PlayStation 5 Review: New Era, Half Jump


The PlayStation 5 has finally arrived in India. After multiple bogus PS5 release dates, a belated price reveal, reported trademark troubles, unofficial pre-orders by opportunistic stores, a Twitter campaign by exasperated fans, messages from Sony India that tried to reassure but failed instead, followed by long periods of silence, and failed promises that took the PS5 launch date from late 2020 to February 2, 2021 — the wait is over. At least for those that were lucky enough to grab a pre-order (and not have it cancelled by outlets unable to complete the sale).

The PS5 retail units at launch in India have Ukrainian and Kazakh text all over the packaging and the manuals, which means the initial stock has either been re-exported from Eastern Europe/Central Asia, or PS5 units that were meant to resupply Ukraine and Kazakhstan and their neighbours have been diverted to India. Either way, it suggests Sony India scrambled to get hands on whatever PlayStation 5 stock it could — as late as February, nearly three months on from the global launch.

Still, the PS5’s arrival in India is a half-launch in some ways given Sony hasn’t brought the PlayStation 5 Digital Edition yet. There’s no release date on that version of the console, which is predictable and in keeping with Sony’s treatment of India. That doesn’t affect this review (though it does affect me as I was looking forward to it), because unlike Microsoft, the two Sony next-gen consoles are all but same, save for the 4K Blu-ray disc drive. The PS5 Digital Edition doesn’t have one. It’s Rs. 10,000 cheaper though. If you don’t invest in physical games, then that’s worth waiting for.

The delayed launch does mean that the PlayStation 5 has more to offer in India than it did at launch elsewhere. A lot more developers have put out next-gen upgrades for their games since November. And one of Sony’s in-house launch titles, Destruction AllStars, that got delayed to February and became part of the PlayStation Plus line-up, is a PS5 launch title in India for all intents and purposes. But while the PlayStation 5 has many games for you to experience, the biggest experience of them all — and quite possibly the real star of the show — might just be the new DualSense controller.

PlayStation 5 DualSense controller

While Microsoft opted to keep things more or less same with the new Xbox Wireless Controller, Sony has gone for a major overhaul. To begin with, there’s the new name itself: DualSense. PlayStation has been associated with the word DualShock for the longest time. (Fun fact: in 1994, the original PlayStation didn’t ship with DualShock, it came with the “PlayStation controller”. DualShock was introduced three years later.) A new one has been released for every new PlayStation (the PlayStation 3 launched with the Sixaxis, but was quickly replaced with the DualShock 3), which is how we ended up with the most recent DualShock 4 for PlayStation 4.

There are two major introductions to the DualSense: haptic feedback, and trigger resistance. Microsoft already had both (or something similar) on the Xbox One controller, but Sony is pushing it further.

In Astro’s Playroom — a 3D platformer pre-installed on every PlayStation 5 to give you an idea of what the DualSense is capable of — you can feel the pitter-patter of rain, the metallic clinks of Astro’s feet, or the gust of wind in your face. When Astro picks up a bow, is hanging from a bar, or trying to pull a giant lever, the trigger buttons become harder to press. At times, you’ll be asked to blow on the DualSense touchpad to kick off an interaction, or turn the controller from side to side (motion controls) to move Astro left or right. Astor’s Playroom is a show off of the DualSense’s repertoire.

At launch, no other game makes as much use of the DualSense. But there’s still a lot on offer. In Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, you can feel the movement of the subway, vehicles rushing by, receiving in-game text messages, and the push and pull of Miles’ parkour and swinging through New York. I played the game originally on the PS4 and it’s a richer experience on the PS5. In FIFA 21, you can feel every kick of the ball (when you’re in possession) with the DualSense. This is unique to PlayStation 5, and it doesn’t exist on Xbox Series X.

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DualSense wireless controller
Photo Credit: Aneesh Arora

On FIFA 21, as your players tire over the duration of the match, the analogue triggers get harder to press. You can immediately feel the difference as you bring on fresh legs with the help of substitutes. The triggers are also in play on Dirt 5, where you can feel the accelerator and the brake pedals pushing back at you. The uneven (dirt) tracks also lead to a range of vibrations throughout races.

But all the DualSense feedback has a limit. After a point, it can get numbing. My fingers developed a bit of pain after using the analogue triggers for a long period of time. I felt the need to take more breaks than I would otherwise. I’m not denying that the DualSense leads to a more immersive experience on the PlayStation 5, but the added realism might have its costs — it’s not as comfortable over marathon sessions. It also contributes to terrible battery life, depending on how often all those vibration motors and tension springs are being used.

For what it’s worth, it’s entirely up to developers to make use of the DualSense’s features: be it when, how long, and in what way. Right now, not many are bothering. In Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and NBA 2K21, the controller just vibrates like any other controller. And naturally, the DualSense’s fancy abilities are worth nothing with PS4 games that are the bulk of the collection right now. In titles such as Ghost of Tsushima, The Last of Us Part II, Marvel’s Avengers, or Cyberpunk 2077 — all recent games without a next-gen update — the DualSense doesn’t feel like anything special.

It has a bunch of tiny changes and introductions too. There’s a new button to turn off the built-in mic array. It glows orange when activated and sits right below the redesigned PlayStation button, which isn’t a simple circular button anymore. It’s shaped like the design of the PlayStation logo. The new light bar is now just two streaks of colour either side of the touch pad. The shoulder buttons (L1 and R1) are larger than they were, and the front-faced buttons all have a glassy feel to them, though don’t worry, they are still made of plastic.

The DualSense’s design and feel is also an upgrade on the DualShock 4. It’s more ergonomic and hence feels more comfortable over long periods of play (when you’re not facing a barrage of its haptic and force feedback), an issue I had with the DualShock 4. I would go so far to say the DualSense is the best controller available right now — but only when developers make proper use of its features.

What annoys me though is that Sony is using the DualSense’s host of capabilities as justification to minimise backward compatibility. The DualShock 4 does work on the PS5, but only with PS4 games. I was able to bring my family into games on the Xbox Series X because I had more Xbox One controllers, but my two DualShock 4s are more or less useless now.

The DualSense adds to the experience, and its removal wouldn’t break the game. I don’t see why Sony couldn’t just allow the DualShock 4 to be used with PS5 games.

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DualSense, and DualShock 4
Photo Credit: Akhil Arora/Gadgets 360

PlayStation 5 performance, games

  PlayStation 5 Xbox Series X
Price Rs. 49,990 Rs. 49,990
Resolution 4K @ 60fps, up to 120fps 4K @ 60fps, up to 120fps
Disc 4K UHD Blu-ray 4K UHD Blu-ray
CPU Custom 8-core AMD Zen 2 CPU @ 3.5GHz with SMT (variable frequency) Custom 8-core AMD Zen 2 CPU @ 3.8GHz (3.6GHz with SMT)
GPU Custom AMD RDNA 2 GPU 36 CUs @ 2.23GHz (variable frequency) Custom AMD RDNA 2 GPU 52 CUs @ 1.825GHz
  10.28 teraflops GPU power 12.15 teraflops GPU power
Memory bandwidth 448GB/s 10GB at 560GB/s, 6GB at 336GB/s
Storage 825GB PCIe Gen 4 NVMe SSD 1TB PCie Gen 4 NVME SSD
External storage NVMe SSD Slot, support for USD HDD 1TB expansion card, support for USB HDD
I/O throughput 5.5GB/s (raw), 8-9GB/s (compressed) 2.4GB/s (raw), 4.8GB/s (compressed)
Dimensions 390 x 104 x 260 mm (15.35 × 4.09 × 10.23 inches) 151 x 151 x 301 mm (5.94 x 5.94 x 11.85 inches)
Weight 4.5kg (9.92 pounds) 4.45kg (9.8 pounds)

Enough about what’s outside, let’s talk about what’s inside the PS5. As you can see, on a spec sheet basis, it’s more or less identical to the Xbox Series X. Like Microsoft, Sony has procured a custom chip and graphics unit from AMD: an 8-core AMD Zen 2 CPU clocked at 3.5GHz with SMT, or simultaneous multithreading, and an AMD RDNA 2 GPU with 36 CUs (compute units) and clocked at 2.23GHz. The GPU delivers 10.28 teraflops of power, lower than what’s offered by the Series X (12.15 teraflops). But a direct comparison it’s not, for the Xbox has more compute units (52) but a slower clock rate (1.825GHz). Additionally, the PS5’s CPU and GPU are both capable of variable frequency.

Unlike Microsoft, which has set a benchmark of 4K 60fps — Forza Horizon 4, Gears 5, and Halo: The Master Chief Collection all hit that — Sony has asked PlayStation Studios developers to aim for the lower 4K 30fps. PS5 launch titles are naturally following that advice.

As such, the default output for Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales is 4K 30fps (“Fidelity”). But it does offer 60fps in two optional modes: “Performance” and “Performance RT”. In both, the game achieves 4K resolution using temporal techniques from a low-res base. (“Fidelity” uses a 4K base and temporal techniques on top of that.) “Performance” turns off all PS5 enhancements (ray-tracing, enhanced lighting, and additional VFX), while “Performance RT” — the RT stands for ray-tracing — achieves 60fps performance and adds raytracing by “adjusting the scene resolution, reflection quality, and pedestrian density”.

The buttery smooth nature of 60fps is something you can immediately notice in Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, but switching between the various modes, I was hard pressed to notice how the other enhancements made a difference. The extra frames also help in Ghost of Tsushima — it never dropped or skipped a frame during my time with it — which doesn’t have a next-gen update and is running via backward compatibility. But because it’s not a native PS5 title, I sensed a lack of detail in its world. Still, it looks delightful, much better than it did on the PS4.

That is also true of The Last of Us Part II (another PS4 game without a next-gen update), where the environments feel almost real, and the faces, while already surprisingly managed detail on the PS4, are even better on the PS5. The extra horsepower helps the 2018 God of War too (yet another PS4 game without a next-gen update), with the smoothness and detail aiding its long-take cinematography, making it even more immersive than it already was on the PS4.

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Ghost of Tsushima on PlayStation 5
Photo Credit: SIE/Sucker Punch

At the same time, because they are missing proper next-gen upgrades, all three aforementioned PlayStation Studios titles — Tsushima, Last of Us 2, and God of War — feel like you’re playing them on the PS4 Pro, backed by better hardware. While Microsoft has provided free next-gen upgrades for many Xbox Game Studios titles — including the likes of Forza Horizon 4, Gears 5, and Halo: The Master Chief Collection — Sony hasn’t given us any upgrades. Bar one: Marvel’s Spider-Man Remastered, which is only available if you pay for Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales Ultimate Edition.

Sony is also not making it as easy as possible to help PS5 owners get the best experience out of a game. Say you transfer your PS4 games to your shiny new PS5, and hit play. PlayStation 5 will simply boot them up, without ever explicitly telling you if the game has a next-gen upgrade or not; Xbox Series X does exactly the opposite. The only sign that the game has a free PS5 update lies in a small box on the game’s home page. Sony will also make you download the PS5 version of the game from scratch, instead of trying to see how it can update the existing game files.

And good luck if you want to play games prior to the PS4 generation on your PS5. While Microsoft has brought every Xbox generation that has ever existed into one with Xbox Series S/X, Sony’s backward compatibility largely stops at PS4. Unless you’re lucky enough to have access to the game streaming service PlayStation Now where you live — it’s not available in India — and an internet connection that affords you the low latency you need to properly use it.

Sony also doesn’t have an Xbox Game Pass competitor, which is why it’s offering some great PS4 games as part of the PlayStation Plus Collection, available as part of your PlayStation Plus subscription. But the collection is small, 20 games as opposed to over 100 in Game Pass. Additionally, Microsoft will offer all upcoming Xbox Game Studios titles as part of Game Pass for no additional charge. Sony, on the other hand, is going to charge more per title, with prices going up to Rs. 5,000.

PlayStation 5 SSD storage

Title Load time
Bugsnax 7 seconds
Marvel’s Spider-Man Remastered 8 seconds
FIFA 21 9 seconds
Worms Rumble 11 seconds
Dirt 5 13 seconds
PlayStation 5 wake from rest mode 13 seconds
Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales 14 seconds
Marvel’s Avengers 19 seconds
NBA 2K21 19 seconds
PlayStation 5 boot 22 seconds
Astro’s Playroom 24 seconds
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla 28 seconds
Watch Dogs: Legion 29 seconds
God of War (2018) 30 seconds
Cyberpunk 2077 33 seconds
Ghost of Tsushima 41 seconds

Sony is also lagging behind Microsoft in the storage department. The PlayStation 5’s solid-state drive (SSD) — taking over from the mechanical hard disk drives (HDD) that existed in consoles until the PlayStation 4 Pro — is tinier than the one in the Xbox Series X: 825GB vs 1TB. It’s bad enough that the Xbox Series X has the same capacity as Xbox One, except every game is now in 4K. With Sony, a native 4K console (PS5) has less space than an HD-era console (PS4).

Naturally, the usable space is even lower, at 598GB. (For Series X, it’s around 800GB.) While I could fit around 15 games on the Series X (involving several major AAA titles), I could barely fit about 10 games on the PS5 before it was full. That included the likes of NBA 2K21, The Last of Us Part II, Ghost of Tsushima, Spider-Man Remastered, Spider-Man: Miles Morales, FIFA 21, and Marvel’s Avengers. In fact, I was unable to transfer all the games I had on my PS4, which sums up how we’re going backwards here.

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PlayStation 5 games sorted by size
Photo Credit: Akhil Arora/Gadgets 360

Of course, that’s because SSDs are much more expensive than HDDs. They do have their benefits, evident in the loading times you can see above. Like with the Series X, most PS5 games get you to the main screen in 30 seconds or less. In-game loading screens also last for a shorter while naturally, and are actually non-existent in games like Spider-Man Remastered, and Spider-Man: Miles Morales. Fast travel to a new location in New York City, and bam, you’re immediately there.

Unfortunately, PlayStation 5 doesn’t offer a “Quick Resume” feature à la Xbox Series X. Every time you switch between two games — including its latest games, Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Marvel’s Spider-Man: Remastered — they are relaunched from scratch. Meanwhile, the Series X will let you pick up right where you left off (as long as the game supports Quick Resume) even after a full shutdown.

The save file transfer system is also unnecessarily cumbersome, if you’re moving from a PS4 to PS5 version of a game. With both aforementioned Spider-Man games, you have to upload the save file from PS4 using the in-game menus, and then download it on the PS5. This should not be this hard, but while I was able to do this with Marvel’s Spider-Man, it failed for me with Miles Morales. On Xbox Series X, I jumped into Forza Horizon 4, and began driving in the exact car and from the exact location I left off a year ago on Xbox One X, without having to jump through any hoops.

Sony’s data transfer process — from PS4 to PS5 —is also more complicated than it is with Microsoft. With the Xbox, you simply turn on both consoles. That’s it. Sony requires you to put the PS4 in a special state wherein you can’t access anything else while it’s transferring data to the PS5. And it will also restart both consoles (the sender PS4 and the receiver PS5) after every data transfer procedure. The transfer is also done in one chunk unlike Xbox. For example, if you decide to transfer six games worth 300GB, the PS5 will show that as a 300GB download. You can pause it or cancel it entirely, but you can’t decide to cancel individual games once it starts. Microsoft is much better in this regard.

In terms of storage expansion though, Sony is being friendlier. Unlike the proprietary expansion slot on the Series X, you can theoretically slot in an extra compatible internal SSD on the PS5. But this isn’t actually available right now, and Sony says it will come in a “future update”. Meanwhile, you can play PS4 games off an external hard drive, but it can only be used to store PS5 games. If you want to play PS5 games, they must be moved to the internal SSD. Think of the other option as cold storage (to save you the download when you need the game).

If you’re hoping to save space by using discs, well, that long stopped being an option. Any disc you insert will have its data copied over to the SSD anyway, so your disc is nothing but an authentication device.

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God of War PS4 disc with PlayStation 5
Photo Credit: Akhil Arora/Gadgets 360

PlayStation 5 4K Blu-ray

Speaking of discs, the PlayStation 5 is the first Sony console to come with a built-in 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player. Even though Sony pioneered the Blu-ray format, it resisted putting one in the PS4 or even the PS4 Pro — likely because it would rather that consumers buy its dedicated 4K Blu-ray players. Microsoft was the first to include a 4K Blu-ray player in a console, with both Xbox One X and Xbox One S capable of playing 4K discs. Sony has finally decided to give in.

Annoyingly, it doesn’t seem to have any interest in paying Dolby (more). The PlayStation 5 doesn’t have support for Dolby Vision or Dolby Atmos. Instead, it’s limited to the open standard HDR10, and Sony’s own more restrictive 3D Audio.

HDR10 offers 10-bit colour depth, as the name suggests, while Dolby’s proprietary HDR (high-dynamic-range) affords 12-bit colour depth. In layman terms, that means HDR10 is capable of a billion colours, while Dolby Vision can display 68 billion colours.

3D Audio — Sony’s Atmos competitor — only works with headphones on the PS5. Meanwhile, Atmos not only works with both compatible headphones and speakers, but it also enjoys much wider support from the industry.

The Xbox Series S/X support both Dolby Vision and Atmos across the board: for 4K Blu-ray discs and streaming services. If you use the PS5 to watch Netflix and Disney+, you won’t get to watch your favourite shows and movies (the likes of Bridgerton and WandaVision) in glorious Dolby Vision or make use of your soundbar’s Atmos features.

Dolby Atmos is also available on all supported Series S/X games, with support for Dolby Vision coming in “early 2021”. Sony has shown no interest to offer that, with its games running in HDR10 on compatible displays.

Lastly, I wasn’t able to get HDMI-CEC — it’s called HDMI Device Link here — to properly work on the PS5, which meant my TV and (Sony) soundbar wouldn’t automatically turn on / off along with the console. It’s something I’ve never had a problem with on my PS4, so I’m curious what’s going on here. I could still use my TV remote to navigate the PS5 UI, for what that’s worth.

PlayStation 5 UI, navigation

Ah yes, the PS5 UI. As with the DualSense controller, Sony has gone for big changes — but it’s unclear to what end. While the changes to the controller improve matters, the sleek new look seems a lot less warranted. It’s a more a case of “Let’s do something new!” rather than “How can we make things better?” Because if this really was that much better, then Sony would’ve tried rolling it out for PS4 users too, as Microsoft has rightly done.

The PlayStation 5 home screen is now divided into two sections: “Games” and “Media”. Sony seems to be making it more convenient to use the PS5 as an entertainment centre. Funny given the lack of support we just talked about (and given that’s how the Xbox One lost the battle with Sony).

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PlayStation 5 home screen
Photo Credit: Akhil Arora/Gadgets 360

On both “Games” and “Media” screens, the game and app icons occupy a lot less space than they did on the PS4 (and hence, a far cry from the giant icons of the Xbox UI). The rest of the empty space is used to display a wallpaper from the game, along with details of your progress and trophy achievements. With this new approach, Sony has essentially gotten rid of the themes idea it had on the PS4, given every game takes over the PS5 home screen as you navigate through them.

It even plays a short theme song when you hover over game icons on the home screen, à la how Plex does. It can get a little grating hearing the same music again and again. And it can even be a tad annoying, say when you’ve just jumped out of a game to talk to someone. I wish Sony offered an option to turn it off.

The only other icons on the home screen are buttons for search, settings, and the logged-in user. The user icon lets you look at your trophies, switch to another user, or log yourself out. The settings icon is the only thing that remains of the double carousel menu that exists on the PS4.

With the PS5, Sony has merged all the other options with those found in the PlayStation menu, the one that popped up on the PS4 when you long-pressed the PlayStation button. It’s now accessible with a single tap — and it contains game/app switcher, what friends are playing, download progress, music, sound and mic settings, battery life, and power menu. You can customise this to bring in quick-look settings for broadcasts, accessibility, network, and PlayStation VR.

I’m not sure these changes are for the good. For instance, a long press of the PlayStation button does nothing on the PS5. It’s how I quickly switched it off (by jumping into the PlayStation menu). With the PS5, you now have to tap the PlayStation button, navigate to the very end of the menu, select the power button, and then make your choice.

But it’s also worth noting that I’ve spent years on my PS4, and just days on the PS5. I’m still not convinced though.

PlayStation 5 review

The PS5 is both a bold and safe bet from Sony. While Microsoft is out there looking to rewrite the playbook — a more-affordable starting price with the Xbox Series S, an increasing focus on Xbox Game Pass, including game streaming (in select markets), and the option to buy the console in piecemeal (again in select markets) — Sony seems confident in its approach: sell a swanky console upfront, and then charge individually for games. The approach worked with the PS4, which beat the Xbox One by a margin greater than 2:1, so why meddle with that?

Sony is so confident that it will work, that it’s already pushing up the price ceiling of games to Rs. 5,000. This in a world where Microsoft is delivering all its future Xbox Game Studios titles, including anticipated games such as Halo Infinite and Forza Motorsport, as part of the Xbox Game Pass subscription. Sony seems to be banking on the fact that it has a stronger legacy and better name recognition with its exclusives — and that the strength of those franchises will convince gamers to pick the PlayStation 5. It’s almost as if Sony is daring Microsoft to take it on.

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Upcoming PlayStation 5 games on PlayStation Store
Photo Credit: Akhil Arora/Gadgets 360

The Japanese giant also seems less interested in making 4K 60fps the new default. Does that speak to its outer limits and could that affect the PS5 a few years down the line? It’s impossible to say. That said, the PS5 is capable of 120fps and 8K gaming. The former is tough to implement for older games though, and is only available with full-HD (1080p) or 4K (2160p) resolution, as Sony doesn’t offer 1440p support on the PS5. And the latter will only be unlocked in a future software update.

Right now though, not many PlayStation Studios titles even have proper PS5 upgrades. Most of them basically look a step better than their PS4 Pro versions, deliver more consistent and higher frame rates, and load up much quicker. Third-party support is better in the PS5 enhancements department, but then those games are also available on Xbox Series X. At launch in India (and nearly three months since global release), PlayStation 5 isn’t making a case to upgrade if you’ve a PlayStation 4 Pro.

After all, how do you justify a Rs. 50,000 expenditure for PS5 three years after you spent Rs. 40,000 on a PS4 Pro? It’s the same situation for those going from Xbox One X to Xbox Series X, except you’re looking at a greater expense — thanks to the pricing of upcoming games, and the obvious fact that Sony’s own developers are waiting around to put out remastered versions that they will charge you for. Unlike Microsoft, which has rolled out free Series X upgrades for many titles.

There’s precedent here. The Last of Us Remastered did that when we went from the PS3 to the PS4. Expect Naughty Dog to unveil The Last of Us Part II Remastered for PS5 down the line. Insomniac Games has already signalled that with Marvel’s Spider-Man Remastered, and it’s even gone a step further, having bundled it with Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales Ultimate Edition.

PlayStation has been the best place for the best games, but it’s also an increasingly expensive universe to live within. The PlayStation 5 isn’t a revolution, but it’s still a solid next iteration of the world’s (second) most popular gaming console family. And it lays down the stage for a grand and exciting future, but hopefully Sony won’t keep its fans waiting on that future for too long. India is nearly three months late on the PS5 train to begin with, and there’s no word on when new stock is expected right now. Or that PS5 Digital Edition that I’m waiting on.

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