My long awaited Steam Controller arrived in the mail yesterday and I’ve tried to put it through it’s paces.
I do like that everyone has glommed onto the packaging style that Apple has made so famous. The Steam Controller arrived in a clean looking box, no blister packaging to wrestle with and cut myself on.
I find myself fond of the look of the controller, it’s unique and that helped me to want to try the thing when pre-orders became available. I already have the best possible standard gamepad available for the PC, it’s called the Xbox One controller. If the Steam Controller is going to find a home in my daily routine it’s going to have to do something special.
The back plate pops off in a satisfying way to reveal the battery compartments in each handle. Hey, name brand batteries! Neat. The buttons that are part of the grip are a little too easy to press, and don’t have a very satisfying throw to boot, same goes for the shoulder buttons. The triggers are an interesting take, they have a digital click at the bottom of the relatively short throw that will instantly remind you of the Gamecube controller. And that’s a good thing to me.
As far as the face button and analog stick: they are serviceable. I don’t really have any complaints other that the buttons are in the analog stick position compared to any controller. The focus here is on the big trackpads and not the traditional buttons. As a result the buttons are kind of hard for me to find when I need to hit them and transitioning from the trackpad to the buttons causes me to occasionally hit the wrong button. Maybe that will change with time.
The trackpads are where the rubber hits the road. Do they feel comfortable for shooting? Mousing? Camera control?
The short answer: not really.
I knew that the trackpads would fall short replacing the mouse or an analog stick for shooters or any twitch aiming action. But I expected them to feel better for point-and-click controls. The range of motion and precision of the trackpads just isn’t there. I can’t get the right speed or acceleration on the settings to make the controller feel right to mouse with. There isn’t enough precision, as you move your thumb around slowly the mouse seems to stair step everywhere, clicking from position to position instead of smoothly transitioning.
Moreover the lack of a d-pad becomes apparent when you play a retro style game. I used Downwell as my test game for this. The analog stick isn’t very precise for the platforming in that game and the left trackpad is a poor substitute for a d-pad. So I’m left looking at my Xbox controller longingly thinking about picking up the wireless adapter… a product I did not purchase specifically to force myself to try the Steam Controller and give it a fair shake.
I figured that the type of game this controller best opens access to is a slow mouse based point-and-click type game. I loaded up Broken Age to test out the experience (I’ve been meaning to finish that game out). I could not have been more frustrated, an analog stick would be a better way to interface with that game. Which really defeats the whole purpose of the damned controller!
I’m going to give a turn based strategy game a shot, something like Civilization: Beyond Earth would be a good fit. Maybe that will find a use for the Steam Controller. But that does seem a little frustrating, I have to go looking for a use for this controller? Shouldn’t Valve have set up some games that showcase this thing? It seems a little crazy that consumers, in the form of the Steam community creating profiles for every game out there, have to create the justification for their purchases?
That’s not even including the sheer level of anger I felt attempting to type using the Steam Controller’s on-screen keyboard. I was wracked with physical pain as I tried to slowly pound out a simple sentence to a friend on Steam who saw me playing a bunch of games. I felt like I was rehabbing, I know how to type and I had a keyboard three feet away, why was I forcing myself to slowly click my way through when I could pick up that keyboard and be done in three seconds?
So, I’m not very far into testing the Steam Controller, and I’m going to give it more time, but I’m having a hard time seeing what it’s for. The phrase that keeps leaping to mind while I use this thing is “a solution is search of a problem”. I usually hate that cliché because it seems so dismissive of new ideas, but in this case it feels all too appropriate.