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%

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