Impressions: Skyrim – Special Edition

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A POS Still Doesn’t Deserve DDoS

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Over the holidays, I had a pretty decent time with gaming. I plowed through The Witcher 2 (Xbox 360), and thanks to my acquisition of the Retron 5, I’ve also been able to get my fill of nostalgic retro goodness. That said, not everyone had such an enjoyable experience in the last week of December. No, both Xbox Live and PSN suffered from a bit of downtime, but one service took a much greater hit than the other.

Care to guess which?

I checked Twitter on Christmas Eve, only to be greeted by a massive text-wall of confusion. People were tweaking because they couldn’t log in to PSN, and it wasn’t long before Xbox Live subscribers echoed similar complaints. Of course, any time there’s so much as a hint of service interruption nowadays, the collective knee-jerk reaction is to assume it’s been caused by DDoS attacks.

While 2014 was undoubtedly the year such attacks have attained widespread awareness, I’ve been careful not to make assumptions based on internet rumblings. Don’t get me wrong: I know we’ve been directly affected by these attacks on multiple occasions, and there were probably numerous others we weren’t affected by… but I can’t help but question the pattern I’ve noticed on social media.

These attackers almost never make preemptive threats. No, instead, we see a network go down, and when a bunch of people on Twitter begin to question why, THAT’S when someone steps up and says, “Oh yeah, dawgz, that was us!!!11!!!!1!1!” At this point, a number of so-called hackers will attempt to take credit for the same attacks… you know, to prove who has the biggest wiener. So, you’ll have to excuse me for not believing every 12 year old on the net who claims to be the cause of a service outage.

And by the way, I said ‘so-called hackers’ because regardless of how much power they want us to THINK they have, it’s little more than a ruse. You see, nothing is actually hacked in a DDoS. In fact, the words behind the acronym tell us as much: Distributed Denial of Service. It’s an attack that’s designed to create a bottleneck which keeps legitimate traffic from getting through. It’s a major friggin’ annoyance, yes, but certainly not a hack.

Anyway, the ‘attack now, take credit later’ pattern I noted was actually broken in early December. Yes, weeks before the jolly fat man in red suede was set to violate our chimneys, a group – who I refuse to name, lest I give them the attention they crave – threatened to take Xbox Live down on Christmas… FOREVER. With this in mind, I remained vigilant in my skepticism. I mean, you don’t have to be Nostradamus to predict both Xbox Live and PSN would suffer outages on Christmas, do you?

Tons of new consoles would connect to their respective service for the first time. The millions who already own these machines would log in to play their new games. The end result was practically written on the wall.

So, when I noticed both PSN and Xbox Live were straight noping-out on Christmas Eve, I thought, “It’s a tad early for this to happen… but maybe not. A lot of people celebrate with one side of their family on the 24th.” Of course, it wasn’t long before ‘they who shall not be named’ hopped on Twitter to take credit for the down time. Still, I wanted to see how things played out before reaching any conclusions.

Well, Xbox Live came back in just under half a day, albeit with some restrictions… but PSN? Down for DAYS. After a good long while, Sony finally stated their network was suffering from a service disruption attack. With confirmation of DDoS attacks straight from the source, I could finally begin to assess the situation.

First and foremost, why disrupt these services in the first place?

One motive was to deter people from ignoring their families on Christmas… but, uh, that doesn’t really explain the various other attacks throughout the entirety of 2014.

No, their primary motivation was to expose the lack of security put forth by Microsoft and Sony. After all, these companies are charging $50+ a year for access to multiplayer. ‘They’ didn’t believe these companies were utilizing our money to enhance security. So, they’ve chosen to ‘enlighten’ consumers by crippling Xbox Live and PSN, the message being, “It was easy for us to take these services down, and that should concern you. You’re not getting what you think you’re paying for. Stop giving in to these greedy corporations!”

This line of reasoning sounds fine on paper, but is flat out STUPID in reality. The only surefire ‘cure’ against a DDoS is to have unlimited bandwidth, and needless to say, that’s just not possible. Money can be spent on better mitigation, yes, but that’s about it. The only real problem here are the idiots doing this from their basements for little more than shits and giggles…

…Or is it?

This fiasco DID expose one company as being far less prepared to mitigate attacks than the other: Sony.

It was difficult to bitch about down time on the PS3. After all the service was free, so you weren’t actually losing anything. But with the PS4, Sony decided to throw multiplayer behind the PS+ pay wall, with the promise they’d use that money to better the network.

In an interview with computerandvideogames.com:

Yoshida explained the move was necessary to maintain a high quality service and facilitate improvements and expansions.

“That’s (was) a big decision,” he said. “what we internally discussed and decided is that we will continue the free access to online play on PS3 and Vita, so that’s clear. But because on PS4 the online connectivity features such as second screen, auto downloads and share features – these are one big pillar of the PS4 experience and we will continue to invest in this area to expand and improve these online features and services.

“If we keep giving away online access for free, the natural pressure is that we have to cut down on the cost to provide this free service. But that’s conflicting with our goal of being able to provide very robust and great online services going forward. So we decided that on PS4, because we want to continue to invest and improve our new services, we’ve asked the most engaged consumers in the online activities to share the burden with us so that we can continue to invest.”

Well, they’re not living up to their end of the bargain.

So how are Sony planning to make amends with their customers? What would their peace offering be? A five day extension for PS+ members, and a ‘10% off anything on PSN’ coupon.

I’m sorry, but that’s just not good enough. PSN was down quite a bit last year. I know, I know. It seems like ancient history, right? But honestly, PSN’s lack of stability has been in question throughout most of 2014, especially after the significant DDoS attack in August. You’d think Sony would have said, “Woah, we need to figure this shit out, and pronto!” But, no. To be fair, both networks are still having issues, but the stark contrast between Xbox Live’s and PSN’s recovery time should be telling.

I won’t apologize if this sounds like hyperbole, but Sony clearly doesn’t care. They’ve suckered millions – including myself – into getting PS+… and then nothing. Just a bunch of blanket PR statements like, “Gee guys, sorry. We’re looking into it. Thank you for your patience and continued support.”

Clearly, all they care about is making money, because while PSN suffers, Sony have decided to invest in a new revenue generating service… and guess who’s footing the bill? Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the company that’s allegedly ‘for the players’ would rather spend our cash on a glorified rental service – a pricey one, at that – instead of improving the one we, the loyal players, have spent our money to support. Oh, and if that wasn’t a big enough kick in the teeth for our ‘loyalty’, guess what else? PS Now will also be available on NON-Sony devices in 2015.

For the players, indeed.

With each passing month, Sony manages to rank higher on my anti-consumer shit list. But let me be clear: While I believe they’re a terrible company, that in no way means I believe they ‘got what was coming to them’. It’s nice to FINALLY see a bit of awareness in regards to Sony’s terrible service, but the end doesn’t justify the means. Not one bit.

So what’s the answer? I just said it: Awareness. Hacker wannabes can pretend they’re doing right by us all day long, but their ultimate failure is taking away the most powerful tool that we, as consumers, have at our disposal: Choice. It’s as the old saying goes: You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. Similarly, gamers need to be armed with knowledge that will allow them to make informed decisions… NOT shuffled around like pawns on a Chess board.

In the end, that’s what these DDoS attacks are all about; change via force, and that’s a major copout. Sony obviously have some MAJOR security issues to iron out – again, better DDoS mitigation is required, and it’s scary to think they’re STILL experiencing major security breaches (think of the month they had to shut PSN down a few years ago, as well as alleged retaliation from North Korea over ‘The Interview’) – but retaliation is NEVER the answer. Who does it help, really? Did it help the people who spent $50, or more, for their PS+ or Xbox Live memberships? Did it help the families who spent hundreds of dollars on a new console for their children? Did it help the families of Sony and Microsoft employees who were undoubtedly called back in to work? Of course not.

The attackers weren’t wise enough to know that forcing ideologies on people rarely works, and when it does, history is doomed to repeat itself. The only way to institute change is through knowledge, meaning we have to keep our eyes, ears, mouths, and minds OPEN. Read articles. Talk with friends. Participate in message board discussions. Every little bit helps, you know? It’s obviously easier to default to the ‘one person can’t make a change’ mentality, but if I believed that were true, Byte-Size Impressions wouldn’t exist. I challenge gamers to keep fighting the good fight. It’s an uphill battle, yes, but not impossible.

Opinion-Bytes: Microsoft’s Holiday Wish – Sell, Sell, Sell

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Beginning November 2nd – yes, that’s this coming Sunday – consumers in the United States can get an Xbox One for only $349. Better yet, this price point even includes a game, with your choice between Assassin’s Creed and Sunset Overdrive. The Sunset Overdrive bundle is particularly appealing though, as it comes with a white console and controller.

If you want the Kinect however, you won’t be left in the cold. There’s an Assassin’s Creed bundle which comes with AC: Unity, AC IV: Black Flag and Dance Central Spotlight, and this also comes at a reduced price point of $449. Are you more of a FPS gamer? No worries, because there will be a Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare bundle, also with Kinect, at $449. It doesn’t come with three games like the Assassin’s Creed bundle , but it DOES feature a custom themed console and controller, limited edition exoskeleton, and of course a copy of COD: Advanced Warfare.

For anyone who’s been sitting on the fence, this is a great time to buy. I mean, getting a next-gen console for $349 is nothing to scoff at, especially when that includes a game valued at $60. The catch? Well, while this price is good through the holidays, it all comes to an end on January 3rd.

As great as this deal is though, there’s a couple of issues worth noting. For starters, it’s US only… and what have Microsoft been heavily criticized for since the Xbox One’s initial reveal? Focusing all their efforts on the US. Granted, they’re not likely to push units across the rest of the world, but they’re certainly not going to gain any fans this way. From a business standpoint it makes sense to focus on the only market that’s receptive to their machine, but it’s certainly going to cause a lot of groans overseas, and rightfully so. “Oh, yay… the Americans get the goods again. Hope they enjoy it with that football package of theirs…”

Next, while the temporary price cut is smart – because those considering an Xbox One will feel compelled to go out and buy one in the next two months – it also stinks of desperation. Not that desperation is a bad thing, per se. After all, it’s allowing consumers to get a great product at a great price, but what happens to sales after January 3rd? Nobody’s going to want to spend $400 and $500 again. Gamers have largely criticized Microsoft for selling an underperformer at a premium price, and many have gone as far as to say they wouldn’t consider an Xbox One unless the price goes down. Is a limited window of opportunity really going to work for Microsoft long term?

So, let’s break down what they could be thinking: Internal sales estimates could have been poor, forcing Microsoft’s hand to do whatever necessary in order to compete. Another possibility? They could be hoping the price drop puts Xbox One’s in more homes across the country, meaning friends and family of X-One owners would be able to see it in action, positive word of mouth would spread, and thus hopefully pave the way for a better 2015 once the price goes back up. Or, maybe they realize between Halo: Master Chief Collection, Sunset Overdrive and Forza Horizon 2, their first party offerings overshadow what Sony’s offering (as far as new releases are concerned), so they’re confident in their sales and want to maximize the amount of units sold. Regardless of the reason, one thing’s for certain: Consumers win.

A lot of people are asking, “What will Sony do?” Sony, more than likely, are going to do nothing. I have both an Xbox One AND a PS4, so I love both machines… but Sony have a penchant for being cocky, and they certainly have reason to be so with how far ahead they are in the sales game. I suspect that unless the PS4 takes a monumental dive this holiday, you won’t see Sony batting an eye. If anything, they’ll likely see this move by Microsoft as their handiwork, since they’re pretty much outselling the Xbox One worldwide by… what, 2:1 at this point? No, the only thing you’re likely to see are PS4’s bundled with a single game at $399.

Personally, I think Microsoft are still catching a bit too much heat from their console reveal in 2013. They’ve really changed the Xbox One around, and I can attest that it’s a great machine. It’s not my third party machine for obvious reasons, but it can still play next-gen games and its UI and features are, in my opinion, much better than what the PS4 currently offers. While the PS4 is my console of choice, the Xbox One has a lot of bells and whistles that makes me say, “Wow, I wish my PS4 did that.” I hope that Microsoft can really contend this holiday as a result, because their current machine really isn’t as bad as many have made it out to be.

Xbox One To Get Serious?

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It’s been another short vacation from writing on the blog, but I felt this piece of news was significant enough to take a moment and report ASAP.

It seems a Twitter source is saying that the ongoing ‘Resolution Gate’ has forced Microsoft to do another 180.  Namely, reducing the amount of power its OS requires.

If you haven’t been paying attention to next-gen news, there’s been a big ‘to do’ over how the PS4 performs over its main competitor, the Xbox One.  Since their launch a couple of months ago, there’s been games that have had higher resolution on the PS4 than their Xbox One counterpart, and with increased frame rates to boot.  The latest such example is 2013’s reimagined/reboot of Tomb Raider.

One of the problems with the Xbox One, is that there’s a chunk of its GPU that Microsoft has told devs not to use, as it’s important for all the features the OS has in place, as well as its relation with the bundled Kinect camera.  Devs on Call of Duty: Ghosts had asked Microsoft to use some of this GPU in order to make the game look comparable to the PS4 iteration, but Microsoft allegedly said ‘no’.  Now, it seems there’s buzz that Microsoft is going to do what they can to hack a lot of fat off of the Xbox One’s OS.

It’s a good move, because a lot of what I’ve read seems to indicate that the OS runs like crap.  The PS4 UI certainly has that feel of ‘more is coming in the future, just hang in there’, but at least it runs smooth like butter and can actually display the games the way devs want them to be seen.

It’s definitely concerning that Microsoft are having to make another 180 this close after launch based on internet rage, but tell me something – One machine is $500, the other is $400.  The cheaper one is the better performer.  Which one would you buy based on that info alone?

Of course, something like this was bound to happen eventually – That one, if not both of these companies would improve upon their OS over the course of the generation… but for MS to scramble to make it happen so soon is troubling.  And, as the Xbox One optimizes over the years, the PS4 will continue to be optimized as well.  I have a feeling even after Microsoft tweaks the Xbox One’s Ui to be less resource intensive, the PS4 is still going to be unmatched.

Time will tell.

Bit-Review: Killzone-Shadow Fall

Yeah... it looks THAT good.

Yeah… it looks THAT good.

Killzone is the franchise that drew a line in the sand… even if it didn’t mean to. It’s not the best FPS series out there, but it has a strong following and for good reason, too – The graphics were jaw dropping and the gameplay actually felt fresh. Instead of merely complying with ‘twitch shooting’ mechanics, the devs opted for movement that took your weapon and armor weight into consideration. Furthermore, they implemented a realistic cover system which wasn’t some mere gimmick, but a vital tool for your survival. The Killzone Trilogy wasn’t a flawless experience by any means, but the alternative gameplay it offered over the likes of Call of Duty had been welcome with open arms. It comes as no surprise that Sony’s highest regarded FPS has made its way to the PS4, but now that it’s here, I’m afraid hype is probably going to work against it. It’s a fine entry in the series overall, but has some identity flaws that just can’t be overlooked.

You’re playing as a Shadow Marshal, which means you’re faster and more agile than the character in previous games. As a result, the controls are more in line with other shooters, as opposed to going against the grain with a weighted feel. As a fan, I was worried this would be a major detriment to the game’s enjoyment, but that wasn’t my experience at all. The gameplay is still heavily focused on cover and tactical maneuvers, so there really wasn’t much lost in translation. In fact, much has been gained – For starters, you have the ability to scan the area and detect and identify nearby enemies. Based on what you find, there’s a number of ways you can decide to dispatch them.

This is where the OWL comes in.

Your drone has been programmed to function in four distinct modes, each of which can be accessed by swiping the DS4’s touchpad (up, down, left or right). If you want to reach a ledge below, your OWL will provide a makeshift zip line. Enemies using high-tech shields? No problem, just have the drone blast an electromagnetic pulse, disabling your foes temporarily and leaving them open for attack. Furthermore, you can actually send your OWL in to attack for you. It’s capable of taking a couple of soldiers out on its own, but more than that, and it’s likely to come back for a recharge sooner, rather than later (it’s never completely destroyed). However, even in situations where the odds are against you, the drone’s attack mode is useful as a diversion so you can move into flanking position. Last but not least, it can set up a shield which will last as long as the OWL doesn’t take too many hits. As you can imagine, all of this brings an intriguing wrinkle to Killzone’s gameplay.

And I guess the best name for that wrinkle is ‘choice’, and the OWL offers plenty of that when it comes to dealing with the demon-eyed Helghast. The game actually tries to push us into the promise of freedom more often than not, but it’s merely an illusion. That’s probably the most disappointing thing about Shadow Fall in general – Lots of promise, yet never fully realized. The first level is semi-open and lulls you into thinking each level will be expansive and allow you to choose which objectives you’ll tackle in succession, but it isn’t long before the game sets you on a linear path that only LOOKS ripe for exploration. Some levels offer a fork-in-the-road approach to multiple tasks, but that’s hardly the sense of freedom this game hoped to evoke. The forks are often an illusion, too – Sometimes you can forego the obvious path by sneaking around in vents, but other times the vent is literally your only option to progress.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t have a problem with linearity. It’s worked well for the franchise and continues to work in the latest iteration, but the game was touted as being something more, meaning those who ultimately expected more will be disappointed. Go in expecting more of the same however, and you’ll find the level design to serve its purpose well. You would think having the ability to scan environments and deploy a drone would make you unstoppable, but the devs have ensured the scale will rarely tip in your favor. As with previous installments, you’ll need to find cover from afar and plug away at the opposition methodically. While other games reward a pray and spray mentality, Killzone will put you down in a matter of seconds. So, use what’s at your disposal – Hide behind plants, walls or whatever else in the environment… but be snappy about it. A fair amount of cover options are destructible, which can work both for you and against you. Of course, much like the game’s ‘open nature’ (lack thereof), such freedom is only an illusion. Certain parts of the game allow you to blast through walls, but most of the time it’s only the small stuff that acquires battle damage.

Speaking of damage, health generation has been tweaked for Shadow Fall. As most other shooters nowadays, you’ll notice the outer edge of your screen going red if you’re close to death, and hiding is an effective way to get back in the green… and I mean LITERALLY back in the green. The light bar on your controller has been utilized by the devs as a health indicator – Green, yellow and red. In addition, you’ll find adrenaline packs littered throughout the game… and you’ll need them. If you’re low on health and can’t get to cover in time, it will boost your health and slow down time (think of the COD: MW3 round winning kill cam) while aiming down the sights. If you get sloppy and fall to the ground, your OWL can use the adrenaline to revive you. Of course, if it’s currently charging because it had to flee battle with its tail between its legs, then you’re SOL.

Another thing you’ll notice, is that the AI isn’t very smart. Yeah, they’ll chew you up and spit you out if you leave yourself vulnerable, but their movement is limited. They pretty much get in position and hide, only peeking out on occasion to squeeze off some rounds. The AI in previous Killzone titles had been substantially better, so it’s disappointing to see it take a back seat to all the action.

Anyway, outside of the normal ‘infiltrate – cover – attack’ scenario, Shadow Fall gives you plenty of other objectives throughout its 10-12 hour campaign… and some of them are jaw-dropping cinematic pieces you have some control over. You’ll hang on to a rope dangling from a helicopter, free-fall through the air, fortify and hold down a small base, maneuver and battle through zero gravity, use small bots to sabotage equipment and more. The variety of gameplay is definitely welcome, and helps to keep things from getting repetitive. The only thing they recycle time and time again is using the OWL to hack into computers. This is first utilized to deactivate alarm systems, but quickly devolves into a ‘get to this terminal and hack it so you can get to the next objective’, which gets tedious.

Anyway, I’ve rambled on enough about the gameplay. As one of the first exclusive PS4 titles, it’s absolutely gorgeous and really makes me excited for the future of console gaming. Graphics aren’t nearly as important as the gameplay, so I won’t prattle on forever… but the graphics go a long way in helping to sell this tale of a ‘world that’s been divided’. You fly over a city, and the draw distance is just… nuts. No lack of detail in distant buildings, no artificial haze to hide details, no tricks whatsoever. I noticed the OCCASIONAL pop-in, but this only occurred with minor details. Lighting is amongst the best I’ve seen in a console title to date, and the colors? Shadow Fall isn’t nearly as drab as its predecessors, that’s for sure. There’s plenty of bright tones this time around, and even when the game is at its darkest, there’s still color being used to bathe us in atmosphere.

Last but not least – I have to address the story. It’s some time after the events in Killzone 3 (30 years, I believe?), and each side of the opposition is basically separated by their version of the Great Wall. Of course, there are some things at play that hope to change all that, and you find yourself smack dab in the middle of it. As a soldier, you were raised to believe in the black and white scenario – You’re good, the other side is bad. Fortunately, the plot attempts to put us in a position where the line between right and wrong is blurred, but it doesn’t do a great job of driving it home. It’s conceptually sound, yes, but much like the previous Killzone titles, the central cast are mostly unlikeable (with the exception of ‘Echo’).

So far, my experience with the multiplayer has been fun, but there’s nothing new or innovative to write home about. If you want a variety of standard multiplayer modes with a control scheme that feels good, and with graphics that look phenomenal… then you’ll have fun. I know I did, but once Battlefield 4 is working the way it should, I expect most players to gravitate towards that.

So, as I said in the beginning – The game wants to provide this and it wants to present that… but Shadow Fall never reaches the heights it strives for. It’s just another shooter with a mediocre plot that’s driven by dull characters… but that’s not to say it’s a bad game. For all the negativity I’ve spouted, it’s only because I have a responsibility to give it to you straight. Still, it’s important I stress that most of the negatives were outweighed by the positives, because Killzone Shadow Fall is still fun as hell. There wasn’t a single time I said, “Come on, just end already.” I legitimately had a good time, and wouldn’t mind going back to play through the campaign again. In the end, that’s what a game is all about – Being fun. If it plays great and I have great time playing it, what’s left to say? I recommend Shadow Fall for anyone who picked up a PS4 (unless you simply aren’t a fan of shooters). It’s not a ‘killer app’, but is certainly leaps and bounds above most other launch titles I’ve played in previous generations.

Keep an eye in the not-too-distant future for my review of Knack. For the time being, I’m compelled to share that the game isn’t the downer that most reviewers made it out to be. It’s simple, but a lot of fun. That’s all I’ll say for now! Until next time!

Bit-Review: Playstation 4 – Greatness Has (Almost) Arrived

"Sorry, I won't be coming in to work today... or all next week... or the week after that... or... you know what?  I'm sorry, but I'm deathly ill and have to quit..."

“Sorry, I won’t be coming in to work today… or all next week… or the week after that… or… you know what? I’m sorry, but I’m deathly ill and have to quit…”

The Playstation 4 has arrived to usher in the next generation of console gaming, and if you’ve been paying attention to the internet – like, at all – then you know it’s been a rocky start. The big name review sites have been unimpressed with first party and certain third party titles, and everyone’s in a tizzy over what’s become known as the ‘blue pulse of death’. I’m not here to provide opinions on the games just yet – as I’ll cover them in future updates – and I don’t think I need to discuss the blue pulse of death just yet. Is it an issue? Of course, but we really don’t have much statistical data to go on. No, I’m merely here to describe my experience with the PS4 thus far.
For those who don’t want in-depth impressions, here’s the short and thick of it:

PROS:

-The Dualshock 4 is the most comfortable controller I’ve ever used.
-The ‘Options’ button is an effective replacement for ‘start’ and ‘select’… and then some.
-Ability to view detailed list of updates and what they fixed/added is a huge step forward.
-‘Share’ is easily my favorite feature at the moment. Live commentary is fun… even if nobody is watching (I’m a sad, sad man).
-The user interface is simple, and gives you easy access to everything you want/need to know.
-Streaming video and switching between multiple apps has produced zero hiccups… like, at all.
-‘What’s New’ is a brilliant cascade that reminds you of your accomplishments, as well as your friends.
-Games have run with zero lag in my experience.

CONS:

-The included mono headset is functional, but that’s about it. Horrendously cheap addition.
-The charge on the DS4 doesn’t last as long as the DS3.
-There are some easy things that Sony missed – How about the ability to import Facebook friends?
-The UI overall will eventually need a better way to sort your apps.
-Certain features that were advertised are not yet live at launch (‘taking over’ someone’s game, for example).

User Interface:

I pulled my PS4 out of its box around 12:15 am, hooked it up to my A/V receiver and turned it on. The moment I finished setting up the network, it began to download the day 1 patch, and by the time I finished the overall initial setup it was already 1/3 of the way complete. It wasn’t long before I was up and running.

Finally playing around with the user interface, I was pleasantly surprised at how simple it was. I didn’t think I was going to like it at first, but it won me over and then some.

There are two reasons the UI will likely appease the masses – Information and social integration, and there are only two rows for accessing all the PS4 has to offer. That said, I can already foresee a problem looming in the distance based on this two row approach.

The ‘home row’ is made up of large icons that come with their own drop-down menus. The first of which is labeled ‘What’s New’, and gives you a nice and blocky mosaic that details what trophies you’ve earned, the games you’ve downloaded or updated, and what you’ve decided to share on Facebook and/or Twitter. It also shares what your friends have been up to. The following icons in the home row are for games and other apps/services. The drop-downs for games will show you how many trophies you have, how many of your friends have the game, provide a direct link for add-on content, and more. There’s even a ‘like’ button similar to what you’d find on Facebook.

Also in the home row is the ‘Live on Playstation’ icon, and this allows you to browse through live streams and spectate to your heart’s desire. You can also participate in text-based chat. Eventually, you’ll also be able to ‘take over’ someone’s game when they need help, but this feature wasn’t live at the time of launch.

The uppermost row is the stuff we’re already (mostly) accustomed to – The PSN Store, Profile, Friends, Settings, Notifications, etc. The Notifications section is probably the most appealing for me, because it’s more like a hard breakdown of what we’ve done as opposed to the pretty ‘What’s New’ layout. You can see when you’ve earned trophies, when you’ve updated games and when installs are ready, and it’s also where you can check your current upload and download status.

So, what exactly is the downside to this two row approach? Whenever you install a new app or game, it obviously makes the row longer. Any time you use a game or app, it puts it at the beginning of the row. After buying lots of games on disc or PSN, it’s going to end up being a chronological mess. Here’s hoping Sony comes up with some sort of grouping option in the future.

Sony also missed some features which have already been well integrated into other (mostly mobile) platforms. Facebook integration is heavily transparent on the PS4, so why not allow people to import friends from their Facebook profile? It’s small stuff like this that makes it almost painfully obvious that this is ‘just the beginning’… a work in progress. The potential is almost there, but there’s still a lot of stuff they can tweak to make the experience perfect.

Game Installation –

First time you put a game in the PS4, you’ll see its icon pop-up on the home row with a small status bar beneath it. This indicates that the game is currently installing on the hard drive, and the process is surprisingly fast. You’ll also be able to play a game while it installs…

Dualshock 4

This controller is my new favorite. The sticks have convex bowls that are surrounded by a raised circular ridge, which offers a firm grip for our thumbs. Stick movement is somewhat stiffer than those of the DS3, and in-game control is greatly enhanced as a result (no more ‘overshooting’ your target). The top triggers are wide and concave, and are by far the most comfortable fit on a controller to date. All hard buttons (directional and X, O, etc) have eliminated the ‘squishy’ feel from the DS3.

The major draw is going to be the touchpad, and it’s incredibly responsive. Its implementation is disappointingly sparse at the moment, but the promise is there. In Killzone, you have to swipe a certain direction to change the ‘mode’ in which your OWL bot operates (electro-shock, zip cord, attack, shield), and AC IV uses it for map navigation. Knack – as fun as it is – doesn’t use this feature at all. I’m sure other games will get around to it in the not too distant future, but it’s disappointing to see a lack of day 1 support. One thing I was hoping for, was that it would be utilized for mouse functionality in the PS4 web browser, but that’s not the case. You can’t even use the touchpad to navigate the PS4’s UI, despite Sony having showed that off at one time. As with many other things, I’m sure that will change with a future firmware update… which is a wise move on Sony’s behalf (so they can work out the kinks before implementing more features), but it’s still disappointing nonetheless.

And then there’s the light bar – It’s very, very bright, and each player will have a different color assigned – Blue, red, yellow, or pink. The light helps the PS camera identify which player is which, and if players manage to change their seating position, games can switch the split-screen to coincide with where players are sitting. Killzone made terrific use of this light in-game, though – The light indicates health, and changes from green, to yellow, to red. This isn’t much help during the day since you can’t see the light reflected in front of you, but it was helpful at night as I was far better able to gauge when it was time to take cover.

Let’s not forget the in-controller speaker, which I guess takes a cue from the Wii-mote. In Killzone, I picked up audio logs, and I was surprised when they came through the controller for the first time. In Knack, you can hear the blocks mixing together when collected. It’s a neat feature…

But there’s one thing the light and speaker aren’t good for – Battery life. Don’t worry, you can still sit down and marathon for hours at a time, but the charge just doesn’t last as long as the DS3. The upside? The DS4 charges faster than its predecessor. There’s also an aux jack on the bottom for headphones or the included mono headphone with mic, and as wonderful a feature as it can be – it’s awesome to hook some headphones to the controller instead of laying a lengthy cord across the living room from my receiver – I’m sure it doesn’t help matters much, especially when you decide to route all sound to the headphones exclusively.

The ‘Options’ button is a real treat, too. People cried foul when there was no sign of a ‘start’ or ‘select’ button, but this button is pretty much an all-in-one. Press it within a game and it will pull up the game menu. Press it outside of a game, and you’ll see options that are specific for a game or app. One of my favorite features of the ‘options’ button, is that I can pull up a game’s update history… and not just the dates of update, but the specifics as to what each patch fixed/implemented. People will need to remember to start using the ‘options’ button instead of looking for some sort of ‘settings’ menu, but once they do… bliss.

There’s also the ‘Share’ button, but it’s a major software feature and I’ll discuss that in a bit.

Last but not least is the audio jack, which allows you to use any headphones with standard audio plug, even if it has a mic. A nice feature on the PS4 is that you can actually choose to route all in-game audio to the headphones through the DS4. I found this to be preferable to dragging out a long extension cable to plug into my receiver.

All in all, a massive improvement and probably the best controller I’ve ever had the pleasure of using.

Included Mono Earpiece and Mic

It gets the job done, and will do in a pinch for anyone who doesn’t want to scramble and spend money on a better headset with mic… but what the hell was Sony thinking? The hard, rounded ear piece design is terrible and reminds me of the original ipod ‘phones… minus the soft pad. This thing won’t stay in your ear if you’re prone to moving around while you play, and when they do, they can get uncomfortable after a short amount of time. Couldn’t Sony have opted for something that would at least fit in our ear? Would it have been difficult to give us a basic bud with a rubber piece that would keep it in place? You’re going to want to replace this, no questions asked.

Console Design

The PS4 is sleek and surprisingly small. You think people may have lied when they said it wasn’t much bigger than a slim PS3 model… but if you haven’t seen the PS4 in the wild yet, wait until you do – The box is really slender and left me scratching my head. “My PS4 is in there? How in the…” Unlike the Xbox 360 or the upcoming Xbox One, Sony not only squeezed all the pertinent hardware inside the small machine, but the power supply, too.

Anyway, enough of my gawking – Let’s address this ‘wobble’ that everyone has been freaking out over. I’ve decided to use my PS4 in a horizontal position, and the wobble is a non-issue. If I push the front left corner of the machine done, it does have a teeny tiny wobble, but who cares? I won’t be pressing on the top of my console… ever. I put in a disc, the machine doesn’t move. I take out a disc, the machine doesn’t move. I hook a USB cable up so I can charge my controller, and the damn thing STILL doesn’t move. It’s stable, and nobody should listen to the hyperbole on the net.

I love the light that runs down the center of the top of the console (right side if you store it vertically). When the machine is turning on, there’s a blue pulse and when the UI launches, the light turns a solid white. Putting the console in standby – the mode in which USB power still works and will allow the PS4 to gank and install updates from PSN while you’re away – is indicated by a dim yellow light. I think Sony have really outdone themselves with the sleek slanted look, too – This makes the power and eject buttons much easier and natural to use, and it just looks so modern, if not somewhat futuristic. It’s certainly leaps and bounds better than the original, fat PS3 design… and I’m sorry, but the PS3 looked terrible. Major thumbs up to Sony.

Share

I know that sharing video feeds over the net isn’t exactly new, but including such a feature in a game console is something of a revelation. If I sound overly excited about the Share functionality, it’s because I am. It’s another one of those things that I thought I’d never really use, but it’s causing my inner-geek to leap for joy. Any time I’m not using bandwidth on my PC, I’m streaming my gameplay on the PS4… for now and ever more. But I’m getting ahead of myself:

How does sharing content work? Hit the ‘Share’ button.

Once you do, a menu pops up with three options – Share a screenshot, share a video, or stream.

Screenshot is self-explanatory.

When you choose to share a video, you’ll be brought to a screen where you can scroll through your last 15 minutes of gameplay and trim to your heart’s content. If you want to share all 15 minutes, you can. If you only want to share 10 seconds worth, you can. And just as an FYI – People have widely reported that you can’t include commentary over your gameplay for video sharing… but YOU CAN. By default the PS4 doesn’t record mic audio, but if you hit the ‘Options’ button in the Share menu, you can enable this feature. Upload your video – which currently only supports uploads to Facebook – and wallah, there’s your video WITH commentary. Youtube support is supposedly coming in the future… here’s hoping it’s sooner rather than later.

Streaming is also simple. At first you’ll have to setup a Twitch or Ustream account – which you can easily and quickly do from the PS4 – but after? Just tap ‘Share’, select the ‘stream’ icon, and then you’re greeted with a few simple options before telling the PS4 to start your stream. You can actually share a feed link with Facebook and/or Twitter, and you can select whether or not you want to include yourself via the camera or mic audio. Hit the ‘Options’ button and you can even change the quality of the stream.
Honestly, prior to launch, I didn’t see myself using the Share feature much. I figured it would be a hassle… but once I saw how simple and intuitive it was, I was hooked. If I’m playing, I’m streaming. End of story.

App Switching

How many times have we tried to do something on the PS3, only to be told, “Are you sure, because you’ll have to get the hell out of your game if you want to do that, dumbass.” Well, the PS4 hopes to rectify that… and so far, I’m impressed. I’m playing a game, and all of a sudden I randomly decide I need to do something else. I press the ‘PS’ button on the controller and go out to the main menu. Or, I double tap the PS button to immediately switch to the last app I was using. The transition is smooth, and that’s all I can really ask for, isn’t it? There’s no stutter, no slowdown… nothing. Just pure performance.

I’ve probably missed some stuff, but this wasn’t meant to be a full review. These are my initial impressions from the first week, and I only see the PS4’s features improving as time goes on. The fact that they don’t support other multimedia support out of the box (from external hard drives, for example) is really unfortunate, but mp3’s will be supported in the future, and I hope other video files will as well. Outside of that, this console is definitely a sharp contrast from what the Xbox One offers – If you want an all-in-one living room experience, the Xbox One will fulfill that (and reviews in this regard have been good, with the caveat that you should wait until certain kinks are worked out). If you want a pure gaming experience… well, here’s the PS4.

In short? Greatness has arrived… almost. The PS4 is a solid machine and runs as smooth as a baby’s behind, but it still needs a little work from a firmware standpoint. Outside of that, it’s definitely worth picking up now. Enjoy!

By the way – My experience with the games has been pretty stellar thus far. Killzone Shadow Fall isn’t a perfect title, but it’s gorgeous and still a solid Killzone title. Knack has been bashed by reviewers… but it’s a perfectly competent and FUN action platformer. Battlefield 4 has way too many issues to even think about playing at the moment though, unfortunately, but the devs should be issuing a patch early next week. Resogun is a free title on PS+ at the moment, and it’s ADDICTIVE. Think of a Gradius meets Geometry Wars, and you’ve got a grasp on what to expect. There’s also other free to play titles, but I haven’t had a chance to get to them. I’ll update on those in the future.

Congratulations on a Successful Launch, Sony!

"Sorry, I won't be coming in to work today... or all next week... or the week after that... or... you know what?  I'm sorry, but I'm deathly ill and have to quit..."

“Sorry, I won’t be coming in to work today… or all next week… or the week after that… or… you know what? I’m sorry, but I’m deathly ill and have to quit…”

I just wanted to congratulate Sony for a successful launch – Over 1 MILLION units were sold within the first 24 hours. The Playstation 3 had sold shy of 200,000 units in its first couple of weeks, and the Xbox 360 I believe was around 300-350 thousand. The problem with each launch? The supply just couldn’t meet demand, but it seems that Sony were on the ball and made sure to produce as much as possible. This obviously paid off, because they sold all they put out in the US. 1 million in week is pretty impressive, but Sony has higher hopes – To sell 3 million before end of the year, and 5 million by the end of their fiscal year (spring 2014). Considering the fact that there are still other regions of the world – including Japan – that have yet to receive a PS4 launch, I’d say they’re well on their way to making those goals. We’ve heard a lot about console problems, but that’s normal for any launch. Sony projected there was a .4% fail rate, but that was before the actual launch. The number is certainly higher than that, but there are PLENTY of people who are enjoying their PS4 without issue. The average fail rate on electronics in general is about 15%, so… there’s a LOT of wiggle room out there. There are tons of reports of issues, yes, but considering there’s over 1 million units out there… well, I’m sure the issues aren’t as widespread as they may appear to be.

Here’s hoping the Xbox One has a successful launch at the end of the week, and without much issue on the technical side of things. I think Microsoft probably learned their lesson though, and consumers should buy without a heavy conscience. We ultimately pay some kind of price to be early adopters, so even if you get a bricked console out of a PS4 or Xbox One box… that’s part of the risk.

Anyway, I beat Killzone Shadow Fall’s single player campaign last night, so expect a review of that soon. Happy playing everyone!