Games on the PS5 may not look dramatically different from games on the PS4. We’ve known that for a while. While the PS5 is significantly more powerful than its predecessor, the PS4 Pro can already produce gorgeous graphics at 4K resolution. Instead, the big difference will be in performance: Fast frame rates, huge levels and rapid loading times. And of all the PS5 games we’ve seen so far, only Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart has shown us how that performance might look in practice.
If you haven’t seen the Rift Apart trailer, you can check it out right here:
In the trailer, we see intergalactic adventurers Ratchet and Clank jumping between dimensions, traveling from one huge, open level to another, with all assets rendered and ready to go. Granted, it’s easy to show off something like that in a trailer, but we also got to see some captured Rift Apart gameplay. Check out the full PS5 event stream, and start at 13:08:
Rifts and load times
For most of the demo, Ratchet and Clank do pretty traditional Ratchet and Clank-y things. They fight off enemies with a variety of fun weapons, they jump from platform to platform, they explore a big city, they make snarky comments — fair enough. They’ve been doing all that for almost 20 years.
But around the 14-minute mark, we get to see Rift Apart’s unique gameplay mechanic in action. After encountering a huge, tentacled alien monstrosity in an office building, Ratchet and Clank jump through a purple dimensional portal and wind up in a completely different part of the city, facing down a whole new set of enemies.
Ratchet and Clank spend two seconds of game time in the portal. During that time, the office building completely disappears, along with every friendly bystander and malicious alien left behind in it. Ratchet and Clank emerge on a platform in a totally different part of the city, filled with a whole new set of friends and foes.
It’s important to remember that what we saw was pre-alpha gameplay, and that developers can use all kinds of tricks to shorten load times, especially during a short demo. But again, the dimensional rifts in Rift Apart aren’t just a set piece that happens every now and then; they’re a central part of the game’s mechanics. Technically speaking, they’re right in the title. Insomniac really has to get the rifts right for the whole game to work, and the demo indicates that the PS5 will allow the company to do so.
We’ve heard on a number of different occasions that what will really set the PS5 apart from both current-gen consoles and gaming PCs is its custom SSD. This SSD could be fast enough to outpace gaming PCs, according to some developers. Mark Cerny at Sony suggested that load times on the PS5 could be so fast, developers might have to add artificial slowdowns to give players a chance to catch their breath.
When I heard these claims, I took them with a grain of salt, but the Ratchet & Clank demo seems to back them up. This kind of game probably couldn’t have happened on the PS4 — or if it could, it would have had to employ either long loading times, or an incredible degree of visual trickery.
The other games
Not counting gameplay segments embedded in the trailers themselves, we saw only three other gameplay demos during the PS5 event: Gran Turismo 7, Hitman III and Deathloop. I have nothing bad to say about either the Gran Turismo 7 or Deathloop gameplay, but neither one really showed off an experience that absolutely had to be on the PS5. (The Hitman III demo wasn’t substantial enough to discuss in depth.)
The Gran Turismo 7 demo followed a car on a racetrack (what else?). The speed and accuracy with which the PS5 rendered the scenery was impressive, particularly the detailed trees as the driver traveled around curves. Deathloop looked similarly gorgeous, with brutal kills and instantaneous time-rewinds that accurately tracked the protagonist’s every action in reverse. But both games simply looked like prettier versions of concepts we’ve seen on current-gen systems.
I have no doubt that as we see more PS5 gameplay footage, we’ll learn about more next-gen features. But it was surprising that during a showcase meant to show us what the PS5 can do, only one game out of more than a dozen showed us something we’ve never seen before.
Of course, I’m partial to the Ratchet & Clank series, and part of me is pleased that this delightful sci-fi platformer is honest-to-goodness one of the most exciting games in a next-gen showcase. I’m also pleased that Sony apparently wasn’t exaggerating when it claimed just how quickly the PS5 could process data compared to the PS4. But I also wish we’d seen some other demonstrations of the PS5’s SSD in action, since it’s apparently the system’s defining piece of hardware.