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Sony PlayStation 5 review: Wild look, wilder new controller, and big performance boost

Daniel Howley
·Technology Editor
·7 min read

Sony’s (SNE) PlayStation 5 is nearly upon us. The company’s first completely new console since it launched the PlayStation 4 in 2013, the PlayStation 5, or PS5, which launches Nov. 12, is just about as impressive of an upgrade you can ask for.

It features an unorthodox design, impressive new DualSense controllers, and oodles of technology upgrades and additions including ray tracing for improved lighting in games, and a solid-state drive for faster load and startup speeds.

Like Microsoft’s (MSFT) the Xbox Series X, the PS5 starts at $499. A digital-only version, which lacks a disc drive, starts at $399, making it more expensive than the less powerful, $299 Xbox Series S. But for PlayStation fans, what matters is how games play. And the answer to that, in a word, is: fantastic.

A wild design and even wilder controller

I can’t talk about the PS5 without first discussing its design. It’s nothing like prior generation consoles, or anything you’ve really seen before. To be blunt, the PS5 looks like the love child of an alien and VCR.

Its outer shell is made of two large white panels and features a dramatic swooping, clam-like design. Between the shells is the actual heart of the system wrapped in a black casing with massive fan grills on either side. I don’t want to undersell the size of the cooling system for the PS5, either.

In a recent teardown video, Sony showed off the PS5’s gargantuan heatsink and fan meant to pull heat away from its internal components, and they looked as though they made up 25% of the entire system. All of that is meant to keep the console’s custom AMD CPU and GPU nice and cool.

Those cooling solutions also add to the PS5’s ridiculous footprint. At more than 15 inches long, the PS5 dwarfs any modern console on the market including the new 11.8-inch Xbox Series X. This doesn’t so much make a statement, as scream “I’m here!” directly into your ear.

All of that bulk needs to sit somewhere, and for most people, that’ll likely be in their entertainment center. You can stand the PS5 up straight in the air using its included stand, but chances are it’s not going to fit your space. I set up my review unit so that it’s seated on its side, which certainly helps make it more manageable. You will, however, have to use that included stand in that orientation as well, as the system itself doesn’t have a flat base to sit on.

To match the white and black futuristic aesthetic of the PS5 console, Sony has redesigned its controllers, as well. I love the PS4 controller, and was a bit nervous when I saw the PS5’s, but after using them, I can confirm those fears were unfounded.

Yes, the PS5’s DualSense controller is chunkier and heavier than the PS4’s DualShock 4, but there’s a reason for that. See, Sony has added improved haptic feedback to the DualSense, as well as all-new adaptive trigger buttons.

You’ll notice the upgraded haptic feedback when doing things like running across certain surfaces in games or bumping into objects. Rather than a heavy buzz, the controller can now vary the kind of feedback more granularly, making each sensation feel different than the last and adding the gameplay realism.

The new DualSense controller is chunkier than the DualShock 4, but features innovative adaptive triggers that add tension to button presses. (Image: Sony)
The new DualSense controller is chunkier than the DualShock 4, but features innovative adaptive triggers that add tension to button presses. (Image: Sony)

But it’s the adaptive triggers that will blow you away. The triggers work by changing the amount of pressure required to press them, making it feel like you’re pushing against an object. So, say you’re playing “Spider-Man: Miles Morales,” using your web shooters to zip around the city. Each time you fire off a new well, you’ll feel a small amount of resistance. Or say you’re playing “Astro’s Playroom,” and need to pull something out of the ground. As you strain to pull, the tension in the trigger will increase until you finally grab what you wanted.

It’s a feature that I can see panning out well for racing and fighting games, as well as horror titles. I just hope developers adopt it quickly.

The PS5 interface

I loved the PS4’s interface. It was simple, with a horizontal row of my most used games and apps, and a series of menus available if I wanted to dive deeper into the system’s settings. The PS5 largely builds on that design with the same kind of horizontal row look, but separates games and media into two sections.

I found the separation to be a welcome change, since I frequently have to scroll past Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video, to get to my games on my PS4. There’s also a new quick action menu at the bottom of the screen accessible by pressing the PS button on the DualSense controller.

Rather than taking you back to the PlayStation Home screen, the quick action menu will provide you with a series of options ranging from switching between recently used apps and games to checking to see if your friends are online, or turning off the system entirely. Overall, it feels like a more streamlined interface that can only get better with time.

What about the games?

Right, right. The games. Well, I’ve been playing “Spider-Man: Miles Morales” and “Astro’s Playroom” for several days now and can confirm that both look absolutely spectacular.

“Spider-Man” in particular seems to benefit from the PS4’s enhanced capabilities by allowing more on-screen action at once. In a game where you’re swinging around Marvel’s version of New York City, the more pedestrians and cars on the sidewalks and streets, the more alive everything feels. Add to that the enhanced lighting effects thanks to the PS5’s ray tracing capabilities, and New York has never looked better on a console.

'Spider-Man: Miles Morales' helps the PS5's new capabilities shine including its ray tracing and incredibly fast load times. (Image: Sony)
'Spider-Man: Miles Morales' helps the PS5's new capabilities shine including its ray tracing and incredibly fast load times. (Image: Sony)

“Astro’s Playroom” meanwhile is more of a lighthearted platform, and as such doesn’t require much realism in terms of looks, but the amount of on-screen animations, whether that be flowers blowing or non-player characters moving in the background, is truly impressive.

I also fired up some of my PS4 games on the PS5 including “Tony Hawk Pro Skater: 1+2” and “Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s about time,” and overall performance jumped considerably. I mean, it takes a while for “THPS” to load on the PS4, but with the PS5 it felt like I was able to jump into games in an instant.

Speaking of speeds, the PS5’s start up is worlds faster than the PS4, and with the ability to quickly jump between games, you can get to playing without much downtime.

Should you get it?

The PS5 is not cheap, and it’s not small, and its design certainly won’t be for everyone. But as someone who has owned every Sony console since the original PlayStation, I can safely say, you’re going to want to get the PS5.

The graphics and quality of life improvements such as its high-speed hard drive, along with the new DualSense controller, make it worthwhile, and that’s before you take into account Sony’s enviable stable of first-party franchises that you can only play on its consoles.

In other words, the PS5 is big in every way. And more than worth it.

Got a tip? Email Daniel Howley at dhowley@yahoofinance.com over via encrypted mail at danielphowley@protonmail.com, and follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.

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