The DualShock controller has been a part of the PlayStation brand for over 20 years. The signature dual in-line analog sticks and the iconic symbols make the DualShock not just an accessory but a paramount part of the experience. As Sony moves forward to the next generation of PlayStation they look to re-invent the DualShock as we know it. As Sony enters the generation of PlayStation 5, so comes with it, the new DualSense controller.
In April 2020 when Sony unveiled the DualSense controller, they wanted to put emphasis on the Sense. Of the many changes to the controller, the haptic feedback, and adaptive triggers seem to be distinctive. Expanding on over 20 years of “rumble” technology, Sony’s goal is to improve the sense of immersion through how the controller responded to touch.
The L2 and R2 triggers on the controller have a mechanism underneath them that allows for variable tension. This is what Sony is referring to with the DualSense’s adaptive triggers. For example, they tighten as you pull a bow, or retract all the way down when a gun is out of ammo. The haptic feedback is an expansion on rumble, similar to what Nintendo has done with the Switch’s HD Rumble. Although, the DualSense’s size allows for a much larger mechanism.
In addition to the new sensory features in the DualSense, the hardware has evolved in other ways. The controller now charges its enclosed 1,560 mAh battery over USB-C. The “Share” button has been changed to the “Create” button. A built-in microphone has been added. As well as a mute button. Conversely, the light bar has been removed. While the 3.5mm auxiliary port is still there, the bottom “EXT” port has been removed. As well as the removal of the iconic colors over the face buttons.
The DualSense Is Not Photogenic
With the changes to the color scheme, I find the DualSense to be jarring to look at over photographs. It always appears ultra white, the two-tone is unbefitting. Plus, those missing colors from the face buttons are a significant departure. Also, the DualSense looks much larger than the current DualShock. So when I first got my hands on the DualSense, I was taken back by how great it is. The controller isn’t white at all, it’s a very light gray. Once you see how the black has the slightest hint of blue, the two-tone color scheme really works. The all-around look and feel of the DualSense controller give the perception of a premium piece of technology.
The Feel of the DualSense
You really do have to feel the DualSense, the photos are very misleading. The appearance that the controller is wider than the DualShock 4 is inaccurate. When my nieces and nephews see me playing games they absolutely have to get a turn. Their hands aren’t large enough yet to hold a DualShock and reach both sticks. So when I first saw the DualSense I thought that would add another year to whenever they would be able to hold a controller. The DualShock is somewhere in between 6 ⅛ and 6 ¼ inches wide. The Dual Sense is between 5 ⅞ to 6 inches wide. The handles on the DualSense are more similar than they appear. It’s almost like the handles have been turned outward about 45 degrees. It’s not as large as it appears at all.
Another thing that stands out to me is the symbols engraved into the DualSense. When you see them in photographs they are always more pronounced. I feared that it would be like sandpaper against my skin, for the sake of some cool styling. In reality, you can’t even make out that there are PlayStation symbols engraved in the back. The engraving is incredibly subtle. As a result, it gives the back of the controller a comfortable texture.
The haptic feedback in the DualSense is very similar to the “HD Rumble” found in the Nintendo Switch. Given the larger DualSense controller allows for Sony to expand on what Nintendo has done. While playing Astrobot Rescue Mission, the controller tries to emulate the environment you are in. When coming down a slide made of ice, you collide with ice cubes. The controller gives a very specific rumble indicating where you collide with the ice. It almost feels like sounds colliding inside the controller. This is complemented with the speaker on the DualSense that chimes sound as you hit each cube.
It’s challenging to articulate, exactly how the haptic feedback works with each game. Just imagine HD Rumble developed even further. Of the 10 games that I played all 10 of the games use the haptic feedback as an enhancement to rumble. Outside of Astrobot, none of these experiences were monumental next-gen changes. Truly just a more pronounced rumble. Astrobot is a fantastic example of how the DualSense will improve platformers. That’s why HD Rumble is such a good fit for Nintendo.
With that, the adaptive triggers are a true next-gen game changer. In Astrobot Rescue Mission, there is a point where you pull a lever on a slot machine with the left trigger. As you pull down the trigger, you get about halfway, then it becomes harder to pull down. Continue pulling the trigger down and the slot machine shoots out a prize. If you don’t have any coins the trigger comes all the way down with no pressure at all. In Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War, the R2 trigger (used to fire) feels different for each gun. Depending on the size and the weight of the gun, the more pressure it takes to pull back. It’s a lot of fun. It’s a significant differentiator when picking the Xbox or PlayStation version of a game.
It should be noted that not every game takes full advantage of the DualSense triggers. Of the 10 PlayStation 5 games that I played, four took full advantage of the triggers and another two used the triggers in a way that it’s negligible. For example, with Spider-Man: Miles Morales I fully expected the free-swinging through the city to take advantage of it. Yet it doesn’t seem any different than the PS4 version and there is no real tangible way in the game to better utilize the feature. As the triggers are used only for swinging. On the other hand, Borderlands 3 uses the feedback in the triggers to emulate pulling the trigger on a gun but, not the way Call of Duty makes each gun type feel different.
Opportunity To Expand On The Triggers
Then you have games like Maneater which takes advantage of the new rumble features but, doesn’t do anything with the triggers. In Maneater you use R2 to bite down on pray and L2 to accelerate. Leading up to the PlayStation 5 launch that was something that I thought about a lot. Will they use the triggers to gauge how tough the pray is that you are biting into? Would a turtle feel different than a tuna? I was disappointed with how this was handled. If publishers are going to market a game as taking advantage of the controller, then only use the rumble, this will become a problem for Sony. The new triggers are amazing but, if third party teams are not going to take advantage of the technology, it will become a lost opportunity. Especially if they are just going to leverage the rumble into their marketing.
The good news is Call of Duty a better game for taking advantage of the adaptive triggers on the DualSense. It’s something new and fresh for a franchise that can really use some tweaks like this. Call of Duty doesn’t need to go to outer space, it needs to become more immersive and the DualSense helps. Also, I am convinced this is the definitive edition of Borderlands 3. The triggers are a fun addition that allows this version to stand out. Then you have games like Godfall and without the interest in the controller and the PlayStation 5 launch, this game releases to a noiseless void of holiday titles hitting the Epic Game Store.
DualSense Battery Life
The DualSense battery life is a significant improvement from the DualShock 4. The 1,560 mAh battery lasts an astonishing 12-13 hours of gameplay. This is all depending on the game and how resource-heavy it is regarding features on the controller. With games like AstroBot Rescue Mission and Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War, the battery doesn’t last as long as with something like Spider-Man: Miles Morales. The key difference being, the heavy volume of cutscenes in Spider-Man compared to the constant use of the mic and all of the feedback features in the other games. Either way, depending on the type of game you are playing the battery should last between 12 and 13 hours. I receive low battery alerts at just over the 10-hour mark of gameplay.
Compared to the DualShock 4 this is great news. My current DualShock 4 controllers last around four hours. I assume that over time that battery life will depreciate. With that, the worst-case scenario of depreciation is something around 20% over a few years. Even over time, you are still talking about a 10-hour battery life under the worst-case scenario. This should allow for more opportunities for your DualSense controller to find its charging station as the days pass between charges. Once it does, the DualSense will take between three and four hours to reach a full charge from a completely drained battery.
A Fresh New Experience From PlayStation
The DualSense is a game-changer for sure. If third-party developers can get past the development cost of integrating its features, this will allow the PlayStation 5 version of games to stand out. It’s up to Sony’s first-party internal teams to keep making games that are enhanced by the DualSense. If Sony can deliver better experiences, you will see competing teams wanting to leverage these features. Shooting guns and bows are going to be enhanced on the PlayStation 5 thanks to the DualSense. The built-in mic is going to encourage players that refuse to communicate to engage when special moments happen.
With all of these new features, I am just happy that the DualSense feels great and the battery lasts a long time. These small quality of life improvements are going to go a long way with both casual and hardcore players alike. The DualSense is a home run. Conversely, let’s wait and see how third-party publishers embrace the costs of developing these features. I can’t wait to see what development teams to Kojima Productions and Naughty Dog do with this controller.