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PlayStation 2020: the highs and lows of the PS5 launch year

PlayStation 2020
(Image credit: Sony)

With the PS5 now out in the wild, it’s easy to forget what a rollercoaster of a year 2020 has been for Sony. With a pandemic impacting the economy and interrupting supply chains, it’s not been the most ideal year to usher in a next-gen console. 

But, despite stock shortages, blockbuster game delays, a lack of in-person events, and a downright unpredictable reveal roadmap, Sony has managed to release one of the hottest commodities of the year. Demand for the PS5 is still through the roof, two months after its release, and Sony continues to scramble to get its next-gen console into the hands of more cooped-up consumers as we rocket towards the end of the year.

While the road to the PS5 hasn’t been easy, it seems Sony has made the most of an unprecedented situation. So, following a year for the history books, we’re taking a look back at PlayStation’s blockbuster 2020, including the highs, lows and the sometimes downright divisive. 

A deep dive

(Image credit: Sony)

The start of 2020 remained pretty quiet when it came to PS5 news. With PlayStation fans globally clamoring for a morsel of information on the upcoming console, Sony appeased the ravenous crowds with a simple image of the PS5 logo - which ultimately became the most-liked Instagram gaming post of all time - and did wonders in stoking the fires of anticipation. 

It wasn’t until two months later, in March 2020, that Sony held its first PS5 event of 2020, which was ultimately quite intense and confusing. In front of an audience that may or may not have existed, lead system architect Mark Cerny spoke about the granular details of the PlayStation 5. While this wasn’t exactly the PS5 showcase we were hoping for, and at points was a bit dry (there were a lot of pictures of ears), this is where we learned that its SSD would enable “blink and you’ll miss it” fast-travel, and that “almost all” of the PS4 library would be available through backwards compatibility at launch. It’s safe to say these promises came true - Demon’s Souls nexus loading screens are practically non-existent. 

Following Cerny’s deep-dive, we once again waited for the next showcase announcement - which would hopefully finally give us a glimpse of some PS5 games. But, while we waited for the next-generation, there were plenty of fantastic PS4 games to keep us afloat. Later in March, Persona 5 Royal refined one of the PS4’s best RPGs before Square Enix delivered another exclusive blockbuster in April with Final Fantasy 7 Remake

By April, we were ravenous for more details on the “super-fast” new PlayStation. At this point, while we knew the kind of performance we could expect from the PS5, we didn’t even know what the console would look like - nor would we for a few months yet. Sony finally revealed the PS5 DualSense controller in a blog post in April, giving us our first tease of the PS5’s two-tone white-and-black color scheme, and potentially futuristic look. But it also laid Sony’s ambitions, with the company touting the gamepad's haptic and ergonomic qualities, suggesting an immersive future for the platform.

A dividing design

PS5

(Image credit: Sony)

As the pandemic raged, Sony was forced to indefinitely delay its biggest first-party game of the year, The Last of Us 2, which slipped from February to May and then finally launched on June 19, following an unfortunate barrage of pre-launch story spoilers that set the internet ablaze.

Regardless of the spoilers, critics and fans ranted and raved about the game and its complex characters — so much that it recently took home Game of the Year at The Game Awards 2020.

With The Last of Us 2 out of the way, Sony started to rev up its marketing machine for the PlayStation 5 with its June Future of Gaming conference. June’s conference finally gave us our first long-awaited look at PS5 games, showcasing the likes of Gran Turismo, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart and Horizon Forbidden West. We also got our first glimpse at Bluepoint’s Demon’s Souls and Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, although the messaging was unclear about whether some of these titles would be PS5 exclusives or available on other platforms.

What was a surprise at this showcase, was the reveal of the PS5 design. The futuristic two-tone white-and-black look of the console was a major departure from its predecessors and split gamers down the middle in regards to the PS5’s mothership paneling and bulky stature. Mind you, the tiny details like the engraved PlayStation insignia went viral quickly. Even on the TechRadar team, there were those who loved the design and those who hated it.

Sony also revealed that there would be not one but two PS5 consoles at launch: the standard edition and a disc-less PS5 Digital Edition. However, prices for both consoles (and when pre-orders would go live) remained a mystery.

The future of VR and PlayStation on PC

Iron Man VR

(Image credit: Camouflaj /Sony)

In the fever pitch of PS5 speculation and news, Sony released PS4 exclusive Ghost of Tsushima in July, providing a serene answer to Ubisoft open-world fatigue. 

Among blockbuster releases such as this, and future-gazing to PS5 games, it’s easy to forget that there was a virtual reality-focused State of Play, back in August too, but it has since rung a little hollow given Sony’s “will they, won’t they” approach to a potential PSVR 2 on PS5. 

Iron Man VR, released in July, was a pretty good statement of intention, but we’re still waiting on any official word on Sony’s next-gen VR plans — it doesn’t look like it’s a priority for PlayStation right now. 

This period also saw the porting of PlayStation exclusives to PC, for the first time, with Death Stranding making the leap in July and Horizon Zero Dawn in August. The elusive Bloodborne PC port is getting closer and closer… 

The September scramble

Astro's Playroom

(Image credit: Sony)

September was the last big marketing push for the PlayStation 5, as Sony hosted another conference, revealing the news that the console would launch on November 12 for select regions and November 19 for the rest of the world. The company also (finally) revealed the pricing of its two consoles following a several months-long game of chicken with Microsoft: $499.99 / £449.99 / AU$749.95 for the standard edition and $399.99 / £359.99 / AU$599.95 for the digital edition.

But with its divisive design and lack of a subscription service, technical specification comparisons were giving Xbox a granular upper hand at this point. Still, Sony seemed to dominate the discussion with its launch lineup and roster of future exclusives. 

A closer look at launch titles like the inimitable Astro’s Playroom and Sackboy: A Big Adventure gave early adopters a lot to talk about, as did the confirmation of an exclusive new Final Fantasy game, which was also announced during the September show. 

Demon’s Souls gameplay and a tiny tease of God of War: Ragnarok wrapped things up with pre-orders unexpectedly going live soon after, which ushered in The Great PS5 Scramble Of September 2020. Many were burned but some elated as stock vanished almost instantly, months ahead of the November launch. Scalping became a hot button issue, and still is, with hordes of PS5’s laying in wait at a premium while Sony desperately tries to refresh its supply of new consoles.

With the major details revealed, in October we got a good look at the PlayStation 5’s UI - which has turned out to be an important part of the package. Sony explained how players could use the new Control Centre to jump through content within games, cutting out the chaff via the unobtrusive overlay. The icing on the cake? Those who got stuck with the aforementioned content would be able to use in-game guides available via PlayStation Plus to coach them through puzzles and nab those trophies. 

The final push

PS5 stock record sales

(Image credit: Sony)

By the time November 12 rolled around, Sony had all its ducks in a row ready for a successful (first) PS5 launch. Warehouses filled with next-gen consoles as those who missed out on pre-orders prepared to take another swing at nabbing a PS5 on launch day - though many were once again left disappointed as stock once again flew off the shelves and scalpers swooped in. 

Despite stock shortages, the PS5 had a record-breaking launch, selling between 2.1 and 2.5 million units worldwide on its two launch days (according to estimates by VGChartz). 

But was the PS5 everything we hoped it would be? Here at TechRadar, we were (and still are) extremely impressed with Sony’s next-gen console. In our official PS5 review, we said: 

“The PS5 is a superb console that offers a compelling next-gen gaming experience – and one that will likely only get better as more titles are added to the lineup. The PS5 proves itself to be both powerful and well-designed. A few small issues hold it back from being a five-star product at launch, but otherwise it's a welcome upgrade on the PS4 and an exciting portal to next-gen gameplay.”

As we wrap up 2020 and look to 2021, we’re excited to see what Sony has in store for the PS5. Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, Gran Turismo, Deathloop and Horizon: Forbidden Dawn are all on the way in the next 12 months, but we’re certain Sony will have some more surprises up its sleeve in the coming year.