PlayStation 4: Up close with Sony's new launch

Rob Waugh

It's described as the most powerful games console in history - but Sony's PS4 launch still left a few questions unanswered.

Most of its hi-tech new features, such as touch control, its Facebook-style networking features, and games that are playable instantly over the internet were not demonstrated at all.

That could mean that early games miss out on some or all of these trademark new features. The touchpad - part of the new Dual Shock controller - was barely mentioned after the controller was shown off.

Sony also neglected to show fans what the machine itself actually looks like - or even whether it uses discs or not. It seems likely games will be delivered online, but this was not confirmed

Instead, the company went all out to woo hardcore game fans with visually spectacular demonstrations of racers, shoot ‘em ups and swords-and-sorcery adventures. Big-name titles such as Final Fantasy provided a lot of visual sizzle - but Sony also hinted that 'indie' games, such as the beautiful puzzler Witness, might play a bigger part on PS4.

Ubisoft's hacker simulation Watch Dogs wowed the audience most, with a clever open world where everything can be hacked - and cameras are everywhere.

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Previous Sony consoles have been marketed as ‘home entertainment systems’ offering video features such as Blu-Ray – whereas PS4 aims to tempt game fans. 

The console’s graphics alone should be enough to woo hardcore gamers – with demos such as Sony’s flagship sci-fi shooter Killzone showing off spectacular effects such as fire, smoke and splintering scenery, and seeming to be shown in a near-finished form.

Big-name game studios such as Final Fantasy creator Square Enix showed off stunning video demonstrations running on PS4.

Another demo showed off an incredibly lifelike face of an old man – with facial expressions that conveyed disbelief, amusement and other complex emotions.

Up until now, that sort of sophisticated ‘virtual face’ was possible only in computer-generated videos.

Online gaming is central too – with the new PlayStation Network rebuilt using ‘cloud’ technology which will allow gamers to try out new games near-instantly.

Games will stream to the console without players having to buy – and gamers can join their friends online without having to hop between games.

A new button on the joypad will allow gamers to share videos instantly.

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Gamers will also be able to play PlayStation 4 games through Sony’s handheld console, PlayStation Vita – streaming high-quality 3D visuals wirelessly.

The machine is controlled by a touch-enabled joypad which comes with a headphone jack for gamers to talk to one another online.

The console also uses a twin-camera system which ‘watches’ the player, allowing for motion-controlled games.

Technically, the machine is far closer to PCs than previous games consoles – which Sony claims will make it easier to develop for.

The company revealed that it has been developing the machine for more than five years - and promised more demos, and more details at the E3 trade show in Los Angeles this summer.