Gaming on a PlayStation is more than just turning on some technology in a box. The kind of immersion we get from our favorite digital worlds goes beyond staring at something. It’s in how we interface, and whether it’s the PS4’s DualShock 4, or others throughout PlayStation’s long history, controllers have given us permission to reach beyond the image on the screen and play. It’s in the name, after all.
Read on to discover not just the best PS4 games, but the games that best showcase the DualShock 4’s powerful range of tools, tricks, and let’s be honest, gimmicks. And if you’re missing the equipment to enjoy them, check out our list of the best PS4 controllers.
The DualShock 4 might be 'old hat' now, but when the PlayStation 4 launched it was radical. The core shape that had existed since PS1 was altered. Chunkier, it felt molded to sit firmly in the palms for long play sessions. And the tech, oh the tech. Analog sticks, gyro controls, and vibration (hence the ‘shock’ moniker) were still there, joined by the likes of a lightbar, touchpad, and speaker. It became an instant hit and was an important step forward toward PS5’s DualSense.
Beyond its foundational significance, the DualShock 4 has brought us some experiences worthy of celebration in their own right – experiences that just aren’t quite the same on other systems.
Jumping off the PS Vita, where it used just about every feature on the little handheld, Unfolded’s mission was to do the same with the DualShock 4. It succeeded.
Tearaway casts you as an omniscient player watching over a papercraft world, assisting the Green Messenger hero like the benevolent gamer god you are. You’ll need to draw useful items on the touchpad to make them appear in the world, swipe up to blow wind onto the screen, hold the DualShock 4 in the air to play catch with the Messenger, and even use the lightbar to direct a beam – illuminating darkness or melting ice. Constantly inventive, Tearaway shows how natural the DualShock 4 feature set can feel while playing.
A group of teens go to a remote cabin on a mountain in order to party and unwind, but something dangerous lurks outside, waiting to strike. It’s the perfect horror premise, yet this is no movie. Still one of PS4’s best exclusives, Until Dawn leveraged the DualShock 4 to the fullest to give you an immersive advantage the teens in those spooky flicks lack.
Beyond making decisions to branch the narrative (who lives and who dies is literally in your hands), you use the controller to grapple with QTE challenges, which often include directional motion controls. The standout, though, are the ‘don’t breathe’ moments – in which you need to hold the DualShock 4 perfectly still while, for instance, a monster breathes down your neck. Sometimes the best use of the controller is to ask players not to use it at all.
If you're looking for more scares, these are the best horror games around and Until Dawn's developer Supermassive's new game, The Quarry, is excellent.
Trapping you on a space station with a xenomorph stalker, Alien: Isolation is a classic because it really understands what made Ridley Scott’s 1979 movie so darn atmospheric and terrifying. Thanks to some seriously smart AI for the titular alien, you really feel like it’s always lurking in the shadows, coming for you when you least expect it.
That’s where the motion tracker comes in – the iconic device used in the movie series to figure out where threats are coming from. On PS4, the DualShock 4 literally turns into a tracker in your hand. Play in the dark and the lightbar will flash green, beginning with slow pulses and increasing in speed, alongside beeping, when something draws closer. It’s a brilliant bit of immersion that makes PS4 the best place to hide and be sought.
Need more xenomorphs in your life, check out the shooter Aliens: Dark Descent announced at Summer Game Fest.
Infamous Second Son
Launch window games are always pushed to use a console’s new tech in inventive ways. Some have neat little touches, like Resogun’s robotic voice – which lives in the DualShock 4 speaker – or the morse code you can tap out on the touchpad in The Order 1886. Few, though, manage to be quite as playful as Infamous Second Son. The action-adventure franchise’s karma system returns, now reflected on the lightbar. Cutscenes have some light interaction, like putting your finger on the touchpad to mimic an ID scan – and there’s loads of immersive sound emerging from the speaker, like the whoosh of energy as hero Delsin switches his superhero powers.
But best of all, graffiti tagging minigames have you turn the DualShock 4 on its end, shaking it like a spray can, then pushing the curvy trigger to get painting – a novelty that never gets old.
Killzone: Shadow Fall
Another launch window game, Killzone’s generational leap was all about using the DualShock 4 to add a tactical twist to the FPS that could feel as natural as pressing any other button on the controller – adding no complicated sub-menus.
That’s where OWL comes in, a drone companion whose functions are tied entirely to the touchpad. Depending on the direction you swipe, OWL can change from all-out attack, to shielding, stunning, and even deploying a zipline to help you maneuver. And it’s all just a finger touch away.
Ghost Of Tsushima
Even late in the generation, Ghost Of Tsushima was relying on the DualShock 4’s touchpad to avoid breaking immersion. The most useful tool is a swipe up, which activates Guiding Wind. The visible, calm gusts point towards your current objective, allowing you to find your way without the need of a minimap or pause menu, meaning the gorgeous art direction of this samurai adventure gets to fill the screen at all times.
A swipe down, meanwhile, allows you to switch to your bow in an instant, while swiping left plays a flute to change the weather. A flick right either draws or sheathes your sword, cleaning blood from the blade after combat – which just feels good to do.
Chicory: A Colorful Tale
The world has lost its color, and Brush Wielder Chicory is unable to help. It falls to you, the janitor, to take up the Brush and restore order. This means, practically speaking, moving around in top-down Zelda style and slapping paint on the world.
Using the touchpad allows you to reach out and paint however you want. This can affect traversal options for your hero, and is also the main way to fight back in boss battles. Even while you look at the screen to dodge enemy strikes, you’ll be painting your own lines of offence in your lap. It’s a DualShock 4 experience like no other.
It's not just a good game for your controller, it's one of the best indie games around.
Grand Theft Auto 5
Despite originally launching on PS3, GTA 5 sports some neat DualShock 4 features that really level up the experience. Touchpad swipes mean you can avoid fiddling with menus – flicking up and down to switch weapons, and left and right to change radio stations (no taking your hands off the wheel). When wanted by the police, the lightbar flashes red and blue, a cute little touch.
Best of all, phone calls and police radio chatter can come through the DualShock 4 speaker. GTA is far from the only game to implement this – the likes of Judgment, The Last Of Us, and Horizon: Zero Dawn also do – but especially here, it’s a natural and fun addition that adds to the world. No need to be shy: why not hold it up to your ear for the full immersive experience? I legitimately do this every time a call happens in a game, and no, I am not going to stop.
PSVR might not have a bespoke controller like some other VR platforms, but that hasn’t stopped developers from getting inventive, whether retrofitting the PS Move controllers or eking out as much as they can from the DualShock 4 when combined with the PlayStation 4 Camera.
The likes of Astro Bot Rescue Mission and Moss are fantastic with the pad, but neither are as terrifically playful as Statik. This VR puzzler literally traps your controller-bound hands in a box and forces you to use the DualShock 4 to free yourself, figuring out what effect your interactions have on the box in order to get it loose. Every part of the controller is put to use.
Gravity Rush 2
Starting out on PS Vita, this gravity-shifting open world was all about moving the handheld around in order to change the course of your free-falling. With the jump to PS4, the DualShock 4’s motion controls also enabled you to control gravity.
With a press of a button, hero Kat readies her power, and you can tilt to alter the direction of gravity for her – combining the gyro with the analog sticks for some quick changes that have you running (well, falling) circles around enemies. By adding the touchpad, you can also switch her combat modes between heavier and lighter variants. As with every game on this list, the power is in your hands.