Forget better loading speeds, shiny graphics, and more processing power, the DualSense PS5 controller is what makes the PS5 feel truly next-gen. You might have read all about the new haptic feedback and adaptive triggers, but until you actually hold it in your hands, it's easy to dismiss as just another gimmick. After two weeks with the console and the PS5 controller, I can tell you it's so much more than that.
The best way to get to know your new device will already be installed on your PS5 when you unbox it. Astro's Playroom is the perfect showcase for everything the new controller can do, and had me handing the pad to anyone in the room to feel the sensations. The sharp impact of a hail storm, the buffeting winds, the ping of collecting a coin, moving through sticky mud. You didn't know you were missing the feeling of shattering glass in your hands until you feel it with DualSense PS5 controller, and then it seems like the most natural thing in the world. Spider-Man: Miles Morales uses it to great effect to mimic the gentle bump of the subway, or to give an extra crackle to those electrifying Venom attacks. This is so much more than the dull vibrations of rumble, it's a whole spectrum of tactile sensations. Combined with audio cues that can come directly from the DualSense's built-in speaker, it tricks your big monkey brain in a whole new way.
The same is true of the adaptive triggers. Even in Astro's Playroom, a game which is a cute and Pixar-esque platformer rather than a cutting-edge shooter, the feel of a trigger on a gun was so satisfying I just ran around shooting colored balls for a lot longer than was necessary. The game also let me shoot sucker arrows, and there was a feeling of tension in the bow coming straight through the triggers. I'd never known adaptive triggers would be a thing I wanted, it certainly didn't stand out in the PS5 early hype I eagerly consumed, but in reality, it's a smart addition. It might still be early days for next-gen games, but the potential in those two features should pump the brains of any PlayStation fan full of adrenaline.
The other new addition for the PS5 controller is the microphone, which is a nice touch for in-game chatting without needing a headset, and could even be used by quirkier games for gameplay features. Blowing on it to propel a fan, or potentially even screaming into it for some weird horror game mechanic. If you’re more interested in hearing sound than making it, plugging a headset into the headphone jack on the DualSense controller will let you experience PS5’s new Tempest 3D AudioTech, which is designed to make gaming more immersive for your ears.
One note on a less sexy part of the DualSense, unless you're into that sort of thing, is the USB-C charging point. As well as meaning it's time to clear our that drawer of wires, it also seems a little picky about which USB chargers it will work with. Charge through the PS5 and you're fine, but choose wisely with other adaptors. USB-C needs a higher voltage, so anyone leaving a pad to charge overnight using an older phone charging adaptor will potentially wake up to a flat battery.
It's not just the innards. The PS5 controller feels like a huge leap forward in design too, a beautiful baby to the PS5's massive mothership. The contrast between black and white is classic and clean, and makes the old DualShock look like a sad widow in mourning weeds. Even the textured grip hides a little Easter egg, as it's made up of tiny PlayStation button symbols. It feels ergonomically pleasing too, rounded in all the right places, weighted nicely without risking bicep strain, and even if you can’t get on board with the design, you’ll find little to complain about in the mechanics. Angles of triggers have been tweaked, the grip has been shifted, the Share button is now a Create button, but there’s nothing in the basic shape or hold that will panic anyone who has used a PlayStation controller before. Under the hood, some key technologies have carried on from DualShock 4 including the touch pad, for swiping and quick gestures, shown off in Astro’s Playroom with zipping up suits or rolling a ball and in Spider-Man: Miles Morales for opening your map and activities app.
DualSense and developers
Of course, the biggest caveat here is that it's going to be up to developers to make the most of the most impressive features. You can bet your bottom dollar that we'll see the haptic feedback put to good use in Insomniac's Ratchet & Clank: A Rift Apart - I can't wait to see how they add new sensations to the crazy arsenal Ratchet gets to play with - and don't be surprised if Naughty Dog's next game uses the technology too. But for it to really become a part of the next generation, its impact needs to extend beyond first-party studios. I want to feel bows twang in Assassin's Creed, the stiff trigger of a shotgun in Call of Duty, a gentle rain of blood in Resident Evil. Beyond this wishlist, which I’m sure mirrors plenty of emails from Sony overlords to big publishers and developers, the DualSense is my new favorite controller, and Once you get your hands on it, I’m pretty sure it will be yours too.