Sony’s been a quiet giant in 2017, allowing new hardware like the Nintendo Switch and Xbox One X to dominate the headlines while it’s shrewdly focused on its own fantastic line of PlayStation 4 software. It’s culminated in a year where the console’s achievements have been glossed over by the enthusiast media, but have been nothing short of sensational all the same – after all, it just registered its best ever month in the latest NPD report, and also moved 10 million units globally in under six months. For a device lurching towards the latter stages of its life, the fact that the PS4 continues to break records is a testament to Japanese giant’s approach to this generation. And in this article, we’re going to take a look back at the device’s year in review.
PS4 in 2017 Review: Head Is Spinnin’ Thinkin’ ‘Bout Games
This was the best year for PS4 software by far. There was criticism at the start of the generation that the console lacked real meaningful content, but as is so often the case with Sony systems, it really started to flex its muscles in 2017. With major Game of the Year candidates like Persona 5 and Horizon: Zero Dawn launching exclusively earlier in the year, accompanied by console exclusives like Nioh and NieR: Automata, it’s been a superlative year for new releases on the device.
The most impressive thing about the PS4’s lineup in 2017 is that it’s been relentless. There have been no real gaps in the schedule; no downtime. From the very beginning of the year with Gravity Rush 2 right through to the end of it with LocoRoco 2 Remastered, the platform holder’s been either putting out new first-party titles or striking partnerships with third-parties to ensure that it’s got the most complete versions of major multiplatform games.
But, as alluded, it’s not just the blockbusters that have shone on the PS4 this year. Yakuza 0, a franchise beloved by a vocal niche but on the cusp of irrelevance before Sony stepped in and localised Yakuza 5 for the PlayStation 3, finally managed to break out and reach a new audience. The manufacturer doubled-down on budget releases like Knack 2, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, and Everybody’s Golf. And it tried something entirely new with PlayLink, a new casual line of titles designed for the whole family.
As our Game of the Year content is going to show over the coming weeks, the PS4 was host to such a broad spectrum of software that virtually everyone has different favourites. And that’s because, whatever your tastes, there was a rich variety of titles to choose from in 2017. Was this the greatest year ever for new releases? The titles probably won’t have the lasting impact that those released in 1998 or 2001 had – but it’s in the conversation, and Sony’s system played a big part in that.
PS4 in 2017 Review: Hardware Takes a Backseat
This was a year very much all about the games, and so the hardware was more of a footnote on 2017 to be honest. Sony refreshed its entire product portfolio last year with the introduction of the PS4 Pro and PlayStation VR, as well as the PS4 Slim, so it was never going to twist this Christmas with new consoles. It did revise its PSVR headset, correcting the original model’s HDR oversight, but that was about it on the hardware front.
The introduction of new hardware in 2016 did have an influence on how it approached this year, though. We saw the PS4 hit the mainstream price point of $199 in the US on Black Friday, a figure which catapulted the console to its best ever NPD result in November – owing, we assume, to the reduced manufacturing cost of the revised model. We also saw Sony become a little less gun-shy with regards to the PS4 Pro, opting to advertise games running on the supercharged system.
Firmware updates have been few and far between, but the system software’s in a pretty sturdy place. The addition of external HDD support in March ticked off one of the few remaining requests from fans, with PlayStation Network name changes being the only real lingering concern. PS4 Pro received Boost Mode to help enhance the performance of unpatched games, while the parental control options added in v5.00 were a necessary addition as the system targets family orientated consumers.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment with regards to hardware is that the platform holder seemingly ignored requests for a premium DualShock 4 controller. In Europe, the company’s been advertising third-party “pro” controllers from the likes of Razer, but it’s clear that there’s a sizeable number of hardcore games who would pay extra for a top-of-the-line official peripheral manufactured with higher quality parts.
PS4 2017 in Review: PSVR Defies Expectations
Cynics expected PlayStation VR to go the way of the PS Move or EyeToy before it; the opposite has been true. Sony’s done an excellent job of supporting its virtual reality headset, pairing big first-party games like Farpoint with third-party titles such as Resident Evil 7: Biohazard. Its biggest achievement, though, has been working with indie studios to ensure that there’s something new to look forward to on a weekly basis. And the quality has generally been very good.
PSVR has also proven this year that, while it’s arguably still better suited to short-form experiences, longer games can work in virtual reality as well. The Elder Scrolls V: Skryim VR was a real surprise, for example; dreadful in early demos, the title really came together at the last minute, and it offers a unique way to play one of the greatest role-playing titles in recent years. With the likes of Blood & Truth on the horizon, the future looks bright for AAA-calibre PSVR games.
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, though. While the PS4 Pro has really upped the quality of visuals in virtual reality, the ageing PlayStation Move is starting to reveal some shortcomings in Sony’s setup. Games like SUPERHOT VR, which heavily rely on motion tracking, lack precision due to the dated technology of the manufacturer’s wands. And with the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive both offering vastly superior alternatives, control is a concern on PSVR heading into 2018.
PS4 2017 in Review: The Future Is Bright
If there’s any real criticism Sony’s faced this year, it’s been the repetition of content during its press conferences. E3 2017 was absolutely fine, but it was essentially a re-run of the year prior. The platform holder committed to more media briefings over the past 12 months than its competitors combined, but some argue that it spread itself far too thin, culminating in a PlayStation Experience where the only real surprise was a MediEvil remaster we still know nothing about.
The good news is that many of the Japanese giant’s big names, like God of War and Spider-Man, are slated to hit store shelves next year. In fact, a brief glance at the PS4’s fledgling 2018 lineup reveals untold riches of exclusives – an improvement even on this year. Media Molecule’s Dreams, for example, has finally overcome its announcement hurdles and emerged as a real creative tour-de-force. Meanwhile, there’s Detroit: Become Human, Days Gone, and Concrete Genie to look forward to.
Yes, some will lament The Last of Us: Part II, Ghost of Tsushima, and Death Stranding all lingering far away on the horizon, but it’s nice to see that long-term commitment to first-party PS4 development – it proves that the console still has a lot of life in it into 2019 and beyond. And as long as the platform holder resists the temptation to reveal too much (there was only a single Death Stranding trailer in 2017, for example) then that’s fine by us.
PS4 2017 in Review: What Could Be Better?
It’s been a brilliant year overall for the PS4, then, but there have been a few niggling concerns. Cross-console play was a big story earlier in the year, although it’s failed to really gain any real traction – not even Geoff Keighley could engineer a strong enough reaction from the audience at The Game Awards 2017 to make the topic go viral. It’s still something that needs to be addressed, though, even if it’s just a case of the manufacturer being honest and explaining exactly why it won’t support it.
We also think that Sony’s getting lapped by Microsoft when it comes to legacy support. Whether or not the Xbox One’s backwards compatibility program is selling consoles, it’s embarrassing how badly PlayStation has fared in this department – especially when you consider that it has a catalogue actually worth celebrating. The whole PS2 Classics program has been a wet fart, while PlayStation Now feels like a service that’s still not ready for primetime.
To be fair, the manufacturer has handled backwards compatibility in a different way, cherry-picking classics like Shadow of the Colossus, WipEout Omega Collection, and Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy to revive. But moving forwards there’s so much more that can be done here, and when you see the Xbox One X automatically upgrading Xbox 360 titles without any additional work required, we can only hope that Sony has the same kind of forward-thinking in mind.
Another worry is the removal of prestige projects like What Remains of Edith Finch and RiME from Sony's first-party portfolio. In past years, Sony was brilliant at funding and publishing these kinds of externally developed titles, but it seems to have all but dropped them from its catalogue of late. The manufacturer needs to remember that titles like Journey spawned from its willingness to work with talented teams, and it hurts to think it’s moving away from these kind of collaborations.
PS4 in 2017 Review: Conclusion
For many, it was business as usual for PS4 in 2017. But that’s a reductive way of looking at things, as this was the console’s best year by far. Not only was the software lineup strong from start-to-finish, but it also sold at record pace – an outstanding achievement considering the device’s age. Perhaps most impressive is that, looking forward into 2018, the console’s lineup looks even stronger than it did this year – and PlayStation VR is going nowhere either. While there are still some areas we wish that the platform holder would strengthen – namely its backwards compatibility strategy – this has been a quietly brilliant year for Sony and the PS4.
What did you think of PS4’s 2017? What were your favourite things about the console this year, and what do you think can be done better? Are you excited for PS4 in 2018? Look back on the last 12 months in the comments section below.