When you see Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War running on PS5, it might not appear all that surprising or different–aside from sharper visuals and graphical effects, of course. But for me, playing the game on PS5 was revolutionary not because of how it plays on a mechanical level, but what it actually feels like to play it on the new DualSense controller.
As you’d expect, new consoles tend to set the standard for gaming for the next 5-7 years with better graphics, new interfaces, and yes, new controllers. This console generation, Microsoft’s Xbox Series X controller is mostly the same as the Xbox One controller, but with some ergonomic adjustments. On the other hand, Sony’s been hyping its new Dualsense controller with haptic feedback and adaptive triggers–something I first thought would become another gimmick like the PS3’s Sixaxis sensors or PS4’s touchpad.
But after spending a few weeks with the DualSense, it has become my favorite part of the PS5. Rather than demand you to play your games awkwardly with new, unproven tech, haptic feedback and the adaptive triggers can enhance the way we already play games. And funny enough, it wasn’t Astro’s Playroom, the free game that acts as a demo for the DualSense, that sold me on it. It was this year’s Call of Duty, of all things, because these particular features are perfect for shooters.
For the uninitiated, haptic feedback is an evolution of the standard rumble we’ve seen in controllers for the past few decades. Previous controllers like the DualShock 4 use motors to create impactful but binary experiences with vibration. It shakes when it’s supposed to and stops when it needs to stop. With haptic feedback, it uses voice-coil actuators, which is the same kind of tech used to vibrate speakers, and as a result, developers have finer control over how the rumble operates.
In the case of Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, when I fire an MP5, the DualSense vibrates to the fire rate’s specific rhythm, and when you swap to a burst fire weapon, that rhythm changes. The same effect applies to reloading. Feeling the controller as you load each shell is subtle but adds a lot to the experience of a firefight. And this fine-tuning of controller vibration changes from gun to gun. It’s the kind of improvement that’s hard to express fully, but you feel the difference right away in your hand.
Meanwhile, the adaptive triggers change the amount of pressure required to press them down based on the current situation in a game. The triggers now have a resistance that changes based on the weapon. Pistols can be tapped with your finger much more quickly, while a single shot rifle requires more effort to fire. It makes every shot feel more impactful, and there’s a real tangible difference to using each gun. Even pulling the left trigger to aim down sights uses the adaptive triggers. Pulling out a machine gun requires a lot more pressure and tricks your brain into giving the impression that this gun is a massive beast.
When I fire an MP5, the DualSense vibrates to the fire rate’s specific rhythm, and when you swap to a burst fire weapon, that rhythm changes.
Couple that with the haptic feedback and a nice pair of headphones, and I’ve never felt more immersed shooting a video game gun with a standard video game controller. I had a blast playing through Cold War’s campaign, and the DualSense is a significant reason why. Out of curiosity, I switched over to the PS4 version of the game, and it’s so hard to go back. That old DualShock 4 is fine and has served me well for seven years, but the DualSense makes it feel like a relic.
Of course, the option to turn all these off is still possible on both a game and system level if you prefer not to have rumble in controllers or have a disability that would make the experience difficult or prohibitive. I can see many hardcore competitive players turning the triggers off in multiplayer. You can’t feather the trigger like you used to with the adaptive functionality turned on, and it’s easier to snap-aim to players without the pressure. I won’t deny it did feel like I was performing slightly better without them, leaving me in a pickle where I had to choose between performance or immersion. Honestly, that could be because that’s what I’m used to, and it could be that as I become more accustomed to the DualSense, that feeling might go away. I predict a lot of debate around this in PvP communities in the coming months.
As long as shooters utilize the DualSense’s capabilities in enticing ways, I know without a doubt I’ll be going with their PS5 versions for the foreseeable future.
All that aside, as someone who primarily enjoys single-player experiences, I’m in love with the DualSense, and what’s most exciting is this is merely the first attempt. As more developers get their hands on this technology, I imagine the implementation will only improve. We already hear new examples from developers, like Arkane Studios on the upcoming Deathloop, who talked up how the triggers will lock up when your gun jams. Just imagine what a developer like Hideo Kojima can do with this! My mind is racing, thinking about the possibilities.
With the DualSense being the only controller that features this functionality, it raises concerns about whether or not developers will have the capacity to fully embrace and make the most of it. After all, Activision has a history of working closely with Sony to bring exclusive content for Call of Duty, so it might not be a surprise that Treyarch went all out using the DualSense’s unique features. Spending extra time and money on features that will only apply to one system might not always be possible, but I’m hopeful this won’t go the way the Sixaxis did back on PS3.
The perks of Sony’s DualSense may not be as pronounced as other attempts to change controllers, but they can be impactful for emphasizing a new feeling of playing games without games needing to be built around the tech. As long as shooters utilize the DualSense’s capabilities in enticing ways, I know without a doubt I’ll be going with their PS5 versions for the foreseeable future.