I loathed the DualShock 3. It felt flimsy and light, too small for my hands, with sticks that sat far too close together, and spongy triggers that were uncomfortably unassuming. It's no coincidence that my last two premier console choices have been conducted on the basis of comfort: first the Gamecube, then the Xbox 360. I've always had a PlayStation in my life, but that's been due to Sony's impressive propensity for nurturing exclusive talent, and in spite of its consoles' irritating physical interface.
Dear <insert deity here>, the DualShock 4 is a thing of beauty. Habit made me sceptical over the summer, though that facade began to break and crumble the more time I spent with Sony's machine. And now, having been whizzing through Killzone and Knack and Resogun in the comfort of my own home for long periods of time, I can safelyt say that the DualShock 4 might be one of the most comfortable controllers I've ever used.
So much of that is down to two things: the smoother, slightly more inflated curves of the controller, and the added length that the DS4 provides over its immediate predecessor.
The handles are a little more bulbous and snuggle into the palm more happily than before, with the added length meaning that fingers aren't bunched up and your hand can wrap around the controller fully without having to bunch up your hand. My hands used to hurt after playing lengthily on a DS3, but they'd sigh with contentment here if they could. The protruding spine on the back might throw a little googly into the mix for those who like to stretch out along the back of a controller, but frankly it hasn't bothered me one bit.
The button spacing is outstanding. I still prefer the alternate stick layout as a general rule, but the widening of the gap between the two sticks, placing them closer to the controller's handles, means you don't have to stretch as far, and the rotation circles for each are supremely comfortable. I often develop fairly sweaty hands when gaming, and the matte finish on the DualShock 4 massively outclasses the finish on the Xbox One's controller, which I found to be a rather slippy at times. The same can be said of the analogue sticks and their construction. The pronounced lip to each stick holds the thumbs far better than the DS3's sticks ever did, and they feel more precise thanks to a little increase in dead-zone resistance. This, combined with the extended length and pronounced curvature of the triggers, means that the DualShock has finally become a decent gamepad for shooters at the fourth time of asking.
It's got a nice bit of heft to it too, and feels at first to be pleasingly robust and solid. I always felt with the DS3 that I was about to crush it into bits, particularly in tense gaming moments, but although Killzone has shredded my nerves, the DS4 remains largely intact. We've not experienced the troubles some have had with the analogue sticks showing signs of bobbling and peeling, nor have the shoulder buttons become sticky at this point, but it's worth noting that there have been issues for some. By and large, though, we've had nothing to complain about when it comes to build quality.
It's impossible to know at this point, however, whether or not features such as the touchpad and Move light bar will become genuinely useful additions to the controller or prove to be pure gimmickry, but there are some nice applications for the former, at least. For the most part the clickable pad brings up maps or leaderboard, but it's nicely incorporated into Killzone: Shadow Fall to allow players to fly the OWL drone. We're yet to see much use for the light bar, save for the visual indicators of different players in multiplayer titles and diminishing health in Killzone. The controller as a whole, though, is far more responsive when it comes to motion control now, and steering petals in Flower is much more pleasant when you're not wrestling against the limitations of the tech. By far the coolest thing, though, has been having the full system audio routed out through the 3.5mm jack in the bottom of the DS4. For headset stuff, there's always the USB ports, but if you're in an environment where you need to keep the noise down (or shut noise out) it's a welcome little feature. Better yet, if you have a PC headset that runs audio and mic through a single multi-purpose jack, you can use that as a headset. My Tritton Kunai, for example, works like a dream.
Those added features do, however, make for a controller that needs constant charging. We got just over nine hours out of our first charge, which is way down from a previous generation that boasted double or even triple times that. The lead is roughly 1.5 metres long, meaning that you'll have to get a little closer if you want to play and charge at the same time, or buy a USB extender if you want to do so in comfort, without turning your lounge into a mess of tripwires. It's a frustrating little niggle that makes the DS4 less convenient than the options presented by the Xbox One controller, to be honest, sadly exacerbated by a charging lead that's only really good for tiny lounges and bedroom setups.
Ultimately, though, we couldn't be happier with our initial review of the final version of the DualShock 4. It's comfortable, responsive, excellently balanced, and beautifully spaced, not to mention bristling with features. It remains to be seen just how many of those will actually be brought into good use by developers going forwards, but Playstation fans and newcomers alike can rest happy in the knowledge that the controller manages to retain much of its iconic appeal whilst also addressing many of the issues that Sony have been fielding for years.
- The most comfortable controller Sony have ever made
- Dimpled sticks allow for greater precision
- Proper triggers that feel outstanding
- Interesting features hint towards unique development possibilities
- Less than 10 hours of battery life
- Charging cable is far too short
- Some early evidence of susceptibility to wear and degradation from other sources
The Short Version: The DualShock 4 is a lovely piece of kit that marks a genuine step forward by Sony in terms of their approach to ergonomic design, and provides a meaningful progression for their iconic controller in both form and function. The additional features potentially present a wealth of development opportunities, though we do rather wish that the battery life and the charging lead were longer.