A new video game console designed around games first and foremost. That's the main conclusion we arrived at in our full PlayStation 5 review. It's made very clear with each and every one of its features, from the secondary menu that is becoming its main, to its quick response. But, above all this, the DualSense, the PS5's brand-new controller, is the core testament to this approach.
The name of the new model does justice to what it promises, for this controller is a complete unfolding of sensory technologies. A lot has been said about haptic feedback. In theory, it's the ability to convey feelings and textures throughout every inch of the unit's casing, in a located and measured way. In reality, it's a more human, grounded solution. What it transmits is vibration at the surface point set by the programmers, and with the power and the duration they decide. It's up to them, therefore, whether its implementation becomes something subtle but generic like Joy-Con's HD Rumble, or a true narrative device.
It must not be easy to accomplish, but Astro's Playground proves it is possible. Feeling the impact of raindrops on your tiny umbrella as brief, isolated vibration points is amazingly similar to checking if it's drizzling with your hand in real life. And as a contrast to this subtlety there's also its raw force, as the rumble proves to be quite powerful when turned up to 11.
Touch stimulation doesn't end at your fingertips, though. It goes up your index fingers' muscles thanks to the adaptive triggers, a terrible name for a wonderful feature, which is the resistance to the pressure these buttons present to your actions should the game mandate so. That the trigger hardens itself momentarily to convey effort is phenomenal, but that it also does it in a varying, dynamic way in fractions of a second is just a discovery in itself. With this, your fingers bounce back, and managing the strength demands even more of your attention to the game. Astro's little spaceship is making our imagination go wild as we look forward to experiencing driving a car on a bumpy road, firing a weapon that gets stuck or feeling how two blades clash. Again, this is a true finding, it's the next evolution in video game controllers.
It is a pure advance as it was with motion controls back in the day. Motion sensors are included in the DualSense, and they work just fine so far (with the scenarios we could test), even though the design of the device itself isn't the most suitable to make the best use of these. Together, motion capabilities, an expanded touchpad and the integrated microphone and speaker complete the special features. The latter is the most disappointing overall, all be it not hugely disappointing, as everything else feels so cutting edge that the increase in volume and clarity compared to the DualShock 4 felt a bit underwhelming.
Besides the triggers, the rest of the controls seem similar, even if they're not the exact same. The analogue sticks seem taken from the DS4, but the D-pad now shows some minimum fissures to improve grip. And in terms of the traditional face buttons, the most important thing is not that they dropped their iconic colours, but that their pressing feels cleaner and quieter as they require a bit more pressure. As a tiny final detail, you can click to mute the mic underneath the new PS logo/button, which by the way looks kind of ugly to us considering the whole design.
For Sony we're witnessing a paradigm shift with the new console and controller, and it's something they also wanted to convey with the design of the DualSense. It's bigger, but with finer lines, and it's eye-catching due to both its size and the contrast between white, black, and the transparent buttons. It's beautiful, more than the machine itself, but what matters here is that it also feels comfortable in our hands. The gripe is that it's quite heavy, with 281 grams versus DualShock 4's 220 grams, and its weight balance towards the front can be felt ever so slightly. It's as if you have to actively hold it to play.
We would love to keep testing DualSense's battery life further down the line, but for now it suffices to say that, after a quick charge via its USB-C, it wasn't exhausted after 10+ hours of game time. Its 1560 mAh capacity seems like more than enough so far.
PlayStation 5 has in the DualSense its best possible partner, as it really expands the raw power boundaries to some new features that aren't just about graphics and performance. Those triggers, mostly, are about to become a reference for the whole industry from now on.