May 23, 2022

PlayStation 5 Review

The PlayStation 5 gets the Any Button Gaming treatment! Time to take Sony’s new next generation console/modem for a spin…

Welcome to the unusually long Any Button Gaming PlayStation 5 review! For transparency the hardware and software was purchased by ourselves and not provided by any supplier. The system was played with the hardware from the box on a modest 4k HDR Enabled television. Play time has been about 18 hours since setup.

We have access to the disc drive version of the PlayStation 5. There is a digital only version that retails for approx $100 cheaper and is identical in hardware performance to the version that has the disc drive built in.

Let’s get this out of the way – writing a review of a console days into its life is hard. First, there is a limit to how many hours you can put into the console. Secondly, as we all know, the software at launch is rarely indicative of the quality that come. Many titles are cross gen which means they are not fully designed for the system. Developers also get better at unlocking the secrets of the hardware as time goes on. Lastly, there isn’t enough time for any flaws or issues to make themselves known.

Still, it doesn’t mean that we can’t give you a good run down of our experience with the PlayStation 5 and give you a balanced view of what we have found. So strap in for a ride with our first few days with the white obelisk.

Once upon a time…

There is one more elephant in the room we’d like to address. No, it’s not the console’s size. Let’s call it ‘consumer preference’. In case you hadn’t noticed there are two – well, three, new consoles hitting the market at the same time. It would be remiss for us not to state why this particular author selected the PlayStation 5 over the Xbox Series X when it came to the first console of next generation and how this will affect our impressions.

As an individual, I’m a fan of many platforms. I grew up on Nintendo then moved to PC gaming but have owned all sorts. It should be noted that I moved from the Xbox 360 to the PlayStation 4 at the start of the previous generation. The reason was mainly a chance to play some of of the exclusives – such as The Last Of Us. I had somewhat fallen out of love with gaming, more to do with personal reasons than anything else. However, having my first child and getting the PlayStation 4 reignited my passion and I’ve since gone on to acquire a Nintendo Switch, Xbox One S and a PC.

No Sony Pony here

I don’t believe in blind brand loyalty. I wouldn’t consider myself a ‘Sony Pony’. Each platform brings its own pros and cons. It is up to the consumer to decide what meets their needs. As a gamer, I tend to prefer single player titles with a strong narrative. As a result, I’ve been a fan of many of Sony’s first party games. I’d rank Bloodborne and God of War as two genuine gaming classics. The PS4 is the console where I have racked up the most game time this gen.

When it came to moving across, I chose the PlayStation 5 as my next console. Mainly because of the large library I already have from the PS4 era and partly because I was excited by several launch titles. I also intend to get a Series S as well but for now… there could only be one. As a result, we intend to only compare the PlayStation 5 to the PlayStation 4 since we feel this is the only fair comparison that can be made at this stage.

Unboxing

With that out of the way, the PlayStation 5 was delivered by Amazon in a nice secure box (and with, you know, a PS5 in it) on the morning of launch. The box itself was big and heavy and was an indication of what was to come. The packaging was actually well organised and we feel that we may actually have a chance of one day fitting everything back into it. Kudos to the paper wire ties and lack of polystyrene. Captain Planet would be proud.

On the top layer was the single power cable, the Dual Sense controller, Micro USB C controller charger, a 2.0 HDMI cable and some instructions that we promptly threw back in the box. We are gamers after all and gamers don’t read instructions.

In the second layer of the box was the actual console and the stand. Our first impression of pulling out the console was that it was big, yes, but not as big as we had feared. The stand can be configured with the console two ways, vertically or Horizontal. – As per the marketing imagery, if you want vertical you open up a compartment on the stand with the screw and tools to attach to the bottom of the console. For horizontal, you just need to arrange the stand at the back of the console (clearly marked) and it will sit in the correct position.

Tech Specs

For those that are into that thing, the below constiute the specs that Sony published regarding their new console. We aren’t experts but it seemed appropriate to give those that want it some spec envy:

CPU: AMD Zen 2-based CPU with 8 cores at 3.5GHz (variable frequency)
GPU: 10.28 TFLOPs, 36 CUs at 2.23GHz (variable frequency)
GPU architecture: Custom RDNA 2
Memory interface: 16GB GDDR6 / 256-bit
Memory bandwidth: 448GB/s
Internal storage: Custom 825GB SSD
Usable storage: 667.2GB
IO throughput: 5.5GB/s (raw), typical 8-9GB/s (compressed)
Expandable storage: NVMe SSD slot
External storage: USB HDD support (PS4 games only)
Optical drive: 4K UHD Blu-ray drive

Phwwwwooooaaarr!

Style and Design

The PlayStation 5 design is divisive. No doubt about that. From pictures, we quite liked the rather distinct look but seeing one up close and personal is the only way to truly judge. We tried the vertical standing first, and stood up next to a TV. Not bad we thought. We liked the design. Large, yes, but ergonomically, the design naturally slopes towards the back. While tall, the console doesn’t go back too far. TL:DR – it is a chonker at the front that gently gives way to a smaller rear profile.

The only issue was that our personal setup meant it would be fitting in horizontally. We had no other space on our unit. A snug fit but it had some breathing room for ventilation. From a design perspective though, we found the horizontal view on a cabinet shelf meant you could only see the chonky front end. The sloping towards the rear is hidden by the unit so it looks more of a beast.

It all comes down to personal preference, but if design is your thing, try vertical if you can.

When powered on, the black centre panel emits the familiar blue light when on and amber when in sleep mode, harking back to the PS4 lighting system.

The rear contains a single HDMI, two USB, power slot and ethernet cable. The front has a USB C and USB slot alongside the on/off button and disc eject.

Getting your setup on

The setup for the PlayStation 5 is rather neat and quick. Once powered, you get the usual set up of language and internet connection but once connected you are given the choice to insert a game disc so that it can start loading while you complete setup. We duly slapped in Spiderman: Miles Morales and carried on. There are options to plug in your PS4 to transfer data and settings, to go manually or use the PlayStation app on your phone. We chose the app since we had it set up and by authenticating through the app, it connected via wifi, found our profile and did the rest.

We decided not to bring over anything from our PS4. We’ll get on to space in a bit but we intended to keep my PS4 in another room so saw little point in bringing installs across. However, it is an option for those that want to go on uninterrupted.

After that though, there was about 2 minutes of system updates, a quick restart and then we were in. All in all, very smooth and slick.

The UI

The PS5 user interface (or UI as us ‘experts’ call it) is custom for the new console. It is not a replica of the PS4 but, in a nice touch, it has the DNA of both the PS3 and PS4 interface baked in. As a PS4 user, you won’t be lost but you’ll notice how much more responsive navigation is. The primary navigation is still based around a line of tiles at the top of the screen. You can filter between games and media apps – it defaults at launch to games.

This shows a list of the last titles that you have used or have been updated. The final icon is always a link to your full library. Scrolling on to a game will change your overall background to that of the game itself with a bespoke image. For PS5 games, this changes the music and design to match the game. PS4 games, unless updated like Day’s Gone, have the game title image but standard menu music.

Activities

Being on a game also allows you to see what I have seen dubbed ‘Activities‘. These show things like your progress in the game, how far you are on a certain level or mission, how close you are to a milestone or trophy. We haven’t fully tested this but if, for example, you are close to finishing a mission on say, Spiderman: Miles Morales, clicking the tile takes you almost instantly back to that mission to continue.

It is a neat change and a nice brand new feature. For some gamers, this will be irrelevant but we can see it being pushed by developers since it’s a way to try and stir up engagement. On MP games, for example, if you are close to levelling up, this tile could tell you just how close you are to try and tempt you back. If it is used much by developers is another question.

Pressing the PS5 icon will bring up your quick menu at the bottom where you can see notifications, friends online, turn the console off etc. This is also an improvement to the PS4. These were previously spread across screens and needed navigation. Again, very quick.. You can return to the menu at any time during playing and the game will be paused in the background.

Store Integration

One of our particular grievances on the PS3 and PS4 was often the speed of going to external apps like the PlayStation Store or PlayStation Plus meant loading times. They gave the experience of being part of the UI but in reality they were a separate app. Now they are a full part of the OS and just moving to the icon for the store will put you straight into it. This isn’t really an altruistic move on the part of Sony – the quicker you can get to the store the quicker you can spend money – but it does show the digital future is at the forefront of their thinking.

The UI is simple, it is uncluttered and very very fast. We liked the PS4 interface but this refines it and makes some big performance improvements. One last comment is that we couldn’t see where the adverts could appear in the UI. They’ll find a way we suppose but it is very game and app centric.

It’s also basic – no game organisation so to speak or anything else. As with the PS4, we’d see these as being things to be patched in later.

Noise (or lack thereof).

The OG PlayStation 4 and even the Slim and Pro models could be loud, especially if playing from disc. Given that the shape of the PS5 is largely down to a very large heatsink, the noise of the fan and indeed, the system, is very very minimal. If copying a disc to play, there are some disc sounds and some vibration (we believe through the horizontal stand) but this does not happen throughout a gaming session. We have been playing demanding next gen titles, such as Spiderman and Demon’s Souls and have noticed no increase in noise. Compared to the PS4, when playing something like Devil May Cry 5 on anything less than a very cold day would make it sound like a jet was taking off, this is super quiet. It is a small thing but very noticeable and feels like a truly next gen feature.

Good vibrations

Speaking of next gen, let’s talk about the Dual Sense controller. Like Donald Trump, the author has small hands. Therefore, we liked the Dual Shock 4 on the PS4. The PS3 controller felt cheap and flimsy. The DS4 was a big improvement but the Dual Sense is very much a step up again. From first feel, it has weight but not too much, being perhaps a smidge heavier in the hand than the DS4. The grips are longer than the DS4 which should make it more comfortable to gamers who have normal big boy hands.

The buttons are responsive and tactical. Both the analog sticks are at the same level, which again is something we personally prefer but know many prefer them at different levels. The trigger buttons feel wonderful – there is deliberate resistance to the rear triggers which tie into the haptics of the controller.

Like the Joy Cons on the Switch, the Dual Sense has a lot of ‘haptics’ turning into a unique controller (or sex toy, if that’s your thing). The pack in mini game ‘Astro’s Playroom’ is designed around these haptics – imagine it as a demo for the controller. It means that the buttons and vibration are not just a general vibration but can be configured by devs to match what is happening on screen. The demo game simulates the pull of a bow and arrow, of springs, or rain hitting the controller, all of which feel uniquely different.

One for the future?

It is going to be up to the developers how they utilize this – like many cool gizmo’s, it could be a fad. Playing Spiderman: Miles Morales and Demon’s Souls suggest otherwise though. Performing a heavy attack in Demon’s Souls with a sword feels different to using your fists. Shooting your Spidey goo all over New York feels different to say, using a special move. You soon take it for granted but it does improve immersion. A game changer? Probably not, but it adds up to something new and fun. We can see shooters for example, really use the controller to change the feel of guns.

The controller also has a built in mic and speaker, so you can talk into it and, like the PS4, game sounds can come out. This is down to the developer – Astro’s Playroom, naturally, has sounds flying out at you all over the place. Other games are more minimal.

Battery life

Battery life was also a complaint on the DS4. We managed something like 6-7 hours on the new Dual Sense but a large part of that playing time was spent on the Astro’s Playroom game which is heavy on the haptics and sounds. I’d suggest that this is probably a good estimate and is slightly more than the DS4’s battery life. How this will hold up is anyone’s guess but for the tech included, it seems reasonable.

All in all, with some good hours under our belt, we’d say that this is a wide improvement on the DS4 and possibly takes over from the Switch Pro Controller as our favourite controller to use.

Actually playing games

We guess we probably should talk about playing games at some point. Now this is not going to be a technical breakdown of performance. We don’t really have the skillset to do so nor the equipment, but if you want to compare frame rates and resolution at granular level, there are plenty of great resources out there. From our side, we really wanted to get a sense of how next generation games would run and if it felt, for a layman, if we felt any kind of advance.

To start off, Astro Playroom is a great little title and a good demo of the controller and system but not a great game for comparison since it is graphically very cartoony. It looks and plays well. Moving on to Spiderman: Miles Morales, we decided to play with ray tracing on rather than the 60fps mode and the game looks gorgeous. It is a step up from the PS4 Spiderman in terms of level of detail across the city. However, from our side, it was an improvement from the PS4 game but it felt like a PS4 game upgraded to run better.

Demon’s Souls though feels next generation. Obviously it is miles (no, not that Miles) ahead of its grimy and foggy PS3 original. How far ahead though, took us by surprise. This game is gorgeous. If you play at 4k Cinematic mode (again, dropping the 60fps element), the world is incredibly vibrant. The draw distance is without a doubt a step up from what we have seen before. Souls games have amazing landscapes in the distance but graphically these can be vague. Here, the landscape in the distance gives the impression that what is in the distance is a real, playable world. Performance mode does give 60fps though we have read accounts that if pushed, it doesn’t maintain a solid 60. Either way, it is a personal preference. We kept it on cinematic because we are suckers for gorgeous visuals.

Sorry, this doesn’t normally happen…

What an experienced gamer can’t help but notice is the difference in loading times with this next gen console. Playing Spiderman: Miles Morales, fast travel (that had a separate loading animation/cut scene in the original PS4 Spiderman) is mere seconds. Loading a save from the menu to swinging through the whole open world takes 3-4 seconds. On Astro’s Playroom, entering a new zone via a portal (a typical way to hide a load) was instant. The environment changed as the player progressed.

As someone who finds their gaming time quite precious, load times matter to us. We could get from a cold boot of the PS5 to playing Spiderman: Miles Morales within a minute. This again felt next gen to us – an experience that just hadn’t been possible with older console hardware.Whether this will get longer as games get more complex remains to be seen but trust us, you will notice the difference.

spider-man miles morales

One thing to note is that disc based games have to copy to the SSD and this can take a good 5-10 minutes or so before you can play on larger games. No worse, and slightly better than the PS4 but once loaded, you only really need the disc for authentication.

Backwards Compatibility

Sony has always had a spotty history with backwards compatibility. On PS3, after the launch model, anything remotely backwards compatible was stripped from the console. The PS Vita had a great selection of PS1 and PSP games but the PS4 only had a handful of PS2 classics for purchase but nothing else. As keen retro gamers, we’re sad that there isn’t a way to get PS1-PS3 games working in some way but PS4 games are working out of the box.

It should be warned that yes, there are some titles that do not 100% work and they amount to a grand total of 9 games. There is a but coming… there are 100 titles that will play BUT have issues and a disproportionate number are VR games (more on that to come). Looking at the list, we spotted fifteen games that we have on the backlog that are not perfectly supported. We haven’t tried but reports elsewhere suggest significant graphical glitches. For us, not so much of an issue as we’ll be keeping the PS4 but if you are not… well, we warned you.

Bloodborne on PS5?

As a test of backwards compat, we downloaded Bloodborne from our digital collection. The game downloaded fairly quickly. As PS Plus subscribers, we had cloud saves. We selected the games we wanted to download the cloud save for, it downloaded in seconds, booted the game and boom the game was ready to go with our last save. We played a good hour of Bloodborne, got our backside handed to us on our New Game + save with the DarkBeast Paarl and the game ran rather nicely. Bloodborne looked good and seemed to load a smidge faster (but this was saved to the SSD and we had not run any comparison to our PS4 copy). It means that a lot of your library will run well and slightly enhanced by the boost mode for PS5 on PS4 games.

We think it is a shame that there are titles that either don’t run or run with glitches. Our understanding is that these are up to the developers to support but without some incentive, we can’t see anyone actually spending money to do so. It does mean that it can’t quite be claimed to be 100% backwards compatible.

PS4 Upgrades

As was the case with the Pro at launch, some Sony studios have provided some upgrades to existing games. Day’s Gone, for example, has had loading and performance improved. We installed it and noticed that it even had PS5 themed menu music. The game looks and runs a lot better and we look forward to trying the upgrade on the rather superb Ghost Of Tsushima. Maybe other studio’s will follow suit. Given the nature of the exclusive, we wouldn’t hold our breath for a free Bloodborne 60 fps mode upgrade though.

Storage

Ok so the super fast SSD comes with a drawback. It ain’t large. There is an installed 825GB of sexy fast SSD built in but when you take out the OS and other bits, you are talking 667 GB of free space. Yes, better than the launch PS4 500GB but then games are a LOT larger now. For us, it isn’t too huge a problem. We tend to play a game, uninstall and move on but if you are a more social gamer that may have several MP games on the go as well as other titles, it is going to come up short.

The NVMe SSD will be expandable (and seems simple to do so for relatively idiots like ourselves) but Sony has yet to announce what manufacturers have approved memory for use. You can guarantee that storage will not be cheap. Will this be expanded in future revisions? We’d put money on it but expect to pay a hefty price over the coming year or so to be able to.

PS4 games can be stored on an external HDD and then copied across to be played and Sony state the copying over time is minimal. That’s if you want some performance boosting – you can also play direct from the HDD if you want to. Note though, we haven’t tested that.

Virtual Selfie Stick

A major part of the PS4 was the rather handy share button that meant quick access to screenshots or video capture, great for people like us who make content online. The PS5 makes some nice improvements, and configuration options such as allowing you to automatically capture trophies etc. The only limitation is again space – it all takes up room on the SSD. Managing media is relatively easy but you will need to do so if this sort of thing is your bag.

Media Playa

If you opt for the console with the built in disc tray, you’ll be getting yourself a rather nice UHD Blu-Ray player. Afraid to say, we didn’t have any UHD discs. We do have some Blu-Ray’s and yes, we can attest that both Bladerunner 2049 and, er, Trolls worked rather nicely.

If you exist in 2020 and are not stuck in physical media land then the console launches with all the usual smart apps, such as Disney +, Netflix, Amazon Prime as well as Spotify. We tried Disney + and we can confirm that yes, Baby Yoda eating those eggs is just as gross on a PS5. At this stage though, we’d say that most of the apps are available on pretty much every device known to man. Only Skyrim can beat Netflix for the number of ports. Still, if you use your console as a media centre, you won’t go far wrong.

Virtual Insanity

We were a day one adopter of PSVR and quite like the little blue L.E.D beast. We were hoping that the PS5 would perhaps have some of the internals to not need the PSVR breakout box (which itself had display limitations for HDR). Instead, Sony is promising an adapter for the camera and that PSVR will work as is. We have ordered this free adapter from Sony but at time of writing, it had been shipped but not arrived. Given, though, the number of VR games that are on the list of incompatible games, we’ll probably be stuck with PSVR on the PS4 until Sony makes a significant revision to the hardware. A slight letdown for us loyal members of the seasick crew.

Bits and Bobs

There are also some nice other bits and bobs. The gamer profile now has time played on games, which is something we’ve wanted for some time on a PlayStation console. It includes your PS4 playtime. We aren’t convinced of the accuracy. For example, several games have multiple entries for reasons we can’t fathom while other numbers seem too lite, but it is a nice feature for future games. There are far more accessibility options for the hardware displays etc and a neat feature to read out chat transcripts or text on screen. We hope Sony continues building on this to make this flagship product accessible to more users.

You can also switch in and out of games quickly without going to the menus, which is handy. Given the speed of games loading though, it almost seems slightly redundant. It’s a feature we’ll need to keep testing as we actually get more games.

Launch defects?

There are reports online of some issues with the PS5, particularly with crashes when using the switch feature or when having an external HDD plugged in. We only experienced one crash when first getting into Spiderman: Miles Morales. After a quick google, we found a recommendation to avoid using the Ethernet port and to rely on wifi. On the safe side, we tried it. We don’t know if it had affected it (hardly a scientific test) but the fact such advice is circulating in the community suggests there are some niggles to be ironed out.

There are also a few bits missing. No browser for instance – though, like the Switch there is one. You just aren’t allowed to use it yet via the UI. According to porn hub, the PS4 saw a lot of browser traffic… so, no such luck for PS5 users right now.

So… worth it?

We wanted to come up with some jaw dropping revelation but we are struggling here. Ultimately, it depends on you. This is a fine console, an obvious and deliberate improvement on what came before. It is so much faster, quieter, with better controls and a much improved UI. There are some nice new features with the game progress activities, and baked in improvements. If you are someone that enjoyed the PS4 as a console and want to bring over your library and see some genuine improvements to your gaming experience (as well as the additional grunt of a far more powerful machine), we would heartily recommend the PlayStation 5. After the time we’ve spent, this is a superior machine and we are excited for its future. Certainly no buyer’s remorse.

A lot of that excitement though, is less hardware related, and more of what developers will manage to make of the new hardware. As stated, we are fans of the output of Sony’s studios. The launch lineup shows that strength – Spiderman: Miles Morales is a good sized single player story that improves upon the great original. Demon’s Souls is shaping up to be the definitive way to experience this classic. Add the excellent free Astro’s Playroom and the very well reviewed Sackboy: A Big Adventure and you have a good first party launch lineup.

A bright future

With a new Horizon game on the… well, Horizon, plus a God of War sequel and several other exclusives, the Playstation 5 has a lot going fo it. If these stay on schedule, it is possible the PS5 will have a very successful first year. Important, since this is a period when many consoles tend to flounder with a drought of content output.

Of course, if that doesn’t whet your appetite we’d advise the wait until the launch dust settles, consoles are more readily available and you can see how the market is panning out. We think the combination of the library and hardware has the potential to be an exciting combination. Our verdict? This chonky beast is a good console and we can see a bright future. Whether it lives up to it is another matter.


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