Update: Horizon Forbidden West helps make a compelling case to choose the PS5 over the Xbox Series X.
I’ve flipped and flopped between being enthralled by the PS5’s DualSense controller to falling out of love with it. In the end I’ve settled into really liking it but until recently I preferred the latest iteration of the Xbox Wireless Controller. Now my mind is slowly changing.
That’s thanks to Horizon Forbidden West. Having been developed by PlayStation first-party developer Guerrilla Games, it’s unsurprising that Horizon Forbidden West really put the PS5 power and capabilities to work. It looks frankly incredible — maybe one of the best looking games on any console — and it load stupidly fast thanks to the PS5’s PCIe 4.0 SSD.
But it was the use of the DualSense’s advanced haptics that caught my eye and tickled my fingertips.
Keeping things in control
Horizon Forbidden West neatly gets the balance right of using the DualSense’s advanced haptics when it matters but doesn’t overdo it in a fashion that could be excessive and distracting.
Astro's Playroom is a wonderful demonstration of the DualSense’s abilities, from the different applications of the adaptive triggers to the use of the touchpad and built-in microphone. But the constant vibration of the haptic motors to communicate the different surfaces Astro is walking on would potentially get distracting and fatiguing in a large open-world game.
As such, Horizon Forbidden West doesn’t apply haptic feedback when Aloy is walking and running around. Instead subtle vibrations are triggered when she brushes past long grass that can be used to hide from the roaming machines, or when she lands from a jump. Slip into a nearby lake or river and the DualSense will modulate its vibrations to reflect Aloy’s strokes and ramps up when she moves from breaststroke to front crawl; it’s smart but also subtle — I was never yanked out of the action by the haptics.
Loving the tension
Naturally, it’s with the bow-based combat that the DualSense really comes into its own. Each bow or catapult weapon had its own haptic feedback, with the short-draw warrior bow feeling a lot different than the high-tension draw of the Precision bow.
It feels genuinely engaging, too. If you decide not to take a shot, you'll feel the relaxation of the bowstring through the controller's triggers. If you don’t use a pair of Pulse 3D Wireless Headphones with the PS5, you’ll also hear the draw and tension of the bow through the DualSense’s built-in speaker; not an essential feature, but one that adds another point of immersion to Horizon Forbidden West.
I also like how the touchpad is used to simply activate the HUD. There's no gimmicky link to quick-time events or other tricky things; it's simply a neat use of a control surface that’s genuinely handy.
And that’s how I think the DualSense should be applied to all the best PS5 games. I don’t want to see developers simply use the DualSense capabilities because they can, as I sometimes felt was the case in Hitman 3. Nor do I want to see them pay lip service to the advanced haptics on offer.
Rather, I’d like to see Guerrilla’s approach taken on, whereby the DualSense is used to augment gaming and improve immersion, rather than get treated almost as a separate thing.
Granted, Deathloop and Returnal use the DualSense’s haptics to good effect. I’m just hoping other developers and PS5 exclusive games keep finding smart ways to use the controller’s features. I have a lot of hope for God of War Ragnarok.