PlayStation 4 Report Card 2016

PlayStation 4 Pro and PSVR turned 2016 into a major year for Sony fans.

204 Comments
Please use a html5 video capable browser to watch videos.
This video has an invalid file format.
00:00:00
Sorry, but you can't access this content!
Please enter your date of birth to view this video

By clicking 'enter', you agree to GameSpot's
Terms of Use and Privacy Policy

Now Playing: Year in Review 2016: PlayStation Report Card - The Lobby

In 2016, the story of PlayStation was punctuated by the arrival of new hardware. The PS4 Slim and, more importantly, PS4 Pro both debuted in the latter half of the year, potentially bringing with them a new era in console gaming: the age of the mid-lifecycle upgrade. This year also saw Sony's entry into the virtual reality market with the (relatively) affordable PlayStation VR, as well as the advent of several long-awaited features thanks largely to the PS4 3.5 and 4.0 firmware updates. Though its lineup of exclusive content proved weaker than previous years and the cost of its PlayStation Plus service increased, 2016 maintained Sony's strong forward momentum.

The PlayStation Family Gets Slimmer, More Professional

Even with the arrival of Microsoft's updated Xbox One S--which boosted performance for certain games but left the system's core technology largely unchanged--the original PlayStation 4 remained the most powerful video game console on the market. At least, until PlayStation 4 Pro finally launched on November 10. With a 1TB hard drive, double the GPU power, and technology adapted from AMD Polaris graphical architecture, the PS4 Pro--previously referred to by its codename Neo--became the first and only console capable of rendering games in super crisp 4K resolutions.

Please use a html5 video capable browser to watch videos.
This video has an invalid file format.
00:00:00
Sorry, but you can't access this content!
Please enter your date of birth to view this video

By clicking 'enter', you agree to GameSpot's
Terms of Use and Privacy Policy

Of course, not every game supports 4K and even those that do occasionally experience serious problems on the Pro, most frequently framerate dips. Then there's the fact that many games won't or can't produce 4K resolutions natively, potentially limiting the material impact of the Pro's capabilities. There's also the looming uncertainty surrounding Microsoft's Project Scorpio. Though Xbox's answer to PlayStation's Pro reportedly won't hit the market until late next year, early indications suggest Scorpio's tech specs could allow the system to outperform Sony's console.

Still, for all its shortcomings, PS4 Pro adds another welcome weapon to the PlayStation arsenal. As reviewer Jimmy Thang noted: "If you already have a PS4, I wouldn't make the upgrade unless you have a 4K HDR TV and the extra cash lying around. Graphics enthusiasts may appreciate the improved anti-aliasing and more vibrant colors, but the differences likely won't blow most people away. Regardless, the PS4 Pro is priced fairly, offers a plethora of features, and is the most powerful console you can buy today."

Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10Gallery image 11Gallery image 12Gallery image 13

PS4 Pro also represents a significant turning point for console gaming in general by offering an optional upgrade that iterates within a console generation. As system designer Mark Cerny said at the time: "PS4 Pro is not the start of a new generation, nor is it a console that is going to blur the lines between generations." This may ultimately represent a broader, more permanent shift away from rigidly defined console generations and towards a more gradual, PC-esque upgrade process. Time will tell.

For now, at least, you pick up a Pro for $400 or save a $100 by purchasing a PS4 Slim, which first shipped back in September. The new slim model is functionally identical to the original console, but features a more compact body that's both lighter and more power efficient. The internal fan is quieter, and the front-facing buttons are now physical rather than capacitive. Disappointingly, the updated Dualshock 4 controller (which is now available for purchase separately as well) still fails to remedy most of the issues we outlined last year.

Sony has a long history of refining the designs of its consoles within the life cycles of those consoles, which makes the Slim slightly less exciting than something like PS4 Pro. But sleeker consoles are never a bad thing, especially when they come standard with 500 GB hard drives and several appreciated quality of life improvements.

Virtual Reality, Affordable Pricing

Please use a html5 video capable browser to watch videos.
This video has an invalid file format.
00:00:00
Sorry, but you can't access this content!
Please enter your date of birth to view this video

By clicking 'enter', you agree to GameSpot's
Terms of Use and Privacy Policy

Slim and Pro weren't the only pieces of PlayStation branded hardware to debut in 2016. Sony also launched a virtual reality headset called, appropriately, PlayStation VR. Unlike Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, PSVR doesn't use a PC to run software; instead, it connects to any retail PS4. It also repurposes the PlayStation Move controllers and PlayStation 4 camera, giving gamers a reason to reuse peripherals that had previously been collecting dust--or upgrade to the slightly updated models that launched this year as well. The system also costs substantially less than its competitors even though its head-mounted display is arguably the most comfortable of the three.

With it's plug-and-play approach and comparably reasonable price tag, PSVR is one of the most affordable and accessible VR options currently available. It does, however, come with a few technical limitations, including a lower resolution screen than either of its closest competitors. As reviewer Jimmy Thang noted, however, the biggest issue currently facing PSVR (and VR in general) is a lack of quality games: "If you have a PS4 and are simply curious about VR, I'd hold out until more titles are released. While there are a handful of fun titles, there's nothing that I've played at launch so far to indicate to me that the PSVR is a must-buy right now. For everyone else, I'd recommend saving up for a better reality."

No Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10Gallery image 11Gallery image 12Gallery image 13

Thankfully, PSVR's game library does include a least a few standout titles, including exceptional rhythm games Thumper and Rez Infinite. The former uses rhythm and music to guide you through its harrowing, breakneck gameplay while the latter expands the original Rez's psychedelic soundscapes with the newly added Area X, which allows players to float freely through a neon-soaked dream world.

Ultimately, PSVR proved it's capable of going toe to toe with its competitors, offering a comparable experience with fewer barriers to entry and a more enticing price. Adoption has been slow thus far and its initial launch was met with little fanfare, but PSVR is still primed to grow should interest in virtual reality continue to grow. The question now becomes: will VR begin to really thrive in the coming months, or will entire phenomenon go the way of the PS Vita (which, by the way, received very little love or attention during 2016)?

Firmware Features Finally Arrive

The PS4's general user interface has been cleaner and more intuitive than the Xbox One's dashboard since day one, but it's been missing a number of key features for just as long. We noted as much in last year's report card and admonished Sony to address some of these oversights. Well, turns out Sony heard us (and no doubt the thousands of annoyed PlayStation gamers out there). Though PS4's firmware received myriad minor updates through the year, by far the biggest were 3.5 and 4.0.

Thanks to update 3.5, you can appear offline at any time, set up alerts so you know when specific friends log on, easily check what each member of your current party is playing, and schedule future events. It also expanded the PS4's remote play capabilities to work with PC and Mac. Update 4.0, meanwhile, added folders that you organize games and apps, cleaning up your home screen in process. It also gave you the ability to customize your Quick Menu and transfer data over LAN connections--probably to make moving your saves over to a brand new PS4 Pro that much easier. Speaking of, 4.0 also added HDR support to all PlayStation 4 consoles, which should help future-proof the platform.

Please use a html5 video capable browser to watch videos.
This video has an invalid file format.
00:00:00
Sorry, but you can't access this content!
Please enter your date of birth to view this video

By clicking 'enter', you agree to GameSpot's
Terms of Use and Privacy Policy

The features outlined above were a long time coming, but Sony has now successfully ticked every single empty box we highlighted last year. While there's always more work to be done, 2016 provided a huge step forward. Unfortunately, 2016 also saw the price of an annual PlayStation Plus subscription jump to $60--the first cost increase since the service was introduced back in 2010. It's a bit frustrating since playing online still requires a PS Plus subscription, but $5 a month still feels like a worthwhile investment, especially since Sony continues to deliver multiple free games every month.

This year's crop included 72 games, valued at over $1,000 total, and while the overall quality seemed to dip compared to some previous years (it's pretty hard to be top free copies of Rocket League), we still got games like Journey, Dragon Age: Origins, Grim Fandango Remastered, and Dirt 3. As long as PS Plus' price doesn't creep any higher, we still see value in the service.

A Light But Meaningful Year for Exclusive Games

Last year, PlayStation owners enjoyed a number of exclusive breakout hits like Rocket League, Until Dawn, and Bloodborne. They did not, however, receive an exclusive, triple-A tentpole game from one of Sony's marquee franchises. But this year was different. This year, Sony released Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, the only game to score a 10 out of 10 from GameSpot in 2016.

After being delayed out of 2015 (and then delayed again in 2016, twice), developer Naughty Dog once again proved that good things come to those who wait. As reviewer Mike Mahardy put it: "In both its momentous set pieces and its intimate, personal moments, Uncharted 4 drives its narrative forward with a rare understanding of its characters, its world, and the gameplay tying them all together. It's a stunning combination of disparate parts. It's a breathtaking marvel of a game."

Please use a html5 video capable browser to watch videos.
This video has an invalid file format.
00:00:00
Sorry, but you can't access this content!
Please enter your date of birth to view this video

By clicking 'enter', you agree to GameSpot's
Terms of Use and Privacy Policy

Uncharted 4 wasn't the only major PS4 exclusive to hit in 2016, though, nor was it the only major game to launch late following a few delays. In fact, The Last Guardian may ultimately be more memorable for its tumultuous, near decade-long development process. Regardless, the final product should be remembered as a breathtaking accomplishment, as reviewer Peter Brown describes: "When the book closes on their story, it's hard not to open it up again and begin anew. The trials you overcome endear you to both characters, but the emotions Trico elicits make you want to give it another chance--to be the patient, effective partner it truly deserves."

Of course, there is another, more controversial PS4 console exclusive that launched this year: No Man's Sky. No game in modern memory has caused such an uproar upon release, and PlayStation owners...well, they had a front row seat, if nothing else. While the game wasn't a complete disaster, it certainly under-delivered, failing to meet the lofty expectations cultivated by its inescapable pre-release hype.

Thankfully, other exclusive indie games performed slightly better. Though they've since released on Xbox One, both The Witness and Firewatch started the year exclusively on PS4. Love letter to classic RPGs I Am Setsuna warmed our hearts, Ratchet & Clank stoked our nostalgia, and Street Fighter V provided one more reason for us to stay late after work. And while it's probably silly to applaud a year for the promises it made, 2016 also gave us a lot of exclusives to look forward to: Death Stranding, The Last of Us 2, Horizon: Zero Dawn, God of War, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy--the PS4's future is blazingly bright.

Other Matters, In Brief

  • Sony appeared to block mods from coming to Fallout 4 and Skyrim Remastered before settling on an unsatisfying compromise. Meanwhile, Xbox One owners saw no such restrictions. Total bummer.

  • Microsoft issued an open invitation to Sony to connect Xbox Live with the PlayStation Network and allow players from both consoles to play together online. Sony wouldn't commit to anything. Another bummer.

  • The PS4 is no longer dominating the Xbox One in terms of monthly sales. But this most likely reflects improvements made to the Xbox One rather than any failures by the PS4. Verdict: not really a bummer.

  • PlayStation Network went down a couple times in 2016 but didn't suffer anything nearly as bad as certain past attacks. Hopefully Sony is still working to keep security tight.

  • No movement on true backwards compatibility, but PlayStation Now still exists. Meh.

Verdict

2016 was PlayStation's biggest year since launch. The PlayStation Pro and PSVR serve as major milestones in the history of the platform. Neither one proved to be an unassailable success, but both did enough right to make solid debuts and create clear paths for future growth. That should be exciting for all PlayStation fans, not just those who upgraded to Pro or invested in VR. And as we wait for the future to arrive, games like Uncharted 4 and simple yet welcome UI features like folders helped maintain the momentum the console's enjoyed since launch. Hopefully Sony will continue to deliver on its planned exclusives, expand support for PSVR, and listen to the demands of its audience.

The GoodThe Bad
- Finally address demand for new home screen features- Even with subtle updates, the Dualshock 4 still hasn't improved enough
- Successfully launched the first mid-life cycle console upgrade ever- PlayStation Plus price increased but consumers got nothing in return
- Also launched a competitive, accessible VR system- PSVR currently lacks enticing experiences
- Delivered two much-needed marquee exclusives- PS Pro may not be able to compete with Scorpio next year

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

Join the conversation
There are 204 comments about this story