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.
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.
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.