Two months with the PlayStation 5
Apparently, the answer is yes.
Up against scalping bots, parents of young children and a dwindling supply, I still managed to grab a launch day PS5 sans pre-order. Sadly, my life has remained pretty much the same. No, I did not become the hotshot at the watercooler, the talk of every elegant dinner party nor instantly famous. Instead, it has been a continuation of neglecting my girlfriend’s emotional and physical needs, questionable self-hygiene practices and forgetting to feed myself.
But the graphics are fantastic.
Yes, my sword looks like it’s being powered by the sun itself. No, I’m not Superman. I have ray-tracing.
At unboxing, the first thing you notice is the sheer size – nay, the girth – of this machine. You’d be forgiven for thinking Sony had something to compensate for. At a glance, it comes in roughly three times the size of a launch PS4. Why such a considerable increase in size? Ventilation, dear reader. Inside is a large cooling fan, an even larger heat sink and enough dead space to allow plenty of air to pass through the internals. This means the PS5 now runs at a near whisper, a serious improvement on its 737 Max-like predecessor. No doubt this creates a difficult feng shui situation, and if I’m honest the stand makes life no easier, but once you’ve found it an appropriate home there’s nowhere to go but up.
Set up is as straightforward as one would expect. After you select a language and connect to your network, you’re given the option to insert a game disc to install in the background while you continue to set up. This was a welcome feature, especially since at this point there was no way to predict how long the initial set up phase would take. Frankly, the length of time is up to the individual, as you can skip plenty of these. The mandatory ones include the user agreement, data protection and privacy settings. The optional steps include choosing apps to download and install and the chance for a full data transfer from your PS4 to the PS5. If you have no PS5 dedicated games that you’re itching to get into, this might be an attractive feature, but it does require fooling around with more cables behind the TV as you need both consoles on at the same time. Speed of transfer would, of course, depend on the size of information and your internet speed, so saving this step for later is fully understandable. A feature worth giving a bit of reading time to is the rest mode preferences. This allows you to choose what features are available in rest mode, including device charging, downloads, and game updates.
The DualSense controller also comes in larger than its predecessor, albeit by the slimmest of margins. The layout remains unchanged from the introduction of the original DualShock, but Sony has continued their gradual refinement of the ergonomics of their controllers. Certainly heavier and slightly larger, the DualSense has a more rounded design that makes it feel smaller in the hand and make the joysticks more accessible. I am talking in mere millimetres here, so all I can really do is invite you to try it for yourself. The new controllers now come with an improved speaker compared with the DualShock 4 and now include a microphone. This allows the player to chat with friends without the need for a headset. Spoiler: you’ll want a headset.
Fashion as well as function
The old share button is now the create button. It acts with the same purpose, but now you have the option of the different functions: single press, double press and hold. You can decide which of these serves as the method of capturing screenshots, capturing a pre-specified time of video or opening the extended capture menu. The PS5’s ability to capture clips happens much faster than the PS4’s, which means the chances of you getting headshot while trying to clip your throwing knife kill is significantly reduced. The DualSense also now comes with a mute button feature. There are three modes: at default the light is off and the mic is hot; press it once to turn the light orange and mute the mic; or hold the button down for a few seconds to mute all audio from the tv. Don’t fear, shady reader who clearly has something sinister to hide, you can change the settings to have the mic muted as the default setting on logging on. However, pressing the button will revert the settings until you sign in again.
My personal home screen has progressed somewhat since first set up, but you get the idea.
Size and space were also considerations given to the design on the home screen. The app tiles are now only about a quarter of the size of the screen. Hovering over a game gives you specific wallpaper, music for some of the newer or optimised titles, and the ability to scroll down for info on trophies, news and updates. It looks odd in the beginning, and the music can be annoying at times, but it makes sense once you’re introduced to the Control Centre. Pressing the PS5 button once brings up this overlay and will quickly become your most-used PS5 feature. The Control Centre allows for simple access to various functions without taking you out of your game. In one menu you can control your sound settings, start a Spotify playlist, see your notifications, and check the status of your friends and parties via the Game Base. Another excellent new PS5 feature is the Switcher, also accessible from the Control Centre, which allows you to instantly switch between games or media apps like Disney+ and Netflix.
If taken advantage of, Cards can also be an interesting part of the Control Centre. They essentially act as the new and more streamlined iteration of the PS4’s jumbled News Feed. Through cards, you can not only access things like screenshots and trophies but game-specific Activity Cards. These allow you to immediately jump to in-game objectives and even provide an estimated time to completion of the chosen task. While not something I was able to experience directly yet, some games are expected to feature cards for in-game help and tips and allow you to pin video tutorials to the screen as you play.
Now, on to some spoiler-free, non-review type game reviews of things I played on the PS5.
First title up was Miles Morales. Going in we knew it wasn’t the 40+ hour game that its predecessor was but prepared to be gripped immediately. You innocuously start the game on the subway and are instantly pulled in by the haptics and the feel of the sleepers under the train. Yes, the ray tracing is stunning and playing at 60FPS is sublime, but upgraded graphics are an expected part of upgrading generations. Remember a few years ago when people thought VR and AR would be the new forefront of gaming? I spit on them. Mark my words, the haptics will be a dominant feature for this generation. It’s an added dimension that we didn’t even know we needed – a previously unused method of sending game information to our brain. Without distinctly alluding to it in-game, I know (or at least knew) what pocket Miles kept his phone in simply by a contained vibration from the controller. For a full review of Spider-man: Miles Morales, go check out this article from this James guy who seems to know what he’s talking about.
Traversing Spider-verse style
For a real descent into the true abilities of the haptic feedback comes the pre-installed platformer: Astro’s Playroom. This game is a delightful mix of PlayStation nostalgia and modern gaming. Playing through different areas, you’re introduced to the true capabilities of the DualSense. The variability of the controller’s vibration is insane. You can feel the direction the wind is blowing in real-time. I mean, the controller is describing the movement of wind inside of it without any actual wind. It’s pure, enjoyable madness! The adaptive triggers also get a good trying out. Different tasks involve variable feedback from L2 and R2, such as increased tension when pulling rope or small kickbacks from firing weapons. There’s also a relatively underwhelming return from some previous features – the clunky six-axis and the still-underutilised touchpad.
Next up was Ghost of Tsushima. A visually stunning game even on the “paltry” mechanics of the PS4, it was also taken to new heights in the next gen era. While I understand it sounds ridiculous, I genuinely felt like the DualSense was more reactive than the PS4 controller. It’s infinitely subtle, but it’s the difference between hitting your keys and button mashing. You will be rewarded for accuracy and punished for sloppiness. This was very apparent in a game where every stroke matters – not necessarily about a perfect dodge or parry but about not panic-performing a double roll when it mattered. It’s something to be tried out some more in games like the Souls series or Tekken.
Lockdown being what it is, Warzone has been the game I’ve sunk the most hours into, more for its social nature than for its gameplay. As it is a PS4 game, you can play with crossplay disabled and still game with your PS4 friends. Playing PlayStation only also allows you to bypass the dodgy game chat with a PlayStation party, the creation of which takes only seconds compared to the lifetime it feels like on the PS4. While no true PS5 optimisation as of yet, even though Call of Duty: Cold War has a PS5 dedicated title, the game does benefit from the PS4 texture pack upgrade. The console's performance combined with a 4K TV certainly makes it seem like I can see farther, aim faster and shoot better, but it wouldn’t be wrong to say I was biased. The antics potential Warzone offers also allowed me to push the PS5’s capture ability. Clips are captured in seconds without leaving the game and the quality is impeccable.
A final mention of features that are available but I haven’t been arsed to check out yet: system-specific game preferences such as subtitles on as default, performance mode vs resolution mode, or normal axis vs reverted axis. The Playstation Collection, while something I haven’t explored as I’ve played most of them, deserves an honourable mention.
Downside? Oh, I suppose...
It would be unfair to other methods of gaming to have you leaving this piece thinking the PS5 is the beacon of magnificence it truly is. Therefore, some minor concerns should be addressed. I managed to go 7 years with the PS4 and never encountered a major fault or even wear and tear controller break that required a replacement. With more parts involved in the motorised adaptive triggers along with the active pressure and friction at the very core of their function, I can’t help feeling like the triggers won’t last until the next generation. I don’t have any evidence to support this fear, but with controllers going for €60 a piece you’d be considerate of how many you’d be willing to buy over the years.
I mentioned that the stand didn’t quite make life easy when setting up. This was mainly due to my own set up of having the PS5 on its side and having limited room to keep it, but the stand itself is not particularly solid and the side plates are desperately uneven. I’d also mentioned the PS5 ran at a near whisper. The “near” is also due to my personal choice of opting for the disc edition. This decision was made by thinking about the long game and that discs aren’t going anywhere. The second hand and “borrowing from friends'' markets are alive and well, and the extra 100 quid spent is guaranteed to be made back in savings in the first year of the console, let alone its overall lifetime. However, I was forced to consider my decision after I discovered the disc reader operates at near supersonic speed. Any disc. Even when you’re not playing the game on the disc. Even when you’re playing a downloaded game and your girlfriend left her Ms. Congeniality DVD in the PS5. It's an issue easily rectified by removing any discs not actively in use, but it means you’ll be paying for those sweet, discounted discs with reverberations of your TV stand.
All things considered though, the PS5 was a solid investment. Coming directly from a PS4 there is literally no downside. Your current library is not only fully accessible but invariably upgraded. The new DualSense offers the most immersive experience without a 3kg pair of glasses and its potential is, as of yet, barely scratched. How well this is utilised will, of course, depend on studios – looking at no one crunchy in particular – but I’m coming into this generation so far with a 9/10 in optimism.
All images were taken by the author
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