PlayStation 5 – The six month report card

Half a year on from the launch of the PlayStation 5 (in the US), and Sony’s latest console already looks set to dominate the games industry. They’re flying off the shelves as fast as Sony can make them, setting records as they do so, and there’s a huge amount of anticipation for all of the exclusive games that are expected over the coming year.

Before we get to all of that though, let’s look back at the console’s first six month, as we did for the Xbox Series X a couple days ago, and weigh up the promise, the potential, and the realities of the new generation.

It’s all about the games

There was a lot of talk about which console was going to be more powerful in the run up to the next-gen launch, and it’s been more than proven that the PlayStation 5 can hold its own against the theoretically more powerful Xbox Series X. In fact, while the difference in terms of graphics and performance is often negligible, it’s seemed that third party developers have found it a touch easier to get what they want from the PS5, with a few games that have tried to push too far on Series X and wanted some more considered optimisation.

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Fitting the long-running narrative, the PlayStation 5 has also had the edge with exclusives. That started at launch and has continued with Destruction AllStars, the Nioh remasters, Oddworld Soulstorm, and more significantly, Returnal. It’s been a solid first six months, but it’s about to get even better with Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart and the still PlayStation exclusive Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade next month, and the promise of Horizon Forbidden West and more later this year. Truth be told, we’re still waiting for the first true system seller, but it might not be too far away.

Feeling the difference

A new pillar for the PS5 is the DualSense controller and seeing what new tricks it can pull to enhance the experience. I am still a proponent of the impulse trigger rumble of the Xbox controllers, but the adaptive triggers and haptics of the DualSense are a real leap forward. It’s clear that developers are still learning how best to use the new technology, and so Sony are having to lead the way. Housemarque’s Returnal is a stunning showcase for the haptics, and it’s thoroughly intuitive to use the half-stop adaptive trigger when using your gun’s alt-fire.

The user experience

Where the PS5 is currently a few steps behind is with the experience outside of games. In rebuilding the system software from scratch, Sony has created something that looks pretty and has some intriguing elements, but really doesn’t feel as though its reached its potential.

As with the DualSense, Sony are showing what can be done with PS Activities and the cards interface, but (to me at least) they doesn’t yet feel consistently useful, something that I scroll past to get to the cordoned off Game Base for parties and friends, or further to the power menu.

There’s plenty of quality of life changes that Sony can make, with many people still wanting to have folders, and the promised Variable Refresh Rate support for high-end displays and TVs. The system will gradually mature, just as the PS4 grew from its own barebones system software through 2014, and Sony has already (partially) addressed one of the biggest complaints at launch.

Can I have a bigger SSD yet?

We knew it was going to happen, but I think some people hoped it wouldn’t happen quite as quickly as it did: the PlayStation 5 SSD fills up incredibly quickly. Sure, some of that is because of the console downloading both PS5 and PS4 versions of a game for no good reason, some of it is because Activision don’t want you to have space for games that aren’t Call of Duty, but the PS5 SSD was never not going to fill up within the first few months.

Thankfully Sony added the ability to offload a game to an external HDD in the PS5’s April update, releasing the pressure valve. Internal SSDs that should be more than fast enough having been on the market for plenty of time, so hopefully this support won’t be far behind.

Cross-gen upgrades, patches and backward compatibility

Where Microsoft has an almost universally adopted Smart Delivery scheme, Sony has upgrades sprinkled with points of confusion and awkwardness. Take Marvel’s Avengers as an example. For its next-gen upgrade you had to delve into the PS Store or the game’s hub area, but then to carry your progression across you needed to have the PS4 version installed somewhere so that you can upload your save file and then redownload it in the PS5 version. Games like Yakuza: Like a Dragon have no save file transfers at all. On Xbox… you just install the game or have a large update and it handles the save file in the background.

It’s also proven far easier for any developer that wants to tinker with their game to tap into the Xbox Series X|S added power. COD Warzone, Rocket League, Star Wars: Squadron, Overwatch all have 120Hz modes, while PS5 owners have to wait for fully native updates. Again, the tide seems to be turning here, with third party games like Zombie Army 4 and Crysis Remastered both now having bespoke PS5 support that go beyond what can be offered on PS4 Pro, but without releasing a native PS5 version.

In general, while backward compatibility for PS4 games works across the board, Sony’s efforts cannot hold a candle to what Microsoft has been able to offer through FPS Boost, to actively enhance and provide more options for last generation games.

Added value

There’s no denying that gamers within the PlayStation ecosystem as a whole have had great added value over the last six months. From day one, PlayStation 5 buyers had access to the PlayStation Plus Collection, but Sony also silently expanded PS Plus’ monthly free games to include newly releasing PS5 titles like Bugsnax, Destruction AllStars and Oddworld Soulstorm.

Then there’s the returning Play at Home initiative that has run this spring, doling out a dozen fantastic titles from across the industry. Even PS Now has had a few sparks of life, with larger, more recent games like Marvel’s Avengers being thrown into the mix.

Off to a flier

By all counts, the PlayStation 5’s first six months have been a rousing success for Sony. They simply cannot make enough of the machines right now to keep up with demand, we’ve already had a brace of console exclusives to keep people occupied, and the handful of games making the best use of DualSense show that it can be a real difference-maker for the generation.

There’s work to be done through the supporting system software, but the new six months hold a huge amount of promise on all fronts.

Rating: B+

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I'm probably wearing toe shoes, and there's nothing you can do to stop me!

20 Comments

  1. I’m pretty happy with the PS5, with one major exception – rest mode doesn’t work. It works fine with PS4 games, but rest mode crashes the console about 30% of the time I put PS5 games into rest mode. There is no official acknowledgement of this problem from Sony (all related rhetoric is about having an external drive attached, which I don’t have), and thus no stated plan to address this issue.

    It’s made all the worse with Returnal which has no save system.

    • Rest mode works for me most of the time now but when it doesn’t it’s with PS4 games.
      Since I added an external SSD every time I use rest mode I get a message (when restarting) that the SSD needs to be rebuilt as the console wasn’t shut down before removing the power cord, or something like that. It still happens if all apps and games are closed first. Very annoying!!!

      • strange, I’ve had a ps5 since launch and I’ve never had any issues with rest mode. l use rest mode plenty and mainly with ps4 games. recently I’ve just finished the outer worlds playing on supernova difficulty which has limited saving, the majority of the 110 hours I’ve spent have been using rest mode, have you tried wiping the console in case there’s some corruption?

      • I haven’t tried wiping it but I’ll give it a go as it doesn’t take very long to reinstall games etc.

      • I’ve heard reports of some SSD models with this issue, Crucial MX500 2TB model I have is working well for me (using a Sabrent adapter), incase that helps anyone.
        Could try safely ejecting the drive (from within settings), before entering rest mode.

  2. I don’t know anyone with a PS5

    • Same. I’ve never seen one ‘in the flesh’ so to speak. Can’t wait to see the new control pad that I’ve heard so many good things about.

  3. The PS5 is kind of huge, and does have a few problems with the SSD. Not turning it off properly, maybe due to a power cut or deciding to risk rest mode, stands a good chance of corrupting the system software somehow and needing to reinstall everything.

    And there’s some useful features missing (Folders! Please! We need folders!), and apparently some people are easily confused when a PS4 and PS5 version of a game is available. And the latest bug means you randomly can’t move left or right on the home screen. But you can on the menu that pops up when you press the PS button, so you can reboot and fix it quickly.

    Oh, and PS4 games installed on an external drive with about 1TB of free space still somehow won’t update until you make room on the internal SSD, for some stupid reason. I needed to make 70GB of space for about 3GB of GT Sport updates yesterday. Luckily it’s reasonably quick to move a PS5 game off to the external drive, and even quicker to move it back.

    Apart from all that, and it being insanely popular so it sells out in minutes, it’s a ridiculously impressive piece of hardware. Stupidly fast and the controller makes up for the fact that it’s too big by having those fancy triggers.

    I’d agree with a B+ grade, and assume it’ll get better over the next few years. Just fix the UI and give us PSVR2.

    • Glad I’m not the only one to suffer with the random menu movement glitch from time-to-time. I thought my controller was duff until I used the toolbar and it worked fine.

      • Has it only started doing it since the last firmware update? That’s when it started for me. So either they broke something then, or it’s just coincidence that it started happening to me then. Hasn’t done it for a few days now, and there’s not been any more updates.

      • For some reason I’m not able to your reply directly.

        Yes. Only after this latest firmware for me too.

      • Yes, you can’t go any further than a reply to a reply. Otherwise your reply would end up so far over to the right it’d start getting silly. At least, I’m guessing that’s the reason.

        And it’s good news if you only got the menu bug after the last firmware. Hopefully means it’ll get fixed in the next one and isn’t something that’s going to hang around for years.

        I think it might only happen if you turn on the PS5 and leave it alone. Maybe you turn it on, have a cup of coffee, and hope all the updates have happened by the time you get back to it. If you turn it on and start doing things straight away, it never seems to happen.

  4. I’m really happy with the PS5 so far. Luckily managed to grab digital version at the end of February. Use it every day for games and media. I have since played Astro Bot (this was excellent), Demon’s Souls, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and a few PS4 games and PS+ offers (currently enjoying Wreckfest). Since the last firmware update I’m not experiencing so many crashes either (usually to do with demons souls and the YouTube app). It’s an A for me so far. Will probably go up to an A+ if Ratchet and Clank is brilliant and Horizon releases on time too.

  5. I love my PS5, the games, how quickly it loads things, how quiet it is. I hate, hate, hate the UI though, it is a dense mess of icons and useless fluff.

    • Seconded. The UI is frustrating and hasn’t become intuitive after 6 months of play.

      • The UI is a nice idea, it’s just it needed more work. And for every new feature that works well, there’s something they’ve made worse.

        Someone invites you to join them in a voice chat? Hit the PS button while the notification is on screen and press X to join them. Easy. Want to leave the voice chat afterwards? Press the PS button, then down, then left, then X to get the “game base” parties menu, then down, down, X, right 4 times, then X a couple of times. Unless there’s a quicker way I don’t know about. Or you forget to leave and hours later a friend randomly starts talking out of your controller.

        And without folders, finding anything that isn’t the last 9 things you played it a mess. Can’t hit R1 to quickly move to the right like you could on the PS4. That takes you to the Media apps instead. (Nice they’ve separated out like that, I guess). So triangle and search it is. At least you can talk to it there. The voice recognition on the keyboard actually works well. Unlike the PS4, where it never seemed to understand me. But you can’t control the whole PS5 with your voice, while the PS4 would let you do that. In theory. If it understood you.

        So many improvements to the UI, all cancelled out by things they made worse or haven’t put in yet.

      • Spot on, MrYd.

        All of those. The things you want to have quick access to seem to be the most button presses away.

        It’s made even more frustrating when you think you can spam the buttons from memory in order to get there asap, only to get a button wrong and then go back and do it again.

      • The worst one for me, even after 3 months of only using the PS5, is the long/short press on the PS button. So used to holding it to get the quick menu up on the PS4. Now that takes you back to the home screen, and it’s a quick tap to get the menu.

        There’s an advantage to doing it that way. If you accidentally tap it, you only get the menu pop up. And on both the PS4 and PS5, it’s always seemed easy to accidentally press the PS button, inevitably at the worst possible time. It’s quicker to recover from that on the PS5. But I still keep getting it wrong and holding the button when I should be just tapping it.

      • @MrYd Unless I’m misunderstanding you, you should be able to use the voice chat activity card to leave, instead of having to go into game base. Think it’s same/similar door with arrow icon to leave.

      • Ah, if that’s true, it shows how much attention I’ve been paying to those cards. Which are a nice idea, I guess. Just randomly implemented.

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