It’s PS5 time at last! We were lucky enough to get one a few days before release, and have had a decent play to find out what generation five of PlayStation delivers.
White is the word with the PS5! A predominantly white box opens up to reveal a white cardboard tray, which holds documentation, power and USB cables, HDMI 2.1 (the latest standard, so it’s nice and future proof, or it supports a 120Hz refresh rate right out of the gate if your TV has it) cable and a stand – and, of course, the brand new DualSense controller. Lifting all of that out reveals the machine itself, safely ensconced within two protective white cardboard clamshells.
Pulling the PS5 eagerly from the box, our first reaction was to exclaim a classic Star Wars line – “Look at the size of that thing!” We knew the specs, and had seen the pics, but nothing prepared us for how big this sculpted beauty is! Being around the size of a very old school VHS player, if you’re looking to put it in a fairly height-challenged slot in your entertainment unit – maybe where your PS4 once resided – you’ll most likely have to think again. Or, if you have space up top, you can go for the tower of power look, although the blue/yellow/white lighting of the unit is quite bright and distracting to have in your eyeline. Due to the curved shape of the PS5, the included stand is required whether you opt for horizontal or vertical. It easily clips into place in seconds.
On the front of the unit there are small power and eject buttons (obviously the disc-free model foregoes the latter, as well as not offering the 4K Ultra HD player functionality of the disc slot-equipped model), plus one each of a super-speed USB Type-C and USB Type-A port.
On the back of the behemoth you’ll find a power socket, ethernet connection, HDMI port, and two USB Type-C ports.
Getting ourselves connected
Connection of the PS5 could barely be simpler. Power cable in – check. HDMI cable connected between the console and the TV (in our case via a receiver) – check. That’s all that’s really necessary when planning on connecting to the internet wirelessly, but naturally if you have a spare ethernet connection the wired option is probably preferable. Right, time to turn it on, and get acquainted with the DualSense controller…
It just makes Sense
The new white and black controller is instantly familiar, while still packing the excitement of something new. The shape is more sculpted, complete with flat-bottomed hand grips, and it’s slightly heavier than a DualShock 4. Getting past the fact that it looks like a piece of a Stormtrooper’s uniform – not such a bad thing – the DualSense just feels right in-hand. The familiar DualShock 4 button layout is back – if it ain’t broke… – but the look is very different, with clear shape and D-Pad buttons.
Meanwhile, the touch pad is a smidgeon bigger, and a built-in mute button is added below the PlayStation button, which works hand-in-hand with the built-in mic – yes, you can chat without a headset, or even dictate messages rather than clumsily typing them via controller. That PS button is the only thing with the DualSense that we’re not sure about. It’s a shaped bit of plastic that protrudes from the main unit, rather than a nice, neat round button. We can see it gathering muck from eager, greasy hands and being a pain to keep clean. Nothing’s perfect we guess.
We can report that battery life is excellent, but as for playing we’ll get to the DualSense in operation soon…
Initial setup is fairly basic stuff, and you’re soon able to tweak a few settings and pop in your PSN ID to lend the new experience a sense of ownership – and to have seamless access to your cloud game saves from the PS4 days if you have PlayStation Plus. Upon subsequently powering on, you’re prompted to choose which account you wish to log in as, and are taken directly – in super-quick time – to the dashing new dashboard, complete with HDR (High Dynamic Range – basically a wider gamut of whites to blacks and more vivid colours) as standard – assuming that your TV supports it, of course.
At this point we should note that this we were playing with pre-release firmware, so some things that we mention may be liable to change. Right, disclaimer over, let’s have some fun!
“PlayStation have always had a great way with simple and effective user interfaces…”
PlayStation have always had a great way with simple and effective user interfaces, and this one feels familiar, while making some nips here and tucks there. The biggest change for many will be by way of themes – in that there aren’t any beyond the built-in affair with its cool sparkly blacks and golds. As it stands each title in your horizontal game list has its own large tile, and when highlighted all PS5 titles and some PS4 also inject their own music. If nothing is specifically assigned by the developers then there’s chilled, typically PlayStation background music.
A very welcome change is that games and media apps are now neatly separated. The default screen is games, but switching to the media screen for all your streaming apps and suchlike is just a quick move and button press away.
The games list is topped by the PlayStation Store, which fires up instantly now, and has had a makeover to suit its new environs. At the other end you’ll find you game library, which functions much as it did on the PS4. Speaking of which, thanks to the wonders of backwards compatibility, almost every PS4 game ever will work on the PS5, and they’re marked accordingly. One minor blip we found was that PlayStation VR titles had no indication of their requiring VR to be played. But we’re pretty sure that blip won’t last long.
Control, we’re here!
Probably the biggest new UI feature is the Control Centre, which is called up at any time in-game or out along the bottom of the screen by stabbing that shaped PS button on the DualSense. It lists all of the basics that you’ll likely require, from switching between games to checking trophies to assigning controllers and all the way to powering off. It’s wonderfully simple and effective, and keeps you neatly in the world of whatever you may be playing at the time.
This will also display “cards”. These are big tiles specific to what you’re playing, and may do anything from showing your trophy progress to completing a part of the game you’re playing through to videos and even spoiler-free tips. It can all be a bit overwhelming at first, but when you realise it’s there to help not confound it helps your head become acquainted.
It’s also worth rooting about in the settings, with some very handy things like defaulting supported games to subtitles off, and also overriding whether they automatically play in ‘Performance’ (higher frame rate priority) or ‘Resolution’ (better graphics) modes where applicable.
Trophy hunters will no doubt like some changes that have been introduced to the system. Most notably, PS5 game trophy lists will, where appropriate, show the progress that you’ve made towards nabbing that shiny trinket – a long requested feature.
Also, if you pop into your profile form the command centre you can view a list of trophy progress that also displays how long you’ve spent playing each game, including any PS4 history. We found a few of them glitched, but our stated 103 hours on DJMax Respect seemed about right.
The bad news? The classic trophy pop “Ding!” sound has changed! We’re not sure what the PlayStation peeps were thinking here. Mind you, we couldn’t find any way of changing some features that we could on the PS4, including notification placement – which is now at top right rather than top left – so it may be something that can be fiddled with in the final release UI… or via patch if and when too many people complain.
Bot a beauty!
The pack-in game had gone the way of the dinosaur… until now! Our little robo-pal from Astro Bot Rescue Mission for PS VR makes its return in Astro’s Playroom, which comes completely free with the PS5 and is a total console-selling “killer app”.
Ostensibly a demonstration of all the wonderful things that the DualSense can do, Astro’s Playroom is also an engaging platform game that pays fans service to the history of PlayStation since that little grey box first graced our lounge rooms back in the early 1990s.
As you make your way through four distinct worlds, you’ll encounter classic PS characters while you learn the ropes – and numerous other challenges – of the DualSense. Adaptive triggers? Hold onto a rock gently with a half squeeze, for if you go the full stab you’ll fall, or feel the tension strengthen as you draw your bow further back – it’s very natural.
Haptic feedback – which sounds a bit too much like a toilet cleaner to us – is demonstrated ably as Astro trundles about various surfaces. Feel him struggle as he trudges through mud, or desperately tries to not slide into icy doom. Basically, its rumble that offers programmers more control than simple on and off, and it can really add to the experience.
They’re the two big new things that the DualSense, but you’ll also get to play with the Touch Pad, motion controls and more as you addictively try to find every artefact that’s hidden throughout the game. Ooh look, a PSP GPS!
We haven’t had much in the way of pure PS5 game to play beyond Astro’s Playroom, although our chance to compare Spider-Man: Miles Morales on both this and our PS4 Pro was illuminating. The difference in load times was palpable, thanks to the PS5’s proprietary SSD. What most will be after though is the graphical improvements, and that’s where the PS5 makes things shine.
The difference in the same game on two generations is striking, with the smoothness and higher fidelity of Miles on the PS5 making you appreciate the advantages that the PS5 brings. Much of this is down to the PS5’s ray tracing ability which, at its absolute simplest, means more realistic lighting effects. There’ll never be a graphical fidelity jump like that from the 16-bit to polygon era, but as long as there are incremental jumps like this then we’re in for many a future treat – and just wait until developers really start pushing this new hardware!
Meanwhile, many if not most PS4 games play better on the PS5, with some examples like the brilliant Days Gone – available “free” to PlayStation Plus subscribers as part of the brilliant PS Plus Collection of PS4 classics – playing almost like new games.
Sound as a pound
The PS5 features 3D audio, Sony’s own take on spatial sound akin to DTS:X or Dolby Atmos. While we couldn’t test what’s it’s like via one of the special PULSE 3D headsets, as we didn’t get one to play with, setting our PS5 to use our receiver output gave us a very good indication of how cool its potential is. Hopping back to Astro’s Playroom, we listened to little sonic things flitting from front to back and generally having a grand old time speaker hopping.
While we’re talking sound, anybody who’s listened to their PS4 impersonate a Concorde readying for take-off will be blown away (figuratively) by just how quiet the PS5 is. Even when under load it barely raises a sweat.
“The difference in the same game on two generations is striking.”
No matter which PS5 you opt for, you get an 825GB SSD built-in. However, only around 667GB of this is useable for installing games, so it won’t take long to fill up. There is a slot designed to accept a standard SSD of certain (high) specifications, but that functionality isn’t up and running as yet. A solution is that you can plug a standard USB hard drive in to hold all of your PS4 installs – PS5 games will only run from SSD. Sure you lose the new speed, but at least it’s a storage solution.
If you’re happy in your last-generation world, what reason could you have to upgrade to a PS5? We’d say that the DualSense itself is good enough reason – it really is that good. Couple that with the blistering processing and data access speeds and you’d find it hard to go back to minute-plus loading screens, clunky frame rates and screen tearing.
Even playing any of the thousands of PS4 games that work right off the bat you’ll notice improvements in speed and often graphical quality. Then there’s the promise of all the dedicated new games that will be made to harness the machine’s power, truly delivering us what we can’t really call the next-generation of gaming now, as it’s actually here!