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Steam Controller Review

July 4th, 2016 by

steam 001Like a lot of people today I have chosen to shun the traditional PC gaming set up of a desk and monitor and instead opted for hooking up my tower to the TV in my lounge. With the added comfort afforded by such a set up comes some drawbacks, the biggest being that I can no longer comfortably game wth a keyboard and mouse. I have tried to do so, but balancing my keyboard on my lap and using the mouse on a book rested on the cushion next to me isn’t ideal. The Xbox 360 wired controller does the job for the majority of games but not all. In many cases, playing with a standard controller removes entire genres from being playable.

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When the Steam controller was announced it looked the answer to my prayers and was it? Yes.  Is it the answer to your prayers? Hmmm…Maybe. I have now owned the Steam controller for around 3 – 4 months and feel like I have gotten to grips with what it can and can’t do.

When you first remove the controller from its very stylish box, the first thing you notice is the build quality. It feels well constructed and has just enough weight to it to feel solid but not too heavy. Despite the majority of the controller being made of a matte black material, there are a few sections which the designers have insisted on making out of gloss black plastic. Why designers insist on this is beyond me, it may look lovely in promotional photographs but when in use they are a magnet for grubby finger marks.

The triggers have a soft, easy press feel to them with a satisfying “click” when depressed all the way. The top bumpers are much quicker to press down and have a mechanical feel to them. The bottom of the controller curves upwards, instead of down as you would see on other console controllers, and this helps to place your thumbs in the correct place and at the correct angle for use on the track pads (more on those later). The thumbstick is very responsive and has a studded texture to the edges for added grip. The main face buttons (A, B, X, Y) are pretty standard buttons. Nothing much to say about those.

On the back of the controller are two “paddles” which are in the perfect place to be pressed naturally by you ring or little fingers. Unfortunately these are also in the perfect place to be accidentally pressed often, so it does take some time to get used to and avoid pressing them in the heat of a battle or race etc. The entire paddle section can be removed to access the battery compartment. The controller takes two AA batteries and so far has been very economical with its power (I haven’t had to change the batteries yet, though your mileage may vary depending on how often you game).  There is also a micro USB socket on the back so you can played wired if you would prefer.

Now, back to the main feature of this controller: the track pads. The controller features two tracks pads. The right track pad is the main one and the left one is a secondary one which also doubles as a D-pad. Due to the angle of the controller your thumb should be perpendicular to the pad and it feels extremely natural to use. It is not too dissimilar to the track pad found on most laptops.

When it comes to the big important question: Is this actually a good controller to play games with? Unfortunately things get a little more vague here and there really is no definitive answer.

The controller won’t “just work” straight out of the box. Like most PC games, you really need to go into the customisation options to find the settings that work for you, and you will need to do this for every game you play as there is not a “one size fits all solution”. Although this may sound cumbersome and time consuming, it is something that most PC gamers are already akin to, as I am sure I am not the only one who will spend the first 20 minutes of new session with a new game, tweaking graphics options to get it perfect, and the same is true of this controller.

The customisation options are extensive, so much so that I can’t possible describe them all here. As well as custom mapping the face buttons, bumpers, triggers and paddles you can also heavily modify the track pads. When you swipe your thumb across the pad you will feel some haptic feedback and the cursor will move across the screen, predictably, once you remove the thumb the cursor will continue to travel for a short while, similar to how a trackball operates. You can customise the length of this additional travel or even turn it off completely.

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There is also the option to increase the speed of the cursor based on your positioning of your thumb on the pad. For example as you get nearer the edge it will speed up. This isn’t a mode I particularly like, but it may work for some of you. You can save presets for each game you play and you can even download presets from other people. These are shown in order of “most used” and in a lot of the cases, the top one of these will be sufficient if you just want to get straight into a game without customising it for yourself.

The controller has a gyroscope, similar to the PS3 Six-Axis but considerably more accurate and enjoyable to use. At first didn’t think I would use this at all but have actually found it very useful for FPS games. One of the first games I played with the pad was Fallout 4. Although not as accurate to shoot with as a keyboard and mouse, with a little practice, it is far more accurate than an analogue stick.

My preferred method of control in this instance was to use the track pad to roughly lineup the shot, then turn on the gyro (which you can custom map to any button, or in my case, by pushing down on the track pad) and using the gyro to fine tune the aiming for those perfect headshots. This new method of control won’t feel natural to some people who are very much cemented in the feel of an analogue stick though. A quick side note: an interesting thing I noticed with this pad is that I don’t play inverted, where as with an analogue stick I have played inverted since the PSone days.

I was a little late to the party, but have recently picked up Rocket League. Being able to quickly flick the camera round with your thumb then bring it to a screeching halt by replying your thumb to the pad is brilliant for such a fast paced game.

The pad is less than ideal for platformers due to the sub par D-pad. When clicking on the D-track-pad, it is very clunky. You can roll your finger up and down the grooves of the pad but this isn’t particularly accurate. It is a little better than the terrible Xbox 360 D-pad, but not by much. I personally prefer to play platforms with a D-pad (Nintendo being the obvious king of D-pads) but if you prefer, or don’t mind, using the analogue stick for such games, then you shouldn’t have any problems here.

Where the pad truly shines however, is for traditional cursor based games such as an RTS or point-and-click etc. Here the pad is extremely intuitive and surpasses a standard controller in every way, with the track pad very naturally moving the cursor around the screen. With a little practice though I am confident that this controller can be used for any type of game you want.

I have fallen in love with this controller. The speed and accuracy this gives you over a traditional gamepad is astounding and now whenever I use the 360 controller again (which I have recently been forced to do when playing The Witness with my girlfriend as she refuses to use the Steam controller – she tried it once for 2 minutes and made up her mind – everything feels very slow.

As well as using the controller for games another big selling point is that it can be used to control your PC, even when out of Steam. The right track pad controls the cursor, the triggers are your mouse buttons and the left track pad can be used to scroll up and down pages by spinning your finger around it.

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At the start, when asking the question “Is this the answer to your prayers?” I only said “maybe”. And the reason for that this controller really isn’t for everyone. It will click with some people more than others. As mentioned before, you do need to spend a lot of time with it to get the most out of it, so if you want something you just plug and play, then this isn’t for you. It is not a replacement for a keyboard and mouse, not by a long shot, so if you have the option to use those, I would still suggest, for the majority of players, to stick with those. However if anything I have talked about here makes you think “this could work for me” then I urge you to give it a try and hopefully, like me, you won’t look back.

This Community Content review was submitted by Code: Marla, a member of our community.

Community Content is your way of getting long-form writing and opinion out to the Midlife Gamer audience, an open platform to get something off your chest. For full guidelines on our editorial standards and how to create your own post, click here. The views expressed within are those of the author and not necessarily the opinions of the Midlife Gamer Staff

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