The next generation is upon us. If you’re a one system per generation kind of person, you’ve most likely decided which camp you’ll be sitting in for the next few years. Deciding on which system is right for you really just comes down to the games. Exclusives are still the backbone that help drive console sales. Applications, live-streaming, peripherals, etc. are all just icing on the cake. For Xbox One and PlayStation 4 though, they share many 3rd party games and have very similar features. These consoles are mad similar. Choosing how you access your content through your preferred controller is one of the major factors when deciding which console to purchase. Compared to a keyboard and mouse and other input devices, experiencing games through a controller adds a layer of immersion to gameplay. Controllers act as a sort of gateway to your favorite game worlds is one of the more unique features of playing consoles.
For this upcoming generation, both controllers will be accessible on a PC though only with barebone features. Sony and Microsoft’s controllers have both evolved substantially internally and externally. Gamepads wont be the only input device for consoles for this upcoming generation. Similarly to how motion sensing was pushed for and often supported in the current generation, second screen features seem to be going that way for the next generation. The Wii U has a built-in screen in their gamepad while Sony and Microsoft have opted for secondary devices such as tablets, smartphones, and handhelds. Microsoft’s motion controller Kinect for the next generation has been improved, capable of bringing all new elements to next generation games. Not to be outdone, Sony also completely overhauled their camera peripheral and utilizes the light bar found on the DualShock 4 in more ways than Kinect does the Xbox One controller. For the most part though, gamepads are still the main way players control their systems and games. With that being said, let’s see what Microsoft and Sony have gamepad-wise going into this upcoming generation.
Xbox One Controller – Impulse
There isn’t really a name for the controller for the Xbox One which is really bad marketing in my opinion. This allows people to give it their own name such as the “Duke” and “Fatty” in the past. The 360 controller was officially called the Xbox 360 Wireless Controller, how exciting. So for all intents and purposes, let’s call the Xbox One Controller the “Impulse” from now on because of the impulse triggers. The nickname might not carry as much weight as previous iterations but I feel like those were meant to be derogatory towards the original Xbox’s controller, and there’s nothing bad about these triggers.
If you’re into rumble, the Impulse has the best triggers in the business. That’s not a statement, that’s a fact. After an intensive hands-on time with the controller, I knew I wouldn’t be able to go back to regular rumble. Remember the Nintendo 64 rumble pack? That was my first introduction to rumble, in 1997. It was new and exciting, but heavy. You could also pinpoint exactly where the rumble was coming from due to the weighty feeling of the pack. You didn’t feel much of the rumble coming from the “M-shaped” handles. Then the DualShock released later that year giving players rumble to players in the palms of their hands, throughout the handles. Since 1997, rumble has become the standard in many controllers. The Sony’s PS3 controller, the Sixaxis, initially did not include rumble due to an ongoing dispute with Immersion. The controller was a lot lighter but ultimately felt cheap. After much criticism from consumers, Sony finally resolved the dispute and was able to release the DualShock 3. Rumble seemed to take a backseat this generation but it’s finally made some progress for this upcoming generation, in the form of triggers. I fully expect rumble triggers to become the new rumble standard in the future for all controllers similarly to how rumble is implemented into the handles of your standard controller today.
Triggers really began with the Sega Dreamcast. The original Xbox improved on Sega’s design in the Duke and Controller S. Microsoft’s 360 placed less emphasis on the controller’s triggers and more on the design and feel of the controller. Sony’s offering was in the form of convex triggers on the Sixaxis, which in my opinion wasn’t an offering at all. More on this in Sony’s DS4 trigger section. Microsoft has enlarged and redesigned the trigger found on the Impulse. It contours to your finger very nicely and pulling the trigger feels new yet familiar. The resistance is lessened a bit from the 360 controller but it still feels substantial. The build quality of the triggers are also exceptional and don’t make a squeaky sound found on its older brother.
I couldn’t ask for a better trigger from anyone. For some, the vibration in the trigger might take awhile to get used to. But in the end, I think everyone will enjoy it.
Similarly to the triggers, the bumpers have also been enlarged. This is actually a problem for me as they’ve become harder to reach now. However, they’re multiple ways to actually press the bumpers this time around. There’s really only one way to press the bumpers on 360 controller, from the top. The Impulse’s bumpers are designed in a way that they can be pressed from the back side facing the triggers. I still haven’t settled on a way to optimally press the bumpers for quick access. It takes awhile to get used to and I honestly would have just preferred the older design. However, the build quality has improved as far as I can tell. The feedback from the 360 controller bumpers would wear out the more they were used; this doesn’t seem to be the case of the Impulse. Only time will tell…
The thumb sticks are completely redesigned from the original 360 controller and have actually shrunk in size. This allows players to get a better feel for the center of the thumb sticks. The top of the thumb stick is similar to 360’s transforming d-pad controller. The side grip texture found along the rim of the thumb sticks have been enhanced. The grooves provide additional precision and feel to the controller. I initially found the new smaller size to be a problem but eventually got used to them. Overall, the improvements to the thumb sticks are welcome.
There’s a lot of folks who really disliked the d-pad on the Xbox 360 controller. I didn’t mind it so much because I rarely used it. I also prefer playing fighting games with the DualShock. For those concerned about the d-pad you’ll be glad to hear that the d-pad has been significantly improved on the Impulse. The feedback sounds eerily similar to the feedback received when pressing the bumpers. It’s nice to finally get 4 directional buttons instead of the pseudo analog d-pad on the Xbox 360 controller. The d-pad is also closer to the motherboard to improve latency. So far I haven’t been able to tell the difference. I also have never used the transforming d-pad Xbox 360 controller. I haven’t had any problems with the d-pad so far, so that’s a good thing. As much as Microsoft improved the d-pad this time around, the DualShock 4 is remains the king of the directional buttons.
Microsoft has outdone themselves again by designing a shell that really contours to your hand perfectly. They’ve also done small improvements to the controller such as the removal of the screws on the shell. Of course, everyone’s hand is different but I think the ergonomics have been improved over the already extraordinary feel of the Xbox 360 controller. Microsoft has also removed that annoying battery pack bulge found on the 360 controller and have really slimmed down the back of the controller. This gives players more freedom so place their fingers wherever is most comfortable on the backside of the controller. The biggest problem with the Xbox One controller is the use of their own proprietary “expansion port” found of the bottom of the controller. It seems greedy on their part, but since it improves the quality of the sound coming from the console I guess it’s tolerable. The need for AA batteries is not however. Why hasn’t Microsoft ponied up the cash to include a built-in rechargeable battery with every controller? It seems silly to me that the Impulse with the Play and Charge Kit costs $74.99 and the standalone Play and Charge Kit costs $24.99; that’s absurd.
PlayStation 4 – DualShock 4 The DualShock has gone under the knife and come out better than ever. There isn’t a single thing on the DualShock 4 that hasn’t been improved over the DualShock 3. From the triggers to the analog sticks, to the face buttons and the directional buttons, everything has been improved! Sony has also added new features to the controller, that I can only imagine, enhancing players’ experiences. The grip, the touch pad, the 3.5mm jack, speaker, etc. are all stellar additions to the already amazing DualShock line. Let’s start off with the most notable improvement: the triggers.
The triggers in Sony’s DualShock 3 not only look bad in design but also suffer in terms of functionality. Pulling the trigger isn’t smooth throughout or even really that resistive. The triggers also suffers from being pressed by a simple lay on table. The pull feels spongy and not like an actual spring trigger. Sega got it right in 2001 with the Dreamcast and Sony still couldn’t get it right in 2006. Even before the Sixaxis, Sony introduced the world to the “Boomerang”. Remember that hideous thing? The controller’s premiere was accompanied by much criticism and had so many things going wrong for it, the lack of triggers being the least of its concerns. It sure has taken awhile but we’ve finally received an evolution to the much need “trigger” for this upcoming generation.
The DS4 triggers have vastly improved over the Ds3 triggers. This isn’t to downplay the DS3 triggers because they were so egregious and that we’re at least receiving a concave trigger, no. This is to really say, “Hey Sony! You’ve truly outdone yourself and have gone the extra mile here with these new triggers.” Pushing R2 and L2 feels fluid while resistive throughout the entire pull. The shape of the triggers are also nice. This may come as a surprise to some, but if you take a closer look at the triggers you will see that they are not entirely concave. The initial/top part of the triggers are actually convex. As you go further down along the trigger it begins to curl upwards, just slightly but noticeable. The transition from convex to concave feels very natural along your fingertips. At times I felt my fingers relaxing and sitting near the top part of the triggers when I wasn’t using the button and later shifting them a bit lower towards the end of the concave part when I pulled them. I should note that when I pull triggers I lay my fingertip at the tip of the trigger. Everyone has a different playing style. So for those who enjoyed the convex style of the triggers, Sony has not abandoned you. The triggers also maintain their special “top button” texture feel that Sony has made use of since the original PlayStation controller. Overall, the changes Sony has made on the DS4 triggers are nice and I’m positive everyone will enjoy what they’ve done to them.
Much like the DS3 suffers from simply laying it on a table, I can see the DS4 having this problem as well, though in a much smaller fashion. Why hasn’t Sony alleviated this issue completely? The DS4 prototype controller features a cushion to prevent the triggers from laying on the table so why doesn’t the current model DS4 have that? Truly baffling. Sure you could make the argument that the triggers are convex now so laying the controller on a table wont cause the triggers to be pressed, and to that I say: baloney. If you move a DS3 forward while it’s lying on a table the triggers get pressed. This is due to the design of not only the triggers but the downward face of the controller while it’s lying flat on a surface. The DS4 fixes the design and slope of the triggers but still suffers from a slightly downward angle when lying on a flat surface due to the handles being the way they are. Look, the triggers laying on a table is a very small issue and really just a pet-peeve of mine but I still think Sony should have gone out of their way to make the shell of the controller lay on the table rather than the button; especially since the prototype was able to. It would be like laying your controller down on the analog sticks and buttons, no one would do that.
Another quibble I have about the controller is the length of it. This one’s not a big issue but it would have been nice if Sony extended the length of the triggers. I have a much bigger issue with the lay on table design, in case you couldn’t tell.
The touch pad hasn’t found a home yet in games where it is irreplaceable, but it adds something new to games and applications we’ve been missing. The feedback from clicking the touch pad is nice but not as solid as it could be. When I first saw the DualShock 4 I imagined the touch pad having a similar feeling to Apple’s stellar trackpad found on their Macbook laptop lineups. The feedback is still far from feeling cheap. It also has a nice smooth feel to it similar to ones found on Sony’s Vaio laptop lineup. I’m still not entirely sold on the use of the touch pad in games but I can see applications benefiting from the button tremendously. The best use of the touch pad in games I can tell would be in the form of puzzles. But for now, applications and the UI would have the most to gain from this button. I think the DS4 has more room for growth compared to other pads with the addition of the new touch pad.
The new analog sticks on the DS4 are as perfect as it gets. Due to the new shape of the controller, the space between the sticks has been increased; say bye to that awkward moment where your thumbs meet in the middle. The grips of the sticks remain the same with a subtle but effective feel to them. They’ve now been indented but maintain a convex top. The mix of concave and convex feels nice even with the smaller surface area for your thumb. The sticks are also shorter on this controller and it makes a world of difference. Being able to lower your thumbs on the surface of the sticks is much more comfortable and allows your hand to lay almost flush against the controller’s shell. Once you use it, it’ll be hard to go back to the completely convex sticks found on the DS3.
Sony has the best directional buttons in the industry, by far. They’ve outdone themselves in this regard by slightly indenting the buttons towards the center. The result are buttons that protrude more noticeably and give players a better sense of where their thumb is on the button. The feedback on the directional buttons have also improved over the already near perfect directional buttons found on the DS3.
The overall design of the controller is much improved over the DS3. The face buttons, though lose the analog feature, are closer together and feel better with a glossy surface surrounding them. The glossy surface around the directional buttons is the same way. The textured grip on the backside of the controller isn’t necessary, but is a welcome addition. The controller has a great shape to it, even with the embedded light bar. The most I’ve seen the light bar do is change color based on player health. It’s nice but difficult to notice since the light bar is angled to be more easily seen by the new PlayStation Camera. The prototype had a round top which made the light easier to notice to players,, but it looks better on the final model. The speaker doesn’t do much for me and seems more like a fad. The quality is subpar but that’s really due to the mono speaker. It’s much better to plug in standard headphones into the controller than listen to silly sound effects in poor quality. Speaking of the headphone jack, I love it! You can finally plug in headphones to listen to both game audio and chat audio as well as use your headphones as a microphone. You can basically use your DS4 as an mp3 player as long as you’re close to the system as the audio coming from the Bluetooth doesn’t work from very far. You’ll also need the PS4 to be able to play mp3s, hopefully sooner rather than later.
As great as the improvements are that both companies have made to their controllers, the Impulse is going to be the controller I’m going into the next-generation, at least on PC. As much as I adore the DualShock 4, there’s still a little to be desired here. The touch pad is nice, the overall design has improved significantly, but I just can’t stop thinking about the impulse triggers that the Xbox One brings to the table. I also enjoy the grip and feel of the Impulse over the DS4. Even though I prefer the total package Sony offers with the PlayStation 4 over the Xbox One, I can’t help but imagine what games would be like with the Impulse.
Both controllers do great things but also have faults; some minor and some major. When it comes to the DualShock 4, there really isn’t a single thing I dislike about it. There are mainly little annoyances here and there but the overall package is superb. On the other hand, I really dislike the bumpers found on the Impulse. I still haven’t found that comfortable a way to press them. Whatever problems the bumpers have is completely offset by how much I love the new impulse triggers: the shape, material, feel, and feedback are all perfect. I only wish there was a controller that combined the quality directional buttons, R1 and L1, and touch pad on the DualShock 4 and combined them with the triggers, thumb sticks, and shell of the Impulse. Whichever side you choose to go with, they’re both going to be able to offer a lot more for the next generation than they ever did this generation.