As the new generation (and the new war) of consoles rumbles reluctantly into second gear, I have decided that, for once, I won’t be jumping on this particular bandwagon only as it hurtles into retirement. For once I will be at the cusp of the technological curve, and damn all those who say “wait”. Damn them and their stupid neckbeards. So I took the step to a brighter future and bought myself a Playstation 4, along with Killzone and Battlefield 4. Four weeks on, here are my thoughts.
The thing is oddly shaped. At some angles, it’s unassumingly boxy, but shift to the side a bit, and you can see it slants backwards. This has two outcomes – first, it looks interesting. Second, every socket on the damn thing is on a slanted edge, which makes plugging things in decidedly awkward, and I have almost broken the USB connection more than once trying to get the right angle of insertion. This, however, may simply be a result of my ham-like hands and fingers twisted by two decades of gaming.
Turn it on, and it’s quiet. Almost too quiet in fact. After getting so used to my old 360 sounding like a jet fighter with terminal asthma trying to sing a badly-written opera, it is both liberating and disquieting – is the thing actually on? DId I even hit the right button? Ah, yes, the comforting light-strip is on and glowing a nice blue colour. Then you hit the button on the controller and another light fires up, this time on the back of the controller. Sony like lights, and I would be lying if I said it didn’t add a very futuristic feel to the whole experience. Pointless, perhaps, but neat.
The controller itself is just fine. Big enough to avoid the hand-cramp that crippled my PS3 experience, and the buttons and sticks are well spaced. I’m still not sold on the symmetrical-sticks though – sorry, but they simply aren’t as comfortable nor as precise as they feel on the Xbox controller. But it is an improvement over the old pad, so it’s all good.
Starting the PS4 – I already miss the PS3’s orchestra-tuning-up opening, it always put me into a nice gaming frame of mind – and it boots quickly, although there was a ten-minute wait as it patched itself up the first time. The main screen is a bit uninspiring, but functional and clear. From kicking off a game to jumping into Netflix, most things are within a stick-swipe or two, which is a marked improvement (for me at least) over the PS3’s labyrinthine menus. My first game – Killzone – takes but a moment to install and patch – another surprise after the patch-madness of the PS3 – and I’m playing within a few minutes.
Oh dear god…it’s beautiful.
Oh dear god…Killzone is terrible.
I gave it a fair shot, but no, this is not how the future was supposed to be. There were a few nice touches – the little flying gizmo you could command to attack enemies or zip-line to out of reach places, for example. Or the scanner that marked enemies nearby, or alerted them if you overloaded it. And the visuals were dazzling, the opening sequence with a flyby over a gleaming city, all gleaming glass and gleaming… it was stunning. The visuals got even better as you progressed – a ruined, broken city on a ruined, broken planet was a highlight. But the game itself was so dull, so derivative, it was like someone rebuilt Pong in the Crysis engine. The guns were pathetic, and after the pleasingly open first area it degenerated into vague corridors and predictably placed enemies. A few “hold this position” missions later, fighting over-long waves of various enemies (some almost immune to standard weapons), I decided enough was enough. I the dipped my toes into the multiplayer, and its stripped-down Enemy Territory-like game-mode caught my interest for an evening, but the combat still felt hollow and numb (and there were very few people playing), so I gave up. Possibly one of the worst launch games for a console I have ever had the misfortune to buy.
Next, Battlefield 4, and I was worried me before I even started it. I had read about peoples problems from the previous months after its release and I was not optimistic. A largish patch was downloaded, I held my breath and hit the servers… and was pleasantly surprised almost immediately. You see, I could never play Battlefield 3 properly, mostly due to my weakling PC, partly due to the stupidity that is Battlelog – a web-browser launching platform that worked (for me at least) almost never. Jumping into a 64-player Conquest game on the PS4 took about 12 seconds. That includes loading time too.
The core of Battlefield will probably never change – capture points on a vast map until the enemy run out of tickets. BF4 sports far more game modes than I ever remember the others having, from vanilla Conquest to Bad Company’s Rush mode, even “Capture the Flag” has returned to the fray – although it required the Second Assault DLC to access, which is a shame. There was another mode that I couldn’t play, “Air Superiority”, which appears to be conquest played with everyone in jet-fighters. Sadly this mode was part of the China Rising DLC that I also don’t have. Sounds bloody fun though. It’s also a little more incentive to purchase the add-ons over EA’s usually stingy 4-maps-for-12-quid nonsense. You still only get four maps, but at least you get a new way to play the old ones.
Anyway, on to the game itself. The graphics are lush, guns feel at least as meaty as they did in BF3, and the maps are friggin’ huge. If you have never played on a full-sized 64-player map on a decent PC before, you are in for a treat, and possibly a shit-load of random deaths from the thirty-two guns pointed at your head. It’s frantic in the same way sprinting across a minefield while wearing magnetic boots would be. The Frostbite engine stuff seems to have been ramped up to 11 this time too, as things crumble under gunfire and sniper-rifle rounds punch holes in concrete barriers. I even witnessed a tank take down a building by driving through it.
Surviving this madness is a skill in itself, but thankfully you can still go prone, and there is a clever cover-system too, allowing you to hide behind walls and aim over the top without actually standing up. You can even lean around corners, either automatically (a bit tricky to use at times), or using the controller’s Six-Axis magic. None of the above helps me much, as most of the current crop of players seem to have been choppered in straight from Modern Warfare, and spend the majority of matches running around at full-pelt and completely forgetting to revive their team-mates.
Yup, here I go – my biggest issue with Battlefield 4 on the PS4? The players are utter idiots. Not all of them, but I swear on my life – I have played it now for over a fortnight, every other night, and I have been revived six times. SIX. I actually counted, and it was easy because… six. I revived more than six people the last time I went assault in one game. And it doesn’t stop there. Snipers are everywhere, literally. Helicopters are for getting a sniper to the highest rooftop and nothing else. It’s very common to find entire squads holed up in one room, miles away from a capture point, surrounded by claymores and shooting ineffectively at people as they run past. I know, this stuff happens on BF-PC too, but here it just feels totally out of control. I get the feeling it could be down the fact that there is no chat system in-game that I can find, other than the integrated VoIP – and in two weeks of play I have heard not a single person using it.
It plays like Battlefield, it looks gorgeous, and it genuinely feels like a step forward – bearing in mind the last Battlefield I played properly was 2142 – in terms of technology and sheer detail. Oh yeah, there is a single-player mode, but it felt more like a really long introduction to the controls and concepts (like C4-ing a tank, running away and pulling the trigger) to put you in good stead for the multiplayer.
Were it not for Battlefield 4, I think I may have been regretting my purchase of the PS4 at this point. Killzone was just silly, and although there are a few decent free-to-play titles kicking around in the store – Warframe and War Thunder being the only ones I actually tried – there is very little to pull the console away from its biggest rival, the Xbox One. And, if I am truly honest, I have been known to sit drooling over Forza 5 screenshots, wishing on every star I can see it was on my little black box. Fortunately, 64-player war running silky-smooth at 1080p resolutions has numbed the sting a little, although the lack of a real racing game still grates on my nerves just a tad. Here’s hoping the next six months sees a more diverse raft of games bolstering both consoles rather pitiful examples of the future of gaming.
Or I may just go back to playing everything on PC, I suppose. Your move, Sony.