Next-Gen

PS5 DualSense shines in Astro's Playroom, but its future remains unclear

Is Astro's Playroom the Wii Sports of this console generation, or will it end up like 1, 2 Switch?

The PlayStation 5 abandoned Sony’s classic line of DualShock controllers to introduce the new DualSense controller with haptic feedback and adaptive triggers.

While the innovative tech might at first feel difficult to grok for players, Astro's Playroom functions as an engaging tutorial for all its capabilities. The game is pre-installed on every PS5, but players shouldn’t overlook this charming freebie.

Haptic feedback offers more nuanced vibrations, giving in-game actions and interactions greater sensory detail. In Astro’s Playroom, it creates tangible distinctions between walking on a variety of surfaces. Adaptive trigger buttons also simulate varying degrees of resistance, which can make shooting something like a bow feel more realistic.

Currently, Xbox doesn’t offer anything comparable, and the only controller tech that comes close in all of gaming is the oft-forgotten HD Rumble of the Switch’s Joy-Cons. While we don’t know what the longevity of DualSense’s unique features will look like for years to come, games like Astro’s Playroom make the case for why DualSense could be a next-gen game-changer — if the technology remains fully embraced by developers.

Feel this Moment

Astro’s Playroom serves as a tech demo for the DualSense, but it’s also a fully fleshed-out (if brief) gaming experience in its own right. The game starts with a rundown of the controller’s features and has players mess around to feel Astro Bots rattle around inside the controller.

The game follows Astro — who also starred in the pre-installed PS4 Playroom app and VR game Astro Bot: Rescue Mission — as he explores four worlds based on the hardware that powers the PlayStation 5. It’s implied that the game takes place within your PS4 and controller; You can even feel Astro’s footsteps within the DualSense. When you use the adaptive triggers to fire up a rocket, you feel it inside the controller as well.

As a whole, it plays like a simple 3D platformer, though it does feature linear levels and a basic moveset when players are controlling Astro. Once you’re free to explore, you’ll immediately notice the haptic feedback in action, which is better experienced than explained. The potential of haptic feedback becomes clear when Astro skates on ice for the first time and the controller vibrates to mimic a very particular feeling of grinding across a slick surface.

There are lots of other interesting uses for the technology as well: Players will feel the grass they are walking through and the rocky surface they are rolling on inside a ball. That ball is one of many vehicles featured in Astro’s Playroom to show off the touchpad, motion controls, and adaptive triggers.

The touchpad is used to zip Astro up in a vehicle, while motion controls are used to move some of the vehicles. The adaptive triggers will actively resist players as they hop around when transformed into a spring or to scale rocks as a monkey robot.

While the resistance is fairly light, the adaptive triggers make each action more pronounced and satisfying to pull off. My hands ached slightly after getting through some of the extended sections featuring the triggers, but Astro’s Playroom still demonstrates this technology in an engaging and novel way that will keep players enthralled. And it feels like a dull sort of pain that gamers will be more than happy to get used to.

On top of all of that, Astro’s Playroom is also a fantastic love letter to PlayStation’s history. All of the collectibles within the game are versions of Sony gaming hardware from yesteryear. Several Astro Bots also dress up as characters like Kratos (God of War), Aloy (Horizon Zero Dawn), and Solid Snake (Metal Gear Solid).

Will play have limits?

While Astro’s Playroom thoughtfully uses this technology, one could argue that 1,2 Switch did the same with Nintendo Switch’s HD Rumble and that tech ultimately ended up being underutilized over time. Even the touchpad and motion controls in Astro’s Playroom are old news. Despite being touted as a PlayStation 4 innovation, they were mostly abandoned by the end of the console’s lifespan.

Feeling Astro skate on ice is a defining moment for the DualSense controller. Sony Interactive Entertainment

Players have the option to turn the DualSense’s haptic feedback and the adaptive triggers off, though games like Deathloop that require those features might be inaccessible for people with limited mobility in their hands.

As these features are also the crux of PlayStation’s argument as to why the DualShock 4 can’t be used with PS5 games, one has to hope the DualSense’s extra bells and whistles will stay in use. In the early days of the system’s life, both first- and third-party developers seem to be making an effort to implement it in a thoughtful way.

Demon’s Souls intertwines haptic feedback and the adaptive triggers with combat so moves feel more visceral and satisfying to pull off. Observer: System Redux uses the DualSense to add more detailed rumble feedback to interacting with objects or taking damage. Even though this is a remaster of a 2017 video game, the DualSense adds an impressive layer of depth to what is otherwise a simple next-generation remaster.

DualSense has the potential to enhance third-party games if developers make a concerted effort to support it, but it’s doubtful just how much it will be used in a year or two outside of games developed or published by Sony. It likely depends on how many games force players to use it or how common it is for players to turn those features off.

Will DualSense’s haptic feedback and adaptive triggers go the way of the Joy-Cons’ HD Rumble? It’s too early to tell. Still, games like Astro’s Playroom, Demon’s Souls, and Observer: System Redux make a solid argument for why it should stick around, as it does elevate games that are otherwise familiar in a way that feels innovative and next-gen.

Expect to see Inverse’s full PS5 impressions in the coming days.

Astro’s Playroom is available now for PS5.

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