The last time we did one of these generational roundups, I wrote a piece on how the DualShock 3 “sucked”. This is a sentiment dating back to my time with the DualShock and DualShock 2, both of which also sucked.
The DualShock 3 - and Sixaxis before it - are by today’s standards terrible pads. I find them to be uncomfortable to hold for long periods of time, not to mention occasionally physically painful (thumb tendons aren’t meant to hold sticks like that).
Their triggers feel cheap. The thumbstick placement is far from ideal for playing shooters, and those thumbsticks have a deadzone as big as a mass grave.
Bad controllers, the lot of them! Sure, you could survive using them, but compared to the Dreamcast’s controller, or the GameCube’s, or the Xbox’s, or especially the Xbox 360's, they were crud.
While Sony sticking with the same basic controller design for three console generations built some kind of brand tradition, by the time the PlayStation 4 came around in 2013 it was clear that, even for the most cracked Sony fanperson, a change was required.
Enter the DualShock 4. What could have been a retread of the last three controllers, and perhaps should have been a complete redesign, instead somehow managed to walk the line astride both. It changed the look and feel of the pad just enough to improve on so many of its inconsistencies, while retaining enough of the DualShock DNA to let people look at it and say at a glance, yup, that’s a PlayStation controller alright.
I did not like the retention of the thumbsticks being in the middle of the controller. I have never met a person in my life who finds this the optimal way to play modern 3D games with camera controls—shooters especially—leading me to think that leaving them there not just for the PS4, but on the DualSense for the PS5 as well, is just some hardware team at Sony fucking with us.
I also did not like how squishy the main triggers were. That was a problem on older DualShocks, and while improved slightly here, it was still an issue. Especially when I spent so much of my time on the Xbox Elite controller, which is almost perfect.
The list of things I did like is much longer. First up, I loved the feel. The matte finish applied to many official DualShock 4 controllers didn’t just feel lovely in the hand, it also kept fingerprints at bay.
I loved the touchpad. I of course wish more games had made use of it, just like I wish more games had made use of the Vita’s rear touchpad, but we live in a world where sometimes console gimmicks just don’t stick, and this was one of them.
I loved the overall comfort. Sure, the DualShock 4 kept the same basic shape as its predecessors, but rounding off the edges of its “handles” made it far more pleasurable experience to use for hours on end than any other PlayStation controller had ever been.
I loved the microphone, and think every game that used it to make little phone noises, or play you intercom dialogue instead of through the actual speakers, deserves a Gold Star.
But most of all I loved the light, a console gimmick that did stick. It was great when games could use it smartly to tell you game stuff, but it was even better in multiplayer scenarios. Looking around the couches of my first PS4 FIFA night with my mates, and being able to tell instantly who was playing who and whose controller was whose just by looking at the colour-coded lighting, was like a console feature had arrived early from 2030.
This would be the part where I compare the DualShock 4 to the DualSense and say my goodbyes while looking into the future, but I haven’t laid hands on the PS5's controller yet. So in lieu of that I’ll just say goodbye to the DualShock 4, and say thank you, Sony, for finally daring to be a little bit different.