The PlayStation 4 launched 10 years ago. I got mine on launch day and proceeded to play a little bit of Resogun before turning to the true star of the launch lineup, Contrast, which I ended up getting all the trophies for.
I kid a little bit (I actually did get all the Contrast trophies) but the PS4 launch lineup wasn’t great. Some of the multi generation games like Assassin’s Creed IV were good versions of great games, but the marquee PS4 only games (outside the smaller Resogun) were Knack and Killzone: Shadow Fall, one of which is a meme and the other of which more or less killed a major franchise. Despite Sony’s reputation for killer IP the PS4 had kind of a slow launch when it came to exclusives and didn’t really start to bring the heat until the middle of its cycle, though Bloodborne and Until Dawn came in 2015 and arguably mark the beginning of the PS4 heyday.
Despite not having a ton of great exclusive software at first what the PS4 did have was momentum from the back half of the PS3 era and a competitor, in Microsoft, that was dedicated to shooting itself in the foot over and over again to the point where 10 years later it still walks with a limp. Nintendo wasn’t doing much better, having just launched the disastrous Wii U, so it was Sony’s game to lose, and they didn’t.
The PS4 was the most powerful console at a time when PC optimization was still pretty iffy, it was cheaper than the Xbox and it wasn’t burdened with Kinect. It was unabashedly game first, with an interface that put media stuff off in its own little menu. It had a new controller that was much more comfortable than prior Sony Dualshocks and had some fancy new tech like a touchpad and speaker that few games used but at least made it feel newer. That controller also had a glowing light that was very annoying but was also forward thinking by allowing for motion controls that would become important during Sony’s VR push. The PS4 was a games first powerhouse of a system and it won the generation despite launching with Knack and never looked back.
Despite this I think that the PS4 doesn’t quite get its due just because of its era. The 8th generation was when the idea of a non first-party console exclusive became mostly a thing of the past. There was still a smattering of Japanese developed games that skipped Xbox (and even PC) but those would show up on Nintendo systems if they were capable of running it, or maybe get ported after a time. When you think of the SNES or the PS1 you can remember hundreds of console exclusives that defined it. Most of the best PS4 games not made by Sony were playable on other machines.
The PS4 has also been somewhat overshadowed by the phenomenon of the Switch. The Switch is a Nintendo system, which always means it gets more attention, at least among those who were raised on NES and SNES, it was a comeback story, and it was a hybrid that changed how a lot of people played games. The biggest Zelda ever and its portable…as a launch game! A lot of games that were better on PS4 were treated as Switch releases because of the novelty of portable play and because Nintendo getting big third party releases was a big freaking deal. The Switch outsold the PS4 and Mario Odyssey was so good that nobody even mentioned that it did not have Knack.
But PS4 quietly racked up very impressive sales for a home only console and did a few interesting things of its own. Chief among these was PSVR, bringing full on modern VR to the console space and bringing back the proud tradition of the console add on, like a Sega CD you could strap to your head. It was a bit of a kludge, using the old PS3 move controllers as an imperfect solution, but it had a lot of fantastic hybrid titles like Resident Evil 7, and some pretty good exclusives. It was one of the most popular VR headsets of its time and helped push forward the new medium. There were some other notable hardware integrations, like remote play through the Vita, that made the PS4 a bit more than just a boring games box. And of course the PS4 Pro added 4K support (kind of) and a whole new level of power, without splitting the player base too badly.
PS4 was also the generation when Sony fully embraced digital downloads. It was the first PlayStation to fully embrace non physical games, which were important on PS3 but were added late in development and a little clunky to use. PS4 had a much better store and library system, and Sony’s use of cross buy and cross play to promote digital sales was refreshing in s system that otherwise did not have any backwards compatibility.
There was famously a dark side to this embrace of the digital, in the form of shovelware, which has at times overwhelmed the PS4 store with absolute garbage. There was a time when most PS4 sales were just garbage platinum games like the infamous I Am Mayo and a bunch of background themes, though Sony has pruned some of that stuff from the store and the sales. Still this is the platform that gave us Life of Black Tiger and other games that would never have made it on to prior Sony machines.
Perhaps the greatest feat of the PS4 has been its longevity and the breadth and depth of its library. The last time I played my launch PS4 was yesterday, and while I play most new releases on PS5 these days it’s not like the PS4 is lacking for new releases. Most indies still come to it and many of the major releases do too. It’s slowing down and Sony has mostly abandoned the PS4 for its first party games, but this year alone games like Armored Core VI and Like a Dragon Gaiden have launched on it, so we’re not talking minor release that are scraping for whatever attention and sales they can get. The PS4 has had a true 10 year life cycle even excluding late sports and licensed releases. It has been relevant in the market for a long time.
I think the PS4’s legacy then is as the ‘default’ machine during a very important time in the growth of the console market. It managed to thrive despite competition from the Switch and the ascendence of mobile. It experimented with add ons and new concepts. It adapted and grew, and while it has been pretty much obsoleted by the machine that replaced it and its near 100% backwards compatibility it still has a strong legacy in the market. And that’s before we really discuss its suite of killer exclusives like Horizon Zero Dawn, Spider-Man, and the Naughty Dog games. Sony didn’t miss often during the PS4 era and it may not have the breadth of exclusives that prior systems did but its library is stacked with a lot of all times great.
I mean it’s got Knack AND Knack II. What more is there to say beyond that?