I’ve had a PS5 for a couple of weeks and my feelings about it keep changing.
On the most basic level, hey, it’s a means to play the next generation of PlaySation games. On another, there isn’t yet a next generation of PlayStation games, and the console’s interface doesn’t feel quite ready.
I’m not worried about the games. Over the generations, Sony’s internal studios have gotten so skilled, and given us such a remarkable streak of high-quality, exclusive games, that a new PlayStation can — at worst — be the tax to pay for the opportunity to play Sony games. Just as so many Nintendo systems are bought for the chance to play the new Mario or Zelda.
That’s the worst case scenario. My new PS5 — sent to me by Sony, though I also paid for a separate one that has yet to arrive — will be the machine on which I’ll play the next games from the makers of Horizon Zero Dawn, God of War, Ratchet & Clank, Ghost of Tsushima, Astrobot, and so much more. And I’ll be happy to have it.
The best case scenario is I’ll really like the PS5 as a console, that it’ll be a pleasure to use, maybe become one of my favourite appliances.
I’m not confident in all of that just yet.
What I feel good about
The potential for lots of great games. As mentioned above, a lot of in-house teams with great pedigrees will be developing exclusively for this machine. There’s good reason for high hopes.
Games load super-fast. Sony’s promise here is that loading times will be eradicated, which isn’t exactly the case when I boot up the new Sack Boy or Devil May Cry, but the new Miles Morales game sure comes close. Boot it up the first time (or the first time after it receives any patches, it seems) and you’ll get into the action in 40 seconds. Boot it up the next time, and you’re playing in 15. If you use the PS5’s new game hub shortcuts, which can take you from the system menu right into a specific game mission, you’re in within 11 seconds. It’s astounding. You can indeed fast-travel from one corner of the game’s map to another in an eyeblink. And if you want to laugh at how old-timey games used to work, just boot up Miles Morales on a PS4. That version has loading screens. How quaint.
The system will waste less of my time. Speed really is the PS5’s thing. The notoriously sluggish PSN store is now baked into the system’s menu and briskly loads all of its items. Downloading games not only seems to go faster, but the PS5 doesn’t pull the PS4’s dirtiest trick and elongate the downloads process with a subsequent, near-interminable file-copying process. Download a game or patch and you can quickly load up the game.
What I’m not sure about
Did the wheel need another reinvention?. The unexpected appeal of the Xbox Series S (and X) for me has been its continuity with the Xbox One platform. Everything I knew about how to operate an Xbox One applies to the Series consoles with some new features — a PlayStation-inspired capture button on the controller, for example — added in. The PS5, however, reminds me how most consoles debut, with a brand new user-interface clearly several point-zero updates away from what it should be. Some problems: The PS5 gives users a less configurable home screen than the PS4, and requires more button presses to access most of your games, check your screen captures, or even put the system in rest mode (five button presses for that!). Key functionality like checking a game’s update history are inexplicably only available for a handful of recent games you’ve played, since any other games are sequestered to a separate page that offers far less information. The new user experience isn’t all backwards steps. A new play time tracker is a terrific addition, as is the import of an Xbox 360 feature that lets players select camera inversion preferences for their games on a system level.
Will I keep caring about the controller’s special features? Like just about everyone else who has tried the PS5 controller, I’m impressed. The DualSense’s rumble and resisting triggers are astounding. The new Astro’s Playroom game is an astounding showcase for them. But is this really going to transcend being a launch gimmick? Has that ever happened before with a cool new controller? Developers ran out of clever uses for the Wii Remote quickly. Remember when Sony added a touch pad to the game controller? I was excited, only to see PS4 game designers mostly just use it as an extra button. I’d like the DualSense’s tech to flourish, but history makes me sceptical.
Those new cards and help systems. Again, there may be something great here and it’s too early to judge. As soon as you highlight a PS5 game on the system’s menu — or any time you’re playing a game and press your controller’s PlayStation button — you’ll load up some oddly large digital cards, some of which represent missions, levels, or side quests you’ve accessed in a game. The cards explain what the mission is and, more impressively, let you load right into them. This is a potentially revolutionary change to how we approach games, inviting us to get right to the page we want to read without having to thumb through the whole book or, to break the physics of this metaphor, even first take the book off the shelf. This seems wild. It is wild. I wonder if it’s too wild, because it currently feels really weird to access specific portions of a game without loading the game itself. Miles Morales appears to generate cards every time new main missions and side missions become available. A couple of nights ago, I was browsing the PS5’s main menu and saw a Miles Morales card for a quest I didn’t realise I’d unlocked. I was confused. Where was it located in the game’s virtual New York City. Did I want to go into the game and travel to it? Or just take this shortcut from the home menu. I’ve been trying to get used to this new option, and, like I said, I’m not sure about this. It might grow on me?
I’m not sure it’s going to fully displace my PS4. I’m fine chucking any of my consoles when I get their successors, so it’s disappointing when I get one that doesn’t enable that. The PS4 not running the many PS3 games I loved was a letdown. The prospect of bringing my PS4 library — one of my favourite collection of games ever — to a new console was exciting. Then I popped in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. And there are many more games about which Sony is warning PS5 users to expect “unexpected game behaviour.” That’s a bummer, though you know what’s not? That I can finish the PS4’s Ghost of Tsushima and finally dig into The Last Of Us Part II and Nioh 2 on a new system that will run them better. Maybe I’ll even give Days Gone another shot.
OK, so how does it compare to the new Xbox?
I’ve had an Xbox Series S for two weeks, and just got a Series X. Aesthetically, the PS5 my second favourite of the machines, since I’m partial to the tiny book-sized S but don’t like the look of the X in the horizontal position my entertainment centre requires. I adore weird-looking consoles, chief among them, the purple GameCube, so I like that the PS5 looks like a giant, high-tech eclair.
In terms of performance? So far, it’s mostly been apples to oranges for me. I’m running different games on my S and my 5, and I don’t expect Microsoft’s junior next-gen console to run any games as well as Sony’s powerhouse. I’ve barely touched my Series X, so I can’t compare. I also know, as mentioned way above, that I can’t go into a generation without playing new PlayStation games. For me a PS5 is a must, and the Series S is a viable secondary or tertiary console for playing Game Pass games and Microsoft’s promising — but less proven — upcoming slate of exclusives.
Would I recommend the PS5 now?
Not quite. Nor would I recommend the Series X right now, to be clear. The PS5’s launch games are better than the PS4’s, but don’t feel so good that the PS5 is a must-get on day one. The system’s user interface feels unfinished and in need of some updates. I like my PS5 now, but I could have waited a few more months, maybe until the new Ratchet & Clank, before it began to feel essential to pay the PlayStation tax.