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Hardware Review: Steam Controller

The Steam Controller has been out for quite some time now and it’s gained it’s fair share of supporters and critics alike. From those who are hardcore into their gamepads, to those who are just looking for something new, this controller is a bit different from other ones on the market – But how well does this translate into gaming? Well, I recently got my hands on one and have had a good amount of time playing a variety of games on it. Read on for our full review of Valve’s controller of choice for Steam.


Overview

Developer Valve
Platforms PC(Windows, OSX, Linux)
Worldwide Release
November 2015
Price £39.99 (On Steam)

Review

Features

The Steam Controller has a variety of gimmicks attached to it, making it ideal for someone who wants a good amount of control over a game with customisable inputs. The variety of functions included in the Steam Controller probably makes it one of the more versatile gamepads on the market. These functions include:

  • A d-pad
  • An analogue stick
  • Start and select buttons
  • Triggers and bumpers
  • Two handle triggers
  • Rumble/Vibration
  • A track pad (2 if you count the D-Pad, which is also one)
  • Four face buttons (A, B, X, Y)
  • And fully customisable sounds and profiles

That’s a lot of bells and whistles, which comes in handy in separating this gamepad from so many others. It’s an all-purpose gaming pad, which has taken Steams PC experience into account. This might be a controller a little closer to home for PC gamers, but this vast array of features comes at a cost. The cost we’re on about is the placement of the ABXY face buttons, which feel like they’re positioned quite differently from a normal gamepads position.

Sound

Okay, I wasn’t going to make this a whole section before, but the more I played with it, the more I realised that the Steam Controller begs for your attention. The D-Pad clicks and clacks, which oddly is a great thing for fighting games. Having been playing so much Tekken 7 recently, it was nicely fitting. It taught me when my inputs hit and when I just sorta was too soft. As well as this, when the controller boots up, you have it set to a boot-up and shut down noise – Cute, but hugely useless.

As an amusing aside, holy crap the vibrations are insanely loud! They’re really rather crazy and the vibrations feel strong. If you don’t mind a noisy controller, then this pad will be fine, but if silence is paramount to you, I will suggest you’ll dislike the Steam Controller. It’s loud, it knows it, but it then gets louder still! So, take this as a warning to all of you gaming in silence, you strong stoic types – This is like having a friend over constantly going “HEY! I DID A THING!” Pay attention to it, as it’s hard not to. For me personally, I saw it as an amusing addition to the already quirky pad.

On the plus side, you can turn off the vibrations.

Feeling / Grip

Let’s start with the only real negative: the ABXY face buttons are really far away from the right hand thumb. As someone with relatively small hands, it’s a little bit fiddly, but not unwieldy. I can (and do) play games fine on it, but it gets fiddly in fighting games. Fortunately, the face buttons are small, which makes up for the stretch. This means you can literally rest your thumb in the middle of them and control it all with the ball of your thumb. If you prefer claw grip, this controller can work nicely, as the strange face button placements are in an interesting alignment to the bumpers.

The controller feels of a high quality, allowing a tight grip. One thing I didn’t account for was the sturdiness of the D-Pad. This is good in some cases, but not all – For instance, if you rely heavily on D-Pad movement for your games, the hard pushes may take its toll on you. Having said that, the worst part about the D-Pad is the lack of diagonals. Up, down, left and right are nicely marked, but since the D-Pad is also a trackpad, it isn’t the greatest for diagonal placement. It could have done with clicks into individual zones on the D-Pad, however if you just use it for menu navigation or what not, it’s a perfectly serviceable pad.

Weirdly, since I started using the Steam Controller, I have had more frequent wins on The Binding of Isaac… but I can’t attribute if that’s down to the controller or if I just ‘got gud’. The controller itself has enough of interest, to where your fingers are always sure to be on a gizmo of some kind. Having the editable interface for the Steam Controller is also a blessing in disguise, although not all games allow you to bind the handle triggers. It’s a strange place for triggers, but it’s so damn comfortable that it’s worth playing with them where possible.


Overall

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Before I go on to give my overall opinion, it’s fair to say that with time, getting used to the controller is pretty easy and the same can be said of all hardware. The hardware I received felt of a high quality, with a lot of customisable options. It’s genuinely a fun, quirky controller.

It’s a big win from me – A highly customisable controller with lots of bells and whistles to keep you interested, entertained and yet also occasionally frustrated. One time, I was playing a game, when I went to the Big Picture mode overlay and it decided to call a stranger on my list. The person I barely knew was then removed from my list, so if you’re out there, reading this and upset that I said I barely knew you, I apologise – I didn’t mean to call! But now it’s over to you! What do you think of all of the features of the Steam Controller? Would you get one? Let us know in the comments below or over on Facebook, Twitter or Reddit.

8 responses

  1. First up, I’ve totally done random calls to people in the past when in big picture mode… Most people on my list are randoms that I’ve traded with, so when they start speaking through the TV and I’m desperately trying to hang up, it is super awkward…

    I quite like the controller, but have drifted back to the standard Xbox style in recent months. The trackpads do work well for some games, but I kinda always felt like I was compromising when playing platformers.

    Liked by 1 person

    July 15, 2017 at 2:07 pm

    • You know, that’s exactly right. The fact I was able to accidentally do a random call to someone from big picture is a bit of an awkward experience.

      We tested it out with my tablet last night at our meetup and it worked wonders! Truly was an excellent controller for the job. People seemed to have a good time with it, too – So I think the general consensus is that it is a good controller… However in some cases, familiarity is best :)

      Liked by 1 person

      July 15, 2017 at 2:21 pm

      • Cool! Yeah, I can imagine it being really versatile for gaming ‘on the go’.
        … Actually I one of the first games I used it on was the slightly weird ‘Dangerous Golf’ and it worked really well for that thinking about it. You can rotate the camera by swiping on the pad, and the feedback and vibration really made me feel like I was using one of the trackball arcade cabinets.

        Like

        July 15, 2017 at 2:26 pm

      • … also the call thing wouldn’t have been so bad if I could have just apologised, but without my headset (as I was couch gaming) stranger A was just left saying ‘hello?’ into the lounge…

        Like

        July 15, 2017 at 2:27 pm

      • Yeah – It’s working well for me on Tekken, as it’s forced me to focus on what I’m pressing… However I’d definitely not recommend people play Tekken with it haha!

        Instead, it’s pretty damn good at Dungeon Defenders, which I found… odd! I didn’t think it’d be good at that. The trackpad is excellent though.

        And haha – Yeah, that’s what happened with me! My mic wasn’t plugged in and I sorta just went “… *hang up*”

        Liked by 1 person

        July 15, 2017 at 2:28 pm

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  3. Imtiaz Ahmed

    i’ve been using the steam controller for 1 year or 2, i liked it at first, but drifted to more traditional controllers now. The placement of the buttons and analog stick i ended up getting used to, but the dpad and the right touch pad as a replacement to analog stick is hard to swallow now. I’ve tried my hardest to make the controller play nice with many of my games, and it just doesn’t happened.

    Take shadow of mordor for example. Using the right touch pad, you can use it to aim or rotate the camera using mouse input. But in maps, you can use the right pad as analaog stick because it now is moving the mouse, so you can’t zoom in and out. Unless you use mouse like joystick, which then greatly reduces accuracy when aiming. You could set it to just regular joystick, but using analog aiming without physical feed back is very hard.

    if it came with a 2nd analog stick along with the touch pad, or games were more compatible with it, i’d keep using it, but i know game devs won’t cater to it. Still a cool piece of technology though.

    Liked by 1 person

    July 20, 2017 at 5:34 pm

    • So, here’s what I’ve taken from it: I am pretty bad with right analogue stick camera movements. I find it janky and jarring at best… So that’s, to me, the best alternative. However, my background has always been with a keyboard and mouse, which might explain this!

      The Steam Controller requires a lot of attention. You need to seriously figure it out with each and every game. You need to configure it… But when it IS configured, it’s pretty damn solid. The placement you do get used to, over time, though I wonder if this’ll affect me going back to more traditional controllers?

      I’m 100% with you on more games needing to be compatible with it for it to be truly worth while; though it takes the Xbox controller as a default setting, which means it should (repeat -should-) work with any controller ready game.

      We’ll see how my year goes with this controller! At the moment, I am loving it. It’s actually become my number one controller – Which is strange, as I thought I was going to want a fight stick for Tekken :)

      Liked by 1 person

      July 20, 2017 at 7:26 pm

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