I'm Pretty Into These Buttons Under My Game Controller

It looks sort of like a Minecraft spider.

Recently I've been using a new controller to play video games. It has buttons on the top, and triggers on the back. It also has buttons underneath.

"Buttons underneath?" you might be saying. "That is madness! What will they think of next??" Or maybe you're thinking to yourself, "Sheesh, this guy is only now learning about underbuttons? What kind of 'journalism' is this?" To people in that second group: I'm going to assume that a fair number of our readers have heard of underbuttons but not actually really used them.

In the past I've ranked controller buttons, debated the best game controllers, and dedicated substantial podcast discussion time to the subject. I'd been intrigued by Microsoft's new-ish Xbox One Elite controller ever since reading Mike Fahey's review and hearing to some of my other colleagues sing its praises. Last weekend, in a fit of post-Black-Friday extravagance, I went ahead and bought one. I've been using it for PC games all week.

Quick takes up front: Yes, it is a good controller. No, I don't think it should cost $US150 ($203). Yes, I'm concerned about the number of people leaving negative user reviews on Amazon and elsewhere that report hardware failure after a few months of use. No, I don't play all PC games with a controller; I really like mouse and keyboard, too. And yes, despite generally preferring the DualShock 4 to the Xbox One controller, so far I prefer the Xbox Elite controller to the lightly modified DS4 I had previously been using.

Most reviews I read of the Elite controller focused on its build quality, customisable thumbsticks and triggers, and pleasing heft. But what's completely freaking me out about this controller are its four customisable "paddles," two under each grip. You can assign these to any button on the controller. In less than a week, they have noticeably changed the way I play video games.

Above: A pic from Mr. Fahey's review.

After plugging the controller in, you can open an app on PC (or on your Xbox One) and rearrange the buttons on your controller however you want. That's how you assign other buttons to the left and right paddles. I've made custom layouts for a few games, but by default I assign the top paddles to their respective bumpers, and the bottom paddles to their respective thumbsticks. (For some reason, Microsoft does not allow you to bind non-controller keyboard shortcuts to buttons on the Elite controller. I paid $US150 ($203) for this effing thing and would like the option to use it to quicksave or take a screenshot. Come on, Microsoft. Anyway.)

I've been impressed with how different it feels to play a game using underbuttons. In Dishonored 2, I've got the top-left paddle assigned to the "lean" command, which makes it much easier to organically lean around objects in the environment than it had been using the Y button. In Watch Dogs 2 I can hack people with a paddle instead of a shoulder button, which makes hacking feel much more seamless. In first-person shooters I can remap jumping to a paddle, converting the "bumper jumper" controller layout into a superior "paddle jumper" setup. In most games I now run or perform a melee attack by flicking a paddle, not clicking a thumbstick. Turns out clicking a thumbstick is a pretty garbage input method.

Dark Souls 3 has been notably transformed, as I have immediate access to the shoulder buttons for attack and defence. That game is inextricably tied to its specific controller layout, and playing with paddles smoothes things out significantly. Mirror's Edge Catalyst also plays very differently, given how much that game uses the shoulder buttons. In No Man's Sky, my melee attack is tied to the upper-right paddle, which makes it even easier to pull off the melee + jump-skate move. In The Witcher 3, I can switch between signs much faster. I've remapped the paddles to fire off abilities in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, which works far better than the D-pad. The list goes on -- every game I've played has opened itself up to interesting custom layouts.

There are downsides, of course, mainly in that the paddles are pretty sensitive. I accidentally press buttons regularly, and it's difficult to put the controller down without accidentally pushing them. It doesn't work all that well with how I operate, given how often I rest my controller on my knee or leg instead of a desk or table.

Above: The underside of a Scuf PS4 controller.

The Xbox Elite controller isn't the only controller with underbuttons, it's just the first one I've owned. Valve's Steam Controller has a pair of programmable grip buttons on its underside. Companies like Razer also make custom controllers with underbuttons. Lots of pro streamers use Scuf controllers, which do, too. Each company's got their own twist on how to best implement the concept, and it will be interesting to see if the best ideas will win out over time. I'm also curious if underbuttons could eventually become a standard like the D-pad or shoulder buttons. Given how useful they have already proven to be, I could see it happening.

Now that I've had this underbutton awakening, I'm curious how many of you out there play with these sorts of controllers. If you do, what do you use underbuttons for? Are any custom controllers in particular worth checking out? Is this the first step toward finally getting a squeezable controller? Discuss.

AU Editor's Note: Speaking of the Scuf controllers, I've been playing with a couple for a little while and you'll be able to read what I thought of them sometime next week.


Comments

    I love the build of the Elite, it feels amazing and the paddles are great... BUT on the elite they are flawed... only being able to map them to an existing button frustrates me to no end.

    My steam controller on the other hand, build quality isnt great but its fully customizable including the under paddle... now if only someone would build a great quality steam controller it'd be literally perfect.

    The comments on Dark Souls are spot on, i use the paddles mapped to the L3-R3 for camera controls as i hate the lose of control when moving and then having to use lock-on by pressing in on my control stick.

    With steam controller i have this mapped, and also a Mumble Chat button, which i cannot do on the Elite as all other buttons are mapped to functions.

      " only being able to map them to an existing button frustrates me to no end"

      This. So much this. I was really looking forward to 4 extra buttons when playing Elite Dangerous on my tele, but no. Damn you microsoft! That said, it's by far the best controller I've ever used.

        At least with Elite you can use chorded binds, so it still makes it a little easier to press your "shift" keys while keeping your other digits on stuff you want to use. Just in case you didn't know!

    dont get me started on the stupid elite controller. i got one as a gift at the start of the year and took it with me on a work trip... the zip didnt shut properly, and as a result i lost two of the paddles, and two of the analogues.

    i got xbox support on chat so i can arrange to BUY replacements, who advised me that i am unable to BUY them without the receipt for the controller, which my friend has no idea what hes done with.

    i even sent the support guy thorough photos of my controller, the label with the serials but it still wasnt enough... its not like as if i was asking for charity FFS, i was actually willing to pay for them. so now im stuck with a controller with 2 less sticks (which i thankfully dont use, but would be great to keep the kit complete) and two less bumpers, (which i actually would use).

    Absolutely fucking useless... and yes i know i can get chinese knock off replacements but its not the same...

      You don't need a receipt to register the controller. You just need a registered controller in support to buy spare parts. I've never shown Microsoft my receipt, and I ordered a full set of spare paddles, I prefer four long for racing games, and four short for shooters.

      The only problem with this is if the controller was originally part of a console bundle. You can't unbundle the warranty, it'll always be an accessory under the elite console.

        controller serial number doesnt come up when trying to register, and support guy said i have to use the one on the receipt or the one on the box (which i didnt keep)

    I love my Elite controller, but ended up taking the underside paddle/bumpers off. I found I couldn't use the controller reliably without periodically pressing them accidentally just in general use.

    In first-person shooters I can remap jumping to a paddle, converting the "bumper jumper" controller layout into a superior "paddle jumper" setup. In most games I now run or perform a melee attack by flicking a paddle, not clicking a thumbstick. Turns out clicking a thumbstick is a pretty garbage input method.

    I totally disagree. In FPS I remap jump to L3. It takes a small adjustment period, but in no time at all you can aim while jumping (something you can't do if you're moving your thumb to the X button) and you don't have to take your fingers off the triggers (which you do when you're using a shoulder button)

    I use two paddles for the thumbstick clicks, but if I have all four on I find it a bit unwieldy (and I'm usually fine with pressing the shoulder buttons).

    I really love being able to replace clicking the thumbsticks, though. Improved Rise of the Tomb Raider a bunch. Kinda tempted to go back and play Dragon Age Inquisition again now...

    Microsoft are still struggling with the mechanical workings of the D-Pad.
    After the disappointments of the xbox 360, one and one s controllers, the elite is more of the same: double clicking.

    I used to gave a Scuf PS4, but it broke after less than a year.

    Now I have a Battle Beaver Custom, and I couldn't recommend it more.

    - Much better quality. Unlike Scuf, they use a genuine PS4 controller as the base.
    - Buttons on the back instead of paddles, which I prefer.
    - More choice and options. I got mine with four back buttons, convex (domed) sticks and short pull triggers.
    - Despite all of the above, they're cheaper than a Scuf.

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