Sony’s gaming division is probably feeling pretty good about the first year of the PlayStation 4, but the console that everyone can’t wait to buy isn’t without issues.
After 12 months on the market, GamesBeat is grading all of the big aspects of the PlayStation 4. This includes games, other software, the hardware, and more. When Sony first launched the system it promised a console “for the gamers.” We’re gonna see if it delivered on that pledge.
Let’s start with what’s most important: the games. 2014 is ending in a flurry of new releases, and PlayStation 4 is home for some of the best — but Sony’s console actually had a rough first 12 months if you’re looking specifically for unique experiences that you cannot get anywhere else.
Here’s a rundown of games you can only get on PS4:
- Infamous: Second Son
- Infamous: First Light
- Killzone: Shadow Fall
That list expands to include MLB 14: The Show and The Last of Us: Remastered if you start to include games that are available on both PS3 and PS4.
Sony’s got plenty of big releases ready to go starting in 2015, but until then, the company is gliding on hype and third-party support.
Typically, it’s exclusives that separate game consoles from one another, but Sony has built its reputation on third-party games. Since launch, PS4 has almost always had the better version of multiplatform releases. Games like Battlefield 4 at launch ran at a resolution of 1080p (that’s 1,080 horizontal lines on PS4), but Xbox One got a version with only 900 lines of resolution. Occasionally, games even run at a higher framerate on PS4 than Xbox One.
Here’s a list of just some of the games that have a better resolution or framerate on PS4 than Xbox One:
- Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
- Dragon Age: Inquisition
- Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes
- Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
- Murdered: Soul Suspect
- Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare
- The Evil Within
- Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition
- Trials Fusion
- Watch Dogs
- Wolfenstein: the New Order
If you just look at those games, it’s tough to tell the difference with the naked eye, but developers are consistently squeezing more power from Sony’s device than Microsoft’s. And if you’re picking between the same game on two systems, why wouldn’t you go with the one that looks better even if that’s just on paper?
This doesn’t mean the PS4 handles every game without any problems or even better than the Xbox One — just most games. Last week, Ubisoft released Assassin’s Creed: Unity on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. It has a serious framerate problem on all platforms, but it’s actually worse on PS4. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare also maintains a higher framerate on Microsoft’s system.
A lack of exclusives drags the PS4 down — but many of the best games on the market are multiplatform, and Sony’s system plays them better than the competing hardware.
In order to play online multiplayer games on PS4, you need a subscription to Sony’s premium membership service. But Sony does a good job of making PS Plus seem like a good deal.
If you’ve had a membership to PS Plus since the PlayStation 4’s debut, you would own 22 games as part of the program’s Instant Game Collection. These include the brilliant launch shooter Resogun, beloved four-player fighting game TowerFall: Ascension, and the space platforming shooter Velocity 2X.
That doesn’t even include the Instance Collection games you get for your PS3 or Vita.
Sony doesn’t just have the PS4. It also has a powerful handheld gaming machine with an amazing screen. Combining the Vita and PS4 unlocks one of the best features of both systems: the capability to stream games from the PS4 to the Vita so that you can play console games on the go.
This is one of those features that’s easy to doubt until you lose three hours playing Destiny under the covers of your bed.
I had issues getting Remote Play to function properly between a PS4 and PlayStation TV, so this is going to depend on the strength of your router and your Internet. But when it works, it’s quite a useful feature.
Apps and more
PS4 has Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus, and Netflix — and it just got YouTube at the end of October. It also has NFL Sunday Ticket, MLB.tv Premium, NBA Game Time, and NHL GameCenter Live. On top of those movie, television, and sports options, Sony Entertainment Network has recent on-demand movies that you can rent or buy.
In addition to having all of the apps, the user experience on programs like the Netflix app are easy to use and navigate. It’s nice to have everything in one place without having to put up with any headaches like a broken interface on one app or another.
The only issue here is that Sony doesn’t have a PlayStation 4 remote control, but that’s likely coming soon.
Between the 22 games from PlayStation Plus and Remote Play, Sony has built a smart system that gives gamers exactly the things they want or will use.
Support and online infrastructure
Gamers are crazy for PlayStation 4 right now, and a lot of that has to do with a perception that Sony has its game together. But that image is starting to unravel a little bit due to its issues with updates and online.
Since PS4 launched in November 2013, Sony has released four major updates for the system’s software. It has added requested features like 3D Blu-ray movie support and a video editor called ShareFactory. But things fell apart for Sony when it introduced the 2.0 update for PS4 on Oct. 28.
Filled with bugs and broken software, update 2.0 introduced a number of problems for PS4 owners. Many found that the system would get stuck in the new “Rest” mode. Others had the system freeze or take minutes to complete simple tasks. It even interfered with the performance of the Blu-ray drive. Since then, Sony has introduced two new updates on Nov. 5 and Nov. 11 to fix the 2.0 update. The system is more stable now, but it took two weeks to get to that point.
PlayStation 4’s system software is not Sony’s only problem right now. One of the company’s big exclusives, the racing game Driveclub, is busted. The $60 release doesn’t work online. Sony has disabled a number of features to get it working in a limited way. The publisher has even delayed the free PlayStation Plus version of Driveclub until it can get it functioning for those who bought it.
The racer debuted Oct. 7. More than a month later, it’s still not fully functional.
Sony’s PS4 updates are inconsistent, and the company’s quality-control department has let a lot of problems slip out into the public. Driveclub’s online is a debacle on the level of SimCity. But at least the company is rolling out some new features.
You typically don’t see a lot of movement in terms of price within the first year of a console’s life. With the PS4 selling well, you’re likely not going to see any price drop for a while. Thois makes sense, but the Xbox One has dropped from $500 down to $350 (at least for the holiday), and that comes with a pair of games. For comparison, you can get a PS4 for $400 with Grand Theft Auto V and The Last of Us: Remastered.
You can also get a white PlayStation 4 with Destiny for $450, but that again doesn’t look great compared to the competition. Microsoft has a white Xbox One with its exclusive Sunset Overdrive for $400 or a Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare bundle for $450 that comes with a 1TB hard drive.
Sony isn’t doing a terrible job of creating value with the PS4, but the company seems like it is selling every system that it ships regardless of the price.
The price isn’t bad for what you get, and it only looks bad in comparison to a desperate Microsoft.
From a strictly financial viewpoint, the PlayStation 4 is absolutely on top right now, and it’s one of the best-selling products at a company that has struggled in recent years.
“For a beleaguered Sony, the PS4 story is a clear bright spot,” IDC research director Lewis Ward told GamesBeat.
Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter thinks that the PlayStation is actually “vastly exceeding its hype.”
“Sony fixed everything wrong with the PS3 this time, and successfully exploited Microsoft missteps with DRM and specs,” he told GamesBeat. “PS4 deserves to be in first place.”
While the analysts are impressed, PlayStation 4 is better as a promise than a reality right now. It’s a fine system with a ton of potential, and Sony spent 2014 building a substantial lead over Xbox One and Wii U that should the company well through the next several years as more developers start focusing their efforts on the hardware with the most owners. But over its first 365 days, the system hasn’t broken out to justify how its blazing selling. Sony has even admitted that it doesn’t know why PS4 is so popular. That doesn’t mean the company won’t eventually deliver — early 2015 is stacking up nicely with PS4 exclusives like The Order: 1886 and Bloodborne.
If you already own a PS4, you should feel pretty great about its future. If you don’t have one, you won’t miss much if you keep waiting until next year.
Overall grade: C+
Author: Jeff Grubb