The demo unit provides an in-depth preview for launch day.
Recently, I spent two sessions with the local PlayStation 4 demo unit, and came away with impressions of the six games, the controller, and the overall console experience.
The DualShock 4
With everything that a new console has to offer, the controller is one aspect that is the most fixed. While the rest of the system's features, UI and games evolve, the controller is unlikely to change in any major way. With that stated, the first thing to notice about the DS4 are the new triggers. While the feel for each trigger seems to allow a degree of precision greater that either the DS3 or the 360 controller, what is interesting is the shape of the triggers.
Gone are the fat blobs of the DS3 and in their place is a parabolic, flat piece of plastic. Basically, by positioning an index finger higher or lower on the trigger, the player can emphasize either just a digital "the trigger has been depressed" input or an analog amount of exact pressure, and this is all on about an in inch of trigger surface. This was most noticeable in 'Octodad: Deadliest Catch,' and the triggers reflect a truly refined design.
The overall shape of the controller feels distinct from either the DS3 or 360 controller. I regularly use both controllers without a grand preference, but the DS4 feels like it has a bigger grip than either older controller. In my first session, the left grip felt slightly awkward, and in my second session, the right grip felt a little awkward. The shoulder buttons have changed shape as well, but the controller's grip seems like it needs a few more hours to bake into for me. It never interfered with my play, but it seems like it may please larger hands.
The new concave analog sticks, much like the triggers, feel considerably more precise. They are taller and further apart compared with the DS3, and the tall, slim nature hearkens back just a little to the N64. The increased precision is a factor of tension as well as a decreased dead zone. After the second session, the 360 controller and DS3 felt squishy, if altogether familiar, by comparison.
The four face buttons were fine, if shorter than older analog DualShock designs. The PS button is smaller, and seems cheaper than the translucent DS3 version. The D-pad seems like a nice evolution from the DS3 and Vita, but none of the demos required its use. Likewise, the Option and Share buttons share the cheap feel of the PS button, but also were not required for use in the demos.
The touch pad felt great, with its clickable surface and texture bumps. Unfortunately, I could not find a use for it in any of the demo software. This functional omission is one of a series of omissions for the demonstration that are baffling. The controller was in a metal harness that threw off the weight and made the light bar easy to forget.
Aside from wishing that the software options made better use of the controller, my only real complaint is the over downgrade in plastics when compared with the DS3. This kind of gripe is normally reserved for car interiors, but from the secondary buttons to the two-tone shell to the analog stick material, most of the plastic surfaces look like temporary choices that became final. While unlikely to affect play, the cheap, downgraded looking plastics contrast with the upgraded feel.
The overall demo UI was not a highlight of the experience. A great swath of blue was the norm, and the two axis navigation felt fine. This extremely limited look at the interface seem hindered by the presence of media items. While there were six game demos on the system, there were 92 total pieces of media, including preview videos and screenshots. As a result, every time I exited a game demo, I was treated to a lengthy loading sequence, which could last upwards of twenty seconds. Twenty seconds of watching the system counting up to 92 is enough for anyone, so repeated viewings are not my idea of next-gen realization. Hopefully, this is a demo unit problem and won't be part of users' launch day or long-term PS4 experiences.
My first experience playing 'Knack' was hugely disappointing, and that is with fairly low expectations. I was only able to play the early demo, which teaches the player to jump and attack in a static environment. Just as we got to switching sizes for the Knack character, the demo reset, leaving me with the impression of a simple third-person game that could have been made on any other PlayStion platform.
Fortunately, my second session with 'Knack' not only let me go back and forth from the tiny invisible Knack to the huge relic-powered brawler, be even managed to deliver some fun and challenging sequences. Sections in the ice levels made one of the game's key dynamics apparent; there is a premium on not being hit and maintaining the correct Knack size for the given situation. Failing at those sequences, and then figuring them out was fun, but the most interesting thing was the demonstration friends list marketplace.
By becoming the tiny invisible Knack, I was able to climb into a vent and find a special relic, at which point I entered a menu which gave a prop outlook on my friends' list. I had the option to trade the newly acquired relic with one of the people on the friends list, who naturally all had relics from playing 'Knack.'
'Knack' looks like a fun, family friendly, PS4 launch game, but I expect that most people will quit before getting into the game.
'FIFA 14' looked great, especially on the $2K Sony LED display. It also looked like 'FIFA,' and after I encountered a few instances of the momentum killing physics of this year's version'I decided to check out the other games.
My first attempt at 'Contrast' was full of fail. The PS4 would just hang, never entering the game or even just a 'Contrast' loading screen, until I exited with the PS button. Fortunately, I had no such issue during my second session.
In 'Contrast,' which seems set in a pseudo European world not unlike 'rain,' the player must enter into shadow in order to platform to the next objective. This means that first, the player needs to locate a shadow to enter, or power/position a spotlight to create that shadow. This can a bit daunting to see a whole environment of shadows and not know where to enter, but the mechanics of entering the shadows and jumping from shadow to shadow quickly became second nature. There's even an odd dash mechanic to dash past "thin shadows."
The big set piece for the 'Contrast' demo was a horse carousel, and ascending the walls using the shadows of the moving horses was indeed fun. There a moments where a NPC will run in and create a shadow right where the player needs a platform, and that slick jumping rhythm helped to assure me that the DS4 was up to the task.
As much as I enjoy Pinball games, the extravagant 3D table presented in the 'Pinball Arcade' demo was technically impressive, but did not leave me wanting more.
'Octodad: Deadliest Catch'
The 'Octodad: Deadliest Catch' demo, which was my first experience actually controlling 'Octodad,' really drew the laughs. The two DS4 triggers control the extension of Octodad's walking legs, while hitting L1 turns the analog sticks into vernier style control of Octodad's grabbing arm.
As I stumbled around getting Octodad dressed for his wedding day, the crazy physics and challenging manipulation of Octodad made for a great demo. The best part is by far walking Octodad down the aisle, which is lined with vases sat on tall stands. Each time Octodad knocks one down, an embarrassment meter increases, filling towards failure. Suffice to say that the DS4 triggers got a serious workout as I stumbled down the aisle.
My sessions with 'Super Motherload' were a super tease. First of all, the game allows for four players in offline same screen co-op, but the demo PS4 units only have one controller. The demo only allows for enough time for two quick mining trips, which likely includes one repair or upgrade sequence, but only a hint of the secrets under Mars' surface. The game's excellent, but not exactly taxing art style, might seem like an odd choice for a PS4 demonstration, but the game is really fun and hopefully reflects some of the independents that Sony will net for the PS4.
Along with missing out anything that used the touch pad, it's quite bizarre that the demo unit lacked anything like a shooter or driving game, yet had 'FIFA.' Perhaps Sony had planned to have 'DriveClub' or 'Watch Dogs' before those games were delayed. Still, 'Battlefield 4' or 'Assassin's Creed 4' or 'Need for Speed Rivals' would have been nice, not to mention 'Killzone: Shadow Fall.' Nevertheless, in less than a month the new system, new controller, and new games, will be unleashed, and I am looking forward eagerly to launch day.
Author: Brian Hoss