I spend a not-insignificant amount of time thinking about game controllers. At this point, I might as well be a game controller collector. Not only do I have multiple controllers for each console I own (obviously), but I’ve also got a number of them that I’ve purchased for playing PC games throughout the years. If you count all of the 8bitdo controllers I’ve purchased for retro gaming, then I’ve definitely wrapped my mitts around a fair few gamepads.
I’ve grappled with the question of the best gaming controller before, but with the arrival of next generation consoles, we might have a new winner: the PlayStation 5’s DualSense. Sony spent a lot of time hyping up the PlayStation 5’s new controller, and now that the console is here, it sure seems like the DualSense has the capabilities to back that hype up.
Astro’s Playroom is the only introduction one needs to the DualSense controller, and I think it should be the first thing every new PlayStation 5 owner plays. Not only is it a fun enough game in its own right, but it demonstrates all of the DualSense’s features, from the adaptive triggers and haptic feedback to motion controls and the built-in speaker/microphone.
What left me particularly impressed was the haptic feedback on the DualSense, which when paired with the speaker on the controller can really make different in-game actions feel distinct. The most basic and easy to explain example is when Astro walks between hard and soft ground, for instance a steel floor and grass. You can definitely feel the difference because of that haptic feedback, and the speaker on the controller helps the effect a lot more than I thought it would.
All of the features on this controller are great, but they aren’t the only things that make the DualSense a really good controller. For starters, the controller feels great in the hand – as good as an Xbox One/Xbox Series X controller, and that is no meager praise. From a design standpoint, I don’t think I’ve ever been more impressed with a PlayStation controller.
I was never really a big fan of PlayStation controllers until the DualShock 4 came along. Obviously game controllers have only gotten better as time goes on, but for a while there, PlayStation controllers were mostly the same from generation to generation with only minor changes. The DualShock 4 broke that pattern in a big way, but now that the PlayStation 5 is on the scene, it feels like the DualSense is the true revolutionary controller in the PlayStation lineup.
Despite all the praise, the controller isn’t perfect. I’m not crazy about the mostly white color scheme, for starters. I’m sure we’ll see plenty of color options for the DualSense as time goes on, and it likely won’t be long before I can get a DualSense in a darker color to use as my daily driver, but I really hate it when things that are supposed to see heavy use are only available in white. Every little speck of dirt shows up plain as day on this controller, and after a week and a half of using it, I can already tell that’s going to be a huge annoyance.
To my eye, there’s very little difference between the d-pad on the DualSense and the d-pad on the DualShock 4. It feels like the buttons on the DualSense’s d-pad have a smoother curve to them, but beyond that, they feel almost exactly the same. The d-pad on the DualSense isn’t bad, but I do think that the d-pad on the Xbox Series X controller does come out ahead in terms of quality.
Aside from those minor gripes, though – and they are very minor – I’m not finding very much to dislike about the DualSense. I love the clear plastic buttons, I love the look of the controller, and I love the feel of it. Battery life seems pretty good but to be honest I’ve only had to charge it once since that initial charge when I first unboxed the PlayStation 5, so I don’t even have a complete battery life picture yet. The DualSense is so good that PC gamers might even want to pick one up for their rigs, even though Xbox controllers are generally the go-to among the PC crowd.
My one major concern is that we won’t see developers actually use these standout features – haptic feedback, adaptive triggers, etc – on a large scale. I expect every single first-party PlayStation game to support those features, but beyond that, it’s easy to see developers choosing not to support them in multiplatform titles because it ultimately means investing more work into the PlayStation 5 version of their game.
I hope I’m wrong, because these features are definitely impressive and I’d like to see them in as many PlayStation 5 games as possible, but I don’t think we’re going to see integration on the level of Astro’s Playroom coming from any company but the ones under the Sony umbrella. That wouldn’t be the end of the world, because this is still a great controller even when those features aren’t supported, but when they are, that’s when the DualSense really shines.