PlayStation Four Assessment: (In Progress), However Do You Have to Have One But?

How good is the PlayStation 4? Ask me in five years. Ask me about Naughty Dog's next games after figuring out if God of War is going in the right direction after learning if it has become unfathomable to play a console game without broadcasting it live.

You know what? Ask me in a week since I've only been using the new system online since 9:00 p.m. Tuesday night and history shows that this review first went online on Wednesday morning at 9:00 a.m.

Because of this, I am calling this a review (in progress) for now. Nowadays, many match reports aren't really ready when they're run for the first time. You can explain parts of the game in detail at launch, but online communities shape these games. The same goes for the surprisingly online-centric PlayStation 4. We're updating match reports to reflect how a game's multiplayer works. And I will be updating this version significantly as we test more offline and online functionality of the system. Still, I can share a lot now.

Today I can tell you a little bit about what the PS4 is, how it works in the pre-launch phase, and how manufacturer Sony set it up as a device.

The console is a slim, easily portable (!), Wonderfully quiet plate

The PS4 is a surprisingly small box. It's so elegant that it might as well be the 2015 PS4 Slim that is thrown back to us in 2013 via a time machine. It's lighter, thinner, and quieter than the original PlayStation 3. 2006 Some slot machines, like the first fat PS3 or the original Nintendo DS, have imperfect designs that predict their own shift. Not this one. The PS4 is a box that doesn't need space-saving or cosmetic improvement. No power brick is used and it even uses the same power cord as the PS3.

The new angles of the device look good. My colleague Tina names the console in italics. But this is still as artless as most slot machines. Perhaps Nintendo's GameCube was the only console ever designed to be seen, not hidden away in an entertainment hub. Sony's latest version is about to disappear.

The PS4's slim shape and low profile are still a boon for gamers. The PS4 is easy to transport on the first day. This is surprisingly and happily contradicting itself, as this console is a powerhouse as the performance of PlayStation 4 games proves. As powerful as it may be, I have been able to put the console in a backpack for a few days without any problems. I grab two cables and a controller and ride the machine with a little more discomfort than lugging around a fat laptop.

The controller has better sticks, better triggers, better weight and a great socket

The console's new, improved controller has a lot going for it.

The DualShock 4 retains the multi-button, twin-stick layout that hardcore gamers love and that probably appalles most of the people who have played bowling on the Wii. This controller won't break any barriers like the Wii Remote or the Microsoft Kinect commercials did. Still, it should appeal to dedicated console gamers. A circular groove around the top of the controller's thumb pins allows for safer analog movement. The shoulder buttons have more impact. The triggers eventually curve outward to rock your finger like the Xbox 360 controller. And the whole thing is a little heavier than the worryingly light DualShock 3.

One of the key additions to this PlayStation controller is a multi-touch touchpad, but it doesn't play a big role in any of the console's startup games I found. It was used for simple swipe-based commands from minions in the game in Killzone and can zoom in on a map in Assassin's Creed. Nothing amazing yet. In the worst case, it's harmless.

Better, if less ballyhooed, is a headphone jack in the controller which, when coupled with a change in console settings, can output all of a game's audio to headphones connected to the controller, a trick last seen on the Wii U setting the option Domestic Bliss. Your favorite roommates will appreciate when they walk in and you swap the game audio from roaring through your speakers to purring through your headphones. And it works, as I can confirm, with regular old iPhone headphones.

One of Nintendo's silliest concepts, the DualShock 4 monkey puts a speaker in the controller. It wasn't really necessary. But let's cheer Sony on by adding a more useful feature and charging controllers when plugged into a PS4 that is on standby.

Overall, consider DualShock 4 a healthy upgrade.

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The redesigned PlayStation Network is essentially a Facebook that puts games – good games – first

Now we come to the parts of the PS4 that are harder to check. Namely everything else. In the days of Super Nintendo, or even the original PlayStation, a game console pretty much did just one thing. Maybe two. It was playing games. You either enjoyed it or you didn't. Then Sony turned the PS2 into a DVD player and Microsoft belatedly turned the Xbox 360 into a Netflix streaming, fitness tracking, and ESPN box that also runs games. Even the gaming purists at Nintendo filled their new Wii U with video streaming services and an integrated social network last year.

Keep the PS4 offline and the system really isn't much more than what I've already described: it's a thin black platter with a nifty controller, and it runs some amazing looking games. (Okay, Blu-Ray movies can also be played.) Sincerely, for $ 400!

Connect the PS4 to the internet and you can expect a completely different experience. It's ironic that the PS4 was the system that an online connection was never advertised for. It was just the Xbox guys until they changed course. But it sure feels like the PS4 is benefiting from a permanent one. Perhaps you don't have to be online all the time with this device, but it was designed to get you to be. You see, Sony makes PlayStation games an incredibly social experience. When you turn on the computer, the main menu screen is filled with a cascade of updates from all the PS4-related things your friends have done: play games, upload clips, broadcast live streams. I'm not talking about a little feed of information hidden on the side. Below the row of main navigation icons on the system is a waterfall with updates. It is the element that should get your attention.

It's a tautology, but everything about the PS4's online systems feels like all gaming experiences are social. In some ways, the system catches up with its Xbox rival by enabling cross-game party chat. In other cases, it goes even further, allowing users to press a "Share" button on the DualShock 4 and with a few more button presses send the game they are playing to anyone on Ustream, Twitch, or a PS4 who it will see. To PC gamers, this will seem like another case of cute little consoles trying to keep up. But if consoles are all about simplifying things, then here's the PS4, with the guarantee that it goes without saying – and easy – not to start easily the next time you play a Naughty Dog game, a God of War or Killzone, but have someone watching you too. This share button should also make it a matter of course to upload videos of everything that just happened in a game, post them on Facebook, and finally on more flexible services like YouTube.

I want to tell you how awesome or awful all of this online PS4 stuff is, but I can't. I can only report on my first results and point out that the value of a social network can only be determined if there are a lot of people on it. As of Tuesday evening November 12th, 2013 as I write this, not many people are online with the PS4.

Here's what I did:

  • Went to the PlayStation online store, queued some games to download, then hopped through the system menus. No problems there.

  • Staff friend Jason Schreier online … saw his PlayStation Network ID showing up on my activity feed when he started playing Assassin's Creed IV … sent him a "real name" request and accepted one that he sent me, and then saw him appear more on my activity feed under his real name. I've done the same with other people and found that their real names didn't always appear on my feed.

  • Started playing the arcade shooter Resogun … hit the share button on the controller and chose the broadcast option … realized I needed to create a Twitch account and did so on the PS4 … and then broadcast part of the game, while Jason initially just watched by spotting me in the Live on PlayStation section of the Dashboard with popular streams (I was popular by default) and then on Twitch, he even typed in a few comments! This is what it looked like:

  • I tried recording and uploading clips using the Share button and it worked most of the time, although I was confused about how to reliably make sure the system was capturing what I was playing. I need to test this more, but in the worst case scenario there are only a few issues to be solved. Noteworthy: I had to quit the game to trim the clip I recorded and from now on I can only share my clips on Facebook.

  • I tried controlling my PS4 with a Vita using the system's remote play feature, but only managed a slideshow over my never-ideal internet connection in Brooklyn, NY. Jason has had more success with a PS4 and Vita in Manhattan, but needs to test this feature more before we can tell you how reliable it is. In my house, I can say the Wii U will still outperform the PS4 for off-TV gaming.

The sharing features are very exciting. I also like the social feeds. But I'll say all of this now if I haven't seen if the sharing breaks down under heavy bandwidth usage and if the social feeds get cluttered. It's impossible to know this stuff until a lot of people are using the PlayStation 4's network. It's also hard to say how dependent an ideal PS4 experience will be on high-speed home internet. For me at least, Sony's servers for the PS3 were never something to brag about and drag around while Microsoft's Xbox 360 was on fire. I've only tested the PS4 online with pokey Time Warner Cable in Brooklyn, NY, and I will be curious to see how much faster clips upload and how much my activity feed is when playing on faster connections like those at Kotaku's NYC headquarters .

We got a hardware speed boost which we hope is an anomaly

Aside from all of these online things, there is one more uncomfortable detail that I can't fully assess right now. It is this: the first retail PS4 we got from Sony didn't work. Please don't panic. It's impossible to tell how much this was a coincidence, or if this is the canary in a coal mine with PS4 hardware issues pending.

Here are the facts: For the past week, my Kotaku colleagues and I have used a pre-release PS4 and three retail PS4s with no problems. I've also heard from other gaming reporters who have used their PS4s with no issues. But the first retail unit Sony provided me with didn't work when I plugged it into a TV in Kotaku's office. A colleague and I were able to compare it to a second PS4 that worked, and we discovered that the problem was pretty simple: the faulty device had a faulty HDMI jack that we couldn't fully plug an HDMI cable into. It was unable to establish a firm connection and so it didn't seem to be sending a stable signal to our TV. We tried different cables and monitors. The problem was with the console.

I definitely hope this is a coincidence. I asked Sony to share their findings on how common this issue has been. You haven't given an official response yet, but a representative seemed surprised when I first told him about it. Of course, we will be looking for more reports on the matter. Again, the other four units that we tested first hand worked flawlessly.

Things that we were concerned about, like mandatory installations, are actually not a problem at all

When the PS4 sells to thousands of players, we'll learn more about how the machine holds up: what it can do and where it struggles. Our team in Kotaku and I tried our best for the time being to anticipate some of the potential stress points.

We put our ears to the device and were delighted to hear the drive barely spinning. Don't worry, this thing isn't a leaf blower.

We responded to the message that all games need to be installed and tested to see how long it takes to play a 20 or 30 GB game after inserting the disc into the computer for the first time. Good news: only about 30 seconds.

We didn't drop the console. We didn't put it in a sauna. And no, we didn't put it in a blender.

We played some games on it, and well, they start games. You're fine, not amazing. One of the reasons I'm not recommending that you run out of a PS4 just yet is because, as cool as much of the system is, there isn't a game that you just have to play that you can't play anywhere else.

We tried some multiplatform games like Assassin's Creed IV and Skylanders: Swap Force and were amazed at their graphics. We visited Madden and wondered if we were watching a PS3 game.

I just wish the opening games were better

Most of the time I was just thinking about what could become of this PlayStation 4. The PS4 has a compelling agenda to not only make console games feel more social, but also improve game sharing and spark more game conversation. I'm just looking forward to not only cussing about the difficult part of a game, but hitting the share button and showing you that annoying section while I'm still excited about it. I look forward to using the PS4's true naming system so that I can feel like the people I connect with on game consoles are real people I know and do the things with games that are important to me. And yes, I'm excited about all of these things that have barely been tested and are on a system that doesn't have many gaming moments that I still want to share. (Read our reviews.)

The console starts up much better than the PS3

The PS4 is just starting up and as it is, it's difficult to experience the PS4 without thinking about the machine that was before it. The PlayStation 3 has made an incredible journey, from plump Resistance and Lair slot machines to the console of The Last of Us, Puppeteer and The Unfinished Swan. The console got thinner. It got better. And it ended up playing some of my favorite games.

Hopefully November 2013 the PS4 is both a great addition to the PS3 and, oddly enough, a clean break. After all, it's not backward compatible. Not just yet, as recently as 2014, when Sony plans to bring streaming games to those of us who have enough internet connections to remotely control PS3 games that are on a Sony server somewhere. For now, the PS4 sits next to the PS3 without moving it completely.

Think of this Friday as a pivotal moment in the big Sony relay race. The PS3 is giving up the baton, and just as it happens, time seems to freeze. The next runner, the PS4, has taken over the handover, but has not quite made its first step. The PS3 runs for a while and runs on its own. The PS4 looks ready. We assume it will happen. However, this handover is not yet complete. It is too early to say what will happen next.

The PS4 seems like a hell of a console, but it has potential for the most part and a slew of new tools that need some great games to work on.

I think you will want one at some point. But as cool as the PS4 is, its lack of a must-play game means you can afford to wait. Do you need a PS4?

(This rating will be updated in the coming weeks to ensure we've covered all the basics and adequately tested all of the social features with a growing PS4 user base. Any Kotaku ratings that include a "Not Yet" should end up as "No." "or" Yes. "On a console, this happens when the system is either hopeless or has some games that are absolutely essential to play.)

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