It’s rapidly approaching a year since the PS5 was released, and in that time I’ve had a lot of thoughts about Sony’s new console. I’ve flipped from being rather cool towards the DualSense controller to starting to really like it, and I've bemoaned the delays to exclusive games. Suffice to say, not only is the PS5 big, the shadow it casts over the gaming world and my gaming experience is long.
While it's frustrating that many still can't seem to grab a console during PS5 restocks lottery, I can’t deny I’ve enjoyed using the PS5. And a lot of good things are on the horizon, no least of which is Horizon Forbidden West. But there is a catch, and it's a weakness Sony really needs to address.
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And that’s backwards compatibility. While the Xbox Series X seems to get increasing amounts of the best Xbox One games that get optimized for Microsoft’s flagship console, the PS5 hasn’t really had its power brought to bear on older games.
Granted, Ghost of Tsushima has been given a PS5 makeover and The Last of Us 2 runs at 60 frames per second on the console. And God of War has also been patched to tap into PS5 power. But these games haven’t been optimized to the extent Xbox games have.
PS5 backwards compatibility: Good but not great
Take God of War as an example. It runs very nicely on the PS5, but it only gets the same graphics or performance options as the game does on the PS4 Pro; there’s no full 4K 60 fps mode. Admittedly, God of War looks fantastic and is likely to need a lot of power to deliver smoother performance at 4K. But overall the patching of older PS4 games to run on the PS5 hasn’t been as through as I'd have liked.
This came to light when I downloaded Star Wars Squadrons on my Xbox Series X. Available on Xbox Game Pass, it proudly sported the optimized for Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S badge. On the former, it’ll run a 4K and up 120 fps on a TV that has a 120Hz refresh rate. Sadly, my TV is stuck at 60Hz, but Squadrons at 4K 60fps on a decent 49-inch screen is simply a joy.
However, despite having the same AMD Zen 2 processor and RDNA 2 graphics as the Xbox Series X, the PS5 can’t access Squadrons’ next-gen performance and graphics modes. I appreciate that’s a quirk at how the PS5 handles backwards compatibility by default. But if Microsoft can take cross-generation games and boost them for the Xbox Series X, I don't see why Sony can't do the same, at least with its first-party games.
And that’s where the sticking point comes. If you have a PS5, then without a doubt it's the best place to play any new PlayStation game, if only for the faster load times. But there are still a suite of big PS4 games that don’t take advantage of the PS5’s grunt.
This became abundantly clear when I dipped back into Bloodborne, one of the best PS4 games. On my PS5 it runs just as well as it did on my old base PS4, meaning it’s stuck at 30 fps or lower and only runs at 1080p; the only boon is it loads quickly, thus taking the sting out of the painfully long load times Bloodborne has on the PS4.
PS5 should draw inspiration from Xbox Series X
I find this a bit baffling. While major console optimizations might not be in the cards for Sony like they are with Microsoft this generation, I don’t see why stellar exclusives like Bloodborne or the Uncharted games haven’t been given even a cursory performance boost. I don’t actually need Bloodborne to look much better thanks to its strong art style. But a smooth 60 fps would be a joy; it might make dispatching a New Game+ Father Gascoigne a bit easier for me as well.
Some might argue that the PS5 is all about running new games and not old ones. But outside of Returnal and Ratchet & Clank: A Rift Apart, the PS5 isn’t flush with critically acclaimed first-party games. Demon’s Souls looks great but it's still an older game at heart and one that’s tough enough to put off some PlayStation fans. While Spider-Man: Miles Morales is available on the PS4 — it just doesn't look as good or play as well.
The disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is clearly not making life easy for developers working on PS5 exclusives. And ultimately, I’d rather a game was at its best and delayed rather than rushed out; we’ve all seen the Cyberpunk 2077 bugs.
But to fill the gaps between big new releases, I feel Sony could have delivered a more robust experience when it comes to optimizing PS4 games for the PS5. Heck, I’d even be happy to pay a fee for an improved PS5 version of Bloodborne, though I’m aware such things can court controversy.
Ultimately, I can’t be too disappointed with the PS5, as it’s still an excellent if somewhat ungainly console. But with the PS5’s first birthday coming up, I Just wish Sony would take a leaf out of Microsoft’s approach to optimizing older games for the new hardware.
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