Normally when it comes to reviews, I like to think of something gripping about the game that makes you want to read more to put here. Honestly, though there is only one thing I can put here: If you get a PS5, the absolute first thing you should do is load up Astro’s Playroom.
The power of PS5
Astro’s Playroom is essentially a tech demo that showcases the PS5’s power but to call it a tech demo would be undermining to what has been delivered here. You play as one of those Astro bots, the little robotic mascots for Sony’s new technology. This time, you are inside the PS5, its white walls towering above our tiny, energetic hero and it is time to take a tour of the various bits that make your PS5 so impressive.
One of the first things you will notice is the use of the DualSense controller’s various features. Your footfalls cause small vibrations as you walk, accompanied by sounds from the controller itself. Walking on different surfaces has different sounds, as well as different sensations to the vibrations. Floating objects have a slight bounce to them while moving through water has a drag effect as you fight the water’s resistance. Things ramp up if you are facing a strong wind that blows you around, or while walking on a rope. It all adds to that sensation that you are actually moving through different terrain types, rather than just holding down the left stick.
Having the controllers provide feedback in a similar way to what happens on-screen really adds a dimension to the gameplay.
Inside your PS5, you will visit the cooling system, the SSD, the GPU and the memory of your machine, each one with its own themed levels. The cooling area starts off with lovely pools and everyone having fun at the poolside, before moving into the cold with iceblocks everywhere. The various environments all show off the graphics in one way or another, with various reflections shining off the many metal surfaces, or how light passes through glass and liquids.
Besides the vibration and speaker, a lot of effort has been put into making you use every feature of the DualSense. Most of it works very naturally, even if I hope they don’t get overused in games in future. The weakest one for me was blowing on the controller to cause fans to move, showcasing the microphone on the controller. I much preferred using the gyroscope and the adaptive triggers to get through various sections of the game. Sometimes Astro would climb into a power suit – which you zip up with the touchpad, obviously – and then the gyro and the triggers become your main means of moving around. This could be firing thrusters in a rocket, grabbing onto handholds on a cliff or bouncing around in a machine with large springs for legs. Each one had a different feel from the triggers, with the springs requiring a bit of effort to fully depress for the bigger jumps.
Having the controllers provide feedback in a similar way to what happens on-screen really adds a dimension to the gameplay. Whether it is the rumble of a something collapsing under your feet or feeling your rocket thrusters firing, it adds a distinct immediacy to everything, as well as giving you another cue from the game. I really hope to see more games make use of these various features in future to bring a game to life.
The history of PlayStation
Each of the four zones you visit will be full of collectables and secrets that relate to a generation of PlayStation. As you find them all, a museum of sorts slowly gets populated with the various consoles, peripherals and puzzle pieces that you collected for a nice little nostalgia trip. There are even a few here that I don’t remember ever arriving in South Africa, like a tiny TV screen to attach on the back of the PS one to let you watch your DVDs and a webcam attachment for the PSP. Most devices can be turned on to hear the boot sounds, or you can fiddle with the eject button and more. Some of the levels you will realise you are inside the UI of the various consoles or see them from afar.
Besides these little nods to the hardware, the game is littered with references to other titles. One bot has a familiar-looking gun holster and is busy climbing on several ledges near a damaged aeroplane ala Uncharted. A group of bots in black with Aim controller guns stand near a helmet and skull from Killzone. It isn’t just the games that get a nod. The rubber duck in water from the first tech demo of the power of the PS3 is all over the place.
This sense of celebration and nostalgia is really wholesome and heart-warming and it is all pretty well done. It goes beyond a trip down memory lane by having some cute levels that won’t stump you, but might be a great place to teach a sibling about looking for secrets and platforming.
It would have been all too easy to make this quickly, knowing that it is just a tech demo or showcase. But the team has gone above and beyond to offer tight controls and fun platforming as you unearth various Sony hardware and history. I am hoping that in the future we will see games that make use of the DualSense in such a way that it adds depth to the gameplay in clever, meaningful ways, because it has some tremendous potential.