For the last few years we’ve had a refreshed and reinvigorated Sony, one that has nailed the gaming zeitgeist with its powerful hardware, high-quality games, and consistent and convincing interaction with its core audience. However, this week’s PlayStation Meeting, and the deathly dull announcement of both the PlayStation 4 Slim and PlayStation 4 Pro, saw a Sony that was overconfident, lazy, and placed more value on simply being first rather than being better.
4K with HDR is of course the new visual promised land, though arguably it would have been nice not to have seemingly merrily skipped past 1080p at 60fps. In practice, of course the 4K output is a cheat, a lovely sharp cheat, but a cheat nonetheless, and the clear benefit of HDR as a selling point is somewhat muted by the fact that every PS4 will apparently be able to utilize it following the next firmware upgrade. Anyway, all but the most expensive HDR enabled TVs simply aren’t that great for gaming thanks to the processing going on under the hood, and that’s not likely to change in the next twelve months.
Realistically we’re going to see more games that have multiple graphics options, just as the forthcoming PS4 version of Rise Of The Tomb Raider does, giving console gamers a new balancing act that PC owners have been playing forever. As it stands it still doesn’t look like Rise Of The Tomb Raider can hit 1080p at 60fps, which everyone will have hoped the Pro was capable of.
But that’s not what we’re getting. We’re also not getting a 4K Blu-Ray drive, something that Microsoft seemed to think was worthwhile putting into an Xbox One S. Of course, in this age of streaming, that’s likely to only be a problem for serious movie nuts – at least that’s what Sony have decided. Judging by some of the responses to the omission perhaps it’s not totally niche, and those wanting to get the most out of their expensive display set-up absolutely won’t be best served by streaming.
What actually concerns me more is that PS4 Pro is coming out within a few weeks of PSVR, and that the enhanced internals will be most beneficial there. All of the games have to run at 60fps for the virtual reality magic to work, but that’s at the cost of visual clarity, something that PS4 Pro’s extra oomph can clearly help with. While of course PSVR is going to work with our original PS4’s, it’s a bit of a kick in the pants that our brand new £350 unit isn’t going to be at its best without another new £350 box to plug it into.
Has PS4 Pro been rushed out in order to ensure PSVR reaches its full potential? Possibly, but then that doesn’t help the nearly 40 million PS4 owners that are out there already, and indeed those that have PSVR preordered. Trying to find a clear message for customers from a company that is releasing three new products within two months is going to be tough, and for those who are slightly out of the loop Sony is offering the opportunity for Wii/Wii U levels of confusion.
The PS4 Pro’s aesthetics slavishly try to retain the fantastic look of the original PS4, by literally expanding on it. The larger casing is clearly necessary in order to ensure that the more powerful innards don’t overheat, but it’s lost the effortlessly-cool svelte looks of the original, and edged closer to the monolithic Xbox One. We can only hope that it is at least quieter.
Of course it’s worth considering what Microsoft is doing, and for the last few years Sony has had the power and price advantage. That will continue to be the case now for the next twelve months, and those who already play multiplatform games on Sony’s console due to their improved performance could happily make the jump knowing the differential will be even greater.
However MS’ Scorpio, whose promised specs may well be able to achieve true 4K gaming, or at least nail 1080p at 60fps, boasts the next iteration of chipset and will certainly be more powerful than the PS4 Pro. That multiplatform advantage will be lost, but by then will it be too late for Microsoft anyway? It’s still likely to gall many to see their ‘Pro’ console superseded by a rival within twelve months, and more power for the Pro would at the very least have ensured better longevity.
By then, though, it could well be that PS5 will be on the horizon, which still begs the question – are console gamers ready for an upgrade cycle like this? Microsoft’s “no gamer left behind” mantra looks to carry over to Sony’s plans, but how many will begin to feel burnt that their very capable gaming machine is no longer the best place to experience the games being released for it.
It’s too early in the console cycle for either the original Xbox One or PS4 to have genuinely been ‘maxed out’, and you only have to look at Uncharted 4 to see what’s already achievable on the base hardware. I fear that we’ll no longer see spectacular, generation-ending titles like The Last Of Us or God Of War 2.
Despite the mid-generation upgrades, it’s inevitable that PS4 will eventually be left behind, at which point the whole thing will reset once more, and two or three years of the Pro – or indeed the Scorpio – may have people questioning their investment. Of course, if you’re reading this then you’re most likely the kind of person who needs the latest edition of a console, who needs to be able to play a game at its fullest potential.
I’m that kind of person as well – hell, I write about games for however many hours a week so I’m fairly invested in them – but having placed a pre-order I can’t help but feel a nagging sense of disappointment and trepidation. Not only is it not quite the machine I wanted, but I’m not sure that Sony know exactly where they’re taking us, or console gaming.