PlayStation 4 could put Sony back on top

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PS4_controller_front Sony’s PlayStation 3 was the first of their consoles to be panned and considered lackluster.  It did eventually outsell the Microsoft 360, of course, but it took a very long time for the console to build up solid momentum, and for all of the launch-era negativity stirred up by fans of the 360 and Nintendo’s Wii consoles to fade away.

Today, the PS3 is sort of just, well, “there.”  It has great exclusive games, including truly great titles like the Uncharted series, Gran Turismo 5, and the God of War franchise.  With few exceptions, cross-platform games are just as good on the PS3 as they are on the 360… and some of them are even better.  And despite peoples’ rather absurd claims early on that Blu-Ray would be toppled by HD DVD, Blu-Ray is king today.  PS3 may not have “won” this generation of the console wars, but it didn’t really “lose,” either.

Still, people were nervously anticipating Sony’s big PS4 reveal this week.  The PS3 and it’s troubled launch back in 2006 (has it really been that long?) did quite a bit to lower expectations for the new console.  Perhaps that’s a part of why the PlayStation 4′s announcement was as breathtaking as it was.  But only a part… a smidge, really.  PS4 looks like an effing incredible console… even if we don’t know what the console actually looks like yet (they never actually showed us what the console itself is going to look during their epic presentation).

While Sony never admitted it during their multi-hour announcement show on Wednesday, Sony knows that the PS3 could have, and rightly should have, been a better gaming console.  It wasn’t a bad console, but it did fail to live up to our expectations of what the PlayStation brand should bring us.  It’s quite obvious that the folks at Sony took a few pictures of their black eyes and put them on the wall, to remind them of what they shouldn’t do with the PS4.  And the new console definitely shows that they’ve learned their lessons.

The PS4 is marketed as a powerful and revolutionary console, but rather than saying it’s “better,” they’re pitching it as “different.”  Whereas the PS3 targeted “core” gamers — hardcore folks who expect hardcore titles — Sony wants the PS4 to appeal to both hardcore and casual gamers alike.  They’re making the console highly social, integrating it with strong social networking features to the point where they have a “share” button right on their new controller.  This of course means huge enhancements to the PlayStation Network, too (hopefully, they’ll keep PSN free, which always provided a huge leg-up over Microsoft’s Live).  And while past consoles focused on huge enhancements in graphics, the Nintendo Wii proved through its sales figures alone that casual gamers care more about having fun than seeing how many polygons can be crammed into a frame, so the emphasis isn’t on graphics, so much as enhancing the physics, AI, and depth of quality of graphics; the visuals are only a minor, almost unnoticeable step up from current-generation graphics, but the PS4 fine-tunes its imagery and adds realism behaviorally.  Could it be that video game characters may start moving their mouths like they’re actually talking, rather than looking like they’re coping with way too much peanut-butter on their tongues at once?  We’ll have to wait and see.

PS4_controller_sideSony also seems to have been listening to some fans’ requests for a beefier controller (not all of us are happy about this, and like the PS3′s controller, but hey, what can you do?).  The new controller will feature an integration of SIXAXIS and Move technologies, using a motion-sensing bar to help enhance the motion capabilities of the controller.  It also takes the PlayStation Vita’s touch pad, integrating it on the front of the controller, and adds a USB jack for headset access.  They’re also enhancing the DualShock rumble capabilities.

Of course, all of this doesn’t really matter if the game’s are terrible.  Developers struggled with the PS3′s development kits for many years, contributing to the loss of some exclusive franchises and the under-development of a number of games.  To solve this issue, Sony focused on developing the PS4 to appeal more toward developers; they’re pitching it as a console made by developers, for developers, asking game studios what they need, want, and expect out of a console, while using the familiar, tried-and-true X86 development architecture to make it even easier to create exciting new games for the platform.

When you add all of this up, you get a really exciting system that could indeed revolutionize the gaming console, all while propelling the PlayStation brand back to the tippity-top of the gamer food chain.  If Sony can deliver on their promises of making the PlayStation fun again, out-performing Microsoft with hardcore gamers and Nintendo with casual ones, the PS4 very well could be the king of the next-generation hill.  While we’re still waiting to hear about the Microsoft XBox 720 and Nintendo’s — well, whatever Nintendo comes up with to follow the fledgling, widely-panned Wii U console — The next generation console war is looking like it’s going to be Sony’s to lose.

There are still a few questions that Sony desperately needs to answer, though.  What is this new console going to look like, and more importantly… how much will this thing retail for?

Here’s the full PS4 reveal show video.  It’s longer than most movies, so you’ve been warned!

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