PS5 Review: Play has no limits

Stevivor has had the week to put the PS5 through its paces, and our full thoughts on features like loading times, backwards compatibility, enhancements, UI and more can be found within.

PS5 look and feel

The PS5 is a large unit. It is taller (or longer, depending on orientation) than Microsoft’s Xbox Series X, but not as heavy. Its sweeping, matte white faceplates make the console look futuristic in the same way that set pieces on Star Trek in the 1960s were meant to; you get it, but you don’t necessarily buy into it. The faceplates surround a glossy black core, which in turn is illuminated by thin lights that wrap around its edges. Just like the PS4, those highlights detail what the console’s doing: orange means its in standby mode, while white means it’s powered on.

Unlike the Xbox Series X, which gathers air and churns it out a large vent along its top (or right-hand side), the PS5 ejects hot air out its rear, no matter the orientation. As such, it’s incredibly important that you leave ample room for ventilation wherever you decide to place it. After hours-long play sessions, the PS5 is a little hot to the touch, but not distressingly so. Unlike the PS4 Pro, which constantly sounds as if a jet engine has fired up in your living room, the PS5 is whisper quiet.

The PS5 relies upon a stand that’s required regardless of the orientation you’ve decided to place it in. Vertically, you’ll need to pop off a small screw covering from the unit’s bottom to then screw in the base itself. Horizontally, there’s no screw necessary; two clips on the base are meant to lock into one of the white faceplates. While there’s no problems with the stand in vertical orientation, horizontally, problems abound. I’ve continually knocked the stand from the console, first by trying to slide the PS5 into place when putting it into my entertainment unit, and again when I’ve been plugging and unplugging external hard drives. It’s not hard to re-clip, but it is a bit frustrating.

DualSense look and feel

The DualSense is the best PlayStation controller I’ve ever used, building upon the success of Sony’s revamped DualShock 4. It’s a pleasant weight, closer to the Xbox Elite controller, and comes complete with textured grips and all the bells and whistles that you’d expect from a premium controller. Powered by a USB-C connection, the only thing it’s missing is a bundled charging stand like Microsoft’s high-end device (I didn’t think to order a DualSense Charging Stand and I’m currently considering rectifying that).

If you’ve used a DualShock 4, you can easily picture the DualSense. Lacking a lightbar at the front, it does have the familiar touchpad — with Share and Options buttons on either side – alongside a D-pad, 4 face buttons and dual analog sticks. Just below the PlayStation button is a new LED-button, which shows the status of an in-built mic: orange, for the record, means its muted. As someone who doesn’t care to use the feature all that often, it’d be nice if the controller would remain muted when turned on next, or even offered a setting in the PlayStation menu to be muted by default. As far as I can tell, that’s not to be. In the same vein, the controller has an in-built speaker which can be used in tandem with your traditional audio system. As I did on the PS4, I’ve already headed into PlayStation menus to silence it.

The DualSense’s biggest claim to fame is its new adaptive triggers and haptic feedback functionality, which we’ve already detailed in our Astro’s Playroom preview. I’ve already likened the latter experience to the Nintendo Switch’s HD Rumble functionality, gimmicky but not in the the negative sense; it’s something neat to experience that I’m not convinced will be implemented in third-party games… or even most first-party ones. I feel the same way about the adaptive triggers too – after playing through Spider-Man Miles Morales on PS4 using a DualShock, the same experience on PS5 using the DualSense just felt… weird. You primarily use the triggers to web-sling, and having to fight – just that teeny bit – to do so that feels unnecessary. I’m hopeful to play through a game that changes my mind on that.

The renamed Create button aligns with the features of the DualShock 4’s Share button: a single press (with a hold) will take a screenshot in default settings, and a double press will record a video.

Related: Astro’s Playroom Preview: First impressions of the PS5’s DualSense

User interface, functionality, and SSD storage space

The PS5 user interface is clean, sleek and sexy. You can still see the PS4 framework of old, though a new coat of paint has been applied. As I’m more familiar with the Xbox’s menu system, I occasionally struggled to find where a feature sat… though once found, I completely understand why something ended up where it is.

The revamped UI provides several new features, including a new Control Centre that pops up along the bottom of the screen with a single press of the DualSense’s PlayStation button. It’s a bit brain-bending, as it largely offers up the same functionality that was available on PS4 via a long button press. I keep tapping into muscle memory and held the button down, intending to bring up its features; that’ll instead take you to the main menu. With time, I’ll get there.

Regardless, the Control Centre provides for quick access to a downloads area alongside a feature called Switcher, which I hoped was similar to the Xbox Series’ Quick Resume feature; it’s not, sadly, as it launches a game from scratch rather than a suspended state, though taking some of the title cards you’d normally see away in the process. With that in mind though, PS5 game loading times make up for some of that with its extremely fast custom SSD (but we’ll put a pin in that for later). The PS5 will keep track of where you are within a single game as well — even after I put it into rest mode, it instantly loaded me back into Miles Morales when I turned the PS5 back on and hit the game’s corresponding tile on the main menu.

The PS5 Game Hub offers similar functionality as seen on the PS4, with developers able to detail in-game promotions and the like. Game Cards, first seen in Sony’s recent UI reveal, are pretty neat, though I’m not sure I’d use them that frequently. In Devil May Cry 5 Special Edition, they give an idea of how far along you’ve progressed. I used them in Astro’s Playroom to immediately load into a race rather than travelling through the game to get to the feature. I did the same inside Spider-Man Miles Morales to instantly load into Spider Challenges rather than fast-travel to them. I’ve not used any in-game hints as yet and haven’t encountered any spoiler warnings for things to come.

The UI has some limitations, and most are tied to storage and storage management. First, if you want to move or copy games between internal, expanded SSD storage or USB 3.0-powered external hard drives, you’ll need to sit and wait for the transaction to occur (though that’s not the case if you use a network transfer between PS4 and PS5 for your existing game library). Next, and even though it registered as an 8TB drive, the Seagate Game Drive I’d planned to use to beef up PS5 game storage shows up as an 8.01TB instead, thereby rendering it useless. I have handfuls of 2TB drives about, but with two USB ports at the console’s rear, a 4TB bump isn’t that large; it also means I can’t have a permanent cable to charge my DualSense unless I want it garishly sticking out the front of the unit.

Without a proper list of compatible SSDs to increase PS5 storage (nor support of the feature at launch) – and our confirmation that the PS5 has an available 667GB of an internal 825GB SSD available — data management is going to be a large issue for most players in the short-term. An absolute killer feature on PS5 is that you can simply tick a box to have PS4 games install to an attached USB 3.0-powered drive, incredibly useful when you want to keep the PS5’s internal SSD free for next-gen games.

Finally, the PS5 seemingly does away with folders and similar customisation for the Game Library, an Xbox My Games & Apps-style interface that lists owned titles, installed titles and those you can access via PlayStation Plus. I can’t find a way to make any folders, so you’re made to use the Game Library to launch titles outside of your most recently played ones (they’re accessible direct from the home screen).

Hovering over a title launches a condensed version of its Game Hub, at most times playing themed music and changing the appearance of the menu itself to match the game in question. While cool, I’ve found that Miles Morales and its thumping, bass-filled beat can get annoying if, like me, you’re simply hovering over the game while taking notes, talking to a housemate or otherwise momentarily distracted before getting into the game. I muted the sounds of the PS4 home screen in past and hope a similar option can be found, eventually, on PS5.(Update: You can! Here’s how.)

For the purposes of this review, we’re unable to review the PS5’s Media section, any entertainment apps or the PlayStation Store. We’ll update this portion of the review at the PS5’s launch.

PS5 video outputs

First off, let’s get this out of the way: the PS5 does not support 1440p resolution, only offering 720, 1080i, 1080p and 2160p (4K). While you have options for HDR, Deep Colour Output and RGB Range within the PS5’s menu system, you don’t have any control over frames-per-second outputs. With Devil May Cry 5 Special Edition, the PS5 said it was outputting in 4K and 60FPS until I went into its 120FPS prioritisation mode and it automatically dropped into 1080p so I could experience the action title with as many frames as possible.

Just like the Xbox Series S & X, the PS5 leverages HDMI 2.1, the most recent update of the HDMI specification that uses ultra high speed cables that support a bandwidth of 48G of data. That means it allows HDMI 2.1-capable displays the ability to output in 4K and 120FPS, or 8K at 60FPS with HDR.

Related: Devil May Cry 5 Special Edition Preview: Spoilt for next-gen visual choice

I don’t own an HDMI 2.1-capable display – though it appears Sony is sending one to test things out, and thank you in advance for the opportunity — but it’s not the end of the world if you don’t have a complaint TV. I can play games at 4K and 60FPS with HDR on both my LG C7 TV and LG monitor, or I can opt for downsampled 4K to 1440p, 60 FPS and HDR or upscaled 1080p to 1440p and 120FPS without HDR on my other LG monitor.

I’ve been bouncing between different resolutions and frame rates (with or without HDR), and at this point in time I’m happiest (I think) with 4K, 60FPS and HDR. Games look smooth, colourful and pretty and that’s enough to stop me from feeling the need to go drop thousands of dollars on new displays.

PS5 loading times

We admittedly didn’t have the same timeframe in which to whip out a stopwatch as with Xbox Series testing, but we still managed to test quite a number of PS4 titles in both native mode on PS4 Pro and via PS5 backwards compatibility on Sony’s next-gen console. From our – again, highly unscientific – tests, we’ve found that PS5 loading times of PS4 games were, on average, 50% faster than on PS4 Pro. What used to take more than a minute on Horizon Zero Dawn on PS4 Pro now takes half a minute on PS5. A 7 second load on Until Dawn now takes 2.5 seconds on PS5 Pro.

When it comes to PS5 games, we didn’t have a bunch to test so instead focused on Spider-Man Miles Morales in both its PS4 and PS5 varieties. While PS4 Pro loading times of 23 seconds were slashed to 11.5 seconds on PS5, the next-gen version of the game practically skips loading screens entirely, taking under 2 seconds to get you into the action. While these next-gen loading speeds are blisteringly fast, the lack of a Quick Resume-style feature as seen on Xbox Series consoles means you’ll still have to wait through title cards when starting a game from scratch. I understand the legalities of why these need to be shown, but you’ll be slowed down in the process nonetheless.

Data transfer speeds

To time how long it took to move or copy content to PS5 internal storage from an external USB 3.0-powered drive – the same drive that we used to test the Xbox Series X – we found that it took 118.05 minutes to transfer a total of 505.5GB. That means, on average, the PS5 takes 14.01 minutes to move content internally.

The real sticking point here, of course, is that PS5 players cannot play games – or do anything else really – when moving or copying games, a huge disadvantage when compared to similar functionality on Xbox. Again, the one expection to this is when you use your PS4 to transfer data to the PS5.

Backwards compatibility

In terms of backwards compatibility, we didn’t really have a chance to test out any features of Game Boost, the next-gen lift advertised by Sony in regards to specific PS4 games. We did have a chance to check out our library of titles and have found that, sadly, P.T. – Konami’s playable teaser, the announcement of the now-cancelled Silent Hills – is not playable on PS5 despite showing up on external storage (see above).

While there’s some confusion around select Ubisoft titles, we can confirm that Star Trek Bridge Crew loads and is playable on PS5, despite reports to the contrary, though it does seem to have some compatibility issues when using a DualSense controller. We’ve reached out to Ubisoft for more information on that title and other titles that were once detailed in a blog post.

User accounts, Primary consoles and game sharing

The PS5 changes it up when it comes to game sharing. Different from what we discovered about the Xbox One and Xbox Series consoles, a PlayStation user can have both a Primary PS4 and a PS5 with a feature called Console Sharing and Offline Play enabled. Despite a name change, the features across each PlayStation generation appears to be the same, meaning that anyone who logs into your Primary PS4 and/or Console Sharing PS5 will enjoy the same game entitlements as you.

In short, the PS5 absolutely shreds the Xbox Series set of consoles in some respects and falls short in others. The differences really fall to personal preference; you’ll do well with either (and even better with both). From its look and feel down to raw speed, the PS5 screams next-gen and speaks to the promise of what’s to come when developers really understand what they’re working with. The PS5 in high-demand for a reason, so hopefully you’ve been able to secure an order at launch or at least sometime before Christmas. If you didn’t and need to be patient, let me tell you this: the wait will be worth it. Strap in, get excited and welcome to the next-generation.

A PS5 console has been provided to Stevivor by Sony for the purposes of review.

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About the author

Steve Wright

Steve's the owner of this very site and an active games journalist for the past ten years. He's a Canadian-Australian gay gaming geek, ice hockey player and fan. Husband to Matt and cat dad to Wally and Quinn.