People often wonder whether others actually buy games based on controller preference and if it’s a big deal. Well to me, yes, it is a big deal. I definitely buy games on one platform over another purely for the controller feel.
If I’m playing a game, I want to be comfortable doing it and I do not find the DualShock 3 or any of its mildly different precursors to be comfortable. In my view, it was an ergonomic nightmare that is easily supplanted by just about every other first party controller offering since its debut with the original PlayStation. It just sucks.
So, what’s wrong with the DualShock? Simple. The DualShock is nothing more than an original PlayStation controller with two analog sticks slapped on the bottom, reworked L2 and R2 buttons (for the better) and a couple of built-in rumble motors. That’s it. That was my first clue that there wasn’t a lot of time put into this controller design. After all, this was introduced a year after the Nintendo 64 launched and Sony wanted to offer an analog controller too going forward.
The problem is, they clearly didn’t think the design through. As a result, the DualShock placed what is arguably the most important input for 3D gaming in the wrong spot and leaves the D-Pad directly under your left thumb. This would be fine if gaming remained mostly on a 2D plane where binary on/off button presses you get from the D-Pad remained the standard but clearly, that wasn’t to be. Nintendo saw it and eventually, so did Sony, which is why the DualShock was developed and released in the first place and the old analog stick-less controller was retired.
But the fundamental design flaws that were the symmetrical analog stick placement and overall poor ergonomic design weren’t questioned for two generations because Sony had such a commanding lead and people simply got used to it. They pretty much had to or miss out on what was, almost unquestionably, the best console libraries across two generations (personal preference notwithstanding).
The DualShock 4 is a huge improvement because Sony actually gave serious thought to ergonomics for a second time. Yes, a second time. They originally offered a redesigned DualShock controller with the first unveiling of the PlayStation 3 in 2005 which was met with almost universal dislike. So this time, they didn’t try to reinvent the wheel and produce something as utterly ludicrous (but probably really comfortable in hindsight) as the infamous boomerang that quickly became the butt of jokes across the internet shortly after its debut.
This is why we can’t have nice things. Sure the boomerang, or whatever the hell it was called, looked silly (really, really silly) but at least Sony actually put some thought into the design. It looked stupid but made sense. But change, even for the better, is a hard thing to force onto people and people are loud. So it was scrapped and we got the DualShock 3. Except it was worse. The controller was pretty much the same except for two of the worst analog triggers I’ve ever seen on a controller.
But, for all the things Sony has gotten right with the DualShock 4, namely the better face buttons, the better triggers, ergonomically designed for human hands and not some sort of alien…mandible things, they still put the D-Pad, an antiquated input method that is only useful for navigating menus and 2D games, in the spot directly under your thumb, which is just silly.
Nonetheless, if you’re one of the folks who likes the DualShock design, disregard everything I’ve said and keep liking it. But to act as if the DualShock wasn’t fundamentally flawed is foolish in my view and is one of the main factors in why it took Sony so long to reconsider their design in the first place and the reason their first redesign was laughed at. Maybe it wouldn’t have been that good but I wish Sony had been given the chance to try it or at least offer gamers the choice.
But, Sony got it mostly right this time around and crafted a controller that’s truly comfortable to hold and was met with universal approval. In my opinion, based purely on sight and not on actual usage, the DualShock 4 is a mostly brilliant re imagining of what is, for better or for worse, a classic controller design. It’s still flawed due to the symmetrical analog stick placement, which I don’t like but I’m sure I’ll get over once I get a PS4 of my own.