Update: This could be a clue to the PS5 Pro.
I finally got a PS5, and after a few weeks with it, I'm realizing how I'm already ready to buy a PS5 Pro, which we all know is inevitable.
Don't get me wrong, I'm happy I made my purchase. I'm not going to trade you my PS5 for something else. Yes, I know you're all playing the smallest violins for my dilemma. I'm fortunate enough to get a PS5 given that PS5 restocks have been a huge challenge, but I already have a major complaint. Boo freaking hoo.
It's just that playing a couple of the best games for this console — Control: Ultimate Edition and Spider-Man: Miles Morales — has shown me how the PS5 changes console gaming (at least for me). Now, we have a choice, and while some may appreciate the options, I'm sitting here wishing I could have my cake and eat it, too.
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If you're wondering what it's like to actually, finally get a PS5, and then find that the experience just leaves you wanting slightly more, buckle up. It's time to talk about graphics settings.
PS5 asks you to make a choice
Control: Ultimate Edition is the game I was most excited to play on the PS5. This was because Control's performance on the Xbox One X (a 4K-capable console from which I expected more) was not great. The more elements that the Xbox had to process at once, the more performance slowed.
Then I heard about how smoothly this new Ultimate Edition for the PS5 ran, and that it also added ray-tracing. It's just that these two features are in two different modes: Graphics (ray tracing) and Performance (60 frames per second). You can't get them both at the same time.
Ray tracing, if you're unfamiliar, is a technology that allows for reflections and other lighting-based elements to look more real. When you walk around glass windows in Control, you see a reflection of yourself in them. It's great.
I thought I knew what I wanted when I encountered the setting, and I selected Graphics mode. But as I noticed how the light bounced off the marbled floor of The Oldest House — the moving building with a brutalist-architecture aesthetic you navigate in Control — I realized that protagonist Jesse Faden was still moving through empty flows a bit slowly.
Graphics mode wasn't bad, mind you. It just didn't feel like I was in the "next gen."'
So, I flipped on Performance mode. And then as I saw Jesse practically glide through the hallways, I felt truly alive (or as alive as one can be when you live 90% of your day in the same room).
But because the reflections and lighting magic of ray tracing were still so cool, I found myself switching back and forth between the two modes. Then I started to feel weird as I watched Graphics mode.
As Redditor timeRogue7 (opens in new tab) pointed out, there is a slight delay in the lighting of the ray tracing which is noticeable "enough that it becomes disorientating." So I've gone back to and stuck with Performance mode, which I find is better for shooting down the hiss, the possessed flying folks who haunt every corner of The Oldest House.
Spider-Man does it better — but still feels compromised
Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Spider-Man: Remastered both seek to offer a suitable compromise: Performance RT mode. It targets 60 frames per second with ray tracing enabled by performing tweaks to the visuals.
Specifically, Performance RT mode changes screen resolution, the quality of the reflections (the aforementioned ray tracing) and the density of pedestrians in the NYC streets that Miles is swinging around.
This is probably the best we can get for now. While Performance RT mode is great for some, I'm actually sticking with regular Performance mode. While I want both 60 frames per second and ray tracing, I don't like the idea of the game's layout looking any different from what was intended.
This is probably just me nitpicking here, but as someone who looks out onto the streets of New York City every day, they've been more sparsely populated than I've wanted them to be ever since the pandemic began.
The Spider-Man PS4 game was such a success for me because the city felt appropriately alive. When I play in Performance RT mode on the PS5, I see (or at least I think I see) signs that New York City is not where it's supposed to be.
Also, I've gotten so used to Performance mode on Control that I would rather just stick with that going forward. It certainly feels like a proper next-gen advancement.
Yet knowing that I had to make that choice creates a little itch in the back of my brain that I hope the PS5 Pro can erase.
I've realized why this is so irksome to me, and it's because my whole life has been spent as a console gamer. The PS5 and Xbox Series X are finally opening up console games to the performance-settings dilemmas that PC gamers have faced for a long time.
I'm more worried, though, about how I'll react to the next advancement in performance. Eventually, my addled brain will need to settle for the benefits I prefer the most and just keep playing.
As a console gamer who is still rooted in the just-go-ahead-and-play mindset, I don't want to have to make performance-settings decisions. I don't want to think, "Wait, could this look better?"
Of course, this desire for better performance is what sent me into a frenzy to actually get a PS5. And it's why I'll likely be pre-ordering the PS5 Pro.