Many moons ago, game consoles were designed simply for playing games. Over time, they became more elaborate, allowing much better graphics and in-game physics. A window could smash in a way that actually looked like a window had been smashed, instead of having an effect that looked like a puff of feathers had been released.
Fast forward to today and it’s an entirely different story. Today, the biggest console in the world, Microsoft’s Xbox 360, is not just for computer games. It’s designed to be a state-of-the-art, app-wielding entertainment platform, complete with Netflix, BBC’s iPlayer, LoveFilm and more, all controlled by voice and gesture.
Not only that, but more and more people are playing games on their phones and tablets, wherever they are. Gaming is no longer confined to the living room – it can take place in a dentist’s waiting room, a bus or even in the street.
So it’s against this shifting, technologically advanced and jack-of-all-trades backdrop that Sony announced its new PlayStation console, the fourth to bear the name. The way the industry is, and given Sony isn’t the most financially sound of companies, a lot is at stake with this new, next generation console – a console about to go toe-to-toe with its nemesis, the new Xbox.
At the announcement, however, (which, incidentally, was unrepentantly dull) we didn’t actually see the console. Or the price. We saw a new controller and what the console could do, but that was it. There are likely some surprises up Sony’s sleeve, waiting to crash the new Xbox’s party.
From what we saw, Sony is placing its bet away from their console being a jack-of-all-trades, and hunkering down to focus on gaming. The PlayStation 4 is about the best gaming experience on the market.
The specs are incredible. Based on leaked details, it’s likely to be, technically speaking, the best console on the market. A new controller looks like it’ll be more comfortable than the last and a huge roster of games developers have pledged to produce for the console. And PlayStation has looked at how to improve the social side of gaming.
At any point, I can pause a PlayStation 4 game and share a clip of my gameplay with friends. My friends can watch me playing my games and can even take the reigns – all while sat in their own homes.
Sony is allowing that experience to carry on through its portable devices, too, so you can go from playing your game on the TV to playing the same game, from the same place, on a portable device.
The knockout feature, however, is sat in the cloud, where the PS4 will store games – old games, new games, games from other iterations of PlayStation – ready to play. No more crowing for backward compatibility – old games like Crash Bandicoot will (eventually) be right there. And, when you buy a game, you can play it instantly as it downloads.
So it’s all about traditional gaming, then. The problem is that all these features sound ‘handy’. They all sound good, but nothing from the PlayStation – yet – really blows me away. In short, the new PlayStation, so far, sounds functional. And that’s boring.
While there may be a few surprises in store, and while they’ve significantly ungraded their PlayStation Eye (Sony’s answer to the Kinect and Wii), there aren’t many fireworks. All-in-all, this is a gamer’s console.
Rumours of Xbox games able to detect the movement of individual fingers, of a projector widening your TV allowing you to use your full peripheral vision and of proper multitasking point to an explosion of magic that may come from Microsoft.
At the same time, rumours have suggested you won’t be able to play second hand games on the new Xbox and that it’ll require a permanent internet connection – rumours that led to rather unhappy gamers.
The next generation of console war is just heating up, with Sony launching the first attack, but their gamble on game over all-rounder is a risky bet. Microsoft may determine whether or not it will pay off.