Review: Steam Controller

Producer: Valve
Gadget: Steam Controller
Compatible: Steam OS
Price: $49
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Review

For those of us who prefer the monstrous selection of PC gaming and have the cash to buy a rig that can support it there is the Steam OS, which means that most likely you had to buy a used wired Xbox 360 controller from Gamestop or play PC controller roulette to get the console experience. Now Valve has released a controller that can work with virtually any game. You heard that right! Now you can play Command and Conquer Tiberium Wars from the comfort of your couch. Is the Steam controller worth your money or should you stick with the Xbox 360 wired controller?

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Look and Feel

The black controller has a beefy and wide body. Two tactile thumb plates make up a majority of the front face. Below it is a simple thumb stick and 4 face buttons. On top of the controller are the 4 shoulder buttons and behind it is two triggers. The controller is made for big hands and strong thumbs. The material that makes up the controller is a hollow plastic. It feels cheap. The need for 2 AAA batteries to get it to play wireless adds to the cheap factor. The shoulder buttons make a clink sound when you press them. The thumb pads vibrate when you rub your thumb against them. They are actually decent for using them as a mouse.

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Does it Work?

In order for the gamer to feel like they made a good purchase, this controller needs to be functional for every game on the Steam library. Here are the games I tried. All games require you to use Steam’s Big Picture mode, which is like a Netflix interface for televisions, to take full advantage of all the controller’s features. Once inside the Big Picture mode you can toggle the settings of the controller.
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter
This was the first game I tried. The game was only intended for mouse and keyboard because of the number of commands required to play properly. I was able to go into the controller settings and manually assign each button. The d-pad circle would issue commands to the soldiers, the face buttons would duck, run, and reload, and the shoulder buttons would aim, shoot, and turn. The look around pad was very tight and responsive, but it will definitely take you time to get used to rolling your thumb. I had trouble finding a button for all the commands required in Ghost Recon, but I was able to play the game from a comfort of a controller.
Sniper Elite 2; Batman: Arkham City; Just Cause 2
These games were made for a Xbox 360 controller so I expected no problems gearing up. For popular games, the community already has some controller layouts for you to try. The strange part is that I did not like the community settings. I found that when the right pad tried to act like a camera stick it would be very slow. I actually had to toggle the right stick to think it was a mouse and toggle the rest of the controller to think it was a controller. Virtually, every part of this controller can be customized. Sensitivity can be changed, buttons can be switched, sticks can emulate a mouse and vibrations can change. This takes A LOT of trial and error. Once you find your sweet spot you can play a very decent game.
King of Fighters XIII
The D-pad circle is useless for 2D and 3D brawlers. You will have to use the thumbstick to get the response, and the face buttons are too small.
Half Life 2
I had the best time with Half Life 2 because this is the game that had most of the work done on it. The community recommendations were the best and I barely noticed I had a right stick.
Hero Siege
Games that require you to use the right stick to shoot and fire will cause difficulty. You have to switch the right pad to think like a thumb stick. Even then the control feels weird having to roll your thumb to shoot.
Fist Puncher
Works like a controller should. The face buttons might be too small for comfortable use.

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Anything Else?

I have had the controller since February and the batteries have not run out yet, which is promising. In order to play the game wirelessly you need to plug the tiny USB dongle into your computer. It is super easy to lose and it would have been nice if the controller had a slot to store it. You can also use the controller without batteries and plugged in with a cable. The cable that it comes with is really short so you might need to buy an extension.
The center of the controller has the Steam home button. Apparently, holding the button down is supposed to start Steam and Big Picture mode. I haven’t had much success with it and I can’t tell if it’s my slow laptop or the button just doesn’t work.
You can also use the thumbsticks as a virtual keyboard, but that is very cumbersome.

Conclusion

This controller is not for casual gamers. Those looking for a plug-and play-type controller should look elsewhere. This controller is more like the Linux of gamepads. You need to love tinkering and changing options. Those who tinker will eventually find something that works, but it might take a while. On the other hand, the controller acts like a very responsive mouse when not in Big Picture mode. Steam’s endgame for this gamepad is that you use it alongside a Steam Console, and they are not selling that well. It might be wise to skip this and keep your 6 year old Xbox 360 controller.

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The Bottom Line

 

 

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Michael P M

I am a minister for Campus Ambassadors, a gymnastics customer service rep, a social media enthusiast and a writer. I try to collect obscure video games, I love comics and somewhere on Amazon I have a self published book. I am married to a beautiful and grounded woman. But most importantly, I have been seized by a great affection in the Lord.

2 Comments

  1. Bluefan on August 24, 2016 at 4:06 pm

    First off: yes I’m a linux user, bring out the stereotypes. I love this controller, it’s the best controller I’ve ever used. I’m a PC gamer, I have very limited experience with consoles but I’ve tried all nintendo, playstation and xbox controllers. The Steam controller wins hands down. The touchpads feel like a trackball and the absolute motion like a mouse instead of the normal relative motion like a joystick is what I’ve always wanted. It’s frustrating for me to play with controllers but the touchpads of the Steam controller are so much better. That alone was worth the money.

    The build quality is lower than I expected for the price, but besides the awesome trackpads the controller is well designed. The triggers are both linear as wel as having a click at the end. The “squeeze” button is an extra button within handreach while having thumbs on both trackpads, very nice!. Connectivity wise it’s both wired and wireless, I can’t see a problem there. Configuring the controller is easy and doesn’t dump you somewhere with a suboptimal configuration, everything it possible. It’s a controller designed for PC users, not the one-size-fits-all console user. It does everything, does it better and then some more.

    In short: I love this thing, I can totally recommend it.

    • Sean Gan on August 29, 2016 at 10:35 am

      I totally agree, and it takes AA batteries that last so long, great bit of kit for those that want to make their own config and getting control that beats any other gamepad around hands down

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