Over the past few weeks, MobileSyrup has extensively covered the new video hardware that’s launched this holiday — Sony’s PlayStation 5 and Microsoft’s Xbox Series X and S.
However, the nature of the consoles’ respective review programs meant that many games and/or next-gen optimizations didn’t become available until right before — or even after — launch. Around the time of reviews, Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales was the only PS5 game I got to really sink my teeth into (not counting pack-in Astro’s Playroom). Now that the consoles have been out for nearly two weeks, however, I’ve thankfully been able to go hands-on with many of the games.
As a result, I’ve decided to put together a collection of mini-reviews on notable launch games, including notes on how well they take advantage of the new hardware. We’ll have a similar feature on Xbox Series X/S games in the coming days (as well as a proper review of Sackboy: A Big Adventure once I can play co-op), but for now, here are some shorter takes on six PS5 launch titles:
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War
Platform: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC
ESRB rating: M for Mature
Price: $89.99 (for ‘Cross-Gen bundle’ including PS4 and PS5 copy)
At this point, you pretty much know what to expect from a Call of Duty game. After all, one comes out every year — two, in 2020’s case, thanks to March’s Warzone.
And for the most part, Cold War is, unsurprisingly, not a drastic departure from what’s come before it. But that doesn’t mean that Cold War is devoid of any cool new tricks on top of the tried-and-true Call of Duty formula. With the campaign, I appreciate that there’s character customization and even a few choices you can make to personalize the proceedings a bit. Further, Cold War‘s story wisely leans into its setting to offer more of a classic spy thriller feel in the vein of James Bond.
Outside of that, I’ll confess that I’ve never been a huge Call of Duty multiplayer guy, but the suite of modes here — particularly the ever-popular Zombies — is as solid as ever. Further, I’m excited to see the deep Warzone integration that Activision has planned for Cold War, starting on December 10th. As a regular player of the free-to-play battle royale experience, I’m eager to see progress carry over between games when I squad up with friends.
But my favourite aspect of Cold War is much more understated. Other than Astro’s Playroom, Cold War has perhaps my favourite suite of DualSense features of any game so far. Essentially, each gun has its own haptic feedback and adaptive triggers unique to the type of firearm that you’re using. Firing an SMG doesn’t feel anything like a Desert Eagle or semi-automatic rifle, and this variety of feedback results in shooting feeling incredibly immersive. In so doing, Treyarch has set the standard for how I want guns to feel in other PS5 shooters.
The only significant issue with Cold War is its much-talked-about file sizes, which — when coupled with Warzone — exceed 250GB. It’s an obscene amount of space to take up, especially on the PS5, which (for now) has limited storage expansion options to begin with. Please, Activision — find a way to make your game files smaller.
Devil May Cry 5 Special Edition
Platform: PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S
ESRB rating: M for Mature
One of my favourite games of 2019 was Devil May Cry 5, an incredibly engaging action game bursting with style and charm. With the Special Edition, Capcom has taken its excellent action game and made it even better.
For the unfamiliar, DMC5 follows three playable characters — longtime series hero Dante, returning DMC4 protagonist Nero and the mysterious newcomer V. Each have their own distinct playstyles that are remarkably deep, intuitive and satisfying to dig into. But DMC5 SE also adds recurring villain Vergil as a playable character, whose katana-based combat feels as good as ever (set to the tune of an incredible new theme sung by Ottawa’s own Victor Borba, no less). More bonus content comes in the form of Legendary Dark Knight mode for many more enemies per level and Turbo mode for 20 percent faster game speed — all made possible thanks to the improved hardware. The latter option is particularly interesting when coupled with the technical enhancements, as it makes fights blazingly fast.
All told, DMC5 SE makes good use of the PS5’s tech through several different resolution and frame rate modes. Specifically, you have the option to play at native 4K/60fps on most modes or upscaled 4K/120fps on the highest frame rate setting. I played the original DMC5 on the Xbox One X, where I thought it looked and ran great at 4K/60fps, but the 120fps support definitely is tangible in a fast-paced action game like this. Outputting at an upscaled 4K really still looks beautiful, as well. Of course, the only caveat is that you’ll need a supported display (I have Sony’s ‘PlayStation 5 Ready’ 900H).
While the added frame rate is excellent, I do find the ray tracing modes — which lowers resolution to as much as 1080p — aren’t as effective. To be sure, the realistic reflections are inarguably impressive, especially in DMC5‘s neon-soaked nighttime environments. But the high-speed gameplay means you’re rarely pausing to notice these lighting effects, making it not worth the trade-offs to frame rate or resolution (depending on which you choose to prioritize when ray tracing is enabled). Further, the DualSense integration isn’t all that neat, with the only real change here being added rumble for Nero’s ‘Exceed’ move to charge up his sword — a cool but mostly disposable feature.
None of that really matters, though, when the core game is so fantastic. And with a respectable price tag of only $49.99, it’s easy to recommend DMC5 SE to both newcomers and returning fans.
Platform: PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PC
Developer: Codemasters Cheshire
ESRB rating: E for Everyone
Price: $79.99 (includes PS4 and PS5 versions)
Outside of cartoonish titles like Mario Kart and Crash Team Racing, I’ve never been much of a racing game guy. Moreover, I was initially only interested in Dirt 5 insofar as its next-gen enhancements. With that context in mind, I’m happy to say I’ve really enjoyed my time with Codemaster Cheshire’s latest off-road racer.
As I’m primarily a single-player gamer, I immediately went to the Career mode. While it isn’t anything revolutionary, I really appreciated the stunning and diverse locales it took me to — including Arizona, Brazil, China, Morocco, Italy and Norway — and charming banter from Donut Media presenters James Pumphrey and Nolan Sykes. Adding to that is ever-excellent performances from Troy Baker and Nolan North as your suave mentor AJ and cold-and-calculating rival Bruno, respectively.
Dirt 5 also has a robust lineup of content beyond that, including Arcade, multiplayer and track creation modes. It’s especially handy to be able to use the PS5’s excellent Activities feature to instantly jump into some of these modes right from the dashboard, such as an online race if I find myself in the mood.
But perhaps the biggest reason I’ve taken to Dirt 5 as much as I have is through how it uses the PS5 hardware. At launch, it’s one of the few games to support 120fps, and you really feel that higher frame rate when you’re zipping around corners at top speed alongside other vehicles. Of course, you have the option to prioritize resolution, which fully showcases the dynamic weather effects (like rain covering the dirt-covered tracks to create splashy mud) with impressive degrees of realism.
All the while, you feel sudden bursts of feedback or prolonged vibrations through the DualSense depending on which direction you’re turning, what terrain you’re covering and more. I was surprised at just how much this added to the moment-to-moment racing, enhancing the already rock-solid driving mechanics with haptics that deftly capture that feeling of frenetic and bumpy off-road racing.
Platform: PlayStation 5, PC
Developer: Counterplay Games
ESRB rating: M for Mature
Counterplay Games’ action-RPG is a bit of a unique game when it comes to the PS5 launch lineup. In fact, it was actually the first PS5 title we even knew about thanks to its reveal all the way back at The Game Awards in December 2019. Further, Godfall has repeatedly been referred to as a “looter-slasher” — on paper, a new kind of experience that takes the loot-based RPG mechanics of multiplayer shooters like Destiny and brings them to a single-player action game.
Unfortunately, that’s pretty much all that’s interesting with Godfall. All told, it’s a woefully by-the-numbers action game that doesn’t do anything noteworthy with the genre. First and foremost is Godfall‘s barebones plot, which has you playing as the thoroughly bland Orin as he seeks vengeance against his brother. While I have some appreciation for Godfall being a new IP, it doesn’t mean much when the world or characters are window dressing.
On top of that, combat itself is quite trite, with your standard light and heavy attacks mixed with dodges and a shield mechanic ripped straight out of 2018’s far superior God of War. At first, Godfall‘s weapons feel appropriately punchy, but they’re fairly forgettable and don’t evolve much over the course of the game. This extends to the progression system with mostly disposable unlockable skills, and an overabundance of loot that ensures items rarely feel useful or exciting to obtain.
Really, what makes Godfall at all notable is the PS5 itself. For one thing, Counterplay has leveraged the hardware to create a gorgeous, particle effect-filled world. As with several other current-gen games, you also have the welcome choice to prioritize resolution or frame rate, with the latter feeling buttery smooth most of the time. What’s more, the DualSense controller’s haptics provide uniquely satisfying weight to each of the game’s weapons.
Overall, Godfall isn’t a terrible game, per se; it’s just too generic to recommend among the litany of other great action experiences out there — especially with its high price tag.
Platform: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, mac, iOS (via Apple Arcade)
Developer: Giant Squid
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
ESRB rating: E for Everyone 10+
Price: $53.49 (includes PS4 and PS5 versions)
The Pathless isn’t exactly what you’d expect from a PS5 game, in that it’s a smaller, six-hour-or-so minimalist open-world experience that’s also playable on iPhone. But that’s precisely what makes it so compelling.
In the game, you play as the Hunter, an archer who’s sent to a mysterious island to lift a deadly curse. Right off the bat, The Pathless evokes the wonderful ambiguity of Journey and sense of discovery of Breath of the Wild. That’s because the world is mostly empty by design, and The Pathless is careful to never spell out exactly what transpired on the island. This allows for a rewarding amount of environmental storytelling found through remnants of a former civilization and vague messages left by spirits. I liked how this even extends to well-designed arrow-based puzzles you must solve in dilapidated buildings — thinking about what happened here while figuring out how to reach blocked targets remained engaging throughout.
The Pathless never feels completely isolating, though, since you have a lovable eagle companion who helps guide you on your mission. A core mechanic even involves petting the bird whenever it’s harmed by the aura of the curse — an effective way of deepening your emotional connection to it. All the while, Grammy-winning Journey composer Austin Wintory’s outstanding score adds wonders to the already melancholic atmosphere.
Further enhancing The Pathless is an incredibly intuitive and fluid traversal system, wherein the Hunter can shoot talismans that are littered around the world to recharge her stamina bar and get a quick burst of speed. Chaining shots together in rapid succession to maintain momentum always feels satisfying, especially when you feel the bow’s draw with the DualSense. The eagle also allows you to glide and gain altitude as you upgrade its abilities through collectible crystals found throughout the world, which opens up the world further and provides meaningful, prolonged character growth as you play.
My only real gripe with The Pathless pertains to the cursed creatures guarding each of the world’s plateaus. While your final encounters with them are thrilling (in no small part thanks to Wintory’s explosive and tense compositions), they can also attack you while exploring. This triggers a stealth encounter, causing you to lose some crystals when spotted — a clever substitute for a traditional “game over” screen. Unfortunately, though, these scenarios always felt tedious, especially when they interrupt your exploration and puzzle-solving. When the core gameplay loop is so good, the stealth bits just come off as forced. The structure of the game — ‘find keys to unlock three towers and fight the boss’ — also grows somewhat repetitive towards the end.
Still, it’s easy to forgive these shortcomings. With games like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla feeling somewhat bloated and unwieldy with run times easily exceeding 50 hours, it’s refreshing to have an open-world game like The Pathless that feels much more intimate and meticulous in its design. It might not really be a showcase of the PS5’s technical capabilities (outside of options for 4K/30fps or 60fps at lower resolution), but if you can look past that, The Pathless is a great, worthwhile experience.
Observer: System Redux
Platform: PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PC
Developer: Bloober Team
ESRB rating: M for Mature
Next month’s Cyberpunk 2077 is no doubt many peoples’ most anticipated game, but there’s another cyberpunk experience that should absolutely be on your radar: Observer: System Redux. For context, System Redux is an enhanced port of 2017’s largely overlooked psychological horror game Observer — filled with a slew of visual enhancements, 60fps support, new quests and more.
In Observer, you play as Daniel Lazarski, a cybernetically-enhanced old police officer who’s investigating the disappearance of his estranged son Adam. It’s a simple premise, but it’s executed very well thanks to an intriguing detective noir-inspired narrative and the late, iconic Rutger Hauer of Blade Runner fame lending appropriate gravitas to the weathered Daniel. Although much of the game takes place in a run-down apartment complex, its rainsoaked, rat-infested and technologically decrepit infrastructure make it a surprisingly memorable setting. On top of that, you’ll speak with an eclectic cast of residents with their own problems who all add layers to the game’s fascinating cyberpunk world.
But where Observer really comes alive is through its ‘Dream Eater’ mechanic. Throughout his investigation, Daniel comes across bodies that he can hack into to relive their memories. It’s here that Observer gets absolutely nuts, with nightmarish sequences containing disembodied voices, sudden cuts between areas, incredibly atmospheric lighting effects and more. Even better, you slowly unravel what happened to persons of interest amid all of the delightfully trippy spectacle, which often culminate in morally-grey choices that you must make.
I don’t want to spoil these here, but suffice it to say that they make full use of the cyberpunk setting for added techno-induced horror. Bloober also smartly blurs the lines between Dream Eater and real-world sequences by having visual elements from the former slowly bleed into the latter over time — an ingenious way of visualizing the toll that Daniel’s dependency on cybernetics to enhance the psychological nature of the story.
The only downside to the Dream Eater bits is that Bloober has a disappointing tendency to add tired horror game tropes to them. The brain hacking sequences are already appropriately chilling due to their subject matter, so the jump scares and “instant game over when seen” stealth bits aren’t needed. Thankfully, these aren’t common enough to ruin the otherwise fantastic dream sequences. They’re also made better by the inventive ways by which the game leverages the DualSense controller to provide feedback, ranging from the adaptive triggers tied to opening doors (which you can choose to do slowly), vibrations to match your footsteps when running and, most effectively, increasingly intense pulses to simulate your heartbeat as enemies approach in stealth encounters.
Ultimately, I’ve come to appreciate tightly crafted, 10-ish hour experiences like this. Observer: System Redux takes an already great game and improves on it through excellent use of the current-gen hardware. Even better, it’s only $39.99 — what’s not to love about that? It’s also worth noting that Bloober’s next game, the psychological horror title The Medium, is also coming to Xbox Series X/S and PC in January following a brief delay, so I’m now very eager to see what they do with that game as well.