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.
As luck would have it MotorStorm received a downloadable update just a few days ago, adding the vibration support we were so keen to test out. After waiting for what seemed like an hour, patch 3.0 finally installed and we could get to work. Entering the game's set-up menu, you can set the level of vibration to low, medium, high (or off, if you prefer), so, naturally, we plumped for high.
In-game, the results weren't anything to shout about, unfortunately. Rather than go the whole hog and make things like revving the engine or driving over the ruts and grooves in the track part of the vibration, the feedback is limited to bumping into other cars and objects - and appears to be the same effect whether you're driving a motorbike or giant truck. It's definitely an improvement, but it's nowhere near as good as it could have been. Ah well. Moving on.
Perhaps it would be better to judge games which had been designed with vibration in mind? With the knowledge that Ratchet & Clank: Tools of Destruction includes vibration out of the box, we had an extra excuse to pour some time into it (review coming later this week, before you ask). With chaos the normal order of things in this rather lovely game, Insomniac has gone for a more 'pick and choose' approach to what does and doesn't elicit a response from the pad. Basically, it appears to be just like the PS2 Ratchet games in that smacking things around makes a minor nudge, nothing more. There's nothing quite on the level of some of other games, and certain nothing compared to the pneumatic drill effect some shooters like to infuse into a pad. Maybe it's just me, or maybe it's a battery saving consideration, but the overall 'oomph' is lacking somewhat.
And it's the same deal with Naughty Dog's forthcoming PS3 exclusive Uncharted: Drake's Progress - another title we have advance code for with built-in vibration. With much of the game involving duck and cover-style shooting antics, you'd perhaps expect a little more emphasis, but it feels subtler than most 360 games of note. The most impressive use of the vibration was actually during the adventuring elements, with small rumbles giving you a heads-up on when ledges were about to crumble beneath you, and so on.
As regards battery life, we've been playing with Ratchet and Uncharted for a combined 10 hours or so and not noticed a significant reduction in battery life. Just like the 360's wireless pad, the battery life is extremely impressive and you'll go several days without even thinking about it - so no worries there.
What is surprising - and a little annoying - is that vibration hasn't been enabled for PS2 games. Quite what the reasoning is for something as straightforward as that is unknown. Hopefully it's something Sony can release a firmware update for at a later date
Admittedly this little DualShock 3 discussion is more of a first impressions than a review as such (not that a review of a tweak to a joypad is exactly necessary), but at this stage we're reasonably happy with the revision (apart from the non-support of PS2 games - that's just daft). Some have commented that the vibration is 'weak', but I think it's safe to assume that this is down to the developer. Unwisely leaving the pad on the side during MotorStorm, the vibration was enough to send the controller flying onto the floor, so watch out for that (sorry Sony!). The most irritating aspect of all this is the time we'll all have to wait, and the necessity to upgrade. If Sony can bring the release date forward, I think we'd all be a lot happier.
In the meantime, cast your eyes of this current list of compatible titles - if you're willing to part with the extra cash for a Japanese DualShock 3, you'll shortly be able to enjoy Assassin's Creed, Kane & Lynch and Haze, among others.
- North American and European rumble-compatible PS3 titles
- The Darkness
- Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
- Soldier of Fortune
- Resident Evil 5
- Devil May Cry 4
- Dark Sector
- Kane & Lynch
- Burnout Paradise
- FIFA franchise
- Legendary: The Box
- To End All Wars
- Dynasty Warriors 6
- Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
- Blacksite: Area 51
- TNA Wrestling
- Unreal Tournament 3
- Cops (working title)
- Planet One (working title)
- Heroes over Europe
- Condemned 2
- Iron man
- The Club
- The Crucible
- The Incredible Hulk
- Blast Factor*
- Formula One Championship Edition
- Go! Sports Ski*
- Heavenly Sword*
- High Velocity Bowling
- MLB 08: The Show
- NBA 08*
- Rat Race
- Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction
- Resistance: Fall of Man*
- SOCOM: Confrontation
- Super Stardust HD*
- Toy home
- Uncharted: Drake's Fortune
- WiepEout HD
- NBA 2K8
- Destroy All Humans 3
- Stuntman Ignition
- Assassin's Creed
- Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2*
- Rainbow Six Vegas*
- The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena