Part Three: The DualShock 4 Controller
Saying the DualShock 4 is the best controller in PlayStation history is such a vast understatement that it borders on being meaningless – and this is coming from someone who has always liked and respected the basic DualShock design, going all the way back to the original PlayStation in the 1990s. The controller has always had its roots in basic, traditional gamepad design – the analog-stick free original PlayStation controller is basically an SNES controller with handles – and that is something I appreciate. But over the course of the PS3’s lifespan, it became increasingly clear that the traditional PlayStation controller design was falling behind; I don’t believe the DualShock 3 was a horrible controller by any means, but as shooters became a commanding genre and the Xbox 360 showed us what a more substantial controller made for adult hands could feel like, it has long been clear that a change was in order.
The DualShock 4 is that change, and what makes it so incredibly effective is that even though it improves on every single aspect of the DualShock 3 – every, single, one – it does so while maintaining the general layout of a traditional controller, simultaneously innovating for the future while building off the best foundational aspects of the past.
When I first picked up the DualShock 4, I was immediately amazed at how instantly my hands molded to it. On the DualShock 3, I was able to comfortably fit my pinky and ring-fingers around the handles, but my index fingers never quite knew where to sit on the triggers, and my middle fingers didn’t have place to be whatsoever. But on the DualShock 4, my hands immediately know where to go; the handles are long and substantial enough for my pinky, ring, and middle fingers to wrap around comfortably, and my index fingers rest perfectly, instinctually on the triggers. My thumbs feel good on the analog sticks, and reaching any of the face buttons is easy and instinctual. Not even the Xbox 360 controller, which I have long considered the pinnacle of console gamepad design, fits this well in my hands. The DualShock 4 simply feels right, to the point where describing just how perfect it feels in words is practically a fool’s errand.
Testing the controller across a wide variety of games – so far, I have played Killzone: Shadow Fall, Knack, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Resogun, Contrast, Flower, and Trine 2 – only increases my level of satisfaction. No matter the genre or style of gameplay, the DualShock 4 rises to the occasion, and no matter how long or intensely I play, the controller never starts to feel uncomfortable in my hands. It may be made out of plastic, but thanks to a textured grip design that feels cool to the touch, the DualShock 4 never starts to make one’s hands feel overly hot (a problem I always encountered on the PS3, and occasionally on the Xbox 360).
The buttons themselves are almost uniformly the best versions of basic gamepad buttons I have ever encountered. The face buttons click easily and satisfyingly (the switch to digital input, rather than analog, is a very good thing, as I found the DualShock 3 face buttons to be occasionally unresponsive), the bumpers are perfectly sized and easy to depress, and the directional pad is stupendously accurate in all situations. The analog sticks are very similar in feel to the Xbox 360 controller – depressing them feels identical, actually – but I think I prefer the DualShock’s 4 combination of a convex and concave design for the top of the sticks; I feel I have even more grip than ever before, and unlike the DualShock 3, thumbs sliding off is a total non-issue (as is thumbs touching while playing, as the sticks are now spaced further apart).
But the biggest improvement undoubtedly comes in the L2 and R2 triggers, which are not just a massive step-up from the comparable buttons on the DualShock 3, but on any triggers I have ever used (Xbox 360 included). Wide enough to comfortably rest one’s finger on, with a slight curve to ensure those fingers will never slip off, the triggers just feel right the moment one touches them, and they depress with the absolute perfect amount of tactile resistance (which is to say very little, but just enough to feel substantial).
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