The lack of vibration in the PlayStation 3's Sixaxis joypad has been one of the biggest thorns in the console's not inconsiderable side. Shorn of that often under-valued function, it left an awful lot of gaming experiences feeling strangely empty, particularly shooters and racing games.
The very first time we got a hands-on with MotorStorm back at E3 2006 we were moved to comment: "Stripped of rumble from the new PS3 pad, it feels...like it's missing that quantifiable feedback we've come to take for granted." Those first impressions didn't go away, either: it was simply one of those games which was crying out those wonderful, deformable tracks to transmit their nuances through the pad.
This point was further emphasised when SEGA Rally came out in September on PS3 and 360. The stunning combination of deformable terrain and vibration made a palpable difference to how you played the game. As much the whole idea about deformable terrain sounded like PR spin, once you actually got to play the game for any length of time, there was absolutely no way you'd want to play it on a system that didn't allow you to experience it as the developer intended. It proved, beyond any doubt, that utilising vibration techniques in a clever way could enhance the driving experience in a measurable sense. It was a particularly bitter pill to swallow, and Xbox 360 fanboys have been rubbing it in the noses of PS3 owners ever since.
Sony to the rescue
But just three days after SEGA Rally was reviewed, Sony took the stage at the Tokyo Game Show and announced the DualShock 3, and had nine vibration-enabled titles on the show floor to prove it had been listening to those of us that wanted the functionality back - sadly, SEGA Rally wasn't one of them, and there's currently no word on whether the PS3 version will eventually include vibration via a patch later.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the third iteration of Sony's DualShock pad was...exactly the same as the old ones! Evidently sticking doggedly to the 'if it ain't broke...' mantra, the only difference between this and the Sixaxis was a slight weight gain and the good old vibration back in the pad that we all expected anyway. Better late than never, as they say.
So, from 11th November, the pad will go on sale in Japan, with North America, Europe, and other territories being forced to wait until spring 2008 before they can enjoy the benefits of the fully featured DualShock 3. Problematically for those of you hoping to import one, we've been warned to expect shortages. No surprises there, and as result you can also expect to have to pay top dollar for them if you do chance upon an enterprising entrepreneur willing to part with theirs. Officially, Sony is offering two versions of the DualShock 3 in black and Ceramic White for JPY 5500 (USD 47 / GBP 22), but most importers are already charging almost double that.
Murder on Marlborough Street
Prising Sony Computer Entertainment UK's lone DualShock 3 out of their cold, dead hands for a few days this week (the things you have to do for this job, honestly), we decided to give it a little road test and see whether the addition of vibration brings back some of the key titles back to life. Successfully managing not to get mugged on the London Underground (despite the giveaway "DualShock 3" being emblazoned across the padded envelope - I may as well have had "Steal This!" written on my forehead), I cracked on with giving the pad a going over with a few of the PS3's big 'uns, past present and future.
The initial impressions are understandably underwhelming - it is, after all, a wireless version of a pad that we've all been using for the best part of a decade: what is there to say?
The first task was to track down some games with the requisite support - not an especially easy task right now, ahead of the pad's Japanese release. Games which are supposedly going to add vibration support (such as Heavenly Sword, The Darkness and Formula One) have not added support as yet, though will do so in time for the pad's release. Resistance: Fall of Man does support it now, however, and a full list of the supported titles can be found elsewhere on the site.