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PS4 2015 Report Card

Sony's flagship console was far from faultless in 2015, yet fantastic where it mattered most.

To mark GameSpot’s Game of the Year 2015 series, throughout this week we are publishing annual performance reviews of all home game platforms: Xbox OnePlayStation 4Wii U, and PC.
Yesterday we started with a dissection of Xbox One, which we described as “the fastest-improving games console ever.” Today we move onto the PS4, a system with rock-solid foundations, an enviable list of games, and some flaws. Below you’ll find a collection of headline observations that defined the console’s performance and evolution in 2015, followed by a final verdict for the year.

Still Outstanding, Even Among Steam Machines

Few things seem to be more foolhardy than openly disagreeing with Valve co-founder Gabe Newell about, of all subjects, PC specs. But on this occasion it's worth noting that Newell's recent assertion, that Steam Machines outperform consoles at the same price-point, isn't particularly accurate.
Granted, that's what Steam Machines were supposed to do, but the least expensive unit on the market--Alienware's entry-level system--retails for $100 more than Sony's flagship console (that's based on the PS4's $350 MSRP, and not the $300 bundles you can easily find). More to the point, the first wave of Alienware Steam Machine reviews (123) suggest that the living-room PC doesn't particularly outperform PS4 either. Let’s not forget that games tend to demand more from PCs than consoles, too; The Witcher 3, for example, requires at least 6GB of memory on PC, which means the most affordable Steam Machines (which carry 4GB of memory) can’t run one of the biggest games of the year.

"Two years ago PS4 launched with the distinction of being the most affordable high-end gaming system around. That statement still holds true today."

Two years ago the PlayStation 4 launched with the distinction of being the most affordable high-end gaming system around. That statement still holds true today. Its star feature--8GB of GDDR5 unified memory, with a theoretical maximum bandwidth of 176GB/second--means it will be difficult for any hardware manufacturer to match PS4's specs and price without taking a loss at point-of-sale.

Cheaper, Quieter, More Power-Efficient, Bigger Storage

In 2015 Sony switched production to a new PS4 model: the CUH-1200 C-Chassis. Early hardware tests suggest the system is around 30W more power-efficient than the launch model, and perhaps more conveniently, far quieter. Sadly, the new model eschews its glossy bonnet in favor of a cheaper matte finish throughout, but the new range of color faceplates helps remedy its plain features somewhat. Sony has also dropped the price of the system across all key territories (US$349, UK £299, Australia A$480) whilst introducing a new 1TB model. Meanwhile, the latest reports suggest that Sony has unlocked the system's seventh CPU core, giving developers more resources to draw from.

The Best Games Lineup of 2015

Sony has been widely criticised, as you might expect, for not following the annual tradition of giving birth to a monstrous AAA game during the holiday season. The Uncharted 4-sized hole in its fall release calendar is even more conspicuous considering its competition has shipped three fantastic exclusives (Halo 5Forza 6, and Rise of the Tomb Raider) in the same stretch.
Considering Uncharted 4’s delay to March, along with Microsoft's solid showcase, it's even more impressive and indeed surprising that PS4 nevertheless has this year’s best lineup of games. At the top of the heap is Bloodborne, released exclusively for PS4 in March, which is a strong contender for Game of the Year after garnering perfect scores from publications such as Videogamer, The Guardian, and EDGE (the latter of which ranked it in its all-time top five).GameSpot’s review was glowing, as was its Game of the Month tribute: “Lots of games are fun; very few provide this kind of exhilaration. Congratulations, Bloodborne, for hammering our souls to a bloody pulp. It's an honor to be vanquished by a game so mighty.”
Rocket League, a clear contender for Game of the Year, first shipped on PS4 for free as part of the PlayStation Plus program.
Then there’s Until Dawn, an interactive teen-horror flick laced with so many tropes that it goes full-circle and becomes endearing. It is the sleeper-hit of the year, surprising virtually everyone with how much they enjoyed it.GameSpot’s review concluded: “Until Dawn succeeds in being a thoughtful use of familiar mechanics, a great achievement in player-driven narrative, and a horror game you shouldn't miss.”
Most impressive of all is the sheer number of console exclusives that showcase original IPs and distinct, inventive ideas. Rocket League, another Game of the Year contender, will be remembered as one of the best multiplayer games of the generation and certainly unlike anything else you can find on consoles. Other notable console exclusives include the haunting SOMA, as well as the striking (if slumbersome) adventure Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture.
For Xbox 360 owners who switched to PlayStation this generation, there’s also the PS3 re-releases in the shape of the Uncharted CollectionGod of War III Remastered, and Journey (the latter of which scored a perfect 10 in GameSpot’s re-review).
All of this, bear in mind, is complemented by a swarm of fantastic console-exclusive indies that have shipped on PSN this year: Axiom VergeRace the SunHatoful BoyfriendThe Talos Principle, and so on. Such games showcase the PS4 as an indie haven that dares to rival steam.

The DualShock 4 Seriously Needs an Upgrade

Twelve months ago we explained in our PS4 Year One Review that the DualShock 4 represented a step forwards from the PS3 pad, but still carried its own flaws. At the heart of its problems is the battery life, lasting seven hours or less per full charge, which we described as "unequivocally poor." Since then, Sony has released several vulgar custom designs as part of various marketing deals, and is now offering the pad in a range of colors, but has produced nothing to address the underlying battery issue.

"The immense joys and thrills of a gloriously unhealthy weekend with Metal Gear will, inevitably, be interrupted by a low-battery notification."

The immense joys and thrills of a gloriously unhealthy weekend with Metal Gear will, inevitably, be interrupted by a low-battery notification. Still there is no option to switch off power-zapping features such as the light bar, accelerometer, and touch-pad. It's probably not possible to introduce a power-saving mode to switch these ancillary features off in existing controllers, but it would be wise for Sony to add this to future models. Better still, a controller that works with AA batteries, like with the Xbox One, would be a much welcomed respite from the perpetual inconvenience of tethering a DualShock to a charging cable.

A Showcase of Failed Experiments

The system software team at PlayStation seems to operate with a degree of creativity and boldness that isn't so noticeable with other platform holders. Sony is willing to deploy odd and interesting features, seemingly without fear of failure, under the intrepid philosophy of "why not?"
Certainly there have been some successes, such as the Suspend/Resume feature introduced in March, but there are a few big failures and non-starters too. SharePlay--a concept where players could pass control of a game over to their friends via the internet--was an interesting concept until a gang of publishers systematically blocked the service. Then there's RemotePlay, a service that allows players to stream their PS4 games to a PS Vita. Despite technically working reasonably well, few seem to be using it (or at least, talking about using it) partly because even the tiniest lag is usually a deal-breaker, and the PS Vita's lower button count creates issues for certain games that would typically require a DualShock 4. Perhaps the upcoming PC and Mac versions will fare better.
Meanwhile, PlayStation Now--which last year we claimed "wasn't worth your time"--has in the past 12 months dwelled in a pit of irrelevance with no signs that it will clamber out.

Requested Features Remain Absent

It's easy to dismiss a list of complaints upvoted on Reddit. However, the emotional post "Firmware 3.0 Is a Joke and Sony Needs to Hear It" carries some astute points despite its delivery.
One key passage in the post reads: "Instead of providing gamers with the features they have been asking for since the start--folders, friend notifications, a way to clean up the UI, actual favorites in their friends list, a way to go incognito, et cetera.--Sony has just rammed social features and advertising down our throats."
A fair point. Since the PS4's launch, fans have submitted requests for such features, but Sony appears to be preoccupied with experimental features and services (above.) While it may seem a little ungrateful to complain about the free content Sony is providing, the community has for two years offered ideas for making the PlayStation experience better. There's even a website,betterPSN.com, which has drawn 141,000 votes from fans to prioritize the list of requests (currently an incognito mode is the most-requested feature).

Other Matters, in Brief

  • Online stability, while improving, is still shaky.
  • There are horror stories regarding Sony customer service. [12]
  • Spotify is the first console-bound music service worth caring about.
  • There are actually some nice operating system themes.
  • The cheap plastic on the analog sticks continues to erode.
  • Twitch finally arrives, albeit two years late and--for now--only in the Americas.
  • Something to consider in the future: Sony is splurging on console exclusives and timed release deals, including Final Fantasy VII RemakeShenmue IIIStreet Fighter VWild, and No Man's Sky, along with Destiny and Call of Duty DLC. It will very likely continue to do this.
  • It’s still too early to start discussing PlayStation VR.
  • Unless you're a console streamer, there's still little reason to invest in the PS4 camera.

Verdict

Sony's approach to PlayStation 4 has always been built on the big picture, delivering the pillar requirements of a games console with an extraordinary level of craftsmanship and focus. The result, since launch, has been an affordable system that is as powerful as it is simple to use. This year, Sony's flagship has achieved the remaining pillar selling point that previously eluded it: a library of wonderful and indispensable games. Smaller problems still linger--such as the controller's woeful battery--but when it comes to the fundamentals, the PS4 has become an essential purchase.
At launch the PS4 was a remarkable feat of hardware and software engineering, and despite the flaws that still hang with it, this year it was blessed with a rich library of fantastic games, ultimately elevating it to an essential purchase.
The GoodThe Bad
  • Still outperforms all systems, including Steam Machines, in the performance-to-price ratio.
  • A slightly improved hardware build, available with twice the storage, can be found for the same price as last year's model.
  • Comes with the best library of games released in 2015.
  • The controller still has problems.
  • Bold feature ideas have failed to impress.
  • Highly requested features remain unaddressed.

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