PlayStation 4 debuts to mixed reactions

Glenn Harris | Video Games Editor

One month of hype surrounded Sony’s Feb. 20 press conference heralding the official announcement of the PlayStation 4 or PS4. The two-hour presentation featured a brief rundown of the system properties, a glimpse of the new controller and several game demonstrations and announcements. While Sony decided not to show the console itself, the PS4 has the capabilities to make it a strong contender in the eighth generation of console gaming.

The PS4’s specifications are impressive. The x86 central processing unit will contain an impressive eight Jaguar cores from AMD. The graphics processing unit will use AMD Radeon technology and will be able to run at 1.84 teraflops. Perhaps most striking is the RAM: 8 GB of GDDR5 will allow the system to achieve the graphics and fluidity typically reserved for $2000-plus high-end gaming PCs. Mark Cerny, the PS4’s lead system architect, claims that these will allow the PS4 to have “176 gigabytes per second of bandwidth,” a number large enough that gamers will have no issue running games, no matter how intense. Blu-ray and DVD are both supported, as are HDMI, analog AV and digital outputs. The DualShock 4 is instantly recognizable to gamers, though it now includes a touch pad, share button and light bar (for player identification). A stereo camera will track the controller’s position in space, enabling movement controls.

In keeping with the previous generation’s theme to unify the devices in our living rooms, the PS4 will continue to be integrated with other services, such as Hulu and Netflix. However, the new console will also use Gaikai, a cloud-based gaming service, to enhance players’ experiences. David Perry, founder of Gaikai, claims that the system will enable the user to try games instantly before purchasing. He aims to create the “first social gaming network with a purpose,” though the details for this lofty statement were lacking. Taking a cue from Nintendo’s Virtual Console, Perry also hopes to put previous PlayStation games on the cloud service.

The first demo of the day, a video of Unreal Engine 4, was not particularly interesting. The landscapes and characters appeared nice but were not substantially changed from what has already been shown. This was followed by a shorter and far less flashy physics demonstration using Havok. A million blocks were dropped from the sky over a small town. On a seventh generation console, this would have caused severe lagging, but none occurred. “Knack,” the conference’s first game demo, appeared novel but showed no technology that was not already offered by the PlayStation 3, other than the ability to flash the screen to the PS Vita. “Killzone: Shadow Fall” looked marvelous as the player takes a helicopter over a beautiful city and then descends into a sprawling rooftop gunfight. The rich colors and well-defined textures show that the PS4 is capable of far more than its predecessor. “Drive Club” followed, a game whose producers had conceived of it nine years age but lacked the technology to create a team-based, collaborative racing game. Among the cars shown are the Koenigsegg Agera R and Aston Martin Vanquish 2014, with some quick shots of a BMW and Lamborghini. Other demos followed, such as a video on the movement controls and one on a sculpting program. Veterans will be pleased to note that some familiar names will be producing new games. Capcom is developing a new engine called Panta Rhei, and plans to release “Deep Down,” a game that appears to involve dungeon crawling and fighting dragons. Square Enix has confirmed a “Final Fantasy” title. At the end of the conference, it was announced that Blizzard will be bringing “Diablo III” to the PS4.

For as much as was revealed during the conference, gamers will still have questions, the largest of which are “what does the console look like?” and “how much does it cost?” Other details are missing, such as how the touchpad will be used or the extent of the social networking capabilities. Because of this, reaction to the press conference was fairly negative.

Despite the lack of details, it is clear that the PS4 will have the technical capabilities and integrative elements necessary to make it competitive in the eighth generation. The PS4 will be popular among console veterans, though it is unlikely (as of now) to compete with Nintendo in the casual market. The ultimate test will come in the fourth quarter of 2013, at which time the PS4 is expected to be released.

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