The PS4’s first-party controllers have released ahead of the actual system. We got our hands on one and are happy to see some of the changes Sony has implemented that actually make this controller more accessible than its predecessor.
The first thing players will notice when picking up the DualShock 4 is the game’s built-in touchpad. Unfortunately, we have not been able to test this out on a game, so we cannot tell how accessible the actual technology is. But the position of the touchpad and its size both seem to lean towards ease of access.
Moving to the controller’s option and share buttons on either side of the touchpad, we come to one of this model’s only drawbacks. These buttons are very small and can be hard to press given their small size and stiff movement. There is also very little travel in the buttons, which can make it harder for gamers to tell whether they have actually pushed them or not. But these are literally the controller’s only accessibly drawbacks.
Below the option and share buttons are the trademark parallel joysticks. The fact that they are parallel means that gamers with fine motor disabilities should be able to control both sticks with one hand. But there are some major differences between these sticks and those of the previous generation. The DualShock 4’s analog control sticks are shorter and sit on a smaller ball than its older brother. This means that the sticks have less travel—which could be a good thing or a bad thing for fine motor disabilities. The negative aspect is that, with minimal stick travel, games will most likely require more precision. On the upside, if a gamer has a limited range of motion in their fingers, they will not need to try very hard to get the full use out of the joysticks.
By far the most noticeable feature of the sticks is their textured finish and indented top. Whereas the DualShock 3 had mushroom-topped sticks which (despite their texture) were easy to lose hold of, the DualShock 4’s sticks include indented tops that grip the finger and make it easier for gamers to maintain a hold even when moving the sticks to their farthest extremes.
Between the joysticks is the signature PlayStation home button. While smaller than the home button on the DualShock 3, it is still big enough to push without requiring much accuracy.
On the left side of the controller is the traditional d-pad. Little has changed beyond ascetics. However, the directional buttons are now concave, allowing for a more secure grip when pressing them.
The buttons on the right arm of the controller are perhaps the only thing that has not changed at all from the previous generation. They still display an x, a square, a triangle, and a circle in four distinct colors. The buttons themselves have a glossy finish and do not offer much to enhance the grip (they are still convex and smooth).
On the front of the controller, there is a light that changes color in the context of the game and meshes with PlayStation Move applications. But since this is more aesthetic than anything else, it will have little impact on the controller’s accessibility.
On either side of this light, you will find the shoulder and trigger buttons. The shoulder buttons have not changed drastically from previous generations, beyond a slight shift in shape. The trigger buttons, however, are probably the most impressive change on the DualShock 4. Instead of being convex, easily allowing players’ fingers to slip off, the DualShock 4’s triggers are concave, allowing players to grip the triggers better. Add to this a more textured feel to enhance grip further, and the triggers become even more accessible.
The biggest impact of the redesigned trigger shape (especially for wheelchair bound gamers who use lap trays) is that when set on a tray, the DualShock 4 controller does not rest on the triggers in way that accidentally depresses them when the player pushes on the top of the controller. This is partially due to the fact that these new triggers have a greater break—the amount of pressure needed to depress the trigger. This does not mean that the triggers are hard to push, but rather that the triggers are simply sturdier, meaning fewer accidental trigger presses for players who use lap trays.
There are also a couple of big picture features that affect the entire DualShock 4. Most noticeable here is probably the textured grip on the bottom of the controller. In addition, the handles at the back of the controller are longer and are weighted in such a way that even though the DualShock 4 is heavier than the DualShock 3, the DualShock 4 feels lighter because its weight naturally sits in the gamer’s hand rather than on the front of the controller. The DualShock 4 wants to stay in your hand—as if it were begging to be played—as compared to the DualShock 3’s tendency to pull out of your hand.
On the whole, the DualShock 4 controller for the PS4 is an impressive piece of hardware that makes some serious improvements over its predecessor, both for gamers in general and especially for disabled gamers.