Sony PlayStation 5 review: the DualSense controller seals the win

Sony’s foray into the future hits the mark thanks to its game-changing controller

The mothership has landed in my living room. The PlayStation 5, which launches November 12 in North America, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and November 19 elsewhere, looks like an unidentified flying object. If it hovered over my house and launched a tractor beam, then I wouldn’t bat an eyelid.

It’s bigger and bolder than its rival the Xbox Series X, and a lot more extravagant. The design of the console is far from reserved, with curved side plates jutting out over the edges of a monolithic black centrepiece. Engraved indentations provide a maker’s mark, letting you know the dynasty of this futuristic but very quiet device.

But none of it falls into place until you pick up the controller. There’s much to be said about the loading times and powerful performance upgrades, but we can’t really talk about the PS5 without dwelling on the DualSense. When I first picked it up, I said it was like “ASMR for your hands”, and I still stand by that lip service. It’s continued to impress me over the weekend, and I think it’s fair to say that this peripheral has more than just incredible potential.

PS5 DualSense Controller
The PS5’s new DualSense controller. Credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment

Playing through Astro’s Playroom and Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, the DualSense has consistently proven itself to be one of the most exciting facets of the PS5. If immersion is important to you, Sony is pushing the envelope with adaptive triggers and improved haptics. It’s the little extraordinary moments that stick out, like the resistance leading to the tiny ‘thwip’ you can feel as you yank hard on the right trigger to send Spider-Man hurtling across the New York City skyline.

Your muscle memory will eventually adapt to it and make the feeling less explicit, but when you receive your PS5, I urge you to go back to the PS4 DualShock controller – or any controller from an older console for that matter – after a few days of play. You’ll miss how natural the DualSense feels to hold, and all of the tiny immersion-bolstering tweaks that keep you tapped into the game.

In Miles Morales, text messages from your mother will shake your palm as you’re holding your in-game phone, and you’ll feel the stuttered rumble of the subway car you’re standing in. The DualSense also offers a built-in mic array, which is a big win over the Xbox controller. It might not sound like a big deal on paper, but these kinds of premium features are what distance the PS5 from its rival, work hard to make it feel like the premium next-gen console.

The next step in curating this luxury veneer is 3D Audio. You can plug in most headsets (I use my Audio-Technica M50 studio monitoring cans) to activate this feature, and from here on out hear individual raindrops and discern the direction of enemy attacks before they blindside Spider-Man. It works seamlessly with the DualSense – take, for example, a level from Astro’s Playroom, where you have to push yourself across a platform which is buffeted by the wind. You can hear it whoosh behind your ears as the rumble focuses on the outskirts of your right palm, indicating the direction and pace of the weather. It’s pretty astounding in practice, and I’m prepared to argue that it’s not just another gimmick.

The DualSense itself feels incredibly important to the PS5 experience, more so than any light bar or gyroscope ever could in past generations. Everything about the console feels built to take advantage of it. You could argue that it might not get much play with third-party games, but I feel like developers will want to take advantage of the DualSense if they care about how their games feel to play.

Astro's Playroom
Astro’s Playroom. Credit: SIE Japan Studio / Team ASOBI!

This elegant sheen extends to the UI, which blows the Series X’s all-too-similar approach out of the water. From the burst of particles that welcomes you to the home screen to the unintrusive Control Centre, everything about the new console’s user experience feels special. Activity cards serve a real purpose, allowing you to seamlessly hop to different parts of a given game while you’re playing it – to wrap up collectables, focus on a side quest and “get to the good bit” with genuine ease. Given the remarkable loading times, this process is also quick and painless. It feels far more like an in-situ overlay than a pause, which is handy if you’re trying to maintain that cinematic finish.

The best analogy I can muster is that the two next-gen consoles feel like different types of picture houses. The Xbox Series X|S are your crowd-pleasing, family-friendly, no-nonsense cinema chain where you get heaps of popcorn and a Tango Ice Blast and enjoy a wide variety of popular flicks. The PlayStation 5, on the other hand, is more like your local independent theatre, where you have the option of wine or beer, fancier snacks and a selection of more stylish and critically acclaimed movies to watch.

Sure, the Xbox Game Pass might provide an unbeatable amount of games, but the more terse 20-game PS Plus Collection speaks for itself. Here, you have titles like The Last Of Us: Remastered, Bloodborne, God Of War, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End and Persona 5 all available to you at launch.

These are some of the greatest games of all time at your fingertips as soon as you boot up the PS5, providing enough content to tide you over for months. The best part is, many of them look and play better than they did in the last generation, or they will in time. Like Game Pass, it mitigates the need for launch exclusives, but unlike the Xbox Series consoles, the PlayStation 5 is far from lacking in that department. I’ve not had a chance to play Demon’s Souls or Sackboy: A Big Adventure yet, but here are two games that you can’t get anywhere else at launch, an instant win over its opponent.

God Of War
God Of War. Credit: SIE Santa Monica Studio

Spider-Man: Miles Morales, the first proper next-gen game I played, stuns with its ray tracing and 60fps fluidity in performance mode, and the incredible Astro’s Playroom will make your heart sing with its inimitable charm. Webbing back to Miles Morales for a sec, you can choose your game save and be perched ready to swing within a second or two thanks to the PS5’s SSD. It’s absolute madness, especially given that this is a game specifically made to coax out the power of next-gen.

I beat most of the PS Plus Collection games for work over the past five years, but it hasn’t stopped me from giving them another look on the PS5. Perhaps the most surprising part of all this, though, is how much life the PS5 can breathe into games that I previously hadn’t cared about. Days Gone might be the best example of this. I paid it no mind when it came out, but here I am completely enamoured with it at 4K resolution and 60fps. It’s a great open-world game, but the fatigue of loading screens on the PS4 initially made me look past it. A lovely touch is that the audio logs now come booming out of the DualSense in shocking clarity.

On the PS5, you have the time and space to really dig into a game like Days Gone, and appreciate the quality of Sony’s first-party output. Even older titles like Oddworld: New ’n’ Tasty and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain feel like new games on the PS5. In the former, you can’t even read the controller layout before the game loads… it’s pretty remarkable.

I almost wish I hadn’t played games like Ghost Of Tsushima so recently on the PS4 Pro, as it just looks and plays leaps and bounds better on the new console. I say all this to convey that the PS5 is going to rock your socks off if you missed out on the past generation of PlayStation games. You’ll be able to play all of these games in a better fashion than when they launched, at a speedier pace thanks to the bump in loading speed.

The only thing the console is missing is the Quick Resume feature shown on the Xbox. Still, the PS5 could somewhat make up for it if the activity card features are correctly implemented, letting you zip around within a game at lightning pace, something the Xbox consoles can’t provide.

T.R.A.C.K suit
Spider-Man: Miles Morales. Credit: Insomniac Games

Like the Xbox Series X, the PS5 also suffers a tad with its 825GB SSD, of which only around 670GB is actually usable. This means you’ll have to be careful with what games you install, though Sony has said that you will be able to expand the console’s storage in the future with specific high-powered SSDs. At the moment, it can’t be any worse of a solution than Microsoft’s proprietary £219.99 1TB add-on drive. Still, we’ll have to wait and see to understand whether manufacturers will provide cheaper expansion options before casting too many aspersions on that.

Then, of course, there’s the price. There is no premium option in the next-gen console war, given that both sides are offering their Sunday best at £449.99. If you can forego the disc drive, you can drop the price of the PS5 to £359.99 with no compromise on internal power (unlike the Xbox Series S) which is frankly an incredible deal for the parts on offer here, allowing up to 4K 120fps and a rapid SSD. In reality, as much as it pains me to say, the disc’s days are numbered, so if you’re on a budget, this is a mighty attractive option.

With its marmite spaceship design, the PlayStation 5 looks like the future, but it also happens to feel like it too. From the moment you boot into the gorgeous UI and get your mitts on the haptic wonderland of the DualSense, this console feels like the true next-gen experience you’ve been waiting for. With a proper launch lineup and a litany of modern classics available via the PS Plus Collection, you won’t be stuck for good games to play over the coming months either.

The PlayStation 5 will be released on November 12 in North America, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and worldwide on November 19.

Our Verdict

If you’re the kind of person who values immersion and your own free time, you will not be disappointed by the power, pace and promise of the PlayStation 5, especially for the pleasant price. Sure, it’s a bit big, and it’s slightly lacking when it comes to available storage space. But ultimately, if you want value for money, a proper launch lineup, excellent backwards compatibility and a fascinating future of exclusive titles, you should look no further than Sony’s offering this generation.

Pros

  • 4K 120fps for £359.99 is a mind-bogglingly good deal
  • The DualSense is worth the price of entry alone for its incredible immersive quality
  • A proper launch lineup of genuine next-gen games and modern classics via backwards-compatibility

Cons

  • Its marmite spaceship design might put some people off
  • The available storage situation is still unclear

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