In a strange twist of fate, Sony has emerged out of this year’s E3 as the hardcore gamer’s favorite son for something that required no action at all: keeping the PlayStation 4 free of used game or always-online requirements. But while gamers rejoice at that keeping-of-the-status-quo, Sony has been busy making more than a few changes to its upcoming PlayStation hardware; the most immediately striking of which can be found in the new DualShock 4 controller. TechnologyGuide was able to get its hands on the new pad at E3 this week to see what’s new and improved.
There are a number of shakeups in the PS4’s pad, but on the surface, much of the DualShock 4 is naturally reminiscent of the DualShock 3. It’s slightly heftier, somewhat softer, and feels a little more elongated than before, but the triggers, bumpers, d-pad, joysticks, PS button and trademark Square, Triangle, Circle and X buttons are all in the same spots. Only the new touchpad, Share (for sharing gameplay clips) and Options (a Start/Select hybrid) buttons are in unfamiliar places.
Those latter two inputs will take some time to get used to, as the relatively spacious touchpad relegates them up near the top of the controller. In general, DualShock 3 veterans won’t feel too out-of-place with the DualShock 4, but there will be some slight shellshock the first time they reach for their old Start and Select buttons only to wind up rubbing a big flat touchpad.
That touchpad, by the way, does work as advertised. As one would expect, it isn’t quite as smooth or responsive as a smartphone’s screen, but TG was told it’ll offer both gesture-based and 1:1 control depending on the game in question. In a shooter like Blacklight: Retribution, for instance, a quick swipe up pulls out a player’s medkit, adding a dimension of customizable (for the developer) and extra control to the device. Other titles like Diablo III will be offering touch support as well.
The whole of the touchpad isn’t exactly easy to reach, however, as it’ll require players to stretch their thumbs out away from the d-pad or four traditional buttons and over the joysticks. This subtle awkwardness should probably steer developers away from relying too heavily on touch inputs, at least in more hardcore console titles. The touchpad can be clicked down, however, making it something of a “C3” button to go along with the two joysticks.
And speaking of those two joysticks, they’ve undergone a little bit of a makeover this time out. Gone are the slippery, convex tops of the DualShock 3, here replaced by concave sticks that are much easier to grip. The sticks themselves are substantially tighter than before too; they aren’t quite as responsive as the Xbox One’s pad, but they aren’t far off either.
They’re faster, more accurate, and easier-to-use, plain and simple. The only thing left to complain about, then, is the left stick’s placement below the d-pad, but at least said d-pad is now a little bit smoother to the touch than before.
The other major improvements come on top of the controller with the revamped triggers and bumpers. The L1 and R1 buttons are smaller and more rounded than before, but still retain their fast feel.
Instead, the biggest gains come with the completely redone triggers, which are now pointier and curved upwards, and aren’t nearly as mushy as the DualShock 3’s R2 and L2 inputs. They’re smaller, tighter and much more responsive than before, and though they retain just a smidge of that pesky mushiness, they make shooters and racers feel much more natural than they used to. Again, this will take a little adjusting for PS3 veterans that are trained to use L1 and R1 for such games, but the transition shouldn’t take long.
Other additions to the DualShock 4 include a built-in headphone jack, which does exactly what it sounds like it does, and a built-in speaker underneath the touchpad. The big, colorful light bar on the top of the controller didn’t serve any real purpose during TG‘s playtime, but it certainly didn’t get in the way. Plus, it looks kind of neat against the rest of the matte black surface, and that’s something, right?
There are some fundamental design decisions – the joystick placement, the smaller backside, the longer handles – that will keep the DualShock 4 behind the quality of the Xbox One’s pad, but rest assured, Sony has closed much of the gap between the controllers of the last generation. While the ultimate utility of its touchpad remains to be seen, the PS4’s new gamepad looks like it’ll be more than satisfactory for both DualShock lovers and detractors alike.