From DualShock to DualSense: The need-to-know of the PS5’s controller

You may be DualShocked by these PlayStation 5 controller changes.

DualShock distilled

This may look like a tweaked DualShock controller, but Sony is calling it DualSense (or “DualSense wireless controller” for its full name) with good reason. The PlayStation 5’s controller is aptly named because of the focus on feel and feedback. In terms of touch, there are also tweaks to grips and triggers. As for feedback, haptic feedback and adaptive triggers provide next-gen rumbles designed for immersion.

DualShock is dead. Long live DualSense. For as long as there’s been PlayStation, there’s been DualShock, with a familiar iterative naming scheme. The PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, and PlayStation 4 were all matched with a DualShock 2, DualShock 3, and DualShock 4 controllers.

But Sony is going in a new direction with the PlayStation 5 by introducing the DualSense instead of the expected DualShock 5. New name. No numbers. It’ll be a way for Sony to help set itself apart in comparison to the Xbox Series X controller and a new way for you to feel what you play in the most anticipated PlayStation 5 games.

It may even help Sony gain an edge in the PlayStation 5 vs Xbox Series X next-gen showdown.

A very DualShock history

The iconic design of the original DualShock controller remained almost entirely unchanged for three generations. Originally, the first DualShock was an updated version of the Dual Analog Controller that launched with the PlayStation console. DualShock started the DualShock trend of side-by-side analog sticks covered in textured rubber; a left-side D-pad; Select, Start, and Analog buttons in the centre; the iconic Triangle, Circle, X, and Square face buttons on the right; as well as two shoulder bumpers (L1 and R1) plus two triggers (L2 and R2).

Inside were two vibrating motors – an early form of haptic feedback – including a larger one in the left grip to allow for different levels of vibration while playing. The PlayStation 2’s DualShock 2 was identical in its presentation, except it was black instead of grey by default. PlayStation 3 may have launched with a Sixaxis controller, but the DualShock 3 soon followed. Apart from wireless Bluetooth connectivity and a pressable PlayStation-logo button that replaced the Analog button, the familiar look persisted.

The DualShock 4 provided a great new look as well as practical inclusions for PlayStation 4 players. Select was gone and replaced with a Share button for capturing screenshots, gameplay clips and, as the name implies, sharing them. There was also a large two-point capacitive touchpad at the top of the controller, with a small mono speaker just below it. Near the charging port of a DualShock 4 is also a three-LED light bar used to correspond with same-console player colours or add developer-controlled light feedback in supported games.

Dualshock 4

New name, new look

It wasn’t until the DualShock 4 that Sony really mixed things up with the controller design. This time around, the PlayStation 5’s DualSense controller looks like a cross between the DualShock 4 and an Xbox One controller. At launch, the PlayStation 5’s DualSense controller will be a two-tone black-and-white controller, with the light bar now practically positioned in a circuit that runs between the left and right triggers/bumpers and around the returning centre touchpad.

An all-black DualSense controller has already leaked, but the word is that won’t be available at launch, so you’ll have to wait for it if, like Batman, your colour-palette tastes lean exclusively towards black. Outside of the two-tone colour, you’ll find the D-pad, face buttons, analog sticks, the PlayStation button, as well as the triggers and bumpers in much the same spots as before. There’s now a dedicated mute button below the PlayStation logo – which looks more like a logo and less like a button – and the ‘Share’ button is now the ‘Create’ button.

Flip the DualSense controller over and there’s a whole lot of smoothness, which means you shouldn’t expect paddles underneath like those found in the Xbox Elite Wireless Controllers.

Create vs Share button

Sony has chosen to tease the Create button at this stage, not fully revealing how it differs from the DualShock 4’s Share button. The pledge is that the Create button will offer new ways for PlayStation 5 players to create and share gameplay. Expect more details closer to launch.

A touchy subject

In a PlayStation Blog post that’s all about the DualSense controller, Senior Vice President for Platform Planning and Management Hideaki Nishino reveals that most of what was great about the DualShock 4 is part of the DualSense controller. You can see that just from the overall design and button inclusions outlined above.

Alongside Sony’s audio push via its Tempest technology (more about that here), the DualSense is designed to enhance immersion through a greater sense of touch. An evolved version of haptic feedback is a core focus of DualSense. The pitch is that the next-gen controller will offer physical feedback that you should feel when, say, you’re tearing up a muddy track in a car.

This will be complemented with adaptive triggers (L2 and R2) that are designed to let you “feel the tension of your actions”, with the example given in the blog that drawing a bow to loose an arrow should provide tension that better replicates the fantasy of this act.

On top of this, there are subtle changes to the grip as well as a changed angle for the hand triggers. DualSense is designed with hands of all sizes in mind and, even though it’s packing new features, it’s reportedly not overly weighty.

Headset optional

To get the most out of the PlayStation 5’s Tempest 3D AudioTech, you’ll want to use a headset for full appreciation. But if you find yourself without a controller and a friend wants to chat, the DualSense has an inbuilt microphone array for headset-free voice chats. That said, this DualSense microphone is intended for quick chats only.

DualSense battery life

At this stage, Sony hasn’t revealed how many hours you should expect from a single charge on a DualSense controller, but we do know it’s continuing the trend of an internal rechargeable battery. For now, all we know is the DualSense will have “strong battery life” (whatever that means).