I’ve always liked the ideas behind the Steam Controller and the Steam Link. The former is a bold attempt at combining the two forms on input that games take right now – in trying to make a controller with the accuracy of a mouse and keyboard. The two odd-looking trackpads that the controller is known for get the job done, by providing accuracy that far exceeds an analogue controller’s and replicates the precision of a mouse.
The problem, according to most reviews, isn’t that it’s inaccurate – but rather that it’s got a steep learning curve for something that gamers really don’t need.
IGN has had a lot of time with the device, and quickly pointed out how toy-like the controllers’ build quality is. Going up against both the Xbox One controller and Dualshock 4 (and nearly at the same price), this isn’t exactly something that easily forgivable.
The first thing I noticed about the Steam Controller is how cheap it feels. Holding both the Steam Controller and Xbox Elite Controller side by side, there’s no competition; the Elite wins in every way, but it should given its $150 price tag. Even when compared to the regular Xbox One controller, the Steam Controller feels like a cheap gamepad you buy to play iPad games. Its buttons are stiff and don’t offer much in the way of feedback, an issue typical with cheaper gamepads.
Build aside, the feature of the Steam Controller that sticks out the most is definitely the two touch trackpads, which feature motorized vibration feedback and stand a little elevated to try and force you into using just the tips of your fingers. It’s a controller grip that’s a little hard to get used to at first, but one that eventually does feel comfortable according to Trusted Reviews.
While I still haven’t completely acclimated to them, I do like and see the potential in the two touchpads. Haptic feedback was the missing component at the beginning of development and, now that it’s there, the pads feels complete and natural. While I personally haven’t unlocked the potential accuracy of the pads, someone somewhere out there will.
And while the touchpads perform great, their size ultimately means that the lettered buttons and third- analogue stick lie cramped up at the bottom of the controller, making the buttons in particular a little difficult to interact with individually. The triggers on the back are good though, and the bumper buttons seem to have drawn some debate as to whether they far too stiff to press, or just right.
Or course another huge draw of the Steam Controller is its ability to adapt, given the software that allows you to remap the controller to your heart’s content. Engadget found the software incredibly powerful, even if it did takes ages of fiddling to finally find a setting layout that felt better than a traditional controller.
At some point, something clicked — I had more control over the games I was playing than I ever did with a traditional gamepad. My thumb’s quick flicks and the subtle aiming motions I employed to the controller’s gyro sensor felt natural and nuanced. I felt more immersed, I realized, and I was having more fun. It’s true, sometimes I had to dive back into Steam’s controller menu to build a new profile or tweak settings (in fact, the best configurations are custom-made), but I finally understood why Valve was so confident in its bold, defiant gamepad.
This learning (and configuration) curve seems like unnecessary hurdles for a controller that already doesn’t really need to be redefining anything, and it’s a sticking point in all three reviews. The Steam Controller wants to be the best choice, but demands learning, immense dedication to settings configuration and otherwise just a lot of effort to feel on par with what you already have. Is it worth it?
Instead, the Steam Controller’s potential to change the current controller paradigm is overshadowed by both the effort required to master the strange device and the prejudiced fear of change that challenge promotes.
It’s a change that I’m sure many people are going to give a full go, but as it stands there’s just not enough to outright recommend a purchase. Maybe after a few months and even more updates from both Valve and community itself might change that, but right now the Steam Controller sounds like a novelty. And an expensive one at that too. Dell is distributing the controller locally, so look out for it soon.
Last Updated: November 11, 2015