After an official blog post that detailed some accessibility features that the system would have, I was intrigued, particularly as a globally available, multilingual screen reader would seemingly come as part of the package.
With that being said though, just how is the PS5 from an accessibility standpoint and compared to its previous generation counterpart as a gamer without sight?
Now with that circle removed, simply lift the flap up and away from you to reveal the inner packaging. Using the same handle (which was actually just covered by the flap of the main outer box), you can lift the internal box out whilst using your other hand to hold the exterior still. The exterior box can now be placed to one side.
Using the tab on the front of this new box, push upwards and away from you and you'll find, first off, printed materials (specifically a safety guide, a quick start guide and a guarantee), all of which can be pulled upwards and out of the packaging and put aside.
Now you'll find a smaller oblong box, which can be removed by reaching carefully behind it and lifting upwards from underneath. Let's focus on what's inside.
Under the left-hand section, there's a flap that opens to your right, under which you'll find a circular object wrapped in a bag of sorts which isn't actually sealed with tape, so you can just remove the object carefully (more on what this is later).
In the middle of the two main sections, you'll find a power cable with a tie round it, with the connector itself being a figure of eight lead much like the Xbox family of consoles has used in recent years, rather than something separate.
In the right-hand section of this oblong you'll find, in a slightly differently textured variant of the bag the circular object came in, the DualSense controller. I'll describe the controller a little later on in this review
Finally, in this right-hand section, at the very back underneath a cuboid-shaped holder is a USB C cable with a tie around it.
This smaller box can be removed and put to one side.
To remove the console, gently tip the box towards you so that the top flap is folded underneath it and, once flat, you should be able to hold the box with one hand whilst beginning to pull the console out with the other.
Once the console is sufficiently free of the box (with the holders still supporting it), you can put the box to one side.
The wrappings on the console are again not sealed with any tape. Instead, it's essentially just a sheet of the wrappings used for the controller. Carefully unfold this and put it aside to reveal the console in all its abstract glory.
To use the console in a vertical position, you would first need to remove the small circular cap that's in the side of the console. The screw to hold the stand in place in this position is actually concealed within the stand itself and, once removed, would go straight through the hole in the bottom of the base and through where the cap was previously.
Again, I have not attempted this, but may do so as part of an update to this review.
You'll want to rotate the outer edge of the stand to the right as described above before you start. Move the stand under the console at the back (where the connectors for power, HDMI, Ethernet etc are located) so that the leftmost "handle" is hooked over the underside of the console and in between the two USB ports. If done correctly, the right "handle" will be positioned between visual markings that do not have any tactile equivalent and the console should sit snuggly on the stand. The only issue you might have is if the system is moved, the stand will not come with it as it is not actually clipped on to the unit.
That being said, the layout of the front panel is straightforward, with the power button to the very left, with the eject button next to it. Pretty much directly in the middle of this panel is what looks like a USB C port, as well as the USB port for connecting items like your DualSense controller.
Moving to the back panel, with it facing away from you, most of what you will see is the exhaust vent for the fan. However, towards the left of this area you'll find two more USB ports, then the ethernet cable that plugs in facing downwards, then the HDMI in port and finally, the power connector.
The DPad is, for lack of a better word, more clumped together, though whether this will help or hinder avid fighting game fans remains to be seen. The DualSense does still have a touchpad, though it is pretty much, externally at least, identical to that of PS4 controllers, other than the edge that faces towards you being slightly raised. The final new element is the microphone button, allowing you to mute and unmute the controller's microphone as needed.
All in all, I feel this is a solid design even if not all the changes are necessary.
Now with all that explanation out of the way, let's get to setting everything up.
After doing this, which was a great start in itself in my opinion compared to the PS4, I then received not only the language selection prompt, but a description of where the buttons I need to use were as well, something I'd never expected. Unfortunately, these descriptions are only available once, a common theme with some prompts that you might want to hear again. This is where the setup of your new console truly begins and spans several screens, which I'll detail in their various stages.
Next, you get the option to continue with the screen reader turned on, which, of course, I selected, but it's good to know you can turn it off if you don't need it and accidentally activated it by leaving your console alone for too long.
Now comes time to adjust your display area. With a description that includes "press ok to skip the adjustment" and that you can go into settings later to change this anyway, I felt confident in pressing the aforementioned ok button, but the fact that I knew what buttons I had to press to get this part right for sighted players was a great benefit too. On moving up and down, there are no narrated prompts for this screen to indicate whether things have been adjusted or what kinds of increments you're moving in, I should point out. I just left it at the default and pressed ok.
Next come 3 stages of brightness calibration for HDR (High Dynamic Range), similar to the previous display adjustment screens. These can also be skipped, should you wish.
Now we get a rather unexpected screen, in that we have the option to insert a game disk and install it whilst you continue setting up the console. I opted not to do this, as I wanted to move all my games over at once later and finish the setup now.
We also see an interesting cue, a sound that plays when you cannot move in a particular direction, which is useful as it lets you know that you're in a prompt with only one option, in this instance. Again though, it would be good to be able to re-read prompts like this so you know what you're pressing X/Cross on, which could be particularly relevant if it's something that could involve data loss.
Next, you get to select the power options for rest mode. The settings are different to the PlayStation 4 counterparts but are explained very well via the onscreen prompts that accompany each option. Personally, I selected optimised. Actually, a further note on this screen, there is no indication that you've selected a power mode, then have to scroll down to the OK button to confirm your mode selection. It would be good to see this tightened up.
Then comes the license agreement, which you can read aloud by pressing X/Cross. You then have the ability to pick I agree, which will announce whether it's selected or not. You then have to confirm below the agree button.
The next screen talks about system software updates. Day 1 users will likely have to update their consoles and, whilst not everything read when I first updated my review unit, subsequent updates have been fully narrated.
However, a couple of notes from my experiences prior to launch: When copying an update, it didn't read the copying process for the update file, or the installing process and "do not eject the disk" prompts. During further updates, these were narrated, improving the experience as well as giving download percentages for the update files.
Now that the updating part is out of the way, you can add a user. Go up to enter a new name, press x/cross on the edit field and delete the text that's already there. I was surprised at how fluid the onscreen keyboard was. It is very smooth and easy to use, though ill organised for finding backspace etc as the layout is a little unusual, at least in comparison to the similar onscreen keyboard on the Xbox family of consoles, which is what I'm used to.
The user name entered here actually needs to be 3 to 16 characters which, if you've entered an incorrect number of characters, the screen reader tells you.
Data Collection screen. Limited Data only takes you to the home screen as setup is now complete.
Going into settings in the PS app and hitting sign into PS5, I was told to scan the code on your console. Moving my phone around with the camera facing the TV let me scan the code, with a vibration accompanying the successful scan, though Voiceover hadn't read the dialogue that lets you scan the code until I'd refreshed the app.
Once done, the app on IOS told me to go to my console to continue and the rest was narrated, allowing me to choose my privacy and how I control access to my console, amongst numerous other elements.
Make sure both the PS4 and PS5 are turned on, signed into the same account and connected to the same network. Then go to settings>system on the PS5 and, moving to the right and downwards several options, find "data transfer".
Once you enter this screen, the system will guide you through what to do, even so far as to let you know how to put your PS4 you're transferring data from into rest mode. Unfortunately, the progress bars did not read when I tested this, so I wasn't able to tell when your saved data had finished copying for instance. What I will say though is that I was very impressed that near enough everything read throughout the process of first selecting what saves I wanted to transfer, then what games and apps I wanted to load onto my new console. The only thing that didn't read, from what I could determine, was the amount of storage you have left to work with on the console you're transferring to.
Having updated the Titan 2 beforehand, I plugged the unit into my console with both the DualSense and a second non-PlayStation controller connected. Though it did not appear to work at first, unplugging and plugging the unit back in appeared to resolve the issue. However, this did not remain the case for long, as a few seconds later, the unit appeared to crash again.
I tested it with both PS5 and PS4 games, with various combinations of controllers plugged in, including both the DualSense and a PS4 controller, as well as the aforementioned DualSense and a non-PlayStation controller connected. Unfortunately, nothing I could do got everything fully working as intended. For instance, I found that the left trigger maps to the share button press/hold on the Titan 2 at present with the DualSense, making aiming impossible in games that require it, for example.
The only thing that did reliably work was using two PlayStation 4 controllers, tested with Uncharted: The Lost Legacy. It seems, then, that the DualSense is the problematic element and, once there's an update that makes it work correctly with the Titan 2, hopefully this version of CoPilot in PS5 games will function as smoothly as it did on previous generation hardware.
For now, until an update comes to the small converter, I can say that it won't work at launch, at least if you don't have 2 PS4 controllers handy and are only planning on playing PS4 games as a result.
As a side note, the prompt stating "PS5 games will not work with PS4 controllers" or similar is not narrated. Hopefully, like the other small issues mentioned here, it can be patched in to be spoken, so that users get all the information they need.
In all honesty, I don't know what I expected, but it wasn't the relatively indistinct vibrations that I found from the DualSense controller. The vibrations didn't seem to change much relative to what was happening in-game, including what part of an enemy you were targeting whilst aiming, meaning all I had to go on in the latter instance was the audio cues. Hopefully, if Naughty Dog releases a patch for the game to optimise it for PS5, then they may also be able to update the vibrations to more accurately reflect what's going on in the game and possibly decrease the reliance on audio cues that can be hard to hear in certain scenarios. If not, at least it could be made closer to the haptics found on the PS4 iteration of this ground-breaking accessible title (i.e. using varying intensity).
Speaking of vibrational patterns though, let's take a look at the game that, accessible or otherwise, everyone will have access to, that lets you see just how much technology has changed in the past few years.
Actually, let's talk about that intro animation for a second. It's not just an animation with sound from both the main sound output as well as the controller's speaker, but it also has haptic feedback in sequence with the audio cues as well. I realised that this was really the first example of the DualSense's haptic capabilities, showing Astro running and moving and providing an impression of weight and speed that I hadn't been prepared for. This definitely piqued my curiosity as I couldn't recall ever seeing an intro animation like this that also utilised vibration as well. Now, back to that non-narrated screen I found myself at.
I managed, after a large amount of experimentation with the PS Remote Play app (which has numerous unlabelled buttons making it almost impossible to use with a screen reader at present), to connect and view what the screen said, as pasted below, OCR corruption and all:
Welcome to ASTRO's PLAYROOM! This experience was created to show you some of the cool tricks possible with your DualSense wireless controller. Ready to join ASTRO for an adventure inside your PS5? Then letis dive in! @CLOSE
After a sequence where the haptic capabilities of the DualSense were demonstrated to line up extremely well with sound effects, I found a screen that, to the Optical Character Recognition I had access to, just said the following:
ADAPTIVE TRIGGERS @ BACK @NEXT
A similarly minimal screen then appeared saying:
TOUCH PAD @ BACK @ NEXT
After being met by a screen that just said the words "motion sensor" on it, much like the previous ones, I thought I'd have a play around and see whether it was actually showing me a tutorial or wanting me to have an experiment myself. Moving the controller around via shaking and subtle movements produced both haptic feedback and amusing audio results, making me realise that the latter was the case. Wanting to see what I'd missed, I re-opened the game and methodically went through the various screens.
Now I knew, at least in part, what was going on, I had a real sense, if you'll pardon the partial pun, of what I was holding. Not just a gimmick device, but an interesting new piece of hardware.
Even though there was no accessibility in the game itself, there are certainly things to be amazed at here, including the use of the controller's built in motion sensor to move left and right in certain scenarios (with accompanying sound effects which I won't spoil as they are so well put together you will probably want to see it for yourself), being able to blow into the microphone to interact with an object in the game world and even the subtle shifts in the haptic feedback to indicate different surfaces aided again by the game's own audio.
What I will also point out is that the game does have a long list of varying accessibility options, including increasing dodge windows, additional vibration called "accessibility vibration" that provides additional haptic feedback, along with "narrated ASL", which I haven't seen in action yet.
The sheer scale of this game is brilliant in terms of the level of detail, in both the audio and haptic feedback. Very briefly you are on a train as part of a cutscene and, before the train's sound had fully kicked in, the vibrations clued me in (though did not entirely indicate) that I was on a train. Detail like this is something I've not seen before myself and, to be honest, I can't wait until this level of care and attention is put into a game that I do not need sighted assistance to play
Back to the game itself though, the combat feels powerful and punchy, though simply hitting melee over and over again in some situations doesn't feel very dynamic. Given the way the game works though, I have hope that this would change as you progress. The sound design for combat and traversal are well put together, with it definitely feeling like you're moving with a sense of weight and speed to everything you do. Once the Titan 2 gets an update, or hopefully Sony's own version of CoPilot comes along, with the potential for that happening being described in this article from MSPowerUser, I'll definitely be playing more of this and enjoying the amazing experience that is what I might call the first truly next-generation experience, though not in terms of accessibility.
Having even more detailed descriptions of the character's poses and expressions for instance would allow us to make clear what kind of impression we're trying to put across as well, a key element of interaction between players as well as being able to make sure we're showing a game that we've enjoyed for any number of reasons. If you can add text to screenshots now, why don't the avatar images have text on them by default to show the value of such features to allow everyone to have the same experience regardless of whether they can see or not?
Voice Search will certainly save time if you know exactly what you're looking for, though I'm interested to see how it might work with non-English titles, such as those for Japanese fighting games.
Going into the store, the left most tile on my main home screen where my recently launched games are, all I had to do was go up one and then right all the way until I came to the "more" button. Pressing down once on the DPad took me straight to the "redeem code" option, which as you'd hope is narrated and the process was extremely straightforward from there. After following the prompts and entering my code, I was greeted with a screen telling me how many items I'd redeemed.
This screen is a little interesting as, in order to find out what you've redeemed, you have to scroll down past the redeem button to see it. Once you know that though it's easy enough to check what you've got and hit the redeem button that's now above it.
From here, if you have the storage space, you can install the items you've just entered the code for and be on your way.
All in all, though not quite as easy as copy and pasting the code into the website, it's certainly a step forward, much like almost everything covered in this review.
Whilst I've been testing this review unit, I've been trying to work out how to both get the full surround experience for games like God Of War, Horizon Zero Dawn and Spider-Man: Miles Morales as well as being able to capture gameplay footage with my capture card. Unfortunately, I've not yet found a seamless solution but will update this review once I have a viable and accessible method of making this work for those who need it. As a gamer without sight, it's a shame that such an important element as gaining the full audio experience has been made even harder on next generation hardware, though I have hope that manufacturers will find solutions and ways around these issues over time.
So now, you could argue as a gamer without sight, the emphasis shifts away from the hardware manufacturing and operating system level to be almost squarely on the shoulders of publishers and developers, some of whom may never have considered accessibility as a priority or an issue that needs to be resolved. I can only hope that in the next few years we start to see regular accessible releases on the PlayStation 5, especially given the success and positive reception of those features in The Last Of Us Part II that allowed so many more to enjoy a game without needing assistance of any kind.
Sony has knocked it out of the park, thoroughly exceeding my expectations. I just wish more games on it and its competitor's platforms were accessible so I could continue to choose where I play. But having a fully accessible console is an amazing start and I honestly can't wait to see where we go from here.
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