Top Five: Scene-Stealing Performances from the DualShock

By Sam Quirke,
PlayStation's DualShock controller is as iconic as the brand's logo. While the bells and whistles have changed over the years, the core design principles of the controller have stood the test of time for over 20 years. Throughout that history, developers have taken advantage of the controller's ergonomic prowess to create the standard language of video game controls.

Over the years some developers have pushed the beloved game pad even further, finding ways to make the object in our hands as much a part of the action and emotion as the events on our screens. Early experimentation with controller vibration pulled us into the action, letting us feel explosions and recoils or the beating of our protagonist's heart. The PlayStation 3's Sixaxis unfortunately couldn't find a foothold in a generation full of misguided gimmickry, but even there some forgotten gems managed to make memorable use of the motion-control functionality. The DualShock 4 has perhaps had the most chance to shine, quite literally — with a multi-colour LED strip and on-board speakers, the latest version of the controller can bring the game into your hands in entirely new ways.

Some developers have gone above and beyond with their implementations of the DualShock into their games, and today we want to celebrate our favourites. Hopefully we'll see yet more innovation with the DualShock 4 before the current generation shuts up shop. Who knows what fancy functionality the PlayStation 5's pad will add to the party...

Honorable Mentions

Puffing Up a Petal in Flower

Flower


When we think about Thatgamecompany's brief but bright burn as a Sony-contracted studio, the biggest conversation piece is usually Journey with its beautiful atmosphere and perhaps the most subtle multiplayer mode in gaming to date. But I have a soft spot for the middle child of the studio's output, and a large part of that comes down to the Sixaxis. In Flower you play an invisible gust of wind, taking a petal imbued with the power of life and colour on a journey through monochrome landscapes to rejuvenate them. One of the biggest problems with the Sixaxis motion control was its fiddly awkwardness, but somehow that slightly ham-fisted unpredictability suited the moment — gusts of wind aren't exactly known for their finesse after all. Steering the wind at roaring speeds across gorgeous fields never stopped being a delight, while flicking the controller one way or another to carefully nudge the petal into a flowerbed felt so much more tangible than pressing buttons or wrenching thumbsticks. It's a joy to play even with regular controls, but feeling the wind between your fingers is the most rewarding approach.

Curving Crossbow Bolts in Heavenly Sword

Kai


Ninja Theory have always been bold and innovative in their game design, perhaps never more so than with their recent audiovisual marvel Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice. Long before their BAFTA success and Microsoft acquisition, Ninja Theory were adding some spice to the traditional hack-and-slash genre. In Heavenly Sword we played the majority of the game as red-maned Nariko, manipulating the titular sword into three different forms depending on her stance. As well as this innovative combat setup, Ninja Theory wedged in another unusual combat mechanic. Playing some sections as secondary character Kai, players would find themselves in the role of a sharpshooter. Shooting from Kai's crossbow allowed you to inhabit the bolt, controlling its flight with the Sixaxis' motion sensors like a guided missile. The control was relatively smooth and it was always a delight to curve a bolt up and over the enemy's cover or better still, to twist the flight into some gunpowder reserves sitting conveniently near to the enemy lines. It was one of the few satisfying implementations of the technology, and an early sign that this fledgling developer would likely go on to achieve great things.

Top Five

Becoming A Speaking Sword in Transistor

Transistor - Review 5


Another red-headed heroine in a game from another innovative studio, Transistor sees you play as a singer forced to take on a robotic force with the help of a sword. This is no ordinary sword though — Transistor is imbued with not only Red's singing voice but the voice and consciousness of the man killed by it. Played from an isometric perspective, the gameplay is as solid as one might expect from the studio that created Bastion yet feels much more flexible in terms of how you approach combat thanks to a wide variety of abilities. Where the game really shines is in its beautiful yet mysterious storytelling. Transistor the sword effectively becomes the story's narrator, and the sense of intimacy you would expect carrying a story-spinning sword on your back is made that much more immersive by the fact that you can have Transistor's voice speak solely through the DualShock 4's on-board speaker. Coupled with a responsive blue light behind the gamepad whenever Transistor chooses to speak, the effect is palpable — you genuinely feel like you have an object of mysterious and devastating power in your hands.

Freaking Us Out Further in Alien: Isolation

Alien


When I played Alien Isolation on the Xbox One, I was under time pressure to get it completed before recording a podcast about it. This meant that I was trying to get through the game's horribly nail-biting final chapters at three in the morning in a dark room entirely on my own. To make matters worse I had gotten all this way through the game without dying while chasing a related achievement. At the time I couldn't think of anything that would have made the game more stressful or terrifying than the atmosphere I had created for myself.

Then I witnessed the game on PlayStation 4 — specifically, I saw what it was like to have the game's motion detector out while working out where the Alien might be. For those that have played on either console, you are already aware of how terrifying that tiny little beeping device could be, as it sends out false or unintelligble signals from time to time. Even when it's functioning correctly, it never quite gives you enough information to stay safe while managing to make you hyperventilate. When that thing beeps, it's time to stay absolutely still, hold your breath and pray. So imagine my horror when I realised that the DualShock 4's light bar would pulse along with the motion tracker's beeping, casting an eldritch light into the living room right when the tension was at its highest. Sometimes it's the subtlest of touches that work best when it comes to controller-related gimmickry, and Isolation stands out as a simple yet effective tool of terror. If I'd been on my first 3am run on a PlayStation rather than an Xbox, I'm not sure I would have survived the night.

Making Us Cry With a Single Vibration in Brothers - A Tale of Two Sons

Brothers


We've talked about PlayStation's last two generations of controllers and how their light and sound have created new immersive possibilities for developers, but the humble rumble still has a place in effective video game story telling. In what remains one of the most emotional experiences I have had on a console, Brothers tells a beautiful tale of two siblings trekking across a fantasy landscape to find medicine for their father. The game had other innovative uses for the controller, as you used one half (and one stick) to control each brother. Some found this frustrating, though I quickly warmed to the style. It genuinely felt like I was wrestling to get two awkward siblings to co-operate, and the moments of symbiosis when you pull it off smoothly are very rewarding.

But all of that pales in comparison to a moment near the game's end. Unfortunately I can't tell you what that moment is without spoiling it, but it suffices to say that a single soft vibration of the controller brought a tear to my eye, and is one of the most effective uses of controller vibration I have ever experienced. I can only apologise if that seems vague, but there is a good reason this unassuming indie game is so high up on this list and I encourage you to try it out if you haven't already.

Tagging The City in inFAMOUS Second Son

graffitti


If you enjoyed the beautiful trailer for Sucker Punch's Ghost of Tsushima at E3 this year but aren't familiar with the developer, check out your PS Plus library. If you were a member last September you should have Infamous: Second Son in there somewhere, and it's well worth a look for a number of reasons. With sharp superhero gameplay, beautiful visuals and a compelling central performance, Second Son is a much less generic experience than you might expect from the box art.

It scores so highly on this particular list just for the sheer effort the developers went to in order to maximise its use of all of the DualShock 4's gimmicks. You can use the touchpad when firing off your superpowers, and while the game's "red v. blue" morality system was feeling a little outdated by the start of the current generation there was some pleasure in seeing the game's light bar colours reflect your moral standing. The centrepiece of this whole experiment is in the graffiti mini-game. You have to hold the controller vertically and shake it like an actual paint can, with the light-bar informing you which colour you are about to spray — then you use the motion sensor to create your art. It's goofy, a little clumsy and entirely unnecessary, but it injected a little fun into what could have been yet another boring open-world side quest.

Becoming Possessed in Metal Gear Solid

Mantis


You can't beat the classics. The first Metal Gear Solid introduced the wider Western audience to the trickster mind of Hideo Kojima. While some may think he's jumped the shark with his bizarre antics (I'm still not sure what his upcoming game DEATH STRANDING is supposed to be), back in the early days of PlayStation Kojima's work had a near-perfect blend of high action, arresting storytelling and fourth-wall breaking tomfoolery that freaked us out as often as it made us laugh. By the time my 11-year-old self had reached Psycho Mantis Kojima had already started to tear down my expectations ("It's on the back of the CD case!"), but the upcoming boss fight would become one of my most memorable gaming moments for decades to come.

The Psycho Mantis fight itself was freakish enough, turning my pal Meryl against me with psychic powers and seeming to shut my TV off periodically while the skeletal antagonist found a new place to hide. But the real trick came before the fight even began. Psycho Mantis wanted to impress Snake with his psychic powers, and to do so, he suddenly turned to the camera — to me — and instructed me to put the controller on the floor. Mantis then claimed to be able to move it with his mind, and of course the controller started to vibrate madly on his apparent command. Reflecting back on this moment makes me appreciate just how subtle and effective all of Kojima's trickery and atmosphere-building had been up to this point. Of course the controller was going to vibrate — the game is continually sending vibration signals to the pad based on what's happening on screen, that's what the vibration is for. Yet for one moment all of that was forgotten — for one tiny split second, I was convinced that a force was possessing my controller. I jumped.

These are just a few of the best uses of the DualShock controller that I have seen in my long history with the brand. What are some of your favourites? Let us know in the comments!
Sam Quirke
Written by Sam Quirke
Sam has been a Newshound since 2016 and is now the Editor for both TrueAchievements and TrueTrophies. He loves gaming on all devices and in all genres. He remains a stubborn Assassin's Creed and Pokémon fan.