The PlayStation 5 landed in stores (well, if you’re lucky enough to find one) just under two weeks ago, which has given us time to explore the launch games available for the next-gen machine. We’re running full-length features on “Spider-Man: Miles Morales,” “Watch Dogs: Legion,” “Assassin’s Creed Valhalla,” and “Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War” (two already posted/linked and two more reviews coming soon), but they’re not alone. Sony also sent over review copies of some other titles, include one loaded on the PS5 for everyone who buys one. Here are brief thoughts on five titles that deserve your attention, in random order …
"Souls" games don’t hold your hand. They don’t care about your feelings. They want to kill you over and over again. We’ve written a bit here about the excellence of these games, but this is actually the one that started it all. Developed by FromSoftware for the PlayStation 3, 2009’s “Demon’s Souls” launched the franchise that would lead to three excellent “Dark Souls” games and the masterful “Bloodborne,” one of the best games of the PS4 era. While the inevitable “Bloodborne 2” will eventually destroy gamer patience on the PS5, the first game like this out of the gate is a rebuild of “Demon’s Souls” from the ground up, retelling the story of Boletaria, a land dominated by creatures who just want to see your lonely hero dead. The brutality of the first game was so intense and reviews so mixed that Sony didn’t even initially release it in the United States. Over a decade later, the "Souls" games have a loyal fan base, but if you're new, it's worth noting that this game is very much like “Dark Souls 3” in tone and style. It has some of the visual thrust of other PS5 games in its backgrounds and details, but these titles aren’t really about graphics as much as they are gameplay and atmosphere. I’m only getting started on my “Demon’s Souls” adventure, but I’ve killed a couple bosses, and I was reminded how success in these games just feels different than other titles. They make you work for it. And I was reminded how much I can’t wait to play “Bloodborne 2.”
The Ultimate Edition of “Spider-Man: Miles Morales” includes a remastered edition of the 2018 game that launched this franchise and it’s a stunner. The hit title about Peter Parker’s first adventures in New York City has been remastered to take advantage of the new controller, and has been fully upgraded visually, making for one of the best-looking games on the PS5 (the trophy probably goes to one of the Spidey games or “Valhalla”). The game feels more fluid than ever with combat sequences that play out with the seamlessness of “Miles Morales.” The story of “Spider-Man” is engaging enough, but the real draw of this game is the way it turns New York City into a playground. Swinging through the streets and running up its buildings has never looked more remarkable. It’s such a strong remaster that even people who finished the game on PS4 will be encouraged to play through it again, especially as a wonderful companion to the experience of "Miles Morales."
The days in which new gaming systems came with free games seemed to be far behind us. So it was a bit of a surprise when Sony announced that the PS5 comes preloaded with a platformer called “Astro’s Playroom.” At first, it feels like little more than a controller tutorial—a fun way to teach players how much that fancy new toy in their hands can do. And that’s certainly part of the artistic drive here, but “Astro’s Playroom” is a clever, well-designed game on its own terms. It could have just been a controller tutorial but it’s unexpectedly creative and unpredictable across multiple worlds with different themes. And the collectibles have a fun twist for true Sony fans in that they’re all based on the history of the company. For example, Astro finds artifacts like a PS2 or a PS VR as he travels through his digital world, turning the experience into something like a joyous romp through a PlayStation museum. It's a really fun tone-setter for the PS5 experience.
A lot of sports games (“FIFA,” “NBA 2K,” “Madden”) are annual Summer releases, meaning they missed the window for the next-gen systems. Some will upgrade to PS5 versions (“Madden 21” is going to be available for no charge to PS4 players on December 4th), but 2K Games took an interesting route, building a new PS5 version of their beloved sports game from the ground up. The bad news is that “NBA 2K21” players who bought the standard version on the PS4 can’t upgrade for free (although those who bought the special “Mamba Forever” edition will be able to do so), which could be frustrating because the PS5 version of “NBA 2K21” is gorgeous. The physics of the game—which is what’s most important in all sports titles—feel more fluid than ever, and the play feels more realistic too. Players not under your control, away from the ball, feel smarter than in the PS4 version, and the depth of field on the court is more consistent. It can still be a frustrating game (although that could just be me being out of practice with it) but it’s interesting to see this as merely a starting point for the future of sports games in the next generation.
“Sackboy: A Big Adventure”
The “LittleBigPlanet” series hasn’t seen a new installment since 2014’s “LittleBigPlanet 3,” but Sony is hoping to rekindle interest in its protagonist through the creative and clever “Sackboy: A Big Adventure,” a game that builds on the “controller tutorial” aspect of “Astro’s Playroom” to develop its own next-gen platformer. This franchise has always emphasized creativity, embodied by a creature made of fabric named Sackboy. Now he gets his own adventure, trying to stop the evil Vex (voiced wonderfully by Richard E. Grant) from destroying his world. Sackboy has to travel through five worlds, with multiple levels in each, and the creativity flows throughout the entire adventure. In particular, there are levels based on pop music hits like "Uptown Funk" or "Toxic," wherein the environment bumps and moves to the beat of the song, and they are as wonderful as any platformer in years. Each level adds a new ingenious twist to Sackboy’s skill set, and the game is certainly easy enough for all ages to complete but also contains enough collectibles for more experienced gamers to go back and find them all. The artistic success of games like “Spider-Man: Miles Morales” and “Assassin’s Creed Valhalla” was somewhat predictable, but PS5 owners may be surprised that the most purely fun game in these early days of the system could be “Sackboy.”
Review copies of these titles were provided by Sony and 2K Games.