PlayStation 5’s DualSense controllers are an incredible input device, perhaps the most tangible example of the “next generation” game the new wave of consoles has offered to date. But you will not necessarily see the upgrades just from looking at Sony’s controls.
At first glance, there are few differences between PS4’s DualShock 4 and PS5’s DualSense, which share almost identical button layouts. But DualSense changes the game (literally) anyway, thanks to the almost magic of the adaptive trigger system, which can adjust the voltage of the rear buttons to make it easier (or harder) to press them down in response to the gameplay.
It turns out that the answer to revolutionizing the controller is not to add more buttons, but to make the ones we already have offer a deeper, better experience.
You just need to get a DualSense and start a game to see that it is nothing like its predecessor. The first PS5 game I played was Spider-Man: Miles Morales, and I still remember feeling a rumble from a train or crackling current through the controller’s haptic feedback – yet another addition to this generation – for the first time.
But even more critical is how the adaptive triggers change the mains swing. Every * thwip * on a net when Miles hovers through Manhattan, now has a little resistance to it, and gives a sense of life and speed in the traversal. From a gaming perspective, the controls are practically the same as the PS4 Spider man. But the new technology helps bring the game to life in a new dimension.
From a technical perspective, it is an incredibly impressive system: each trigger actually has its own gear motor that allows the controller to adjust the voltage and resistance on the go. Depending on how the engine is connected, it can feel like anything from a smooth, effortless glide to an almost physical battle to push the trigger. And while I’m still a little wary of the long-term durability here (more moving parts generally means more fault points), it’s one of the most cleverly designed buttons in technology today.
And the benefits of DualSense are clear across several PS5 games. IN Astros playroom (designed as a showcase for the new controller) you can feel the burning rush of a jetpack and the spin of each bowstring. IN Destruction AllStars, the triggers subtly help you tell you when to pick up acceleration or braking when they increase or decrease the pressure needed to push them, and warn you of the impending destruction of the vehicle with a cracking sensation when you push your violent car. FortniteThe weapons feel unique with DualSense, with a shotgun, a pistol shot and a heavy rifle that all shoot differently on the new console.
Seeing how games take advantage of the new triggers has already become one of my favorite things to do when I launch a new PS5 game, and Sony has done a remarkable job of making each press of these buttons more meaningful.
Often, when we discuss the next generation of consoles, great emphasis is placed on the idea of immersion – to increase the graphics to make games look even more like real life. But by focusing on improving not just how games look, but how games feel, DualSense undoubtedly does more for immersion than any graphical upgrade (especially since unlike faster frame rates or higher resolutions it does not require a fancy new TV for to take advantage of). It opens up a whole new way for developers to inform you about what’s happening on screen and bring you even further into the gaming world.
It’s an alternate universe where Sony’s PlayStation 5 controllers took the signals from the DualShock Back Button attachment and only added more paddles and player inputs – for example, an approach from the Xbox Elite Series 2 controller. It’s not a bad approach, especially for more advanced players who want that flexibility and adaptation, but it does not make games more immersive or open up new ways to get involved in what you play.
DualSense is another approach, one that recognizes that the way forward for controllers is not just to add more buttons; it’s to make those we already have more informative, more engaging and more fun to interact with.