Twenty years have passed since the original PlayStation games console arrived, utterly disrupting and revolutionising the industry. Sony had a simple plan: build a powerful console that would inspire gamers and developers. The company has done just this – again – with the PlayStation 4.
It is a machine built for games creation – and actually designed by a veteran game maker, Mark Cerny, who contributed to classic PlayStation titles such as Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter. It features super-fast graphics memory and an optimised processing environment. Everything is geared towards making the technology accessible to programmers.
As a result, many blockbuster titles such as Battlefield 4 and Assassin's Creed IV look better on PS4 than they do on Microsoft's rival console the Xbox One, which has a slightly less powerful set-up and is designed to drive Microsoft's multimedia ambitions as much as it is the latest super-fast sci-fi shooter.
Sony's designers wanted the PS4 to look like a games console with a striking, slanted chassis that repeats the architectural look of the PlayStation 2. It is smaller and lighter, and I find the new Dualshock controller, with its clever touchpad addition, curved triggers and refined analogue sticks, more comfortable than its (still very impressive) Xbox One rival. When you boot up PS4, the menu is subtle, almost ethereal, with swirling blue lines and ambient music.
Sony is clearly sold on the idea of social gaming because the user interface is filled with information on what your friends are playing – you can even log in via Facebook so that your real name is available (this can be limited, of course). Add in the Share function, which lets you record game footage or broadcast it live on the PlayStation Network, and you have a machine designed to foster gaming communities. While Xbox One wants to be your TV, your cinema and, of course, your console, the message from the PS4 interface is – this is a games machine for us to all play together.
There are the usual selection of video apps to download, including iPlayer, Netflix and Sony's own Music and Video Unlimited services. There's a web browser, too, which isn't great, but it works. None of this stuff feels as well integrated as it is on Xbox One.
The launch line-up of games is no more than OK. Killzone: Shadow Fall is a noisy sci-fi blaster, Knack is a passable family adventure. The highlight, ironically enough, is a flashy retro shooter named Resogun, which packs more joy into its essentially 2D landscape than most of the blockbuster HD releases manage over entire simulated worlds.
The big disappointment is that Sony has made such a huge deal of supporting independent developers, yet so few indie titles are available for launch. On top of this, the promising open-world racing game Drive Club has been delayed, so we're only getting a glimpse of what this machine can do.
And so just like the Xbox One, which launched with an unprecedented fanfare last week, the PlayStation 4 is a beautiful and exciting box of tricks, which has opened just enough to tease us with the future, but nothing more. If early adopters really have to rush out and buy one of these things, it's really down to personal choice. If you love games, PS4 is a smart choice, and if you want a progressive media hub, Xbox One is your thing.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © Josh Hallett