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You think console gaming, and it’s hard to deny just how successful Sony has been at making the hobby a mainstream success. This didn’t happen overnight, as several generations of bleeding-edge console design were backed up by savvy marketing and a growing culture of gaming that helped transform the idea of digital escapism into more than just a diversion.

It’s a way of life.

With every new PlayStation console, the expectations for what Sony can deliver have continued to climb. Coming off the back of the PlayStation 4 era, the PlayStation 5 has big boots to fill that dwarf even its massive frame. The last generation saw an explosion in sharing your personal gameplay experiences, one that the PS4 was well-equipped to do with not only the best exclusive games of the 2010s but also revolutionary video capture and sharing functions.

The PlayStation 5 doubles down on the idea of a gaming console, and physically, it’s an incredible beast of a machine. I just wish that for everything I love about Sony’s new console, there wasn’t an asterisk at the end of every statement.

This is real next-gen console design

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Forget about addressing the elephant in the room, let’s talk about the PS5 in the corner. There’s no denying that this console is an absolute unit when taken out of its gigantic box, housing all manner of technology that looks to make good on the flaws of the PS4, its mid-life slim upgrade, and the infamously noisy PS4 Pro.

It’s also absolutely gorgeous to gaze at. When I first saw it, I hated the design but the more I looked at what Sony’s engineers have created, the more I’ve come to love the five-dimensional art installation. Whereas the Xbox Series X is a more nondescript monolith that will soon be covered in Pacific Rim stickers that I’ve ordered, the PS5 is genuine art.

It looks next-gen, it’ll draw your attention towards it instantly and it’ll be a topic of conversation in any living room. In the plastic flesh, it looks properly imposing with its sharp lines and glossy black finish, but it also hides some wonderful details. The history of PlayStation is literally etched into the casing, its iconic symbols decorating hidden nooks and crannies throughout the console.

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You’ve also got a choice of how you’ll display it. If you don’t have a lot of vertical space you can move the included stand easily to the belly of the beast, resulting in a floating horizontal layout that has become my preferred way of keeping the PS5 positioned in my TV unit. And believe it or not, despite it being so massive, it’s not even that heavy. The Xbox Series X is a denser unit in comparison, with the PS5 not carrying any risk of popping your spine out of place should you need to move it.

On the console itself, you’ll find a wide array of input ports: A USB-C port is joined by a smaller USB-A sibling, while the power and eject keys are a marked improvement when compared to the PS4’s notoriously iffy buttons. I can still hear my PS4 console, randomly beeping at night because it carried with it the dodgy disc eject curse that nothing could fix.

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On the rear, there are two super-speed USB Type-A ports, an ethernet port, a power supply, and an HDMI 2.1 port. As for the disc drive on that model of PS5, the Ultra HD Blu-ray optical drive will have you sorted for a night of watching films easily enough. It takes discs easily enough and my model doesn’t have the random beep of 2 AM wake-up call issue that made me hate my PS4, so top marks there.

One thing you won’t find here is an optical audio out port, as Sony’s gone for a less messy setup for this generation. Less cables, more time playing games.

Solid State Drive, solid and lightning-fast performance

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Like its competition, Sony’s biggest draw for the PS5 isn’t just its hardware. Under the hood, there’s still an impressive amount of tech that can be used to power games for years to come, but it’s the idea of playing those games quicker than ever before that’s the real focus. With 825GB advertised on the box, however, that’s not exactly a lot of space available to store games on the drive. And the reality is, it’s considerably less than that once all the relevant system software has been tallied up.

What you’re getting is just 667GB of usable space, much less than the Xbox Series X which has 802GB in comparison. In today’s day age of massive video games with high resolution textures that can gobble up your gigabytes like your uncle at an open bar during a wedding, it’s used up almost too quickly. Right now I have six games installed on my PS5 that have taken up over 500GB of that valuable space.

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Ordinarily this wouldn’t be too much of an option, but Sony is launching the PS5 with some bafflingly backwards thinking regarding this issue. At the time of writing this review, you can’t store unused PS5 games on an external hard drive so that it can be copied back over later, nor is there an available upgrade like the Xbox Series X’s expansion card that provides instant plug and play.

You can’t even add your own NVMe SSD despite there being the capacity to do so, because the PS5 does not support expansion yet. Granted you can transfer PS4 games over from an external drive onto the PS5 SSD, but you obviously won’t get that SSD boost if you play from the external. There’s a lot about how the PS5 works that make absolutely no sense, but we’ll get to that a bit later.

Let’s talk speed though. On paper, the PS5 SSD absolutely trumps what the Xbox Series X can do, which it certainly does…and does not. Comparing third-party games, the Xbox Series X regularly beats the PS5 to the punch, although to be fair this is a race where both consoles can load games in under a minute without breaking a sweat.

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The Xbox Series X usually has a lead of several seconds, which is no small feat at all, as the PS5 lags behind. Where the PS5 absolutely trounces its competition is when it comes to first-party games. Launching with the likes of Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Sackboy’s Adventure, and Demon’s Souls, there’s no chance to even quickly scratch your buttocks when you start a PS5 game.

Spider-Man: Miles Morales has been especially impressive, with nary a loading screen to be seen as you boot up the game. I mentioned this in my review, but it literally takes longer for me to initiate fast-travel in that game than it takes to actually do so. Demon’s Souls also has a stupidly-quick setup, as the only thing faster than my constant deaths within that gorgeous remake is the speed at which my soul returns to the nexus for another run at surviving the perils of Boletaria.

Right now, the PS5 looks to be a showcase for what SSD technology can truly do for video games, provided that they come from Sony’s first-party studios. As more developers get to grips with the system I believe we’ll start to see similar results. If the two main attractions of the PS5 launch library are this good already at making elevator ride level transitions an extinct species, then the future looks to be a brilliant one where the focus is on playing games quicker, better, and more smoothly than ever before.

Welcome to the 4K future

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Games look good, 9/10. The end. I’m not going to pretend be as knowledgeable as Digital Foundry, but I’ll say that my initial impressions of PS5 launch games are well impressive. Godfall may be a waste of time, but as a tech demo that saw perhaps one too many particle effects thrown into its mix just because the developer could do so without starting a fire hazard? It looks amazing.

That graphical flourish continues on Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Demon’s Souls, with each game offering two distinct modes for visuals: A performance mode that runs at an unrestrained 60 frames per second and a quality mode that cycles in advanced ray tracing technology but caps the experience at 30fps. Either mode is amazing and offers a tantalising glimpse at what the PS5 is capable of.

Other games also provide an even bigger upgrade to how said games run, with the likes of Dirt 5 and Devil May Cry V: Special Edition offering a 1080p 120fps mode. I still need to personally test it, but once my new TV comes I can’t wait to see how these brilliant games look on it at double my preferred frame-rate.

I’m still of the opinion that video games have reached a glass ceiling of sorts, that this generation of consoles won’t be able to break through and breach the uncanny valley with. Make no mistake, games are going to look amazing in action and will continue to be examples of showing off your tech to friends and family when they pop around.

The DualSense is an absolute triumph of engineering

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All of this would make for just a business as usual step-up if the PlayStation didn’t offer something truly revolutionary, and that comes in the form of now just what you’re seeing in front of you but what you’re also playing games with. Eschewing the DualShock branding of previous PlayStation controllers, the PS5 DualSense input device is a bigger jolt to the system than when games ditched cartridges for CD-ROM discs.

The dazzling white controller doesn’t just look fantastic, it feels absolutely brilliant as well thanks to bleeding edge technology that rewrites the rulebook on haptic feedback. Rumbling vibrations have been a part of gaming for decades now, but the DualSense combines more motors with sophisticated targeting throughout the controller that provide a subtle buzz or a jarring wake-up call for your hands depending on the scenario.

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Even better, the triggers on each Dual-Sense have motors that can rumble your fingers into action and adaptive resistance that adds an extra touch to the games they’re featured in. Imagine feeling Spider-Man’s web-line grow tauter as you swing around New York, a bow string tighten as you aim an arrow or a gun provide actual recoil whenever you fire a shot.

I do believe that your mileage may vary with this system and that it’ll work best when it targets a single trigger instead of both, but the sensation is undeniably new to experience. When used in conjunction with the vibration settings and controller speaker in a game like Astro’s PlayRoom, the DualSense transcends the expectations of what a game controller can do. It is simply an unbelievable experience that words cannot do justice, you have to feel it for yourself and I’ll talk more about this in a detailed review where I also mention the somewhat iffy ergonomics of this controller and its battery life.

But if games can truly take advantage of the DualSense, especially now that Sony is making it easier to do so for developers? This is going to be a revolution in gaming.

What’s on the UI Cards?

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We’ve come a long way in the presentation of games over the years. The PlayStation 3 made the option between games and media more of a tangible experience when it first debuted so many years ago, while the PS4 still has one of my favourite user interfaces thanks to the serenity that it transmitted every time I booted that console up.

There’s a continuity of sorts in the PS5 UI, but it’s also a completely fresh experience with some groundbreaking ideas of its own and some of the most annoying features to boot. From the start, it’s a warm and inviting experience. The screen has a relaxing champagne gold aesthetic, and while you can’t change said themes or colours currently, it looks fantastic.

It also has a more horizontal design, detailing your latest games in several windows and keeping all other console functions separate in its own window. It’s more elegant in design, keeping important functions up top and bringing up the Control Centre with a tap of the PS5 home button from the controller. From here you can access any activities that were familiar to you on the PS4: Downloads, friend activities, and much more.

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The biggest addition though are Cards. Using these tiles, you’re able to access a wealth of information and activities related not only to what game you’re playing but where you are in it. For example Spider-Man: Miles Morales had a card that informed me of a nearby side-quest, which I popped open and was instantly transported to the location for that mission. I’ve been struggling in Demon’s Souls, but dozens of instantly-accessible gameplay videos providing tips have been a godsend.

Other cards provide news on a game, videos, and screenshots. You can even see how far away you are from completing a trophy or how much time a mission should take you to complete it. How much value these cards will have in the long run though, will rely on the developers who spend time and resources on them. They have the potential to be game-changing additions to your personal gaming experience, but only if they’re made use of by studios and publishers. After all, remember how neat the speaker was on the PS4 DualShock controller? A year after launch, and it was forgotten about.

If you’re into video capture, good news! The PS5 allows for 1080p and 4K native video capture, with frame-rates matching the game they’re pulled from. Initial results are positive so far. Spider-Man: Miles Morales looks like I used a professional capture card, while games such as Call of Duty: Black Ops: Cold War also step up to the plate and hit a home run with these sharing options. With a 17,836 bitrate and 59.94fps at regular 1080p, that’s more than enough quality for quick video capture and editing, if you’re heavy into the YouTube scene.

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And here’s where the PS5 is absolutely frustrating to experience. I hope you’ve got a decent uncapped Internet account because the console has a bad habit of wanting to download the worst version of a game instead of its more fine-tuned next-gen copy. I’ve experienced this several times already, with Call of Duty: Black Ops: Cold War and Dirt 5 requiring me to download the same game twice because the PS5 decided to grab the PS4 version instead. While the Xbox Series X has Smart Delivery that ensures the best possible version of a game on that console, the PS5 clearly needs to go back to school.

This isn’t even down to me being my usual idiotic self either, as I’d purposely selected the PS5 game option and was still given a last-gen bamboozling. I don’t even know why the console struggles so much to grab the best game possible, but it’s not the only issue I’ve found with it. I’ve had crashes from using the console in rest mode, and I’m terrified that I’ll be one of the unlucky few who’ll experience a new-gen red ring of death, so I’ve disabled that mode for downloads. Downloads have been stuck in some sort of limbo, I’ve had a few crashes, and games have sometimes frozen as well.

This hasn’t happened to me constantly, but it has occurred a number of times to be concerning. But perhaps the biggest gripe I have is with backwards compatibility.

Backwards compatibility works…mostly

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The PS4 launched with an eye on a new generation of gaming, the PS3 be damned. That was a misstep from Sony, and one it sought to avoid with the PS5. I get the feeling that backwards compatibility was only added though because of Microsoft’s focus on that territory. If you’ve got a sizable library from the PS4, most of it will hop on over with you to the PS5. Most.

I’m seeing gaps in my own personal library on that console, and while I doubt anyone will complain about Battlefield Hardline or Battleborn not being playable on the PS5, it is a worrying trend. For the vast majority of games that work on the system, results may vary. First-party PlayStation 4 games naturally benefit from the increased horsepower, but a number of third-party games are playable with odd glitches and a lackluster presentation.

Just Cause 3 (Don’t judge me!) somehow looks worse on PS5, I’ve seen strange textures pop in on Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, and a quick perusal online points towards more strange shenanigans popping up. Backwards compatibility does work on the PS5, but the entire system needs more time in the oven before its ready to step into the ring with Xbox and its own well-designed efforts at preserving video game history.

The verdict

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I’ve got both next-gen consoles sitting in my TV unit right now, and it’s clear that the PS5 is a winner on several fronts. Its first-party games are amazing, the SSD technology for those titles is especially impressive, and the console grabs you right away with a real next-gen appeal. But at the same time, it’s not without a few issues.

Last Updated: November 20, 2020

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The tiny SSD is running a race when it should be preparing for a marathon, the initial amazement of the user interface hides some big issues with the console software, and there’s clearly still some work left to be done in the backwards compatibility department. And yet despite those faults, the PS5 still locks and loads a wow factor that can’t be beat thanks to just how well its best games run and the senses-shattering use of its new controller. The potential of this console to lead the way into the next-generation of gaming is undeniable, but it’s up to Sony to help the PS5 realise that possibility.
8.5
PlayStation 5 was reviewed on PlayStation 5

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