Against all odds, I somehow managed to nab a PlayStation 5. The fact that this statement has become surprising to myself and many others is a sad outcome due to the lack of supply Sony have had to meet the high demand in what can only be expected to be a difficult year to manufacture. Nevertheless, the PS5 is here, in all of its humongous—and somewhat frightening—beauty, and despite some issues in desperate need of fixes, the PS5 has managed to show why the next generation of gaming is something to get really excited about.
What’s in the Box?!
The unboxing experience is somewhat lackluster, especially when you draw comparisons to the Xbox Series X/S, which delivered premium and exciting packaging. Sony here opt for a simple and industrial experience; what you see on the box is what you get, even if what you get is certainly striking. The sheer size of Sony’s newest flagship is truly impossible to grasp until you lay hands on the alien-like tech. No matter how many previews or unboxing videos you come across, the size does not leave an impression until you pull it out of the box and begin to fit it onto the included stand, in your choice of vertical or horizontal positioning. Those familiar with previous PlayStation consoles will be right at home with the initial console wiring, with the typical PlayStation power cable coupled with a nice addition of an HDMI 2.1 cable to get you started on those promised high-refresh rates, with the only tinkering you will encounter being the stand. It is not exactly IKEA levels of construction, yet deciding on how to best fit the behemoth into your entertainment set-up will be sure to have you scratching your head for a moment. There is also the included DualSense controller, the first PlayStation controller to leave the DualShock name behind. While seemingly simple out of the box, it will show its real power upon start-up.
All in all, the console design will draw eyes from anyone who encounters it. Sitting vertically on my entertainment unit, I would be stretching the truth to say that it looks fitting—the console does have a certain otherworldly quality about it. Yet with the generational leap Sony is pushing, it is a refreshing look. The sleek white side panels constructed with the glossy black internals are quite stunning when it is in motion, with internal LED lights adding a great atmosphere to the surroundings when turned on. Whether the design manages to keep the promises of whisper-quiet performance for the entirety of its lifecycle remains to be seen, but with a design like that, it cannot be for nothing.
Booting Up the Next Six Years of Gaming
What becomes immediately apparent upon first booting the console up is Sony’s belief in the generational leap a console should have—the initial splash screen is honestly quite stunning and not to be missed for your first start-up. Past this, it becomes the usual console set-up you would expect, with some appreciated quality of life changes such as being able to use the revamped PlayStation mobile app to log in via QR code to speed the process along. A few moments later, you are presented with the PlayStation 5 home screen, the one you could potentially be staring at for the next six or seven years.
Coming from the customisation-centric PlayStation 4 home screen, it is somewhat jarring to have no central theme options, which have been present since the very first iteration of the console. Here, each game is given a lush 4K backdrop, much like you would see when checking out the info section of a game on the PS4. Some titles, such as Spider-man: Miles Morales and Astro’s Playroom, are accompanied with some music from the game, whereas other third-party titles like Call of Duty tend to revert to the subtle home screen music. In a way, the whole thing seems to lack a certain charm that users could provide their PS4’s with; my Spyro The Dragon PS4 theme is sorely missed here. Perhaps this will be changed with firmware updates down the line, but for now, the PS5 home screen seems to be aiming for one thing: speed.
It is the buzzword for the next generation of consoles, and it cannot be understated how fast this console is in every regard. While the game selection screen may lack charm, it certainly makes up for this with the efficiency that the entire UI is tuned with. The console is effectively broken into two major areas: Games and Media. Both can be easily accessed from the top of the home interface, and switching between a game and Netflix is finally released from the cumbersome nature of the PS4 dashboard. As is the norm with the PS4, your recently played games are in order from left to right, with your entire library being accessible from the library tab, also located on the home screen. This includes any non-downloaded games that are linked with your account from the PS5, as well as PS4 titles and games installed on an external hard-drive (if you choose to use one). With the PS5’s 825GB of usable internal storage, (667 once the firmware is accounted for), you won’t want to be taking up that space with PS4 titles.
In terms of the transition process between your PS4 and new hardware, Sony has certainly attempted to make the whole ordeal function as seamless and quick as possible, yet it can be slightly hit or miss. After initially attempting the recommended method of transferring your data from console to console via WiFi (even faster if you hook the consoles together with a LAN cable), the console didn’t seem to want to ever commit to performing the task, getting stuck in limbo. The best approach for those with PS Plus memberships was to boot up the PS4, upload your data to the cloud, and then download it onto the PS5. It was not exactly the fastest approach, but after a few hours everything was ready to go in terms of backwards compatibility.
It’s All About the Games and How You Play Them
After you have done all your settings tinkering (and assuming you haven’t installed any other games), you’re left with a fairly void home screen, aside from the glowing radiance of the console’s pre-installed free game, Astro’s Playroom. The fact that Sony even bothered to pack-in a free game with the console is commendable, yet the sheer quality of Astro’s Playroom is something to truly get excited about. Not since the days of Wii Sports has a title offered such a brilliant showcase of the hardware it resides with, proving the power of the console and the controller while also being one of the most fun platforming adventures I’ve experienced in quite some time.
Before you begin Astro’s adventure, you are greeted with a quick demonstration of your brand-new Dual Sense controller. I have avoided discussing the controller up until now so I could give it its proper due, but let it be known that the DualSense is the absolute shining star of the PlayStation 5; it continues to impress me every single time I play. It isn’t easy to describe, but the 3D rumble of the Switch’s Joy-Cons is fully realised here, with a real shocker being the feeling of tumbling hundreds of bots around your controller, feeling every single one of them as they move. Things become even better once Astro’s Playroom entices you with pushing the triggers, displaying the hugely impressive adaptive technology that has been implemented into the controller. They resist your press depending on the action on screen, not to an annoying or uncomfortable degree by any means, but certainly a very noticeable one. It truly is something you must try for yourself to understand, as cliché as that may be.
In description, this sounds like a sure-fire way to show that your new controller is nothing more than a cheap gimmick, a criticism that Nintendo would be familiar with. But the DualSense does so much in the way of immersion that I truly hope it is fully experimented with by developers. Games such as Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War and FIFA 21 have either delivered or promised to deliver exciting ways to use the new controller, with guns having a pressure point and player energy being felt through the triggers, respectively. Yet there are games such as the latest Assassin’s Creed title that offer no use of the haptic features, which is a real shame. Certainly, the DualSense haptics may be left in the dust in the future, but once playing you will pray that developers embrace the new wave in controllers and continue to explore new ways to immerse the player.
No Longer Ready for Take-Off
On a personal note, the single biggest issue I felt needed to be addressed with this console was the abhorrent loudness of the PS4 and the infamous jet engine it seemed to use internally. Look, consoles get loud when the game demands a lot of the machine, but when your console is about to jet out of your room when playing a game of UNO, something is wrong. With that said, I am extremely happy to report that Sony has addressed the issue by delivering a console that has been a real dream with how quiet it is.
Now, it is not a completely silent machine, as some may believe. With a fan powering to keep the system cool, which it has done excellently so far, you are bound to hear some buzzing or spinning noise coming from the PS5 if you are in complete silence. Of course, when playing a game through headphones or your sound system of choice you will never notice this minuscule noise, and I can only pray that the console continues to impress my eardrums for the entire lifespan.
This all amounts to one thing: the PS5 is a powerful and astonishingly fast console. Although it is missing the promising “Quick Resume” feature that the Xbox Series consoles have, the PS5 and its impressive SSD are so fast that you won’t even think of that missing ability to do so—though it would be a nice addition if it ever finds its way to the console in future updates.
Booting up a PS5 game—it’s worth noting here that games have to be installed on the SSD to run, with further expansion coming down the line—has taken, at the absolute most, thirty seconds. That is thirty seconds from the home screen to loading up a save file, with the splash-screens and menu navigation of titles accounted for. Of course, some games are better optimised for the speed than others, with Spider-Man: Miles Morales and the re-master of the 2018 title both showing some exceptional speed during start-up and within the game itself; load times are quite literally non-existent.
You never truly realise the impact loading times have on your gaming experience until you get a taste for what it is like without them. I have found myself playing games more than ever due to the fact that I know I can move from a frantic game of Warzone to swinging through Manhattan in literal seconds.
Play Your Cards Right
The PlayStation 5 UI also banks quite heavily on the new cards system. Either when playing a game or browsing the home screen, each PS5 game has a selection of cards that range from Trophy information to general mission descriptions of where you left off.
When playing any game, you are greeted with what Sony is calling the Control Center if you press the PS button on your DualSense. This is very similar to the PS4’s quick menu, but is far slicker and easier to navigate. Of course, the Control Center features the aforementioned cards, which allow for navigation around different areas of a game, all from the user interface. For example, when playing a game like Astro’s Playroom you can quickly bring up the Control Center to see a small number of cards that relate to the title. So, if you were going for the Platinum trophy like I was, you could select a card such as “Collect all Artifacts in Cooling Springs,” and the card would then bring up a picture-in-picture video that displayed a hint on how to find something you were missing.
Immediately, this presents an exciting way to keep the flow of a game from breaking, eliminating the process of switching over to your phone to try and find some information on what you may need help with, but like many of these features the PS5 boasts, milage with vary. Demon’s Souls may include hundreds of videos for a player to switch to if aid is needed, but third-party titles have no real obligation to include them. It is a cool feature to be able to move around different areas of a game with the cards, yet it is hard to escape the feeling that they are somewhat gimmicky. They can also become somewhat cumbersome, with the navigation of party chat, Spotify, and trophies all being lobbed together in one jumbled line of cards. Perhaps if Sony provides a more simple approach to some areas of the software it would mitigate this issue; as it stands, they offer an interesting yet somewhat useless diversion from the experience.
Going Backwards to Go Forward
After a long and confusing road, the PS5 thankfully delivers an impressive level of backwards compatibility. Games either linked with your account or purchased on a physical disc can be played either on the system’s SSD or via an external hard-drive, which many will have coming over from the PS4.
If you are coming from an original PS4 model (like me), then you are offered quite a tantalising reason to go back and experience some titles you may have missed, or even check out some of the visual features of enhanced titles. Booting up Ghost of Tsushima and being able to see the Pro enhancements I had missed out on was quite stunning, with it rivaling titles made for the PS5 itself. Other games have received specific PS5 upgrades to benefit from the power of the PS5 too, with No Man’s Sky seeing a substantial overhaul with the last update and VR titles such as Blood and Truth receiving a resolution bump. Other titles also receive boosts in quality without any adjustments from the developers, with titles that opt for a dynamic resolution or un-capped framerate automatically reaping the benefits, such as Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and Dreams.
The VR experience is somewhat lacking as of now since it is fully reliant on backwards compatibility and a (free) camera adaptor that owners of PSVR have to apply for online. The set-up remains a tangled and cumbersome experience, yet once again you will notice a substantial step-up in graphical fidelity coming from an original PS4. With the future of Sony’s involvement in the VR industry being shrouded in mystery, it is still great to see that the experience can be had on the current console, as the VR hardware has only become more affordable over the years.
The PS5 may not feature the PS1 through PS4 compatibility that we all dreamed of, but what it does offer is an efficient and effective way to play your favorite PS4 titles, with the nice option to install them onto the SSD, which makes things so much faster.
With all these fantastic features in-mind, you would assume the PS5 sets itself up to be worthy of the mass hype and struggles to get your hands on it; 99% of the time, it is. Sadly, the PS5 can only be as good an experience as the system seems willing to be, and the console can be an unstable system that seems to present a different issues every few days.
Before any of these issues are mentioned, it is worth noting that these things can be entirely random. You may have a console that runs smoother than butter, or you may be an unlucky one that has a console brick on them. The important thing is that Sony steps up and address these issues, which they haven’t been willing to do at the time of this review. Look, nothing here is “red ring of death”-levels of faulty, but with rumours of rest mode, external hard drives, and even just playing breaking the console, it would be very wise of Sony to be transparent in their approach to fixing these major issues.
I have encountered over five crashes in the last week, some being minor game crashes and others being full system failures, with the console refusing to turn on for a few minutes or so. As of writing, a new issue has appeared too, with the console now refusing to accept LAN connections until it randomly decides that it does. The problem here lies with the lack of transparency Sony are providing with gamers; a quick browse through YouTube or Reddit threads will greet you with hundreds of panicked gamers who either have a genuine problem or are so wrapped up in the rumour mill that they refuse to even use the console for many of its intended purposes. Contrast this with Microsoft who, through a simple tweet, debunked the idea that their consoles were somehow beginning to smoke (which turned out to be people vaping into their consoles for some reason), and the contrast is clear.
Even with gamers not knowing how their consoles should sound and what coil whine might be and if it is an issue, real issues do exist and they are a problem. The few updates the console has had since launch seem to offer no other explanation than “system stability fixes,” which is honestly quite laughable. Hopefully these issues are ironed out quickly.
For the Players
Bugs and tech issues aside, the PlayStation 5 has proven itself to be an impressive leap for the console market and for Sony. The sheer volume of launch titles available from first and third-party developers makes this console hard not to lust after. Sony has made it clear this year that they believe in console generations, and it shows in every area of the new console experience. The DualSense controller shines as a main attraction here, getting me genuinely excited about its future potential once some creative developers get their hands on it. In theory it is gimmicky, but in motion it is more than impressive.
Coupled with a simple user interface that can be a tad confusing at times (with the weird use of the cards system), Sony manages to commit to the speed that the PS5 strives for. Everything you do on the console is snappy and to the point, making the gaming experience more engaging and hard to put down than ever before. While it is being slightly marred by technical issues that need some ironing out, it is thankfully contrasted with potentially the best launch line-up in modern console history, with one of the standout games being a completely free pack-in title that works as a controller demo and an outright fun platformer.
When all is said and done, it is hard not to get excited about where Sony plan to take us these next few years, and the PS5 has proven itself as another leap in console gaming.
- It is really, truly fast (and runs whisper quiet)
- The DualSense is a game-changer, literally
- Excellent selection of launch titles, with one coming free with the console
- PS4 and PSVR games look better than ever
- Some stability issues that desperately need to be fixed
- Card system seems too gimmicky