Saturday, December 31, 2016

One Four the Road

It's New Year's Eve, and there's time for just one more 2016 post! So I guess now would be a really good time to tell you all that I broke down and bought that Playstation 4. They had a deal at the GameStop... it wasn't a great deal, mind, but $250 with a copy of Uncharted 4 and a free $25 gift card was the best I could find after Christmas. I thought about getting a used machine from a pawn shop, but it wouldn't have saved me much money, and buying new gives me both a one year warranty from Sony and the peace of mind I wouldn't have gotten from buying someone else's leftovers. If I'm going to do this, I figured I might as well do it right this time.

I haven't spent enough time with my Playstation 4 Slim to give it a proper analysis, but I can offer these observations...

I prefer the new shape of the slim model. It's reminiscent of the design of the original, but rounded at the edges and doesn't demand to be noticed the way the old machine did. It reminds me of an ice cream sandwich, and you know that's not a bad thing!

The interface is an evolution of the cross bar from the Playstation 3 and PSP, with a row of categories along the top and another row of installed software just below that. Below each app is a screen with handy information like a link to the user manual and the number of trophies you've earned. It's a little cluttered, but it might be a blessing to have that data readily available later.

‣ Prices are a little out of whack in the Playstation Store. Sure, there's a sale going on right now, but that won't last forever... and there are still lots of games that are much more expensive than they really ought to be. There's a line of arcade classics by Hamster Corporation which are eight dollars each, costing significantly more than the PSOne titles for Playstation 3 while offering significantly less play value. Would I like to own Exerion and Terra Cresta? Hell yes. Am I willing to pay nearly ten dollars for each of them? Hell no!

‣ The PS Home button is generally a lot more responsive than it was on the Playstation 3. Tapping it almost instantly pulls you out of the current app or game, whereas on the PS3, it would take a few seconds. However, the fly in the ointment is that leaving an app doesn't make it clear to the PS4 that you want to quit it. You've got to press the Options button and pick "close application" for that decision to really stick.

‣ The Dual Shock 4 has been redesigned slightly, with a small shaft of light peering up from the top of the controller along with the window on the front. It also seems more responsive than the old model, although given the fact that I have a really old model of the original PS4 controller that I had to refurbish myself, maybe I'm not the best person to make that judgement.

Speaking of the Dual Shock 4, the controller has rebranded the Start and Select buttons as Options and Share. Options serves the same purpose as Start, pausing the game while giving you a small menu that lets you adjust the settings to your liking. Share has replaced the mostly obsolete Select button, and is an entirely different animal, letting your share screenshots and brief video clips on the internet. It's a 21st century option complete with 21st century limitations, as not everything you see in the game can be recorded thanks to copyright issues.

‣ There's also a touchpad on the controller, which seems kind of extraneous but admittedly has its uses. When playing the system's small handful of PS2 games, you'll be asked to push down on the left and right sides of the touchpad to press Start and Select. Also, Spelunky lets you physically turn pages in the explorer's log book by swiping a finger across the touchpad. It's not necessary, really, but it does add slightly to the feeling of immersion as you explore tombs and get killed by practically everything lurking inside them.

‣ Mid-download gameplay is a much-hyped feature on the Playstation 4 that ultimately doesn't add up to much. Yes, you can kind of play the game before it's finished installing, but you're offered something lame and insubstantial, like the tutorial mode in King of Fighters 14. Best to forget about it and distract yourself with something else for a couple of hours while the download finishes. I mean, you've got other game systems, right?

‣ The Playstation 4 seems to handle Playstation 2 games better than the previous system had. It's not just that there are trophies and sharing... the graphics are a whole lot crisper than they had been on the PS3 too. It makes a big difference in King of Fighters 2000, and I imagine polygonal games like Dark Cloud 2 look great in high definition too.

‣ Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare was my first full-fledged Playstation 4 game, procured a couple of years ago when Electronic Arts took brief leave of its senses and gave away a handful of Playstation titles. Turns out that they didn't really give me much... the game won't start if you don't have Playstation Plus, even if you just want to play the story mode. Gee, thanks.

King of Fighters 14 was my primary motivation for picking up a Playstation 4 Slim, and it almost justifies the purchase. I'm not totally convinced it needed to be a Playstation 4 exclusive- the graphics don't seem beyond the grasp of Sony's previous console- but I'm really digging the gameplay, which encourages players to chain increasingly powerful attacks together. SNK hasn't lost its touch when designing characters, either, offering such memorable fighters as a narcoleptic kung fu master and the bug-eyed, criminally insane Xanadu. He's completely nuts, and I like him that way.

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