Sony's PlayStation 4 is the first of the new console generation to find its way into gaming hands. That's great for console gamers, but probably doesn't do much for PC gamers. What will benefit us, as we sail past the newest console's resolutions on our way to 4K ?
Well, the controller's pretty nice.
Sony's DualShock 4 controller has a chance to usurp the Xbox 360 controller for games that just don't fit with a keyboard and mouse, such as Spelunky , Rogue Legacy , or Dark Souls . Sony president Shuhei Yoshida even confirmed on Twitter that the control will support “basic functions” in Windows at launch, which hints at further support down the road. There are no official drivers at this point, but with a little bit of digging and some help from the community, we've made the controller bend to our whims. Will it replace the 360 controller for your platforming ports? Let's find out.
Not quite official
Most PC controllers interface with your games through XInput, Microsoft's API that debuted with the Xbox 360 controller back in 2005. The API maps button functions to match how a 360 controller would operate, and gives developers an easy shortcut when designing input options.
The DualShock 3, Sony's controller for the Playstation 3, does not support XInput. Neither does the DualShock 4, at this point, though there's always hope that Sony will release a compatible driver. The lack of XInput means most modern games won't play nice with the DualShock 4, as it will only use the more outdated DirectInput API.
Thankfully, the community has stepped in to help. A programmer named InhexSTER adapted an existing project for the DualShock 3 to create an XInput wrapper for the DualShock 4, translating the controller's inputs to the format games like XCOM: Enemy Within are looking for.
Setting up the software is easy. Download the driver package and unzip it to a folder. Then go into the Virtual Bus Driver folder and run ScpDriver.exe, following prompts to install the wrapper driver. Once that's done and you're ready to play, plug in your controller with a micro USB cable (which is unbelievably not included in the package) and run ScpServer.exe, which will fool Windows into thinking your DualShock 4 is a standard 360 controller and map all of its buttons for you. Easy peasy.
What about wireless?
Of course, you don't want to be tethered to a cable. Can you use the DualShock 4's wireless features? Kind of.
In our testing, the DualShock 4's Bluetooth connection works well in Windows 8 and 8.1. But Windows 7 refuses to keep a connection active with our Broadcom BCM20702 Bluetooth 4.0 USB receiver. It's likely a driver issue and may be limited to our specific radio, but others have reported similar issues. It's unfortunate, but right now only the wired connection is guaranteed to work.
When it does work, it works well. The controller feels great, with thumbsticks that have a concave center that fits my thumb perfectly, and give just the right amount of resistance as I push them around. Issuing orders in XCOM: Enemy Within is responsive and fast with the analog thumbsticks, and switching between squaddies with the shoulder buttons works just as you'd expect. The DualShock 4's handles are textured and feel great in my palms, and the D-pad feels distinct and accurate compared to the 360 controller's mushy directional pad. Now, when I hit a spike trap in Spelunky, I won't be able to blame the indistinct D-pad.
The new analog triggers on the back of the controller are a welcome improvement from the DualShock 3, and even the 360's bulky triggers don't feel as nice. And when the wireless works, the DualShock 4 also stays connected through long play sessions, without any signal drops.
There are some missing features at this point, however. For one, the rumble functionality doesn't work through the current wrapper, and neither does the controller status LED—it will always stay the same color. The touchpad in the center of the controller doesn't do anything at this point, and the headset port at the bottom isn't active yet, either. More concerning: there's currently no way to easily turn off the controller though the existing driver. That also leads to battery life issues—as has been widely reported, the DualShock 4's battery life only averages out to 6-7 hours, and the controller will stay on and connected even when you're not using it.
Is it time to throw out your 360 controller? Not quite yet. While the unofficial wrapper is a welcome workaround, the setup is still much more difficult than Microsoft's native support for the 360 pad, or even third-party controllers from Razer or Logitech. There's also the new Xbox One controller from Microsoft to consider. We're waiting until Friday's launch of Microsoft's newest console to provide feedback, but it could be that Microsoft will continue its iron grip on PC controllers, thanks to its native support.
If Sony actually releases an official Windows driver, however, it could be a different story.