The Playstation 5 is finally here — or is it?
My first memorable experience with the Playstation 5 happened before I even opened the box.
I was walking out into the Best Buy parking lot, console in hand: my reward for having stayed up until 3 a.m. a month earlier, frantically refreshing the preorder page alongside who knows how many fellow dummies. All of a sudden, a car that was pulling out swung up to me, and a man leaned out the window. “A thousand dollars right here for that console, right now,” he said, gesturing at the machine I had just paid $400 for and neither of us had ever used. I laughed and said no, and he laughed and drove off, and then I went and got in my car. And at that moment it sunk in that I had just turned down enough money to buy myself two PS5s and have $200 leftover. Why? I thought to myself. Why would someone pay almost three times the price for this console? And why did I feel enamored enough with it to say no? It was those two questions that ran through my head on repeat throughout my first experiences with the Playstation 5, a console that, at least for now, struggles to produce satisfying answers for either question.
“Why would someone pay almost three times the price for this console? And why did I feel enamored enough with it to say no?”
Maybe it’s just that this was my first time jostling my way to the front of the line for a next-gen console release, but this year’s launch seemed more fraught than usual. A combination of pandemic-addled production windows, gluts of shoppers driven by excessive free time and a desire to escape the world, and a virtual cavalry of lightning-quick robo-resellers depleted stocks faster than stores could put them up. There are even Twitch streams dedicated purely to constantly pinging various electronics websites so you know the very second when a new slew of consoles become available. The scarcity and desperation have driven up resale markets to what can only be scientifically described as bonkers, bananapants rates. The systems are pushing $1,000 on most third-party market sites, and you can find bidding wars on eBay heading up toward $2,000. For God’s sake, some monsters are selling just the packaging for hundreds of dollars.
To get it out of the way early: This is ridiculous. This kind of egregious inflation, of throttling a market and leaving thousands of families and fans to fight over the scraps, is so far from what any company should permit around a product launch, much less one of the largest and most prestigious gaming companies in the world. To be fair, there has to be a certain leeway when considering the pandemic and all of the difficulties that come with it. But difficulties demand transparency.
If the Playstation 5 rollout had been well communicated, if Sony had made it clear that there might be supply issues, and the replenishment would be slow and spotty, it might be easier to feel some sympathy. But the consoles were cursed from the beginning— after Sony announced in a video that the consoles would go on sale the next morning, the retailers started opening sales the same afternoon, and every store sold out before most customers even realized they were available. The end result is the same for Sony: All of their systems are sold. But the real damage falls on the consumer — specifically, on the parent who now has to decide if they’re willing to fork over $1,000 to some predatory seller for their child’s Christmas present. The PS5 could be the single greatest invention of all time, and it would still be difficult to recommend in the current state.
That being said, let’s talk about the system itself. The PS5, unfortunately, is not the single greatest invention of all time. What it is is a behemoth, in every sense of the word. The console is massive — it sits on my TV stand like a little alien ship that has come to rest in my room. The size doesn’t sacrifice style though, everything from the sweeping white columns of the console to the sleek, updated controllers feels impressive and well-designed. The sense of “bigger means better” only increases inside the system itself, which has a whole host of technological upgrades over its predecessor. The most talked-about change (pre-release) was the new system’s Solid State Drive, which essentially removes load times. It is truly like an insane magic trick: You open a game and it just spits you right into the title screen, ready to play. The graphics are crisper, the framerates are smoother, and even the wifi card was upgraded, which has resulted in more reliable online play and faster downloads, two huge irritants of the PS4. Even with these improvements, however, the system often feels like less of a “next-gen” console and more of a “more-gen” console. The PS5 doesn’t do things the PS4 couldn’t do, so much as it does things the PS4 could do, but better.
These improvements, of course, only matter if the Playstation 5 has the games that properly utilize them. As of right now, that library just doesn’t exist. There are currently only two games that are exclusively playable on the Playstation 5: Astro’s Playroom, which ships with the console and acts as a sort of introduction to the new technology in the system, and Dark Souls Remastered, which comes with an asterisk because it is simply a remake of a Playstation 3 game. Every other game that has a Playstation 5 version is playable on Playstation 4. And while games like NBA 2K21 and Spider-Man: Miles Morales are undeniably deeper and more technically impressive experiences when played on the PS5, they’re still completely playable on the 4. The Playstation 5 does have the added benefit of coming with access to free downloads of a suite of some of the best Playstation 4 titles when you sign up for a PS5 Plus subscription, but even those wear thin. As nice as it is to be able to play souped-up versions of God of War or The Last of Us on my new system, it still feels weird to be using my PS5 as what is, essentially, a very tricked-out PS4.
This is not to mention that the system itself seems to still have some kinks to work out. My PS5 crashed three times while playing Miles Morales, all seemingly related to the system’s “rest mode,” an issue that has been flooding message boards with calls for help from concerned owners. While I was able to return to the game with no issues, it definitely set me on edge — How awful would it be to have my PS5 break before I even really get the chance to break it in?
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This is all to say that when it comes to whether or not I would recommend the Playstation 5, the answer is a resounding “not yet.” This is a tough conclusion to reach, especially because my breathless endorsement of the PS5 as a perfect holiday gift graces the pages of this very publication’s holiday gift guide. But my overwhelming experience — from the shameful console scarcity to the severely limited games library to the concerning software struggles — screams that this is a wait-and-see situation. I have no doubt that the PS5 will be a marquee console for years to come. Sony is too good at what it does to allow for any other result. But the system might be more suited for holiday gifting next December, when Sony has the time for stock to hit the shelves, can’t-miss games to pile up, and the world to bend slightly more in the direction of “normal.” Until then, I return to my two immediate questions after that stranger offered me a thousand dollars in a cold Best Buy parking lot on a gray day: Why would someone pay almost three times the price for this console? And why did I feel enamored enough with it to say no? The answers are simple, and somewhat melancholy: they shouldn’t, and, hopefully, we’ll see.