Sony introduces underwhelming PS4

Sony Corporation held a press event in New York City last Thursday to introduce the PlayStation 4 — its entry into the eighth generation of video game consoles. The PlayStation 4 — the PS4, as most of Sony’s promotional material calls it — will be competing with Nintendo’s Wii U and Microsoft’s next-generation console, which is still under wraps.

Sony seems to have a short memory, since this conference was rather light on both surprises and substantial content. There were feelings of dissatisfaction after the initial announcement of the PlayStation 3, which had few titles and no killer app. It seems odd that Sony is not doing everything in its power to prevent a repeat of the days when the cry “the PS3 has no games!” echoed far and wide across the Internet.

Even at this stage of the game, Sony hasn’t even revealed the physical model of the PS4. While the hardware exists and was used to demo technology and games, it remains unclear what the physical system will look like. Also, the final system specifications, price, and release date are still up in the air.

What actually was on display was underwhelming, and most of the coolest features had caveats. It’s very neat to be able to use the PlayStation Vita — Sony’s already-released handheld console — as a sort of bootleg Wii U GamePad for displaying games running on the home console and for acting as a touch-screen interface. But it also means you will need to buy a PS Vita.

Sony also promised a novel cloud-based solution to the issue of backward compatibility with games from previous PlayStation consoles. Gaikai, a service that Sony recently acquired that streams games like movies or music, will be putting the back catalog online for PS4 users. However, this means that there will be no out-of-the-box support for old games, and it remains unclear whether or not users will need to pay to access games they already own.

In addition, a new emphasis on integrating Facebook sharing into games and encouraging social play has resulted in many new features, including a button on the controller that allows you to share your gameplay on the fly — assuming you make gaming a central part of your life. While no doubt a great asset for makers of machinima and players who like to spoil game endings, most people will need to develop new gaming and social media habits for this feature to be utilized well.

Speaking of social media: Bungie, Inc., which pioneered many aspects of social gaming (including on-the-fly video capture), made one of the least climactic announcements of the event. Creators of the Halo franchise, Bungie let the world know that its hotly anticipated next game, Destiny, will be featured on the PS4. What Bungie didn’t communicate with its sparse footage of gameplay was that the game will also be released on the current generation of consoles — the PS3 as well as the Xbox 360.

The way Sony represented it, the PS4 came across as a bundle of improvements instead of a game changer (pun intended). Inconsequential features — like being able to download a game’s update in the screen’s background during play — were touted at a presentation that did not promise much and delivered little. Hopefully for Sony and its fans, more developments will soon come to light.