Ahead of its worldwide release, Colm Gorey takes a look at the PS5 and whether it can be truly called a ‘next-gen’ console.
The passing of time is a phenomenon that is inevitable, yet can often take you by surprise. How many times have you heard someone say, ‘Wow, has it really been seven years?’
It was certainly running through my mind as I sat down with the PlayStation 5 for the first time. My PS4 Pro has been a fixture of my living room for years now, but there’s no avoiding the fact that time has not been kind to it.
Not on the surface, but what’s underneath. Trying to play any recent game on it requires headphones as the jet engine-like noise emitted by its cooling fan is almost deafening. So much so that it has spawned memes.
Throw on top of that painfully slow download and installation speeds that effectively render all forms of high-speed broadband irrelevant, leaving you groaning at the thought of having to install the latest major game update.
So I was eager to see whether Sony’s latest console – seven years after the launch of the PS4 – could answer all my prayers, while also doing more than just a straight upgrade.
In contrast to the all-black, blocky design of its predecessors, the PS5 is embracing a bit of colour – albeit it just white, which led to it being compared with a Wi-Fi router.
Straight off the bat you’ll notice the size difference, too. I was sent the standard PS5 that includes a disc tray, and this one clocks in at a height of 39cm – 6cm more than the PS4 Pro and just over 10cm more than the standard PS4. This could make things tricky for the casual gamer who might want to tuck the console away in a small space.
Matt MacLaurin, executive vice-president of PlayStation UX design, explained earlier this year that to facilitate the significant boost in computing power over the PS4, heavy-duty thermal components have been put in to keep the device cool. In testing, I can confirm it was whisper quiet, so long may that continue.
A noticeable, surprising change was the reintroduction of physical buttons. Unlike the touch-sensitive power and eject buttons on the PS4, you have little Wi-Fi router-like buttons again on the PS5. And instead of two USB ports, the PS5 has one USB port and a USB-C port for keeping the controller charged.
While my PS4 is currently propped horizontally on a pound-shop laptop platform to keep it cool, the box the PS5 comes in includes a plastic stand that can be altered to suit either a vertical or horizontal setup. However, I felt a black stand jutting out in horizontal mode looked a bit clumsy compared to standing vertically.
One thing that will definitely be a necessary accessory – but one that won’t come in the box – is an external hard drive. The PS5 hard drive clocks in at 825GB, 175GB less than the PS4 Pro. With some of the biggest game titles taking up almost 200GB of storage, anything less than 1TB seems unsustainable.
Bear in mind, Sony is adamant that it sees cloud gaming in its future through the revamped PS Now service. But how this will perform remains to be seen.
Sony’s DualSense controller is perhaps one of the biggest changes to come with the new console. The white flair continues with this updated version of the PS4 controller, but this time with some new features.
It’s perhaps the best-looking aspect of the console and I’m especially fond of the almost invisible stippled surface of the controller. On closer inspection, the dots are actually tiny circles, squares, triangles and crosses as an homage to PlayStation’s famous buttons.
But in actual gameplay, the L2 and R2 buttons of the controller incorporate adaptive triggers, allowing you to feel the tension of actions such as pulling back on a tight bowstring, or hitting the brakes on a speeding car.
If you closely on the ps5 controller you can see tiny squares, circles, triangles and x's pic.twitter.com/0TVAC7RQMx
— Soap, Read recent tweet (@StepBroSoap) October 28, 2020
Haptic feedback is also present, so rain drops hitting your character are felt through the control, and this just brings a new level of response instead of just feeling a generic vibration. The basic single headphone microphone included with the PS4 has also been replaced and instead built into the controller itself, allowing you to chat to friends through it.
While playing one of the trial games on offer – Astro’s Playroom – I had to blow into the microphone to spin a windmill. All of these new features make it feel more like a Wii remote than a PlayStation controller, but that’s a good thing.
How it plays
You might feel this is the most important of questions. Booting up the PS5 is a pretty familiar experience for past players. Only this time, the bright blue home screen has been replaced with a darker, more refined colour palette of white, grey and black.
A big change to the user experience is the introduction of ‘activities’, which – depending on the game – can let you jump into specific levels instead of searching through the game. Clicking into it will then tell you more info, including how much estimated time you have left in a level.
And to help you avoid searching for YouTube videos when stuck on a game, PlayStation Plus subscribers will be able to watch a curated video showing you how to progress.
Another feature that seems to tap into the age of e-sports and streaming is the ability to chat and watch friends playing a game that you might not even own.
For me, the overall experience took just a little bit of time to get used to, but more importantly I really noticed the difference in loading times with games; it felt significantly faster. Another welcome addition is a new Sony-built 3D audio engine that will make the digital world you’re playing feel more alive, like hearing a stream get louder the closer you get to it.
Then throw on top of that a custom GPU for higher-resolution games and ray tracing that can support up to 8K, then you’ve got yourself a great gaming experience in the making.
I had a chance to play two games during my review – Astro’s Playroom and Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales. The former is more of a pretty enjoyable tech demo, showing all the new features of the DualSense controller and PS5 UI. Similarly, swinging through New York skyscrapers as Spider-Man was also a reasonably fun experience, even though I admittedly know more about the Earthworm Jim universe than the one inhabited by Peter Parker.
The PS5 is the technical upgrade necessary to play not only games coming down the line, but many released in the past year. The PS4 can just about handle all of the visual and performance requirements of the latest games, but the added thermal protection and boosted hardware of the PS5 should future-proof the new console for a number of years to come.
While it might not feel as ‘next gen’ as previous releases of the PlayStation, the PS5 will be a welcome relief to those tired of a noisy predecessor that seems to struggle with handling a major game update. Also, the DualSense controller with its haptic feedback and adaptive triggers has great potential for future developers.
The size of the console and relatively small hard drive size do take away from its other innovations inside the box, but the promise that 99pc of PS4 games will be playable and transferrable to the PS5 is most welcome after the PS4 backwards-compatibility nightmare.
Overall, the PS5 makes me feel like I’m happy to say goodbye to the PS4. Thanks for the memories.
The PS5 will launch in Ireland on 19 November with two versions. The standard PS5 with disc tray costs €499.99 and the Digital Edition costs €399.99.