year, crushing everything in its slanty black wake. Sony clearly learned tough lessons from the PS3's launch and terrible controller, while Microsoft's botched reveal and refusal to put up any serious resistance until the summer certainly didn't hurt. Indeed, the PS4 only had to show up to beat Mattrick's hopeless original plan.
There's no doubt that the PS4 deserved its early success on the strength of Sony's great communication and undeniable value for money, but a year on, I can't help wonder where the games are.
Sony should be commended for supporting the PS3 so well, but it set them back in terms of must-have exclusives. There have been few of any real note this year, with inFamous and LittleBigPlanet 3 (please be excellent!) buoying up an otherwise unimpressive slate of gaps, flops and delays. No, remastering a year-old game doesn't count. This, in turn, put undue pressure on third-parties to justify the pricey purchase for many gamers, with the likes of Watch Dogs and Destiny suffering from additional hype and expectations they really didn't deserve. PlayStation Plus, great indie games (most available on PC, of course) and some superior multiplats helped, but after promising greatness, Sony haven't really managed to deliver it yet.
Next year is looking great, don't get me wrong. I'll almost certainly buy a PS4 if Bloodborne does the business -- and I have no reason to suspect that it won't -- while No Man's Sky, Uncharted 4 and a host of exciting new reveals look very tasty indeed. Many argue that consoles are an investment, but as someone who believes that a system is only as strong as the games you can play on it right now, I'm disappointed that the PS4 basically just showed up and told us to wait until 2015 for the big hitters.
Well, that's all it had to do, I suppose.
I've actually re-written this paragraph several times because I’m not completely sure how I feel about the Playstation 4 at this point. Having only bought it a few months ago, and with the catalyst to doing so being “I want to get involved with Destiny” (and we all know how that turned out) it has been a somewhat bitter-sweet experience overall. The user experience is a vast improvement over the PS3’s, with the home screen being far more organised (and the store not taking an age to load) and the controller being much more comfortable for longer play sessions. On the other hand, the amount of downtime for the PSN has increased significantly, and the fact patching a game requires the user to exit the game and restart it manually is something of a step backwards.
That said, the PS4 does have that feeling of a truly next-gen experience thanks to its streaming options. The Remote Play facility is absolutely top notch on my Vita, and I was blown away by how accurate and responsive it was when I went to visit a friend in a neighbouring town, hooked up to his Wi-Fi, and started to play Destiny with only a slight hint of latency. Then there’s the recent addition of Share Play, which while limited by publisher preference (god damn it, EA and Activision) is extremely impressive in execution. If this is a hint at the level of quality PS Now will provide I reckon Sony might have cracked the games streaming front… monetisation pending, of course.
As for the catalogue of games, it has ended up much like the PS3’s launch with a lacked any universal heavy hitters to begin with. To clarify, I’m not dismissing the well-received Infamous: Second Son and its expansion First Light (and I do plan to get them eventually, time and money and all that) but other than that the exclusives haven’t really caught my attention. Sure, I could have replayed The Last of Us again and probably enjoyed it just as much, but the truth is that, much like when I bought a launch-day PS3, it’s an investment towards the truly great gaming experiences to come in the future.
So do I have buyer’s remorse? Not really, as I know the investment will pay off eventually – just like I did with the PS3 – but the waiting never gets any easier. Let’s hope titles like Bloodborne and The Tomorrow Children are up to the task of keeping me entertained until the truly big hitters arrive to play.