The Essay: What Sony’s PS5 Means To A Writer Who’s Been There For All PlayStation Hardware Releases

By Harold Goldberg

It’s bittersweet. The PlayStation 5 may well be the last PlayStation I will ever review. I’ve been around, carefully writing about this Sony-created game playing machine since the days of the PlayStation one. I’ve bonded with friends and girlfriends while playing, and I’ll never forget those relationships, many of which are still strong 25 years later.

I’ve seen the widespread, worldwide embracing of the PlayStation 2. These was were heady times when Sony seemed to rule the game world. I’ve witnessed the massive consumer shock at the high price of the PlayStation 3, during which Sony was accused of hubris for trying to stick it to consumers. On that launch day, I was with Sony’s executives. While they tried their best to exude a happy demeanor, they were, in essence, glum. Sony came back more humbly to market the PlayStation 4 – to amazing results not only with the hardware itself, but with best-selling, graphically gobsmacking series like Uncharted and The Last of Us.

So as I opened the package, I saw the new device and some peripherals like a headset were fancily wrapped up in gift paper. I carefully undid the paper and put it aside. I noted the PS5 box and thought about its Play Has No Limits marketing proclamation. I had mixed feelings. There was awareness that a new PlayStation is a release to be thoughtfully reviewed for excited consumers. And there is the sadness that comes with knowing that I may be at least partially retired by the time the next PlayStation is released in seven years. I’m not ashamed to say I got a little choked up as I set it up.

But for now, the PS5 is a futuristic-looking device with technology that will allow for not just better graphics but a plethora of interactivity that was heretofore impossible. It’s impressive in its size. Its design on the outside looks something like a rocket and a skyscraper. In fact, its curves remind me of legendary architect I.M. Pei’s work on various Los Angeles buildings. But then, the PS5 is too big to fit horizontally even in my sprawling entertainment center which holds four PlayStations and four Xboxes. I put it down on its side, but I really wish it would have fit standing high like New York City’s Empire State Building.

With loading times, I had various results. Spider-Man: Miles Morales loads quickly between scenes and this new rendition of Harlem is rife with bright colors that pop. The analogy I made was to the lurid colors in Pixar’s “Coco.” But this Harlem has its own kind of brightness that’s alive – from artful murals with positive messages to food carts so realistic, you can almost smell a meal’s alluring spices. You know immediately this was the place of Gordon Parks’ historic jazz photograph “A Great Day In Harlem” and later, “A Great Day in Hip-Hop.” Here in Miles Morales, it’s a Harlem where even the signs sing of hopefulness and about life being lived.

But Bugsnax, which I reviewed for The Washington Post, didn’t move as quickly as I’d hoped between levels. Although the graphics are beautiful, they’re not so detailed as say, a more realistic game like Miles Morales. Nor are there many characters on the screen at one time. But minus some gameplay challenges, it’s a solid, family friendly offering with superb comic narrative for the console, even though the caveat is too much repetition of tasks.

As someone with a nerve problem in his wrist, I do not care for the weight of the DualSense controller.  It’s a tad heavier that my Xbox One controller, and I thought that small bump in weight made it the heaviest controller of all time. But the Xbox Series X controller is actually heavier! That’s not good for long hours of play – in my case. The DualSense controlelr can do many things with vibration, audio and is a click away from onscreen UI within the game. But it’s heavy.  I loved the lightness of the PS4 controller. It was perfect for me, and I wish I could use it with my PS5.

There’s a reason for the weight, though, because the motors inside make the video game experience feel more real. Because of the DualSense’s haptic subtleties, I actually can envision a game with minimal graphics or no graphics, one that inventively uses a 3D audio headset and the DualSense. Something in the horror genre with things that go bump in the night would work especially well here.

I believed I would see graphical wonders in the new Sackboy: A Big Adventure game, which I’m reviewing for The Post tomorrow. It’s another game the pops with brightness, this time within a whimsical fairy tale. But the graphics don’t stretch the processor of the PS5 very much. As someone who knows history, we won’t see what the PS5 can really do with its processing power until next year at this time – or later. It’s been that way since the first PlayStation. Final Fantasy VII, which held some of the system’s finest sci-fi graphics, wasn’t released until nearly three years after the console hit store shelves.

But there’s time to show off the bells and whistles down the line. Right now, it’s time for celebration and jubilance, not only for the what’s been released for eager players in the present, but for the future of the PlayStation 5, a future which is bright enough for me to believe the upcoming games will restore my childlike sense of wonder – over and over again. 

Journalist/author Harold Goldberg is the president and founder of the New York Videogame Critics Circle and the New York Game Awards.

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