The problem with these pre-release previews for next-gen technologies like the DualSense is that they can dampen some of the discovery for those who must wait until 12th November to experience it themselves. In this particular instance, though, it’s impossible to spoil the sensation because it’s difficult to even describe how revelatory the controller actually is.
Look, we don’t live in a vacuum and we’re aware that games writers around the globe have been waxing lyrical about PlayStation 5 pack-in Astro’s Playroom and its use of the platform’s new pad. With various embargoes in place, we’re not going to be able to add much to the discussion that hasn’t already been said, but please spare us a moment to get some effusive praise off our collective chests.
This is extraordinary. Ever since the introduction of the iconic DualShock over 20 years ago, the classic console controller hasn’t really changed. Nintendo Wii briefly revolutionised gameplay with motion controls, and that technology would eventually find its way into the DualShock 3 and DualShock 4. But aside from some subtle shape changes, PlayStation gaming has largely remained the same for decades.
The DualSense is very much a traditional controller in most respects, although it is a little larger and heavier than its immediate predecessor. The biggest change, then – as its name implies – is the way it feels. And, honestly, you haven’t experienced anything quite like this – even the Nintendo Switch’s much-vaunted HD Rumble doesn’t live up to the haptic feedback on display here.
We can talk about one world from Astro’s Playroom, which is named Cooling Springs. It’s one of four environments, which houses four individual levels. Those of you who played Astro Bot Rescue Mission on PlayStation VR will be familiar with the basic gameplay setup here; it’s a traditional 3D platformer where you control a small robot with jet propulsors in his feet.
Puppeteering the protagonist, though, you can instantly feel a difference to the controllers that have come before. Run across a beach, for example, and you can physically feel the protagonist’s feet slip into the grains of sand; the ocean, meanwhile, feels wobbly, as Astro pulls out an inflatable ring to navigate the water. There’s a slippy sensation to ice, and a crisp crunch to the snow.
But it’s not just different surfaces that are conveyed through the controller. Mid-way through the world, you’ll put on a Frog Suit by zipping it up using the touchpad. This power-up allows you to bounce between platforms from a spring base. If you tilt the controller from left-to-right, you can literally feel the weight of the coil transfer between your hands – it’s mind-boggling!
There’s more: the coil also utilises the controller’s adaptive triggers. This is a form of force feedback, and as you pull down on the L2 and R2 buttons to retract the spring, you can physically feel the power build beneath your finger. It’s unlike anything we’ve ever experienced in a game ever before; it’s subtle, but it adds a fourth dimension.
In fact, when you pair all of this with the sensations typically associated with games – lush 4K visuals, a smooth 60 frames-per-second, and a vivid, colourful artstyle – you have the makings of an unforgettable experience. The sound design – using PS5’s new 3D Audio technology – gives greater depth to the soundscape, while the presentation is razor-sharp throughout.
And if all of that wasn’t enough, the core campaign is a beautifully crafted love-letter to the history of PlayStation. Over the course of the Cooling Springs world, you’ll find references to iconic – and, sometimes, not so iconic – franchises and characters, all culminating in a final environment inspired by the PlayStation 3’s legendary XMB interface. We're not making this up!
We’ll, of course, have more to say about Astro’s Playroom and the DualSense controller in the coming days, but as if it wasn’t already obvious enough, Sony’s onto an absolute winner here. We’re wary of overselling the experience and misaligning expectations, but honestly, it’d take a cynical player to be anything less than head-over-heels here. More soon.
Do you have any questions or concerns about the DualSense controller? Are you looking forward to giving the pad a try next month? What do you think of Astro's Playroom so far? Squeeze the triggers in the comments section below, and let us know.