PlayStation 5 review

by on November 6, 2020

With the PlayStation 5 it’s clear that Sony sees things differently to its rivals. Much has been made of the comment that, as a company, Sony believes in “generations”, and I can absolutely confirm that the PS5 feels like a new console, and yes, a new generation. This is in part because while some things return from the PS4, this is a system that from the start feels boutique and classy, with its orchestral audio welcome and the graphical greeting that swirls around as you load it up. The PlayStation 5 feels expensive, slick, and different.

It also looks rather strange. There’s no getting away from the fact that it’s enormous. I can’t think of many consoles bigger than the PS5, and from one day to the next I cannot tell if I like how it looks or not. Maybe that’s the point: it’s stark and draws attention, but it’s also quiet and unassuming when you’re not staring at it like it’s a friend who looks different, but you can’t tell why. Now and then you’ll hear a creak or something whir inside, but I say that as someone who has the PS5 away from an entertainment unit right now. It kicks out a decent amount of heat from the rear when standing up, so I’d say make sure it’s well ventilated, but that’s true of any console. I played the PS5 for insane hours without a break and I never once heard a fan kick in, though if you get up close you can hear a slight noise that proves the thing is actually switched on. Let me be clear: unless something drastic happens, the days of the aircraft carrier memes are over. Thank God.

In the box you get everything you’d expect, and the power supply is a simple non-kettle based one. The included HDMI cable appears to be 2.1 capable, so you can get 120hz out of the box if you have a TV that is able to display it. There’s no headset bundled with the console, mind you, and I tried to get my Apple AirPods paired with it via bluetooth with no luck. Regardless, you can plug in any standard cable based headset directly into the controller to get an audio signal anyway.

PlayStation 5 review: The User Interface

PlayStation 5 review - UI

The user interface isn’t perfect, but it’s new and there are very clearly things that Sony will add at a later date. For example, there’s no option to put games into a folder, and also no option I could find to keep displayed games on the home screen, and that might be a “game reviewer” problem, but given you can attach your old PS4 external hard drive and play old-gen games, maybe you too will find it strange you can’t do folders, etc.

Overall, the system menus feel similar to the PS4 in that there’s a style they’ve gone for with the XMB, but with PS5 it feels more sleek and, dare I say it, a bit more stylish. Hovering over a game there will be a piece of music that plays out if you stay on it and, much like the system music of the PS4, I’m sure many will turn that off, but I found myself leaving it on, at least for now.

My biggest concern with the UI is that it always feels like there’s an extra button press involved in every decision. For example, on the PS4 you could hold the PlayStation button down and would be a few movements away from rest mode. Here you hit the PlayStation button and then go down, all the way right to the power options, up a few and hit cross for rest mode. It’s a minor niggle, for sure, but that sort of pervades the rest of the UI in that it always seems one step more tucked away than it should.

PlayStation 5 review: Game Base

But that might be because there’s a major focus on sharing and progression. Even if you go into rest mode directly from a game’s pause menu, when you come back it’ll show you a list of cards that suggest things to do next, trophies and progress, what your friends are up to, and it’s a really nice touch that, frankly, got me looking at the friends list stuff on PlayStation more than I have in about five years.

On top of that, in a game you can hit the PlayStation button and see hints, targets to go for (trophies, etc), and it’ll even give you ideas of where to progress things that you might not have thought of. There’s a hint system baked into some games that shows you videos, so if you’re trying to get a platinum trophy and can’t find that last collectible, it’s going to (in theory, anyway) be easier than ever.

Crucially, though, it’s fast. Gone are the days of hitting the PlayStation button to see a notification and watching it slowly load, or sometimes not at all. Whether it’s a trophy unlocking, or a party invite, it’s all just rapid. You can scroll through notifications and hit delete and, shock horror, they delete them instantly. One nice feature is that the PlayStation App seems better integrated as well, and when downloading a game (if you link to the app) you’ll get a notification when a downloading game is ready to start. This worked 100% of the time for me and I have downloaded a lot of games, that’s for sure.

PS5 game presets

There’s a “Switcher” section on the main menu, which shows you the currently active game and recently played ones, but being honest I can’t work out the purpose of this, unless it’s for some future feature which loads stored games quicker. I had a strange moment with Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, where after booting the console from cold with everything shut down, I loaded it up and saw the splash screens I hadn’t seen for a week: so perhaps some games take advantage of this switching feature, and others don’t, yet. Rounding out the notable features is Game Base which shows your friends and recent parties. This is a repurposed friends list, really, that also shows recent parties. But again, hitting cross on a friend instantly brings up the available options and they work properly, which is a genuinely excellent feeling.

Lastly, there’s what I’d call one of my favourite features on any console, finally returning, but instead of on Xbox, it’s PlayStation. There’s a system level option to invert your controls for both first-person and third-person games, as well as an option to select a default difficulty, and whether you want performance or resolution mode, and your audio and subtitle options. Minor things, maybe: but time savers, nonetheless. Lastly, because I think it’s important to people, while it’s slightly different to how the PS4 handles it, account sharing/game sharing is still possible here, for those who use it.

Backwards Compatibility, New Games and the SSD

PS5 review: Days Gone on PS5

Given the talk of a new generation, though, I was not expecting to see backwards compatibility running so well. I tried a lot of different games and some were better than others, but no games ran badly or worse, not a single one. Days Gone has been upgraded and, frankly, the results are so shocking I may go back to this one and finally finish it. We’re talking a 4K image quality with 60fps gameplay. It’s crazy to think that on a base PS4 sometimes it’d drop below 1080p/30fps, and here it is singing loud and proud on PS5.

Dirt 5 on PS4, running on PS5 is smooth as well, with both fidelity and performance options looking as they should. I tried The Last of Us: Part II and God of War, and I didn’t notice any changes to those games. FIFA 21’s PS4 edition runs perfectly fine, and I’m excited to see the next-gen edition of that. I think what the PS5 is doing is running these games as they were on PS4, and if there’s to be a perceivable boost from the system level, it’s either not big enough to notice, or comes via a patch, similarly to Days Gone.

That said, almost every game I tried when compared to the previous generation of hardware did load faster. Bloodborne and Monster Hunter World were faster loads, and if you want to carry on with those games on this system you can upload your saved games to the cloud and download them onto PlayStation 5 with no trouble whatsoever. The SSD in the PS5 is ridiculous, by the way. I have a PC that is high-spec and almost exclusively SSD and it makes my PC look slow. Miles Morales has zero loading screens. Seriously. None. At all. Choose to fast travel somewhere and it just fades to black and then back to the game. Astro’s Playroom loads levels instantaneously too, and even Devil May Cry 5 Special Edition has load times that are so rapid it’s barely worth showing the loading screens at all. We’re talking 3-5 seconds, here.

I’m not going to ignore the fact that some of the PS5 launch titles are available on PS4, but I do think it’s important to note they aren’t available on other, non-Sony platforms. Miles Morales looks best of PS5 of course, and despite being a man that prefers frame-rate to resolution, I played the entirety of this one in graphics mode with a beautiful 4K image and ray tracing showing off incredible reflections in the sharply polished windows of Spider-Man’s home city.

Astro’s Playroom is another cracker that I wish was longer, while Devil May Cry 5, Sackboy: A Big Adventure, Demon’s Souls, and Bugsnax are titles we’ll bring you more info on soon.

PlayStation 5 review: The DualSense Controller

The DualSense Controller

The PS5’s DualSense is a revolutionary piece of kit. Every part of it feels designed to perfection, from the overall size and shape (bigger than the PS4 controller), to the features that are new and unique to this input device. There’s a built-in speaker which is nothing new, but also a brand new mic that is used for party chat if you want it, but can also be part of a game like Astro’s Playroom, which asks you to blow into it to move things out of the way. There’s the minute detail on the back which has tiny PlayStation button icons ingrained into it, and there’s the adaptive triggers which are, frankly, astonishing.

Astro’s Playroom is a great place to learn about how all of the DualSense features work, but the adaptive triggers are just a new level of immersion. From controlling them with adaptive pressure like you’re holding down a spring, to having there be tension in them as you hold a bow, there’s so much on offer here to whet the whistle and give you an idea of how games in the future will make use of this. With the haptic feedback, it’s similar to HD rumble on the Switch, only turned up to eleven. Here you feel as though you’re walking through a sandstorm, and you feel when rain falls on your umbrella, but it’s more than that. When walking on grass you feel like it’s grass as opposed to metal, or other surfaces. It’s truly next-gen, and Astro’s Playroom showcases it perfectly.

PS5 review: DualSense

But it’s not exclusive to that game, proving that developers are on board with how much immersion they can add. Devil May Cry 5 Special Edition uses the L2 trigger’s adaptive nature to make it feel like you’re revving a motorbike when you wind up Nero’s Red Queen weapon, and before you know it you’ll be hitting those Ex-Act revs after each blow to make it more efficient. Miles Morales makes use of the same triggers, offering resistance as you swing around as Spider-Man, too. Honestly, after using the DualSense, I don’t want to go back to any other controller. Even just how it feels in the hand, it’s heavier but in a good way: it feels phenomenal. And of course, the battery is better than the previous DualShock. It’s still not up there with the Switch Pro Controller, but in an entirely unscientific manner, I’d say if the DualShock 4 lasts four to eight hours, this is nearer six to ten: a bonus, for sure. Coupled with the fact it has a USB-C charge cable meaning no more fumbling to get the thing wired up, well, it’s just better all-round.

And that’s the PS5 all over, really. It feels next-gen, classy, expensive, and ridiculously fast. During my countless hours playing all manner of games, there wasn’t a single moment that didn’t feel great. There’s a little bit of work to make the UI better, as it’s slightly awkward, despite being responsive and fast, and I’d like to see 1440p resolution added as an option, as it’s currently not supported as dashboard level.

As mad as it sounds to say it, the new games actually feel new, and the controller and its features make everything feel special. Seriously, people are raving about the DualSense and it’s for good reason. Sony are onto a huge winner here. The games are there already with more coming, the system is powerful and runs everything well and, honestly, I’m a little in love with the PS5 already. It’s a great time to be a fan of games, that’s for sure.