PlayStation 5 review: The exciting upgrade we hoped for

Nov 12, 2020, 7:22 AM

Playstation 5...

Sony announced in late September a digital version of the PlayStation 5 that has the same performance as the standard one, but would be $100 cheaper and do away with a disc player for playing physical games. Credit: Sony

    (CNN) — Sony’s new PlayStation 5 comes out on Thursday, and it’s been hotly anticipated by gaming enthusiasts.

The company’s last console, the PlayStation 4, dominated the gaming world, selling far more than the Xbox One. Seven years since the PS4’s initial release, the Japanese entertainment giant is looking to replicate that success with the PlayStation 5.

To convince gamers to splurge $500 on the next generation, the PS5 is relying on updated graphics, a newly redesigned controller and more exclusive games. Notably, the console launches at the same time as “Spider-Man: Miles Morales,” a sequel to the 2018 fan-favorite “Spider-Man.”

I tested the standard version of the console, provided by Sony before launch, for a week, comparing it to the PlayStation 4 Pro, a mid-generation upgrade released in 2016. I tried demanding games like “Spider-Man: Miles Morales,” explored Sony’s tools for recording and capturing gameplay and noted how the controller felt in my hands.

There’s a cheaper version of the PS5 that doesn’t have a disc drive, called the PS5 Digital Edition, for $400. Otherwise, the two consoles have the same technical specifications, but you’ll have to download or stream all your games for the Digital Edition.

How it performs

Let’s first consider how games look and feel on the PS5.

More TVs are 4K these days, so for anyone still using an original PlayStation 4 that only plays games at 1080P screen resolution, the PS5 offers a nice 4K upgrade. But for someone with a 2016 PlayStation 4 Pro, which can run 4K, the bump in smoother graphics may not feel significant.

The PS5 claims to support 8K, but the console’s resolution caps out at 4K in the settings.

Sony said that the PS5 is compatible with 8K screens at launch and will be able to display 8K “after a future software update.”

Where the PlayStation 5 starts to make its case is in its superior processing power and graphics. It’s far more powerful than the PlayStation 4 Pro, and can launch games quickly and with greater visual clarity.

While playing an open world, horseback riding game like “Ghost of Tsushima,” a PlayStation exclusive, the grass and plains of looked crisper and sharper on PS5 than they did on the PlayStation 4 Pro. Those visual benefits can be easy to miss if you aren’t looking closely, and may not be a selling point for gamers on a budget who don’t care about having the best-looking graphics.

The PlayStation 5 loads games about 10 to 20 seconds faster than the PlayStation 4 Pro. It can also read physical discs a few minutes faster. That could make a difference for impatient gamers.

Both consoles generate a decent amount of fan noise when reading physical discs or downloading new games from the internet. Sony said its goal for the PS5 was to make it quieter, but from our observation, both were moderately noisy. The Xbox Series X, by comparison, is far quieter than its predecessor, the Xbox One X.

All consoles I tested hit about 120 degrees in temperature when engaged in intense gameplay.

Sony’s entertainment hub and games store on the console aren’t ready for review yet, according to Sony.

Games it supports

The most attention grabbing part of the PlayStation 5 is its next-gen games, which will be available on launch day.

One of them comes pre-installed on every console. “Astro’s Playroom,” a three-dimensional platformer, feels next-gen from the get-go. It’s an excellent showcase of the PlayStation 5’s redesigned controller.

The game takes up about 11GB of space, which could be annoying for gamers looking to conserve every last gigabyte, but it’s Sony’s way of immediately throwing you into the action when you load up the console.

“Astro’s Playroom” makes creative use of the PS5 controller’s new capabilities, including a point where you can blow on your controller to get a fan in-game to blow harder.

The game makes use of the PS5 controller’s speaker to bring those sounds super close and make the environment feel more real. The PS4 controller also had a speaker but not every game made use of it.

Then there’s Sony’s flagship PS5 exclusive, “Spider-Man: Miles Morales,” which ramps up the excitement with a new protagonist seen in the blockbuster 2018 film “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” It’s set in Harlem, New York and features ray-tracing, a technology that adds more realistic shadow and lighting effects.

To start off, the game has you change your brightness settings, while it shows Miles Morales fiddling with his phone on the subway. It’s a nice segue into a game that features plenty of spiderweb slinging and controller rumbles during fights against mobsters and supervillains. It’s the perfect demonstration of the PlayStation 5’s capabilities.

While the PlayStation platform’s biggest draw will continue to be games, not all of the new titles are exclusive to the PS5. “Miles Morales” will be available on PlayStation 4, which could dissuade some people from upgrading right away. “Astro’s Playroom,” meanwhile, is exclusive to PS5.

An optimized version of “Ghost of Tsushima” takes full advantage of the PS5 controller, exuding very specific “pitter patter” vibrations when the samurai lands on his feet, while the PS4 controller gives a more generic rumble for the same action.

The PS5 comes with 825 GB of storage, which I used up far too quickly. The console required 100 GB to run apps and games properly, leaving me with about 700GB to download games. I was able to get nine games in before running out of space. Additional storage can be purchased, which could add to the price.

Everything else you need to know

The console itself is taller and wider than the PlayStation 4 and resembles a gigantic binder and when it’s turned on, the black trim looks very appealing.

When you first load up the PlayStation 5, you’re greeted with a luxurious-looking user interface sprinkled with iridescent bubbles. It’s got a black backdrop, fitting for fans of dark mode on apps.

It’s a big difference from the solid blue backdrop of the PlayStation 4 Pro. The new interface also plays music from the games in your library, such as jazz from “Persona 5” and hip hop from “Spider-Man: Miles Morales.”

Be sure to transfer your save data from your PlayStation 4 to your PS5, as the system may not do it for you. My PS5 didn’t cross save my progress in games like “Ghost” and “Final Fantasy VII: Remake” until I went into settings manually through a complicated process to transfer it. Sony said that this data transfer process is common for new PS5 owners. The Xbox Series X, by contrast, offers instant cross-saving.

You can take screenshots or screen record your gameplay for an hour and upload files to social media or a USB drive. That’s compared to Microsoft, which lets you easily upload photos and video to the One Drive.

Bottom line

If you already own a PS4 Pro, as opposed to an old 1080p PlayStation, then the PlayStation 5’s benefits may be a little more elusive. Still, for $500, you get a sleek new user interface, and slightly better-looking games, but that’s about it.

Sony’s challenge may be getting gamers to upgrade their systems while the PS4 supports many of the new games being released. As developers start making games just for PS5, the console could grow more appealing.

But for people excited about buying-in right away, the PlayStation 5 doesn’t disappoint with experiences in “Miles Morales” and “Astro’s Playroom” that hint at the potential of other titles to come. The future for PlayStation is very promising.

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PlayStation 5 review: The exciting upgrade we hoped for