The PlayStation 4 has been a behemoth in the industry for the past seven years. Sony has been a leader in hardware and software for so long, I found myself wondering “How can the company top themselves?” as we approached the release of PlayStation 5. The more I used the PlayStation 5, the more I began to understand that Sony is elegantly walking a tightrope between boldness and restraint.
The PlayStation 5 seeks to deliver a more traditional kickstart to a new console generation. Sony is iterating on what worked for the company and its community during the PlayStation 4 era and fixing what didn’t. While PlayStation 4 saw overwhelming success, selling over 112.1 million units, there were aspects of the console that could have been improved. The PlayStation 5. Sony has taken many appropriate steps to cater to its longtime player base while providing an attractive reason to adopt the new console. Through hardware innovations and a tantalizing launch catalogue, Sony continues to stick to its core beliefs while advancing the games industry forward.
Unboxing and Design
The PlayStation 5 is a substantial piece of hardware and it has the size and weight to prove it. The packaging alone is enough to get that point across but it was when I took the console out that really solidified it for me. I had thought I had a good understanding of how large the unit was. Though holding it for the rest time, it was almost comical how big it was compared to my body. However, it’s all for good reason. The PlayStation 5 features an AMD Zen 2 3.5GHz, 8-core CPU, and 10.3 teraflop RDNA 2 GPU. It comes with a custom 825GB SSD and 16GB GDDR6 RAM. The console supports true 4K 120FPS with future support for 8K down the line.
Sony’s new console is the largest modern console on the market. It weighs just shy of 10lbs and measures in at 15.4 x 10.24 x 4.09 inches. On the front of the console, the PlayStation 5 keeps it minimal with only a USB-A port, a USB-C port and Blu Ray disk drive. Sony has improved the Power and Eject buttons by making them different sizes. This was a common complaint with the PlayStation 4 as the buttons were so similar. On the rear of the console, the PlayStation 5 has two USB-A ports, a power supply port, ethernet, and HDMI 2.1 port. Within the packaging, the PlayStation 5 ships with the power supply cord, an HDMI 2.1 cable, and the newly designed DualSense controller.
From a design perspective, I adore the unconventional look of the PlayStation 5. The curvatures of the console’s panels remind me of an alien spacecraft. The glossy black console looks really sleek. The colour scheme is also unlike anything we’ve seen from Sony’s base consoles in the past. After staring at it in my media centre for a few days, it dawned on me that it pairs very well with the PSVR with its bold white colour and black accents. Gone are the days of standard black box consoles. The PlayStation 5 has become a statement piece in my living room. As the PlayStation 5 has been designed to lay horizontal or stand vertical with its adaptive base, it grabs your attention no matter the orientation. When turned on, the PlayStation 5 has a subtle blue and white glow running down the sides of the black portion. When in Rest Mode, the glow turns orange. This design element was nicely carried over from the PlayStation 4 and really goes a long way to make the console stand out, especially in the dark.
New Console, New UI
Sony has completely overhauled the entire PlayStation experience. As I plugged the console in, I was met with the new startup sequence and boot screen. Set up is a relatively easy process. The PS app lets you easily transfer your PSN ID over or you can manually input the info yourself. The PlayStation 5 is backwards compatible with 99% of the games available on PlayStation 4. During the setup, I was able to transfer my saved data from my PlayStation 4 to the PlayStation 5 either through a wired internet connection or over WiFi. Sony does warn that a wireless transfer takes significantly more time and from personal experience, it’s recommended you hook both consoles up to ethernet.
I was then greeted with the new Control Centre UI Sony has developed. There are familiar elements taken over from the PlayStation 4’s XMediaBar. Recently played games are featured on the home screen while all media apps like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video are separated into a Media library tab. There are stagnant tabs for PlayStation Now, PlayStation Plus, Remote Play, Media Gallery, and Game Library. Above all else, the PS Store is now completely integrated into the system. It is now efficiently responsive and more streamlined to make it easier to find the games you’re looking for. Admittedly, the new UI does take a bit to get used to. It took me a bit to get used to navigating to my Profile to see my Trophies, for instance.
The biggest change to the UI is the addition of the Activity Cards. Simply put, Activity Cards point out specific in-game objectives or clues to complete certain aspects of a game. When playing a game like Astro’s Playroom, Activity Cards will show how far along you are on a certain level. They will also point out collectibles such as the Puzzle pieces. You can also use the cards to immediately jump to a requested area within a section of the game on a whim, thanks to the incredibly snappy SSD. Activity Cards will also highlight Trophies you have not obtained. It’s a really unique element added to the gaming experience. Judging by the way they are implemented in the launch line up, Activity Cards can add some useful information. This aspect has the potential to evolve.
The PlayStation Quick Menu has also been redesigned. Accessed by using the PlayStation button on the DualSense controller, you can navigate important menus like Switcher which lets you jump to another recently played game or app without scouring through different screens. There are also social features like the Create menu which lets you snap a screenshot, record video, or even begin a livestream. On PlayStation 4, the Share button’s response was so slow I always had to double-check to see if I got that perfect shot the first time around. Now, grabbing a screenshot is instantaneous. Even video capture can be recorded in the background and edited later before sharing on social media. It’s another example of Sony’s forward-thinking and delivery of a great user experience.
Play Has No Limits
The PlayStation 5 launched with what has to be Sony’s best launch lineup in history. The diverse catalogue of new games sees to it that there should be at least one title that catches your eye. Every console comes pre-installed with Astro’s Playroom. While many could be quick to assume Astro’s Playroom is merely a tech demo, showcasing the DualSense controller and performance of the console, it’s much more. The game is a lesson on the history of PlayStation with wonderful easter eggs hidden around every corner. It’s a must-play for every PlayStation 5 owner.
On top of Astro’s Playroom, Sony brought out the big guns to launch alongside the PlayStation 5. Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales released and while also being available on PlayStation 4, wonderfully showcases the PlayStation 5’s power. By default, Miles Morales renders at 4K/30FPS but on Performance mode, the game will bump up to 60FPS in favour of fidelity. The raytracing shown off in-game adds that extra level of polish to the game. Fans of the original Marvel’s Spider-Man will remember the subway scenes that play out during fast travel portions. Now, the game loads nearly instantaneously. Bluepoint Games released the PlayStation 5 exclusive remaster of Demon’s Souls. The game is astoundingly beautiful, despite its gothic imagery. Sackboy: A Big Adventure is a family-oriented game that looks and plays quite sharp. Jumping between levels is speedy as can be with the power of the SSD.
On top of first-party games, the PlayStation 5 has a long string of third-party support. Launch titles include Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Devil May Cry 5 Special Edition, Watch Dogs: Legion, Dirt 5 and Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War. Plus, for those taking their first steps into the PlayStation ecosystem, Sony has created the PlayStation Plus Collection for PlayStation Plus subscribers. This will give them access to 20 PlayStation 4 games at no additional costs. Acclaimed games such as God of War, The Last of Us Remastered, Monster Hunter: World, Ratchet and Clank and Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End are available to download and play.
Granted, except for Demon’s Souls and Astro’s Playroom, each game is available on PlayStation 4. However, the power the PlayStation 5 possesses ensures that those games run better and look better on your screen. Sony’s PlayStation division has been very consistent with releasing high-quality content from its first-party studios. If you’re investing in the hardware as an early adopter, you’ll find a lot of value from the launch catalogue.
The Next-Gen Controller
Right off the bat, I have to call out the DualSense as my favourite controller Sony has ever developed. Top to bottom, the controller has the build quality and practical improvements I’ve wanted to see come from the company for ages.
Sony has dropped the DualShock nomenclature in replacement of DualSense. The controller has seen a massive overhaul in design while keeping some core aspects in the mix. The DualSense is heavier and almost comparable to the Xbox One wireless controller in weight and size. It now supports UBC-C charging. Sony has kept the overall layout with symmetrical thumbsticks, and Sacred Symbol face buttons. The triggers and bumper buttons are now larger, which is welcoming. Although the controller still has the touchpad in the middle, it is easier to reach with your thumb due to the controller size. The DualSense also fixed one of the glaring issues of the DualShock 4 and removed the oversized lightbar on the rear of the controller. Now, the lightbar is subtly incorporated around the touchpad. This has definitely improved the controller’s battery life by roughly two hours over the DualShock 4.
The DualSense also has a microphone and speaker. The mic can obviously be used as a secondary gaming mic if yours is charging. Based on feedback from friends I played with, there’s a fair bit of clarity when using the mic, though your voice ends up naturally sounding distant. Though be warned, the mic is set to the console’s default so remember to hit the DualSense’s mute button if you don’t want to broadcast your voice in-game.
The true standouts of the controller are its adaptive triggers and haptic feedback. Leading into the launch, I saw these as fancy buzzwords. To be fair on Sony’s efforts, it’s hard to convey exactly how monumental these features are to the gameplay experience. In a game like Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, adaptive triggers dictate the amount of tension you must pull on the trigger for a gunshot to register. In Astro’s Playroom, you can feel the tension as you aim and fire his bow and arrow. Haptic feedback generates vibrations through the controller depending on the action on-screen. I had an ear-to-ear smile on my face when Astro’s Playroom launched and I felt the response of Astro’s little feet scurrying across the screen. You feel the immediate difference when walking on a solid surface versus walking through snow. In Spider-Man: Miles Morales, every punch and every web shot have that much more of an impact with the haptic feedback. These are incredibly deep features that heighten the level of immersion. Words can only go so far, the power the DualSense has is a feel-it-to-believe-it moment.
Beyond the rapid pace of load times and true 4K fidelity, the DualSense controller is the real next-gen feature.
A New Dimension in Audio
The new Pulse 3D headset has been developed and released alongside the PlayStation 5. Based on a week of usage, I must say that the 3D Tempest AudioTech support is very impressive. While delivering a solid stereo and surround sound, the Pulse 3D headset offers another level of immersion while playing. It’s all in the small details whether it’s detecting an enemy’s location or getting that extra layer of sound when swinging through the streets of New York as Miles Morales. When swinging the camera around your character, you can hear distant music or dialogue follow.
The Pulse 3D headset offers up to 12 hours of playtime with the headset before needing a charge. The battery life could be improved but it’s certainly not a dealbreaker. It matches design elements of the PlayStation 5, DualSense, PSVR, and Media Remote, so no accessory ends up standing out. As for comfort, using a headset with glasses has always been a struggle. The earpads are comfortable enough that I could use the headset for hours without feeling the pressure on the sides of my head. The top band of the Pulse 3D headset is also very comfortable. There’s a certain amount of elasticity to it so it can be adjusted to fit many different head sizes. The headset costs $129 CAD but is a worthy investment for anyone looking to upgrade their audio accessories for the new console.
Without a shadow of a doubt, the PlayStation 5 delivers that core next-gen experience. Tweaking and iterating on its UI, you’ll be coming into this new generation with a lot to discover and learn. Sony could have kept the status quo and maintained what made the PlayStation 4 so successful without rewriting the script. However, the company took some risks with the console’s design, and UI overhaul but didn’t get carried away. There are enough familiar touchstones throughout the experience to recognize that this is yet another high-quality PlayStation console.
The level of immersion the PlayStation 5 delivers begs to be experienced. The adoption of new hardware features in its DualSense has made the controller a next-gen piece of hardware that continues to astound me the more I use it. Raytracing elements in-game look fantastic. Plus the impressive SSD has greatly improved the way games perform on the console. I’m eager to see how the gaming landscape changes over time due to the speed the console provides.
When looking at the launch lineup, many of the must-play titles can be purchased and played on the PlayStation 4. Unless you’re eager to see improved fidelity and power behind the SSD, you may not feel the need to rush and pick up a PlayStation 5. With Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart on the horizon as well as other third-party games releasing in the new year, you can hold off on your purchase. Though, for newcomers to the PlayStation ecosystem, there is no shortage of quality titles to play.
A PlayStation 5 was provided by Sony for review purposes.