When it comes to the video game industry, generational leaps are usually marked by sparkly new graphics. It’s a step up that you can actually see, and one that instantly showcases the new console’s abilities.
The PlayStation 5 is a little different. Sure, games do look incredible on Sony’s latest machine but, compared to the hugely successful PlayStation 4, the upgrade is far less dramatic. Thankfully, PS5 has a few tricks up its sleeve that combine to create a truly futuristic experience.
Let’s start with the looks. Sony has always toyed with the appearance of its consoles since the days of PSOne, but PS5 is arguably the most ambitious design. The unit is huge and is actually one of the biggest consoles to date. Its designer, Yujin Morisawa, has since admitted that it was going to be even bigger until the engineering team told him to scale it back.
PS5 comes with white curved panels and a black centre where the USB slots, power buttons and the like live. Stood vertically, it looks as though it's wearing a polo shirt with the collar turned up on either side. Lying down, it’s still chunky and only just slides into my entertainment storage unit that has comfortably housed every other console I’ve placed in it.
Putting it mildly, PS5 is an acquired taste and will likely stick out when it becomes part of your current set-up. But it’s what lies beneath that really sets the pulse racing.
From a practical point of view, PS5’s design allows for superb ventilation to keep the built-in fans spinning freely and ensure the machine stays cool. Anyone familiar with PS4 Pro – Sony’s advanced version of its last-gen console – will tell you about the heat it can generate when running games, not to mention the jet engine sounds of the fans that force you to turn the volume of your TV up to numbers you never knew existed before. There are no such problems with PS5.
Hit the power button and it boots up with that familiar ding sound that PS4 users will be used to. When PS5 loads, you’re greeted with a crisp-looking horizontal menu to scroll through. Hover over a game and the screen fills with a related hi-res image and instrumental from the soundtrack, which is a great touch.
Select any of your installed games and you’re instantly flung into the action. See, this is the power of PS5 in action – the SSD (Solid-State Drive) inside eliminates long load times, so you can get to the good stuff much more quickly.
It also allows games from your PS4 collection to look better and run in speeds up to 60 frames per second. This means PS4 owners will get even more out of the games they've already purchased on PS5 and won't have to confine them to a box in the attic. In fact, almost every future PS4 title will have some form of performance upgrade on PS5, which will future-proof your purchase. For example, the PS4 version of Assassin's Creed: Valhalla looks absolutely outstanding on PS5.
The pandemic has had a knock-on effect with game developers and, as a result, there are fewer PS5-specific titles available from the off. However, Sony has upgraded its PS+ service, which allows online play and comes with two free games every month.
On PS5, for the same $59.99 annual subscription, you get the PlayStation Plus Collection, which features 20 PS4 classics to download and play whenever you want.
Bestsellers such as Batman: Arkham Knight, God of War and Ratchet & Clank are ready and waiting for you to play as soon as you get online. The one PS5 title that's part of the collection now is the adorable – and deeply bizarre –Bugsnax. It's a game where food items have taken on sentience and roam around a mysterious island. Whenever you catch and consume one, part of your character's body then turns into it. For example, a spider-like strawberry will transform your arm into said fruit. If that sounds like a fevered dream to you, then don't worry, it plays like one, too – albeit a fun one.
PlayStation 5’s biggest draw is the new controller. The DualSense is revolutionary and a true futuristic product. It’s hard to put into words just how extraordinary it feels as it manages to mimic the feeling of skating on ice, swimming through water or being blown by a powerful gale force. It’s happening right there in your hands and pulls you deeper into the action.
Of course, it will be interesting to see if third-party developers make full use of its functionality, but Sony's talented studios will no doubt find some stunning uses for the DualSense. As an example, the built-in game, Astro's Playroom, has a bit where you have to blow into the controller to make a fan spin on screen.
Speaking of Astro's Playroom, in which you inhabit a cute little robot, it has the potential to help PS5 become a huge hit this holiday season. With tight gameplay for children and a tonne of collectibles that fans can use to create their own in-game virtual museum, the console has something for the whole family.
All things considered, Sony has built a machine that really stands out – both technically and cosmetically. PS5 is already a winner and has much more potential to unlock over its lifespan. And, with a controller that genuinely seems transformative for the industry, the ability to upgrade your old PS4 games instantly and near non-existent load times, the PlayStation 5 really does feel like a substantial generational leap.