Sony’s general approach to tech design appears to follow the rule of “don’t fix what’s not broken”; meaning they build upon their strengths and eliminate their weaknesses. This is definitely the case when it comes to the PlayStation’s DualShock. PlayStation’s first controller released alongside their first console during 1994. Whether due to the Mandela effect, or simply being too young to remember, I used to believe that the PlayStation controllers have always supported their twin anolog stick feature. However, the first model was missing the now essential thumbsticks that most likely inspired the controllers brand name. The word dual can find it’s origins in 1600’s Latin, so it can be presumed that the use of this is in reference to the twin sticks.
The Original DualShock
In 1997 the Dual Analog controller was released, followed shortly after in 1998 by the DualShock. This was the first of its type to include controller vibrations. These features were all kept upon designing of the 2000 DualShock 2, which released with the PlayStation 2. Throughout the 2000’s and early 2010’s, PlayStation experimented with various new features including motion sensors. They then implemented this into their Motion Move, or PlayStation Wand. Another piece of PlayStation merchandise I feel deserved more, but that’s for another day.
The DualShock 4
It wasn’t until 2014 where, in my opinion, PlayStation really hit the nail on the head. Alongside of the PlayStation 4 was the DualShock 4. Boasting all the usual features of the DualShock family, twin analog sticks, control vibrations and pressure sensitive buttons. There were also a range of effective features introduced, most significantly the inclusion of the clickable touchpad and lightbar. These additions ended up altering the size and improved the aesthetic of the controller. Here Sony also incorporated the use of motion sensitivity and detection, as well as a built in speaker.
In 2016, PlayStation added some performance enhancing features to the DualShock 4 (known as the DualShock 4 V2). Battery life was extended, weight lightened, as well as seeing the lightbar more easily through a strip in the touch pad. Players are also able to turn down the lightbar’s brightness and the speaker’s volume.
I feel this is one of the strongest designs from PlayStation. Again serving as a base for its successor the DualSense, few of the DualShock 4’s features are present in blockbuster games. AAA titles are full of open worlds, emotional stories and side quests pouring out of the player’s ears; yet they all seem to follow a similar formula when designing controls. Throughout the generation, a few titles played with the lightbar and speaker functions. The Last of Us does this by playing audio logs through the speaker, or in various titles the lightbar being a visual representation of your health. Although they’ve dabbled and played with ideas, there aren’t many games where the abstract elements of the DualShock 4 are implemented as part of the main gameplay.
Games with creative use of the DualShock 4
Here I have put together a list of games that have innovative ways of using the underrated DualShock 4. This game selection also takes into consideration narrative, graphics and gameplay. There is no particular order and this is all based on my opinion!
Infamous: Second Son
Infamous: Second Son was a launch game on PlayStation 4, so it’s probably no surprise that this game utilised the new DualShock 4 that released with it in 2014. Developed by Sucker Punch, you play as loveable rogue Delsin, learning to harness your elemental based powers throughout the story.
Delsin is a conduit, which is a term used within the Infamous world to refer to those with super-powered like abilities. Drawing power from elements such as smoke and neon from the environment, the traversal and combat mechanics are fluid and fun. But neither of these is what makes the game stand out for me.
The game allows you to make either good or bad moral choices. These effect the public’s perspective of conduits. Although Delsin is viewed as an outcast and is portrayed as a ‘rebel’, I chose to play him as chaotic good force. It is also within character for him to also be a graffiti artist. (I find it a satiric twist that graffiti options are also labelled with moral choices).
The graffiti mini games based around Seattle are so engaging, I’d be very happy if Sucker Punch decided to invest resources into a graffiti artist game. Infamous: Second Son has you hold the controller sideways and shake, as though a can of spray paint. When doing this, the controller speaker emits an extremely satisfying tin-shaking-clicking sound. You then pull the R2 trigger, which triggers a spray sound. A very satisfying and creative way of showing what the DualShock 4 was capable of. I think it is a shame it hasn’t been a main feature since.
Pixelopus’ Concrete Genie released in 2019 and follows the story of Ash. Young Ash lives in a dull town and is hounded by a group of local bullies. Through his artwork, Ash is able to explore his emotions and combat his loneliness as his painted creations come to life.
Although Concrete Genie is one of the few games that makes use of the motion sensors in the DualShock 4, I feel as though there are ways that this could’ve been expanded, especially in an art based title. I would like to see the touchpad feature more, as a way of including more painting techniques. That being said, Concrete Genie makes for an immersive experience, which is enhanced if you embrace the creativity of the developers.
Concrete Genie makes use of the motion controls available (these can be switched to using the thumb sticks if preferred- though I do recommend at least experimenting with the motion controls first). Through aiming and tilting the controller, you take control of Ash’s paintbrush and create a variety of characters to join you through the story. Though you have freedom of choice of the features and characteristics of the painted creatures, your choices are limited to Ash’s skills.
Gravity Rush Remastered/Gravity Rush 2
Known for Fallen Siren and his work on the first Silent Hill, Naoka Sata captures a foreboding atmosphere in the Gravity Rush titles. Initially designed for the PS Vita, Gravity Rush was then remastered for PlayStation 4 in 2015, before being followed by Gravity Rush 2 in 2017.
The game puts you in the shoes of gravity defying Kat. Instantly you begin with a saviour quest, in which you encounter a sinister looking entity. With the dark, suburban background laying in contrast to the bright character artwork alongside the games use of comic-book style story telling, Gravity Rush had me enticed from the moment the apple fell from the tree.
The controller here serves as your camera during free fall. I didn’t realise this upon my first time playing. When I took one hand off the controller, tilting the controller with the other hand, I was left confused as Kat whirled into the free fall abyss. The game also utilises the touchpad. The swipe feature is used to activate and select different abilities throughout the remaster. This is further built upon in the follow up sequel.
Even if not attracted by the motion controls, Gravity Rush is worth the play purely for its beautiful art style, which makes for a striking difference against the tone of the story and setting.
Cooking Mama: Cookstar
Following controversy on its initial release, Cooking Mama: Cookstar is PlayStation’s first taste of the Nintendo based franchise. Despite hearing of its release in 2020, I didn’t remember the Cooking Mama game until I was searching for something similar on the PlayStation store. Being a prominent part of my childhood, I was excited to experience the title again.
Seeing as Cooking Mama: Cookstar is based on the original Nintendo games on both DS and Wii, I will be brutally honest when I say I was expecting more. The franchise is known for it’s clever ways of using the controller (or in the case of the DS, the stylus), encouraging players to shake, swipe and chop respectively. The DS games even used the built in mic, which players could use to blow on food. Although I hoped for more, Cooking Mama: Cookstar still cleverly utilises the DualShock 4 more so than most other titles.
The PlayStation 4 edition makes use of the motion sensor in the controller. Throughout the recepie mini games, you shake the controller to season your ingredients. The touchpad is also frequently used, to spread and scrub vegetables such as potatoes. Though satisfying, the rest of the game mostly relies on movement of the analogue sticks for chopping and stirring.
Cooking Mama is still fairly new to PlayStation, so despite a lowkey reception, I hope any future entries to the franchise continue to build on these features, especially with the newer DualSense.
Grand Theft Auto V
There is hardly a list I can think of that Grand Theft Auto V can’t feature on. Selling over 130 million copies to date, Rockstar’s 2013 instalment into the Grand Theft Auto franchise is by far their most successful game and, in my opinion, rightfully so. The game features a huge sandbox world packed with activities and a fully fleshed-out story with three iconic protagonists. It hosts a popular multiplayer online mode within the same world. With so many upgrades added to GTA online, the game is the gift that keeps on giving. An online only version of the game released at the start of this year (2002), with plans to further expand the online community.
Grand Theft Auto V is a world rich in detail. With an interactive environment, responsive NPCs and activities which are unique to the title, the developers go out of their way to tick every box. This is also true when it comes to the PlayStation 4 game and its inclusion of the DualShock 4. Rockstar implemented these features so smoothly that they simply go unnoticed.
The touchpad works as a quick way to access different menus; by swiping up or down you cycle through the weapons wheel. When driving you can swipe left or right to change the radio station. It allows menu access through clicking the touchpad, a feature which has been used in many a game since. Most noteably, phone calls received in game are played through the DualShock 4’s speaker. If the settings are turned on, the controller vibrates like a mobile phone, which helps to create an immersive feeling when playing. The lightbar is also subtly used to great effect, flashing blue and red when being pursued by authorities, adding to my sense of urgency.
Possibly my favourite bit of detail designed by Rockstar; when playing online and connected to a mic, your custom character’s mouth moves in time with your speech. This is one of the many details in Grand Theft Auto V that displays not only Rockstar’s development skill, but their willingness to experiment with new features and mechanics, often to sale busting effect.
That ends my list of games with innovative controls with the DualShock 4. I look forward to seeing what other creative ways developers can encourage players to play; did you enjoy these game controls? Or can you think of any I’ve missed?