PlayStation 4 – A Generation in Review

We are at the end of the line. PlayStation 4 this November will be 7 years old, and its successor is scheduled to release this holiday season. Even though PS4 will continue to sell and have game releases, the focus will undeniably be on the next generation. There are still two major titles yet to see the light; The Last of Us 2 and Ghost of Tsushima, but for the most part people are ready for the upgrade.

This gen saw the advent of many unexpected firsts, but more than anything the deliverance of incredible games. PlayStation 4 is now among the absolute favorites of the Sony home consoles for many people. It is no surprise that as of January of 2020 PS4 sold 106 million units, putting it even above PS1. The recipe for its success comes from an abundance of factors, and we will go through every year to remember the most remarkable moments.

2013 – The Beginning of PlayStation 4

2013 may have had only 2 months of PS4 on the market, but it was undeniably the most important year. The events leading the launch of the system effectively put the console on the right track, it was a symphony of well-timed circumstances and strategies. Sony revealed the console in February, showed the controller and snippets of some games. Mark Cerny took the stage, and while announcing the new more developer-friendly hardware, he also openly addressed the mistakes made with PlayStation 3.

People were ecstatic. The next step was E3, and that’s where most minds blew up. Together with big games such as Destiny and Kingdom Hearts 3, Sony showed for the first time the box in the hands of Andrew House. The partnership with Bungie was a big deal. The devs were mostly known for Halo, the flagship title of Xbox. What people will truly remember was the moment Jack Tretton had his speech. He relentlessly took shots at the competition, clearing used games policies and internet requirements. Andrew House came out again and put the cherry on the cake, PlayStation 4 was going to sell for $399. A powerful hardware at a cheaper price set a red carpet for Sony to cruise on for years to come.

Once the console reached the stores it managed to sell 1 million units in 24 hours. The first party launch games were not the best, but Sony dropped the announcement of Uncharted 4 during the day 1 celebrations. Easy to say it was a very welcomed one.

2014 / 2015 – The Warm-Up

2014 was probably the most underwhelming year in terms of first-party releases. Infamous Second Son came out in March, good game but still not the much-awaited killer app. Sony knew, and admitted, that their lineup was going to be a bit sparse for the first couple of years. It should be no surprise to no one that the slogan “Greatness Awaits” became a thing, catchy and clever but still telling. E3 went smoothly but lacked major hits, Call of Duty and Activision now partnered with PlayStation.  A very appreciated The Last of Us Remastered released during the summer, but unfortunately followed by a massively disappointing Driveclub.  The title failed to meet expectations after many delays, both in quality and sales. Sony quickly shut Evolution Studio down.

In 2015 we finally start seeing signs of the promised greatness. Admittedly The Order 1886 started the year with the wrong foot, the game looks insane and has a great premise but that’s really the only positives. On March 24th, From Software gave us Bloodborne. A game I grew to love so much I don’t even care I ran into a car accident on my way home to play it. The game is a critical success, scoring a 92 on Metacritic. The first AAA must-have title on PlayStation 4.

With June came E3 which will quickly be coined as the “E3 of Dreams” because of three particular announcements. The Last Guardian made a surprising return, Final Fantasy Vll Remake had people scream and Shenmue 3 triggered tears in the audience. In addition, a brand new IP from Guerrilla was announced: the ambitious Horizon Zero Dawn. The rest of the year saw the release of Until Dawn, a cool horror game similar to Heavy Rain by Supermassive, and the remaster of the Uncharted Trilogy.

2016 – Greatness Arrives

The third year of Playstation 4 was a very important one. For starters, Uncharted 4 finally releases after many delays and it’s a massive success. Insomniac comes out with Ratchet & Clank which was incredibly solid, and The Last Guardian turns from a dream to reality in December.

Sony’s E3 even managed to beat out their previous one, making it possibly the best in their history. God of War opened the show followed by Bend Studio’s new IP Days Gone. Resident Evil 7 gets a shocking reveal, and Shawn Layden FINALLY announces a Crash Bandicoot Trilogy. Kojima himself takes the stage and presents his first project outside of Konami: Death Stranding. To top it all, Marvel’s Spider-Man gets his first trailer. That same year Sony also held a Playstation Experience event in which The Last of Us 2 made its first appearance. Fans could have not been more satisfied, they now had A LOT to look forward to.

2016 is also the year of two big unprecedented events in the console business. Sony launches its PlayStation VR, the first virtual reality entry in the console space which will quickly become the most sold VR headset on the market. In the hardware space that’s not even all. For the first time ever we see a mid-gen upgrade with PlayStation 4 Pro, allowing games to run at higher resolutions and/or frame rates. The necessity of a Pro model has been argued, but for hardcore fans that was a welcomed and refreshing option.

2017 / 2018 – The Consolidation of PlayStation 4

2017 was a massive year for PS4, to make it quick this is a list of what released exclusively and/or first on the console from both first and third party:

  • Gravity Rush 2
  • Nioh
  • Horizon Zero Dawn
  • Nier Automata
  • Persona 5
  • Crash Insane Trilogy
  • Hellblade
  • Uncharted: Lost Legacy
  • Gran Turismo Sport

There is a lot to chew here and the catalog really started to flex its muscles. Everything was going well, maybe too well. Consoles kept selling outpacing PS2 rhythms, and software reached impressive attach rates.

2018 mirrored the success of 2017 with fewer releases but of much greater impact. God of War and Spider-Man broke records, while games like Shadow of the Colossus and Detroit sprinkled more variety on top of them. Even PSVR got its first killer app with Astro Bot: Rescue Mission, from Japan Studio.

Nobody knew Sony’s E3 of that year would have been their last, and it was frankly underwhelming. The conference had attendees transition from places to places in what felt like a disjointed flow. The focus ended up being on few very anticipated, titles but nothing new was really shown.

2019 – Winding Down

2019 was interesting to say the least. Primarily because of two big new IPs releasing: Days Gone and Death Stranding. Days Gone was Bend Studio’s first project on a home console since basically Syphon Filter. The game got good but not exceptional reviews, but what people really were anticipating was Kojima’s title. Death Stranding has been surrounded by cryptic trailers ever since the announcement, to the point of causing frustration to a lot of people. The game came out and it was easily one of the most divisive one in a very long time.

In 2019 Pixel Opus will also release its first game as a Sony first-party studio with Concrete Genie, Medievil makes a return and London Studio gives PSVR a big hit with Blood & Truth. In 2019 we also witness another first in the industry. Sony for the first time in its history did not attend E3.

2020 – An Impressive but Rocky Wrap Up

And here we are in 2020, the end of the line. This year is big for Sony, very big. On PlayStation 4 Dreams FINALLY released after being announced at the REVEAL of the console itself 7 years ago, but fortunately it still managed to be a critical success. Nioh 2, Persona 5 Royal and Final Fantasy Vll Remake enriched furthermore the catalog, making the first quarter of 2020 already worth it.

This is where the rocky part starts. It’s 2020 and basically impossible to not mention Covid-19. The virus impacted everything including the video game business and Sony’s plans. Not only Sony is restructuring its announcements to reveal PlayStation 5, but their biggest most expensive and anticipated game of the generation: The Last of Us Part 2, now got delayed twice. As a consequence, Sucker Punch’s newest IP Ghost of Tsushima also got postponed to July instead of June, now the month designated for The Last of Us. Sony’s swan songs for PlayStation 4 are definitely being impacted, especially Naughty Dog’s latest game which is also experiencing the unfortunate leaks of big spoilers. A very difficult situation to manage indeed.

The good and the Grim

The Good:

  • Games

The PlayStation 4 with a library of more than 4000 games created the most expansive catalog of this generation. Going from indies to AA and AAAs, from both third and first-party, there really is something for everyone. There is an abundance of free to play stuff, risky and unique titles, even virtual reality. First-party has excelled, with yearly Game of the Year nominations and even God of War winning in 2018. Japanese support has also been great, with a multitude of titles releasing either exclusively or first on the console.

  • Performance and Accessibility

The PlayStation 4 since its launch in 2013 always offered a friendly price point of $399, which was then replicated with the PS4 Pro in 2016. The base PS4 has seen a slim revision which very often priced not too far above the $200 mark. All this offering great looking games (especially from first-party) 1080p on the base system for the most part, and between 4K and 1080p for the Pro with optional 60FPS modes depending on the title.

  • Content Sharing

Many did not think of the impact that the Share Button would have had when it was first shown. In a generation where games looked this pretty, it actually came really handy. It is one of the less-discussed successes of the PS4, a first yet again on the console space. Running into #PS4Share on Twitter and social media is basically just expected now, if not the norm. Even the Nintendo Switch adopted this button, and the Xbox Series X will feature one as well. The Share Button made sharing easy and snappy, it was even complimented with an underestimated friendly app called Share Factory.

The Grim:

  • Backward Compatibility

For a system that has so many games it really is a shame that Sony could not figure out a way to implement this feature. We all understand that the PS3 is very hard to deal with, but more could have been done for PS2 and PS1 games. There’s even a small PS2 section on the PStore, but it feels massively underdeveloped if not simply left to die there. Let alone the total lack of PS1 support which is simply inexcusable. It would be so nice to have access to the entire PlayStation legacy in one system, but that seems to be impossible even for the upcoming PS5. PSNow does offer the opportunity to play PS3 games but it’s limited to streaming only, which as of right now is far from ideal. The competition did much better in this regard.

  • Stubbornness

PlayStation 4 came out of this generation massively successful. It is undeniable, though, that Sony had to have its ears pulled up a little bit in order to welcome some practices. Apps such as EA Access were missing for a long time before their implementation, but the big elephant in the room is Cross-Play. Jim Ryan came out with a couple of very debatable statements. It was not a good look, especially when both Nintendo and Xbox were partnering up in ads and whatnot. Phil Spencer came out multiple times with assertions indirectly pressuring Sony. PlayStation fans were also eager and put their contribution. Eventually Sony gave in, starting with Fortnite which was the first title where Playstation, Nintendo and Xbox players could all play together.

  • Lack of Communication 

The more into the generation we got, the more out of touch Sony and its executives seemed to be. Jim Ryan simply does not participate in social media interaction as often as Phil Spencer does for example. It just simply gives a feeling of detachment. Sony stopped attending E3, Gamescom, and PSX to instead favor “State of Plays”. The virtual presentations failed to impress and the way PS5 is being unveiled through these blog posts just feels rushed and uninspired. Sony is lucky to have such a huge brand recognition, because anybody else adopting these strategies I feel would really struggle.

PlayStation 4 – Verdict

From a business standpoint Sony was massively successful. Their numbers are impressive year after year, and they have reached a remarkable user base. PlayStation was already a powerful name, but after this gen it solidified its position.

From the consumer perspective it was really good, especially when it comes to games which are indeed the most important aspect. It wasn’t flawless though. We live in a time now where gaming goes beyond just gaming itself. Gamers interact on social media, hold podcasts, watch streamers, and are the most empowered ever to make things change. As games kept getting better and better, Sony started turning into more of a lone wolf. Heavy backlash pushed their hands and eventually they adapted to some very wanted policies. We can definitely see how at the end of this generation Sony got pretty comfortable where they are, and we can see that from just the way they communicate: cut and dry when really essential.

All and all this generation PlayStation 4 proved to a valuable purchase with plenty of gems for everybody. We can only hope PS5 will be just as good, if not better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nicola M

27 - Italian. I love playing and talking about videogames.

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