Images: Kotaku/Alex Walker
Sometimes it doesn't matter how many bells and whistles a controller has. If it doesn't feel good in your hands, the rest doesn't matter.
Despite being the more popular console this generation, Xbox fans have always been able at least one thing over their PS4 brethren: the superiority of the Elite controller. And since Sony has been insistent that they won't be making a supreme DualShock 4 controller of their own, complete with back paddles and button remapping, the market has been wide open for third-parties to offer their alternatives.
I reviewed SCUF's Infinity controllers late last year, and right before the New Year hit a new alternative hit our shores: the Nacon Revolution Pro controller, an Xbox-style pad for the PS4.
What Is It?
Advertised as "the esports designed pro controller", the Nacon Pro Controller pitches itself as a customisable, more functional controller for the PS4 with echoes of the Microsoft's Elite pad. A wired-only controller, the Nacon comes with an 8-way D-pad, dual analog sticks, 4 buttons embedded into the back of the controller, a lightbar located just above a standard 3.5mm jack.
There's also separate vibration motors in the left and right handles, as well as compartments for adjustable weights. There's also third-party software for customising the deadzones of the triggers, macros, remapping for all of the buttons, bumpers, triggers and the four shortcuts on the back. Users can also customise the response curve for the right analog stick, as well as their individual deadzones. You can save settings to four separate profiles, with four tiny LEDs under the share and option buttons indicating which is currently activated.
What's It Good At?
Given that the PS4 doesn't have an Elite-level offering, Nacon deserves some credit for all the features they've crammed into their Revolution Pro Controller. It's about $20 cheaper than the Elite, but has much of the same functionality. And while Nacon won't win awards for the design of their third-party app, it's a fairly low-overhead program that lets you access everything with a fair few clicks.
It's worth shouting out some of the accessories too. The weight of a controller can make a huge difference for some gamers, and being able to customise it is a nice touch that more expensive controllers ignore.
One of the advertised features is the 46o amplitude on the analog sticks for "advanced accuracy". That jargon's fairly indecipherable to me, but from a user standpoint the sticks are light and super responsive in a way the regular DualShock 4's aren't. They're a fraction more resistant than the Xbox One/Elite controllers analogue sticks, but don't take as much force to shift as the DS4's.
For some gamers, that might not be a positive. Some prefer slightly stiffer movement, but if you do it's not difficult to play around with the right stick's deadzone and response curve. There isn't as much customisation as the Elite controller on that front - you can't fine tune the sensitivity, for example.
The Pro Controller also feels smooth to hold in the hand, and it's quite sturdy. Unlike the DualShock 4, it doesn't squeak or sound like it's viable for breakage when you try to twist it in your hands. And the whole package comes with a small cloth pouch for transport, which doubles as a very handy lens/smartphone/monitor cloth.
What's It Not Good At?
While customisations are all well and good, controllers have to feel good in the hands first. Sadly, the Revolution Pro Controller fails that test miserably.
For a start, the D-pad is one of the worst I've used on a controller in years. There's nothing to like about it: it's spongy, it's not gated, and a vastly inferior option to the offerings on the default DualShock 4. The slight inversion makes a nice resting point for your thumb, but it's just a touch too large. I never found it pleasant to use, and it's not a great option for using in fighting games either.
That's a key problem with the controller across the board too: the problems are hard-baked in. The bumpers, for one, are shallow and so recessed that it can be a little difficult to press them if you hover your fingers over the far edges (a common way to hold a controller, with the tips of your fingers hovering over the left and right triggers). The bumpers and triggers are made of hard plastic; it's not even textured plastic, which is a bit cheap for something that costs $180.
But what will frustrate most people is the design of the analog sticks. The left stick sports a concave dome, matching what you'd find on the Xbox One or DualShock 4. But the right analog stick is convex, a baffling decision to make. On top of that, the edges of the sticks are different too: the right stick has a serrated edge, a bit like what you'd find on a 10 or 20 cent piece, while the left stick's edge is completely rounded.
Given that most people are accustomed to having their sticks uniform, it's odd as to why Nacon would vary them like this. The right stick sports the company's logo, which is fair enough, but it just makes the controller feel odd and awkward to hold in the hand. Coupled with the hard plastic bumpers and triggers, and having to push inward with your fingers to use two of the four back buttons, it sours the entire experience.
The primary function of any controller is that it needs to feel comfortable; it needs to feel natural. The Nacon Revolution Pro Controller gets part of that right - if you like the Xbox layout, and the general width of a Xbox One controller, it will seem reasonable at first sight. But even after extended use my fingers never quite naturally sat on either of the thumb sticks. The left stick has little to no grip, and both sticks are also a fraction higher than a standard Xbox One controller. It's wider than the DS4 or the Xbox One pad as well, but whether that's a benefit or to its detriment is more down to personal preference.
Should You Buy It?
I really wish I could recommend the Nacon Pro Controller. There's an awful lot to like about it, and Nacon have shown - unlike the SCUF Infinity controllers I played with last year - that you can have lots of features without having to pay over $200. But the ultimate test of any controller will always be what it's like to hold, what the buttons are like to press, and what it feels like to have your fingers on the analog sticks.
And that's where the Pro Controller falls down. It's so awfully close to being a solid offering, especially for gamers with large hands that prefer the offset sticks of an Xbox controller. It's sturdy, the movement of the sticks themselves is good, and the third-party app is easy enough to use. But that isn't enough to rectify the largest issues, including the atrocious D-pad, awful bumpers, the awkward feeling in your hands or the fact that you're buying a wired-only controller in 2017.
Oh and as an added frustration: the Nacon Pro Controller doesn't register as a standard DualShock 4 pad in Windows, so you won't be able to take advantage of Steam's recently-added native support.
That's pretty much a nail in the coffin for anyone who plays across PC and PS4, although those looking for a controller for PC would be best served with the Elite or the cheaper but still superb Xbox One S pad. As for PS4 gamers looking for an Elite equivalent: you'll have to wait a little while longer, unless you want to invest in fancy dongles and USB workarounds.
The Nacon Revolution Pro Controller is available at JB Hi-Fi for $179, although the next round of stock won't be available until February.