PlayStation 5 has been something of an enigma. While information is now slowly being doled out about Sony’s next-generation game console here in ASEAN, there is still little known about what it feels like to finally pick up a controller and start gaming on the PS5 — that is, until now.
I had the opportunity to attend a private session held by Sony Interactive Entertainment Singapore (SIES) where I was lucky enough to see and try out the new console ahead of its 19 November release.
So, yes. I have seen it, felt it and played it; The PlayStation 5 is real. And I can tell you about it right here.
A White Monolith
Sony has already released the numbers on the size of the PS5, but it doesn’t really hit you until you get to see the console up close in person — this is a big boy.
Its sheer white fins sandwich the black exterior that houses the components powering the system, and when stood up, gives off an almost monolithic look that accentuates its already hefty appearance.
With that said, while the PS5 is bigger than almost all the gaming consoles that we’ve seen, it’s size isn’t to the point where it looks out of place in a home. It toes the line in being exaggerated, and I personally feel that the look and design language of the system would fit in nicely into many homes. At the very least, it sure will stand out in a living room.
Paired with the console is the new controller for the PlayStation 5, the DualSense. It follows the same two-tone design scheme as the console and is mainly shaped similarly to the DualShock 4, if a little bit rounder at the grips. There’s slightly more weight when handling the controller as well; no surprise considering what the features it comes packed with — but more on that later.
Overall, having a DualSense in the hands is satisfying. The textured exterior on the grips as well as the weightier feel provided a premium feel whilst holding the controller. Buttons and triggers also felt tactile and responsive as is; I suspect many will be happy with what Sony has crafted here, and there’s still so much more to it.
So that’s what you will see and feel when you take the console and controller out of the box. Once it’s plugged in and powered on though, it’s a whole other experience.
Feeling the Game
Typically, the biggest takeaway from a new games console is the graphic leap seen in games. While this is still a big part of what PlayStation 5 will be, this isn’t what I will be gushing about today.
I played demos for three games during my session with the PS5 — Sackboy: A Big Adventure, Balan Wonderworld and Astro’s Playroom — but what occupied my mind the most after my play session was my experience with the DualSense controller.
I’ve alluded to it multiple times in the course of this article, but to put it straight, the DualSense may just be Sony’s Trojan Horse for next-generation gaming.
The controller employs haptic feedback instead of traditional rumble capabilities and also uses an all-new adaptive trigger system. These may just seem like fancy marketing terms, but these features are truly something to behold; It makes for a very unassuming device until you actually pair it with a game.
Both Sackboy: A Big Adventure, and Balan Wonderworld display aspects of this during their demos.
Sackboy: A Big Adventure by developer Sumo Digital put me into the shoes of PlayStation’s now-iconic plush mascot, and after a story cutscene, I got to run around in a vast toy-inspired 3D environment.
I started exploring the area and began picking up score bubbles littered around the environment, and the controller provided pleasant feedback each time I got a bubble. The same is true whenever I step onto a jump platform; the vibration made me feel as though the character was being boosted up. This was something unique for sure.
Balan Wonderworld presents a different side to the DualSense’s features. The upcoming game from Sonic the Hedgehog creator Yuji Naka is a 3D platformer that has you playing a character who receives abilities whenever they change into a “costume”. There are different “costumes” to be found in the world, each with a specific ability.
For instance, there is a “plant costume” which I got during the second level of the demo, and pushing on the triggers activates the ability to elongate your neck like a growing stalk.
The trippy thing about doing this is that there is resistance when you click the trigger, and that feedback makes it feel like you are actually lengthening the neck yourself whenever you push down.
As it is, these two games provided just a taste of what the DualSense controller is capable of doing. But for Astro’s Playroom, it felt like a six-course meal was given to feast on the controller’s features.
The Six-Course DualSense Meal
Out of the three, Astro’s Playroom was the one to make the most extensive use of the features from the controller, and it should be no surprise as well. It’s predecessor, Astro Bot Rescue Mission, was an excellent advertisement for PlayStation VR and now Playroom will do the same for the DualSense; It certainly makes me really excited at what future games for the PS5 can do with it.
The demo started in a small hub world, but before I actually hopped into playing one of the worlds, the representative from SIES wanted me to first try my hand on a couple of weapons. He directed me to two ropes, where I had to hold onto the square button and pull them out.
Doing what he instructed, I could feel the haptic feedback at work, producing a sensation that made me feel as though I was pulling an elastic spring— and then the rope finally broke, revealing a machine gun.
Picking it up, I instinctively used the triggers to fire it up, and immediately I could feel the vibrations on my fingers every time a bullet left the barrel; the rattling from the kickback on every shot. This isn’t the regular rumble where every gun has the same feedback; it distinctly felt like a machine gun.
I turned to the other rope, this time producing a bow and arrow. As I wind up the shot, the trigger added tension as I pulled longer, just as if it was an actual bow. It made for a unique experience that set me on my way for the rest of the demo.
Finally, I started the demo proper and went through the Cooling Springs level, meant to be a fun visualisation of PlayStation 5’s cooling system. Off I slid down a slide that soon threw me onto a body of water near a beach, with the DualSense giving off the appropriate “splash” feedback as well. Swimming also felt unique, where the buoyancy from floating translated onto the controller.
Once I reached shore, subtle vibrations from the DualSense combined with the sound of the pitter-patter from my character’s feet walking, which was really effective in giving off the illusion that I was walking on sand. Honestly, this was unusually satisfying to experience.
Pushing further up, I encountered a sandstorm made from the in-game representation of the PS5’s fans, and I could feel the simulation of pushback from the work of the controller’s haptic feedback.
Just to flash forward a little; eventually, I reach the snow level, and just like how the controller worked its charm on the beach level, this level provided a unique sensation whilst exploring. Trudging through the snow was distinct on its own as was gliding along the ice blocks with the controller emanating subtly from each slink.
But moving on from how levels feel during exploration, I am eager to talk about how the DualSense controller works for gameplay.
In between the beach and snow levels, there was a point where the game placed my character into a “spring suit”, and I had to navigate through the level by hopping. I suited up with a swipe of the touchpad, and then I was off. To activate the hop, I had to hold down the triggers, and like the bow and arrow weapon, I could feel the tension on the triggers as I held down — it felt eerily like an actual spring.
And this works seamlessly into the gameplay as well. There isn’t much resistance when you produce a small hop by pressing halfway on the triggers, but when you want to do a bigger leap by holding down on them, the triggers aptly translate that for you by ratcheting up the tension the deeper you press down.
The whole gameplay package is finished off with the use of the gyroscope feature on the DualSense, which you use to control the direction of where you want to jump. And when in tandem, this felt really good to play and was certainly nothing I’ve experienced before.
The Main Takeaway
On their own, there are undoubtedly positive things I could say about the three games I’ve played.
Sackboy: A Big Adventure looks to be a delightful game with its distinct toy-like appearance and warm visuals. Balan Wonderworld has some interesting things going on in its costume system, and Astro’s Playroom is a very bright and wholesome game that plays beautifully in 4K and 60 fps and also gave a sneak peak into the PlayStation 5 SSD’s capabilities where levels loaded back up in no time for every failed platforming section I attempted.
But with the implementation of the DualSense controller’s features within the gameplay, it elevates the experience to a whole new level, and it immersed me like no game has done before. I can only hope that developers make use of it for many future games instead of ignoring it like how it was for the touchpad on the DualShock 4.
Games and graphics have always been the bread and butter of what made a games console. But it seems with the PlayStation 5; the DualSense may just buck the trend.