Image: Kotaku/Alex Walker
In my quest for a Sony-compatible spin on the Elite controller, I've come across a fair few designs. But the original design of the DualShock 4 and Xbox One controllers are already pretty good, so much so that a lot of competitors have struggled to beat out its design.
Perhaps coming to the conclusion that the best route is to add to the wheel rather than design it, the Evil Pro controllers take Sony and Microsoft's existing designs and make it better. Sort of.
What Is It?
Rather than creating a third-party controller from scratch, Evil Controllers have been iterating on the base Xbox and PlayStation pads for over a decade. The latest offering is the "Pro" line of controllers, which are basically the original PS4 and Xbox One pads with a suite of new features, textures and a lighter design.
Available online through the Evil Controllers store for $US130 for the base PS4/XBO models, each controller at the minimum comes with a matte grip on the back, two back buttons (with an option for four for another $US20), magnetic removable thumbsticks like the Elite controller (also $US20), hairpin triggers and on-the-fly button remapping.
The other major change between the Pro controllers and the stock variants is the removal of the rumble motors. Evil advertises this as a way to give the player more control, by reducing the overall weight of the controller. You can also get customised face buttons that are more sensitive than your standard PS4/XBO pad, requiring only 2 grams of force to actuate than the 60 grams supposedly required by the stock controllers. The model I received also shipped with a small pouch with multiple thumbsticks, the same choices you'd get with the Elite controller.
The Xbox Pro controller also introduces, much like the Elite, a removable D-Pad. But then the Xbox also has the Elite to begin with. Microsoft will eventually roll out the ability to buy custom Xbox One controllers direct through their store, which makes the value comparison much more difficult. I used the PS4 model for a few weeks, and that's what I'll mostly be focusing on here.
What's It Good At?
Given that I like my peripherals to be fairly light, I'm a big fan of getting rid of the rumble packs. It does change make a significant difference to the balance of the controller though: most of the weight in the standard DS4 is in the palm of your hands, while the Evil Pro controller is more weighted to the front. It takes some getting used to, especially if you've become accustomed to the weight and feel of one particular controller for the last few years.
The efficiency of the remapping is, by leaps and bounds, the best feature on offer. Simply press the back button you want to remap and the Share button together. After that, press the face button, bumper, trigger or push down the thumb stick you want to remap to the back button. The controller will pulsate twice, once when the remapping feature has been triggered, and a second when the button has been mapped. The whole process takes a couple of seconds and can be done in the middle of a firefight, if you're so inclined. It's super quick, and it's exactly the no-frills kind of feature controllers should be built around.
Having magnetic sticks is a big plus as well. It's a feature the Elite controller did first, but you can't really fault anyone else for copying it. I vastly prefer it to the rigidity of having an analog stick that's locked in, like the SCUF Infinity pads.
Something I didn't expect was just how solid the Evil Pro controller was, even with the rumble packs removed. The standard PS4 controller has always felt a fraction weak in your hands: if you try to twist it back and forth, you can feel and hear the device creaking a little. The Evil Pro pad survives the twist test just fine. On top of that, the splash effect applied to the controller I had looked quite neat, in a punk meets Persona kind of way.
Props to the matte back grip as well: Evil says they're designed to withstand sweaty gamers and high heat, and it holds up just fine. I'm fortunate now that I live in an air-conditioned apartment, but there was a time very recently when I didn't. Things occasionally got real hot in Sydney, but the Evil Pro controller held up strong.
And as a side bonus: being a mod of a standard PS4 controller, rather than a custom design from Razer or Nacon, means you can plug it into a PC and enjoy all the support built into Steam. (It's not quite as native or natural as what you'd get for an Elite controller, but you can also get a lot more from it when you start playing around with the gyro controls for driving games and the like.)
What's It Not Good At?
The back buttons have their issues. Evil says they're designed in a way that means you won't accidentally toggle them. In practice, that means they're tougher to press than any button on a controller normally is. The buttons are also deliberately positioned underneath your fingers as they wrap around the base. It's an odd feeling at first, and for a lot of people it's not natural or comfortable at all. I got used to it, but understand that you're making a permanent gamble here. If you buy an Elite controller, and don't like the feeling of the paddles on the back, you can just remove them. You don't have that option with the Evil Pro controllers, and that will be a deal breaker for some.
Another quirk also comes from the fact that you're buying a modded product, rather than something off a factory line. That means you run the risk of coming across small defects or bits and pieces that aren't quite right. Take the right analog stick pictured above: if you rotate it around the edges (which you might do when playing something like Don Bradman Cricket, or any game that requires full stick rotations) you can see some marks from the modding process. One of the grills for the speaker inside the PS4 controller was also covered by paint, which appears to be a byproduct of the splatter process.
It doesn't affect the function of the controller, but if you're spending hundreds on dollars on a custom product you want the little things to be right. I'm not fussy about this sort of stuff. But I know people who are sticklers about bumps and scratches that wouldn't be thrilled at receiving a brand new piece of tech that looked like it had imperfections, although if any severe issues arise you can always flag the issue with Evil Pro's customer service.
Something that isn't the fault of the controller itself is the buying process. I didn't experience this at first, as I'm using a review unit supplied by the makers. But for a regular customer, you'll have to go to the online store. That only gets you a listing of the base units though: from there, you have to go to a second page to select the customisations you want. And it's only there that you discover that the removable thumbsticks, two of the four back buttons and special face buttons are actually paid extras.
The site lays options out in a weird way as well: sometimes the free option is the first listed, and sometimes it's not
Things like that should always be outlined upfront. Especially when you consider the difference: the standard "Black Pro" controller costs ~$174 ($US130), but if you add the sensitive buttons and removable thumbsticks the price jumps up to ~$254 ($US189.97). Shipping costs just over $9 ($US7), and the exact model I tried had four back buttons instead of two, which is another ~$27 ($US20).
All up: just under $290 ($US216.97). That's a hell of a lot.
Should You Buy It?
It's not until you try multiple iterations that it becomes clear how good the original designs of the Xbox One and PS4 controllers are. What they're lacking is features, and that's where third parties like Evil come in. And for the most part, it does a good job of making additions to the standard PS4 design: it's sturdier but lighter, magnetic thumbsticks are a godsend, and everything that was good about the PS4's base design remains.
The back buttons are where I come unstuck a little. There's no doubt that you won't press them accidentally, but it means they're not that comfortable to press. That's especially the case for the third and fourth buttons, which are located under your pinky fingers - and consequently the hardest, and most difficult to use. They need to be a fraction lighter: when your back buttons require almost as much force as pushing the thumb sticks themselves, you've gone too far.
But being able to rebind them in a heartbeat is a nice touch, and if you can live without the sensitive face buttons and two extras on the back, the Evil Pro controllers become reasonably affordable. Around $220 with shipping included isn't a bad price relatively speaking, and at that price it's vastly better value than any of the third-party offerings on the market so far.
By mirroring a standard PS4 controller, Evil doesn't run into some of the more basic design issues that have plagued other controllers. That same problem works against them when it comes to the Xbox One though: by using the same base, they strip away most of the opportunities to refine and improve upon it. Microsoft's regional pricing also makes the Elite more competitive deal to Australians.
But that's a problem for Xbox, or future Project Scorpio fans to consider. For those on PS4, Evil Pro offers a serviceable alternative overseas - provided you can live with the feeling of two buttons directly underneath your fingers.