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PS5 review: The future of console gaming is here

PS5 is a huge generational leap — even if you don’t need one yet

PS5
Editor's Choice
(Image: © Tom's Guide)

Our Verdict

The PS5 is a true generational leap, offering incredibly fast load times and an innovative new controller that can change the way games feel.

For

  • Incredibly fast SSD
  • Wildly inventive DualSense controller
  • Gorgeous 4K visuals
  • Snappy, clean interface
  • Impressive backwards compatibility

Against

  • Massive, unwieldy design
  • Controller may feel too big for some
  • Few must-have exclusives (for now)

The PS5 is finally here, and it truly feels like a generational leap for console gaming. With its powerful graphics tech and wildly innovative DualSense controller, Sony’s new console allows for a level of immersion that simply wasn’t possible on previous consoles. The system’s lightning-fast SSD is a literal game changer, loading games in mere seconds — and in some cases, providing new ways to interact with them. 

However, as we discovered in our PS5 review, Sony's speedy next-gen system does have its drawbacks. The system’s absolutely massive chassis is a bit inelegant, and may prove to be a pain for those with limited space. The new PS5 interface is beautiful and fast, but it feels a little barebones at the moment. And with many of the PS5’s key games available on PS4, the verdict is still out on whether or not you need to upgrade right away. 

Still, thanks to its robust backwards compatibility, snappy interface, gorgeous game performance and incredible load times, the PS5 already feels like the future of console gaming. And it's hard to go back. 

PS5 review: Price and release date

PS5 specs

Price: $499 (standard), $399 (Digital Edition)
CPU: 3.5GHz, 8-core AMD Zen 2
GPU: 10.3 teraflop RDNA 2 GPU
RAM: 16GB GDDR6
Storage: Custom 825GB SSD
Expansion: NVMe M.2 SSD slot
Disc drive: 4K Blu-ray player
Size: 15.4 x 10.2 x 4.1 inches
Weight: 9.9 pounds 

The PS5 launched on November 12 in the U.S., and is coming to the U.K. and most other parts of the world on November 19. The standard PS5, which includes a 4K-Blu-ray drive, costs $499, while the PS5 Digital Edition goes for a cheaper $399, if you don’t mind going discless.

It’s worth noting the PS5 has been extremely hard to buy ever since pre-orders first went live earlier this year. Retail stock has been going in and out rapidly, so be sure to bookmark our where to buy PS5 guide for the latest updates. 

PS5 review: Design 

PS5

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

It’s been discussed to death, but the PS5 is a truly gargantuan piece of machinery. Sony’s 15.4 x 10.2 x 4.1-inch console dwarfs pretty much any gaming system that’s come out in the past decade, including the PS4 Slim and the PS4 Pro. It’s also far bigger than its new next-gen rival in the Xbox Series X, and makes the Xbox Series S look like a children’s toy. 

That massive chassis allows the PS5 to pump out some serious performance while staying mostly cool and quiet (which we’ll talk more about later), but the sheer size of the new PlayStation could be an issue for those with small entertainment areas. 

PS5

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Unless you plan on putting your PS5 on the floor, you’ll likely need a dedicated small table if you plan on standing it vertically. I was able to fit the PS5 in my entertainment center in a horizontal orientation, but just barely. As such, you’ll want to measure your available space before you set up a PS5 at home.

Speaking of orientation, the PS5 includes a detachable stand that allows you to position the massive console vertically or horizontally. The stand screws into the bottom of the console in vertical mode (the PS5 includes a screw, but no tool to screw it in), and clamps on to the PS5’s rear port area in horizontal mode. 

It’d be nice if the PS5 included a tool for unscrewing the base, but I had an easy enough time using a coin to attach and remove it. The system stands up securely in vertical mode with the base attached, but I found the base to be far more finicky in horizontal orientation. It took me a few tries before I could get it to lay flat securely on the base. I eventually got the PS5 to sit still horizontally in my entertainment center, but the fact that the console slid off the base quite easily unless it was positioned just right gives me some pause. 

Still, I’ll likely be keeping the PS5 in horizontal orientation for most of my time with it, simply because I’m worried about accidentally tipping over the insanely tall chassis while it sits on my table (especially when my hyperactive nephews are over). 

PS5

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The PS5’s eye-catching, futuristic aesthetic has been the subject of much debate ever since it was unveiled, and I still have mixed feelings about it. I find that the console looks like an unsightly, oversized cable modem when standing vertically, due to its pointy white side panels and the asymmetrical bulk added on by the Blu-ray drive. 

But I've grown somewhat fond of how it looks sitting horizontally under my TV, where its curves and edges seem to shine more (even if it looks like a miniature Barclays Center). I also like the attractive LED status lights on each side of the interior, which is both slicker and more pronounced than the status light on the PS4. And the tiny, hidden PlayStation controller icons within the inner panels are a great extra touch. Love it or hate it, the PS5 is a system packed with attention to detail, and looks unlike any console we’ve seen before.

PS5 review: Ports and expansion 

PS5

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The PS5 has a fairly standard array of ports, complete with some welcome modern conveniences. You get a Hi-Speed USB Type-A port up front, as well as a USB Type-C SuperSpeed port. It’s nice to see a console finally feature USB-C connectivity out of the box, especially for connecting modern accessories and storage drives.

In the back, you’ll find two SuperSpeed USB-A ports, an Ethernet jack, an HDMI 2.1 port and an AC adapter. The PS5 has ditched the PS4’s optical audio port, which may be a bummer for folks with high-end audio devices with optical connections. However, some companies are already offering optical-to-HDMI splitters, such as Astro with its Astro A20 headset.

If you want to expand on the PS5’s built-in 825GB of SSD storage, there’s a PCIe 4.0 M.2 expansion slot that you can access by opening up the console. Note that you’ll have to use certain PS5-certified SSDs that meet Sony’s bandwidth requirements, such as the Western Digital SN850. These drives won't be supported until sometime after launch. The PS5 also works with standard external hard drives, but only for carrying over your digital PS4 games or save files.  

PS5 review: Interface 

PS5

(Image credit: Sony)

The PS5 interface is a clean, attractive and snappy evolution of the PS4 software. Hopping in and out of games and navigating menus feels instantaneous, to the point where the PS4 menu now feels sluggish and cluttered by comparison. And while there are some features I’d like to see added to the PS5 interface, it introduces some exciting new ways to get to what you’re playing even faster.

The home screen will look familiar to PS4 owners, with a horizontal row of tiles that showcases your most recent games. When you highlight a game, that title’s art will take over the entire home screen while its music plays in the background, which is a neat aesthetic touch. There’s a handy Explore tab that shows news and updates, as well as a Game Library tab that allowed me to instantly start downloading my collection of PS4 titles. Much like on PS4, the PS5 lets you capture videos and screenshots, or stream to YouTube or Twitch with a quick tap of the Create button.

I like that the PS5 software looks clean overall, but I do wish there were an option for organizing your games into folders, like there is on PS4. And while it’s cool seeing the background adapt to whichever game you have highlighted, I’m surprised there’s no option to set custom wallpapers instead.

Longtime PS4 users will have to shake some muscle memory, as a tap of the PlayStation button now brings up a control center that lets you switch apps, view your friends, check notifications, monitor your controller’s battery life and more from the bottom of your screen. 

Better yet, you can customize the control center to have quick access to features such as network settings, accessibility options and broadcast controls. It’s a big improvement from the PS4’s quick menu, which took up a far bigger chunk of the screen and wasn’t as snappy or customizable. 

PS5

(Image credit: Sony)

Snappy and clean software is great, but the PS5 interface really comes alive when you start playing a game. Tapping the PlayStation button while playing a PS5 game brings up the Activities menu, which shows information such as the current progress of your mission, a set of trophies you can go after, or a list of in-game activities that you can jump right into. 

For example, I was able to dive into a series of side missions and challenges right from the Activities menu in Spider-Man: Miles Morales without having to actually find them in-game, saving me time I’d have to otherwise spend swinging around Manhattan. You can also access the Activities menu right from your Game Library before you even boot up a game, meaning I was able to hop right into a specific level in Astro’s Playroom without having to deal with any menus.

As someone who doesn’t always have a ton of free time, the ability to jump to a specific chunk of a game at a system level isn’t just appreciated — it’s downright revolutionary. While it may seem like a minor concession to some, the Activities menu could end up changing the way we play games, and I’m really eager to see how developers take advantage of it in the coming years.

PS5

(Image credit: Sony)

My biggest gripe with the PS5 on a software level is that, unlike the Xbox Series X and S, Sony’s console doesn’t seem to be able to suspend multiple titles at once. While Xbox’s Quick Resume feature lets you seamlessly jump between half-a-dozen games while picking up right where you left off in each one, the PS5 requires you to boot up each game from scratch. 

What’s more frustrating is that the console doesn’t warn you when your existing game will close in favor of a new one, which could lead to you losing unsaved progress. While the PS5’s load times are so fast that the lack of Quick Resume isn’t a huge issue, it’s a bummer that Sony’s console doesn’t have an answer to one of the Series X’s most convenient features.

PS5 review: DualSense controller 

PS5

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The PS5 DualSense controller just might be the most next-gen thing about Sony’s new console. The gamepad’s haptic feedback, adaptive triggers and built-in speaker work together brilliantly, creating a level of tactile immersion I’ve simply never experienced while playing a game before.

The DualSense especially shines in Astro’s Playroom, a free, pre-installed title built specifically to showcase what Sony’s new controller can do. In this colorful 3D platformer, you can feel and hear the subtle impact of grains of sand while walking through a storm, or experience a smooth gliding sensation when skating over ice, just to name a few examples. Everything from pulling on a rope to gliding around in a jetpack generates an extremely detailed level of force feedback. It’s the kind of thing you truly need to feel to believe. 

PS5

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The adaptive triggers are especially impressive, as they can become harder to actuate based on what’s happening in-game. For example, the triggers gave much more resistance when I was controlling my character in a spring-loaded jumpsuit, accurately replicating the feeling of pushing down on a spring and releasing it. Games can even take advantage of the DualSense’s built-in microphone, as I had to blow on the controller to move a platform of ice in Astro’s Playroom.

Sackboy: A Big Adventure also makes impressive use of Sony’s controller, as I could feel a sudden sense of resistance when walking through tall grass thanks to some steady haptic patterns. I felt vibrations moving through specific parts of the controller during cutscenes, and enjoyed the soft taps that accompanied Sackboy flailing his feet around while floating in the air. And in the sword-based combat of Godfall, I felt the triggers tense up to add extra weight to the feeling of slicing up enemies of heavy attacks.

When playing Spider-Man: Miles Morales, I felt subtle, but extremely nuanced, vibrations during cutscenes, as the controller would perfectly match the clinking of glasses or the distant stomps of Rhino’s feet with tactile feedback. I also appreciated the slight feeling of resistance when using the triggers to web-swing through Manhattan, as well as the soft buzz of electricity that played out of the speaker every time I charged up Miles’ Venom attacks. 

Sony’s new controller packs a built-in microphone, which allows you to chat with friends when you don’t have a gaming headset handy. And it totally works in a pinch. I had an entire voice chat with my colleague Marshall who was also on his DualSense, and we were able to hear each other just fine through the controller’s built-in speaker. You’ll still probably want to use a dedicated headset to hear your game and chat audio during a competitive Call of Duty match, but the fact that you can talk to friends on PS5 without needing a headset is a great touch.

The DualSense already shows some incredible potential, but it’s only as good as the games that take advantage of it. While games like Astro's Playroom, Spider-Man, Godfall and Sackboy do some exciting things with Sony’s gamepad, I’m curious to see how many developers fully tap into the DualSense’s unique features as more PS5 games show up. 

PS5

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Beyond its advanced haptics, the DualSense fares pretty well as a standard controller. It’s significantly bigger than the DualShock 4 gamepad, with a hefty feel, and a design that seems to take a page out of the Xbox Wireless Controller in terms of ergonomics. While the DualSense’s meatier grip feels satisfying to hold, I wish it were just a bit more compact, and found my hands getting cramped when playing more intense action games like Godfall and Devil May Cry 5. 

The good news is that the DualSense’s buttons and triggers feel great during everyday gameplay. I had no issues doing my usual Mortal Kombat 11 combos thanks to the controller’s smooth D-pad and snappy face buttons. The thumbsticks and triggers felt responsive and accurate when I gunned down Rebels in Battlefront II. The touchpad is much bigger this time around, and I like that the built-in lightbar wraps around the center rather than being hidden at the top, as on the DualShock 4. 

PS5 review: Performance and load times 

PS5

(Image credit: Sony)

With a powerful 8-core AMD Zen 2 processor, 10.3 teraflops of graphics power and a ridiculously fast custom SSD, the PS5 promises some of the best performance to ever come out of a games console. And while I’ve only played a handful of titles that are designed to harness the PS5’s power, I’m already impressed by what Sony’s console is able to pump out in terms of fidelity, framerate and, most importantly, load speeds. 

This shouldn’t come as a shock, but games look fantastic running on Sony’s new console. Spider-Man: Miles Morales looked more akin to a high-end PC game than a PlayStation title, as I gawked at the gorgeous reds and purples of Spider-Man and his enemies popping off the screen in 4K. Thanks to the console’s ray-tracing support, Manhattan’s skyscrapers reflected off one another realistically, as did a series of lifelike puddles in a busy Times Square. 

The PS5 version of Miles Morales has a special Performance mode, which turns off effects such as ray tracing and uses upscaled 4K in favor of a higher framerate. When I switched to this mode and zipped through the city at a silky 60 frames per second while still enjoying beautiful visuals, I felt like I was experiencing something that simply couldn’t be done on previous-gen consoles. This made it extremely hard to go back to the PS4 version of Miles Morales, which often chugged below 30 frames per second.

But while ray-traced visuals and 60 fps performance modes are great, it’s the PS5’s lightning fast SSD that truly makes Sony’s console feel next-gen. When booting up a game like Spider-Man: Miles Morales, there’s almost zero downtime between selecting the title from your home screen and being out on the street, beating up bad guys. The same process took around 20 seconds before I could start playing the PS4 version.

Astro’s Playroom is just as instantaneous, as I was able to jump from the game’s main hub area to its myriad vibrant levels without a single loading screen in sight. The PS5’s blazing SSD is also what allows you to skip to certain portions of a game via the Activities menu, and upcoming titles such as the dimension-hopping Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart look they’ll do some truly inventive things with it. We’ll have to see how more titles utilize the SSD, but it already feels like one of the biggest leaps forward in console gaming in quite a while.  

PS5 vs PS4 load times
PS5PS4 (2013 model)
Boot time22 seconds30 seconds
Spider-Man: Miles Morales (startup)12 seconds12 seconds
Spider-Man: Miles Morales (menu to gameplay)2 seconds20 seconds
The Last of Us 2 (startup)15 seconds33 seconds
The Last of Us 2 (menu to gameplay)1 minute1 minute, 28 seconds
Mortal Kombat 11 (startup)8 seconds11 seconds
Mortal Kombat 11 (menu to gameplay)10 seconds18 seconds
Star Wars Battlefront II (startup)33 seconds1 minute, 5 seconds
Star Wars Battlefront II (menu to gameplay)12 seconds22 seconds

When it comes to load time improvements for PS4 games, I saw the most dramatic gains when playing The Last of Us Part II. Naughty Dog’s acclaimed action-adventure game started up more than twice as quickly on PS5 than it did on PS4, and took nearly 30 seconds less to get into a playable encounter from the main menu. I noticed similarly significant improvements for Star Wars Battlefront II, which took about 33 seconds to boot up on PS5, compared to over a minute on PS4.

The differences in load times were less stark when testing titles such as God of War and Mortal Kombat 11, but every single game I tested loaded fastest on PS5.

PS5 review: Backwards compatibility 

The Last of Us Part II

(Image credit: Sony)

The PS5 works with nearly all PS4 games, which is a huge step up from Sony’s complete lack of backwards compatibility last generation. I tested close to a dozen PS4 games on PS5, including The Last of Us Part II, God of War, Mortal Kombat 11, Tetris Effect and Resident Evil 2, and almost all of them loaded faster and ran better than they did on my launch PS4. Both digital and disc-based PS4 games worked without a hitch on my PS5, and my physical movies worked just fine on the system’s 4K Blu-ray drive.

The PS5 allows you to take advantage of any PS4 Pro enhancements a game offers, so games that have higher resolution or frame rate modes benefit the most from Sony’s new console. As someone coming from a launch PS4, the ability to finally enjoy God of War’s high-frame rate mode or play Tetris Effect in 4K felt almost worth the price of admission on its own (the aforementioned load time boosts certainly don’t hurt, either). 

The PS5 is designed to work with most first-party and officially licensed PS4 accessories, and I had no issues bringing my existing last-gen gear over. Pairing my DualShock 4 to the PS5 was as simple as plugging it in via USB cable, and my existing headsets worked just fine with the DualSense’s 3.5 mm audio jack.

Third-party wired controllers, such as my Hori Fightpad and Victrix Pro FS Fight Stick, also worked perfectly as I mashed buttons in Mortal Kombat. Just keep in mind that the DualShock 4 only works with backwards compatible PS4 games, so you won’t be able to use it for PS5-only titles.

PS5 review: Game lineup 

Spider-Man Miles Morales

(Image credit: Sony)

The PS5’s launch lineup is off to a solid start. The console's big marquee launch game is Spider-Man: Miles Morales, a gorgeous and fun follow up to 2018's Marvel's Spider-Man complete with ray-traced graphics and an optional 60 fps performance mode. 

Sackboy: A Big Adventure is a simple but charming 3D platformer with lots of character customization, but Astro's Playroom, the free pack-in game that shows off the DualSense controller, might be even better. Not since 2007's Nintendo Wii has a console launched with a notable game included out of the gate, and Sony's new platformer is oozing with fun collectibles and easter eggs for hardcore PlayStation fans.

If mature action's more your thing, Godfall is a fun and beautiful action-RPG that feels like a marriage of the weighty combat of God of War 2018 and the deep loot system of Destiny. Want something more stylish? Devil May Cry 5 Special Edition is an enhanced version of the stellar 2019 slash-em-up complete with both ray-tracing and 120 fps performance modes. 

One of the PS5’s biggest true launch exclusives is Demon’s Souls, a visually stunning remake of the beloved 2009 action/RPG of the same name. We've just started testing out Bluepoint's new take on the cult favorite, so stay tuned for more impressions.

Demon's Souls

(Image credit: Sony)

The problem is, you don't need a PS5 to play many of these games. Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Sackboy: A Big Adventure are also available on PS4, as are many of the big third-party games arriving at launch.

Those include Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate, The Pathless, Dirt 5 and NBA 2K21. All of these games will be available on PS4, but you’ll need a PS5 to enjoy features such as true 4K gameplay and 60 fps frame rate options. It’s also worth noting that Fortnite will be PS5-optimized at launch, and titles such as Madden NFL 21 and Watch Dogs Legion will offer free PS5 upgrades for folks who own the PS4 versions. 

Looking forward, you can expect major PS5 exclusives such as Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, God of War Ragnarok and Horizon Forbidden West (the latter of which will have a PS4 version) to start hitting in 2021 and beyond. 

While you don’t necessarily need a PS5 to play some of the biggest new games from both Sony and third parties, you will enjoy much better versions of them on the new system. And don’t forget that most of your PS4 library will come with you — complete with major visual and performance enhancements for select titles. 

 PS5 review: Apps

The PS5 has access to pretty much every entertainment app you’ll need, including Disney Plus, Netflix, YouTube, Prime Video and, new to the PlayStation ecosystem, Apple TV Plus. These apps all worked identically to their PS4 counterparts in my testing, which isn’t a bad thing. 

Every app I tested loaded quickly and streamed reliably, whether I was binging Chappelle's Show on Netflix or catching up on wrestling news on YouTube. But more importantly, the PS5’s streaming apps are easier to access than before thanks to a handy Media tab that’s just a button press away on the home screen. That’s a nice upgrade from the PS4, which buried all of its streaming apps in a slow-loading TV & Video menu. 

PS5 review: Heat and noise 

PS5

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Thanks to its massive internal fan and large vents along the inside of the chassis, the PS5 stayed cool and mostly quiet during my time with it. I rarely noticed any noise coming out of the console, even as I spent hours exploring Astro’s Playroom or webbing up crooks in Spider-Man. I did notice some rare moments of audible noise when running Star Wars Battlefront II, and could hear discs spinning pretty loudly when I first put Blu-rays in the machine. But compared to the jet-engine-like noises that come out of my PS4 when simply downloading a game, the PS5 is blissfully quiet. 

PS5 review: 3D audio  

The PS5’s Tempest Engine enables it to deliver 3D audio for supported games, allowing you to hear game sounds with greater directionality than standard stereo can offer. The PS5’s 3D audio is designed to work with most existing headphones and headsets, though Sony’s new Pulse 3D Wireless Headset is optimized for the technology. So far we’ve tested 3D audio on an Astro A20 headset, and while the effects have been mostly subtle, they show lots of promise.

The PS5’s audio tricks were most pronounced in Astro’s Playroom, as I could hear the rain clearly coming from above me, and could pinpoint the sound of a tornado whirring between my left and right ears as it shot my character upwards. It was also easy to pick out where cars, planes and enemies were coming from when swinging around in Spider-Man: Miles Morales, but I didn’t notice a huge difference between when the effect was on or off. 

Like many of the PS5’s features, it’ll ultimately be up to developers to make the most of the console’s 3D audio tech. We’re eager to try more games with 3D audio support, as well as get our hands on the Pulse 3D headset for the full experience.

PS5 review: Verdict 

PS5

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The PS5 is a genuine leap forward for console gaming, offering gorgeous 4K performance, stunningly fast load times and a truly game-changing controller that makes playing games more immersive and tactile than ever. It plays nearly all PS4 games, and, in many cases, allows them to run and load better than ever before. 

However, there are a few reasons to wait before hitting that buy button — if you can even find Sony’s new console, that is. The PS5’s launch lineup contains very few must-have exclusives, as PS4 owners can still enjoy major releases such as Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. The console’s massive size may also be a concern for those with limited space, and the DualSense controller itself could be a little big for folks with smaller hands.

As with most console launches, the PS5 is only going to get better over time with new exclusive games and features for those who choose to wait. It’s also worth considering Microsoft’s $499 Xbox Series X, which offers slightly more power and works with four generations of Xbox games. But if you manage to pick a PS5 up now, know that you’ll be treated to a true next-gen experience complete with advanced haptics, beautiful graphics and almost zero friction between you and the games you want to play.