PlayStation 4: A Lot of Dazzle and Hype for a PC in Disguise

If you didn’t get chills when Sony opened the PlayStation 2013 event with the retro PS1 startup music, you must not have lived a PlayStation childhood like I did.

The PlayStation wasn’t my first console. (That would be the NES.) It also wasn’t my last console. (A few years ago I finally bought an Xbox 360.) Lately, I’ve even ventured into PC gaming. But PlayStation will forever hold a special place in my heart.

We never owned an Atari, a  Super Nintendo, a Nintendo 64, a GameCube, or a Dreamcast. All we had was our PlayStation.

When I say “we” I mean my brother and I. He’s 14 months younger. As kids, we were inseparable. I don’t even know how many hours we spent in front of the PlayStation, playing “Crash Bandicoot,” “Herc’s Adventures,” and “Casper.” Crash was our incontestable favorite. When my brother and I played pretend, we imagined that we were Crash and Coco Bandicoot, on a mission to save the world. We made a cardboard replica of Aku-Aku, or as we called him, “The Oobi-digah.” I know it’s still lying around here somewhere. We wouldn’t throw away a memory like that.

So was I excited to tune in for Wednesday’s unveiling of the PS4?

Hell yeah!

Was I still as excited by the end of the event?

Well…yes and no.


Pretty Graphics and Gamer-Focused Play

Sony did a great job of showcasing how the PS4 will launch eighth-gen console gaming. An upgraded social networking interface, a redesigned Dualshock controller with touchpad input, enhanced PC hardware, and a livestreaming “share” feature all sound amazing.

I’m not going to rehash the technical specs, because I already did that in my post over at The Sonic Saber. Suffice it to say, Sony got my attention and, more importantly, managed to hold onto it for two straight hours.

The lineup of new games included some impressive-looking titles, such as “Killzone: Shadow Fall,” “Watch Dogs,” and “Destiny.” Plus, top-notch developers like SquareEnix and Quantic Dream showed off some amazing demos of future gaming technology made possible by the PS4.

SquareEnix Demo

Screenshots from the stunning SquareEnix demo. (Kindly ignore that awkward buffering circle.)

Quantic Dream Demo 2

Quantic Dream’s demo showed off the power of polygons—30,000 of them.

All of this made it clear that Sony recognizes that the gaming of today isn’t just about sitting down on the couch and holding a controller. It’s an interactive, immersive, multi-layered experience shared with friends online and carried in our pockets. (The new PS4 features a “remote play” function that works in tandem with the PlayStation Vita handheld device.) It felt satisfying to see a major game company recognize how gaming has evolved and attempt to bridge the gap.

But impressed as I was with Sony’s presentation, a question kept nagging at the back of my mind: Behind all this empty rhetoric about “winning the war against reality,” what is the PS4?

It’s a PC in disguise.

And it’s not even a very good disguise.

I mean, Sony came right out and said that the PS4 is built on “supercharged PC architecture.” Almost all the dazzling new features of the PS4 already come standard in PC gaming.

A dynamic online game store that supports indie developers?

Steam.

A social community where you can see what your friends are playing and chat with them in-game?

Steam.

Cloud gaming?

Steam.

Mind-blowing graphics?

With all the mods and specialized settings available to PC gamers, console game graphics have never been able to compare. Even if that changes with the eighth-gen consoles, they’ll still be playing catch-up with PC graphics.

PS4 Social Network Interface

An image of the PS4’s redesigned social network interface, with Facebook integration. The “share” feature will allow friends to take over your controller and assist in-game.

Granted, certain features set the PlayStation apart, like the auto-share capability, remote play, and instant access to demos of any game in the PlayStation Store. Ultimately, though, those features are bells and whistles—they give us something to play with, but don’t do anything to improve the actual gameplay.

I am NOT trashing console gaming. I’m a loyal console player, and probably always will be. I like the feel of a controller in my hands. (And I can’t wait to get my hands on the Dualshock 4!) I just think we need to acknowledge that while the PS4 may be pioneering new ground for consoles, it’s hard to say where it’s pioneering new ground for gaming in general.

I want console gaming to stay relevant, but if we’re going to shell out $400 (or more) for the PS4, I think we need a better reason than childhood memories of “Crash Bandicoot.”

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Also worth noting: Not a single female executive or developer appeared on stage at the event, and not a single game announced features a female protagonist. I’m glad that Sony has enough integrity not to hunt down a woman in mid-level management somewhere just to be able to say they had a woman on stage, but it’s still a little disheartening to see an absence of women in prominent game development roles.

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What did you think of Sony’s PlayStation 4 announcement? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

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