Stop waiting. If you can afford it, it's time to get a new-gen console, and the PS4 is a worthwhile one to get.
A year removed from the system's launch, Sony's fourth home console finally has enough must-play games to make any gamer's leap to the new console generation damn near mandatory. It's time. You have choices, of course, between two similarly-powered consoles, the PS4 and the Xbox One. We'll address that choice in a separate post, but if for some reason you've been wondering specifically about upgrading your gaming to a PS4, do it. (By the way, we're already on record urging you to finally grab a Wii U, but, no, we don't think you're made out of money.)
A year ago, I praised the PS4 for its horsepower and its sleek physical design. The machine seems powerful but is actually relatively small and unobtrusive. It runs quietly, and it has been designed to smoothly and automatically update itself and the games you have on it to keep your console gaming life fairly simple. It's a better device when connected to the Internet, same as many of the electronics you have.
The PS4 is a great upgrade over the PS3. It supports cross-game party chat and recharges your controllers while it is in its rest mode. It lets you start playing games while you are downloading them. It even lets you easily capture and share screenshots and videos to Twitter, YouTube or to a USB stick. It runs a range of now-standard apps, including Netflix, Amazon Prime and the WWE Network (that's standard in my house!), and maybe someday, Lord of Light willing, it'll get HBO Go. One of its few downgrades from the PS3, its requirement of a $50 PlayStation Plus subscription for multiplayer, is balanced by that Plus service providing system owners a free new game every month. (One lingering omission that'll be a big dealbreaker for some: the PS4's lack of home media streaming, though Sony has said it will eventually address it.)
Much of what I recommend about the PS4 now is what I praised it for a year ago, but I advised people to hold off then. I did so because there are few good reasons to splurge on a box that doesn't have any must-play games on it. I predicted that that would inevitably change, and, by a year in, it has. But while there are more good games on the PS4 than ever, my awe of the console has actually diminished.
Perhaps paradoxically, while I would now urge you to get a PS4, I'd also caution you more about its future than I would have a year ago. That's because, concurrent with the release of some very good games for PS4, the console's caretaker, Sony, has stumbled in its management of the PS4 itself. Its answer to the console's lack of universal backwards compatibility was the summer launch of PlayStation Now, a streaming service that grants players access to some older PS3 games but at a surprisingly high price.
The PS3 games I've tried work well enough through the Now service, and that's with me running less than the world's best Internet speeds. At least the single-player modes; I've not had any luck with the few multiplayer modes I've tried. And I was pleasantly surprised to see that my old save files, stored in the cloud from my PS3, work fine with the versions of those games streamed through PlayStation Now.
It's just a pity that Now is so expensive, and it's absurd that Sony hasn't found a way to let me play the games I already own for my PS3 without paying extra. Surely I could at least put the PS3 disc copy I have of the game in my PS4 drive to prove I own a copy? That's how the PS4 authenticated that I was an Assassin's Creed IV owner last year.
More troubling: the company bungled the launch of its most recent major software update, rapidly needing to offer system updates 2.01 and 2.02 in the span of two weeks after update 2.00 rendered the system's rest mode—formerly "sleep" mode—inoperable. Sony's PSN service Sony's PS3 suffered the occasional bad firmware update or online service outage, and it's worrisome to see a problem like that return, even if it was fixed relatively quickly.
The biggest caution of all, however, is Sony's first-party game management, which saw the 11-month-delayed racing game Driveclub arrive with multiplayer that was so badly broken that Sony apologized, offered free downloadable content and held back a PlayStation Plus version of the game. Sony has largely failed to support the PS4 with great games of its own this fall, relying on the skimpy offering of the aforementioned Driveclub and LittleBigPlanet 3—and we thought Sony's launch line-up was lacking.
The good news is that Sony typically fixes its firmware problems swiftly and there is no sign that any of the PS4's challenges are innate to the hardware and unfixable. The company also has promising exclusive games on the horizon for 2015, including Bloodborne (from the makers of Dark Souls) and possibly Uncharted 4 (from the team that made The Last of Us).
The better news is that the PS4 is no longer just a machine about the future. The games available now for the system are very good. Since my six-month-later PS4 update, in which I still advised people to wait, the console has received some great games.
Consider the superb port of the one-to-four-player monster-killing, loot-collecting Diablo III, complete with the PC version's first expansion and some PlayStation-exclusive extra gear.
Or consider Destiny, the story-light but entertaining co-op first-person shooter from the people who made Halo. Sony even got Destiny's creators to hold some of the game's content for PlayStation owners for a year, keeping it from Xbox players (lame, but advantage: Sony). Destiny also runs surprisingly well on the PlayStation Vita, for those who own Sony's portable and have a good enough internet connection to use it with the PS4-Vita's Remote Play hook-up. If nothing else, it's eminently playable on Vita through a same-room direct-to-console wireless connection, which is handy when someone else in your house wants to use the TV for non-PS4 purposes.
The PS4 can run the vast, incredible brand-new BioWare role-playing game Dragon Age Inquisition and a revamped Grand Theft Auto V that includes a paradigm-shifting first-person mode. The year's best surprise, the innovative Lord of the Rings game Shadow of Mordor, looks great on PS4. There's a pristine PS4 port of the PS3 system-capping The Last of Us, too.
The console also has a growing line-up of fun indies, including the sci-fi sidescrolling/space-ship shooting hybrid Velocity 2X, the liquid-physics showpiece PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate and a new version of the cult-classic roguelike adventure The Binding of Isaac.
If you buy, install and/or download even half of the aforementioned games (or any of the other greats on the system), you'll have a wonderful time. Bear in mind that many of those games are also on PC or Xbox One, so what's special to the PS4? Well, how about this? As of a couple of weeks ago, you can try most major PS4 games that your friends have without even owning them yet. You do it through a new feature called Share Play that is somewhat limited by the quality of your Internet connection but is otherwise one of the coolest things a game console has ever done.
Here's how it works. You can connect to someone in an online party and then invite them to share a game. Or, in the case of the shot below, you'll see that Kotaku's Kirk Hamilton decided to share his copy of Dragon Age: Inquisition with me. He's in Oregon. I'm in New York. Once we were connected, I was able to watch him play, live, while we chatted:
Better yet, he was able to give me control...
Suddenly, I was controlling his game from the other side of the United States. Really cool, right?
There can be some lag. The graphics aren't as good on the recipient's end because they're being streamed. And even though you can play a "local" co-op game through Share Play (we did with a Lego game), the lag can be too bad for coordinated play or masterful quick-reflex problem-solving by the remote player.
I can't complain too much, though, because even the initial implementation of Shareplay is very exciting and could be transformative to how we communicate about games. It also begins to catch Sony up on some key undelivered promises that they made when they revealed the console in 2013.
More importantly and more positively, Share Play helps compensate for some of my recent doubts about Sony's management of their platform and shows that even if updates like these come bundled in firmware that needs to rapidly be patched (Share Play was part of the 2.0 update), Sony's trying to be innovative with their platform. That ambition isn't just exciting. It is necessary for making this console generation feel like more than a graphical upgrade of the one before it.
So... I'm saying it. We're saying it.
Is the PS4 finally a must-have game console for those who have yet to make the leap to the new generation of hardware and have been eyeing Sony's machine?
Is this a qualified recommendation? Of course. How could it not be? A year later, my enthusiasm for the PlayStation 4 may be a little tempered. Sony was bound to hit a snag here or there in the management of the console, and they have.
I am nevertheless more pleased than ever about the thing most of us get a PlayStation 4 for in the first place: games. The PS4 runs them well, with a comfortable controller and a proper array of services to keep games patched and running as smoothly as can be. The PS4 now has a very good gaming line-up, one worth your time and money.
Get a PS4...unless you're deciding between it and an Xbox One (UPDATE: or if you have a great gaming PC and are content!). If you are deciding between an PS4 and an Xbox One, you should check out our comparison post about the two since the choice between them is somewhat complicated. We'll be running that comparison—as well as a one-year-later update to our Xbox One review, later this week.