Postmortem: The PlayStation 4 Reveal

I might have spent a few minutes thinking of as many different "four" puns as I could to shove in here. I didn't do it, and you're welcome. Here are my thoughts on the announcement.

By Tony Walter | Feb 21, 2013

Last night Sony revealed the PlayStation 4 - if you missed that head over here to get all the information you'll need. It was an exciting event partially because it was the first time in a long time that a console was revealed outside of E3, revealed by the company making it anyway. Also, pretty cool that we didn't know exactly what to expect going in, like we so often do nowadays.

The event itself was mostly boring, lots of old white dudes talking on-and-on about how great their new thing is, making sure to use words like "simple" and "innovative" as much as they could. That's not to say the information was boring, far from it. In fact, I find myself wishing that this thing was coming out next month, but that might have more to do with me being totally sick of the current consoles than anything else.

The first exciting news was that the thing is called the PlayStation 4. It might not seem like something that we should appreciate, but there's something about sticking with it for so long that I really admire about Sony. They've earned the right to call it the PlayStation 4. Nobody else can do that - well, Microsoft might go ahead and call the next Xbox the 420, much like they did the second Xbox the 360, and that would maybe even apply better to their target audience.

Sony pulled the bandage off quickly, and dropped the biggest bombshell of the night earlier rather than later. Well, the 'bombshell' that everybody seemed to get mad over. No inherent backwards compatibility for PlayStation 3 games - and I discovered today that this also applies to PSN downloads as well. I'll be honest, my initial reaction to this news was one of disgust. "Well, thanks for convincing me to buy Grand Theft Auto V on the 360, Sony." But, then I thought about it, and to be honest, I can't remember the last time I put a PlayStation 1 game into my PlayStation 3, or the last time I took advantage of the limited backwards compatibility of the 360. Frankly, it's only a useful feature for the first year or so, when the games on the past system are still coming out regularly and the developers are trying to figure out how to hell to use the new systems. Besides, Sony alluded to a service that would allow us to play older PlayStation games on the PlayStation 4 without the physical copy - this seems way more appealing to me. If Sony sets up some sort of Netflix-esque service that allows players to 'check out' older games, that is potentially a far better solution than tracking down decade old copies of Metal Gear Solid 4.

The assumption is, gutting backwards compatibility could drop the price of the system.
The elderly, alabaster men then went on to list some exciting specifications on the system's hardware. I'm no computer engineer, and I'm not entirely sure what current systems are running with, but it sounded impressive. More importantly are the actual claims made. It's always the sort of small, seemingly insignificant things that excite me about new systems. The ability to turn on and off the systems from the controller might be the most important feature that was added with the Xbox 360, Wii, and PlayStation 3 - and I'm only kind of joking. PlayStation 4 promises background updates, sleep save states (turn the system off without stopping the game), and streaming downloads. Basically this is the stuff that makes it all easier to play games and forces you to spend less time waiting. It might seem insignificant on paper, but I think once we actually get to see this stuff in action, we won't be able to go back. "Grandpa, what do you mean you had to wait to finish downloading a game before you could play it?"

Maybe I'm a total cynic, but going into this thing, I wasn't totally convinced that Sony would show any games at all. Well, maybe some tech demos, but no games. That they'd save that for E3. Fortunately, I was wrong. While yeah, it mostly was the predictable tech demos and wall of publisher/developer logos, they also showed some real games - and real gameplay at that.

Notice the CD Projekt RED logo? Yeah, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was confirmed for PS4.
Personally, around this time is when I had my most disappointing moment of the entire reveal. Instead of blowing us away with something new, original, or interesting, we were treated to another Killzone demo; Killzone: Shadow Fall. Is Sony that awkward guy at the party that somebody makes fun of, but then he thinks it'll make it okay if he laughs along, but it really doesn't and it just makes everybody hate him more? Yeah, that's exactly what this was. The Killzone 3 demo from years ago is now referenced frequently on how the game didn't end up looking anything like it - despite being lauded as actual gameplay. Excuse my doubtfulness this time around, Sony. Beside that though, and perhaps much more troublesome, is the fact that this is exactly what we're playing on current systems. That footage might as well had been from a high-end PC running Crysis 3. I don't want new consoles so that I can do the same damn thing I'm currently doing, with more polygons. 

That wasn't the only game they revealed though, among a crowd of predictability, one caught my attention. Watch Dogs, that darling from E3 last year, the one that they claimed was most definitely for current systems, was shown running on the PlayStation 4. The game deals in scope that can't be done on current consoles. You'll hastily hack devices and run missions while traveling through a lifelike Chicago - it was very impressive. This is exactly the sort of risk taking that I'm wanting to see in the next few years. This is why I want to buy a new system. I don't give a shit about what happens to the space marines in Killzone, or the space marines in Halo for that matter. I want new stories and characters and environments. New discovery.

Oooh, political.

When it comes right down to it, the reason Watch Dogs stood out more than anything else has a lot less to do with how impressive that game actually looks (not to say it doesn't look impressive), but more to do with that it was something new and very clearly a real game that is going to be playable for us, and relatively soon. Diablo III, Destiny, InFamous: Second Son, and Killzone: Shadow Fall will all probably be great looking games and impressive in their own ways, but none of them offer something wholly original. The descriptions of the system itself were mostly just that, descriptions and dreams of what we will see in almost ten months - we didn't even see the system itself. The Watch Dogs demo ended, and that was the only time during that conference that I said to myself, "I want to be playing that - right now." 

This isn't a remark about what Sony did there, they made big promises and I'm excited, that was all they had to do. I'm just saying that the far more interesting conferences are yet to happen. Microsoft didn't take this one lying down - they were listening and taking notes, Nintendo too, probably. Expect something from them soon, and then we'll see even more at E3. We'll be seeing actual games, we'll be seeing hardware, we'll be made promises, and we'll find out the price points on these things. This is the type of competition that is great for the consumer. This is going to be one of the most exciting years in video games that we've seen in a long, long time, and I can't wait.

I have to go now - the Bungie guys came to beat me up.

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