This holiday season, Sony will be releasing into the wild the fourth iteration of its PlayStation home entertainment console. The introduction of new consoles is always a glorious sight to behold. From new features to gorgeous graphics, past announcements of new consoles brought with them excitement, awe, and a brand new experience that had previously been unachievable But with the announcement of the PS4 and all of the information that is slowly trickling out, I’m still not entirely convinced on how “next-gen” the console will truly be.
During the “See the Future” press conference held late February, Sony released a mountain of information on the brand new console. Hardware wise, the system will run using eight x86 AMD Jaguar CPU cores on a single chip, a “highly enhanced PC GPU,” and 8 gigs of DDR5 memory. Compare this to the slower processor, the 512mb of combined memory, and 550MHz GPU of the older PS3, in modesty, you’re looking at a serious upgrade. The PS3 hardware was top of the line … when it came out 7 years ago. Even so, with each new title released on the PS3, game designers are constantly finding new ways to squeeze every drop of processing power out of the aging hardware and offer an experience that is graphically more stunning than the game before it. One would assume, then, that since the specs of the PS4 obliterate that of the PS3, it will make our eyes bleed from our skulls while our brains fry beholding the sight of heaven itself. But that isn’t the case here.
I can’t say that I was blown away by the new visuals of the gameplay demos on the system, but the problem may not lie with the developers or the hardware. The problem is that video game graphics may have hit an invisible ceiling and are now beginning to taper off. The isn’t much room left between this ceiling and the graphics were seeing now. Think of it this way. Gamers, especially PC enthusiasts, should be familiar with the concept that our eyes can’t process more than 60 frames per second (people have argued for 30, some 40, but the point is the same). That’s why game developers try to keep their title between the 30 – 60 FPS range because anything above that would range go unnoticed. Bob’s Counter Strike running at 600 FPS will look identical to John’s running at 60 FPS even though Bob’s is 10x faster. I fear that game engine graphics are suffering a similar fate. When the world was introduced to 8-bit graphics, simply doubling that was a huge, noticable change. But now, graphics are so solid that the change from 6,000 triangles to 60,000 is barely noticeable. Fault or no fault, the PS4 is going to have a hard time selling itself on its graphics alone.
The difference is hardly noticeable between 6,000 and 60,000 triangles.
But the system does not necessarily hinge on its performance in texture-rendering and anti-aliasing. The Nintendo Wii has been extremely successful even though it has, by far, less powerful graphics than its other two competitors. Why? Because it offered something different. It gave players a unique experience that no other console could match. Where else could you swing plastic wands wildly, pretending your armless, legless, and hideously disfigured “you” was an actual major league baseball player? People relished in it.
If the PS4 wants that kind of success, it has to bring something new to the table, and Sony definitely has a few tricks hidden up its sleeve. The biggest and most note-worthy addition is the “share” button. Slapped onto the new DualShock 4 controller, this button will allow players to share the greatest moments of their digital careers by uploading screenshots or videos of their gameplay effortlessly. Also new, the PlayStation Store will be able to “learn” and adapt to your gaming preferences, recommending other content and even downloading demos for you. Both interesting new additions but the rest seem lackluster in comparison. The PS4 will support 3D technology and 4K resolution, both of which are struggling to find an adoptive audience. It will natively support remote play on Vita, allowing players to stream their game over to the handheld and then play it from there, much like the Wii-U. It’s great for gamers who own the handheld, but for those of us who just couldn’t justify the $300 price tag, we’d be more excited if we could connect a toaster to it. Hell, the PS4 doesn’t even have backwards compatibility.
But I could forgive all of that, all of it, if it just had games that I wanted to play. New Killzone and Infamous installments are confirmed for the console, but both are titles that have been hit or miss with some gamers, and it’s too early to tell how successful they’ll become. It’s unfortunate that a majority of the rest of titles announced will be releasing on the next-gen and the older generation systems simultaneously. A lot of gamers will ask why they should shell out the clams for a new system when they can get the same game on the one they already own. Granted, this is an initial speed bump caused by developers that want to sell their product regardless of what system it’s on, but it’s never good to start out in a hole and then have to dig your way out.
I want to like you, PS4. I want to spend hours together, long after midnight, just you and I, with only the heat of electricity running through your circuit veins keeping me warm. I want to love you. But you’re not giving me anything to work with here. Between the lack of features and drought of games, I don’t have enough of a reason to abandon my friends. PS3, 360, and myself have a long history together and those bonds won’t be broken easily, especially when I don’t even know what you look like. Admittedly, I wasn’t too impressed when I first heard about you, but I’m willing to give you a chance to redeem yourself at E3. Better make it a good one.