I can vividly recall unboxing my launch PS4 (like the Nintendo Sixty Fouuur Kid) as if it was yesterday. Somehow we’re now 7 years later and it’s “new console o’clock” again. It’s truly amazing how the Station of Play has grown since ’94, across every single evolutionary metric.
We’re now decades beyond that tentative grey rectangle, past a weird Spider-Man font fixation, and finally exiting our rebellious, all-black goth phase. Sony’s latest launch vision is now a monochromatic mix of a monolith. Beneath its Elvis-like, popped collar aesthetic lurks quite the power upgrade.
This isn’t going to be a hard-edged review of the hardware per se, more of a collection of thoughts from somebody who’s not only been with the brand since putting T-Rexs on packed in Demo Discs was cool, but also a proud platform agnostic. Don’t expect too much of a ‘this dog is better than that dog’ comparison here.
Honestly, the true worth of any system I’ve ever owned has been firmly rooted in its library of interactive experiences. These are what determine which console “wins” a generation and, frankly, we just don’t have enough of those here today (on either side of the fence) to make any sort of definitive call. With all that being laid out, let’s take a look at Sony’s latest son.
PlayStation 5 – Looks and design
When it comes to looks, honestly, the PlayStation 5 is about as meme-able as it is striking. Tastes are going to vary. I love it. But some people swear by Microsoft’s oblong in opposition, because ‘console wars.’ Console wars never change (take it from a grizzled, disillusioned veteran of, like, eight of them).
The only thing that’s not in dispute about these consoles — we’re all gonna need a bigger entertainment unit. PlayStation 5 is a big bertha. She’s chunkier than a hand-standing Xbox One launch unit, comfortably envelops that first run PS3, though she’s not quite as hernia-inducing to lift. In makeshift weapon terms: you could probably kill anything but armadillos with it.
Granted, there is a trimmer option available in the form of a disc-less unit. However the cheaper price is offset by your need to forfeit your right to the bargain bin dive, for drastically discounted physical media. Not to attach an onion to my belt and be the old man yelling at The Cloud, but I’m still not ready for that. Never will be.
The phat controller
The DualSense controller has witnessed a pretty radical redesign as well. Obviously, it’s also taken on the two-tone motif and kinda looks like it’s wearing a little white tux dinner jacket. Those classy looks translate into classy feel, too. I was immediately impressed by how “premium” the build quality is and how many features come standard – to the point where you can imagine third-party pad producers looking at this and asking themselves “well, how the hell can we iterate (and overcharge) upon this thing.” Maybe an extra set of triggers? That’s the only avenue I can see for you, Razer.
The DualSense comes stock with a bunch of exciting new bells and whistles. Devs can make the new adaptive L2/R2 triggers solidify via force feedback — sometimes to create an entirely new dead-zone to the trigger, or to simulate explosive bursts or incrementally increasing tension.
The touch-candy continues with the frankly amazing haptics expressions that have something of a symbiosis with the improved in-built pad speaker. The incredibly nuanced feedback provided by this really is one of those things you have to experience first-hand for yourself. But trust me, you’re mind will get blown the first time you “feel” your character transition from one floor surface to another. Used cleverly by the right devs, I think DualSense haptics have the potential to deliver a (figurative and literal) seismic shockwave across the landscape of this console war. They’re pretty game-changing.
Last but not least, it should also be mentioned that the underside of the DualSense feels grippier than the DualShock 4. And, bit of trivia: Sony’s obsessive attention to detail can be seen here if you zoom in with a magnifying glass – the tiny textured bumps are all PlayStation face buttons. I also love the handy Mic Mute button that rides in the centre and is coloured to let you know at a glance whether or not you’re shouting abuse localised to the loved ones in your living room or online strangers who don’t matter.
The only minor, minor gripes I have in the controller department is that the new PS button is slightly less accessible and harder to press now (having transitioned from a circular button to a raised logo). And while my Luddite brain does understand the need to modernise from a Micro-USB to a USB-C, I still hate having to go out and buy a new 5 metre charge cable. The x cm one that comes with the system is comically short, especially for a system that expects, nay demands, you hook into an 8K TV the size of Texas.
What’s on the menu with menus
For the most part, the PS5’s UI is familiar. You have your horizontal digital shelf of game boxes and a My Collections (read: Library) box at the far right end that takes you into a familiar box farm that holds all you own. Interestingly, you can sort all these to PS5, PS4 and…PS3 titles? Feels like somebody left in a spoiler for the future of backwards compat (for the record: none of the hundreds of PS3 games on my account populate here yet).
Looking back at the main desktop, I like that tapping R1 takes you to a dedicated Media page. Sadly, I’m forbidden from talking about that today, also the Entertainment Apps on offer, the PS Store and the PS Plus Menu. Things that aren’t state secrets: I can tell you that I like how the “upper options” horizontal menu we had on the PS4 has been relocated. It now manifests after a single tap of the PS button and can be customised with additional settings icons. It comes with stuff you’d expect Notifications, GameBase (think: friends/parties), Broadcast, Accessibility, Network, Sound Options, Mic Options, Accessories (Peripherals management), Profile, Music (think: better Spotify integration) and Power options.
Two new options in here worth highlighting include a Switcher option and a Recent Captures window pane. The former is a bit of a disappointment at the time of writing – it doesn’t allow the quick hibernation and resumption of multiple titles, rather it’s a glorified “quick close and start a game you’ve played recently” list. That said, as a creator of videos I’d like to focus now on how versatile and handy the latter is. It’s effectively a mini Share Factory on the fly – you can quick scroll through 15 of your previously captured screens of clips and get to gussying them up, right then and there.
Screenshots can be cropped and fired out to your socials in seconds. Up to 1 hour long 4K vid captures can be easily trimmed down to the bit you really want, then either saved as a copy or over the top of the original file to save on space. It fast. It’s easy. It’s an absolute godsend. And speaking of preserving precious gaming memories, side bonus: the PS5 also saves mini trophy videos whenever you earn something.
When it comes to performance and the powerful innards of this system, I’m going to throw a bunch of Sony provided numbers at you and hope they stick. Both versions of the PS5 boast an AMD Zen 2-based CPU with 8 cores at 3.5GHz, 16GB of GDDR6 memory, and a custom RDNA 2 AMD GPU that provides processing power of 10.28 teraflops. In comparative layman’s terms, that’s more terror flops as Freddy Kruger dance-stripping online while suffering stage fright.
In anecdotal terms, I tested a whole bunch of first-party titles and found, way more often than not, they loaded twice as fast. For example: If you try to load 2018’s Spider-Man on a PS4 Pro it’ll take game 56 seconds to get to the title screen, the PS5 will get you there in 33. Likewise, A PS4 Pro load into NYC proper will take Spidey 55 seconds but if he takes the PS5 train into town, that’s a 13-second commute to work.
Results get even crazier when you boot up Spider-Man Miles Morales on PS5, which is the same sandbox with more impressive textures and VFX. You can go from title-screen to in-game instantaneously. And whereas Peter Parker doing a full cross-city, so-called fast travel on PS4 is a 15-second affair, yeah, Miles just teleports there without delay.
That’s insane. That’s… Mega Drive cartridge load times. The future is now, folks.
Is it all fun and games?
When it comes to games, we’ve got quite a decent title line up, though I feel it’s not as mind-blowing as PlayStation launches past. Spider-Man Miles Morales and Demon’s Souls are the centrepiece draws for me – but the former has a shorter-than-you-think run-time and it releases on PS4, and the latter, though it’s gorgeous and a bonafide exclusive, is a PS3 remake not captained by FromSoftware.
I’m not saying I’d deduct points from either of those game for any of those things. Truth be told, I gladly clocked the former twice and I’m hanging to play the latter, along with Sackboy and Godfall. Furthermore, I plan on forgoing sleep for a month to finish a slew of multi-platform fare, like AC: Valhalla, Dirt 5 and Call of Duty: Cold War.
Bottom line: I have yet to play anything on this console that I’d definitively call an absolute system-seller. It’s also a little disappointing to me that despite all this new grunt I still have to make a choice in some games – it’s either have 4K 60 without fancy ray-tracing and other VFX or fandangle up the graphics but it’ll be 4K 30fps. I’m hoping that changes as this new architecture becomes better understood – so please excuse that first-world problem whinge. The takeaway that matters most here is that the PS5 has a way more than decent launch line up of titles.
And honestly – fancy design and hardware borax aside, from a guy who lacks a degree in Hyperbolic Blast Processing — the proof in the pudding is going to be the games. And it’s way too early to tell which console has the edge over the other. Graphics whores will no doubt gravitate to the Series X. But in the revolutionary feel of the DualSense, PS5 has kind of flipped the script on this console war by opening an unexpected side-front. It’s going to make punters ask themselves a new question – which version of this multi-platform game is going to FEEL more immersive as I play? And that’s going to hinge on how lazy or inventive devs are going to be with this new tech.
Personally, I’ve clocked a decent array of launch games from (both on this console and Microsoft’s XSX) but my lips are sealed on talking fully about them, mostly due to embargoes that haven’t lifted yet. As a rough guide: the best game I’ve seen running on the PS5 is Spider-Man Miles Morales. I have a dedicated review for it – if you want to hear tales of just how pretty the PS5 gets, best go check that out.
And so, at the end of the day, my final take on the PS5 is this: across the board it’s a step up in every way over the PS4 Pro (as you’d expect it should be, for the price you’re paying). It’s an expensive proposition, but the cost is outweighed by a product that has a distinctively premium look and feel, not to mention a number of worthy evolutions in the peripherals and gaming experience.
Both are fairly equally worth your time and money at this point. I doubt that fact will change for months or even years to come.
Adam Mathew reviewed the PS5 using a console provided by PlayStation Australia.