Greatness awaits. And that wait is nearly over.
Following many months of hype, buzz and unfettered curiosity, the PlayStation 4 finally goes on sale Friday across North America. As the successor to Sony’s 80 million-selling PlayStation 3, and with a glitzy marketing campaign pinned to the “greatness awaits” slogan, expectations for the PS4 are very high indeed.
While there’s been lots of talk about the hardware specs and the game lineup and the fierce battle that will be waged between Sony’s new dream machine and Microsoft’s Xbox One, there are still some PS4 perks, tweaks and features that haven’t yet been revealed.
All that will change in a couple of days when the PS4 lands in the outstretched arms of millions of clamouring gamers, but here’s a head-start cheat sheet of 20 things you might not know about the newest member of the PlayStation family.
It’s very social
Whether you love or hate social media, the PS4 really wants you to share things with your friends. By selecting the What’s New icon from the PS4’s eye-pleasing Dynamic Menu, you’ll see a list of your friends’ recent activities, including the games they’ve played or are currently playing, trophies they’ve achieved, livestreams they’re broadcasting, video clips they’ve shared and so on. These notifications can also serve as a jumping-off point for related activities: when you look at a friend’s Killzone: Shadow Fall screenshot, you can write a pithy comment on it, immediately launch the game without returning to the menu or even buy and download it from the PlayStation Store if you don’t yet own it.
Install for the good of all
The first time you fire up any PS4 game disc, it will begin installing all of its data to the console’s built-in hard drive, with different games handling this in different ways – some will require players to sit through a one-time data caching process, while others will do it in the background during, say, an intro sequence or tutorial level. This will speed up load times and eliminate any performance differences between disc-based games and digital downloads, but it also means the PS4’s 500 GB hard drive – which only has 408 GB of free space, the rest being taken up by system software – may fill up faster than you might expect.
A friend by any other name…
After you’ve befriended someone on PSN, you then have the option of sending a “name request” which, if they accept, will show their real name in your PSN social feeds (and vice versa) along with their Facebook profile picture (if they have an account and choose to allow it.) It’s completely optional, and you’ll want to restrict it to people you trust or know in real life. As opposed to, say, Yolo420SwagDemon who you’ve only met in Battlefield 4.
The controller is better, but not perfect
The new DualShock 4 controller is a huge advancement over its PS3 predecessor, with better triggers and shoulder buttons, a new clickable touchpad, a built-in speaker and other bells and whistles. But I’ve found the redesigned thumbsticks aren’t as perfect as I’d hoped. While the rubber caps on the thumbsticks have a ridge to help keep your thumb in place, something about the texture of the rubber still has my digits slipping around a bit, and the shape of the controller itself makes my hands feel a bit crampy after marathon gaming sessions. While it’s probably just a matter of getting used to the new size and layout, the Xbox One controller, itself an improvement over the excellent Xbox 360 gamepad, still has the edge in the next-gen controller race. In my humble and extremely subjective opinion.
How do you like your trophies done? Rare?
While virtual trophies in PS4 games will still follow the same bronze, silver, gold and platinum standard familiar to PS3 and Vita gamers, each trophy will also show the percentage of players that have achieved it thus far, along with the trophy’s corresponding level of rarity: common, rare, very rare or ultra rare. These levels will change over time, and a trophy that was very rare in the early weeks of a game’s release may become common as more gamers get it.
Parents are in control
A suite of parental controls allows caregivers to restrict access to content on the PS4, with various control settings for games, the built-in web browser, Blu-ray discs and non-game apps. However the PS4 will not be able to tuck kids into bed and read them stories. Yet.
PS4 cleans up after your friends
When friends come over, they can log into your PS4 through designated guest accounts that will allow them to download content they own, such as digital games, onto your machine. When the friend logs out of the guest account, this data is automatically deleted. It’s more of a requirement than a feature, designed to prevent two people from playing the same purchased game at the same time on different PS4s. Drat.
Broadcasting made simple
Pressing the Share button on the PS4 controller gives players the option of starting a livestream of their current game through popular game streaming services Twitch and Ustream. If the player has a PlayStation Camera, he or she can opt to have a picture-in-picture of their running commentary alongside the gameplay feed. The streams can be viewed by others via the PS4 home screen, the PlayStation App or each service’s own website and app. I’d like to invite people to watch me play Knack and curse at the ridiculous checkpoints. “I have to start back here AGAIN? What kind of %$#@! designed this game?!”
Share your biggest moments
The PS4 automatically records the last 15 minutes of gameplay, and hitting the Share button also allows players to open a simple video editor and snip out a specific chunk of the action to share online. Right now clips can only be shared via Facebook – there’s no option to upload videos to YouTube or transfer them to removable storage, although those could come with later updates. Screenshots can be shared via Facebook or Twitter. When you share a photo or video clip, it also becomes visible on your friends’ What’s New feed.
But don’t share secrets
While the PS4 automatically records the last 15 minutes of gameplay and makes it simple to broadcast gameplay live, game developers can designate specific scenes, areas or menu screens in a game as secret. When the player encounters one of these areas, recording pauses (you have the option of having a notification pop up whenever recording stops and resumes) and livestreams switch to a blue screen with a crossed-out camera icon, until the player leaves the secret area.
See the light?
The line that divides the shiny and matte parts of the PS4 chassis is actually a light strip that glows blue when the unit starts up, then a steady white as the console is running. The strip turns yellow when the PS4 is in its standby state (a low-power sleep mode during which it stays connected to the Internet and can charge controllers that are plugged in) and pulses white during the shutdown process. It would be nifty if there was some way to have it glow red and green for the holidays, but no dice.
Double tap to make sure
Double tapping the PS button on the DualShock 4 controller immediately switches between the game you’re playing and a second app you have open. While not all apps can run in the background (and you can’t do this to switch between two games at the same time), it works great for, say, switching between a game and the web browser, which you might have open to a FAQ site for the game.
Whenever you call up the on-screen keyboard to send a message, enter a comment or other textual trickery, the PS4’s DualShock 4 can serve as a virtual mouse pointer by gently tilting and rolling the controller to move between letters. With a little practice, this becomes faster than using the D-pad or thumbsticks to select letters, and it doesn’t require the PlayStation Camera – it works thanks to the gyroscopic sensors built into the controller.
It’s in your face
If you do have the new PlayStation Camera (sold separately for $60), you can log into your PlayStation account just by facing the camera while the system is turned on. To prevent unintentional log-ins, the PS4 will require you to also hold your controller up in a specific spot so the camera can see it, or, if no controllers are turned on, tilt your head in a specific direction to confirm. It’s an optional feature and requires a one-time set-up process that feels sort of like having a virtual mugshot taken.
And it listens to you
While the PlayStation Camera isn’t as sophisticated as the Kinect 2.0 sensor included with the Xbox One, it can be used for simple voice commands to launch games and apps. Users say “PlayStation” to tell the system they’re issuing a command, then state the name of a game or app, and what they want to do, e.g. “Killzone” followed by “start.” These commands only work from the PS4’s main menu screen, so saying, “PlayStation, pull off a no-scope headshot on that guy” while playing Call of Duty: Ghosts won’t work. I tried.
Remote play on the Vita really works
Once you download the PS4 Link app to your PlayStation Vita, included in the latest Vita system software update, controlling your PS4 with the Vita is an absolute snap, and there’s almost no perceptible input lag. Nearly every PS4 game and app can be played on the Vita via Remote Play, but because the Vita lacks the DualShock 4’s triggers and clickable thumbsticks, these functions have to be replicated with the touchpad on the back of the Vita or on certain spots of the touchscreen, which isn’t always ideal.
But it doesn’t work in reverse
Sadly, there’s no way to stream in reverse and play Vita games on your TV through the PS4. For that you’ll need Sony’s PlayStation Vita TV peripheral, which goes on sale tomorrow only in Japan. Anyone up for a road trip?
Plus is back, with a catch
Sony’s PlayStation Plus subscription service will cross over to the PS4, with free games, discounts and other perks. (The PS4 indie games Contrast and Resogun will be available for free at launch to Plus subscribers.) Subscriptions cost $50 per year, $18 for three months or $10 for one month. But similar to Microsoft’s Xbox Live service, players will now need to have a PlayStation Plus membership in order to play multiplayer games online. Some free-to-play online games are exempt from this, including the made-in-Canada sci-fi shooter Warframe, as are media apps like Netflix.
A few apps before the main course
In Canada, the video streaming apps Netflix, Crackle and Crunchyroll will be available for download from the PlayStation Store at launch, along with NHL Gamecenter and the Sony Entertainment Network’s Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited services. (The U.S., by comparison, gets 11 apps at launch.) More apps – lots more – are on the way.
PlayStation to go
The PlayStation companion app, free for iOS and Android, allows users to access many PlayStation Network features, including checking on friends’ activities, watching livestreams and shopping for games in the PlayStation Store, which will then automatically download to the PS4 if it’s turned on or in standby mode. While game developers are free to develop their own companion apps, they can also offer second screen experiences through the PlayStation App if they choose. For example, in the Playroom game that comes with the PS4, players can use the app to draw 2D objects which then appear as 3D virtual items in the game. The potential for hilarious misuse here is staggering: “Are those little robots playing with a giant purple… no, never mind. It can’t be.” Greatness truly awaits.
Questions? Comments? Concerns? Let us know in the comments, or jump onto our game livechat at noon ET on Nov. 14. You can submit questions for it below.