Thought the PlayStation 4 isn’t set for release for another few weeks, the DualShock 4 is available now at certain retailers. I scooped one up for multiple reasons. For one, eating the cost of an extra controller now eases the burden on my wallet later. Also, it turns out that the new controller is compatible with some PlayStation 3 games. Though I’ve been fortunate enough to try the controller before, this was my first time getting to test it out on multiple games for an extended period of time.
Before we get into my test runs, let’s talk about the controller itself. Historically, I’ve hated the DualShock line. I’ve never gotten comfortable with the left analog stick being placed below the directional pad. I always had issues with my thumbs sliding off the analog sticks due to their convex shape. For the DualShock 3 specifically, I hate the squishy feel and the shape of L2 and R2. Compared to the triggers on the Xbox 360 controller, these were clearly inferior. My disdain for the DualShock is a major reason for why I’ve preferred to do my gaming elsewhere.
The DualShock 4 at a glance looks a lot like its predecessors, though it’s the most dramatic evolution of the controller yet. Upon first grasp, it immediately felt more comfortable. It took me a second to realize why until I noticed the difference in handlebar length. With the DualShock 3, its handles only accommodate for my pinky and ring fingers, which leaves my middle fingers to either try and grip what’s left at the top or to awkwardly rest flat against the back.
Another immediately noticeable difference is the texture on the back of the controller. It’s been etched in with a grid pattern, presumably to provide more grip. It’s not as dramatic as rubber, but it likely won’t wear out or get as gross over time. I think it’s a smart addition. Not sure if the texture is visible in my picture, though it’s clearly visible when you get your eyes on an actual controller.
I know that some people dislike controllers for being too light. I’m fine with a controller being on the lighter side, though the feeling of flimsiness is what gets to me. The DualShock 4 does feel a bit heavier, though it also feels notably more solid than its predecessor. This feels like a controller that is built to take hits in stride.
Here’s one shot that compares the size and shape of the DualShock 4 with the Xbox 360 controller and the DualShock 3. As you can see, it’s more similar in size to the 360 controller than the PlayStation 3 one.
Setting it up to work with the PlayStation 3 requires it to be plugged in via Micro USB, which is different from the connection used on a DualShock 3. A Micro USB cable does not come with the controller, but will come with the console. I happen to have one lying around for my Nexus 7, which worked just fine. For games that are compatible with the DualShock 4, most of the buttons and functions work. However, motion controls and the home button do not work at all. There’s no way to address the former, but you can connect a DualShock 3 on player 2 to access the home menus.
The first game I tested out was Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition to see how the directional pad and face buttons fared. On the DualShock 4, I noticed that the surface area of the directional pad has been enlarged and its texture changed from grippy to smooth. The combination of these two changes made it easier for my thumb to freely slide around the pad for special move inputs. Because each of its prongs are longer, it requires a bit more oomph to press it all the way in, which I find to be a welcome change. I also like the way that the face buttons feel and click in. Though I switched over to fightstick years ago, I spent decades playing on a pad first, and I think that this would make for a fine choice for fighting games.
Next up was Super Stardust HD, which is a fine title to put the analog sticks to the test. Immediately I noticed a difference in my ability to grip the sticks. They’re convex shape and a different texture anchored my thumbs in place much better than Dualshock controllers of the past ever did. I also noticed that the analog sticks have a higher level of resistance to them to minimize the dead zone and to provide more precision. Oddly enough, the level of tension in these sticks was less than the stiff sticks I tried out at Fan Expo just a few months back. I guess that Sony felt that those were a bit too much. They have now been tuned to feel more in line with the Xbox 360 controller’s stiffness. I don’t know how they did it, but the placement of the left analog stick does not bother me at all with this iteration of the controller. It feels great and I never thought to myself that I could handle this better if I had an Xbox 360 controller in hand.
For my final test, I wanted to play a shooter. Unfortunately, I noticed that most of my PlayStation 3 shooters didn’t allow for L2 and R2 to handle zoom and shoot. The first game in my collection that did support this was 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand. The triggers on this new controller are a huge step up, as their concave shape contours nicely around your fingers. The squishy feel of the DualShock 3 triggers is gone and they now smoothly press in. In tandem with the analog sticks, I was picking off terrorists with ease. Side note: 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand is still fun.
The DualShock 4 first won me over at Fan Expo and continues to impress now that I have one of my own. They’ve addressed all of my gripes with its predecessors to provide a top-notch controller. Even if you’ve hated the DualShock format in the past like I do, I wouldn’t be surprised if this manages to win you over, too. I can’t necessarily recommend buying one now until the PlayStation 4 is released, but I suspect that this will be a great controller for many years to come.