PlayStation 5 Review: This is Next-Gen

PlayStation 5 (1)

With both the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S now available around the world, next-gen is well and truly here.

All packing in serious GPU upgrades, lightning-fast SSDs and speedier CPUs, no matter which next-gen console you pick up you’re pretty much guaranteed a good time. But if you’re after a console that truly gives you that next-gen feel, the PlayStation 5 might just be the one for you.

We’ve had our hands on a PlayStation 5 for just over two weeks now, and while there are some things about it that we’d like to see improved, using it has been a joy overall. And now we feel comfortable giving you our full review. If you’re thinking about picking up a PlayStation 5 any time soon, get yourself a drink and settle down to read our thoughts on Sony’s latest machine.

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Specs and hardware

The official specs for the PlayStation 5 are as follows:

CPU:x86-64-AMD Ryzen™ “Zen 2”, 8 Cores / 16 Threads. Variable frequency, up to 3.5 GHz
GPU:AMD Radeon™ RDNA 2-based graphics engine with Ray Tracing Acceleration. Variable frequency, up to 2.23 GHz (10.3 TFLOPS)
System Memory:GDDR6 16GB, 448GB/s Bandwidth
SSD:825GB, 5.5GB/s Read Bandwidth (Raw)
Video Out:Support of 4K 120Hz TVs, 8K TVs, VRR (to be added at a later date)
Audio:“Tempest” 3D AudioTech

To a lot of people, the numbers and words above probably won’t mean all that much. But in layman’s terms, it’s powerful. It’s a massive upgrade over the standard PlayStation 4, and a considerable upgrade over the mid-gen Pro model. Perhaps the biggest gains are the CPU – which will enable many more games to achieve a solid 60fps, and even 120fps in some circumstances – and the SSD, which allows for blisteringly quick load times. After booting the game for the first time, for example, you can launch Spider-Man: Miles Morales and actually be in-game in a little over 10 seconds. It’s amazing.

When it comes to the physical design of the console, there’s no getting around it: the PlayStation 5 is gargantuan in size. Measuring 390mm x 104mm x 260mm, it’s undoubtedly the biggest console yet. It’s weighty, too, at over 4kg. But this size allows for a hefty cooling system that keeps the innards inside running at their best while also ensuring the console remains quiet. And it does. While the PlayStation 5 isn’t inaudible, like the Xbox Series X/S seemingly are, it’s much quieter than any PS4 you’re likely to have ever owned.

The impact of PlayStation 5’s sheer size and weight is matched by its aesthetic; never has a console looked so outlandish. The console itself is a sleek black slab with almost a mirror-like shine, and it’s sandwiched between two off-white plates that can be removed for easy access to the console’s storage upgrade port, and also to allow you to clean it. Presumably different coloured plates will be available to purchase at a later date – if Sony doesn’t do them, someone else surely will. Overall though, the PlayStation 5 looks a lot better in the flesh than it does in promo shots, and it feels like a quality made product, too.

Two models are available: a standard version that comes complete with an Ultra HD Blu-ray disc drive, and a driveless Digital Edition that looks a little bit sleeker. Both perform the same, but the Digital Edition is £90 cheaper – a considerable saving if you can live without physical media. On the front are a USB-C port and a USB 2.0 port, both easily accessible. Around the back are two USB 3.1 ports, handy for connecting things like external hard drives, as well as a HDMI 2.1 port, an ethernet port, and a power socket. Bear in mind that there’s no optical output: if you have a sound system that you’d normally connect to your console via optical, you won’t be able to do that with PlayStation 5.

Storage

Much has been made of the PlayStation 5’s custom-made, cutting-edge SSD, and it does indeed appear to be a gamechanger. As mentioned above, it results in games such as Miles Morales going from simply being an icon on your dashboard to immersing you in a highly detailed world within seconds, and it feels great. But storage space is a drawback. Despite being 825GB, only 667GB of it is actually usable. That means once you’ve installed the likes of Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War and some common PlayStation 4 time sinks such as Red Dead Redemption 2 and GT Sport, less than half of that space is left.

The good news is that PlayStation 4 games can be played from an external hard drive if you have one, but PlayStation 5 games must be installed on internal storage, and you currently can’t increase that capacity by buying a suitable SSD to install. Still, for most players, the internal storage should be enough until that does indeed becomes an option. Though it will be costly.

Dashboard, user interface and functionality

Anyone that is moving from a PlayStation 4 to PlayStation 5 will find the dashboard and user interface somewhat familiar. Games and apps still have tiles, but they’re shrunk down and pushed up the screen. Highlight a tile and the game or app will now regale your screen with art and music, attracting you to hit the big old play button and get stuck in.

To access things like your notifications and downloads, you need to push the PlayStation button on the DualSense controller, which brings up a menu at the bottom of the screen. When you’re on the dashboard it feels like an unnecessary step, but you get used to it fairly quickly.

PlayStation 5 Activity Cards

When the same menu is brought up during gameplay, you’ll be thankful that it’s easy to navigate as it gives you access to a wide range of functions such as checking on your downloads and seeing who’s online. It also brings into play one of the PlayStation 5’s big new features: Cards. These have a varied range of uses, including alerting you to trophies you’re close to obtaining. The more interesting ones, however, are Activity Cards, allowing you jump straight into a specific challenge within a game, or continue your progress without booting into the game’s main menu. Their implementation seems hit and miss depending on the title, but some gamers will find them useful.

The system settings menu is now located in the upper right hand-side of the dashboard, and remains largely the same as it was on PlayStation 4. There’s a handy new menu that lets you set preferences, though, such as whether games default to Performance or Quality modes if they have them, and even whether to automatically inverse the y-axis. By far the worst aspect of the PlayStation 5 user interface so far is the PlayStation Store. Accessed by moving all the way left on your tiles, it’s currently missing features such as a dedicated Deals section, and just feels like a backwards step. Considering the store on PlayStation 4 wasn’t all that great, that’s disappointing.

Also a slight backwards step is the fact that you can’t sort your games or apps into folders. This is something that was introduced to PS4 later on, so it’s a feature we’ve come to expect. It’s handy for arranging your games – stuff you play regularly, maybe, or perhaps you like to sort by genre. So to go back to not having that functionality is slightly frustrating. Hopefully it’s something that will be re-introduced at some point.

Backwards compatibility

With Microsoft working wonders with its backwards compatibility efforts last-gen, and stating early on that nearly all Xbox One games would be playable on Xbox Series X/S, the pressure was on Sony to also make some backwards compatibility moves. Some had lofty expectations of the PlayStation 5 supporting original PlayStation games as well as those from the PlayStation 2 and possibly even PlayStation 3 era, and of course that’s not the case. What it does have, however, is brilliant support for PlayStation 4 games.

Nearly all PlayStation 4 games are compatible with PlayStation 5, with many benefitting from faster framerates. Those with dynamic resolution scalers also consistently look better thanks to the power of PlayStation 5, with some games such as Days Gone even patched to hit 4K at 60fps. Needless to say, unless you’ve been itching to play Joe’s Diner or Shadow Complex Remastered on PlayStation 5, you won’t be disappointed. Assassin’s Creed Syndicate having some issues on PlayStation 5 is a bit of a letdown though.

Perhaps the biggest fault with PlayStation 5’s backwards compatibility is the situation with DualShock 4 controllers. They can be used with the PlayStation 5 to play PlayStation 4 games, but you can’t play PlayStation 5 games with them. DualSense functionality can’t really be cited as the cause, either, as features such as haptic feedback and adaptive triggers can be turned off at a system level. Though once you’ve had your hands on a DualSense controller you’ll probably want to never touch a DualShock 4 ever again anyway.

DualSense

Honestly, we were sceptical of the DualSense controller. Having heard about and tried controllers with haptic feedback before, we wondered if it would actually make any difference. Imagine our surprise, then, when we were blown away by it. The controller itself is comfortable to hold and feels solid. Textured grip means it sits firmly in your hands, too. But it’s what’s inside that really impresses. Pre-installed on every PlayStation 5, the first thing you should do after setting your new console up is play Astros’ Playroom. It provides a stunning example of what the DualSense controller can do, showcasing its haptic feedback and adaptive triggers.

You’ll be amazed by the textures you feel as you gracefully skate across ice or fight your way into a storm of sand. Then, upon being fixed into a suit that allows you to coil a spring before releasing its energy, you’ll delight in the feeling of tension that accumulates in the triggers.

Other games have notable (though admittedly more subtle) implementations, too. In WRC 9, for example, you can feel the skidding movement in the controller when performing a handbrake turn on tarmac, while the left trigger, being the brake, provides some resistance. And then there’s Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, where tension in the right trigger makes the act of firing off a shot that bit more tangible.

With thoughtful application, DualSense can really draw you into the action like never before, and brings another dimension to gameplay. But already there are some games that make scant use of its features. Hopefully third-party developers will learn from the titles that benefit greatly from it, and be inspired to support it as the generation moves forward. With widespread adoption, the PlayStation 5’s DualSense features could be its killer app. Along with actual exclusive games that are great, of course.

Games

This is where the PlayStation 5 really has an edge over the competition at launch. While some first-party PlayStation 5 launch titles are cross-gen, they really do have that next-gen quality when played on the console. Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Sackboy: A Big Adventure are both brilliant, offering cutting-edge visuals, nearly non-existent load times,  and absorbing gameplay. Then there’s Astro’s Playroom, which comes pre-installed on every PlayStation 5 – it’s perhaps the best pack-in ever. Though if you’re after a technical showcase, Demon’s Souls is something you should definitely pick up along side the PlayStation 5.

Demon’s Souls simply looks phenomenal, and in performance mode only a little visual splendour is lost to offer a solid 60fps. You’ll likely be in awe from the moment you launch it due to its realistic lighting and textures so exquisitely detailed. Then you’ll talk to an NPC and be blown away by their lifelike facial expressions. And to think, this is what a game looks like at launch – imagine what will be possible a few years down the line.

Spider-Man Miles Morales 4

Of course, there are some solid third-party efforts, too. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War looks phenomenal on PlayStation 5, offering dynamic 4K with ray tracing at 60fps. There’s a 120fps mode as well if you’re prepared to forego the ray tracing. DIRT 5 also has a 120fps mode, but the dramatically improved visuals playing at 60fps have won us over. A neat feature is that many gamers looking to purchase a PlayStation 5 may even already own some games to play on it.

The likes of Watch Dogs Legion, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, and Borderlands 3 all come with free next-gen upgrades if you own them on PlayStation 4. But it does come with a snag. Unlike on Xbox Series X/S where you’re automatically served up the version of the game suitable for your device, on PlayStation 5 you need to make sure you have the correct version of the game installed. Moving your saved games from one version to another can be more troublesome, too. Still, being able to upgrade some of your titles for free is a consumer-friendly move that’s not be sniffed at.

A truly next-gen console

The Xbox Series X is great – there’s no doubt about it. Though while it’s quieter than Sony’s latest console and is a bit better when it comes to backwards compatibility, the PlayStation 5 is the only one of the two that truly provides a next-gen experience right now. From its outlandish looks to its snazzy redesigned dashboard, the moment you unbox a PlayStation 5 and power it on you feel like you’ve bought into something genuinely new. Something that those who are upgrading from an Xbox One to an Xbox Series X or S won’t appreciate. But it’s when you sit down to play that the PlayStation 5 really gives you the next-gen vibes.

The DualSense controller is a revelation, immersing you like never before in games which developers have given thought to the implementation of its unique features. It’s going to be really interesting seeing how it’s used further down the line in more games. But its the games themselves that make the PlayStation 5 a must-buy right now for those wanting to jump into the next-gen. While Microsoft has patched some of its back catalogue to make them look and play better on Xbox Series X and S, there’s nothing that impresses anywhere near as much as booting up Spider-Man: Miles Morales for the first time and seeing those spectacular ray traced reflections as you swing around New York City. Or the sheer atmosphere and detail of Demon’s Souls.

Power is nothing if it’s not put to good use, and at this moment in time, the PlayStation 5 is the only console powering games that look and feel leaps and bounds over their last-gen counterparts. And that’s what next-gen is all about.

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