Since getting into the hands of anxious gamers, the PlayStation 5 has received plenty of positive buzz for its DualSense controller. The enthusiasm is well deserved, as the peripheral's haptic feedback and adaptive trigger technologies have proven powerful tools in delivering next-gen immersion.
Having dug deeper into the hardware's many features though, we've discovered its evolved user experience is poised to be equally instrumental in pushing the medium forward. While not as immediately cool or impactful as, say, feeling Spider-Man's powers crackle through the controller, the UX's razor-sharp focus on gaming packs a subtler punch, albeit just as impressive.
It starts on the home screen, where clean, streamlined access to your game library is favored over superfluous distractions. Widgets for each title stretch across the top of the screen. Click one to immediately dive into the game or scroll down to access additional info on the title. Doing the latter displays news, stories, videos, activities, available DLC, and anything else related to that specific choice.
If you do want the home screen to cast a wider net, simply scroll down on the “Explore” widget – sitting to the left of the games' icons – to access the same sort of info on a more varied selection of titles, including those in your library. Speaking of your existing collection, a smooth scroll to the right, passed each dedicated game widget, will bring you to your entire library. Everything you own (both physical and digital) or access via PlayStation Plus and PlayStation Now is listed with a variety of sorting options.
While the home screen's all about polishing and refining what previously worked in the PS4's interface, the Control Center takes things a few steps further, adding welcome functionality and new features. Press the PlayStation button during any game, and the action pauses, while a row of related “Activity” cards populate the screen. The cards represent in-game goals (including Trophies) and objectives, from optional challenges to critical-path missions.
In Spider-Man Miles Morales, for example, Activity cards include Challenges, Main and Side Missions, and Collectibles. Click on any of the cards, and pertinent info is displayed, from progress tracking and descriptions to sub-objectives and completion rewards. In some cases, games will let you jump to the chosen Activity's location and even offer an estimate on how long it'll take to complete.
PlayStation Plus members can leverage additional help from Activities, accessing official tips and hints and, in some cases, video walk-throughs and solutions that can be viewed alongside the game via a player-placed pin. We took advantage of the feature, aptly dubbed “Game Help,” during Astro's Playroom, controlling the titular bot while intently watching its helpful counterpart solve a puzzle we were stuck on. It's an amazing feature that'll hopefully allow some of us less seasoned soulslike fans to finally conquer Demon's Souls.
Sharing is caring (and easy)
The Activities bar also ties directly into the PS5's evolved sharing features, as any captured content appears as a card, ready to be edited and uploaded. Whether you want to let your screenshots and video clips sit on the Activities bar for later use or mess with them immediately, the PS5 makes sharing content a breeze. Pressing the new Create button brings up the options to snap a screenshot, start a new recording, or save recent gameplay. From this same screen, you can also begin a broadcast and play with more granular settings, such as resolution and file types.
If you want to share your captured skills with social media and friends – or an entire party of them – you're just a couple of clicks away. Of course, you can also do some quick edits, add messages, even using the DualSense's mic to talk-to-text, or access your entire media gallery to maybe find a better shot. Creating and sharing content is an incredibly simple and intuitive process, one that should encourage even the least tech-savvy fans to dip their toes into the social influencer pool.
While Activities, Game Help, and Create stand out among the PS5's most welcome, gaming-related UX features, it's important to note that even the more mundane stuff has benefited from the overhaul. The Control Center – which can also be accessed from the home screen – for example, hosts multiple other functions, from quickly switching between recently played games and monitoring downloads to accessing your profile and seeing which of your friends are online.
And because this is all accessible in-game, there's never any need to pop out and, say, check how much longer it'll be before that game you're dying to play downloads. This sentiment applies to the entire UX, as it's not just the individual features that standout, but how they're so organically integrated with one another.
The PS5's user experience may not be as immediately flashy as the DualSense's effects or a dynamically ray-traced reflection, but it's an equal contributor in evolving our favorite pastime. Its many improvements sink in slowly, but once you begin realizing you're spending lots less time surfing menus than blistering your thumbs in your favorite virtual worlds, that generational leap becomes apparent.