Looking back, I’m amazed at how quickly this generation is passing us by, we’re already over 6 years into the 8th generation (7 if you count the 3DS!). I picked up a Playstation 4 back in 2015, and my initial impressions were solid, but at that point it was too early to tell how things were going to go. All I could really base my opinions on were the existing catalog of games, and the then current hardware and operating system, all of which have changed pretty significantly in the 3 years since that blog.
Most people would agree that things have been going well for the PS4, it’s currently the market leader with over 70 million units sold, and its direct competitor the Xbox One selling approximately half of that. The only system that even comes close to the PS4’s sales figures this gen is the 3DS, but bear in mind that it came out nearly 2 years earlier, is now in it’s twilight, and can be had for a fraction of the PS4’s price tag. My point is, the PS4 is this generation’s go-to console.
And yet, despite this, I can’t help but feel left out in the cold by the PS4. Now, I’ve gone on record before, talking about how I’ve generally preferred the less successful consoles, I find myself attracted to underappreciated systems, and certainly that is part of it, but I feel like there’s multiple underlying issues that keep the PS4 from getting much playtime in my house.
Now if you thought this was going to be me hating on the PS4 in some kind of fanboy rant, I’m sorry to disappoint. I actually have suggestions for how Sony can address my indifference for this much-loved console. I want to break it down into three sections: the ecosystem, the exclusives, the little things. So, let’s take a look.
You thought this was going to be a fanboy rant, but it was me Sonic
Before the last generation of hardware, I can’t say I fully understood what a console’s ecosystem was, and why it was so important. The PS3 in specific was supposed to be this box that does everything, turned out it could, but no one wanted to pay $600 for it. Sure, Sony had to strip out features to get it down to a reasonable price point, but still the console had a lot going for it: blu ray player, free online, PS1 compatibility, and some pretty robust media playback capabilities.
The PS4 was decidedly not designed with this same philosophy in mind. I feel like they decided to get as much processing power and necessary features as they possibly could in a $400 box: nothing feels superfluous or experimental, and that’s part of the problem. Everything feels safe on the PS4, they didn’t want to take any chances. Now I can’t totally blame Sony for playing it safe after their financial issues, and seeing both the Vita and Wii U struggle, but still, I can’t help but feel put off by the lack of imagination. Maybe I’m weird like that, but I’d rather see a company put themselves out there, try to forge ahead, even of they fail. Perhaps that is why the Wii U is so much more endearing to me.
What I’m saying is the PS4 basically has no ecosystem, or at least not one that’s particularly compelling. The marrying of the Vita and PS4 didn’t turn many heads, at least not enough to save the dying platform. PSVR seems to be more successful, but the general consensus seems to be that it’s not worth investing in given the current catalog and inferior experience compared to the Vive. PS Now initially made some waves, but has largely died down, people just aren’t too keen on paying to access their old games again, who would have thought?
So, what can be done to fix this? The first thing is compatibility. Now we know that PS3 emulation is out of the question but imagine if PS Now allowed you stream your old PS3 games for free if you popped in the disc or owned a game digitally. That would be one way to get people to try the service.
I’m shocked Sony didn’t include PS1 and PS2 compatibility out of the gate with PS4, they could run on a toaster at this point. There’s already a PS2 emulator working on the PS4 as we speak. They could have brought over that massive catalog of downloadable classics on PS3 over to PS4. Imagine, access to the catalogs of 20+ years of Playstation games, can you imagine how compelling (and profitable) that would be? Still, a generic emulator for PS1 and PS2 would be a godsend.
Such a treasure trove of awesomeness, if only Sony would give us the keys...
Clearly, Sony has a successful formula, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some issues to be had here. My main problem with the exclusive catalog is that they’ve started homogenizing. I get that they now focus on story driven character games, but they’ve not really been pushing the envelope from a gameplay standpoint. Worse yet, for all the studios that have developing exclusives, 4+ years in the PS4 still doesn’t have an exclusive racing game the caliber of Forza or Forza Horizon, a shooter the caliber of Gears or Halo, a platformer the caliber of Mario, Donkey Kong or Kirby, or a puzzle game the level of Snipperclips or Captain Toad Treasure Tracker.
The other glaring flaw is that most of their games don’t really have much longevity. I’ll be the first to admit I enjoyed The Order: 1886, and God of War is always a great time, but after a single playthrough (roughly 6-8 hours) I’m done with it. Back in the Playstation 1 days, they had games that you could come back to over and over. Games like Twisted Metal, Jet Moto, Cool Boarders, Bloody Roar, Battle Arena Toshinden, and Ridge Racer. Now I’ll grant you that the PS4 is by no means devoid of these types of exclusives, Street Fighter V and Wipeout are clear exceptions, but it’s not enough. The average Playstation exclusive is relevant fo a month, maybe two. There’s a reason most are sold for $20 within a year, whereas Nintendo can still get full price for most of their games. I would give kudos to Sony for being pro consumer, but clearly, it’s because their games lack longevity.
I would also like Sony to bring back more playful, colorful games. The Ratchet and Clank reboot (remake?) was wonderful, but I miss games like Tomba, Ape Escape, Spyro, Parappa, and Klonoa. And, even though it was dark, MediEvil had a very “Tim Burton-like” charm and I’m interested to see how the reboot fares.
The Little Things
Perhaps the reason I ultimately decided Xbox was a better place to get my multiplatform games was because of all the little things. From a design standpoint, the PS4 is lacking, both in the hardware and operating system. I honestly don’t see why people prefer the bare bones (yet still poorly organized), and frankly, boring operating system that is Orbis. Not to say the Xbox has everything down pat, but it’s just night and day better. The “games and apps” section is a breath of fresh air compared to the jumbled mess that is the library section. There’s a bunch of apps that are forced on me that I can’t delete or hide, but still have to scroll past. I put everything in a folder to keep the all of the games, and apps in some kind of order, but I feel like I have to micromanage to keep it in place. Thankfully, I rarely purchase new content for the system, so that keeps it from being a pain, but compared to how seamlessly how the Xbox keeps everything organized, it’s a pain.
The media options on the PS3 were awesome. I bought one for my dad, and he doesn’t even game. The PS4 is a huge step back, the console can no longer use the internal hard drive to store and play media, the media player requires you to make specific folders, doesn’t read a lot of common formats, and has crashed on me multiple times. You can stream music over gameplay, but it’s only on supported apps.
You can't even play CD's? Really?
I think the biggest offender is the actual hardware. The build quality is simply not good enough, the optical drive whines and feels like it’s struggling when I put in a disc and there’s no longer a mechanism on the underside like PS3 to manually eject should it get stuck. They’ve also removed the digital audio out on the slim models. The controllers feel a bit on the cheap side with a underpowered battery that can’t be replaced without voiding your warranty, and the light at the top cannot be turned off. Don’t even get me started on the gaudy touchpad that is almost never used.
I will give credit where credit is due. I applaud the ability to replace the internal hard drive, I can overlook many flaws due to this feature, I also like that they have two front USB ports for charging and wired controllers. The disc installs are also mercifully fast compared the Xbox One.
While the Xbox One has quite a few issues I can rant on as well, I just feel like, in general, the user experience is much better. It’s not the controller, the better build quality, the backwards compatibility, the interface, constantly improving feature set, games with gold program, or better performance potential with the X, it’s not even the generally more pro-consumer attitude that I get from MS this gen (god, that still feels weird to type), it’s all of these things.
Am I trying to get you to run out and buy and Xbox One? Nope. Honestly, if you have a PS4, there’s little reason to buy one, especially if you have a gaming PC. The fact is, the Xbox One and PS4 are way too similar, it’s pretty hard to justify owning both. I do, and I’ve simply gravitated towards the console that gave me the better overall experience, and that’s all I’m trying to explain. The PS4 is by no means a bad console, Sony just needs to improve a lot of things under the hood, and maybe the hood itself.
I get why people have gravitated the other way. The Xbox One is having a pretty hard time, largely because they’ve concentrated so heavily on that overall experience to the point that they’ve neglected their first party software. Given the fact that 95% of the games I purchase are multiplatform, I can feel pretty comfortable in my decision.
So, what do you guys think? Am I crazy for picking the underdog? Do you have your own gripes with the PS4? Sound off in the comments below.