Now that both Sony and Microsoft have had coming out events for their next-gen consoles, the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, the public finally has a real understanding of what we’ll be holding for the next few years. Neither controller is extraordinarily different from the current generation, but they have both refined and tweaked core features to offer what is hopefully a better gaming experience. So, how do they stack up?
Sony has been very conservative with its controllers – each iteration has only seen a few tweaks and additions since the Dual Analog controller launched in 1997. The DualShock 4 is, without a doubt, the biggest design change Sony has put forth yet. Most of the buttons are in the same position, but everything has shifted to allow for the capacitive touchpad on the front.
The “Select” and “Start” buttons have been replaced with “Share” and “Options” on either side of the touchpad. Unsurprisingly, Sony also added a light bar at the top of the controller so that it can be easily tracked by the Kinect-like camera accessory – motion controls aren’t going anywhere this generation.
Perhaps more importantly, the thumbsticks and shoulder buttons have been redesigned for better control. Instead of using convex shapes that lead to fingers slipping off the controls, Sony is using concave shapes for both thumbsticks and bottom shoulder buttons. While very few of us have gotten hands-on time with the controller, these improvements will likely mean the DualShock 4 is the best controller Sony has ever made. Unfortunately, the controller still rests on the bottom shoulder buttons when you set it down, so accidental button presses will likely continue to be an annoyance.
If you think Sony played it safe with the DualShock 4, steer clear of the Xbox One’s controller. Despite Microsoft claiming that it has over 40 improvements on the last gen controller, almost everything seems to be the same. The guide button has shifted up some, the “Start” and “Back” buttons are replaced with unnamed buttons in their stead, the right and left bumpers are larger, the battery pack doesn’t jut out from the back anymore, and an infrared LED has been added to help the Kinect track the controller. Instead of using the Xbox 360′s proprietary wireless system or Bluetooth like the PS4, it will instead use Wi-Fi Direct. Whether or not the overhead of this standard will negatively impact the expected battery life or latency of this new controller remains to be seen.
Much like the DualShock 4, the changes that will likely end up having the most impact are the small tweaks to the control scheme. The new thumbsticks are more heavily textured, and they sport a smaller dead-zone for more precise control. The Xbox 360 was often maligned for its infamously imprecise D-Pad, so the new cross-shaped version on the Xbox One controller should be a big improvement.
It’s heartening to see that both Sony and Microsoft have taken usability seriously this time around. The companies have made some notable, if small, improvements that will go a long way towards making console gamers happy. Even so, the real test is coming soon at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) next month. Thousands of people will get their hands on the new controllers at that event, and we’ll get a better understanding of just how much they’ve improved.
For more analysis of the recent Xbox One launch, check out Microsoft blew the Xbox One launch on every possible level.