Review: PlayStation 5 is the future of video games

Disclaimer: We paid retail price for our PlayStation 5 consoles but were granted review copies of Spider-Man: Miles Morales Ultimate Edition (2 codes), Sackboy: A Big Adventure (2), and Demon’s Souls (1) by Sony. Additionally, we tested a review copy of Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War (1) provided by Activision.

Seven years ago, Sony released the PS4. It provided us with so many great games like Spider-Man and God of War. It paved the way for a lot of great features such as game capture, live broadcasts from the console, and even VR on consoles. For seven years, it gave us an undeniably great gaming experience. Now, the PlayStation 5 looks to expand on that and take us even further into the future of video games.

Out of the box, the PlayStation 5 promises a bright and exciting future. From a sleek design that looks like a spaceship, ready to take you to exciting new worlds, to a gaming experience never seen by a console before. Hell, it does things we’ve never seen before even on the most powerful of computers.

The Design

Right when I took the PlayStation 5 out of the box, I was taken aback. It’s large and demands to be seen thanks to its striking white paintjob. Most consoles or entertainment boxes are black and blend into your entertainment center. The PlayStation 5 doesn’t seek to blend in, it seeks to stand out and pop. It doesn’t want to hide, it wants to be seen and shown off like a trophy wife.

PlayStation 5 and the DualSense controller
PlayStation 5 and the DualSense controller

I was initially not very impressed by the design when it was revealed over the summer. Having it in person and getting to really inspect it, I like it a lot. While I can’t fit it in my entertainment center standing up, it still looks really nice laying on its side. The slightly curved nature to it, the “floating” look thanks to its horizontal stand, and the lights all make it come together to be something I can’t really stop looking at. It’s made even better by the fact its customizable. Its white plates can be popped off and customized with different colors, designs, and more.

This futuristic feeling carries over into the UI as well. When you boot the PlayStation 5 up for the first time, you see a unique video. A big blue sphere in a dark space explodes, sending gold sparkles flying. It’s like the Big Bang, giving life to a new universe for gaming. Any time you turn the system on after that, you’re greeted with a flurry of sparkles and a chime that reminded me of the classic Windows boot up.

You then hear some ambient noises until you hover over a game, which have custom sounds. It’s quick and relatively quiet, reminding me a lot of the isolating feeling of PS2’s home screen. Once you sign in, the actual UI is simple, elegant, and sleek. It continues to try to minimize everything on the home screen.

The PlayStation 5 UI puts games front and center by separating games and media apps
The PlayStation 5 UI puts games front and center by separating games and media apps

It’s pretty much exclusively games and the store with a tab to go over to media apps. It’s familiar for those who have played PlayStation in the past but it’s still very new. It feels like a cousin to past interfaces rather than a brother or sister, it’s related but it’s different enough that it feels new.

That said, the newness does hurt the PlayStation 5 UI sometimes. I’ve gotten so used to where to find certain things on PS4 that it has been a learning curve to access regular features on PS5. It took me several minutes just to figure out how to turn the damn thing off on my first night with it. Some of these things are just a matter of adjusting to but others feel cumbersome.

Inviting friends to parties or even games can be a major pain. Sony has changed the invite system to make parties be a consistent thing, even after everyone has left. This isn’t exclusive to PS5 either, it’s on PS4 as well. On paper, I understand the concept. It makes it so your friend group can just easily join a party when you are all ready to play without creating a new one. It feels like it gets more in the way than anything else.

Parties and inviting people have been pretty simple since Xbox 360. There wasn’t a reason to convolute this, it worked just fine. It would be great if Sony would just go back to the way it was for years but they probably won’t.

Trophies have also taken a hit, though in a smaller way. They’re still easy to find but the list displaying them is crowded. When you view an individual game, the trophies are displayed horizontally rather than vertically as big squares. This shows off the actual art of a trophy but at the risk of cramping everything up. It used to look nicer and felt easier to look at your trophies. You could easily see what you needed to do next for multiple trophies. Not so much anymore, especially as some text doesn’t fit the previewed description.

Trophies on the PS5
Trophies on the PS5

This isn’t some major criticism against the PlayStation 5, it just feels like some small steps back. On the bright side, the all of the UI is fast and smooth. Many of these menus and options would take a moment to load on PS4, now they open almost instantly on PS5. This is notably found in the PlayStation Store which is no longer a separate app. The PlayStation Store is now integrated into the dashboard, allowing you to quickly see what’s new and purchase games.

The DualSense controller

PlayStation 5 DualSense
PlayStation 5 DualSense

By far and away the PlayStation 5’s biggest leap isn’t through its SSD, its graphical power, or anything else. It’s within the DualSense controller. This is undoubtedly the best controller I have ever used in my life, it’s one of those “seeing is believing” things but more feeling.

Your controller has always been the bridge between reality and the virtual worlds on your screen. Sony has found a way to make that bridge all the more seamless. Being able to feel the crunch of snow, the coarseness of sand, the slickness of ice, and the rumble of a powerful gun in your hands is mindboggling. After several weeks of playing with it, it still hasn’t lost its magic.

And that’s exactly what the DualSense is: Magic. The roar of my gun is no longer just noise from a speaker, it’s reflected in the rapid rumble in my hands too. The bumpy terrain my car travels over isn’t just some generic vibration, it feels one to one with what’s happening on the screen and the actual environment in the game. The controller helps what is virtual become reality, starting to create a 4D experience. The name DualSense isn’t just a marketing gimmick, it’s very literal in that it is driven by your sense of touch.

It doesn’t stop at just the sense of touch either. It has a built-in speaker and microphone, which you can use to communicate with other players or hear game select game audio. Days Gone uses it to play audio recordings to you, like the PS4 controller. Perhaps the most interesting thing is that you can blow into it and the game will recognize it.

In Astro’s Playroom, if you blow into the controller, it will generate air and blow things like fans. I imagine this is a trick that’s picked up by the microphone rather than something else but it’s cool nonetheless.

Imagining the technology of DualSense paired with a virtual reality experience really helps paint a picture of Sony’s future. We want to feel closer to our games, we want to be immersed, and Sony is getting us there slowly but surely. Sony has their finger on the pulse of exciting new technologies but it’s a matter of realizing their potential.

Things like the vibration in a DualSense can be used in all games but other features, like blowing into it, can’t. Every button or function has to be mapped to an Xbox or PC controller as well. It seems like Sony is really betting on the rumble more than anything else while more interesting features will probably be used in PlayStation 5 exclusives. Hopefully third-party developers make use of features like the rumble but we’ll have to see.

Next-gen performance

Marvel's Spider-Man Remastered
Marvel’s Spider-Man Remastered

The reason we buy new consoles aren’t for a controller or their look, though. It is because they are more powerful and welcome new kinds of games. Graphics get better, the new hardware allows for more ambitious games, and much more. It shows us how much better games can be right when we think they’ve peaked. PlayStation 5 is no exception to this.

Previous generations are notable for graphical leaps. 2D to 3D, levels of fidelity, and all that good stuff. While games look undeniably beautiful on PS5, the giant leap isn’t quite there out of the gate. It’s in the details with things like ray-tracing, which allow greater depth in things like reflections. Previously, games would just slap a static image on windows or mirrors. It wasn’t accurate to the environment around you, it was like you weren’t even meant to look at it. This is no longer the case and it helps really root you in the worlds you’re in.

Games like Black Ops Cold War also take advantage of a buttery smooth 120hz mode. The TVs capable of things like 120hz are somewhat limited right now but within the next year or two, this is going to be a game changer. Having a console where pretty much every game can run at 60 frames or higher, if you choose, sets the stage for an exciting generation.

Shooters like Call of Duty and Battlefield will be more frenetic than ever. Racing games will look ungodly in either resolution or performance mode. And one can only imagine what something like Grand Theft Auto VI will look like.

Where PlayStation 5 doesn’t just shine with how games look, it’s how they run too. Going from games that had load times of multiple minutes to now playing Spider-Man in 11 seconds is a level of whiplash I’m not sure I can recover from. Playing games has never been faster, easier, or more seamless.

With the new SSD, PlayStation 5 does some unique things. Knowing it can load fast, Sony has implemented very specific features. From the home screen, you can go to activity cards that show you things going on within your selected game. For Spider-Man, this includes side missions, main missions, and collectibles. You can click on one and it’ll load the game to that specific activity.

Within 30 seconds or less, you’ll be at the start of the mission you want to do. You don’t need to swing anywhere or even press any buttons to move through menus, it skips all of that. You don’t even need to press the start button, it does all the work for you. This is, once again, something that’ll live or die by the support of the developers. Call of Duty allows for it but seemingly only if the game is already open. I’ve had troubles getting these cards to work when the game isn’t active but when they work, you can move through modes at a rapid pace.

If supported, it could be another game changer and allow for things that no other platform can.

On the flipside of things, I’d like to talk about something some people may really not give a damn about. I love physical movies. They’re different than physical games because movies can lose some depth when streamed. Digital games install every last piece of data. They, unless specifically specified, aren’t streamed. So I have all these UHD movies on my shelf and of course, I want to see them in all their glory.

The media section of the PlayStation 5
The media section of the PlayStation 5

While something that was on Xbox One X last generation, the PS5 is the first PlayStation to support UHD movies from a disc. For those looking for high-quality movie viewing, the PlayStation 5 is very capable. I booted up Interstellar from a UHD Blu-ray on my LG CX and it was truly captivating. Some will be disappointed to hear there is no Dolby Vision or Dolby Atmos support on the console but even without it, films look gorgeous.

I did notice that the console wanted to stay in “Game mode” via my TV picture settings when it came to movies. It took a few minutes for me to realize this as the picture looked off. I ended up having to change it manually through my TV, which isn’t that big of a deal but something worth noting as the Series X automatically switches it.

Despite that, it’s a worthy 4K movie player that ensures it captures all the rich details. Deep blacks, expansive color pallets, the whole nine yards are on display. It helps Sony have a true all-in-one entertainment center to rival Xbox on all fronts, not just games.

The Games

PlayStation is well-known for their excellent first-party games. Uncharted, Spider-Man, God of War, Ghost of Tsushima, the list goes on and on. They have great exclusives and the PlayStation 5, while currently limited, reflects this. There is absolutely something for everyone here.

The game library on PS5 showcases your game tiles in an elegant way
The game library on PS5 showcases your game tiles in an elegant way

For children or families, there’s Astro’s Playroom, Sackboy, and Bugsnax. For the “casual” gamers, there’s Spider-Man. And for the most hardcore, there’s Demon’s Souls. That’s not even including the third-party offerings like Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, and much more. The launch line-up is rich and I’ve had no shortage of things to play. I haven’t even played everything or invested as much time as I’d like into others simply because there’s so much.

Each game is varied and brings something unique to the table. Spider-Man allows me to live out my superhero fantasies. Call of Duty gives me a summer blockbuster-level story, a fast-paced multiplayer, and a chaotic zombies mode. Demon’s Souls offers a masochistic, yet very rewarding, experience. Perhaps the biggest star is Astro’s Playroom, which is comes with every console.

This Mario-esque platformer is both a tech demo but also a wickedly fun game. It does an incredible job of showcasing all the features of the DualSense controller and it celebrates the history of PlayStation. There are over 50 references to classic PlayStation titles from the last 26 years. On top of that, you can find various replicas of the consoles, accessories, and more.

Astro's Playroom comes pre-installed on every PlayStation 5
Astro’s Playroom comes pre-installed on every PlayStation 5

For a free game, it packs a lot of value. Many of my friends on Twitter are still playing it and speedrunning levels. I personally enjoy using it to quickly showcase the console to people like my girlfriend and relatives.

Knowing I’ll have a wealth of games to keep me occupied throughout the coming months is excellent, especially after it was relatively dry at the start of the last generation. It also helps knowing I can look forward to games like a new God of War and Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart in 2021.

PlayStation 5 also has the support of a rich back catalog thanks to PS4 backward compatibility. If you’re new to PlayStation or just have some games you want to catch up on, the PS5 allows for that. Even games like Cyberpunk 2077, which doesn’t have a native next-gen version, will support backward compatibility with some upgrades.

The PlayStation Plus Collection offers a wide variety of PS4's greatest hits for PS5 users.
The PlayStation Plus Collection offers a wide variety of PS4’s greatest hits for PS5 users.

The console even boasts a very helpful PS Plus Collection which gives you access to some of PlayStation 4’s best titles if you have PS+. Games like The Last of Us, God of War, Batman: Arkham Knight, and many others fill the free library, ensuring you can have loads of high-quality freebies for a $10 one month subscription.

Playing a PS4 game is easy and seamless. Simply download it from your library or insert the disc, I did both and it was remarkably fast. The only somewhat annoying process is having to bring your PS4 saves over if you haven’t already. PS5 allows for a data transfer if you still have your PS4 or you can use the cloud. Once it’s on the PS5, you don’t have to do anything else unlike if you were to upgrade a PS4 save to a PS5 version of a game.

Once you have the PS4 game up and running, you’ll probably notice some big changes. Games like Days Gone look stunning with 4K60FPS, it’s a true feat and has given new life to old games. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Days Gone on release but I could see its potential and that potential was wonderful. PS5 helps it squeeze out some of that potential.

Demon's Souls
Demon’s Souls

One of my biggest hurdles when reviewing that game in 2019 was its technical aspects. A fidgety frame-rate, low-quality textures, and more held back my enjoyment. The PS5 enhancements make this zombie game a stunner with vibrant visuals that really simulate Oregon’s natural beauty. This isn’t the case for every game, some PS4 titles are more subtle in their enhancements but it is nice to see how big of a leap it can be without buying a whole new game.

The Bugs

It wouldn’t be a new console launch without some bugs and PlayStation 5 is no stranger to this. I’ve encountered things from as basic as the console not detecting my WiFi signal to full-blown console crashes. With reports of some launch units bricking after turning off, I feared the worst and though it was dead. Luckily, it turned back on but a console turning itself all the way off mid-game isn’t exactly a feature I’d boast about to my friends.

Other players are also recommending to not leave the PS5 in rest mode as it could brick the console. Some have heard weird noises, including myself. None of this is enough that I’d tell someone not to buy one but it is enough for me to put heavy emphasis on keeping an eye on it so it doesn’t break.

There are also smaller, less fatal issues as well. Games like Black Ops Cold War will automatically try to get you to play the PS4 version of the game instead of the PS5 one. This can be incredibly problematic since it’ll install two 100+ GB versions of the same game on your system and possibly lead to you playing a lesser version. The console likes to prioritize last-gen versions, for whatever reason, and has caused headaches for some people.

The PS5 makes it easy to switch between PS4/PS5 versions... at the cost of sometimes lumping in demos as well.
The PS5 makes it easy to switch between PS4/PS5 versions… at the cost of sometimes lumping in demos as well.

If you do for whatever reason want to play the PS4 version of Black Ops Cold War, it’ll also lump in the alpha and the beta versions of the game if you played them. So, there are 4 versions of this game on PS5, technically. Not only is this an issue of storage and playing the right game but it also affects those with data caps. While reviewing both the Series X and PS5, I hit my 2000GB data cap from my ISP within a week or so of each release.

Another GameZone writer also had issues with their PS5 not giving them upgrades for Spider-Man: Miles Morales or Sackboy. He had both on PS4 but wasn’t able to upgrade them to the PS5 version, for whatever reason. Sony gave us an additional set of codes for those two games but not everyone has access to that.

Finally, something you may notice is that the UI screenshots in this review look dim. That’s because capturing screenshots with HDR on leads to that. I tried to turn it off on both my PlayStation 5 AND my TV but it still didn’t work. My screenshots from games don’t seem to look like this but they do on the UI, for some reason.

Thankfully, Sony can implement fixes through firmware updates for a lot of these issues. Sony has already patched a number of things and there will obviously be more.

The Verdict

With PlayStation 5, Sony has created something that already packs mind-blowing innovations but also seems ripe for even greater potential as years go on. While it’s not perfect and will need to iron out some flaws over time, it’s a major leap forward for the medium. With speedy fast performance, breathtaking visuals in games and films, a rich line-up of games, and a groundbreaking controller, Sony has made the PS5 a place I want to play all my games for the next decade or so.

The magic of video games grows more elusive with the PS5 but this magic isn’t an illusion. It’s real, it’s wonderful, and it’s pure. As the classic PlayStation ad once said: “Do not underestimate the power of PlayStation.”