I'm a big fan of the Xbox 360 controller. Just recently, when Jason and I did our whole spiel about controllers, I noted my preference for Microsoft's controller, and even opined that the company had perfected the ergonomics of their not-so-great original Xbox controller.
As it turns out, those ergonomics could still stand to be improved significantly. PowerA's FUS1ON controller, which I had a chance to test-drive earlier this week, improves on many aspects of the 360 controller design, starting with its massive, luxurious thumbsticks.
No, really. These thumbsticks are serious business.
You may think that it's weird to get so particular about thumbsticks; well, unless you play a lot of video games, then you know how important they can be. I've always preferred the 360's offset indented thumbsticks to the PS3's parallel, non-indented ones. The FUS1ON controller (Yes, that is its dumb name, and I'm going to go ahead and stick with it) takes that design concept to its logical conclusion.
The folks at PowerA consulted with a group of four hardcore pro gamers, who play mostly Halo. Power A has made controllers for a number of different platforms, but they wanted to try their hand at making a tournament-ready, pro-level controller for both 360 and PS3. So, they went to the pro gamers.
After a lot of testing and prototyping, they've arrived on the FUS1ON, and I gotta say -- it is one tight, fine-feeling controller. I gave it a test run on Modern Warfare 3, and was struck by how different it felt.
The whole controller is smaller and tighter, with grips that can be switched between plastic and rubberised material that offers a bit more grip. The triggers are snappy and give good response, as do the shoulder buttons -- both make their 360 counterparts feel mushy by comparison.
The FUS1ON is a wired controller, since all tournament controllers must be, but even the cable is nice -- it's a rope-like cable that's 3m long, allowing for zero lag. You can also make the surface beneath the buttons and sticks light up in any of a number of different colours, which helps keep track of which controller is yours.
But the thumbsticks are where the FUS1ON makes its biggest changes. As you can see from the images in the gallery, they're massive, and because of their large size, the distance from the centre to the edge is actually lessened. This should theoretically reduce thumb fatigue from long sessions, but the larger size makes it easier to control fine movements.
The D-Pad was the only question mark for me; It's a rigid, four-way controller that is a huge improvement on the 360's mushpad, but I didn't have a chance to try any fighting games or platformers with it, so I can't say for certain how comfortable it is. But for FPSes in particular, it will make selecting abilities and inventory items much more precise.
There is also a PS3 version of the controller, which looks basically the same as the 360 version but with PS3 button markings. While Power A didn't have a specific release, it should be sometime this year, and they said that the controller will be priced under $US100.
The FUS1ON is very much a controller for the hardcore, but considering how much time I spend playing video games, I qualify as an interested party. During my brief time with the controller, I was impressed with what I saw and, more importantly, felt.