I consider myself a primarily PC gamer. If a game is available on PC and consoles, I’ll almost certainly get the PC version instead of the console version. I use consoles as sort of a last resort.
Certain games, such as platformers, I would only play on consoles, because until recently, I didn’t have a PC controller. That changed when I got the Steam Controller. I’ve used it for almost a year now for various games, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on it.
The Steam Controller is quite different than many other conventional controllers, like the Xbox One controller, PS4 controller, and Pro Controllers for Wii U and Switch. The biggest difference is the use of track pads for the “right stick” and the left D-pad. I’ll review each of the components of the controller below in turn.
The standard right side buttons are generally usable. They are a bit smaller and closer together than other peer controllers. I can see that as good and bad. On the one hand, it makes it easier to press multiple buttons simultaneously. For many platformer games and other games where a controller is a benefit, this is a good thing. Sometimes it means an inadvertent button press, but I don’t notice that often, especially after I got used to the controller.
The left joystick feels quite nice. It’s convex, with a rubber texture, and is clickable as a button itself.
One downside of the Joystick is that at times, your left thumb contacts your right thumb, if you’re holding the joystick to the right and your right thumb is on/pressing the X-button. Sometimes that causes conflict, which is annoying and distracting.
Overall, though, the joystick feels nice to use. It offers a fair amount of resistance and snaps back to true quite well.
The shoulder and trigger buttons on the Steam Controller work as well as any other peer’s. The shoulder buttons specifically offer a satisfying “click” when pressing them, which feels slightly better than, say, the Switch Pro Controller or the PS4 controller. The triggers offer slightly more resistance than the triggers on the XBox One controller, and feel more like the Switch Pro Controller.
I think these are all personal preferences, but I honestly prefer the shoulder and trigger buttons on the Steam controller over all of its peers.
Modern controllers all have a fairly similar shape: wings on the sides for your palms, with a trapezoidal shaped body for the stick(s) and buttons on the face of the controller.
One major difference between the Steam Controller and that of its peers is that the Steam Controller is somewhat concave, whereas the XBox One and Switch Pro controllers are more concave, with the PS4 controller relatively flat. I don’t know that this is necessarily good or bad, but it feels distinctly different, and I actually like it.
The “wings” on the sides of the Steam Controller are also substantially larger than other peer controllers. This makes the controller feel larger than its peers. The controllers in order of wing size, decreasing, are Steam, Xbox One, PS4, and Switch Pro.
“Right Stick” Trackpad
Probably the most distinctive feature about the Steam Controller is the lack of a right stick, replacing this instead with a trackpad. To say the least, this takes some getting used to. Personally, it’s not my thing, but neither is the right stick for camera controls. Any game requiring camera controls/precision aiming, I just simply prefer a mouse. The Steam controller is better, albeit slightly, than using a right stick. But when it comes to precision aiming, the Steam Controller still can’t hold a candle to a mouse, for me at least. Maybe if I were to invest many more hours into it, it would get better and feel more natural, but I just don’t see that happening. I think at best it would be as good as a mouse, but I couldn’t see it being better than a mouse at any point.
If I’m going to play an FPS or strategy game, I’m sticking with a keyboard and mouse.
This is probably the worst feature of the Steam Controller, for gaming at least. I tried playing Super Meat Boy with the Steam Controller to put this trackpad through its paces. I was able to, eventually, beat the first two worlds, but I wouldn’t want to play any of the dark worlds with this.
I could play with the joystick, but the length of travel is too far to play with the precision needed for Super Meat Boy. That’s also the problem with the D-pad Trackpad: it’s simply much too large. It’s far too easy to move too far away from the center. There’s not nearly enough tactile feedback to know how far from center your thumb is, nor which direction you’re currently pressing.
The controller also occasionally gives confusing tactile feedback when pressing the left trackpad. In general, pushing a “button”/direction gives a single quick vibration, and then goes away. A few times while playing with controller, it gave a rapid, long series of vibrations, and stopped moving in the direction I thought I was pressing. I still haven’t figured out why this happened, what I was doing wrong, or what it meant.
If a game requires high precision directional movements (like Super Meat Boy), I simply cannot see myself using the Steam Controller to play it.
The back of the Steam Controller features two paddle “buttons.” I haven’t used these for much of anything, and they serve as more of an annoyance than a feature to me. I’d prefer they just weren’t there. I only tend to use them when I grip the controller too hard in an intense situation, which is undesirable. I’d prefer they just weren’t there. If I were a car racer or something, I could see them being a benefit, but I’m not. I’d just as soon get rid of them.
In a word, incredible. I haven’t had to change the batteries yet.
Very nice. I love that pressing the center Steam button brings up Big Picture mode, or holding it down turns the controller off. Big Picture mode is a boon to playing on a TV, and I use it somewhat regularly when playing with the controller.
I also like that the Steam controller can be mapped to keyboard buttons for games that don’t have native controller support. I played Costume Quest in this way, and it was far preferable to playing with the keyboard and mouse, as was intended.
I also like how this mapping seamlessly integrates community-voted configuration into the game. This can be personally customized, but often, the community preferred configuration feels entirely natural. I like that I could, if I wanted, customize the button mapping, although to date I haven’t had to.
The feel of the Steam controller makes it preferable for situations where it can be used. Those situations are basically casual games like Lego games, Costume Quest, or the like. I far prefer the Steam controller for these sorts of games.
For games where high precision is necessary, I much prefer something like a Logitech controller (which is laid out similar to the PS4). I have used one of Logitech’s controllers to play almost all of Super Meat Boy, and prefer it for those sorts of high-precision movement games.
For FPSs and strategy games, I’ll stick with a keyboard and mouse.