You look at the PlayStation 5, and that console screams next-gen. It has a shape that is alien in design, it’s ability to load first-party games are second to none, and it’s library of exclusives are currently unmatched. Are there drawbacks in the SSD capacity and the current software powering the entire experience? Absolutely, but the pros far outweigh the cons in this instance, as the console has that next-gen punching power that you’d expect from a new gaming generation launch.
The real story though isn’t just in what’s in front of you when you play a game, but what’s in your hands. Sony’s new generation is beginning with a clean slate for its controller legacy, as the DualShock brand has been retired in favour of the DualSense. It’s not just some fresh marketing on an old idea, as the DualSense is a massive departure from the DualShock 4.
And that’s no small feat, considering how much better the DualShock 4 was when compared to its predecessors. That controller had interesting ideas, but its own hardware let it down in the end. The analogue sticks were prone to rubber-shredding if you got too handsy with them, developers ignored the cool speaker functions after a few months, and the touchpad barely registered on the radar of games.
The DualSense evolves that technology further, arriving this time in a form that bigger, chunkier, and brighter than ever before. Just like the PS5, the DualSense looks next-gen in design, with its dazzling white finish and translucent face buttons. It’s still a PlayStation controller upon first glance thanks to the brands iconography decorating it, and the small touches in its design carry with it a 25-year history of Sony’s triumphant blitz into gaming.
Inside the controller though? Something revolutionary is happening.
Controller rumble isn’t exactly a new feature, but to paraphrase The Beach Boys, the DualSense is nothing but good vibrations. There’s a range to the vibrations, which can be either the pitter patter of footsteps on a frozen lake being translated to tiny rhythmic bumps in your hands or a bomb exloding can result in a shock to the system when the controller violently explodes with a case of the rumbles.
This isn’t an either/or scenario either, as the middleground of the subtle and overt rumbling has plenty to offer as well. Astro’s Playroom, which is included with every PS5 console, is of course the best example of this technology. It highlights not only just how much range it has, but how the DualSense can actually target specific sections of your hands to send it a vibratory blast. Everything from walking on ice to running through tall grass is felt, resulting in a more immersive experience.
But that’s just half of the story. While the DualSense has a punchy little speaker installed as well, it’s the adaptive triggers that also make a big difference to how you feel your way through. Granted some of it may be gimmicky, but the idea of guns in Call of Duty: Black Ops: Cold War having actual recoil on the trigger is mindblowing stuff. In Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales you can feel your webline grow taut as you swing across New York City. Truly impressive stuff, but when all three of these primary features are combined? Something magical happens.
A lot of this is going to be up to developers to use properly, but the opportunity for creative immersion is there. You can of course play games with a more traditional setup for rumbling immersion, but the sheer level of technology and potential in the DualSense has me excited for what developers can do when they focus on giving their games that little something extra.
Where the controller does falter though, is in the ergonomics department. If you’ve got more slender hands, I think the chunkier and heftier device is definitely going to result in a wrist workout. There’s an edge to the hand grips and triggers as well, which can make for some uncomfortable gaming until your digits have built-up the necessary muscle memory to find the sweet spot to use them in.
I’m also a little disappointed to see that Sony is using a similar D-Pad design from the DualShock 4 days, which is…kind of rubbish actually. Compared to the Xbox Series X’s snappy D-pad, the DualSense’s old school directional inputs feel a few generations too old to be relevant in this new generation. But these complaints are malleable, and with a variety of hand sizes out in the wild, possibly moot as well.
What the DualSense is right now, is an impressive step forward in input technology that finally brings the peripheral closer in line with the next-gen experience. Games like Astro’s Playroom are groundbreaking not only to experience but because they represent the future of what’s possible. And right now, that future has me very excited.
Last Updated: November 19, 2020