Cons: L3 and R3. Pressing them feels like you're destroying the controller
The Bottom Line: Shocking a developer gets a controller right and no one follows it.
Here's a quick question: Whenever you're firing up one of the Playstation 2's plethora of awesome video games, what are you thinking about the controller that allowed you to control those games? Are you thinking about that perfect combination of heft and bulk in the pistol grips? Are you thinking about the smoothness of the dual analog sticks? Are you thinking about how easily you can get your pointer fingers around the front of the controller to keep them on the shoulder buttons?
Oh, you're not? Excellent! That means Sony accomplished what it set out to do with the Playstation 2's Dual Shock 2, its primary controller and, to me, the best video game controller ever offered.
Sony unexpectedly took over the world when it launched the Playstation. It became the highest-selling console in the world which wasn't made to be portable. Sony stayed dominant with the Playstation 2. There are reasons for this. Sony had name brand recognition from years of being one of the very best and most reliable electronics manufacturers in the world. The Playstation consoles had overwhelming game libraries; even today I can duck into one of the many local Gamestops in Chicago, look under the Playstation 2 section, and find about ten games I didn't even realize existed. The Playstation had exclusive titles and first crack at titles which would eventually go multiplatform. (Grand Theft Auto 3 is the textbook example of this.) It was the first hardware developer to put a DVD player into a game console. It wasn't great, but at least the Playstation 2 didn't require an extra add-on to get it to work like the Big Green Machine from Microsoft did. These things compensated for the Playstation 2's lack of power nicely.
One area in which the Playstation consoles will never be accused of making breakthroughs is control. The original Playstation featured nothing we really hadn't seen by that point. D-pad, action buttons, pistol grips, and four shoulder buttons instead of two. It looked funny and had more buttons, but it was in fact just an ordinary controller. Later, Sony introduced a new controller for the Playstation called the Dual Shock, which included a rumble feature, two analog sticks, and extra-large L2 and R2 buttons on the shoulder. It became such a hit that developers began writing in sections for control with the Dual Shock in later game manuals.
Time marched forward and when the Playstation 2 era dawned, Sony didn't bother wasting money on a whole new controller which gamers potentially wouldn't like. So they just said "You know, we have a great thing going with the Dual Shock. Let's just take that design and make it the primary controller for the PS2." And that's how the Dual Shock 2 came to lead the world forward into a whole new console generation. The Dual Shock 2, with its deceptive simplicity and a relative lack of unique or eye-catching features became the most unheralded hero of the last console generation.
The Dual Shock 2 looks more intimidating than it really is. Part of this is simple, everyday optical illusion: You have the four action buttons on the right, but the d-pad on the left looks like four separate buttons. It looks like a cluster of four buttons which are just sticking out in four directions and very close together. But the d-pad is in fact an actual d-pad. If you press down in one direction, you'll see the opposite direction rise. If you try to wiggle the d-pad in its space, all four buttons move, not just the one you're trying to wiggle. I'm not quite sure what to make of this, but it gives you the control you need just fine.
The funny thing is most games don't give you control over your character with the d-pad. It's used much of the time for odd game functions, though you do often get control of menus with it. Controlling the main character in any given video game actually falls to the left analog. It's easy to use and covered in some kind of rubber coat so your finger doesn't slide off if you start to sweat too much. The right analog has its uses too, but the left analog is in essence your d-pad. Both analog sticks have hidden buttons in them; by pressing them, you may activate a function, depending on the game. These buttons are officially designated as L3 and R3. This is the only feature of the Dual Shock 2 I don't like. It feels like I'm almost destroying the controller.
The action buttons aren't laid out in any unusually funky kind of way. But they do have funny labels. Sony apparently just wanted to be different, so instead of the typical A, B, X, Y layout like Microsoft, Sega, and Nintendo, they used shapes. An X is the only thing resembling normal. The other action buttons are a square, a triangle, and a circle. It may take a little bit of time to get used to this unusual layout, but once you do, you'll realize they function just like any other controller you've ever used. Plus the shapes come in cool colors set against a dark background, which gives them a kind of edgy look.
There are four shoulder buttons, and my regular readers all know how I feel about that. But a miracle occurred for Sony with these shoulder buttons: They actually fit my deformed arm like they're supposed to. This is because there is an outstanding combination of bulk with the pistol grips. When you grab the pistol grips at the bottom of the controller, you'll feel them angled a few degrees downward. This enables your pointer finger - or in the case of my right hand, my middle finger - to easily and naturally wrap your fingers right around the front of the controller because they will be reaching straight across and not at an angle. There's no fighting or trying to set your fingers in uncomfortable positions. It feels like it was very carefully researched and thought out.
Unlike its contemporaries for the Xbox and Gamecube, the Dual Shock 2 doesn't try to force spring-loaded analog buttons or triggers onto you. Every button on the Dual Shock 2 is a normal, regular, everyday button. There's no pressure pressing. Just press the button and it will do whatever it does. Sure you'll have the occasional oddball control technique, but that can generally be chalked up to laziness on the part of the game's designers. The only analog on the Dual Shock 2 is the pair of twin control sticks. The Dual Shock 2 also contains a rumble feature which can be switched on or off through a button on the controller at will.
The Dual Shock 2 comes in a variety of cool colors. Some are typically opaque and others have a cool translucense. No, Sony didn't set out to create a controller revolution with the Dual Shock 2. All they wanted was to make sure you could play your games easily and in comfort. And they succeeded more than a certain reviewer with a deformed arm ever could have dreamed.
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About the reviewer
Nicholas Croston (BaronSamedi3)
Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial. Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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The DUALSHOCK® 2 analog controller is the standard controller for your Playstation® 2. It delivers a more intuitive gaming experience, with pressure sensitivity on every action button and enhanced mobility of the analog thumbsticks. Maneuver through a course or level with surgical precision unlocking more fighting moves and secret weapons than ever before. The DUALSHOCK® 2 is also compatible with the PS One console (Analog button features NOT available with PS One format software).