The PlayStation 5’s DualSense controller is an incredible input device, arguably the most tangible example of ‘next-gen’ gaming that the new wave of consoles has offered to date. But you don’t necessarily see the upgrades by looking at Sony’s controller.
At first glance, there are few differences between the PS4’s DualShock 4 and the PS5’s DualSense, which share nearly identical button layouts. But the DualSense changes the game (literally) nonetheless, thanks to the almost magic of its adaptive trigger system, which can adjust the tension of the rear buttons to make it easier (or harder) to press them in response to play.
As it turns out, the answer to a controller revolution isn’t to add more buttons, but to give the ones we already have a deeper, better experience.
You just need to pick up a DualSense and start a game to see that it is nothing like its predecessor. The first PS5 game I played was Spider-Man: Miles Morales, and I remember feeling the rumbling of a train or the creak of electricity for the first time from the controller’s haptic feedback – yet another addition to this generation.
But more importantly, how the adaptive triggers change web swinging. Every * thwip * of a web as Miles flies through Manhattan now has a slight resistance to it, adding a sense of life and momentum to traversing. From a gameplay perspective, the controls are pretty much the same as PS4’s Spider ManBut the new technology is helping to bring the game to life in a new dimension.
Technically it’s an incredibly impressive system: each trigger actually has a separate geared motor that allows the controller to directly adjust voltage and resistance. Depending on how the engine is turned on, it can feel like anything from a smooth, effortless glide to an almost physical fight to squeeze the trigger. And while I’m still a bit wary of long-term durability (more moving parts generally mean more points of failure), it’s one of the most cleverly designed buttons in technology today.
And the benefits of the DualSense are evident across multiple PS5 games. In Astro’s playroom (designed as a showcase for the new controller) you can feel the fiery rush of a jetpack and the twang of every bowstring. In Destruction AllStars, the triggers subtly help you when you accelerate or brake, as they increase or decrease the pressure needed to push them, and warn you of imminent destruction of your vehicle with a kink feel as you push your battered car up to pushes the limit. FortniteThe DualSense’s rifles each feel unique, with a shotgun blast, pistol shot, and heavy rifle all firing differently at the new console.
Seeing how games take advantage of the new triggers has already become one of my favorite things to do when I start up a new PS5 game, and Sony has done a remarkable job of making every press of those buttons more important.
Often when discussing next-generation consoles, a lot of emphasis is placed on the idea of immersion – ramping up the graphics to make games feel even more like real life. But by focusing on enhancement, not just how games look, but how games feel, the DualSense arguably does more for immersion than any graphics upgrade (especially since, unlike faster frame rates or higher resolutions, there aren’t any fancy new tv is needed to take advantage of). It opens a whole new way for developers to educate you about what is happening on the screen and to take you even further into the world of the game.
There is an alternate universe in which Sony’s PlayStation 5 controller has taken the signals from the DualShock Back Button attachment and just added more paddles and inputs for players – an approximation of the Xbox Elite Series 2 controller, for example. It’s not a bad approach, especially for more advanced players who want that flexibility and customization, but it doesn’t make games more immersive or open up new ways to play with what you’re playing.
The DualSense is a different approach, one that recognizes that the way forward for controllers isn’t just adding more buttons; it’s to make the ones we already have more informative, engaging and fun to interact with.