PlayStation 4: A nod to the past, a glimpse of a more open future



The week’s headline news was actually a little predictable. As we revealed a few weeks ago, PS4’s new controller has a Vita-style touchpad on the front and comes with a ‘share’ button, a nod to the console’s more social outlook. PS4 will also be PC-like and easier to develop for, and arrive ‘holiday 2013’, though question marks remain over whether that includes Europe.

Consumer-centric and developer-inspired were the early beats at PlayStation Meeting, and beyond any mere game announcement, the most striking part of Sony’s presentation was the shift in tone.

Hyperbole was mixed with humility – with PS4, Sony wanted to show that it was listening. This week served as an unspoken apology for PS3’s troubled launch and a tacit acknowledgement that the game industry simply won’t wait around for Sony much longer, and neither will consumers.

Mobile and tablets will be part of the PlayStation experience, Sony said. And its own second screen, Vita, was part of that. We noted some months ago that what the struggling Vita needed most was PS4, and clearly Sony thinks so too. Here it was pitched as a companion device to PS4, with David Perry demoing Remote Play live to the audience.

If it was indeed live. In the flurry of interviews that followed PlayStation Meeting, SCEA head Jack Tretton made some interesting comments about how Gaikai, streaming and the cloud fit into the PS4 vision. What we saw was ‘aspirational’, rather than part of PS4’s day one offering. It’s a choice of words which might remind some of the infamous ‘target footage’ masquerading as realtime play we saw before PS3 arrived.

It was this part of the pitch which seemed most elusive. Appropriately for all David Perry’s talk of the cloud, we didn’t come away with anything tangible during his segment. Every suggestion of instant-play demos and back-catalogue downloads was qualified by rather woollier language. It was fifteen minutes of what Sony would like to do with Gaikai’s technology, rather than what it will do for launch day.

Then it was onto the games. Developer talking heads were rolled out to speak of possibilities and ideas and amazing new things. Then we saw another Killzone.

I’m being facetious. Shadow Fall looked phenomenal, if not original, and it was the same story with Evolution’s DriveClub. Knack was, well, unexpected; Capcom’s Deep Down was also a surprise, though Yoshinori Ono seemed to monpolise all of the excitement around that one – it barely got a mention in the post-mortems that followed across the games media.

A new Final Fantasy ticked another box; Media Molecule brought typical whimsy to the proceedings; Jonathan Blow’s The Witness showed that Sony intends to continue its support for high-profile indies.

Some have questioned what was seen and talked about at PlayStation Meeting this week. It should be remembered that this is just the beginning. We later addressed the absence of an actual PS4 console and asked if we really needed one. The gaming press, certainly, was happy enough – this was the moment we’d been waiting for since the disappointments of last year’s E3.

PS4 will be more open to developers, simpler for consumers and welcoming to tablets and mobile. PlayStation 4 won’t be the centrepoint of your living room, as PS3 was once designed to be. It is intended to be an enabler – a box able to stream its content onto any screen, not just your TV.

If this was Sony’s first step towards E3, then this year’s industry pow-wow will be utterly spectacular. Announcements will be bolder, the games will be more ambitious and the details will be clearer. And pitched head-to-head against Microsoft, the humility we saw at PlayStation Meeting will surely be forgotten.