I am a long-time PlayStation gamer. My first game console was the PlayStation 1, and I played the PlayStation 2 almost religiously during my childhood. A near-constant accompaniment over the years of play has been the distinct rumble of Sony’s DualShock controllers.
Each generation has successively improved and iterated on this technology. The Playstation 2 refined the PS1’s rumble, while the PS3 added a central home PS button and motion sensing SIXAXIS controls, allowing you to guide play (somewhat inaccurately, however) with gentle nudges of the controller itself.
The PlayStation 4 added touch controls, a wider, more comfortable controller to hold, and just a generally satisfying, refined play experience, despite the touch controls being less than accurate when used as anything but a menu button.
So it was with almost trepidation that I approached the new DualSense controller, as Playstation shakes off the DualShock moniker to seemingly start afresh. Sony had a lot to live up to, and a tough act to follow.
But, let your fears be assuaged – the DualSense takes everything that worked about its predecessors and refines it to be a comfortable, even innovative, and immersive play experience.
Meet the DualSense!
The first thing you notice on booting one of the PS5 launch title games, Spider-Man: Miles Morales, is that the controller does have a distinctly solid rumble. But it doesn’t have to just be solid – it can also be subtle. It has the ability to produce sound through its speakers, and combined with the delightful rumble that can accurately replicate the feel of a train running over tracks for instance, the controller does actually contribute to immersion.
I think that this feature could certainly be overused or mishandled in the wrong hands.
An overly enthusiastic developer could simulate everything, and in too powerful a fashion, but as it stands now, the more subtle rumble adds to immersion and provides weight to the character’s animations and the action that’s happening on screen.
For instance, when Miles Morales lands a punch, the controller rumbles a little, giving each punch a weight that it simply wouldn’t have been able to achieve with any subtlety with previous PlayStation controllers.
The rumble isn’t just used to add weight to a player’s actions. They can immerse the player in the feeling of a world moving, living and breathing around them. In Astro’s Playroom, you can feel gusts of wind moving across the controller in immersive gusts, and jumping into the water simulates a splash.
Coupled with the speakers, it’s a wonderfully immersive experience that I see having huge potential – though no other game at launch seems to have utilized it as well as Astro’s Playroom.
The DualSense also retains motion controls. They do seem to be more accurate than in previous iterations of the Playstation controller, but they still require a degree of subtlety that may still frustrate some players, who aren’t a fan of motion controls.
This is probably the weakest link in the DualSense for me, but I never did really like the motion controls in previous controllers either.
The touchpad is far easier to use than the DualShock 4’s. This is on account of it being smoother and easier to glide your thumb or fingers over. Plus, whatever technology they were using seems to have been improved, so you don’t have to struggle with more complex motions any more – not in the free game Astro’s Playroom, anyway.
Either Sony have improved this technology, or they understood that overly complex motions just aren’t conducive to a fun play experience.
The other big addition to the PS5’s haptic abilities is the fact that the trigger buttons now have programmable tension behind them. When swinging through the world as Spider-Man, every time you shoot a web you hold down the R2 button.
There’s now deliberate weight and tension behind every swing, and as you reach the end of a swing for instance, the trigger button seems to tighten up as a subtle indicator to jump to a new swing. Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, an upcoming game by the same developers at Insomniac, promises to expand on this with multiple functions to each weapon keyed to how long you pull down the trigger for.
I see this feature, like the rumble, an incredible tool for immersion and even tactical play. It’s a great addition that I can see huge potential in. Astro Bot uses this tension in firing feature with its bow and arrow, which makes aiming your cute little robot warrior’s weapons a seriously addictive and satisfying experience.
The DualSense is also just a nice controller to use. It’s comfortable and easy to pick up and play, even for extended play sessions. The thumbsticks seem to be made of a more durable material than 4’s infamously tearable ones too, which is great. Your hands don’t feel cramped or overextended: it seems to be the perfect size.
If there’s one issue other than the still somewhat floaty motion controls, it’s the change from a standard PS button to a smaller, flatter home button that doesn’t stand out as much. Maybe it’ll just be something to get used to, but I think I still prefer the more pronounced and obvious home PS button than the 5’s.
Overall, the DualSense is not just a comfortable controller to hold. It’s a controller with potentially revolutionary capabilities for immersion, provided that a developer knows what they are doing with it. It has the potential to be just a cheap gimmick, it’s true – but it also has the potential to be much more.
The tension in the triggers can add to a feeling of weight and struggle, and the rumble and speakers can make it feel like you are inhabiting the game-world alongside your character, feeling what they feel. It’s a gorgeous looking and great feeling controller that has the potential to change the way you feel when you play.
One of the best controllers I’ve ever used, I think – I can highly recommend using a DualSense over just sticking with DualShock 4s, even if they are still good themselves. The DualSense is just a step up in practically every way.