Part Five: Games, Gameplay, and Graphics
I have already established that the PS4 is, thanks to its user interface and controller, a great system to play games on. The next question to answer, then, is how are the games themselves? After sampling a large handful of them – Killzone: Shadow Fall, Knack, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Resogun, Contrast, Flower, and Trine 2 – I am happy to say I feel cautiously enthusiastic, if not over the moon. There are some real gems here, Resogun chief among them, and some great multiplatform titles – Flower, Trine 2, Assassin’s Creed – that play better here than anywhere else. There are also disappointments – Knack is fun but lightweight, and nothing about Killzone: Shadow Fall grips me so far from a gameplay perspective. But overall, I think this is a healthy launch lineup, with many more options than those I myself have sampled, and if there is no killer app as of yet, this still feels to me like a stronger day one than either the PS3 or the Xbox 360 had.
But I’ll leave it to full reviews to examine these games critically. What I want to do in this section is to expand my thoughts on what gaming on the PS4 is like – because no matter the content of the games themselves, the gaming experience on the PS4 is kind of mind-blowing.
It starts, for me, with the installs. For retail games, I have chosen to continue buying physical discs, and I found my choice instantly vindicated when I put in Killzone and saw it launch to the main menu faster than any disc-based game I have ever played. No joke. While the game needs to install 39 gigabytes to the hard drive for play, it does so in the background while you play, and does so so efficiently that the game’s start-up is practically instantaneous (the fact that Sony’s first-party PS4 games each cut out all the extraneous corporate logos helps that launch time immensely). Knack worked the same way. And if Assassin’s Creed IV launched a little bit slower, it still seemed to get me to my game faster than any disc-based title on the previous generation, which is amazing considering just how much the PS4 is installing in the background.
To my mind, this cements that for retail titles, physical copies are unquestionably the way to go, for not only is there no time barrier between putting in a disc and starting to play, but it will make data management much easier further on down the line. Much has been made of how the PS4’s 500GB default hard drive will be quickly filled with installs this large, but the fact of the matter is, if installs are this easy and this instantaneous, there is no risk whatsoever to deleting old installs. If I need to make room for a new game somewhere down the line, I’ll just delete an old install, and if I ever want to play that game again, I’ll have the disc sitting on my shelf, ready to be played at a moment’s notice – when it installs again, it will again do it quickly and quietly in the background. Compare this to digital downloads, which will not only take a significant amount of time to download – even with the PS4’s fast download speeds, 40GB for Killzone is a hefty chunk of data – but will require that time investment again if you ever wipe the install and want to access it again. The PS4 does allow you to play digital games after a certain amount has downloaded, and that feature is much appreciated, but it still pales in comparison to the convenience and permanency of physical media.
But the big question is, of course, how these games look once you start playing them, as better graphics are the main draw of any new console. Suffice it to say, the performance power of the PS4 is mind-boggling, and it is apparent, to varying degrees, from any one of the games I have played so far. The clearest and most obvious benefits come in the areas of lighting, colors, and textures, and it is true across the board, as true for games built for the PS4 from the ground up (Killzone, Resogun) as for those originally created for older hardware (Flower, Trine 2). There is a level of nuance to the lighting in these games unlike anything I have ever seen, while textures are far richer and detailed than anything current-gen tech could ever hope to achieve. Colors are almost impossibly vivid, vibrant, and full-bodied, again with a degree of nuance in shading and depth that is, to my eyes at least, unprecedented in this medium. These benefits are most notable to my eyes on Killzone, which is an impossibly beautiful game, but the same can be said of Knack (which is aesthetically cartoonish but stunningly beautiful nevertheless), Assassin’s Creed IV (which looks foundationally like a current-gen title, but with better graphical fidelity top to bottom), and Trine 2 (which possibly shows off the lighting effects better than any other PS4 title I have tested).
Yet the biggest graphical leap forward on the PS4 undoubtedly comes in the form of asset count and particle physics – in both Knack and especially Resogun, you will see more assets on screen than the PS3 or Xbox 360 could ever hope to achieve, all rendered with stunning stability and fidelity. Resogun in particularly is just jaw-droppingly spectacular to look at, as clear a graphical proof-of-concept as gamers could ever hope for. When levels heat up and the screen is jam-packed with enemies, bullets, explosions, and other various particles, the image is literally overwhelming, but not muddy or slow. Knack may, overall, have been possible on the PS3, but the conception of the title character would have to be different, because the number of moving pieces that form Knack himself is astounding, and looks amazingly cool in motion. The limitations to how much a developer can fit on a single screen seem to be all but evaporated, and I cannot wait to see what comes of all this further down the line.
Every PlayStation 4 game runs natively in 1080p – though Call of Duty: Ghosts and Assassin’s Creed IV both require Day One patches to do so – and the importance of resolution should not be underestimated. 1080p televisions have been the standard for years now, but gaming has been locked in to 720p since 2005, and the difference is truly staggering. I suspect many of the graphical improvements the PS4 has to offer, at least on smaller titles like Contrast or previous-gen games like Flower, comes simply from the leap in resolution, which offers vastly more depth and detail in color and textures. 1080p gaming simply looks great, and with a system that also has the graphical capabilities to give that resolution a workout, the possibilities are endless.
Continue reading on the next page…