48 hours with the PlayStation 4: gaming and first impressions

The PlayStation 4 is fast. The DualShock 4 is the best gamepad Sony's ever created. In 48 hours spent using the PS4 without its extremely comprehensive Day One patch, there are only so many feelings to feel about Sony's latest game console. We are in such a position this morning, having spent the past two days locked away in Engadget's Brooklyn office kicking The Playroom's AR bots around and shooting Helghast with the new DualShock 4.

For reviewers, the 1.50 PS4 firmware patch went live last night around 7PM ET (at least for us in NYC). As such, we're planning a comprehensive review of the post-update console ahead of this Friday's launch. Stay tuned! What you'll find below, however, are our impressions of the PlayStation 4's most important feature: its ability to play games.

The console

Without access to the PlayStation Network, our lonely "User1" profile is woefully underdressed. There isn't much we can do on the PS4's main content screen beyond browse the handful of square content panes: The What's New, internet browser, Live from PlayStation and Downloads boxes are all there, but don't resolve without a software update. Similarly, smaller icons reminiscent of the PlayStation 3's XMB hover above: PlayStation Store, the Friends list, Messages and other apps remain inaccessible (Trophies, Settings and Power are all available). This is the PlayStation 4 you get out of the box. It plays disc-based games and does virtually nothing else. Here's hoping your internet's working and PSN isn't down when you get home with a new PS4!

Rather than dig in to the nuts and bolts of the console -- that's right here -- we put in Knack. Despite requiring a mandatory install, selecting the game's square took us right into the title without missing a beat. Perhaps disguised by the game's initial cutscenes, whatever install was happening on the PlayStation 4's backend didn't stop us from getting into the game like any other console game. To be completely clear: Knack loads quickly and any installation required was imperceptible, a far cry from the installs of PS3. If swapping discs mid-install causes issues, we certainly didn't encounter any; ejecting Knack and throwing in Killzone operates identically to how it would on last-gen consoles like the 360 or PS3.

Thrilling tales of installs aside, the games we've played on the PlayStation 4 so far are gorgeous. Looks vary of course, but Killzone: Shadow Fall and Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag both stand out as especially impressive in that category. There's no missing the dazzling shadow and lighting effects, the intensity of detail and contrasting colors -- games look significantly better on the PlayStation 4 than even last-gen latecomers like BioShock Infinite and The Last of Us.

Just as importantly, where those beautiful games stretched the limits of the PlayStation 3's capabilities, the PlayStation 4 remains quiet. The only exception to that quietness occurs when launching games, where the disc spins up and the console gets momentarily noisy. We've yet to experience slowdown or screen tearing; the already very impressive firstcomers are barely working the system, it would seem.

Popping out of a game back to the OS is speedy, and simply suspends your game wherever it was last played (if you leave the console in standby mode, you can even power down and pick up where you left off upon return the next day). The OS in general is very quick, as is starting the system itself.

The teensy, tiny, little eject and power buttons on the front of the PS4 are easy to miss, and the crevices all over the console seemingly beg for dust and other household detritus. Keeping the console dust-free for photos was... shall we say, "challenging." It's a niggling complaint, especially in light of the console's otherwise striking look both laid flat and stood up.

The DualShock 4 controller

Allow me to switch to the first-person for a moment, folks -- I love the DualShock 4. It's a very comfortable controller, and as stated earlier, the best of its kind. The blunt changes are obvious -- concave thumbsticks (finally!); a big, clickable touchpad in the middle (feels and functions great!); a lightbar (questionable); and a speaker (sounds tinny and cheap, sadly) -- and we'll circle back on those momentarily. The little refinements, however, are where the controller shines: slightly lower-profile and springier triangle/X/O/square buttons, a squishy d-pad that feels made for fighting games, slightly curved triggers that cradle your fingers and an oddly designer feel to the grips.

The DualShock 4 feels natural from the moment you first pick it up. Sure, there's this rectangle of clickable touchpad sitting above your thumbs, but it's acclimated into standard gameplay shockingly fast. Using it for stuff like veritable tech demo The Playroom showcases just how sensitive its touch capability really is, where just a light flick of a fingertip throws out robot after robot into your virtual living room. In a faster-paced situation like, say, Killzone's firefights, it's shockingly natural after just a few minutes of use.

The new thumbsticks are an absolute step up from the DualShock 3's thoroughly inadequate equivalents, but still not quite to the level of precision we'd like. While pegging the thumbstick to one side or another, our thumbs slipped off every now and again, recreating the frustrating scenario experienced so many times before on Sony's last-gen console controller. Thankfully, the other FPS-focused refinements -- the triggers -- are excellent. There's a depth and weight that both frontline artillery and sniper rifle aficionados will appreciate, though games that use the triggers as buttons may cause frustration.

While the lightbar is a neat addition when it comes to identifying players, it's not clear that much other use comes from having a perpetually illuminated gamepad. Similarly, the speaker only served to take us out of the games that employed it (heavily in Knack, for instance) given the disparity in quality compared to even standard built-in television speakers. And while, yes, we've been using the system pretty much non-stop for two days, the battery life on the DualShock 4 doesn't seem great. If you're concerned, like us, that the speaker and lightbar might be partially to blame, you can at least turn the speaker (and vibration) off.

Perhaps the best compliment we can offer is, despite any issues we've experienced with the DualShock 4 thus far, it's a gamepad we feel comfortable using for the next five-plus years. Regardless of the patch, the DualShock 4 is a great controller we already feel comfortable heartily recommending.

The next 48 hours

We've got the Day One patch loaded on our consoles and we're head-down working on getting a full, comprehensive review ready for you ahead of this Friday's big launch. And of course we'll have more coverage of the PlayStation 4's launch as we head toward November 15th and beyond.

Zach Honig contributed to this report.