Features & News

Hands On: PlayStation 4 & Knack

October 27, 2013, Author: James Sheppard

GAME stores around the country are currently holding PlayStation 4 preview events, letting you get your hands on the upcoming console. Out of a questionable selection of playable titles including Fifa 14, Contrast, Super Mother Load, Octodad: Dadliest Catch (groan) and Pinball Arcade, I opted for the platformer Knack. As it was my first encounter with the PS4, here are my impressions of both Knack and the next-gen console itself.

Let’s get physical
First things first: the hardware. The first thing I noticed when grasping the unit with my eager, sweaty hands was a controller that felt familiar yet completely alien. Cue sigh of relief. My main bugbear with the PS3 is the DualShock 3, a statement that will no doubt have Xbox fans nodding their heads whilst long-term PlayStation loyalists shake theirs in disbelief. Whilst entirely functional, I have long loathed the DualShock with its cramped body, naff shoulder buttons and unwieldy convex analogue sticks.

The PS4 controller, on the other hand, feels so refreshingly improved. The slightly odd-looking tubular handles are placed further apart, making them vastly more comfortable to grip, whilst concave analogue sticks with a slightly increased resistance feel like they’ll give finer control for shooters. The shoulder buttons are also no longer rubbish, with a new shape that’s easier to press and keep your fingers on. Finally, the front touchpad is something I’m reasonably enthusiastic about – I believe the Vita’s rear touchpad is a well-designed, if under-used feature – though my chance to test it was limited. It made the character dodge in Knack, and it worked, which is about the extent of my experience with that.

Come to Daddy, you beauty!

The consoles themselves looked suitably black, glossy and wedge-like, just as they appear in any preview images readily available on the net. In the time I was waiting I saw two of the six units briefly go down whilst GAME employees scrambled to get them up and running again. I won’t judge at this point. No doubt these were unfinished preview units, and they certainly weren’t helping matters by suffocating them in tiny enclosed display boxes. I can only assume, or pray, that neither Microsoft or Sony will repeat mistakes made in this generation with console reliability.

Getting the Knack
So far so good, as far as the console was concerned. Though how did the game itself feel? I’m disappointed to say, fairly underwhelming.

The demo cycled through different chapters and levels of the game, giving bite-sized impressions of what it had to offer. The first scenario I played was in an icy cavern, filled with goblins with axes, or something. As the titular thingamabob Knack wanders around levels, he picks up hunks of materials that gravitate round him and increase his size. By pressing the Square button, you bash baddies, and with it being a platformer you can also jump and roll about. The gameplay doesn’t seem to have much more complexity to it than that, and after a few minutes I was already feeling a little tired of mashing Square.


It’s a tank: punch it!

What I found particularly uninspiring was the level design, which was extremely linear and didn’t feel overly creative. The second level I played was as a giant Knack (he must have consumed a lot of junk by this point) stomping around a town. Once again, combat was mostly just a case of pressing Square until my thumbs were sore, although this time round there were landmines, mechs and tanks that shot out electricity and purple goo to avoid. This may have been a bit weird, but it mixed things up at least.

I didn’t find Knack very impressive from a technical standpoint either. Graphically it was vibrant and cartoonish enough, but there was more aliasing (jagged edges) than I’d have expected, and overall it didn’t look too much of a leap from what the PS3 can do already. I also experienced some noticeable framerate drops when the effects got heavy, with all of Knack’s little bits and bobs flying around.

A bit Knackered?
My time with the PlayStation 4 and Knack was brief, but it still gave me time to form some early opinions. The thing that had me most excited from the entire play session, and I’m not sure if this is a positive thing, is the controller. It’s a much, much-needed overhaul of an aged, imperfect design that takes the basics of the DualShock and remoulds them into something that feels modern, responsive and ergonomic.

This shiny black box still has much to prove to me. I’m sure it will, in time.

As far as the console itself goes, I don’t feel that Knack really showed off its true potential as a powerful system. That’s something I’m going to have to wait and see on. That said, Knack isn’t the kind of title that focuses on graphics. To its credit, I can most describe the game as a homage to Sony platformers of old, such as Crash Bandicoot and Spyro. The gameplay is simple and would allow for people of all ages and experience levels to dive in, and I’d certainly give it more of a chance before writing it off completely.

That said, I left the event with mixed thoughts. I feel that we’ve been spoilt this generation by how much the current consoles have evolved and improved over time, making the ‘next’ generation feel like less of a leap than it perhaps should do. Needless to say I won’t be pre-ordering either of the next-gen systems; instead I’ll be waiting at the sidelines, ready to bite when I feel that the time is right.