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Fighting the Post-Xmas Blues with the PS4

images-180Every year it’s the same.  The Christmas decorations and merchandise show up in stores in early October, in homes right around Thanksgiving, and everything is pretty festive come December.  Then like a rush, it comes and goes and we all settle in for a cold winter (unless you live in a warm climate, in which case I hate you right now) and wait to do it all over again come the fall.  I love Christmas, and I’ve talked about that at length in other posts, and whenever it’s over I get the post-Christmas blues.  A friend and I used to refer to December 26th as the most depressing day of the year, because it’s the furthest away from Christmas one can be.  My adoration for the holiday is not rooted in the fact that I have to wait another year for gifts.  Certainly, that was a big part of it as a child, but as an adult I’ve just come to appreciate the season even more and that special connection I have with it via my childhood.  Now I appreciate the lead-in to Christmas more than the actual holiday.  I like seeing the specials on television, I enjoy having decorations all over my home (I don’t decorate for any other holiday, though my Danzig/Misfits theme could be considered a Halloween one, if it wasn’t year round), and I even kind of like the stupid songs on the radio and in every store.

Whenever Christmas leaves, though, I get the blues.  Each year it seems to be slightly worse.  This year it took me a good week to shake it though sitting here and thinking about it brings the ache back.  The only way to combat the post-Christmas blues is the same today as it was when I was a kid:  with new stuff!  Namely, the stuff I received for Christmas.  As a kid, this worked pretty damn well and while I was bummed Christmas was over I at least had a ton of new action figures, games, and movies plus no school until after New Year’s.  As an adult, the material things are less important and less fun (I typically use Christmas as an opportunity to refresh my wardrobe), but this year I did receive a most excellent present:  Playstation 4.

I was actually quite proud of myself for not buying the PS4 when it launched.  Part of that was I did kind of expect to receive it as a gift from my bride-to-be, but part of it also was me trying to be more financially responsible.  I had a Disney World vacation in September to budget for, plus a wedding in the new year (and the bill for the engagement ring), and an expensive summer to recover from that included a new water heater and central AC condenser.  2013 was an expensive year and I actually did a good job of not buying a bunch of video games and records and such.  It still wasn’t easy to resist the call of new hardware though, but I am glad to say the wait was worth it.

A new controller for a new generation.

A new controller for a new generation.

Getting a new console like the PS4 is less fun than others.  Not because it’s inferior or anything, but because it’s so ordinary.  With consoles like the Wii and the Wii U, there’s excitement over the new input device but with the PS4 it’s just a more powerful PS3.  It’s a modern console and works in a modern function.  I did not get the camera, so I can’t talk about how that works, but everything else is pretty much as expected.  There’s a new interface that modifies the cross-media bar of the PS3, but not drastically so.  It’s nicer to look at and there’s more emphasis placed on the Playstation Network features though not at the expense of the actual game loaded into the system.  That, and any downloaded titles and demos, are front and center so jumping right into a game is seamless and easy.  The new setup is different enough from the old one that first-time users will have to actually pay attention to what they’re doing, but it soon becomes second nature.

Really, the PS4’s most distinguishing features are it’s physical look and dimensions.  The new console is pretty sleek looking and reminds me of the technology from the Mass Effect series.  It’s black with about 2/3 of the console having a matte finish, and the remaining third a glossy one.  There’s a single stripe that runs through it that glows when the console is on or in standby mode.  There’s a couple of USB ports on the front for controller charging, and the only two buttons are almost impossible to see.  They’re actually just touch panels, one for power and one for disc ejection, and are placed amongst the stripe running through the console.  I couldn’t even find the power button with my eyes the first time I hooked up the console and brushed it accidentally.  The console is also quite small and tidy.  It’s smaller than basically all of the prior Playstation consoles, save for the PSOne and the PS2 Slim.  It’s practically tiny when placed beside my model one PS3 and much smaller than its direct competitor, the Xbox One (it dwarfs the Wii U though).  The size is perfect for me as it just barely fits into my entertainment stand beside the Wii U with both laying horizontally.  Like the PS2 and 3, the PS4 can be displayed vertically.  Sony recommends users buy their stand if opting to do so, though the console seems pretty stable to me without it.  The console runs quiet and runs cool as well.  I have played it in marathon sessions for five to six hours at a time and it’s only ever warm to the touch, not hot, so it appears to be well ventilated.

The biggest change for the PS4 resides in the controller.  The dual shock controller was first introduced by Sony during the PSX era and has received only minimal modifications since.  The new dual shock 4 represents the biggest change for the venerable controller, though it still retains its traditional shape.  The handles have been elongated and the body of the controller is a touch thicker.  The face buttons, including the directional ones, are ever so slightly closer together.  The directional buttons feel better, which is great considering the Playstation console has always had the best d-pad, and the analog sticks are now closer to the rest of the controller.  The new ridges added to each stick does help keep one’s thumb in place (and makes them basically the same stick as what’s on the Wii), and both still retain button functionality.  The handles of the controller have a satisfying grip texture to them, and the R2 and L2 buttons are better shaped for human fingers.  The start and select buttons are gone, replaced with an options button and a big touch panel that also acts as a button.  It remains to be seen if the touch functionality of this over-sized button will have any worthwhile applications, but it’s there for developers to utilize.  The Playstation button has been moved in between the sticks to accommodate this touch pad, and a Share button (for social media integration, if that’s your thing) and speaker have been added.  The console also comes with a headset that can be plugged into the underside of the controller.  I haven’t used it, but it’s a nice feature to have.

The high seas have never looked better.

The high seas have never looked better.

The dual shock 4 truly feels like a home run for Sony.  It’s an improvement in pretty much every way from the dual shock 3 and its updates are both practical and tasteful (well, maybe not the touch pad but we’ll see).  The only negative I have found with it is the battery life.  Like the dual shock 3, the dual shock 4 contains a non-removable rechargeable battery.  Unlike the PS3, the PS4 can charge controllers when it’s in standby mode. Unlike the dual shock 3, the dual shock 4 cannot be charged by plugging it into a non PS4 device such as a PC or cable box.  With the dual shock 3, I could often go days in between charges but with the 4 I find I’m plugging it into the console whenever my gaming is finished for the day.  I haven’t ridden it down to nothing yet, but I would estimate the battery only lasts 6-7 hours on a full charge.  That’s suitable for one gaming session, though there are some who may not agree, but if I were to forget to plug it into the PS4 when I’m done for the day I’d be regretting it the next time I went to play.  Part of this issue will be rectified by getting a second controller (I’m holding out for the colored ones), but it is disappointing to see the battery life so poor.  Some users have also complained that the rubber of the analog sticks wares out quickly.  I just inspected mine which has logged probably around 30 hours at this point, and the heavily used left stick looks no different from the little used right one.  Maybe some people are just getting duds or are really hard on analog sticks.

Thief is looking like it will be my second PS4 game, hopefully it doesn't disappoint.

Thief is looking like it will be my second PS4 game, hopefully it doesn’t disappoint.

The only other fault I currently find with the Playstation 4 right now is a problem all too common, it seems, with new consoles:  the games.  Now, I should state that I am not a first-person shooter fan.  If I was, I’d probably be having a good time with the new Kill Zone game.  Since I’m not, I have Assassin’s Creed 4.  The Assassin’s Creed series is a popular and well known one published by Ubisoft.  I have previously played Assassin’s Creed 2 and enjoyed it, but when it was over I was not itching to play another.  AC4, which I am around 25 hours into, is a better game.  It’s a good game, it’s just not a “wow” game.  It was developed for and is available on the Xbox 360 and PS3, so it’s visuals on the PS4 are not a true representation for what the console can output.  It’s a great looking game, just not a great leap over what I’m used to.  And like AC2, there are little things about AC4 that bug me.  There are too many missions where I’m asked to just follow somebody and eavesdrop on their conversation.  AC has always been an action game masquerading as a sneaking one.  The sneaking mechanics just aren’t anything special, especially considering that I just finished up Dishonored a few weeks ago, and the enemy AI is downright shoddy when it comes to sneaking around.  The fighting is fun, though it can get annoying during big conflicts such as ship-boarding when Edward (the main character) starts attacking the wrong guy.  Or when he goes into one of his long kill sequences only to get struck from behind by another enemy.  Controlling him out and about the various locales is equal parts fun and frustrating.  He can scale almost anything, and often will start climbing something you don’t want him to.  Sometimes the game calls for quick decisions and Edward makes the wrong one by jumping to an unintended spot or assassinating the wrong enemy.

Assassin’s Creed 4 may be flawed, but it’s also really fun.  It can aggravate me greatly at times, but I’m also hopelessly addicted to it so clearly it’s doing something right.  It’s a meaty game too, which is great because nothing else currently available for the console interests me in the least.  The next game I have my eye on is Thief, which drops next month so I should be all set.  Especially considering I still have last generation games to play including The Last of US, Ni No Kuni, and Skyward Sword (which I received for Christmas in 2011, and have yet to play, which is embarrassing).  I’ll be plenty busy the next few months with or without PS4.  I look forward to more games though, and the PS4 has made an excellent first impression on me.  Hopefully the various developers comes through and the PS4 ends up with a library of games that rivals its predecessors.

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