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First Impressions: Could the PS4 Controller Be Gaming's Greatest Ever Input Device?

Posted by Sammy Barker

We wrap our eager fingers around the DualShock 4

It’s been almost 16 years since the PlayStation’s primary input device last demanded real scrutiny. The introduction of the DualShock in late 1997 ushered a new standard for video game control that hasn’t changed a whole lot over the past decade and a half. Sure, the peripheral has been host to a handful of tweaks over the years, scooping up accelerometers and spongy triggers along the way, but many of its changes have been iterative rather than evolutionary.

The DualShock 4 melts into your hands like ice cream into warm Belgian waffles

However, the DualShock 4, the brand new controller bundled with the PlayStation 4, represents the classic design’s greatest progression since its very inception. And yet, beneath its impressive list of improvements remains a device that’s still reminiscent of its predecessor from yesteryear. But could Sony’s latest peripheral be the greatest input device ever conceived? The jury’s still out, but the signs are certainly reassuring.

The first thing that you’ll notice about the DualShock 4 is that it just feels right. While it may look a little peculiar in front-facing press shots – the touchpad appearing a little crude in the centre of the device – it melts into your hands like ice cream into the grooves of warm Belgian waffles. Your fingers are no longer forced to adopt an uneasy position around the rear of the unit – a common complaint of the original DualShock – instead slipping into the agonisingly ergonomic curves at the back of the peripheral.

The controller’s slightly larger size gives it a little more girth to grip onto – particularly in the elongated handles – but it doesn’t feel cumbersome or exaggerated as a result; its weight is comparable to the current DualShock 3, packing a few extra grams that are well dispersed throughout the chassis. Elsewhere, there’s a texture on the back of the device that gives it a really polished finish.

A similar layer of love and attention has been applied to the triggers, which were perhaps the most disappointing aspects of the PlayStation 3’s controller. Fortunately these feel exceptional, with the customary L1 and R1 buttons adopting a slightly rounded shape to fit into the bend of your index fingers. Meanwhile, the L2 and R2 triggers boast a much springier feel, and flick out at the tips to avoid slippage. Playing a game such as DriveClub, for example, demonstrates the improvements in this area, allowing you to precisely manipulate the acceleration of your vehicle.

The analogue sticks have gone through a similar process of refinement, shedding the loose motion of their predecessors. They now feel much more tightly connected to the chassis, allowing you to make much more minute motions with enhanced accuracy. The ribbed edges at the extremities of the mushroom-shaped inputs feel a little unnecessary, but are certainly not an irritation. It’s perhaps worth adding that the sticks are now also placed further apart, meaning the chances of your thumbs connecting mid-game are much, much lower.

On the main surface of the controller, the improvements are less noticeable. The famous face buttons feel pretty familiar, though the removal of the analogue technology from previous controllers has resulted in a little more click. The d-pad mimics this, though it’s still not quite as satisfying to operate as the excellent PlayStation Vita cross-stick. Elsewhere, the absence of the ‘Start’ and ‘Select’ buttons is a little jarring at first, but the new 'Share' and 'Options' inputs are at least well positioned to the sides of the touchpad.

The colourful strip across the top of the device gives the DualShock 4 a pretty impressive futuristic look

And as for that new addition itself, its inclusion is still yet to be fully justified. Titles such as The Playroom see you controlling Pong paddles with the tactile input, while Killzone: Shadow Fall allows you to cycle between the operations of your OWL support unit. It’s definitely responsive and easily within reach, but we’re yet to see a standout reason for its implementation. The surface can be clicked for an added input, so if nothing else, it can be employed as an extra button when necessary.

The light bar, however, is much more interesting. First and foremost, the colourful strip across the top of the device gives the controller a pretty futuristic look. It’s the first thing that you’ll notice about the DualShock 4, and games such as Hohokum – which change the shade of the illuminated surface according to the hue of your snake – make it a novel and pronounced effect. Of course, this can also be tracked in a similar manner to the PlayStation Move, allowing you to spray champagne out of your controller in the aforementioned augmented reality game, The Playroom. Our only concern here is glare, which could become problematic on televisions with glass fronts.

Furthering the motion functionality, the accelerometers within the PS4 controller are also vastly improved. While the SIXAXIS technology in the PS3’s controller felt jerky, its successor is able to detect even the most subtle of tilts. This is on par with the excellent accelerometers inside the PlayStation Vita, making us hope that developers actually use it in subtle ways moving forwards.

And if all of that wasn’t enough, the rumble functionality in the DualShock 4 is far superior, too. As opposed to a single motor, the new unit actually boasts multiple vibrators which are spread across the device. This allows developers to create more believable feedback effects, which are perhaps best demonstrated, once again, in The Playroom. Here, when you tilt the controller in different directions, you can feel it vibrate on different sides. It’s a cool effect that helps to create the illusion that you’re moving objects around the internals of the device.

These additions and refinements result in a vastly improved controller. It’s too early to say whether it will be gaming’s greatest ever input device, but it’s certainly a serious step forward from the DualShock 3. The enhanced feel, triggers, and analogue sticks will immediately delight veterans, while there’s some serious promise in the new features, too. Our only concern now is returning to the current controller when we’ve had such a tantalising taste of the future.


Are you looking forward to getting your hands on the DualShock 4? What’s got you most excited about the new controller? Let us know in the comments section below.

What’s got you most excited about the DualShock 4? (71 votes)

I can’t wait to squeeze those new triggers

35%

The more accurate analogue sticks sound great

30%

I want to rub that lovely touchpad

20%

I like the sound of the enhanced motion controls

  3%

The light bar will, er, light up my life

10%

I’m shocked by the new rumble motors

  3%

Please login to vote in this poll.

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User Comments (45)

Reverandjames

#2

Reverandjames said:

I really like the dual shock 3. Migrating from Xbox 360 to PS3 at the end of last year it didn't take me long at all to get used to the new controls, and now I find it hard to use an Xbox 360 controller!

The Dual shock 4 looks like a mixture between an Xbox 360 and PS3 controller which is perfect. And it has so much going on for a controller too!

Clamedeus

#4

Clamedeus said:

The PS4 controller looks great, I'm just wondering how it will be in your hand. I can't wait to get my PS4 to put that baby through some tests.

hamispink

#5

hamispink said:

The triggers, larger size, and (hopefully) even better shape all have me excited.

TasukiStaff

#6

Tasuki said:

I haven't picked up a PS controller since PS 2 so I will have to get reacquainted with a PS controller. However, I have to say I did like the size of the Xbox 360 controller and compared to the PS2 controller it just felt more durable. Thats the only thing I am worried about the PS4 I am wondering if it feels more like a 360 or a PS2 durability wise. Hopefully some stores will have demos of the PS4 before launch day.

shingi_70

#8

shingi_70 said:

I'm going to have to get used to the Playstation control set up not using one for an extensive amount of time till the PS2. Still the hands-on seems to confirm they're getting rid of my grips with DS3.

How is the weight compared to previous Dualshock models?

Gamer83

#14

Gamer83 said:

I've always liked the DualShock controllers but I have to say the best controller I've ever used belongs to the 360. Hopefully the DS4 changes that.

MadchesterManc

#15

MadchesterManc said:

The more I see the DS4, the more I look forward to using it. It never had any problems with previous iterations of the Dualshock but this latest one looks to be taking the design to the next level. I personally Ive always found the odd stick placements of the Xbox controllers jarring, even though I do still use one on my PC, so Im glad Sony has kept the fundamental design of the controller the same. If its not broke, why fix it?

TasukiStaff

#16

Tasuki said:

@get2sammyb: Yeah thats what I meant. For some reason the PS2 felt like I could snap it in half if I wasnt careful not like the 360 controller. Glad to hear that about the PS4.

rjejr

#17

rjejr said:

I had an Atari 2600 (remember the box with a stick and 1 red button?) and then an Atari 7800. I took about a decade off from gaming and bought a PS right after the update to the Dualshock was in the box. There will never be a better game controller moment for me, no matter how much they improve the Dualshock.

I would agree w/ ErnisDy except playing Monster Hunter and FFCC:TCB was torture. And I hate the Move and Nav b/c the Nav is worthless. I was hoping for that new Sony controller that split in half, but I guess they couldn't get a touchscreen on it. Having the Move glowglobe on top of the DS4 might work though. I really don't like the Move after using the Wiimote for several years before it. It always feels like it's trying to do more than it's capable of.

Ginkgo

#18

Ginkgo said:

I'm just jealous that you got to have a play with the PS4 and I can't!! :-(

JaxonH

#19

JaxonH said:

I love Sony, but how can you ask if this is the greatest controller ever made? It's good, real good, but the fact the analogues are still in a non-ergonomic position (below the face buttons instead of above) irks me. Don't get me wrong, it looks like it's definitely the best Dualshock to ever hit the market, but all the great stuff about this controller doesn't compensate for irregularly placed analogue joysticks. That's always been the ONE pet peeve of mine with PS. I'd say the PS4 controller is the best traditional controller ever made features-wise (but lacks ergonomics), but the Wii U Pro Controller is the best traditional controller ever made ergonomics-wise (but lacks features). Idk, as nice as the Dualshock 4 is, there's a lot of really good controllers out there. Xbox One controller doesn't look bad at all, and the Wii U gamepad is just, well, it's freikin awesome. Hell, even Wiimote/Nunchuk is great with FPS or strategy games. So yeah, there's ALOT of really good, very high quality controllers out there. And as much as I like Sony, I wouldn't go handing out the crown just yet.

JaxonH

#20

JaxonH said:

I know you adjust to the joystick placement, but the Dualshock still goes against the natural resting position of the thumbs if you hold a controller and relax your hands. The joysticks were added back in their early days starting out, and were placed in the only available space on the Dualshock that wasn't occupied by buttons or a D-Pad. It wasn't the most ergonomic of choices, but that was ok because they were simply adding features to better their controller. But the fact they've KEPT that placement of those joysticks for over a decade now just baffles me! I don't understand their decisions sometimes. They can be so ahead of the curve in some areas, yet so behind in others. Oh well, it is what it is. Still looks much better than DS3 and I can't wait for my day 1 pre order to get here so I can test it for myself!

Epic

#23

Epic said:

I just wanted some new triggers and a better D pad and that's what I got.
I can't complain. :D

Cirno

#24

Cirno said:

I just like the fact they actually tried to edit the design instead of just adding some minor-as-hell features to the same controller.

EGMagnus

#27

EGMagnus said:

Haven't touched a DualShock since the PS2 but hearing all the good things about this controller has me looking forward to finally getting a hand on one for myself!

DoublezZ01

#28

DoublezZ01 said:

Im just so freakin happy its not going to be the exact same looking controller anymore!!! I was getting tired of the same controller hareware with slight changes inside! Yes the DS3 is small and even though i am able to ingore it when immersed into a game, but when i do notice, it is quite irritating! This is how I knew sony what listening when i first laid eyes on my new baby, new everything except the buttons to the right,But the only thing i wish for those were deeper collering but im Still Happy !!! I especially love the lighbat instead of those tinny little LED's in the DS4!!! They even added an extra input (touchpad) That especially will make it feel like a new experience!!! =,) I almost teared when cerny showed us ans said those famous words!!! (And For The First Time The New Controller!!!)

Zup

#29

Zup said:

And here I am just enjoying my Wii U controller. Still, PS4's new controller looks comfortable and that's all I've really ever cared about. It's a pity I won't be getting a PS4, but I just don't have that kind of money.

charlesnarles

#30

charlesnarles said:

"The ribbed edges at the extremities of the mushroom-shaped inputs feel a little unnecessary..."
No one else laughed?

7Vita

#31

7Vita said:

@JaxonH I agree. I'm a PS fanboy through and through but I was a little sad to see the new PS4 controller after using the almost perfect Wii U Pro controller. That is exactly where the analog sticks should be even if it does take a bit of readjustment to get used to the buttons being below the right stick. The 360 having them A-symmetrical is not ideal either, but I'd still take it over the duel shock.

Still, it's a small issue really when you look at how much the PS4 is doing right. If you already prefer the placement of the sticks on PS3 to anything else, you're going to have the perfect console in 5 months time, people like me will have to put up with near perfection. That's a first world problem I can live with.

P.S Wonder how Sony's innovation will compare to MS's? (The only positive things I have to say bout the XBone are about the controller, the feedback triggers sound awesome even if I'm struggling to think of ways they will be used).

JaxonH

#32

JaxonH said:

@7Vita Right. No one company is perfect, and this is in fact a SMALL issue in comparison to everything they get right. But yeah I was really surprised how good the Wii U Pro controller is- I really wasn't expecting anything special with it. And I agree with you about the Xbox controller's lack of symmetry being the downside to an otherwise really good controller. But you adapt to any of them- after a few hours with a 360 controller you adjust, same with a Dualshock. It appears the analogues in DS4 have spread further apart ever so slightly, though that could be attributed to the fact the controller is now wider. I think with the right design and shape the lower analogues could actually work well, but it is yet to be seen if that's the case with the new Dualshock. Tbh I actually think the old school Gamecube controller was a damn fine input device, although certain aspects of it, such as its C-analogue, were inferior design.

JaxonH

#33

JaxonH said:

@7Vita As for Xbox One's controller and its innovation, it is now lagging behind both Sony and Nintendo's controllers in my opinion. Granted, it may be more ergonomic than the DS4, but it's lacking any type of motion sensor connection like the DS4 has, no touchpad like DS4 has, and no second screen like the gamepad has. In a way, the Xbox controller has gone from top dog to zip in a single generation, which is actually quite ironic. Still, it looks like a well designed input device and one I could DEFINITELY live with, though I probably won't buy an Xbox One this gen, unless I can get it for around $250 in 4 or 5 years. PS4, Wii U, Vita, and 3DS should be more than adequate this gen.

Ryu_Bateson

#34

Ryu_Bateson said:

The DualShock is the best, most influential and longest lasting controller ever, and if the DS4 is going to improve upon it, then the outcome is obvious. Still, for me at least, I'll have to try it before I judge it.

Ryu_Bateson

#35

Ryu_Bateson said:

@ErnisDy Really? I tried it and it never felt comfortable because it doesn't has an ergonomic shape whatsoever. And it felt way too large and the vibration function was poor.

hydeks

#36

hydeks said:

hmm, there's no "It looks like the same kinda controller with a laptop touch pad, not really impressed" option :P It looks like a comfortable controller, but it's just more of the same thing that we've always had before. At least it looks better than Xbox One's controller, about all I can really say about it.

OrbitScant

#38

OrbitScant said:

The DS4 has been getting some great reviews among the gaming press. I much prefer the feel of a good pad in my hands to some pipe dream about camera controlled shovel ware. Bring it on!

BornOfEvil

#40

BornOfEvil said:

@JaxonH The DS4 is looking like the perfect controller so far. It still has the shape that long time PS fans are used to, while improving everything else. I never really understood all the complaints about the DS3. I mean, I had no problem holding the controller and I have hands big enough to effortlessly palm a basketball.

JaxonH

#41

JaxonH said:

@TheRealBatman Right, the analogue placements are a MINOR issue, and virtually no issue for gamers who only game on Playstation. But a lot of multi-console gamers, such as myself, have seen the benefits of various placements of analogues and button layouts. We have the Dualshock, with both analogues on the bottom, we have the Xbox controller, which has one on bottom and one on top, and the Wii U Pro Controller, which has both on top. After extensive use with all three controllers, you begin to notice (at least I do anyways) how the lower analogues of the Dualshock aren't exactly ideal. But again, this is a minor issue and is being dissected to the fullest. Most people won't care or will find the controller to be their preference. But if we're going to discuss whether or not DS4 is the "greatest controller ever conceived" it would be ignorant of us to not mention the advantages certain other controllers have over it.

Varia01

#42

Varia01 said:

NL INTRUDER
Wow. I actually quite like that. That controller sounds so cool! The light is probably my favorite feature, along with the rumble feature.

jgrangervikings

#43

jgrangervikings said:

I'd be curious to know if they considered putting the touchscreen on the back (like the Vita) or if it was always in their mind to just put it in the middle of the front of the controller.

Reverend_Skeeve

#44

Reverend_Skeeve said:

I prefer my analogue sticks the Xbox-way, but this is indeed a minor issue, if one at all. Everything I read about the DS4 so far sounds pretty awesome. I am happy they made it bigger (I have large hands) and it seems to be very high quality. I have no doubt that I will adept to it in no time...can't wait to get my hands on my own...launch can't get here soon enough! :D

B4SDR4G

#45

B4SDR4G said:

I currently play at X360. The DS3 is what kept me away from PS3 because I preferred the Xbox controller. Now they have enhanced the ergonomics I am actually going to buy the PS4.

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