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For decades Sony's relied on their first lightning strike, knowing full well that the DualShock controller was probably better than it had any right to be. The NES pad transformed into the SNES pad and then into the Nintendo 64 controller, allowing Nintendo to iterate as they added more buttons, but the DualShock was born a star, a standard bearer, and let's face it… lightning doesn't strike twice. It's for that reason I was reluctant to accept the DualShock 4's new aesthetic, trading the cone protuberances and geometrically-dictated face for rounded edges and a matte finish. How could you abandon all that history for a touch-panel, Sony?
It sounds stupid, but some PlayStation gamers have stuck with the platform strictly because they prefer the controller, they want the familiarity and comfort of X, Circle, Triangle, and Square. Thankfully I got hands-on with Sony's DualShock 4 and backwards compatible controller support be damned, this change is for the better.
Stepping up to the DriveClub demo, I was impressed by the graphics and draw distance, but more importantly it was my first chance to touch the controller and compare it against the DualShock 3 I use in my own home. While that pad juts into your palms and forces your hands to angle inwards towards each other (as if you had your hands at 10 and 2 on a steering wheel), the DualShock 4 encourages your palms to rest vertically on larger, more oblong grips. I would say it feels a bit like the Xbox 360 controller, but it's not quite as flat.
The D-Pad and buttons also seem smaller, requiring less movement between the X and Triangle or Square and Circle. The L2 and R2 triggers wrap around your fingers and make for a drastic improvement on the squishy DualShock 3 triggers. While the Xbox 360 controller became the go-to pad for shooters, the DualShock 4 will hold up, ditching the gas-pedal-resistance of DS3 triggers for a smooth pull.
It's not that racing fans have been left out in the cold as DriveClub still felt satisfying and responsive, especially feathering the brake trigger to drift around turns, but shooters won't necessarily feel better with L1 and R1 as Uncharted and other blockbuster PS3 games have. DualShock 4 controllers also feel suitably and satisfyingly heavy, like you've got a nice piece of technology resting in your sweaty palms, but the matte finish and carbon-fiber-ish texture mean you won't be dropping it anytime soon.
Each D-Pad button is also sporting a slight flourish at the end, so your thumb will be reluctant to wander beyond the tip of each direction when rested over all four buttons. Each analog stick has also been lifted and separated to position it closer to the Xbox 360's second analog stick, making switching between buttons and sticks faster, easier, and more intuitive. Each stick also has a circular ridge to keep your thumb in place.
Not 10 minutes before getting hands-on with DriveClub, I was playing Rain rather impatiently. I urged the character through the level as fast as I could and the DualShock 3's analog mounds allowed my thumb to slide off the edge. With the exception of the iconic face-buttons, each input on the DualShock 4 seems designed to give you precision and comfort, while also ensuring that your thumbs won't leave any one surface unless you intentionally lift them to manipulate another part of the controller.
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to test the touch-pad, the home button, or the Share and Option buttons (although those two seem placed perfectly for instant-access). The Share button in particular seemed to call out to me, dying for a instinctual and hurried jab, allowing gamers to capture an amazing in-game moment without skipping a beat. If you were at all hesitant to accept this change in PlayStation's pad, relax. Lightning strikes twice when experienced hardware engineers at Sony succeed in improving the original.