Sony’s Next-Gen Leap Isn’t (Only) a Visual One
New hardware generations have almost always been predicated on how amazing a new gen of gaming looks. (How often have we all been guilty of thinking, especially when we’re younger, that games will never look better?) And while the PS5 and Xbox Series X will certainly bring us prettier games, Sony’s PS5 messaging currently suggests every facet of video games deserves that upgrade, not just visuals.
With its multitude of new features, the DualSense exemplifies that. It’s right in the name, of course — game feel and immersion. Sony is leaving behind the DualShock name for now, and is emphasizing the adaptive triggers and haptic feedback built into the controller that are meant to translate in-game elements to real-world feelings the player will experience.
The Evolution of the PlayStation Controller
This new focus on feel makes sense given Sony’s tactile wins during the PS4-era. I spent time at length talking about how good Kratos’ leviathan axe felt in my God of War review, and why the sense of Spider-Man’s swinging feels so natural in my Marvel’s Spider-Man review. Now imagine if the thwip of Spider-Man’s webbing also shot through the controller, or the weight of the axe shifted in the controller as it moved in Kratos’ hands. A Naughty Dog audio designer even noted the new immersive potential of integrating haptic feedback with the DualSense’s built-in speaker.
Of course, there’s always the possibility that these features, when not used properly, could turn into neat gimmicks. Xbox One’s rumble triggers, for example, have barely been used to great effect outside of the Forza series. And Nintendo Switch’s HD Rumble, while intriguing at first thanks to 1-2 Switch and Super Mario Odyssey, has apparently become so inessential that the Nintendo Switch Lite abandoned the feature. But the fact that both of Sony’s console competitors currently have some form of controller feedback beyond simple rumble — Xbox Series X will be bringing the Xbox One’s controller features forward — could mean that third parties will see more reason to take advantage of the DualSense’s unique feedback while adapting it to these other platforms, too.
Sharing Is Caring
But further immersion isn’t the only aspect of gaming Sony is aiming to improve. The DualSense’s renaming of the Share button to the Create button may seem like a small thing, but it’s a clear indication that Sony’s hopes to evolve online social sharing that has become so heavily a part of life in the last decade. Photo Modes have been one of this generation’s most fun inclusions, and Sony games have some of the most robust (think Spider-Man and Horizon: Zero Dawn), but imagine an enhanced mode like that built right into the system. Or an evolution of the Sharefactory app, something you probably stashed away on your PS4’s media bar the day you bought the system.
This generation, Sony is already highlighting PS4 user creativity with weekly screenshot Share competitions (while Twitter users like SunhiLegend have made names for themselves producing incredible gifs of games). Allowing for more flexibility in editing photos, video clips, and gifs from games players are creating will only further enhance gaming as a social, not solitary, act whether it’s a 100-person battle royale or a single player, story-driven adventure.
PlayStation 5 DualSense Controller
And even something small like the built-in microphone means it will be a lot easier to send friends a quick audio message, or maybe even record voiceover for those clips the Create button may allow us to produce. Games could even integrate player voice messages, because developers can know every player has that capability. In a theoretical Bloodborne 2, why leave strangers just a note when you can drop them an audio diary?
And that’s one of the most exciting aspects of everything Sony is integrating into the PS5 and particularly the DualSense — the clever ways developers could integrate all these features into our gaming experiences. If, as Mark Cerny said in his recent PlayStation 5 GDC talk, the PS5 will allow developers to craft games without worrying about asset loading so much that they need to build in a half-dozen elevators and hallways, then maybe they can put all of that attention and work into taking advantage of all these features. Enhancing every element of a game, and not just its visuals, seems core to the idea of what Sony is trying to present with the PS5 so far, and all the new functionality of the DualSense feels exemplary of that idea.It’s refreshing to see messaging like this. So often the emphasis is on raw graphical power, rather than fundamental changes to the way we play games. The DualSense’s suite of new features, and their relation to what we’ve already been told about the PS5, cumulatively feels like Sony is offering just that as its next-gen platform. Yes, games will look prettier than ever before, and I can’t wait to see how detailed Kratos’ pores look on the PS5.
But finding out how the PS5 and the developers leading the charge for it will change how we play is the much more fascinating, and unique, prospect to me, rather than the usual ways companies have tried to sell past generations. The DualSense is the first tangible bit of the PS5 Sony has presented. If its new abilities are more than just gimmicks, and are instead core to what next-gen could offer on PS5 and beyond, Sony could be really pushing toward a unique next-gen offering, and I can’t wait to see what PlayStation has to reveal next.
Jonathon Dornbush is IGN’s Senior News Editor, Podcast Beyond! host, and someone who hopes desperately that he won’t have to keep three DualSenses in a rotating charge like he does with his DualShock 4’s and their annoying battery life. Talk to him on Twitter @jmdornbush.