The PlayStation 5 is finally here! With a global pandemic and the fact we've been in our pajamas since March, it's been tricky to be excited by anything in 2020, especially when Sony and Microsoft are releasing new consoles without too much in the way of exclusives.
But then we finally got our hands on the PlayStation 5, and over the course of the last couple of weeks of play, we've been completely won over by the odd-shaped fun box. The console's biggest negative is the one that's most obvious: it's ugly, and it's probably too big for your entertainment center. But that annoyance will fade with time, and then it's replaced with the appreciation for the DualSense controller's battery life, the fact that it has basically obliterated loading times, and just the extra graphical grunt.
We'll be honest, the switch to 4K in gaming wasn’t the huge upgrade we were expecting. But the addition of ray-tracing? That was probably one of the biggest visual changes for people actually playing games since the jump to 3D, and making it the standard is going to be huge.
However, with both new consoles packing ray-tracing, Sony needs to have a lot more to bring in the players. Let's take a closer look at what's on offer to see if the PS5 is the best video games console you can buy at the moment?
PlayStation 5 review: Price and availability
- Standard PS5: $499, All Digital PS5: $399
- Sold out basically everywhere.
It might seem weird to start talking about the price and where you can buy one before we've even told you if the PlayStation 5 is any good, but to say these things are selling like hot cakes would be to drastically exaggerate sales of hotcakes in the year 2020.
The PlayStation 5 has an MSRP of $499, while the PS5 All Digital version has an MSRP of $399. Sadly, it's not as simple as just slapping down five Benjamins and welcoming your new games console child into the family.
You will struggle to find a PlayStation 5 in store or online at any retailers at the moment, and we don't expect this to change until at late January at the earliest. You can pick up the PS5 from third party sellers (aka scalpers) for well above the market value if you desperately want one, but just don't. Wait a month or so and get one when Sony has more stock.
PlayStation 5 review: Hardware
- Powerful specs.
- Love or hate design.
- DualSense controller is a game changer.
It’s fair to say that the PlayStation 5’s styling has been divisive, and we’re sad to say that we fall on the “it’s ugly as sin” side of the fence. On one level, we want to commend Sony for taking a chance, but on the other level we hate the weird bulbous look. The white shell is also going to get gross over the years of pawing at it, but that’s a personal gripe. Hopefully there will be a a black version down the line anyway.
For now though, this beefy boy weighs in at 10.54 lbs and is 15.4 x 10.24 x 4.09 inches in dimensions. You can't just stick it wherever fits because of a weird lopsided weight, but the included stand will let you set it up vertically or horizontally without blocking the air intakes.
Despite us not loving the overall look, there's a lot of nice aesthetic touches to the PlayStation 5. The soft blue glow coming out from behind the machine when it's turned on (and the orange when it's in sleep mode) are attractive. This central stripe is glossy plastic however and feels like it will become caked in fingerprints and scratches throughout its life as people paw at the USB ports.
There's a wealth of ports on the thing so you should have no trouble hooking it into your home entertainment setup. They’re more sensibly positioned than they were on the PS4 too, no longer tucked away between two pieces of hard plastic.
The standard edition has a 4K Blu-ray player, and both a USB-C and USB-A port on the front, with another pair of USB-A ports on the back, an HDMI 2.1 port, an Ethernet port and somewhere for you to plug in the power lead. There's also a power button and disc eject button on the front.
Still, once you've actually placed it somewhere you can start the process of trying to forget the thing exists. Once you've done that, you're in for a treat because it's hiding a hell of a lot of grunt - enough for you to play 4K gameplay at up to 120 frames per second. That's more than most TVs can handle for the foreseeable future, so it's futureproofed nicely.
This is possible because of a custom AMD RDNA 2 GPU. In practice we've basically no slowdown or performance issues in anything that we've played, and loading screens last for barely a second because of the custom SSD.
The SSD size is a bit of a letdown, as the 825GB drive is already less hefty than the Xbox Series X's 1TB, and becomes less after the system nonsense has taken its chunk of the hard drive. However, the trade-off is this speedy loading, which seems worthwhile for now. We’ll see in a year's time when our hard drive is full though.
The result of all this power is that games look and feel amazing. Playing Assassin's Creed Valhalla on both the PS4 Pro and the PS5 immediately showed how impressive the upgrade can be, but the game that really swung it for us was Spider-Man: Miles Morales. it's absolutely stunning. You can see the reflections passing by as you swing past every single office window.
The games we're getting now aren't even taking full advantage of what the PS5 can do, and while the PS4 Slim is still supported, we won't get to see the training wheels come off for a while yet.
However, the most "next-gen" part of the whole bundle is the DualSense controller, with a bunch of great new features, but also battery life that can comfortably last for several hours of play, a huge advantage on the battery-hungry DualShock 4.
The standout feature of the Dualsense is the adaptive triggers. For Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War this means a different trigger pull for each weapon in the game, while in Spider-Man: Miles Morales it means you can feel the thwip as you fire webs. It's hard to explain how this tactile feeling improves gameplay in words, but it really does add to the experience.
The built-in speaker, an upgraded bit of kit from the DualShock 4, also returns along with the upgraded rumble feature: a haptic rumble that allows localized feedback so that you can feel the blast of a shotgun or feel your way through a hacking minigame, really caps everything off.
PlayStation 5 review: User experience
- UI is pretty slick.
- Load times are severely reduced.
Sony's PlayStation 5 UI is sleek but it's going to require a bit of time for many users to familiarize themselves with. It also manages to amplify some of the worst parts of the PlayStation 4 UI while getting rid of several aspects that worked well, so there is some room for improvement.
When you tap the PlayStation button on your controller, you see your Trophy progress on your current game. There is also a nifty feature that lets you click on a trophy you need, and the system will instantly fast travel you to the area or level that the trophy is obtained in. You can also see video guides showing you how to obtain trophies if you’re stuck. While we prefer the challenge of hunting trophies down ourselves, this is a neat time saver for people to use.
If you move down from the Trophy showcase, you see icons for the home screen, a switcher to quickly jump between games and apps, access to music, a friends list, and settings for your mic or a controller. Tucked away at the end are the power options, letting you power the console down or drop it into rest mode with just four or five button presses, more complicated than the method on PS4.
"More complicated than it is on the PS4" is a criticism that we could toss at most UI options on the console, because honestly, it feels like the system favours serving advertisements over usability, meaning this feels like a step back from the PS4. It’s not a deal breaker though, and system updates will likely fix these issues as time goes on
The biggest upgrade over the PS4 is the hybrid SSD, which means that loading screens just don't exist anymore. You can load from the main menu of Spider-Man: Miles Morales to the game in just a couple of seconds, and booting the game fresh takes less than a minute. The same game has even done away with loading screens during fast travel, something that wasn’t possible in the original PS4 Spider-Man. They're just not needed here as you'll be spat out on the other side of the game's huge map in just a few scant seconds. This means that when you sit down in front of your PS5, there's barely a moment when you're not playing the game.
The PS5's Tempest Audio, a 3D audio experience for wireless headsets that should make you feel like you've dropped into the game. There are a few different options to get it dialed in, but it feels comparable to its competing systems like Dolby Atmos and is up and running in all of the first-party games at launch, with support from select third party games too.
PlayStation 5 review: Games
- Excellent exclusives.
- PS Now is decent, but no Game Pass.
PlayStation 5 is lucky enough to launch with a wedge of exclusives, with the family-friendly Astro's Playroom and Sackboy's Adventure joined with the beautiful and rock-hard Demons Souls and… well, Godfall exists too.
Spider-Man Miles Morales is good enough that you really should pick it up with the new console (though this is available on PS4 too). Astro's Playroom and Sackboy offer some solid fun no matter your age, and Demon's Souls is a remake worthy of the original game, and likely to captivate fans of other Souls-like titles if you missed it the first time around.
The additional features on the controller like the adaptive triggers, in-built speakers and rumble features are well used in most games, enhancing the experience.
However, when compared to Microsoft's Xbox Series offerings, Sony is really missing out on the buffet-like Game Pass, and Sony's backwards compatibility only covers PS4 titles, while Microsoft's latest Xbox will play almost every game that's ever ran on an Xbox console. Sony does have PS Now, but it doesn’t include new releases like Game Pass. The backwards compatibility is only a problem if you like diving back into older games, but Game Pass is such a valuable tool for game discovery, it's a real disappointment to see Sony fall behind here.
PlayStation 5 review: Streaming and apps
- All major streaming services have PS5 apps
- Netflix, Disney Plus, YouTube, Prime Video, etc.
Nearly everything you could ever want to watch in the UK has its own native app. If you're paying for a subscription to something, chances are you'll be able to experience it through your PlayStation 5. Most of these integrate well with the PlayStation UI, meaning that if you see an ad for a program on a service you have installed, you can click on that and be watching Netlflix or Disney Plus sharpish.
Should you buy the PlayStation 5?
If you're a gamer who puts a lot of time in, you should absolutely be upgrading to the next-gen. Ray-tracing is magnificent, and with upcoming titles like Cyberpunk 2077 you're going to want it to look as good as possible.
Should that next-gen console be the PS5? Sony's console feels like the more premium route: the console is a stonking £499 to buy, you'll need to buy new controllers due to the additional features, and you should consider whether Game Pass would save you
However, with a DualSense in hand, the PS5 is offering one of the best gaming experiences out there. Several elements are woven together with haptics, noise and everyone occurring on-screen all combining to create a play experience that truly feels "next-gen"
If we're being realistic, Sony's run of first-party exclusives with the PlayStation 4 was phenomenal, and it seems likely that we're going to get more of the same with the PlayStation 5. For many people, this is reason alone to buy it. The cost might be eye-watering for some, but Sony's exclusives and this premium feel make it the console to buy for most people and the one most people are quietly hoping for under their Christmas tree.