Many things have been said about the Steam Controller since it's release. Some good, some bad, and some really ugly. That's close to a movie title I think? Anyway, I've been using the Steam Controller for the last week or so for Fallout 4 and messing around with other games just to see what I could get out of it, and so far I'm quite liking it. I think I'll split up this review into the three aforementioned categories what could also be a movie title or cliche'd phrase.
The Steam Controller is incredibly unique. It's goal is to marry PC gamers with their couch. Valve wants to assist with PC gamers and their back problems by allowing them to game from their couch instead of hunched over at a PC. Props to them! If you don't care about your back, or comfort whilst gaming this isn't the controller for you.
Their solution was to add two track pads to the standard controller to act as the mouse. Now, I get the idea...there's basically no way to play a game like, oh...Starcraft on PC from the couch. You need your mouse and keyboard and Valve thought to themselves how do we give the player a way to play this without that? This was how they chose to fix that problem.
Now, I will admit, I haven't tried to use the Steam Controller for a mouse-like point and click type game for two reasons. One, I honestly don't see it working very well for those games in general especially RTS games, and two I rarely like those games anyway. I've effectively been using the controller for games that it does work with, but wasn't precisely intended for, though strangely works the best for anyway I feel.
As stated above I've been playing Fallout 4 mainly, so I'll discuss that. I must say, the controller works fantastically better than I've been reading from other sites in my opinion. I think it helps that Bethesda put out an official setting for the controller for their game, which I have ripped and stolen for other FPS games and I must say it's the perfect way to play these types of games on this controller, with the slight addition of Gyro for aiming.
The main draw for the controller on this game, or another FPS game in particular is the track pad and Gyro aiming. The track pad acts like a mouse and a joystick at the same time with the setup Bethesda provided. Slight movements on the right pad acts like a mouse with a mild track ball so if you flick it the character will spin. I don't typically use the track ball, but it's there if you are fond of it. What makes it like a joystick though is if you drag your thumb to the edges, any edge, it will start to move like a joystick moved all the way to the ends. This works marvelously well once you get used to it.
Coupled with the gyro aiming, which activates any time your thumb rests on the right track pad (or whatever you want to customize it for) you can get extremely precise aiming. Much better aiming than two sticks I feel. It's as close to a mouse as you can get. If you've ever used a Wii pointer or PS4's gyro typing, it's a lot like that. It feels great, and I'm getting headshots now like a champ after 30 hours of use. I fully feel acclimated to the controller now for FPS type games.
For most other games the controller is perfectly serviceable but it's just like any other controller. For instance, racing games work the same as any other controller, side scrollers same, action games same. I've already wrecked the first boss of Dark Souls with it without any issues. The controller has another slight advantage with the two bumper buttons on the back of the controller allowing you to set things like run to those buttons rather than pushing in the left stick. I've always hated pushing in the left stick so I find this addition to be extremely welcome. Other controllers need to get on board with this. I'm sick of pushing in the left stick!
This is becoming a tangent so I'll sum up a few more quick positive points:
+ Battery life is insanely good. Haven't had to change them yet after about 40 hours
+ You can customize everything to infinity and beyond so if the controller doesn't feel "right" you can tweak it to hell until it does feel right.
+ Strong community making controller templates for most of the popular games
+ Let's you use Big Picture mode the way it was always intended
There is quite a list I've come up with while using the controller that bugs me. These are all minor annoyances, I'm saving the things I hate for the third category.
- Batteries. I don't like batteries for controllers. As mentioned above the battery life is incredibly good, but I'm still annoyed by this.
- The controller is a touch too big for me. I have incredibly small hands and my left hand does get sore after about 3 or 4 hours which in my 25 years of gaming has never happened before. The shape of the controller is anything but ergonomic.
- You have to learn to use this. That's annoying for most people, but I found the experience to be fun. I will say I'm about 90% acclimated to its quirks now but I don't know the average gamer wants to learn how to game all over again which this controller kind of makes you do.
- The left joystick click requires too much force to click. It's pretty useless because of this. Thankfully the controller has extra buttons to replace this with.
The other few annoyances I have with the controller is less the controller's fault and more of an oversight on Steam's part. There are a lot of games that just don't function well with Steam Big Picture mode. Either they freeze up, or the UI doesn't function or some other nonsense. Take Crysis Warhead. I love this game so it was one of the first I tried the controller with. Getting it working right was a mind numbing chore however, because Crysis doesn't work with Big Picture mode. Most other games, you can hit the Steam home button and tweak the controller again and again, which you have to do to get things right. Crysis just says NOPE. Hitting the button brings up the Steam UI BEHIND the game. So you can't see what you're doing...Instead you have to close the game and tweak it from there. This is incredibly frustrating but luckily I got it working after much tweaking.
Not only is it a problem getting games that don't like Big Picture mode to work, but getting games that don't allow for Mouse + Controller combos working is a HUGE pain in the ass. Going back to our example of Crysis, or Just Cause 2 even, the game will stop working if you're using a combination of Controller and Mouse settings on your Steam Controller. For instance, do you like Gyro aiming? I know I do. This activates the "mouse" portion of the controller. But do you want to move while aiming? Well that activates the "Joystick" of the controller. In-game, you just can't do both, and if you try, both games just top accepting all your inputs for about 5 seconds while it struggles to figure out what the hell you're doing. Valve knew this would be a problem, so there's a way around it but it's really annoying. You have to assign all the buttons to Keys and your Mouse instead of using the pre-programmed controller inputs most games have. This takes a lot of time and effort as you would imagine.
The other major issue here is games that are NOT Steam games. While you can link games to Steam to work with big picture mode, even Origin games, and it works very well, the big issue you have is you get no community assistance what so ever. You have to fend for yourself on those games. There really should be a way to search games to find controller settings. For instance, I have GTAV, but I have it through Rockstar's site, not Steam. I would love to just search the templates people have made for GTAV for the Steam Controller, but...I can't. I literally have no way to get their templates.
Lastly, something that bugs me with Fallout 4 is even if I wanted to use a mouse and key I have to unplug the Steam USB dongle because otherwise Fallout 4 will refuse to use anything other than a controller if it's plugged in. This is Fallout's fault mostly, there should be an in-game option to turn the controller off like other games have....but noooooo.
While I have mostly positive things to say about the controller, and I feel it's a lot of fun to use, it functionally cannot replicate a mouse and keyboard with the accuracy you're going to need for the games it's trying to put you on your couch for. For instance, I'm loving it with Fallout 4 and I got it set up with many other games as well. But there is a small category of games you wouldn't want to use it with. Not a BIG category mind you...you know...just MULTI-PLAYER games.
That's right, while it's wonderful for a game like Fallout 4 where the AI has the brain the size of a small grain of blue cheese, this just isn't something you're going to want to use against people with 8200 DPI mice against in CS GO. You wouldn't stand any chance what-so-ever. Sure, you MAY be able to get accustomed to this controller enough to make it workable for a game like that, heck you may eventually be pro at it. There are people that compete with Xbox controllers against Mice players after all, even though they are scientifically gimping themselves by using a controller. I already feel more pro at using a Steam Controller for Fallout 4 vs my PS3 controller I normally use on PC. But I'm miles away from being as quick and precise as I am with my Mouse.
And you can absolutely forget about using this controller for Diablo 3, or Starcraft, or even World of Warcraft and especially not League of Legends or Dota 2. So, I've just outlined probably 90% of the current PC gamer player base outside of those Minecraft weirdos. Yes, the most popular games on PC quite frankly, I wouldn't advise you ever attempt to try this controller with. These are mostly point and click games, or competitive games, or with an incredibly high number of commands like WoW. There's just not enough mouse accuracy here or enough buttons in general to make this compete with the mouse players you'll be playing with. Hilarious that Valve would release a controller that likely would never be useful for their most popular game in Dota 2. No one in their right mind would try to use this thing on that game.
I really like the Steam Controller overall. As I've grown used to it I can find the genius in it for some games and it is actually a better choice than a standard controller in some cases. In other cases it's confusingly worse or at worst, entirely unusable for say Dota 2. Which begs the question, were they searching for just a "way" to play computer games from a couch, or a "better" way. Because, sometimes it's better, sometimes it's just not even an option. But the games you'd think it was designed around like games that rely mostly on Mouse movements like a Dota 2 it's just not great at all. The touchpads were meant to replace the Mouse, or so I assumed, but all it really did was replace the second analog stick on a standard controller with any amount of success.
So this controller would be a wonderful improvement if it released on, say a PS4 and games were designed for it. It would be fantastic to use with Battlefield 4 on PS4, but you'd be really gimped if you used it on PC facing Mouse players. There outlines the major issue with the Steam Controller. It innovated the Console controller VERY well, and is a poor imitation of a Mouse and Keyboard on PC. The major problem of course, as should be obvious, is it came out exclusively for PC.
If you are gaming on PC and mainly use a controller for your gaming however, I highly recommend this controller. If you're like me, and this controller clicks with you as fast as it did for me, you will absolutely love the extra buttons, the Gyro mouse-like aiming, the endless customization, and the extra precision offered by the right track pad over the conventional second stick, which for me, never felt right in gaming. This feels right. This feels like a welcome evolution to the conventional dual stick controller.
*A cheaper alternative to couch PC gaming though, get a wireless mouse and keyboard with some sort of board or lap-desk which would immediately replace any benefits the Steam Controller provides aside from comfort (as a key and mouse on your lap is less than comfortable).*