Congratulations Sony, The DualShock 4 Didn’t Suck

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Congratulations Sony, The DualShock 4 Didn’t Suck
Image: Sony

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.

Come On, Guys, The DualShock 3 Sucked

The original PlayStation controller debuted in 1994. The more familiar DualShock was released in 1997. The PlayStation 3 controller you’re using today, well into the 21st century, is almost identical to that 1997 design. Let’s think about that for a second. It’s now 2013, and if you’ve got a PS3,...

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Here’s some of what I said back in 2013:

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 of them, changing 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 just 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 a problem, especially when I spent so much of my time on the Xbox Elite controller, which is almost perfect.

The Xbox Elite Controller Was Premium, And I Respect That

For a multi-billion dollar industry that is supposedly at the vanguard of 21st-century technology advancement, video games sure like to keep things basic.

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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 a 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.

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Comments

  • I always find the history of the dual shock to be so strange… The original PS1 analog controller, the “dual analog” was great straight off the bat. I was an early adopter and was immediately in love with it from the moment it came out. I still have it lying around somehwere…

    But for whatever strange reason, Sony very, very quickly abandoned the dual analog in favour of the dual shock design and I still cannot fathom why… The handles were way shorter (too short as many point out and simply not ergonomic near the shoulder buttons) and the thumb sticks no longer had the indent (in favour of the rounded, rouged-up) version that persisted for so many generations. The sticks were also full of the deadzone/resistance that I simply didn’t feel as much in the dual analog.

    I felt completed vindicated when the DS4 was released and it was basically a slightly modified, vibration capable, dual analog. Sony had simply come full circle… Such a shame it took them so long…

  • “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”

    Hello, nice to meet you!

    • Yeah I’ve never gotten the thumb stick location thing and don’t even notice the difference when using the Xbox controllers.
      It’s clearly not that big an issue either given how well the PS tends to do.

      Maybe it’s just folks with certain shaped/sized hands, who knows.

        • My girlfriend is missing the muscle in the ball of her left thumb and Sony’s layout makes their controllers unusable for her.

          The XBox setup is a lot better, although she has to stop after half an hour or so due to fatigue anyway.

      • If you think logically you would realise it’s because that’s what comes with the goddamn console, what else is someone supposed to use?

      • The ‘asymmetrical thumbsticks are the only way to go’ opinion is one of the most bizarre I’ve come across, along with the N64 having a good controller. (Maybe if you have the three hands its designed for)

        • Yeah, I really don’t understand the objection to Sony’s symmetrical stick layout – for me, it’s far preferable to the asymmetrical layout used by some other controllers.

          My hands are symmetrical, so why would I not want the sticks to be laid out that way, given that most modern 3D games involve using those sticks almost constantly to control movement and camera?

          • Because it’s more ergonomic.

            If the ABXY and PS buttons weren’t being used all the time. It’s be better to have both stick up top because it’s simply ergonomic.

            You’re hands rest with your thumbs pointing generally forward. Which would leave them at the top of the controller. Not the middle/to the side like the DS.

            People/games don’t use the D-Pad much anymore compared to sticks, so it makes no sense.

            The only reason they remain symmetrical is tradition and to differ from Xbox. Because God forbid they copy something good from their competitor.

  • In some ways I really miss my DS4, don’t get me wrong I love the new one but the DS4 was my favourite controller ever. My original survived right through the generation, by the end its batterys life was still good enough for a long gaming session.

  • The Sony controllers were always ergonomics nightmares. The fact that the PS4 controller felt really nice to use was such a surprise. The sticks are still in an unnatural place and the sticks still feel kinda mushy, but it was such a massive improvement on the old models.

    Gamecube still has the best controller ever, though.

    • Yep. Keeping symmetrical sticks is ridiculous. It’s ergonomically worse – automatically making it more uncomfortable for the vast majority of people

  • I think the controllers are some of the reasons I almost never played my PS3 or PS4. I just hated the way they felt and they almost always left my hands quite sore while my Xbox Elite joysticks do not even after hours of playing. And now, my PS5 controller is quite simply wonderfully comfortable – way up there with the Elite controller. Well done, Sony!

  • If you didn’t like the hard edges of the Dualshock 3 or below, as I didn’t, you may want to turn down the Dualsense’s adaptive triggers to be a little (or a lot) softer. Playing the GPU portion of Astro uses the adaptive triggers as a mechanic to grip handholds climbing up a wall, which make the triggers incredibly stiff beyond a certain point, which you need to push past to actually grip. The outside edges of the triggers aren’t rounded like on an Xbox One controller, and after a few minutes of that mechanic, I could feel the outer edges of the triggers digging into my fingers rather painfully. I dropped the trigger strength down to weak and it feels more like a soft resistance with a “popping” sensation as it breaks through, which is much less fatiguing, and no longer painful for extended use.

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