Today is launch day for the PS5. For those of us who love playing video games with controllers that have shapes on them instead of letters, it’s the biggest day of the year. At least, it seemed that way! Before everything was put on hold due to COVID-19, when the dream of Cyberpunk 2077 was still a robotic twinkle in Keanu Reeve’s eye, it seemed like you might have wanted to sell your plasma for the chance to get a PS5. But when I—along with some other very lucky media people who were granted early review access to the console—received my PS5 about two weeks ago, I was surprised to find the humidifier-sized supercomputer, well, kind of airy.
Usually, when a console launches, it comes packaged with at least one big showpiece. Apparently, for Sony, that box was supposed to be checked by Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, which I thought was cool as heck, but tragically short and underdeveloped. After we got to try out Miles, Sony rolled out review editions of Devil May Cry 5 Special Edition, NBA 2K21, Sackboy: A Big Adventure, and Demon’s Souls. All of those games are either remakes, remasters, or titles that are also available on the PS4. On November 13, for example, Activision will release Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War—but that’s also a game you can play on the previous-generation console that you already own.
So, when people tell me they’re dying to get a PS5, I wonder what, exactly, they’re hoping to play on it. To me, a game console is only as good as its games. And, especially if you already have a PS4 Pro, most of the titles for this towering new PS5, which looks like the giant from Prometheus, can already be enjoyed perfectly fine on its younger brother. That would, of course, rule out Astro’s Playroom. The weird platformer that comes pre-packaged with the PS5 has not really gotten any attention, which is actually kind of baffling to me. Because, of all the titles available on the PS5 so far, Astro feels like the only one that was made for the PS5. Yes, I’m not afraid to say it: Astro’s Playroom is the first true game of the next generation! It is the dream of the PS5, fully realized. And it costs zero dollars to play.
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Astro’s Playroom, as far as I can tell, is about a small man who is trapped inside a PS5 controller. The story begins with you, as the player, swiping down on the deliciously responsive DualSense controller touch pad (which is shown onscreen), to triumphantly squirt the little guy out of his mechanical prison and into the corporeal world. From there, he enters, with glee, into a place called CPU Plaza. This is where all computers go when they go to sleep, I imagine. In CPU Plaza, various representations of PlayStation 5 hardware greet little Astro, each of them shimmering, oozing, and bursting with the audio and visual texture promised by the PS5. From the onset, you’re experiencing Astro’s world with three of your senses, instead of two—sight, sound, and touch. And though the game presents itself pretty quickly as just an advertisement for the PS5, god damn, does it showcase the console with flair.
CPU Plaza is just the beginning of Astro’s big adventure. The little guy, who, by the way, is like Super Mario if he got sucked inside the computer monster from Superman III, has a bunch of worlds to explore. Whereas in platforming games of past generations, you had a hub world (CPU Plaza, a.k.a. the Black Lodge of the internet), and then a bunch of worlds that’d load in separately, in Astro’s Playroom, GPU Jungle, SSD Speedway, Memory Meadow, and Cooling Springs are all right there, ready to play. All you have to do is walk right in! Finally we can see what Sony has been talking about with its super-fast-loading SSD. This tech had been advertised in games like Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart—but, of course, so many of these former launch titles experienced setbacks, and Ratchet still doesn’t even have a new release date yet.
Luckily, the dream lives on in Astro. You’ll be hopping around a techno futuristic polygon field when the game will ask you to blow into the microphone to blast Astro across the screen. Or, Astro will jump into a mechanical monkey suit—you zip it up using the DualSense touchpad—and then he’ll climb a rock wall, prompting you to take control of the new adaptive triggers on the controller, which stiffen up and explode with vibration when you swing onto each boulder. Every surface, every action, it’s all translated into bumps and buzzes onto your hand, which makes playing Astro feel so acutely tactile that you could probably get through the whole thing with your eyes closed. And sure, like I said, the game is really just product placement for Sony, but if you want to see everything the PS5 can do, I think Astro is the perfect place to start.
That’s not to say I completely understand this game, or the logic of its weird cybernetic universe. The tiny robot has a PSVR visor, and he seems to somehow exist both inside the PS5 controller, but also within a world that contains every PlayStation console ever made. I think the implications of these worlds-within-worlds could show that the PS5, maybe, doesn’t even exist, or perhaps that we all live inside a video game controller. I haven’t fully completed the game just yet, but when I do, I’ll let you know if they clear any of that up. Until then, if you were lucky enough to get a PS5 today, give Astro a try. Esquire wouldn’t take my pitch to put him on this month’s cover…but hey, at least I could spread his gospel to whomever made it to the bottom of this article. Enjoy!
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