PlayStation 4 review: Great gaming for 2016 and beyond

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4.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

3.5 stars 54 user reviews

The Good The PlayStation 4 serves up dazzling graphics, runs on a simplified and logical interface and boasts a fantastic controller. It has the upper hand in indie games and can stream a constantly growing list of legacy titles via PlayStation Now. The PS4 makes it super-easy to capture and broadcast gameplay online and generally delivers a zippier performance than its direct competition. It also doubles as a Blu-ray player and solid media-streaming box.

The Bad The Xbox One has a slight edge in non-gaming entertainment features such as streaming content and media portal apps.

The Bottom Line The PlayStation 4's beautiful graphics, smart interface, blazing performance, near-perfect controller and better indie offerings give it an edge over the Xbox One -- though that edge is ever-shrinking.

8.6 Overall
  • Performance 8.0
  • Ecosystem 8.0
  • Features 8.0
  • Value 9.0
  • Design 9.0

As the PlayStation 4 quickly approaches its third birthday, let's reassess the current state of Sony's flagship game machine.

When the competing consoles were first released, we gave the edge to the PS4 over the Xbox One. And at this point in time, the PS4 is still looking good. It continues to improve thanks to regular system firmware updates and a consistent stream of console-exclusive independent games. Exclusive AAA-titles are less frequent, but the PS4 has some promising titles coming down the pike, including The Last Guardian and Horizon Zero Dawn, both scheduled to arrive in 2016. But if you're concentrating more on the exclusives 2015 has to offer, the Xbox One wins that immediate holiday battle.

The majority of games are available on both platforms and PC. We call these multiplatform games. In our testing, we've found that a handful of titles perform better on a PlayStation 4. The most recent example of this is Call of Duty: Black Ops III.

To be clear: The PS4 and the Xbox One are very closely matched. Both offer a growing library of third-party games -- mainstays like the Call of Duty and Assassin's Creed series, as well as newer titles like Fallout 4 and Rainbow Six Siege. And both double as full-service entertainment systems, with built-in Blu-ray players and streaming services like Netflix, YouTube and Hulu Plus.

At this stage in the game we're still partial to the PlayStation 4. Our reasoning is below -- along with a few caveats about areas where the PS4 can improve.

Editors' note, November 16, 2015: This review has been updated to reflect the PS4's ongoing maturation, including new firmware features and software offered on the platform. We've raised the overall rating of the PS4 from an 8 to an 8.3 and have added one point each in the design, ecosystem and value subcategories. This review covers firmware version 3.11.

PS4 consoles and bundles

No matter how you purchase a PlayStation 4, it'll ship with an HDMI cable, a DualShock 4 wireless controller, a USB charging cable and an earbud headset for game chat. The standard console goes for $350 though it seems like at almost any given time a PS4 bundle is being offered by Sony or another retailer. After a recent $50 price cut, the PS4 and Xbox One are nearly identically priced.

PS4 bundles usually provide the best overall value if you're looking to get started from scratch. Some franchise titles get exclusive PS4 consoles included in their bundles, most recently seen with the Star Wars: Battlefront PS4 SKU.

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Major PS4 exclusive games (available now or soon):

- Bloodborne
- Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection
- Infamous: Second Son
- LittleBigPlanet 3
- Until Dawn

Major PS4 exclusive games due by 2016 and beyond:

- Uncharted 4: A Thief's End
- The Last Guardian
- Horizon Zero Dawn
- No Man's Sky (console exclusive)
- Dreams
- Street Fighter V (console exclusive)
- Ratchet and Clank reboot

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PS4 ecosystem

The PlayStation ecosystem includes various products with some shared functionality. For example, the PS Vita can stream PS4 games via "remote play" mode. The PlayStation TV (PSTV) can also stream PS4 games as well as play Vita games and legacy PlayStation titles. Select phones from Sony's Xperia line can also stream gameplay from the PlayStation 4.

Sony also offers PlayStation Vue, a cable TV alternative starting at $50 a month available on the PS3 and PS4. PlayStation Now, the company's legacy game-streaming service, is available on every PlayStation platform and lets subscribers play games from the Sony vault. If you purchase in three-month increments, it works out to around $15 a month.

Firmware updates

Sony regularly updates the PS4's firmware -- as of this writing it's currently at version 3.11. Recent updates to the console have brought along features like:

- YouTube live game broadcasting

- Party chat

- Game communities and events sections

- Suspend/resume: The console can be put into "rest mode" and then woken up to resume gameplay without needing to relaunch a game.

- Share Play: Now PS4 owners can "host" a play session and "hand off" the game controller for up to 60 minutes to one of their friends on the PlayStation Network. At the end of the session players can simply restart. Share Play can also work with co-op games that let two players engage at the same time. Share Play works with any PS4 game and only the host player needs a copy of the game and a PlayStation Plus membership.

- Restore: You can now back up data stored on a PS4 and restore it.

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The 2.00 firmware had some notable bugs, but Sony has addressed them with a recent 2.01 update. Firmware version 2.02 (also a forced update) brought along more universal stability to the system.

PS4 pros

Here are the areas where the PS4 excels -- and where it has an edge over the Xbox One:

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