The PlayStation 4 is nothing short of an absolute juggernaut for Sony. The PS4 brought gamers some of the best big-budget AAA games of all time as well as nurtured an impressive army of independent games and middle-tier so-called double-A projects on a machine that easily improved on its predecessors and outclassed its competition in just about every measurable way and thus also outsold them many times over. In many ways the PlayStation 4 is Sony’s most successful console ever. But in 2020, as the PS5 is getting into more and more hands and most of Sony’s first party studios leave the PS4 behind, the era of the PS4 is finally coming to its inevitable close. The age of Sony’s fourth main home console is winding down. Given that, now is a great time to really take a look at the PS4 and better understand what exactly made it so great.
The first and most obvious point to make about the PS4 is its competition… or lack thereof. Most people reading this article already know the story, so I’ll make it quick. The Xbox One pretty much fell flat on its face every step from the moment it was announced until even after it launched. Underpowered, outdated RAM, too much emphasis on multimedia functionality, too little emphasis on its own exclusive games, a required internet connection, and a whole host of other things held the Xbox one back at launch and continued to haunt its reputation throughout the entire generation. This gave the PlayStation a huge opportunity to gain ground that the PlayStation 3 could have only dreamed of gaining and the seventh generation. People who normally would never even give PlayStation a second look we’re switching over.
On top of that Nintendo wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire with the Wii U that had its own list of missteps and misfires that drove its audience into the arms of Sony – at least until the Switch came out – as well. Sony spent much of the eighth generation of consoles completely unchallenged and the presumptive winner and just about every measurable way. Even though the Xbox One turn most of its problems around and the switch ended up more than making up for the Wii U’s drawbacks, these things were far too little too late for them to catch the PS4. The PS4 was a runaway success by the time Nintendo and Microsoft finally got their acts back together.
That said, the failings of its competition were not the only things working in favor of PlayStation for its fourth main home console. Even if those problems for the Xbox One and the Nintendo Wii U have not come about, the PlayStation 4 would have still been an incredibly formidable opponent with its new and improved UI that still had much of the simplicity and intuitiveness of the PS3’s UI yet more modern functionality with the share button that totally simplified taking screenshots and cutting video clips, as well as streaming to YouTube or Twitch.
The PS4 continued to support the popular themes like the PS3, as well as making multiple aesthetic improvements that the PS3’s more basic look lacked. Overall the PS4’s UI didn’t reinvent the wheel but it did take what the PS3’s XMB was doing and give it a much more appealing look and a lot more functionality that better met the needs of modern gamers with things like a low-power rest mode from which you can return to games without closing them out, receive updates, and continue various installations. The PS4 also had more bells and whistles like party chat, newsfeeds, actually functional remote play with the Vita and PCs, and of course just a generally smoother experience overall.
The PS4 also improved on its DualShock for the biggest overhaul the controller design had received since the analog sticks were introduced. A bigger body and better triggers made the DualShock 4 a demonstrable improvement over the 3, yet the touchpad and speaker on the controller, while not as instrumental to the experience, still added little niceties to PS4 games here and there. Like hearing audio diaries through the speaker or swiping the pad for more immersive ways of turning pages or looking around open-world maps. Not everybody loved the DualShock 4 at first, but most grew to love it after playing on it for a while.
Even those who never saw anything wrong with the previous DualShocks generally came to prefer the 4 for its bold improvements and redesigns. While the DualSense might end up being an overall improvement to the DualShock 4, it still clearly owes a lot of its design cues to the DualShock 4. Some may say that the Xbox family of controllers are still superior, but unlike in the seventh generation, it’s at least debatable now and largely a matter of taste, whereas the 360’s controller was a pretty clear winner over the DualShock 3 in most ways. What the DualShock 4 lacked in battery life if more than made up for with an excellent design, thick handles, great triggers, and still what is probably the best d-pad in the business.
Of course, any analysis of the PS4 and its success would not be complete without mentioning the lineup of stellar games that, while perhaps not quite as vibrant and diverse as the PS3’s in terms of sheer variety, still managed to blow the doors off the third-person action/adventure market with truly excellent examples of the genre at every turn. Horizon Zero Dawn, Detroit Become Human, God of War, Ghost of Tsushima and The Last of Us Part 2 were more than enough to fill out the top tier of the PS4’s library and sell consoles, but it was rounded out nicely by games like Gravity Rush 2, Resogun, and a fabulous catalogue of remakes and remasters of classics like Shadow of the Colossus, MediEvil, and the Crash and Spyro trilogies.
Couple all of that with the healthiest list of great indie titles a gaming console has ever seen, and you have one hell of a library there. And that’s not even counting the third party games like that almost always ran better on PS4 than any other console. With all of that, if you liked console gaming between 2013 and 2020, odds are (until the Xbox One X launched), you had a PS4. And if you didn’t you couldn’t be blamed for having a bad case of FOMO from time to time. This also harkens back to the problems of Sony’s competition to a degree, as the Xbox One struggled throughout the entire generation to come anywhere near close to what Sony was doing in terms of its exclusive games, but even if it did, it’s hard to beat the PS4 line-up.
The PS4 is a console that is going to be hard to top. Not only will the unlikely stew of all of Sony’s competition tripping up at the same time be hard to ever come across again, but more importantly, the huge step forward for the controller and the outstanding line-up of increasingly excellent games will be nearly impossible to ever repeat as consistently. The PS4 benefitted from a lot of things outside of its control while also nailing its controller, library, and console functionality all at the same time. That’s not to say the PS5 has no chance of eclipsing it – it very well may – but it certainly has its work cut out for it.
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