Steam Controller Review

So for Christmas I got my brother a Steam Controller.  Of course, that also means got a Steam Controller for Christmas.  Sort of.  Anyway, we’ve both been really enjoying it, and it’s definitely far and away the best controller I’ve ever used.  That being said, I want to talk about why it’s so good.

steam controller transparency

The Hardware
First let’s talk about the controller itself.  The controller has a big Steam logo button in the center to bring up the Steam overlay, which is especially nice in Big Picture Mode (Big Picture is the view designed for TVs – everything is laid out so that you can navigate without a mouse.  The Steam Controller really is made for use in Big Picture.)  There are two more buttons in the middle as well as a standard A/B/X/Y.  Then there are the triggers.  There are two main triggers, and they’re beautiful.  They’re incredibly smooth and responsive, and also two-step.  There are two bumpers above the triggers (also standard) and then two “grips,” which you press with the three fingers you’ve got curled around the controller.  It’s different but actually quite nice.  The differences get bigger from there.  The Steam Controller only has one stick, instead of a conventional two.  Those two circular areas are touchpads.  Simply put, these are fantastic.  Even before you plug the controller into your computer, they’re almost awe-inspiring.  Moving your finger across the pads activates haptic feedback.  It feels like the pad is a moving trackball, and it sort of “clicks” as it rolls.  Flick your finger across it quickly, and it has inertial and keeps giving you feedback as the “ball” keeps spinning and then slows to a stop.  It’s pretty cool, and it only gets better in-game.  One of the things I hate most about playing a first person shooter with a controller is how the camera works.  You have to push the stick to move the camera, and then pull the stick back to stop moving it.  Compare this to a mouse, where you just push the mouse where you want to look and then just stop.  Stop moving the mouse and the camera stops moving.  It’s more intuitive really.  The touchpads recreate this experience beautifully.  Moving your character with the stick and moving the camera with the touchpad is a great experience.  And that’s not even the coolest part about camera control.  The Steam Controller also has a gyroscope, which means you can also aim simply by pointing the controller.  This sounds confusing, but trust me, it becomes natural quickly.  You use the touchpad to look around and the gyro to fine tune your aim.  Still not sold?  You can set it so the gyroscope is only activated when you’ve got your finger on the right pad (or the left pad, or the trigger, you decide), so you’ve can only activate the gyro when you’re all zoomed in and ready to snipe someone.


The Software
Talking about customization brings me to the software for the Steam Controller.  Steam wanted to make sure that you could use this controller for any game, which means the configuration is stunning.  Many games have controller support built in, meaning you can assign buttons to in-game actions, like “Attack” or “Jump.”  If your game doesn’t have support, you can emulate any button on the keyboard, mouse, or controller, like “Left Mouse” or “Space.”  Or you can configure a combination of controller and keyboard commands, to make sure you cover everything.  It takes a little bit of effort to set up, but then it’s amazing.  If you don’t feel like configuring it all yourself, you can browse configs that other Steam users have uploaded, and then customize from there.  It’s pretty awesome.  In addition to being able to customize each button, the triggers, touchpads, stick, and gyro are all unbelievably customizable.  Things like sensitivity and haptic feedback can be adjusted, and that’s only the beginning.  You can set the stick to automatically hold down the sprint button when you press it all the way forward.  Or you can set the touchpad to act as a stick when you’re in the game, but as a mouse when you press the other touchpad, for navigating menus.  You can set the trigger to activate walking (as opposed to running) when you pull it down halfway and crouching when you pull it all the way.  The possibilities are endless.

So long story short, the Steam Controller is an incredible piece of hardware, and the software behind it is just as good.  The good folks at Steam have clearly put an astonishing amount of thought into everything about this controller, from the hardware to the software, and it shows.  I’m thoroughly impressed, and I would recommend this controller to anyone.  ••


Gaming: Console vs. PC

I think it’s an undeniable fact that teenage boys like video games.  As most of you probably know, the dominant platform on which to play video games is the console – a dedicated set top box designed for playing games.  The three main consoles right now are the Nintendo Wii U, the Sony PlayStation 4, and the Microsoft Xbox One (although the previous three generations – the Wii, PS3, and Xbox 360 – are all still widely used).  I however, am a PC gamer.  I have a desktop PC that I build myself, which I use to play games (these days, most of my games are from the Steam Store).  I have a group of friends who all use Steam, but I also have a lot of friends that are console gamers.  Most people are very passionate about their platform, and each side has pros and cons.  I’ve picked a few major battlegrounds, in each of which I’ll pit the consoles vs. the PC.

1.  Game Selection
Right off the bat, I’m going to cede this point to the consoles.  PC gamers are in the minority right now, so game studios cater to the majority.  Most games available for consoles are available for the PC, but some of them are ported (brought over to a new platform) horribly.  Some big title games for the PC have frames per second limits, and many lack (or limit greatly) controller support (something I’ll talk more about later).  Despite these setbacks, there are still good games for the PC, so it’s definitely a viable platform.

2.  Controllers
Many console gamers I know say they don’t like playing games with a keyboard and mouse.  I’m divided on this subject.  Some games, like racing games, are awful with a keyboard.  For other games, like first person games, I like to use a mouse; I think it gives more control than a thumb joystick.  However, many people are used to a controller for first person games, so they like using that.  Consoles are designed to be used with controllers, so obviously they have the best controller support.  However, PCs can use console controllers as well, although sometimes the support isn’t as good.  There are drivers available online for the PS3 controller, the Xbox 360 controller (in this case, they are actually official drivers from Microsoft), and even for the Wii Remote.  This makes the controller category look like a win for the PC, since it supports both the keyboard and controllers.  Unfortunately, like I said before, sometimes controller support for PC games is a little spotty.  That being said, this category is a tie; what’s best for you depends on your play style.

3.  Online Community
The online community is a huge part of choosing a console these days.  Microsoft won the last round with the Xbox 360, and it became the dominant platform.  As more people bought Xboxes, more people wanted to play with their friends, so they also bought Xboxes, and the cycle continued.  The Xbox and the PlayStation both have thriving online communities, but so does Steam.  The best way to explain Steam is that it’s like an iTunes Store for games.  But Steam also includes a social aspect that allows you to make friends and play against them online.  A good number of my friends are on Steam, so that community works for me.  However, I think that the consoles win this category by a small margin.

4.  Equipment
Console equipment is pretty simple: you buy the console, some controllers, and you’re more or less ready to play.  This simplicity is very appealing, and it’s a big reason why consoles are so popular.  PC gaming is trickier.  Almost everyone owns a PC, but most laptops are not cut out for gaming.  The easiest way to use a PC to game is to build one; you can build a good gaming desktop for $400-$500.  What’s also nice about desktops is that they can be upgraded.  Got a new game that your current video card can’t handle?  Just buy a new one, no need for a whole new PC.  A shocking stat that I heard is that right before the PS4 and Xbox One came out, all those PS3s and Xbox 360s had hardware that was seven years old!  Now you may not have bought your Xbox seven years ago, but the parts inside were still released way back then.  PC gamers can keep their rigs more up to date with incremental upgrades, instead of spending a big chunk of change every 5-7 years.  So, in conclusion, I’d say this category is also on the fence.  If you’re willing to put forth the effort, a PC can serve you better.  However, consoles are a much easier way to start playing faster, and with less glitches, which is certainly a feature worth considering.

I guess in the end the choice comes down to personal preference.  As a PC gamer, I’m sure this post is biased towards that end of the spectrum.  However, I’m only one person, so I’d like to know what you, as the reader, think about the topic.  Feel free to post a comment and participate in the polls below.  Happy gaming!  ••