Sony Dual Shock 3 Hands-On

It was easy to overlook the loss of vibration feedback when Sony first introduced the PlayStation 3. The console offered a ton of great new features–HD graphics, Blu-ray, multimedia support, wireless controllers, the PlayStation Network–that, at least conceptually, more than made up for the missing rumble support. The console’s new Sixaxis controller also had tilt controls that let you control games by tilting or moving the gamepad in the desired direction. Unfortunately, it took most of us only a few minutes with Lair to figure out that we had been hoodwinked out of rumble like a general manager on the wrong side of a Billy Beane trade.

Sony tried to downplay the importance of rumble, referring to it as a “last generation” feature on several occasions before and after the release of the PS3, but Sony’s legal skirmishes with haptics company Immersion may have also contributed to the feature’s disappearance. Sony finally relented last year at the 2007 Tokyo Game Show when Sony Computer Entertainment president Kaz Hirai announced the Dual Shock 3 controller, just months after working out a deal with Immersion.

The new Dual Shock 3 looks just like the Sixaxis controller. The D pad, action buttons, analog sticks, shoulder buttons, and analog triggers all feel the same. The only way to tell them apart is to pick one up to feel the weight difference, or to check for the controller labels printed across the top edge of each controller. The rumble-enabled controller is noticeably heavier than the Sixaxis and has blue Dual Shock 3 text written across the top, directly above a Sixaxis text label. The Dual Shock 3 sports the Sixaxis tag because it retains the tilt-control support introduced by its predecessor. It’s easier to think of the Dual Shock 3 as a Sixaxis with rumble.

The controller is available in US stores now for $54.95. It’s available only in black, but you can import ceramic white versions from Asia through your favorite online importers. All PlayStation 3 consoles upgraded to firmware 1.94 or later will support Dual Shock 3 vibration. Note that the controller doesn’t come packaged with a USB charge cable. You still have the one that came with your PS3, right?

We first fired up Assassin’s Creed to see how Altair rumbles on the new Dual Shock. The game wasn’t listed on the official Dual Shock 3 vibration-enabled list, but we’ve read reports that the game actually does support the feature. We spent close to half an hour running through early parts of the game trying to get the controller to budge before we discovered that the controller seemed to rumble only when our character took damage from a fall or while in combat. The controller didn’t give any feedback when Altair rode on horseback, made small jumps, or defended himself in swordfights. Our testing reminded us that the quality of the rumble experience depends on the game implementation as much as the controller. We expect almost all games to support the Dual Shock 3 moving forward, but it might take a while for developers to patch support into existing games and we wouldn’t be surprised if some older games never get support.

Lesson learned, we picked Burnout Paradise, a title from the official Dual Shock 3-supported games list for our next test. Racing games have always made extensive use of rumble in the past, and Burnout didn’t disappoint. Racing though Paradise City felt great on the Dual Shock. The controller provided varying amounts of rumble feedback in response to our in-game environment, such as a sharp jolt when running through a light pole, or a sublime vibration when gliding over the grass in the road median. Wrecking the car gave the biggest and longest vibration, but we did notice that the Dual Shock 3 didn’t shake quite as violently as the Xbox 360 controller does on the competition’s system. Even so, the Dual Shock had enough rumble power for a satisfying amount of vibration feedback.

Next we broke out Burnout Dominator to see how the Dual Shock 3 handled PlayStation 2 games. We actually tried out Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters first because it happened to be close at hand, but we didn’t find enough vibration in the PSP port to make it a good test for rumble. The Dual Shock 3 did rumble in the few places that the game had activated vibration, but we quickly switched over to Burnout Dominator where we could enable rumble more easily with a swerve into the rough or by activating boost.

We tried out the game first on a PlayStation 2 console with the Dual Shock 2, after which we switched to the PlayStation 3 and the Dual Shock 3. The vibration effects felt the same on the Dual Shock 3 as it did on our original PlayStation 2 Dual Shock. That makes sense because the internal motors are very similar. We should also note that the Dual Shock 3 worked in both games without any patching. We just inserted each PS2 game into the PS3 and the rumble simply worked.

The fact that Sony is replacing the Sixaxis with the Dual Shock 3 makes the buying decision easier for new PS3 owners. Anyone looking for additional controllers will soon be able to buy only the Dual Shock 3 as the Sixaxis disappears from retail. Early adopters who have already bought extra Sixaxis controllers face a more difficult decision of whether or not to replace one or more of their working Sixaxis controllers with Dual Shock gamepads, given that each controller costs almost as much as a new Blu-ray game. Rumble vibration feedback makes it worthwhile to replace at least one controller right now. You can always replace the others as they break. Sony will eventually bundle all systems with the Dual Shock 3, but those looking to buy a complete package guaranteed to contain a rumble controller might have to wait for the Metal Gear Solid 4 PS3 bundle coming out this June.

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