Just How Good is the DualShock 4? Hands On With the New PS4 Controller

USGamer spends some time with Sony's new DualShock for PlayStation 4.

Article by Mike Williams, .

We have three weeks until Sony's PlayStation 4 hits store shelves and wows or disappoints us with its next-gen prowess. In the meantime, retail distribution has decided to start selling controllers for a system that you can't play yet. The DualShock 4 is now available at some retailers, so I went to my local GameStop and plunked down $60 for my very own PS4 controller.

It's worth noting that the clerk at my local GameStop looked at me oddly when I asked about buying a DualShock 4, since they didn't have any on store shelves. In his words, "no one ever calls the PlayStation controllers by their real names."

The things I do for you. (I did it for me)

I've been looking forward to holding the DualShock 4 since E3, because while holding a controller attached to a demo unit on a crowded showfloor is one thing, having it in the comfort of your home is another. In fact, I spent ten minutes just switching back and forth between the DualShock 3 and 4, just to see how much improved the new controller is. Of course, I would do this before I had to review a PlayStation 3 game. Which is a shame, because the DualShock 3 feels like a boxy toy compared to its successor. It's like getting new glasses: your old ones feel fine, until you've tried the new ones on.

The DualShock 4 feels slightly thinner and longer than the DS3, but the new handgrips are larger and feel far more comfortable in my huge hands. The analog sticks are tighter than they were on the DS3, with a feeling of resistance approaching a 360 controller. Sony has made sticks slightly shorter and added a dip in the center of each one so your thumbs won't slip off. The button click on the analog sticks is not a deep as the DualShock 3, but still noticeable. The new directional pad has a more pronounced dip in the center that draws your thumb there naturally, but otherwise it feels like the same single piece rocker that we've had since the first PlayStation controller.

As Sony confirmed months ago, the face buttons are digital instead of analog this time; no one really used them for analog purposes, so it saves data bandwidth to switch them back to digital. They're closer together on the DualShock 4, making a tighter diamond shape.

"With the DualShock 3, we were able to get analog data, which games didn't really use," Sony Computer Entertainment product planning manager Toshimasa Aoki told VentureBeat last week. "For DualShock 4, we deleted that, and now it's all digital. The mechanism inside is a little different, and the data that games get is different."

The R1 and L1 buttons are a little rounder, while the R2 and L2 trigger have undergone a complete redesign. The triggers are now concave instead of convex; my fingers fell right into place as soon as I picked up the DualShock 4. Even outside of general use, the concave triggers have a second benefit: fewer accidental button presses when you set down the controller, since it now rests on the edge of triggers. R2 and L2 on the DualShock 3 have a sense of greater resistance and springy-ness as they reach their full press, but on the DS4 it's smooth all the way through. As a tiny bonus the names on the top buttons actually face toward you when you're using the controller.

To charge your DualShock 3 you used a mini-USB cable, but the DualShock 4 switches to micro-USB. So if you've purchased a non-Apple portable electronic device in the past four years, you're probably good to go. The controller itself does not come with a micro-USB cable, but one will come with the PlayStation 4. I have a ton of them lying around the house, so I grabbed one and plugged it into my PC to see what would happen.

The Dual Shock 4 hooked to my PC.

My Windows 8.1 PC did recognize the controller as a generic USB controller with a total of fourteen buttons: Square, X, Circle, Triangle, L1, R1, L2, R2, L3, R3, Share, Options, the PS button, and the click of the touchpad. The touchpad itself doesn't register and the D-Pad comes up as the "point of view hat", like a flight stick. Oddly enough, the L2 and R2 triggers show up as buttons and change X and Y Rotation in Windows settings. The controller can also be reportedly be paired to a PC with Bluetooth, but I was unable to test that as my motherboard lacks a Bluetooth connection. Fun fact: the controller LED glows amber when hooked into a PC.

I tried it out with a few PC games, but the results weren't all that great. Saints Row IV saw the controller and everything worked... except for the fact that the analog stick was inverted. Pushing down on the stick would make my character more forward and vice versa. There was no way to fix this using the in-game menus. Batman: Arkham City and Far Cry 3 were complete non-starters and neither game recognized the controller at all. Adult Swim's Soundodger worked fine. If you're getting this as a PC controller, I'd say your best bet is to wait. Sony needs to release some PC drivers for the DualShock 4 and I hear they're busy launching a console.

All in all, I think Sony has done a great job with the new DualShock. It's a marked improvement over the DualShock 3, but I'll need more time with an actual game in order to deliver my final verdict. That said Sony's off to a great start, and in previous demos, I've preferred the DualShock 4 to the Xbox One controller.

Don't stare at my beautiful hands..

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Comments 8

  • Avatar for Spazgadget #1 Spazgadget 4 years ago
    Considering I never really had any complaints about the DualShock 3, hearing it's "greatly improved" surprises me. I know others had complaints about it, but it always suited me perfectly. Ok, well, there WAS that one time I set the controller down in Demon's Souls and accidentally did a heavy attack on a NPC… so I guess there was room for improvement.
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  • Avatar for bradgrenz #2 bradgrenz 4 years ago
    FYI: Since most PC games with controller support these days use the 360 controller specific API, you can use a program called Xbox 360 Controller Emulator (x360ce for short) to make any gamepad appear like a 360 controller to a game. That's an option for people who want to use DS4 on PC until developers start natively supporting it.
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  • Avatar for Funny_Colour_Blue #3 Funny_Colour_Blue 4 years ago
    @Spazgadget That happened to me so many times, in so many other games. It's even worse with Psone titles! I'd argue that's the main problem with the Dualshock 3 controller, the Dualshock 2 was perfect.
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  • Avatar for Bla1ne #4 Bla1ne 4 years ago
    That all sounds great! But what I've always been looking for in a controller is faster response time and reduced dead-zones, but no one ever talks about these things. I won't fault you for not mentioning it since it'd be kind of hard to test without a game! Either way, it is what it is and it's what I'll be using with my PS4, so I'll have to be content no matter how the DS4 turns out. I'm just really hoping Sony improved on those aspects.
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  • Avatar for MHWilliams #5 MHWilliams 4 years ago
    @Bla1ne Head to the VentureBeat article I linked. Sony told them the dead zones have been reduced but yes, I wasn't able to take it through a rigorous test.
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #6 brionfoulke91 4 years ago
    @Spazgadget Same here. AFAIC the dual shock 3 is the best controller ever made, it feels the most comfortable and is well balanced to handle a large variety of game types well. It's just as good as the 360 controller for shooters, and MUCH better for platformers and fighting games. It's great for modern games and for retro games.

    I'll say one thing about the dual shock 4, it's not nearly as nice looking as the ds3. It doesn't have that sleek look or polish to it. Certain changes seem nice, the trigger buttons were a minor flaw in the DS3. I hope the d-pad still feels as good. I'm glad that Sony hasn't adopted the awful asymmetrical analog stick design, at least.
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  • Avatar for Bla1ne #7 Bla1ne 4 years ago
    @MHWilliams Thanks for the link! I hadn't noticed it. It's interesting that Sony had actually tested ideas very similar to Valve's new controller--touch screen where the touchpad is, all touch pads for input rather than buttons, etc. The article, though, despite being in 4 parts, doesn't touch on some of the real details I want to hear: input latency, button travel distance, etc. But like I said before, I won't be using an aftermarket controller, so however it turns out is what I'll have to put up with!
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  • Avatar for MissDeviling #8 MissDeviling 4 years ago
    Reviewers always talk about how new controllers fit better with their huge hands, but what about people will smaller ones? I don't have guy hands, and the DS4 looks gigantic to me. Will it feel uncomfortable?

    Also, how are the triggers? I hated the 360 ones because they ruined my combo timing in fighter games (I don't care about shooters). Is there that same delay? I loved the DS2 because I had no problems pulling off combos using triggers, and I don't want to invest in an arcade stick because it would be wasted on me.
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