Naturally the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X have taken the gaming world by storm. Launching late in 2020, they both have an absolute plethora of similarities. From SSDs, to subscription services… the competing consoles have never been more aligned. One thing however that definitely sets them apart is their controllers.
These aren’t going to be articles about which has the better analogue stick placement. They’re actually purely my thoughts on what the 2 devices bring to the table, and where I would like to see improvements if they ever choose to refine these models. I will say from the get go though that with the DualSense and the revised Xbox Wireless Controller these are the best iterations both company have ever delivered in the box of a console. I have to add that slight disclaimer to the end there as Microsoft launched 2 editions of their Elite controller, and of course the accessibility controller which is arguably one of those important controllers on the market.
Note that this is just 1 of a 2 part, hands on experience. To read my thoughts on the Xbox Wireless Controller you can visit the article here.
PlayStation 5’s DualSense – A revolution in controller technology
The design of the DualSense is definitely a polarising one. As seen on the PlayStation 5 itself it sports a 2-tone design. My first reaction was met with confusion as I was simultaneously hit with loving the shape of the controller, but not being sold on the aesthetic. I was also hoping we wouldn’t see the touchpad again. To be fair that’s likely only present because of the backwards compatibility on the PlayStation 5, and I’d much rather have that.
Obviously the biggest change is the shape. The DualShock hasn’t departed a huge amount from it’s original debut in 1997 (known then as the Dual Analogue). With each console iterating on the design. The DualShock 4 was the first time they really pushed things, and whilst I wasn’t a big fan of it, the size and shape was definitely a big improvement over the DualShock 3. Without a doubt though, the DualSense is the best controller Sony has put out. The shape rests nicely in your hand and most buttons are easily accessible. I am also a fan of monotone designs so the lack of colour on the face buttons is very appealing. If I could have an all-black shell though, I think it’d improve the controller 10-fold.
One of the best parts of the design though comes in the form of an Easter Egg. There is grip on the back of the controller, but when you look closely this is made up of the face buttons. Probably the best detail on the pad. This design is also included on the PlayStation 5’s wings.
This is where I think Sony has taken a bit of a misstep. Evoking an almost Nintendo mentality of throwing everything they can at it. I’ve already mentioned the touchpad on the DualSense, this was a necessary evil and to be fair it’s not like it gets in the way. Next up the speaker returns, albeit a much better quality one. I am not sure if it’s just me but after an hour or so I have now muted that; I find it more of a distraction than anything.
Then there’s some of the new features. You can now use an internal Gyroscope for aiming; that’s right it’s 2020 and motion controls are back! There’s an in-built microphone (with a mute button) in the pad – fun fact, if you hold this button it also mutes the console. Of course there’s also the textured grip, which feels a little too smooth for me (as much as I love the look of it) as it’s made of the same plastic as the rest of the shell. If this grip was slightly rubbery, or perhaps more defined it would be a big win.
The advantage of the above features of the DualSense is that they’re optional. It’s actually great, in some ways, that the pad has all of this functionality,. The fact you can turn them on and off as you choose allows you to get the controller exactly how you want it. However, the 2 biggest features of the pad are where the real magic happens. Adaptive Triggers and Haptic Feedback might be all you hear people talk about when it comes to the DualSense, and these features have earned their street cred.
The Adaptive Triggers have motors inside that are programmable by developers to allow you to feel the game. So imagine Call of Duty, as you squeeze the trigger you can feel the tension of the gun and the kickback right there. Unfortunately at this stage, at least with the types of games I play, it is a sorely underused feature. One, however, I am excited to see the future of.
Pair this with Haptic Feedback and the controller feels incredible. Those of you with a Nintendo Switch likely know what the haptic feedback is all about. Feeling incredibly subtle movements in the palm of your hand, like the links in a railway track, the wind blowing through the grass, or droplets of rain. This is the one feature I wish was in every single controller moving forward. It’s a subtle effect, and one I’d like to see ramped up in the future – but one I think is a definite game changer.
The DualSense being the new kid on the block means that it’s not really compatible with much. Sure you can buy a plethora of adapters to get it working on almost anything, but with limitations – such as no adaptive triggers of haptic feedback. Natively of course it works on the PS5, and you can use it on a PC as a basic controller. It doesn’t work with the PS4 but strangely it does work with the PS3. It’s only on the PS5 though that you’ll see all the bells and whistles.
Unfortunately the truth is also true in reverse… The only thing compatible with PS5 games is the DualSense. Sony’s reason for this is because games will utilise the new features. Personally I think this is a poor excuse as you can turn them all off in the settings menu anyway. The reason this is a big deal is because there is simply no way at present to connect an accessibility controller to the system to play PS5 titles. This doesn’t affect PS4 titles, which can be played with any PS4 controller.
For me the DualSense is easily the best controller Sony have made. However for some, I can imagine there’s going to be problems. The lack of accessibility controller options is a glaring omission. One that is particularly highlighted with the fact they have gone to great lengths on their firmware to give options to users. For me personally, I’d much rather buy a controller with a removeable battery or a battery that lasts longer and sack off all of the features I don’t like. That will never happen of course, but I can live with that.
The only other glaring issue I have is that the grip isn’t particularly grippy. In fact it’s incredibly smooth to the point that it probably can’t be called a grip. I’d like that to be more defined, but I must admit this is a nitpick. One thing that is a concern though is you may notice the darker patch on the right hand side of the picture above. That’s not dirt, but actually my wedding ring has slightly sanded down the texture and it’s super smooth there.
I also find that the 2 buttons towards the top of the pad, which I call the Honk and Burger buttons (formerly they’re the share and menu buttons), are a little too far to comfortably reach. That’s not a huge deal if you don’t take many screenshots or record clips.
I’ve said it before, in fact I keep repeating it… The DualSense is Sony’s best work in the controller space. Whilst the overall aesthetic is quite gaudy, the feel of the controller is leagues ahead of their previous iterations. Haptic Feedback, whilst an evolution of what the Nintendo Switch did a few years ago, is the next big thing for gaming and I look forward to what the developers do with it. Whilst not all of the features are for me, the fact you can scale them or switch them off entirely negates that as being a problem. Sony’s biggest issue isn’t the controller, it’s the lack of support for anything beyond the DualSense. Hopefully the PlayStation 5 gets some updates soon to allow more options for controllers.