How to Use the DualSense Controller for Horror Games
One of the best things to come with the PlayStation 5 is the DualSense controller. It’s a very nice controller for many reasons. Among them: the haptic feedback, the adaptive triggers, the speaker and microphone built into the controller, and more. However, not many games have been using this controller in interesting ways. Recently two games have made the jump from PC (and Xbox in one case) to PlayStation 5: The Medium and Apsulov: End of Gods. This gives them a new way to show off their horror and further immerse the player. Do they take advantage of it, and can they do better?
I’ve played a few PlayStation 5 horror games at this time, including Resident Evil Village, Dead by Daylight, Returnal, and the aforementioned The Medium and Apsulov. Most of them use the PlayStation 5’s controller to some extent in providing interesting ideas. It’s certainly given me some ideas on what could be done with this set of features.
Let’s start with the big losers here: Dead by Daylight and Apsulov. Simply, neither game uses any of the DualSense’s features. Not one. It’s a little bizarre since there are so many good ways it can be used without majorly unbalancing the gameplay. In the case of Dead by Daylight, the easiest probably comes from the killer’s terror radius. When the killer is nearby you can hear a heartbeat. Getting a heartbeat vibration through the controller would be an easy and fantastic way to make use of the feature. Additionally, some sounds like the aforementioned heartbeat, along with things like the crows, could come through the controller speaker. I probably wouldn’t use the adaptive triggers here, but these seem like some simple ideas.
As for Apsulov, the game lacks any sort of rumble at all which is very weird. There’s a scene at the beginning where a robot drills a hole into your head and there’s no rumble at all. It’s one of those “you don’t notice until it’s not there” things. It seems like a fantastic time to use the haptic feedback, which would help make the moment just a little more immersive. As the game advances you get a robotic arm that can charge up and shoot bursts of energy. Having to actually press against the trigger to charge up the energy would feel amazing. Barring any of this, it would be nice if Apsulov did what other games do and had the audio logs you find play through the controller speaker.
Let me be really clear on this though: just because they don’t use the DualSense’s unique features doesn’t mean these are bad games. Dead by Daylight continues to be my multiplayer game of choice and I’m still hopping into matches pretty regularly. Apsulov: End of Gods I’m not far in, but it’s a pretty fantastically spooky single-player experience and the techno-Viking aesthetic is absolutely fantastic. I strongly suggest both games.
Now let’s quickly jump to the other end with the best use of it: Returnal. It’s not a huge surprise that it’s a first-party Sony game that really makes the best use of the features. When you stand in the rain you can actually “feel” the rain on the controller, and each surface actually feels different to walk across. The game uses the adaptive triggers to change your aiming mode, stopping you from pulling the trigger down the whole way while switching your firing style if you do, and it gives a real kick to each gun you fire. Even the controller speaker gets some work, adding some supplementary noises from the environment and reading off the audio logs you’ll find. I’d love it if more games could take notes from this.
This leaves us with Resident Evil Village and The Medium, both of which have a few solid ideas but don’t feel like they go far enough. In the case of Resident Evil Village, we get adaptive triggers that make you pull down harder on the trigger when you have bigger guns, which isn’t a terrible idea but mostly comes off feeling like a lesser version of what Returnal did. The Medium tries a few different things, my favorite being playing certain distinctive sounds through the controller speaker. A ringing phone in the distance, or a hotel reception bell, feel a little more lively when they’re in the actual room with you. It also uses the adaptive triggers to make it harder to run, and the haptic feedback gives a good heart effect when the monsters are close. The Medium also tries its hands at using the gyroscope by letting you tilt the controller to look during the first-person segments. It’s so overwhelmingly sensitive and annoying that I turned it off immediately.
So we got the good, the bad, and the attempted. What did I learn from this? Well, there are certainly ways that the DualSense can be used to really get the best out of it. Horror games are in a particularly interesting spot, as every little bit of extra immersion that they can squeeze out of the player really should be used. The more immersed the player is, the more likely they are to be unsettled, terrified, and whatever other emotion you’re gunning for. My only hope is that more developers realize how useful the DualSense can be in getting a player there.