The PlayStation 4 remains a top-flight gaming platform as it wraps up its fifth year and enters a 2019 sure to be full of PS5 rumors, interesting exclusive games, and the possible launch of the most-requested feature in PlayStation Network history.
The PS4’s strong 2018 was highlighted by top-quality blockbusters God of War and Marvel’s Spider-Man. It looked even better in comparison to Xbox One, which had an unusually low number of exclusive games, keeping Sony-only console owners’ envy mostly in check (no regularly-expanded co-op pirate game and no cool open-world racing game for you, Sony folks).
The year also clarified the new status quo for PlayStation ownership. Sony publishes exclusive blockbusters for the PS4, but most of its smaller and intriguingly creative efforts wind up being offered for the PS4’s two subsections of games: PlayStation VR, which requires an expensive headset, or the phone-supported PlayLink line-up.
In its success, Sony has shown signs of complacency, offering nothing as radical as the Netflix-style all-you-can-play Xbox Game Pass and only being dragged belatedly to support cross-platform play for modern games (yes, yes, they did it long ago with PlayStation-and-PC crossplay for online Final Fantasy games). What Sony has going for it now works pretty well, of course, and it’d be hard to find a PS4 owner unhappy about their 2018 or skeptical about the chances of 2019 to be even better.
Since 2016 there have been two models of PS4: the regular unit and the bulkier, more powerful PS4 Pro. Standard pricing these days will get you a regular PS4, a 1 TB drive, and a bundled game for $300, or a PS4 Pro with 1 TB and a bundled game for $400. Both systems still run the same games, with none being exclusive to the more powerful Pro.
Multiplatform games still look best on the mighty Xbox One X, so graphics elitists should still go there, but the regular PS4 and the Pro both continue to keep rendering some incredible-looking games. The Pro has offered higher-framerate modes for Monster Hunter World and the Sony-exclusive God of War that have given some owners of the vanilla PS4 on the Kotaku staff an itch to use the Pro. (Also… shhh… if you listen closely, the newest model of the Pro might be quieter than the earlier ones.)
This year’s firmware updates left PlayStation 4 owners feeling pretty trolled. Only two offered major changes to the console. 5.50 gave the console parental controls as well as supersampling for people who don’t have 4K TVs. 6.02 offered players a fix for a bug that would allow a particular string of characters to lock up the console entirely. Yet again this year, the major numbered update 6.0 didn’t offer anything at all, leaving PlayStation 4 owners frustrated.
In happier news, Sony announced this year that the ability to change your PlayStation Network name is coming at some point in the future, finally allowing you to change your name from FartSniffer420.
Sony announced another exciting upcoming change this year. After not allowing it for years, at some point in the future, Sony will allow crossplay with other consoles for Fortnite and other “select third-party games.” In fact, crossplay for Fortnite is currently in beta. The actual date that these changes will be out of beta and available for more games than Fortnite is still up in the air, but hey, baby steps.
Not all announced changes are ones everyone’s looking forward to, however. Sony announced that beginning in March 2019, the “free” games you have access to as a part of your PlayStation Plus subscription will no longer offer PlayStation 3 or PlayStation Vita games. This won’t affect games you’ve already downloaded, or games you may download in the future, but no more PS3 or Vita games will be offered as part of PS Plus. You might be thinking “all three guys who still use their Vita are bummed,” but PlayStation Plus did legitimately keep that tiny, passionate fanbase alive. Without those games, they’re going to have to finally move on.
For everyone else, PlayStation Plus has had its good months (December had Soma, November had Yakuza Kiwami, March had Bloodborne) and its bad months (literally no one has ever asked for Knack). September lead with Destiny 2, and that could be a great month or an awful one depending on who you talk to.
PS Now also saw some incremental changes. The service, which allows players to stream a collection of PS2, PS3, and PS4 games to their PS4 or PC for $20 a month, now allows you to download PlayStation 4 and Playstation 2 games.
Do you want to stand inside a video game? Do you want to play a video game with a contraption strapped to your face? PlayStation VR remains situated at the optimal intersection of affordability, game complexity, and technological performance, although like any other VR tech, it has caveats aplenty.
PSVR got a slow flow of new games this year. The best of those was the mostly-wonderful dark horse Game of the Year contender Astro Bot, which makes Sony Japan Studio two-for-two with its VR game releases in the last two years. The third-person platformer is cheerful and visually expansive, surrounding the player in a world filled with jumping challenges and hidden collectibles. For some people, third-person games in VR are pointless, but if you can imagine being inside a 3D platforming game and directing Mario or Ratchet or some other mascot character to run all around you, you might get the appeal. Another third-person game, Moss, was also a VR visual treat.
There are other commendable PSVR releases, including the Sony-published competitive multiplayer tactical shooter Firewall, the trippy PlayStation-exclusive Tetris Effect, and the multiplatform music-slashing game Beat Saber, but VR gaming overall, including PSVR, remains a format in search of a killer app.
Third-parties already seemed to cool on offering VR of their own, as this year’s new Tomb Raider did not include a VR mode the way the previous one did and the miniscule VR gaming support from EA and Activision zeroed out. Ubisoft also seemed to be cooling on VR, offering a non-VR mode for its Star Trek Bridge Crew simulator in late December of last year and releasing the flawed VR-optional Transference with little fanfare this year. Sony brought only one of its established brands to VR with an addition of VR support to the Wipeout Omega Collection (albeit an offering emblazoned with a nausea warning). And as the year winds down, PSVR is getting, of all things, a VR version of Borderlands 2. Huh.
Sony opened the early months of the year with solid games. First was the remake of the beloved Shadow of the Colossus in February, which changed the game a little but still hit the spot for dedicated fans and newcomers. In March, we had Santa Monica’s God Of War, which is beautiful, with a strong story—not a bad start for a franchise overhaul. In September we got Marvel’s Spider-Man, which, if nothing else, made swinging around New York seem like the ideal mode of transportation for the city. The only real dud among these games was Quantic Games’s Detroit: Become Human in May, but at least that game looks beautiful.
While all these games were good, or at least competent, they’re also kind of samey. If you don’t like that kind of game, the PlayStation 4 may no longer be a console for you. While there were some interesting indies that released concurrently on the PS4 and PC, like The Swords of Ditto and Moonlighter, the response was less enthusiasm and more “when’s it coming to Switch?” Swords of Ditto does not have a Switch version in the works. Moonlighter did end up on Switch. Having played both versions, it feels more at home on the Nintendo console.
[Clarification, 10:34am - December 13: We’ve heard from several readers wondering why we’d describe Sony’s big releases as “samey,” given they have some obvious differences. We could have been clearer and have removed a reference to climbing towers in Spider-Man to unfog the map, which is a tired gameplay trope. While we enjoyed most of those releases, they exhibit a big budget gloss that makes them largely feel safe and familiar. By that measure, God of War’s deviation from its format excited us most and we’d like to see more risks like that. As noted elsewhere, we’ve seen a riskier Sony in their offshoot VR and Playlink lines.]
Sony appears to have cast its lot in with those bigger games instead of smaller ones, like it did with last year’s What Remains of Edith Finch. This year’s offerings on PlayLink, a Jackbox Party Pack-esque service that allows players to play party games with their cell phones, seems indicative of the platform’s attitudes towards those kinds of smaller games. There are more games on PlayLink than last year, but you wouldn’t know that unless you looked for them. They’re also all pretty family-friendly and lighthearted, in contrast to Supermassive Games’ Hidden Agenda from 2017, which was kinda like Until Dawn on your cell phone.
Do you like sneakers as much as your PlayStation 4? If so, your name is most likely Luke Plunkett. Even if you’re not him, you’ll probably agree that the year of Sony’s PlayStation-themed sneakers was actually pretty alright. We started off in January with some Playstation themed PG2s, which had kind of an intergalactic vibe. Plunkett declared these “not garbage.” In June, Nike re-released the Sony branded AF1s, which look like clown shoes. But in October, Nike dropped a new, grey version of the Paul George signature shoe, and we gotta say, these are frickin’ hot.
It comes in two color schemes, both of which appear inspired by the PlayStation Classic, which would not release until two months later. The sneakers are probably better than the game console.
Sony has held back from giving specific release dates, or even release years, for Naughty Dog’s The Last Of Us Part 2, Hideo Kojima’s team’s post-Metal Gear game Death Stranding, Sucker Punch’s Ghost of Tsushima, Media Molecule’s Dreams and the VR game Blood & Truth. Coming out in 2019? Maybe.
The only thing that PS4 owners can mark their calendars with right now is the annual MLB: The Show release and April 26 for the repeatedly-delayed zombie shooter Days Gone. The lovely-looking anti-bullying game Concrete Genie slipped from December and will also be out some time next year.
The lack of dates on the platform’s most anticipated games would be more discomfiting if Sony hadn’t managed to reliably put out one or two game-of-the-year contenders per year. It’s been finding a way to achieve high levels of quality and has earned the benefit of the doubt that those undated games will largely be worth it.
It’s less easy to give such confidence to the PSVR line, which approaches 2019 with big questions. Is it about to go the way of other Sony micro-platforms and fade out after an initial burst of interest? Or will it prove here to stay? In theory, a major publisher like Sony has a great chance to produce must-have games for a new medium, but Sony is arguably only doing marginally better than it did when pushing camera games for its EyeToy platform or motion-controlled games for the Move controllers.
Even as Sony recedes from supporting the PlayStation Vita, seemingly enabling more support for PSVR development, its commitment to its own VR platform seems half-hearted. As impressive as Astro Bot and Moss are, why isn’t Sony using its own more popular brands to create, say, a Ratchet & Clank in VR? Or even a reissue of an old God of War as a VR experience? A VR tech demo for The Last Guardian in late 2017 didn’t cut it, and it’ll be telling if in 2019 Sony finally tries something big with PSVR, or allows the subplatform’s gaming line-up to continue to play it low-key. Not that PSVR doesn’t have some intriguing smaller independent games on the way.
Sony’s 2019 currently is a year of potential, but it’ll be an odd year no matter what. The company is skipping the annual E3 showcase in June, leaving Microsoft as the only platform holder likely to do a big presentation. It also just skipped running its seemingly annual PlayStation Experience fan festival that had been expected in late 2018. So not only do we lack release dates for the PS4’s most-anticipated games, but we also don’t know when to expect we’d find them out. What gives? We’ll see. And with any luck we’ll end the year with a few more great PS4 exclusives played and the transformation of any embarrassing PlayStation Network usernames to something cooler.