DualShock 4 (PlayStation 4 Controller)
With the gaming world at full attention when it comes to the matter of the Xbox One vs. PlayStation 4 gamers everywhere are figuratively dissecting every piece of these consoles to see which one is “better” or “more [insert word here]” than the other. Controllers have come under increased scrutiny over the years and with the liveliest “console war” the world has seen since the likes of the Super Nintendo vs. Sega Genesis, plenty of folks out there are interested in what these new controllers can do. Many would quickly call the Xbox 360’s controller one of if not the greatest controller ever, but for those who haven’t spent much time with the PlayStation 4, I’d say Sony is giving Microsoft a run for their money.
Sony hasn’t changed their PlayStation controllers all that much in the 19 years since their first console, and for good reason: the controllers are exceptionally well designed. Granted the initial transition from the original PS1 controller to the first DualShock had a few bumps along the way, Sony managed to more or less perfect the design and it became fairly standard by the end of the first PlayStation’s life. So successful was the DualShock that it remained in use throughout the entirety of the PS2 and PS3’s lifespan as well. Improvements and refinements were of course made along the way (not to mention the transition to wireless) giving birth to the DualShock 2 and DualShock 3, but unless you’re an absolute hardware aficionado it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what sets these controllers apart.
With the release of the PlayStation 4 and the corresponding DualShock 4 (DS4) however, Sony has upped the ante considerably. Immediately noticeable is the absence of any Start and Select buttons and instead a large rectangle occupying the area. In case you haven’t yet heard, this area is a touchpad for use in various games. From my experience so far it’s been very responsive and I’m eager to see it worked even further into future PS4 titles. It also acts as its own button; the entire rectangle can be pushed down.
Beside the touchpad are 2 new buttons, Share and Options. The Options button essentially supplants the functions of both Start and Select, allowing the user to pause games and, believe it or not, access a game’s “options” menu. The Share button is Sony’s attempt to gear the PS4 towards social gameplay and lets the user choose a still or video clip from the last 15 minutes of play and then upload it to the internet and share it with friends (or annoy people who aren’t your friends, whatever floats your boat).
The new setup here in the center doesn’t affect gameplay too much. For the majority of games you won’t even realize that the entire area has been revamped. In situations where the touchpad is needed, its size and close proximity makes it easy for the user to quickly move a finger over and perform the necessary actions. You won’t need to do a whole lot of looking and fumbling to reach the touchpad and actions can be executed quickly. I do have one complaint about the new configuration though. The Share and Options button don’t really protrude upwards like other buttons. While not a huge issue when it comes to sharing it can be frustrating to quickly reach over and pause a game. I often find myself blindly thumbing the touchpad when trying to pause the game at a second’s notice. Were there at least some small tactile landmark in the area it would be not chore at all but as it is the center area is fairly smooth and it can be hard to tell where the button ends and touchpad begins.
Below the center is the PS button, acting similar to the X button on the 360’s controller. It’s basically a “home” button that will open up appropriate PS4 interface menus while playing a game or otherwise doing something on the machine.
The left and right sections of the controller remain the same. Standard D-pad plus Triangle, Square, Circle, and X are all there and all looking exactly as they did in 94. As for the analog sticks positioned just below these areas, Sony has certainly improved over past efforts. Many frequent players of both the PS2 and PS3 have long been fans of the DualShock’s most notable features (analog sticks) and now they have a chance to be even more impressed. The sticks are tighter allowing for more precision and a recessed, concave surface has been added to each stick. This creates a spot for the thumb to rest and grip the nub with ostensibly leading to less slippage, less repositioning of the fingers, and a greater degree of control. Whatever shortcomings previous DualShocks may have had when it comes to the 360 are done away with and Sony has not only leveled the playing field, but also gained a slight advantage with the aforementioned touchpad. As expected, each analog stick can also be depressed like a button, bringing the grand total of DS4 buttons to 18. (I think.)
The triggers (L2 and R2) have also undergone a bit of a redesign. They extend further back, and instead of moving straight down when pushed they act more like an actual trigger where the movement is both down and towards the player. More of a pulling and squeezing action is performed by the user rather than a push.
One change that I’ve been most cognizant of (besides the touchpad) is how much “fuller” the DS4 feels. Even by looking at it one can tell that the skinny leg-like portions of the controller have been filled in. Now there is more physical controller available for the user to wrap his or her hands around and the triggers and shoulder buttons are more comfortable to use for long periods of time. Sony definitely took a cue from Microsoft by “filling out” the DS4. It’s easier and more comfortable to use.
That’s it for the buttons, so what else can the DS4 do?
Well, on what would be the “top” of the controller, there’s a giant blue light. This is there to let you know that the DS4 is on and working, and it changes to orange once it’s plugged in and charging. It also communicates with the new PlayStation Camera, and if the camera loses site of the big blue light, it doesn’t quite know what to do. The light may also go on to serve other in-game purposes. For example, in Killzone: Shadow Fall the light can also change to red when the player is busy getting shot to death. Mostly aesthetic? Probably. But it sure is BIG.
Like its predecessors, the DS4 contains loads of haptic feedback for your playing pleasure. A controller vibrating like hell in my hands has never impressed me all that much, but someone out there loves it, and the DS4 claims to offer a “wider range of haptic feedback” or something similar. What does this mean? I don’t know, but the DS4 can and will shake hard.
Taking a cue from Nintendo this time, the DS4 includes a built-in speaker similar to the Wii Remote. Though I’ve never found the feature particularly useful on the Wii, it can be of some assistance in certain multiplayer situations as well as relaying something important. The sudden voice reminding me that “Keepers” have been “detected” in Resogun does help to keep me vigilant about those human-snatching bastards. There’s also a port for a 1/4″ headphone plug or the minimalist “headset” packed with the PlayStation 4.
Next to the headphone jack is a port labeled “EXT.” as well as a charging port located on the top near the big blue light. To charge via USB cable the port at the top is used but if one uses the special DS4 charging base the EXT port is used. There is some speculation circulating that the EXT port might be used for some sort of never-before-seen head-mounted device but the popular consensus is that it likely exists to accommodate a future headset.
I’ve had no real issues using the DS4 aside from trying to quickly hit the Options button, and for the most part I’ve barely noticed it. Indeed a well designed controller won’t seem to standout at all. If it functions as intended and provides for seamless gameplay, the player’s attention will be on the game and not what’s going on in their hands. The DualShock 4 may not be the Wii U’s GamePad, but it does appear to have the jump on Microsoft’s Xbox One controller. The new Xbox controller doesn’t appear to have undergone any drastic changes since the 360 but we’ll need first hand reports to dig any deeper.
Sony has very carefully carved out it’s niche in the gaming world over the last 20 years. They’ve quietly observed both the failures and successes of their competitors and used this information to their advantage while retaining their own integrity. The DS4 combines the best of both worlds when it comes to the 8th generation; it possesses some of the Wii U GamePad’s innovation with its touchpad while appealing to the traditional crowd of gamers with its dual thumbsticks and adoption of features that made the 360’s controller such a hit. The DualShock 4 will probably be one of the most well-rounded controllers we’ll see for some time to come. It’s got plenty of room to grow plus enough familiar elements that anyone can pick it up and use it.
Reviewed by The Cubist
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