NEXT GENERATION Sony games console the Playstation 4 (PS4) is one of two eagerly anticipated video gaming devices to be released this year, with retailers expecting it to be a Christmas bestseller along with Microsoft's Xbox One.
The Japanese hardware giant pleasantly surprised us at IFA 2013 in Berlin when, while dashing between vendors' booths, we spotted the shiny black box locked in a glass case in front of a PS4 demo wall, boasting a few fresh games for us to try.
In our hands-on, we managed to get some time with short demos of the games Knack and Driveclub, two very different PS4 exclusive games that will be available at the console's launch in the UK on 29 November.
Unfortunately, the demo setup meant we couldn't access any of the PS4's user interface (UI) features, such as entertainment software and settings, as we only had access to each game's in-play environment. Nevertheless, we can relate the games' performance on the next generation console.
Graphics and gameplay
Featuring a single-chip eight-core AMD Jaguar custom low-power x86-64 APU with a Radeon-based graphics engine, similar to that of the Xbox One, the PS4 has 18 compute units, which means that multi-format games can be rendered at high levels and should in theory look better than games on the Xbox One, which has 12 compute units.
During our hands-on time with PS4, this was evident while playing both Knack and Driveclub, two of the 15 titles Sony has promised at launch. In case you're wondering, the other 13 are Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, NBA 2K14, Call of Duty: Ghosts, Skylanders: Swap Force, Need for Speed: Rivals, Battlefield 4, Madden 25, FIFA 14, NBA Live 14, Killzone: Shadown Fall, Watch Dogs, Just Dance 2014 and LEGO Marvel Super Heroes.
Knack is a platforming title that features a strange cartoonish protagonist unsurprisingly named Knack who scurries around varied environments in linear stages, such as woods and fortresses. The aim is to slay the baddies - in this case goblins - ridding Knack's world of them.
On the journey through the levels, Knack collects jewels so he can build enough energy to launch harder hits against enemies, as well as collecting "relics" in order to help him grow and become stronger and able to withstand more powerful attacks.
Our first impressions of Knack fell along the lines of "another childish and simple platformer title". But it wasn't long, perhaps just a few minutes, before we were hooked.
In our 15 minute-or-so demo, which revolved around just two separate sections of the game, complete with different features and wide-ranging hazards, it was clear how easy Knack was to get accustomed to, and we'd say that a gamer of any skill level should enjoy a session with Knack.
The in-game camera is fixed as Knack makes his way up and over rocks and bashes down doors to discover hidden treasure troves and more relics. The camera worked well and felt natural, despite the lack of user control, and there were few occasions where we felt the need to alter the angle of how we viewed the featured character.
When it hits the shelf, Knack is planned to work online, allowing gamers connected via the Playstation Network to trade items that they find along the game's varied pathways, making for a potentially interesting social element. However, this aspect wasn't something that we were able to try out during our offline gaming session.
However, the graphics in Knack didn't blow us away. Though some of the big attack effects rendered well, we would have expected Knack to run as it would on a Playstation 3.
Nonetheless, Knack doesn't try to be something it's not. It's not cinematic or dramatic; it's a simple platformer that essentially teaches newcomers the basics of fun gameplay.
Driveclub is a very different type of game than Knack, offering more of a "pick-up-and-play" style of gaming for those that just fancy a quick race against online players or the computer, so you have no expectation to commit to a full blown "career mode", for example. However, for those who want a little more than a quick racing fix, the game has been developed so that users are connected to their friends permanently, allowing them to share their racing experiences, and send and receive challenges.
Developed exclusively for the PS4 by Evolution Studios, the game shares some qualities with the Xbox's Project Gotham Racing, somewhere in the middle between arcade and simulation.
Graphics are much more compelling than in Knack, especially in the way cars have been rendered with excellent detail and an impressive feeling of speed as you race the game's tracks. However, trackside detail didn't blow us away, and like Knack, Driveclub didn't look much better in detail than some of the PS3 racing titles we have played in the past. More distant landscape graphics did look excellent, however.
This slight sense of disappointment we felt in the game's graphics could have to do with how one of Driveclub's primary selling points is its social features and the idea that you're competing in teams, or rather clubs as implied by the title.
Evolution Studios has said that the idea behind this is to regain some of the racing genre's losing battle to online shooters, ensuring that it's more rewarding as a winner because you're competing as a team.
Overall, we did enjoy the experience of Driveclub and though it has an interesting new angle for the racing genre, it's a shame that it didn't bring anything new to the table in terms of performance or graphics.
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