PS4: An afternoon with Sony's Xbox One challenger

<b>Jamie Merrill</b> tries out Sony's slickest gaming machine yet
  • @Jamie_Merrill
  • Price: £349
  • Includes: Blu-ray player, built-in wi-fi, DualShock 4 controller
  • Processor: 8 Core Single-Chip x86 AMD Jaguar
  • Memory: 8GB GDDR5
  • Hard drive: 500GB


What is it?

Microsoft’s Xbox One goes on sale tomorrow, but this is an early hands-on with Sony’s new PlayStation 4, which hits shelves next week and is expected to shift 49m units worldwide by the end of 2017.

So this isn't a proper review then?

Not really, as I only spent a short time with the machine at Sony’s central London headquarters. However, we know quite about the PS4 already as more than a million units have already been sold in America, where it went on sale last Friday to a host of 7 out of 10 reviews. And I wasn’t about to say no to an afternoon with the first new console from Sony in seven years.

Go on, what's it like?

On paper the PS4 is 50 per cent more powerful than the Xbox One and playing Killzone: Shadow Fall it certainly feels like the PS4 has jumped a generation ahead of the old PS3. The graphics are sublime, the detailing excellent, the gameplay a step beyond and frustrating build time non-existent.

Sony claims that Killzone is the first of true next generation first-person shooters (games where you kill lots of things) and it certainly seems years ahead of Call of Duty: Ghosts, the latest cross-platform mega title, which I also tested on PS4. It was, frankly, underwhelming on the next-generation console.

The DualShock 4 controller: heavier and 'grippier' with a touchpad and lightbar sensor.

What's the controller like?

Much better than the old PS4 controller, that’s for sure. I’m not sure about the built-in sound element but the new DualShock 4 controller is leaps and bounds ahead of the previous model, getting a touch pad and new soft-touch triggers for instant slaughter. It also just feels right in the hand, in a way many gamers complained the previous controller didn’t. It still – in my view – doesn’t rival the Xbox controller but it’s certainly closed the gap. In the end this is pretty subjective though.

What about the menu system?

There was only time for a short demo of the new menu and interface, which Sony has made much of. That said, it seems to have moved on from the much-maligned system in the PS3. It’s based on a series of hubs, all centred around games and your experience on them, prizes and social media interaction. That said it’s by no means perfect and we’d like to spend longer with it to really get a feel for how far forward Sony has brought it.

The new interface includes extended social functions with user profiles and feeds of recent activity.

Anything to rival Xbox Live?

I didn’t get a chance to go online but there’s a new interface called PlayStation Plus, where there are free games (which change every month and will include some big titles) and extra online content. Sony is charging for this service for the first time, just like Xbox has done for years and gamers will be watching it carefully to see if it can match the massively successful Xbox Live community. It will be cheaper than Xbox Live though, at only £39.99 for the year.

Free games offered on PSN include Metal Gear Rising (above).

Should I buy one?

On the face of it the PS4 is a cheaper package than the Xbox One, but that’s partly because the PlayStation Camera – Sony’s take on the Kinect motion-sensor – is a £54.99 extra. For hardcore gamers the PS4 will probably be the console of choice and you’ll already have gobbled up US reviews and placed an order. If you’re more of a casual gamer… wait a few weeks. There’s still a lot to learn about both machines.