The PlayStation 5’s DualSense controller is an incredible input device, perhaps the most tangible example of “next-gen” gaming the new wave of consoles has offered to date. But you won’t necessarily see the upgrades just from looking at Sony’s controller.
At first glance, there are few differences between the PS4’s DualShock 4 and the PS5’s DualSense, which share nearly identical button layouts. But the DualSense changes the game (literally) nonetheless, thanks to the near-magic of its adaptive trigger system, which can adjust the tension of the rear buttons to make it easier (or harder) to press them down in response to gameplay.
It turns out that the answer to revolutionizing the controller isn’t to add more buttons but to make the ones we already have offer a deeper, better experience.
You only need to pick up a DualSense and launch into a game to see that it’s nothing like its predecessor. The first PS5 game I played was Spider-Man: Miles Morales, and I still remember feeling the rumble of a train or the crackle of electricity through the controller’s haptic feedback — another new addition to this generation — for the first time.
But even more critical is how the adaptive triggers change the web-swinging. Each *thwip* of a web as Miles soars through Manhattan now has a slight resistance to it, adding a sense of life and momentum to the traversal. From a gameplay perspective, the controls are virtually the same as PS4’s Spider-Man. But the new technology helps bring the game to life in a new dimension.
Revolutionizing the controller doesn’t mean more buttons — just better ones
From a technical perspective, it’s an incredibly impressive system: each trigger actually has a separate geared motor that allows the controller to adjust the tension and resistance on the fly. Depending on how the motor is engaged, it can feel like anything from a smooth, effortless glide to an almost physical fight to depress the trigger. And while I’m still a little wary about the long-term durability here (more moving parts generally mean more points of failure), it’s one of the most cleverly engineered buttons in tech today.
And the DualSense’s benefits are clear across multiple PS5 games. In Astro’s Playroom (which is designed as a showcase for the new controller) you can feel the fiery rush of a jetpack and the twang of each bowstring. In Destruction AllStars, the triggers help subtly tell you when you’re picking up acceleration or braking as they increase or decrease the pressure it takes to push them, and warn you of your vehicle’s imminent destruction with a buckling sensation as you push your battered car to the limit. Fortnite’s guns each feel unique with the DualSense, with a shotgun blast, a pistol shot, and a heavy rifle all firing differently on the new console.
Seeing how games take advantage of the new triggers has already become one of my favorite things to do whenever I boot up a new PS5 game, and Sony has done a remarkable job of making each press of those buttons feel more significant.
Oftentimes, when discussing next-generation consoles, a big emphasis is put on the idea of immersion — ramping up the graphics to make games look even more like real life. But by focusing on improving not just on how games look, but how games feel, the DualSense arguably does more for immersion than any graphical upgrade (especially since, unlike faster frame rates or higher resolutions, it doesn’t require a fancy new TV to benefit from). It opens up a whole new avenue for developers to inform you about what’s going on on-screen and bring you even further in the world of the game.
A different way forward for controllers
There’s an alternate universe where Sony’s PlayStation 5 controller took the cues from its DualShock Back Button attachment and just added more paddles and inputs for players — an approach taken by the Xbox Elite Series 2 controller, for example. It’s not a bad approach, especially for more advanced players that want that flexibility and customization, but it doesn’t make games more immersive or open up new ways to engage with what you’re playing.
The DualSense is a different approach, one that recognizes that the way forward for controllers isn’t to just add more buttons; it’s to make the ones that we already have more informative, more engaging, and more fun to interact with.