The Steam Controller Is Actually Decent Now

The Steam Controller Is Actually Decent Now

When Valve unveiled the first prong of their living room invasion, the Steam controller, it was unique, but also hella wonky. Since then, it's been through multiple revisions and overhauls. The result? Something not quite as good as a mouse-and-keyboard, but close.

Back when I first tried the Steam controller, it was all haptic feedback touchpads (read: they rumble slightly to tell you when you've moved or turned) and programmable buttons. Here's a video of me giving it a go waaaaay back at the start of 2014:

It was functional, but I didn't love it. As you can see, I clumsily stumbled through FPS Metro: Last Light like a toddler taking his first steps... in a warzone. It wasn't pretty.

Now let's compare that to this video of me trying the new (and apparently finalised) Steam controller, which takes a number of cues from more standard console controllers -- mainly, a control stick and face buttons -- while adding a much finer degree of precision to the touchpads:

I felt much more in control here, which is a very good thing to say about, you know, a controller. Moreover, I was playing a faster game, the new Unreal Tournament, and I still managed to get into a not-totally-suicidal groove pretty quickly. The control stick definitely helped, given that it's a mode of movement I've been prepared for by years of play with Xbox and PlayStation pads. I only used one of the touchpads, the right one, but it still allowed for a degree of speed and accuracy I just don't get out of traditional controllers.

I also felt much more able to grip the controller without fearing that I'd press down too hard on a touchpad. I was able to manhandle it a bit more, really feel the game -- something I couldn't do with the more delicate version of the Steam controller I tried last year.

I still had some trouble adjusting to the controller's mouse-like precision (not to mention a lack of auto-aim in-game), but I didn't feel overwhelmed or out of my depth. Rather, it was like I'd been struck by this lightning bolt of new power -- potential to play better than ever before -- and I was still coming to grips with it, shaking off the charred dust of my old clumsiness.

In short, the new Steam controller felt like a halfway point between a traditional controller and a mouse-and-keyboard setup, which is exactly what it needs to be. I still have some reservations (it feels a bit too light, non-touchpad feedback/rumble could be better, the overall shape and feel are still kinda awkard), but I'm glad Valve put the time in to make this thing so much better. I dig it. I'm not sure if the Steam controller will be for everyone, but for PC gamers following the migration path to the living room, it's at least promising.

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Comments

    I get that some people may see this filling a need, but I personally don't. I have a M&K for games that need it (Strategy games/ playing shooters online), a wired 360 pad for playing at my desk, and a DS4 for playing wireless at the TV. (Syncing between the PC and PS4 is pretty quick and easy)

      I also have an xbox 360 controller for my PC when needed, but this may be the replacement for that once I have a go and if I like it.

      Off topic: Damn UE4 is looking sexy. Even recorded off a screen.

      Last edited 12/03/15 12:56 pm

        Yeah, I tried the closed version you can download from the Epic forum. It's pretty slick (on that one map).

        And yes, I think I'd also have to try the retail steam controller before passing final judgement (obviously), I was just sharing my thoughts on it so far.

      I'm with you on that, I understand that Valve wants it to bridge the gap between controller and keyboard/mouse but I don't really believe there is such a big gap to begin with.

      To me, in order to make the steam controller better Valve have just gone and make another third-party standard controller with a slight gimmick. I don't really see it being better then the options already available and I don't think we'll be talking about it much in a couple of years.

        Well, for me, if I'm playing online it'll almost always end up being with M&K.

        Most other things, I just grab the most accessible thing on the desk, which is (for me) the wired 360 pad that's always connected and ready to go. You can't beat that convenience, and for that it doesn't have to be super precise. For precession there's the good old M&K (Or even the DS4 which I find is, to some extent, more accurate than the 360 pad and has a touch pad too. ).

        Edit: It's all about trade off's, and hence as you say:

        I don't really believe there is such a big gap to begin with.

        Last edited 12/03/15 1:04 pm

      I see it filling a need, just not a major one. For me, this looks perfect for playing PC games on the Couch/In Bed. And yeah, I have my Wireless 360 Controller for PC for the games that support it, but games like, say, Civ or Democracy? Or any game that only has half controller support (Especially the ones that just need the mouse so you can click the goddamn play button).

      This will make those games a shit tonne easier to play when I'm not at my desk

      The controller is obviously part of their living room/game console push, where mouse and keyboard are not that convenient. Game controllers have been quite successful in this environment, at the expense of certain game genres being almost unplayable (e.g. strategy games) and therefore mostly absent on the incumbent consoles

      If Valve thinks they can do better (more accurate aiming for shooters, more mouse like behaviour for strategy games), then I hope they succeed.

        Sure, I'm not saying they cannot try, or shouldn't. I even said that I see it filling a need from some, even if it's a small one. I see this as being an 'addition' to the controller space, and not a revolution or a 'one size fits all' solution. Further more, I feel that most games will still be better with a normal controller or M&K.

        As for strategy games (And the likes), chances are that this will not 'greatly' improve the experience of playing them on the telly because:

        A) Their UI's are simply not made for TV play.
        B) It's still a controller with less inputs/ precision than a M&K.
        C) There are alternatives which do the job competently enough already. The DS4 has a touch pad, as do some keyboards, which would be fine for playing strategy games.

        All I'm saying is that, as a guy who has a M&K, 360 pad and DS4 (most PC gamers have at least a M&K and one controller), this doesn't seem to do anything better to a 'great' extent, even for TV play.

        To include with Steamboxes... sure, but most people will probably still end up buying at least a M&K, if not another controller as well for games that the touchpads are not great for.

        Last edited 12/03/15 4:03 pm

          Controllers are absolutely not competent replacements for a M&K in some games. This steam controller is much closer, but as you say, probably not a replacement for M&K. DS4 and 360 pads (whilst great for games like DMC, the Arkham games, platformers etc) are horrible when it comes to shooters, RTS, MOBAs, most MMO's etc. The controller should ultimately match the game, rather than the game matching the shitty control method (a la auto-aim on console shooters).

          These are a step in the right direction, as their touch pads go much further towards simulating proper 1:1 movement that thumb sticks simply can't.

            Sure. I agree 100%.

            I do want to say though, although they are not as good as a M&K, I honestly don't mind sitting back and playing the SP portion of shooters with a controller, with or (with the DS4) without auto aim, if it's an option. Although this is subjective.

            Anyway, I feel that this controller, while a step in the right direction for rts games, is still going to be limited (in RTS, or other types of games) because it's going to try to be a jack of all trades, meaning inevitable trade-offs. That's the issue with any controller IMHO.

            Last edited 12/03/15 5:05 pm

            The controller should ultimately match the game, rather than the game matching the shitty control method (a la auto-aim on console shooters).

            How often has this ever been the case though? The mouse and keyboard were not designed to play games: games used them because they were the most input methods available on PCs. While you can get "gaming keyboards" and "gaming mice" today, they came afterwards.

            There was one game-specific input method on traditional PCs in the form of the analogue joystick, but it is rarely used today outside of flight sims.

            Today the Xbox and PlayStation lines have near identical controllers, which has resulted in near identical games. If Valve's controller can support enough of those games well enough (and perhaps better in some cases) while also supporting some new forms, then that is going to give them an advantage in the market place.

    I really want to have a go on one of these. I think it's a great idea which would markedly improve my accuracy when playing on the couch.

    I really dug metroid hunters on the ds when I used a thumb stylus. It played way faster than any console fps, and gave me a warm, fuzzy UT/Q3 vibe.

    I can't handle using DA controls for FPS, so this might get me from behind the desk and in front of the TV if it plays anything like the ds.

    I use an Xbone controller on my PC but I'd like to give the Steam one a try and see how I handle the touchpads.

    What new unreal tournament?

      You can down load a pre alpha build of the game on their website. Also looks to have alot of modding for it as well even in an alpha build.

    Unless they can fit a 2nd analogue stick on there somewhere I'm not interested.

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