The PlayStation 5 is days away from hitting shelves (digital ones, at least), and gamers have been chomping at the bit to finally get to grips with Sony’s next gen machine.
The PS5 release – and indeed this generational transition as a whole – is a bit of a watershed moment for gaming, with Sony releasing two versions of the console at the same time; one with a traditional disc drive and a digital-only machine without a drive. Microsoft are doing the same, marking this as a time when both companies are putting their foot firmly on the pedal as we cruise towards a potential digital only future, dominated by downloads and subscription services.
We’ve gotten our hands on the standard, full fat, PS5 with the disc drive and have been putting it through its paces. There’s a lot to cover with a brand new console, but rather than rush a full review to meet the embargo, we’ll be offering a ‘review in progress’, starting off with initial impressions which we’ll update regularly as we go along.
For those who love the nitty gritty of numbers, under the hood of PlayStation 5 is a x86-64-AMD Ryzen Zen 8 Core CPU, and a GPU of up to 2.23 GHz with Ray Tracing Acceleration and an AMD Radeon RDNA 2-based graphics engine. In terms of memory, there’s 16GB GDDR6.
On paper, there’s an 825GB SSD for internal storage, but once everything that’s pre-loaded / built in is taken into account, there’s actually only 667GB of space free for things like game downloads, save files and apps. With a number of recent and upcoming releases pushing the 100GB mark, people might find the machine will fill up rather quickly, especially if you’re making use of the backwards compatibility feature to revisit or carry on with a few PS4 games.
The console supports external hard drives via USB, and in fact it actively suggests that you download any previous gen titles to external storage and play them directly off there in order to conserve space on the machine itself.
If you’re after a slightly more graceful solution than plugging a little box into a big box, prising off the white panel on the top of the console lets you access an internal NVMe SSD slot that will accommodate SSD stick shaped units for increased storage. However, according to Sony, this feature will not be available at launch, and instead will be part of a system update at some point in the future.
But that’s enough about all the cogs and sprockets. How does the machine look?
From the moment it emerges from the box, the first thing that strikes is how much of a chunky beast the PlayStation 5 actually is, like a gym bunny who’s overdone it on the protein powder. 390mm wide and with a depth and height of 260mm and 104mm respectively, you’ll need to set aside a fair amount of space for it. It’s slightly lighter than you might expect it to be though, clocking in at 4.5kg.
Despite the size, it is undoubtedly a very elegant looking piece of gear. A shiny black monolith sandwiched between two curved white collars, it’s like Eve from Pixar’s Wall-E got run over by a steam roller. The whole thing marries a futuristic space age vibe with an organic feel, and is probably a nicer treat for the eyes than the sharp, functional oblongs of its Xbox rivals.
The smooth obsidian filling of this sandwich looks featureless from across the room, but has a regular USB port and a USB C one, as well as unobtrusive physical power and eject buttons.
The new machine brings with it a fresh new direction for PlayStation controllers. Doing away with the now classic Dual Shock style that’s been used for over 20 years, the PS5 uses the DualSense pad. With a far more ergonomic feel that any of its predecessors, the controller has longer prongs that sit very comfortably in the hands. The underside is textured with minuscule X,O, Square and Triangle symbols, adding a superior grip that comes in handy during extended play sessions.
The triggers have been overhauled, and are now adaptive, allowing you to apply a greater range of pressures to achieve different in game effects. There’s also a microphone built in to the unit which will likely be put to some interesting uses by developers in the future. At present, the one implementation we’ve encountered is blowing on it to move the robotic main character in Astro’s Playroom, the tech demo platformer that comes pre-loaded onto the console.
There’s been innovations made inside the controller as well, namely with the addition of Haptic Feedback. Essentially, this is an upgraded rumble function, and boy do we mean ‘upgraded’. Vibrations are now far more nuanced and defined, spreading throughout different parts of the pad in an uncanny way. It’s hard to describe without experiencing it for yourself, but when it comes to immersion, it’s the tactile equivalent of going from headphones to surround sound.
At present, the only fully fledged PS5 titles we’ve played are the Astro’s Playroom and Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales. You’ll be able to check out our individual reviews of these games very soon, but generally speaking, the PlayStation 5 delivers a marked improvement over the PS4.
Everything is much sharper and more detailed, with fantastic vibrancy and visual depth. Miles Morales’ version of New York is a more bustling, realistic and alive environment than that of the original Spider-Man on PS4. Meanwhile, Astro’s Playroom shows off the machine’s capacity to deliver incredibly fluid animation.
PS4 Backwards compatibility
Sony have long been touting the backwards compatibility aspect of the PS5, which is an understandable move given how disappointed many were with the underbaked implementation of it on the PS4. In practice, the standard PS5 actually does a bang up job of bridging generations, and is especially straightforward when it comes to making the leap from the previous machine.
A large proportion – if not the majority – of PS4 games will be playable on the PS5. If you’ve got a PS4 disc, you can simply insert it into the PS5 and after a short install, you’ll be up and running. Be warned, we found this to be a very noisy process that seems to send the machine’s fans into overdrive, something made even more noticeable given how silently the PS5 runs the rest of the time.
Digital PS4 games that you already own will appear in the Library section of the PS5, and can be downloaded from there, or the PS Store. Save files can be transferred via wifi, ethernet cable, USB stick or via the cloud if you’ve a PS Plus subscription.
The promised performance boosts to PS4 games are quite noticeable, if not entirely all encompassing. Using a disc version of Resident Evil 2 Remake, the environments and lighting took a decent turn for the better, while Leon’s character model didn’t see much improvement, at times almost appearing like he was appearing on green screen due to the slight disparity between him and the background.
A digital version of Marvel’s Avengers showed some improvements as well, managing to push the needle up a bit when it came to lighting, visual effects and character textures.
The big game changer is loading times. On PS4, booting up RE2 took 36 seconds compared to 20 seconds on the PS5, while loading a save game took 28 seconds on the older machines versus 16 seconds for its younger sibling.
The painfully long load times on Avengers were drastically improved as well. On PS4, booting the game to its main menu took 46 seconds, loading the campaign mode took 53 seconds and then loading a mission took about 51 seconds. On PS5 we had a 27 second boot up, 36 second load to the campaign and 38 second wait for a mission.
In general, loading seems to be about 40% quicker, which is certainly something to celebrate.
We’ll be updating this review in progress.
The PlayStation 5 will be released in the UK on November 19. The Standard Edition is priced at £449.99 and the Digital Edition is priced at £349.99