As we reach the end of the year, it's time to look at the PlayStation 4 with a critical eye. Sure, we loved (most of) its exclusive titles, including Spider-Man and God of War, but a lack of console updates made Sony look like it was slacking.
While most may see the PS4 as the top console, where exactly is it thriving and what are its weaknesses?
Why you can trust Tom's Guide
The PS4 is still largely the same console that it was this time last year. 2016's "PS4 Slim" (not the official name) and PS4 Pro are the most-recent versions of the system hardware, and we've yet to see games that demand you upgrade to the latter version.
The PS4's two noteworthy system updates didn't change the console that much. The first (5.50) did little beyond tweaking the game-library interface, adding parental controls and improving image quality (in select games) for PS4 Pro owners connecting to 2K or lower TVs. Strangely, the second update (6.0) offered zero new features, despite its seemingly important version number.
Games: King of the mountain
I look at my PlayStation 4 with a sense of pride, but that's not because it looks nice or anything (though I do love my Glacier White Destiny edition). My confidence comes from a year in which the PS4 repeatedly got strong platform exclusives, while the Xbox didn't get a single game that left me envious.
PS4's most notable 2018 exclusive is April's God of War, which Tom's Guide Editor Sherri L. Smith called "a mature game with some gratuitous, yet stylish violence thrown in for good measure" that "expands upon [the God of War franchise] brilliantly."
The other massive PS4 hit came in September with Marvel's Spider-Man. Not only did the game provide an exhilarating rush to gamers, who shot from building to building as the titular web-slinger, but also, as Tom's Guide Managing Editor Michael Andronico said, the title offered "the definitive wall-crawling experience, complete with a memorable, distinct and authentic story and a gorgeous New York City playground that's an absolute joy to traverse."
Oh, and Detroit: Become Human, another PS4 exclusive, came out and proved that platform exclusives aren't necessarily a good thing. While our Andrew E. Freedman said, "the game is a visual treat," he also explained that some of the motion-captured acting "just falls flat" and that the game's story couldn't carry its ambitious goals.
But the PlayStation's wins even came outside of the aforementioned blockbuster titles, as Tetris Effect — a third-party exclusive — dropped on Nov. 9 to exuberant praise. Tom's Guide staff writer Adam Ismail wrote of this title in reverent tones, saying, "Tetris Effect's beauty is intoxicating and, occasionally, life-affirming." And that's not the only PS VR title that wowed gamers, as Moss and Firewall earned a ton of applause, too.
Services: A work in progress
Throughout the year, a recurring theme in all-things PlayStation 4 became clear: "That sounds good — can't wait to have it." After months of ridicule from Microsoft and Nintendo, Sony finally caved on cross-play, announcing a beta program that would let PS4 gamers play Fortnite with gamers on Xbox One and Nintendo Switch.
That program still needs to exit its beta stage and come to other games. But we're happy to see Sony finally responding to fan feedback about cross-play.
Oh, and after much rumor and speculation, Sony also announced that users would get the chance to change their PSN usernames. When, specifically, that will happen, remains to be seen. I bet users with names such as w33dl0rd666 are happy to get the chance to choose a new name.
Sony's $19.99-per-month PlayStation Now service (think Netflix but for gaming) is still plowing along, but it isn't exactly garnering much attention. The service's one major update for 2018 is that it's catching up with Xbox Game Pass, allowing users to download select PS4 and PS2 games rather than stream them. But Microsoft's $99-per-year service is still arguably a better deal, given the number of blockbuster games (all of which you can download) you get for the price.
The PS4's dominance in gaming might seem like enough to earn the system a higher mark, but its lead feels soft at the moment. If the console were racking up wins outside of the games available today, in its software features, its position in the market would be stronger. That being said, no PlayStation 4 owner has any reason to feel bad about their purchase, especially with exclusive such as The Last Of Us Part II on the horizon, as well as the promise of cross-platform play and PSN name changes.
Overall Grade: B+
Credit: Tom's Guide
- Nintendo Switch 2018 Report Card
- Xbox One 2018 Report Card
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Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.