User Interface and Experience
If you’ve used the revamped online store on the PlayStation 3 you’ll feel mostly at home on the PlayStation 4 as its adopted many the same features. Sony wants to build a strong community around their console; so much so, in fact, that the embedded social features are found just about everywhere. The first menu item when you boot up the PS4 is called “What’s New” and it showcases a feed of what all of your friends have recently done. Whether its getting a new highscore in Resogun, unlocking trophies in NBA 2k14, or completing multiplayer sessions in Killzone - all of these items generate posts to your feed. You can view, like, and even launch a game right from these posts.
Along with this built in social network comes integration with Facebook and Twitter allowing you to share your PlayStation 4 conquests just about anywhere, much to the chagrin of your friends on those platforms. Using those networks, you can post screenshots or videos you’ve taken with the built in sharing function; it’s something Sony has made incredibly easy and seamless. Oddly though there is no way to get these screens and videos off your console other than sharing them to social networks, we tried hooking up a USB drive and copying them, but the interface simply doesn't allow it.
Sharing is also extended to streaming networks Twitch.TV and UStream. Simply linking your account via the console allows you to stream any game at any time just by hitting the share button on your controller. The game will shrink down slightly while the interface brings in comments and some other stats for you to see on screen. These feeds can be viewed directly on the dashboard via the “Live on PlayStation” menu or you can view them online as well. One interesting thing I noted - viewing the feed on the Twitch.TV website doesn’t increase the viewers on the console itself, but comments from the web do show up on screen. So while the top feeds on PS4 might only have a few hundred viewers, there might be hundreds more watching via the web.
Sony was constantly playing catch up last generation when it came to online play and online features. But the PlayStation 4 implements everything we’ve come to expect from online gaming pretty flawlessly. There’s an 8 person party system which allows you to voice chat with friends while in game and out. You can even tweak volume priorities to be sure you can hear what’s going on in the party. Cross game inviting works as expected and in certain cases the PS4 will even auto invite you if a party starts playing a game you own, which we saw happen with Killzone: Shadow Fall.
Your friends list is now expanded and can have up to 2000 friends according to Sony. Right now the lists seem a little slow to load up, I think due to the traffic surrounding the launch. Sadly there’s no way to organize or group all of these friends, which I think will be a problem moving forward, but it’s nothing that can’t be remedied. My favorite feature is the ability to display real names with people. To do this you’ll need to send a request to the person and then it’ll display their real name right above their PSN ID in the friends list. If that person has linked Facebook and is showing their profile picture, you’ll also see that instead of the avatar. This lessens the whole internet anonymity and makes your friends feel a bit more personal.
The social integration is evident within the friends list too. Bringing up a friend’s profile will showcase some info about them and then a stream of recent activities and accomplishments which you can interact with much like the “What’s New” stream on the front page.
It can not be overstated how much better the Dual Shock 4 is than the Dual Shock 3. Let’s face it, the old Dual Shock design was horrible for modern gaming. Holding a DS3 after holding a DS4 makes the old controller feel like some cheap plastic toy. Everything from the tweaked analog sticks and triggers to the weighting and built in headset jack make the Dual Shock 4 a thing of beauty to use.
The analog sticks have just the right amount of tension and spacing for first person shooters. The triggers are curved just right for gripping. The weight of the controller helps it sit right in your hands. The headset jack on the bottom allows you to connect a simple headset for voice chat or a full pair a cans to enable all of your game and voice audio through it. No need for expensive wireless headsets, this functionality is out of the box and great for late night gamers or gamers with families.
The touch pad frees up button presses and allows gesture like motions to be used in games. The best example would be the old radial select menu. Most games implemented this by holding a modifier button and then rotating analog stick. Now you just swipe on the gamepad the direction you want.
There’s a little speaker in the controller as well, and the first time it goes off, it’s a bit jarring. So far it isn’t clear how games will use this - but we’ve seen Killzone play audio logs through the device and other games play an “announcer” through it. Thankfully most titles let you disable the output through the controller.