Sony's Playstation 4 launched on Friday, and the reviews are starting to roll in.
More than ever, this is a console that cannot be fully evaluated ahead of launch. Just like Microsoft's Xbox One, the PS4 is designed largely around online experiences--though both machines also allow you to pop a disc into the tray and play offline. Those features are tricky to test right now, and the game library for reviewers is limited to a small handful of choices.
But for now, at least we can get a sense of how the hardware and software come together. Here's the gist of what Playstation 4 reviews are saying:
The hardware disappears
Yes, it's another big black box, but reviewers seemed pleased with the Playstation 4's slanted design. The box has two larger sections sandwiching a skinnier middle that lights up in blue when the console powers on.
Kotaku's Stephen Totilo describes it best: "My colleague Tina calls the console italicized. But this is still as artless a box as most game machines. Perhaps Nintendo's GameCube was the only console ever designed to be seen rather than to be hidden in an entertainment center. Sony's newest is designed to disappear."
One thing gamers will definitely notice, however, is the 500 GB hard drive. We knew this already, but next-gen console games are storage hogs. Joystiq noted that just three retail games--Killzone: Shadow Fall, Battlefield 4 and Assassin's Creed IV--occupied a quarter of the available space. Users can swap in a larger hard drive, but can't connect external ones. On the bright side, the mandatory hard-drive install for disc-based games happens quickly, according to Ars Technica, so users should be able to add and delete games without much hassle.
The controller is beloved, despite one big flaw
You won't find any Playstation 4 reviews that dislike Sony's new Dualshock 4 controller. Practically every write-up praised the new design, which has longer handles, a more textured grip, concave triggers and thumbsticks that are more likely to keep your thumbs in place than the old Dualshock 3. "Every button feels good to press," Mashable marveled.
One particularly useful feature is the headphone jack, which handle all in-game audio so as not to disturb other people in the room. The controller also has a touchpad, which as Joystiq pointed out, can be useful for navigating maps in Assassin's Creed IV.
But it's not all perfect. In Polygon's testing, the Dualshock 4 controller lasted just 7 to 8 hours on a charge, compared to about 30 hours for the PS3's Dualshock 3. "As the system only includes one micro USB cable 1.5 - 2m in length, marathon sessions might happen on your floor near the PS4," Polygon wrote.
The games are, well, launch games
If you've ever witnessed a game console launch, the ho-hum nature of the PS4's starting lineup should not be a surprise. It takes years for game developers to unlock the hardware's full potential, and most third-party games are just slightly prettier than their last-gen counterparts.
The Playstation 4 is no exception. Reviewers seemed wowed by the visual performance of Sony's Killzone: Shadow Fall, though Polygon said the game itself is "poorly designed and boring for the duration of its campaigns." No one's declaring a killer app for the PS4 just yet.
The software is snappy
"The PS3 interface was old, tired, and slow, in need of a big overhaul on a skeletal level," Gizmodo wrote. While Joystiq found the PS4's interface to be occasionally jerky, overall reviewers said the menus are much faster and better-organized than Sony's previous console.
Polygon also noted a nice little touch: Users can tap the controller's Playstation button to quickly suspend a game and adjust system settings without exiting the game entirely. "After seven or eight years of the Xbox 360 and PS3, navigating the PS4's menus and UI quickly and with little lag is one of the more refreshing elements of the next-gen console experience," Polygon wrote.
The PS4 experience is a work-in-progress (and so are the reviews)
At this point, anyone who claims to have a fully-formed opinion on the Playstation 4 cannot be telling the truth. Every review is based on limited time with the console, with many features either disabled or difficult to test in a pre-launch state.
For example, Kotaku points out that the Playstation 4 is designed to be social, with users able to view a running feed of their friends' activity and connect their profiles to Twitter and Facebook. "I'd like to tell you how terrific or terrible all of this online PS4 stuff is, but I can't," Kotaku wrote. "I can only report my initial findings and point out that the value of a social network can only be determined when there are a ton of people on it."
Joystiq, meanwhile, notes that it is still evaluating the PS4's live streaming and media services. Kotaku says it needs to keep testing Remote Play, which lets Playstation Vita owners play PS4 games on the handheld, because initial results were mixed. Sony still has to add certain features such as a "sleep mode" that doesn't power the console off completely, and Bluetooth headphone audio isn't supported yet. And of course, the PS4 needs plenty more games before its worthiness can be judged.
So right now, most reviews conclude by talking "potential." The PS4 has lots of it. It's a powerful machine with interesting social features and a great controller, and it's focused more on gaming than Microsoft's multimedia-driven Xbox One. Whether that actually makes a difference to the user is still too early to call.