PS5 console review – a positive start to a new generation

GameCentral reviews the PS5 hardware and software, including how it compares to the Xbox Series X in terms of value for money.

There are many that believe this will be the last generation of video game consoles. That once the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X reach the end of their natural life, in six or so years, there’ll no longer be a need for local hardware because it’ll be possible to stream video games onto any device you want. You’ll still need a controller but the idea of a big plastic box sitting under your TV is probably going to seem very old fashioned in a decade or two.

They’ve never admitted it in so many words but that certainly seems to be what Microsoft thinks, as they continue to experiment with cloud streaming and position Xbox Series X/S as merely one outlet amongst many for the Xbox experience. They surely would’ve preferred to have some exclusive games ready for the Xbox Series X launch but the fact that they see its almost non-existent games line-up as a non-fatal problem shows just how different a game they’re playing to Sony.

Microsoft has been forced along a different path by the failure of the Xbox One but considering the overwhelming success of the PlayStation 4 it’s unsurprising that Sony is less eager to shift paradigms. That may cost them in the long run, but it does mean that at launch the PlayStation 5 is a significantly more interesting prospect than the Xbox Series X/S.

One of our main complaints about the Xbox Series X is that it just doesn’t feel like a new console, let alone the most powerful one ever made. The dashboard is the same, the controller is virtually the same, and all the games are the same as those that are already out. The PlayStation 5 though is the exact opposite, in that it is clearly very different from the PlayStation 4, while still maintaining backwards compatibility.

The PlayStation 5, as is by now well established, is gigantic and although we’re beginning to turn against the design of the machine (in total darkness it still gives off too much light) it is at least something new.

Rather than what it looks like, the most important hardware question for the PlayStation 5 is how much noise it makes, given how distractingly loud the fan got with its predecessor. We’ve not got all the launch games in yet to test but nothing so far has caused it to make any unusual amount of noise. It seems to be at least as quiet as the Xbox Series X, with both being effectively silent when you’re sitting at a normal distance from the console.

Although some elements are still similar, the user interface has been streamlined and reorganised, so that everything’s laid out a bit more logically and there are more interactive elements. The most obvious of these are the Activities cards which highlight individual quests or collectables in a game, acting as a sort of bookmark but also providing advice, including video clips, on how to beat the section or obtain the item.

Like the Xbox Series X, the PlayStation 5 is also able to quick resume a game if you turn it off and come back to it later. Although the Switcher icon that some noticed on the Home menu is basically just a history button, showing you the last few games or apps that you used and starting them up from scratch if you want to play them again.

Sony has spent quite a bit of time promoting the PlayStation 5’s new 3D sound system but nothing we’ve experienced so far seems particularly extraordinary, whether using headphones or not. Instead, the most impressive aspect of the PlayStation 5 hardware is the new DualSense controller, which is a major improvement on the DualShock 4 and a definite rival for the Xbox as the best gamepad ever.

The fact that the analogue sticks are still level with each other, like the DualShock, still feels like a decision made for branding reasons rather than practical ones, but otherwise it’s a very solid gamepad with a nice heft, perfect weight, and a built-in microphone. The vertical edges of the touchpad do light up but, unlike the much hated lightbar, they don’t reflect in the TV screen and we never noticed them – or the light showing when you have the microphone switched off – while we were playing.

What makes the DualSense feel so next gen though is the extremely versatile new force feedback, which is used to simulate everything from the pitter patter of rain on your head to different surfaces you walk over, from grass to volcanic rock. Even better than that is the adaptive triggers, which depending on the game can either vibrate or offer resistance, acting like a clutch or a trigger or giving the impression of pulling an arrow across a bow before firing it.

We’re sure some will dismiss these tricks as a gimmick, but they’ve only added to the immersion in the games we’ve played. And while launch games usually use such features in the most obnoxious and overbearing way possible everything so far has been remarkably restrained and only used to good purpose.

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In terms of graphical power, the tech specs suggest that the PlayStation 5 is slightly less powerful than the Xbox Series X, while its SSD is faster. Since there’s no game that is even close to pushing the capabilities of the Xbox Series X there’s no way to demonstrate that yet, and in any case we’re only able to talk about Astro’s Playroom and Spider-Man: Miles Morales at the moment – but both those games are far more impressive, and interesting, than anything we’ve seen on the Xbox Series X.

We don’t have Demon’s Souls in yet, which looks to be the most technically capable of the launch titles, but there’s literally no comparison with the Xbox and PlayStation 5 line-up given Microsoft’s complete reliance on cross-gen games and older Xbox One titles.

Sony were clearly planning to have even more ready for the PlayStation 5’s launch, with Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart using every trick in the console’s book but now delayed until early next year. There are rumours that Gran Turismo 7 is relatively imminent too, as presumably is Horizon Forbidden West – given it’s also being released on PlayStation 4.

The PlayStation 5 is an impressive console and while many of its features, such as fast loading and the ability to run games at native 4K or 60fps, are replicated by the Xbox Series X the superior games line-up and the new features of the DualSense stand above anything Microsoft is offering so far.

All of which brings us back to the same question we asked at the end of the Xbox Series X review, is the console any good and is it worth getting this year?

On that first point the PlayStation 5 is clearly a very capable machine and generally good value for money – especially the Digital Edition which is £90 cheaper and yet the only difference is no disc drive. In terms of games we’d advise waiting until all the reviews are in, but this seems very likely to be the strongest launch line-up of any PlayStation console (even if that’s not actually a very high bar).

The biggest issue with the PlayStation 5 at the moment is simply the cost of the games. £70 for most of the first party titles almost seems like a purposeful counter to the excellent value for money offered by Game Pass and may go down as a critical home goal for Sony.

The situation in terms of pricing and subscriptions is almost certain to change over the course of the generation, for both consoles, but while we can’t predict the future we can tell you that right now the PlayStation 5 is an excellent console and well worth getting as soon as you can afford it.

The PlayStation 5 releases on November 19 in the UK (November 12 outside Europe), retailing at £449.99. The PlayStation 5 Digital Edition is out the same day for £359.99.

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