Hands on with the DualSense Controller

Let me paint a picture for you. It’s a brisk Auckland morning, and I approach an unassuming white villa, in the middle of the street. My temperature is taken via a thermometer gun, and I can go in. I am met with neon blue lights lining the hallway floor, and a lounge with one of the largest TVs I have ever seen. Appropriate, considering the console sitting next to said TV is also the largest console I’ve ever seen.

I’m talking about the PlayStation 5.

Pretty as a picture

Somehow both bigger and smaller in person, the PlayStation 5 cuts an impressive figure. Yes, it is tall and wide, but it also comes together with sleek lines that fool you into thinking it is a lot more streamlined than it actually is. Pictures cannot do it justice, and while I’m still not completely sold on the white colour scheme, the overall design hits right. It’s new and interesting, and while I’m not 100% sure where to put it, I know that a PlayStation 5 will look good on display in my living room.

A monolith of a TV to match a monolith of a console; what more could a girl want?

Oh, to actually play on the PlayStation 5? Well, that makes sense.

I was given a go at the Astro’s Playroom demo. No loading into the game, it was already prepared for me, so I can’t give you any sneaky information about the UI, or even how quickly the game loaded from start up.

What I can tell you, is that Astro spends his spare time with all the other Astro bots knocking around inside your console, shooting other bots with arrows, and climbing up things he probably shouldn’t climb up. At least he did when I controlled him.

Getting to grips

While the demo didn’t show off any deep and engaging story, it did allow a lot of exploration and jumping. It’s a fun platformer to mess around in. The demo includes free reigns to the hub world, one of the levels, and the Labo area, which is basically a PlayStation nostalgia trip on steroids. I won’t give anything else about Labo away, because it is better experienced than explained, but it is a nice touch and shows that Sony cares about where it comes from, even as it changes.

Talking about changes, do you remember when they announced that the new controller would be called the DualSense, rather than the expected DualShock 5? I do, and I didn’t even really pay attention.

It’s impressive how much they have improved the controller. The name change is well deserved, because as soon as you have it in hand, you can tell that the DualSense is an entirely new beast.

Let’s start from the outside and move in. The DualSense is shaped differently. The back features a textured grip that makes holding it over a long time much easier. It is also made up of hundreds of little PlayStation symbols as a nice added touch. The arms (or whatever you want to call the part of the controller that you actually hold) are less round than the DualShocks, and instead arch in the back, meaning that they sit nicely in the centre of your palm. That also changes your grip to be slightly leant out, rather than in as most PlayStation users will be used to. It’s different, but a very natural fit.

Click me a winner

Improvements have also been made to the DualSense’s thumbsticks. While still not completely concave, the edges are heavily textured, and a little bit deeper than the DualShock. While not a dramatic difference, it was definitely noticeable, and will make the thumbsticks less slippery. Something I sorely need when I am intensely focused, and a little bit stressed out during a game of Crash Bandicoot 4.

Let’s talk about adaptive triggers. The first time I came across it, I thought I had broken the controller. A sure fire way to not get invited to anymore events. Thankfully that was not the case.

Adaptive triggers basically means that the triggers can feel different depending on what weapon you’re using, or in the case of Astro’s Playroom, what item you are crushing. And I’m not talking about the controller sometimes just letting you press in half way and that’s it. I’m talking about the freedom to make that trigger feel like whatever the game developer can imagine. A tin can is a jagged, incremental press of the trigger. A lot of small clicks until the can is nothing more than flat tin. A plastic capsule however is a lot of pressure and tension until a sudden crack makes the plastic give way.

Drawing a bow, shooting a minigun, and pulling a lever also all felt different from crushing cans and plastic capsules, and I can’t wait to see what other developers use the adaptive triggers for.

One of the main reasons for the name change to DualSense seems to be the rumble feature. That is to say, there isn’t one. Instead the DualSense uses haptic feedback. You know, that slight buzz your phone gives when you type. Only I never knew it could be this good. Swimming, walking through grass, pulling up cables, and skating on ice all feel dramatically different. While I’m sure some of it is a trick of the mind, the feedback also seems to match the movement. I’ve never been ice skating because I am a very clumsy person, but I am now very sure of what it would feel like.

After you’re finished being impressed with all that, let’s add in my favourite feature of the DualShock 4. The speaker in the controller.

The speaker in the DualShock 4 was great. When you shook the controller in The Last of Us you could hear batteries rattle around. When the police radio comes through your controller in Need for Speed Payback, you know you’re in trouble. Or when your character in Fat Princess Adventures would start talking to you through the controller if you put it down for too long.

But do you know what’s even better than that? All of the above, but with the added bonus of hearing the difference between Astro walking on metal, sand or glass. The sound of wind blowing in a sandstorm. Gentle splashes as you swim, or the gentle rustle of grass as you walk through it. Sound though the controller is clearer, and the little touches mean that the game always feels that much closer to you.

As if one of those new additions to the DualSense wasn’t enough, all of them together make an impressive piece of technology that was created with the intention of putting you as deep into the game as possible.

If I wasn’t excited for the PlayStation 5 before, I am now. The DualSense controller is an impressive step up from the DualShock 4 and as the part of the set up that you put your hands on regularly, it’s going to make gaming that much more immersive.

I can’t wait to see the future of gaming.

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