Gaming consoles are generational jumps, born out of the fact that the product cycles for these consoles aren’t annual. Case in point -- the PlayStation 3 was launched in November 2006. Seven years later, came the PlayStation 4, upgrading the internals and the overall design from playful youth to an austere black box with sharp angles that meant business. Then came the mid-life upgrade with the PS4 Pro and PS4 Slim, back in November 2016. Four years later (and some months, in case of India), we now have the Sony PlayStation 5 -- with a bunch of promised upgrades that aim to give you the smoothest console gaming experience you could have hoped for, and a design that breaks any sense of convention and margins.
At the heart of the PS5 is a new, custom processor based on the AMD Zen 2 architecture, a custom GPU based on the AMD RDNA 2 architecture that, technicalities aside, promises 4K gaming at consistently smooth 120fps frame rates, a custom 825GB super-fast SSD (a very important point, this), expandable storage slot for NVMe SSDs, and if you go the full monty, a 4K Blu-Ray drive as well. Spec for spec, it is almost equal to the Microsoft Xbox Series X, its nemesis. But, start playing on it, and you realise how choosing a gaming console is much more than deciding on spec sheets. Oh, and it also has a radically upgraded DualSense controller.
How, then, do these things come together in what happens to be Sony’s promise of the best gaming experience you’ve ever had? Is the controller really worth all the hype, and can the PS5 keep up with consistent frame rates even in marathon gaming sessions? Here’s the full lowdown.
First up, the polarising PS5 design
The PlayStation 5 has divided opinions about its design ever since it was first unveiled. After multiple renders and concepts, the PS5 design did not disappoint those who hope that product designers break out of the mould and try something adventurous. As a result, you get a PlayStation body that has curved outer surfaces. While I must admit that I wasn’t a big fan of the design since its first reveal, my opinion has somewhat changed over time, particularly in the time that the PS5 has been with me.
This is a design that grows on you, and over time, you tend to start appreciating it more. The PlayStation is, after all, a gaming console. While gaming has admittedly evolved from the geek’s pastime to a serious, multi-billion dollar industry worldwide, the fact of the matter is that the fun bits should never be taken out of all things gaming. The PS5, on this note, puts the fun right back where it belongs – with the gamer. With the cool blue LED lighting that underscores the wavy white plastic exterior, the PS5 has an almost oceanic feel to it. Coupled with the PlayStation 5 interface’s new, super smooth aesthetic, the overall console has a near-therapeutic beauty to it, when you take all things together.
I prefer this outlandish console design any day over the austere black box of the Xbox Series X, that looks part-NAS and part-purifier. It looks undoubtedly futuristic, but at the same time, doesn’t take itself too seriously. It doesn’t just want to be a gadget that serves a purpose at home – it is a gadget that is meant to play. And play, it does.
Gaming performance on the Sony PlayStation 5
If you have been gaming for a while, you’d know that sustained 4K gaming at high frame rates can give a solid beating to even the most powerful of GPUs. You’d probably also know that for most casual gamers at home with a middling, average TV at hand, it isn’t really imperative to have 4K gaming at super smooth frame rates at all times – most games, even the latest AAA titles such as Cyberpunk 2077 and Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla are still more than playable at full HD. That, though, isn’t the point here, for the Sony PlayStation 5 certainly has more than enough firepower to give your gaming experience the 4K upgrade.
Where the Sony PS5 is really strong is in high resolution, high frame rate gaming. To be exact, 4K 120fps gaming. This means that not only do you get all the rich, crisp and ultra-sharp resolution of resplendent games at 4K, but you also get HDR support for TVs that are HDR certified. The best part – this console can do all that at consistent frame rates of up to 120fps. Unfortunately, my TV at home only supports 60Hz refresh rates, so games playing at 4K HDR got capped at 60fps. But even with the 60fps cap, it really did look stunning, and how.
In Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, a game that has been tuned for the PS5, the entire New York City looks absolutely magical, especially during sunset or in the neon-drenched nightly hours. Ray tracing does its magic here, with reflections offering a smooth, fluttering play on light around, and shadows that look naturally detailed. Miles Morales is designed for high-flying combats, boss fights and missions that are rather fun, but require unadulterated speed for you to enjoy these sequences to the hilt. It is here that the PlayStation 5 really comes alive – elaborate, elongated fight sequences are not just fun, but waaaaaay too much fun, even for someone who enjoys sports titles more than action ones.
When you face off against Rhino in the opening sequence, you hurtle through the city trying to beat the living daylights out of the villain. You web-zip across the city, which is also when you encounter some of the best opening views that you can in a game. The setting sun offers a beautiful, mellow halo that reflects off glass buildings and off unassuming puddles in the street, all to create a beautiful setup for the game.
Then, there’s the combat itself. While a large part of this is due to the DualSense controller (more on this below), the sheer speed of the console lets you enjoy the intricate and prolonged combat sequences without any hint of a stutter or a letdown. Combo attacks that require super-fast reaction times and split-second punches all happen at incredible speeds, which is where you realise that Sony wasn’t kidding about how big an upgrade to gaming would this be, simply by virtue of the added speed.
It is also good to note that in the span of over one week, during which the PlayStation 5 has been constantly used for both marathon gaming sessions and streaming shows, the console appears to be impressively silent. It may react differently when it gets older, faces more dust and is made to operate for continuous hours in Delhi’s sweltering summer heat, but through a six-hour gaming session under cool temperature environments in an air-purified room, the PS5 hardly creates a buzz. You can hear its fans once you go close to it, and after six hours the console’s body did heat up mildly, but neither is really an issue. For reference, you can’t hear the fans until you are within about two feet of the console’s vicinity.
Playing PS4 games on the PlayStation 5
For good measure, we reckon that for the immediate future, you would largely have an arsenal of PS4 games that you’d want to play on the PlayStation 5. The kind folks at Electronic Arts lent us Need For Speed: Heat and FIFA 20 – two imaginably popular titles that are also playable on the PS5. The absolute smoothness of the console means that NFS Heat’s chase and racing sequences use ray tracing and the smooth frame rates to certainly look better than it did before. I have played both the games on an older generation Xbox One S on a 4K HDR TV, and the differences are there for all to see.
The elevated quality of the graphics wouldn’t be so apparent on a game like FIFA 20, which isn’t particularly the most demanding game out there. However, the PS5’s added fluidity thanks to the SSD, the added memory and the processor’s chops mean that even in FIFA’s at-times tedious menus, you tend to get things done much, much faster. For instance, to sign three players for a club, edit their jersey numbers, set up two scouts and then play an upcoming match in FIFA 20, it took the operational bits about half the time than what I spent doing a similar sequence of things in FIFA 21 on PC – that too on a top-notch gaming laptop with a 10th gen Intel Core i7 CPU and the Nvidia RTX 2070 GPU inside. Sony’s definitely up to something here.
Older and more elaborate PS4 games, such as Ghost of Tsushima, Far Cry 5, The Last of Us and Uncharted will most likely have a similar effect on how they feel on the console. Other reviewers have pointed out that to make the most of the Sony PlayStation 5, one should get themselves a TV that supports 4K HDR at 120Hz frame rates. However, such TVs aren’t just far and few today, but are also very expensive. Unless you are a regular or a professional gamer who’s very particular about this, your existing 4K TV (which normally supports 60Hz refresh rates) should be good enough for the PS5. However, if you’re still using a full HD TV at home, it is most likely a good idea to upgrade.
The wonderful DualSense controller
It is when you try out the bundled Astro’s Playroom, or play a title like Spider-man: Miles Morales, that you realise exactly how big an impact the controller has on the overall gameplay experience. The new haptic engine in the triggers give you an actual feel of the tension as you sling webs across the city, and you can literally feel the punches as you rain in on your enemies. It is one thing to talk about tactile experiences when gaming, but it is something completely different to experience it in person. Future PS5 titles will likely make even more use of the haptic engine on the new Sony DualSense controller, but even right now, the general controller feedback is absolutely delightful.
It provokes you to think more as you attack, for you can feel both the hits you take and the hits you make when taking on the temporary role of “New York’s only Spider-man”. While the game itself warrants a separate review altogether, it has to be said that alongside the stunning graphics and the super smooth frame rates, it is the controller feedback that pulls the gamer’s attention through and makes the experience so, so engaging. It is super entertaining to actually feel your actions make a tangible impact not just visually, but by touch as well.
The in-game menus have also been overhauled. They are still almost entirely familiar if you’ve ever played on a PlayStation before, but is more convenient now. For instance, you do not need to open a separate app to access the PlayStation Store to buy games or redeem codes now – simply swipe left to access the shop. Games and media apps such as Apple TV and Netflix are segregated cleanly into two separate tabs, so things are super neat and easy to access here. The PlayStation misses out on support for a key streaming app in India – Hotstar, which many local audiences here (me included) would have hoped for. Tapping on the PS button on the controller brings up the bottom bar that lets you switch apps and games, access recorded gameplay, adjust settings, view trophies and track the download of the games, and it is all super smooth and uncluttered as an experience.
Verdict: This is what you’d want your gaming console to be
The Sony PlayStation 5 is, undoubtedly, very good. It makes a whole world of difference with its speed of in-game transitions, gameplay and action sequences. The richness of ray tracing graphics at high frame rates in 4K HDR resolution continues without a sign of hiccup or the console making ungainly noises or heating up. The controller, along with its superb haptic feedback, now also comes with a touchpad that makes it super easy to type out game and app names in the PS Store. Older games look and play even smoother on the PS5, and everything from the menu design to the PS5 animations look mature and classy.
This is contrasted by the design language that is irreverent to things that it “should have” and “could have” been, and I’m happy that Sony chose to go the bonkers way with the PS5 design. Personally, I’d buy the PlayStation 5 Digital Edition since I never buy a game’s physical copy and always download it, but if you’re someone who’d buy older or used games, or rent games from vendors, or don’t have a good-enough internet connection at home, the standard PS5 is your bet. However, you’d pay a good Rs 10,000 extra for it (the PS5 costs Rs 49,990 in India and the PS5 Digital Edition costs Rs 39,990).
Whichever way you go, if you’re occasionally or actively into gaming, go buy the PS5. You’d be well served for at least the next half-a-decade of games to come, and soon enough, you’d realise that it is, indeed, a gadget worth buying.