Astro’s Playroom is a fantastic game, and the perfect example for what makes the PS5 DualSense controller “feel” next gen. Its unique haptic feedback means you can feel every individual hail drop, hear the tinks of tiny robot feet on glass and use your fingers in a complex game of marbles. There’s a genuine sense of wonder about the DualSense, with Astro’s Playroom showing off the power and potential for next gen controllers to engage players in new ways. But without an active commitment to developing games using this technology, the new features of the DualSense have the potential to become fun but meaningless gimmicks.
An outcome like this wouldn’t be without precedent.
When the PS4 launched in 2013, its controller featured many of the same technologies found in the DualSense, including the local speaker, refined sensors and touchpad. Early PS4 games like Infamous: Second Son used these features for innovative mechanics, like shaking the controller and using it as a spray can for graffiti. Horizon: Zero Dawn used the controller’s speaker for data signal sound cues. But despite a promising start, the full potential of these mechanics were never realised, and later games even saw them drop off the map entirely.
What looked set to be promising, game-changing features were slowly forgotten as the PS4 generation progressed. Graphics got better, loading times got faster but the controller’s additional features remained largely underused.
The PS5 controller is in danger of this same pitfall, thanks in part to a lack of PS5 exclusive titles. With many of the titles currently in development for the console also launching on the last generation PS4, the advantages given by the DualSense controller can’t be fully realised. It would mean PS4 users missing out on important mechanics, or minimal integration for these newer features on PS5.
Realistically, the DualSense controller is capable of creating whole new styles of gameplay, with the rolling ball segments in Astro’s Playroom using the touchpad being key examples of this potential. In later areas of the game, you can even swing the controller as you’d swing on a vine and climb using the trigger buttons with exaggerated physical movements. As it stands, these mechanics can’t be replicated on the PS4, so crossgen games will have limited DualSense functionality on the PS5.
But the problem doesn’t stop there: even next gen exclusive games are having a problem finding uses for the unique features of the PS5 controller. Devil May Cry 5: Special Edition was originally created for the PS4 generation but is optimised for next gen with a bunch of new inclusions. One of these is utilising trigger button feedback to charge Nero’s sword, Red Queen. But outside the revving mechanic and some audio cues delivered via the controller, the game is largely the same. The DualSense controller largely takes a back seat.
It’s likely the future will bring more purpose for the DualSense controller, but for now it feels more like a gimmick than a useful next gen feature. It marks a future turning point for more immersive PS5 games but until titles are solely developed for the PS5, we won’t see what the controller can really do.
Astro’s Playroom is a great first step but a future where DualSense is integral for gameplay is still a few years away, if it happens at all. To really push forward with next gen, Sony will need to acknowledge the quick redundancy of the PS4 controller and work towards integrating haptic feedback and the usefulness of the adaptive triggers into more games.
With such a minor difference between the last generation PS4 consoles and next gen PS5 consoles, there needs to be a more solid point of difference to build a real ‘next gen’ feeling. The unique gameplay offered by the PS5 DualSense controller is essential to build that feeling, but its newer features need to be utilised well to make a difference beyond being just a simple gimmick.
The PS5 controller is filled with potential, but whether it’ll realise it in this console generation is a question for the future.