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PlayStation 5 Review: Huge Console, Huge Performance

Mambo. Element. Jackson. These are undeniably some of the most famous number fives in the world. But now there’s a new contender: The PlayStation 5. Sony’s latest video game console is vying to be the biggest, baddest, and boldest mamma jamma around and go toe to toe with the Xbox Series X to be the king of next gen consoles. But how does the PlayStation 5 stack up to the competition? Is it worth your money and time spent in the virtual thunderdomes of pre-orders and Black Friday sales? Is it quieter than standing next to several jet engines at once?

The answer to these questions is a resounding yes, especially if you’re an existing PlayStation user and you’re looking for improved performance across the board. From its futuristic design to its mostly whisper-quiet performance to its blazingly fast load times, the PlayStation 5 is a dazzling piece of hardware that raises the bar for what we’ve come to expect from Sony. With a solid lineup of launch titles, gorgeous graphics, and a little bit of backward compatibility as a treat, the PS5 is a huge upgrade over the PlayStation 4 in ways that might not seem immediately apparent.

The Hardware
The PlayStation 5 and the DualSense controller

Sony

Before we get to those sweet, sweet games, let’s talk about the console itself. This review is for the PS5 Standard Edition, which has a disc drive. The Digital Edition, as its name suggests, does not.

Now, there’s no good way to put this: the PlayStation 5 is a certified freak. This thing is gigantic, uniquely shaped, and will likely require some rejiggering of your entertainment center. As I learned during our unboxing video, it is a substantial piece of equipment, thanks to the powerful hardware beneath its considerable hood.

While we’ve all had a good time comparing it to EVE from Wall-E, Seto Kaiba’s jacket, and Portal turrets, I appreciate Sony swinging for the fences and trying to make this console look and feel truly “next-gen.” Whereas the Xbox Series X is just a larger, X-er box, the PlayStation 5 feels like it walked out of ‘70s sci-fi concept art, but in a good way. It’ll be an even better way if they allow customers to purchase alternate faceplates, but I appreciate the design nonetheless.

That same design sensibility extends to the DualSense controller, which is a much weightier proposition than its predecessor. It just feels expensive, which is probably a trick of the design, like how they allegedly put metal weights in Beats by Dre headphones to make them feel more premium. There is a sense of heaviness and heft to the DualSense but not in a way that would adversely affect your performance or wear you out, unless you’re like the last of the Habsburg in which case a gust of wind could probably knock you over. If so, you have bigger problems.

Is it Loud as Hell?
A teardown of the PlayStation 5

Sony

One of the questions we’ve been asked the most about the PlayStation 5 is “how loud is it?” On the decibel scale, the PlayStation 4 could fall somewhere between the primal scream of a banshee shrieking across the Irish countryside and Hans Zimmer’s Inception noise played through a chorus of 100 tugboats.

As we learned in Sony’s PS5 teardown, to fix this complaint, Sony’s engineering team put a massive emphasis on cooling solutions. From using liquid metal on the CPU to a 120mm fan to dust collection ports that you can vacuum to a heatsink the size of Rhode Island, the PlayStation 5 is determined not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

And the PlayStation 5, I’m proud to report, is whisper-quiet 99% of the time. When I put a PlayStation 4 disc into it to test backward compatibility, which I’ll get to in a little bit, I experienced an Apocalypse Now-style flashback as I heard the disc whirring inside of the machine. But unlike the PS4, after about 15-20 seconds, it stopped and the sweet sounds of silence returned.

Whether this is from how I have it horizontally positioned in my media cabinet or some other airflow related factor in my setup, I’m not sure, but it was a minor complaint in what has largely been an extremely welcome upgrade over the PS4.

Lightning-fast load times
Insomniac's Spider-Man: Miles Morales on the PS5

Insomniac Games

The biggest innovation of this console generation, though, is the adoption of solid-state drives (SSD) in lieu of mechanical hard disk drives (HDD). As PlayStation lead system architect Mark Cerny explained in excruciating detail at the Game Developer’s Conference, the PS5’s SSD is quite literally a game-changer.

It is 100 times faster than the PlayStation 4’s speeds, according to Cerny. Load times are a thing of the past and fast-traveling in games like Spider-Man: Miles Morales takes place in the span of seconds. Literally, you could press X and be halfway across Marvel’s New York in the blink of an eye.

While it doesn’t have the same Quick Resume feature as the Xbox Series X, the PlayStation 5 is capable of suspending games, which means that you can get back into the action faster than ever and pick up where you left off with little to no delay. For anyone who has played a game like The Witcher 3 or Monster Hunter World, the lack of load times, smooth framerate, and ability to leap right into the action will breath new life into familiar favorites.

But what about the graphics?

In terms of graphics, the PlayStation 5 is simply stunning. The system is engineered to run all of your favorite games in 4K at steady framerates up to 120 FPS. Keywords there being “up to.” It’s capable of 8K as well, but that’s not a realistic function for most consumers unless you hate having several thousand dollars and own an 8K TV. But it’s that ability to run next-gen games and optimized current-gen games at a steady 60FPS in 4K that makes the PS5 a tremendous step up in quality over the PS4.

With advanced raytracing capabilities, the PS5 makes your favorite games look better than ever. While Spider-Man: Miles Morales is a blast and a half to play, part of the joy is stopping to admire the way sunlight reflects off of buildings or watching something small like how a character’s hair realistically blows in the wind. Suffice to say, the PS5 is a powerhouse of a system and I can’t wait to see what developers are able to do with it.

As with the Xbox Series X, we won’t get a sense of the full potential of the console’s capabilities until developers are able to put the pedal to the metal, but everything I’ve played so far looks, feels, and plays like what I want from a so-called “next-gen” console at least as a starting point. I’m also looking forward to seeing how certain PlayStation 4 games perform once they’ve been optimized for the PS5.

But what about the games?
Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Final Fantasy XVI, and God of War

Insomniac; Square Enix; Santa Monica Studios

Speaking of games, let’s face it: you aren’t getting a next-gen console just to watch Netflix; you’re theoretically getting a PlayStation 5 to play games—especially console exclusive titles like Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Demon’s Souls, and Bugsnax which will be available at launch. That’s to say nothing of console exclusives and timed exclusives like Horizon Forbidden West, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, and Final Fantasy XVI coming in the months ahead.

While the PlayStation 5’s library of launch titles is comparatively smaller when stacked up against the Xbox Series X and Game Pass’ considerable offerings, the PS5 lineup is no slouch. Through the PlayStation Plus Collection, you can play a wide variety of PS4 titles from Sony Interactive Entertainment Worldwide Studios like Bloodborne, Days Gone, Detroit: Become Human, and God of War, as well as third party offerings like Batman: Arkham Knight, Fallout 4, and Persona 5. These games will benefit from increased loading speed and improved framerates thanks to PS5’s Game Boost.

You’ll also have nearly the full library of PlayStation 4 titles you own available too through the PS5’s backward compatibility functionality. Unfortunately, if you were hoping to play anything from the PS3, PS2, or PS1, well you’re out of luck for the time being unless they decide to offer ports of these games through the PlayStation Store. While this may seem like a small complaint, it’s particularly glaring in light of the fact that the new Xbox consoles can play basically any game from every Xbox console generation.

If Sony didn’t prioritize this technology, that’d be one thing, but given that they were able to do so with the PS3 and chose not to with future consoles smacks of greed as they clearly want gamers to re-purchase digital versions of familiar favorites from the PlayStation Store, even if they already own physical versions of the same games. As far as backward compatibility policies go, it’s just plain backward and disappointing for people like me who just want to play Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete on the most modern device possible in the year of our lord 2020.

The $499 question: should you buy it?
The PS5 consoles and their accessory lineup

Sony

So the big question here—the $499 question—is should you buy the PlayStation 5? The answer is yes, but with a few caveats. If you’re looking for a categorical upgrade to your console gaming experience, the PlayStation 5 is a no brainer. If you have an extensive PlayStation 4 library and you’re in the market to upgrade your console, you should definitely buy it. Every game you’re playing now will play smoother, look nicer, and run better on the PS5.

As I advised with the Xbox Series X, if you don’t upgrade to the PS5, your life is not going to be noticeably worse. But it can be substantially better from a user perspective if you make the leap to the PlayStation 5. It’s a truly next generation console that looks the part. It’s a machine bursting with potential and I cannot wait to see what developers are able to do with it.

If you bleed Xbox green, then you’re better off going with the Series X and playing whatever makes you happiest. If you want to know more about that, check out our review on Nerdist.com. At $499, The PlayStation 5 is well worth the price of admission, especially if you have a large library of physical media like PS4 games and Blu-rays.

If you prefer to go disc-less, the PS5 Digital Edition is $399, a full $100 more expensive than its Xbox counterpart. But unlike the Series S, the PS5 Digital Edition didn’t sacrifice performance for form factor, so you’ll be getting effectively the same console with the difference of a disc drive if you go the Sony route. But considering how some major media companies rule that you don’t actually own the digital media you purchase, I’m glad I went with this colossal console taking up considerable real estate in my living room.

Featured Image: Sony

Editor’s note: The PlayStation 5 review unit was provided by Sony for the purposes of this review.

Dan Casey is the creative director of Nerdist and the author of books about the Avengers and Star Wars. Talk to him on Twitter about video games.