The PlayStation 4’s packed-in DualShock 4 controller is a trusty, tried-and-true way to play most games. But while its thumbsticks, buttons, and triggers all serve obvious functions, some of its more subtle gimmicks may go unnoticed. That lightbar, for example, does serve a practical purpose, color-coded to represent player number (Player 1 is blue, P2 red, P3 green, and P4 pink, if you didn’t already know), and makes PS VR detection possible with the PlayStation Camera. But some games make clever use of this otherwise innocuous aspect of the DS4, using the lightbar to mimic or enhance crucial gameplay information. Same goes for the controller’s under-utilized built-in speaker, which pumps out some pretty crisp audio whenever developers choose to use it. It’s time we applauded that extra bit of effort, so here are the select few games that make the best use of the DualShock 4’s speaker and lightbar. These small details may not totally change the way you play, but you can totally appreciate the forethought and inventive thinking that went into making them.
The lightbar and speaker make you a better criminal in Grand Theft Auto 5
GTA and police pursuits go together like online multiplayer and colorful vulgarities, so it’s not a surprise that Rockstar would want to work that feeling of glorious criminality into every part of Grand Theft Auto 5. Even the littlest things add to the experience, including the lightbar, which flashes red and blue whenever you find yourself in the midst of a drag race with Los Santos’ finest, or simply on the wrong end of a call for backup.
The DS4 speaker also plays a part in your criminal escapades, letting you listen in on police radio chatter and, even worse, use your cellphone while driving. For shame! Having these sounds come through the controller makes them seem much closer, like you’re actually using a radio or yelling at a business partner while barreling down the freeway. It’s all the realism with a fraction of the lethality!
The sword uses the DS4 speaker to talk to you in Transistor
Forget diamonds, a sword is a girl’s best friend. I mean that literally in the case of Red, the newly mute protagonist of Transistor, whose only companion is a sentient sword. Thankfully he’s able to speak despite his lack of a mouth, and his frequent quips and observations help build up their relationship. The DS4, meanwhile, adds another level to this tale of a gal and her beloved blade by having the sword’s voice only come through the controller’s speaker, making it feel like you’re holding the Transistor in your hands.
While that might seem to just be a fun idea at first, it actually adds a lot to the experience of being Miss Red. The fact that the rest of the game’s audio comes through the TV makes it feel as though the sword is physically closer, which helps bolster your emotional connection to the voice inside it. The rest of the world may feel far away, but you and the Transistor are in this together. It’s a neat little mind trick, and its use makes the game that much more engaging.
The lightbar mimics the motion tracker in Alien: Isolation
Apparently some developer thought that Alien: Isolation isn’t scary enough on its own, so they decided to torture PlayStation players with a little extra terror. Specifically, Isolation uses the light bar and speaker to mimic the machine that tells you SOMETHING IS COMING TO GET YOU, RUN! Interacting with the in-game motion tracker, the DS4 light bar grows brighter the closer an enemy gets to you, making it seem like the terrifying creature on screen is going to climb through the TV and ruin your night.
Given that many players cling to the motion tracker like a big electronic pacifier from the moment they pick it up, it makes sense that the always-on-hand DS4 would act as its physical stand-in. Not that it brings much comfort in the long run, with the light pulsing faster and beeping from the speaker becoming increasingly frantic as enemies draw closer. Plus, the slight tinniness of the speaker actually benefits the game in this case, as it accurately reflects the retro-tech that’s so popular on the Sevastopol. Those little details communicate that you really are running for your life and hiding from man, machine, and horrific alien beast that all want you dead. And hey, what’s that looming black shape behind your couch? Haha, just kidding! OR AM I?
Your controller turns into a makeshift torch in Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition
The appeal of the Tomb Raider reboots is feeling like you’re right there with Lara Croft, exploring exotic regions and gazing in awe at the wonders of ancient ruins and hidden crypts. Though there’s been quite a lot of emphasis put on shootouts with mercenaries and surviving the harsh wilderness, some of the new Tomb Raider’s best moments feel like a throwback to the PS1/Saturn classics, with Lara braving dark caves and trap-laden tombs by torchlight in the pursuit of precious artifacts.
If you’re playing on your PS4 in a dark room, you’ll immediately notice this ingenious touch: the DualShock 4’s lightbar will shimmer red and orange to simulate the flickering of Lara’s makeshift torch as she treads carefully through catacombs and the like. I wouldn’t advise holding the controller over your head to mimic Lara’s torch exactly, but that little bit of extra immersion can go a long way towards making you feel like a bona fide raider of tombs.
Infamous: Second Son uses the gyroscope, speaker, AND lightbar to make stencil art
Most of the entries on this list are all about immersion, changing the way you feel while playing a game, as opposed to directly affecting the mechanics. Infamous: Second Son gets a little more adventurous in that regard, using the DS4’s gryoscope to control spraypainting mini-games along with the lightbar and speaker to give it that extra hint of authenticity. Every time Delsin shows his rebellious side by creating a new graffiti masterpiece for the world to see, the DS4’s configuration adjusts so you use it like an actual aerosol can. Specifically, you turn the controller on its side, shake it and pull R2 like a real spraypaint trigger, while the lightbar shows what color you’re using all the associated sounds come out of the speaker.
It’s only a small piece of the overall game, but using the DS4’s side features to mimic the feeling of a spray can makes those little moments palpable and way more compelling as a result. Sure, completing those missions helps you loosen DUP’s grip on Seattle and gives you karma points, but you know you’re really going back to them for the sweet clack clack ssssssssh sound of an aerosol can in action. Aaaah, so satisfying.
Shadow of Mordor sends you ghostly messages and gameplay cues through the speaker
While playing Shadow of Mordor, you alternate seeing the world from two different perspectives: the world of the living as Talion, and the ghostly Wraith realm as Celebrimbor. While you’re probably not going to mistake one for the other on sight, the PS4 adds a bit more flavor to both, using the DS4 speaker to highlight different sounds depending on how you currently see reality. You’ll get hints of ghostly whispers when you’re controlling Celebrimbor, and hear the clang of steel when Talion jumps into a fight. Plus, you get the satisfying swish of your sword as you lop an enemys head right off. It shouldn’t feel good but it does.
While this feature is largely just for funsies (and hey, there’s nothing wrong with that), it does make itself useful through subtle and helpful gameplay cues. Hearing leaves rustle when you successfully take cover in a bush makes lets you know you’re properly hidden, and the signal that Talion’s special ability is locked and loaded gets your attention a lot faster when it emanates from up close. And hey, if all else fails, the sound of Talion’s memories coming through the speaker will keep you interested during load times, and anything that can pull that off deserves props.
Broforce turns your lightbar into a true patriot
If you’ve never played Broforce before, all you really need to know is that this chaotic, over-the-top 2D shooter is like a bald eagle that’s been fed a steady diet of steroids: about as patriotic as you can get. As one of many male and female Bros that bear a striking resemblance to ’80s action movie heroes, you’ll punch out, chop through, and mow down swathes of terrorists to free prisoners of war. Once a level’s cackling boss is taking a dirt nap courtesy of your assault rifle, you’re whisked out via helicopter while the entire region explodes in flames. You know your mission is complete with the confirmation “Area Liberated”.
To really drive home Broforce’s sweaty, oiled-up, neck-vein-straining love of America, the DualShock 4’s lightbar will cycle through red, white, and blue hues once an Area is officially Liberated, possibly causing the player and any onlookers to reflexively start chanting “U-S-A! U-S-A!”. If you’re in need of an extra decoration for your next Fourth of July celebration, just boot up the PS4, beat a Broforce level, and set your DS4 controller down somewhere people can see it to serve as an all-American light show.
You’ll never miss a raid in Final Fantasy XIV, because quest queues come from the DS4 speaker
We’ve all been there: you jump into the queue for a raid or quest and wait a thousand years to get matched up. Then the second you get up to make a sandwich, the mission starts and you get booted for being AFK, at which point you set the house on fire in a rage and run shrieking into the night. Like I said, we’ve all been there. Thankfully Square-Enix has figured out how to circumvent this issue in Final Fantasy XIV through clever use of the DS4, saving you a ton of missed matches and some awkward conversations with the fire marshal.
When you jump into the quest queue and your turn comes around, FFXIV does something brilliant in its simplicity: it pings you through the DS4 to let you know the mission’s about to start. That may not seem like much at first, but because you have the ability to control the DS4 volume independent of the game audio, you can make the quest signal as loud as you need to without it getting lost in the game’s ambient noise. Go ahead and start your math homework, do your taxes, call a conspiracy theory hotline and describe the plot of Half-Life 2 as if it were your real life. Whatever you do while hovering in quest limbo, go for it – the DS4 will make sure you know when it’s go-time.
The lightbar makes you terrified of your own home in Outlast
At first glance this seems like the standard for gimmicky cosmetic additions: in game X, the DS4 lightbar will usually be white, but will turn green when you switch over to night vision. That’s it. Not super interesting, right? At least, not until I tell you that ‘game X’ is Outlast, where you’re trapped in a blackened asylum being chased by psychopathic killers, and I believe you’re legally obligated to play in the dark. Now imagine that green light reflecting around the room. Imagine the space you’re in right now has that same glow that the asylum does when seen through night vision. Imagine the lightbar flickering as you run out of batteries, and that flickering reflecting off someone previously unseen in the roOM WITH YOU OH DEAR GOD!
Terrifying, right? While the different-pretty-lights feature is something that a lot of games use to negligible effect, the fact that Outlast very carefully manipulates it to increase the terror you’re already feeling makes it much more interesting. Tricking you into being scared of your own in-game shadow is the aim of any horror title, but finding out a way to make you afraid of your real life shadow? That’s genius. Oh, and did I mention the lightbar turns bright red when you die? Sounds fun!