Thoughts on the Steam Controller

During the summer sale on Steam, Valve decided to put their hardware offerings on discount, and I’ve thought about purchasing a Steam Controller for a while now. Honestly, I dislike the Xbox controller very much, and always have. I know that is probably the most commonly used controller for PC gaming, but my distaste for it meant that I ended up buying a Logitech controller that was sort of a hybrid of an Xbox and Playstation controller. It has the same A,B,X,Y button layout as an Xbox controller, but instead of the skewed sticks, they are in-line like the PS setup. It was a fine controller and still works, but it is wired and the D-pad is shit. I found that I didn’t use it all that often, but some games simply feel better with a controller rather than keyboard/mouse.

I realize that you are able to use Playstation controllers on PC, but the last time I tried that you had to keep it wired, and I assume that is still the case so it’s not optimal. The Steam Controller is made for PC gaming, and made for Steam specifically (where most of my game collection is found outside of consoles) so I figured it was a good investment, and for $35 (on sale) it’s cheaper than buying most of the other AAA controllers on the market.

The controller finally arrived the other night, and I finally got around to giving it a whirl. It came packed in a nice box that you can see above, and here’s what comes inside:

I swear at some point I read that you are required to have the Steam Link to use the controller, but that isn’t the case. The Steam link is similar to an Nvidia Shield or other streaming device that just puts the display from your computer onto a TV in another room. Great concept, but not needed for me, so I just got the controller. It is battery powered and comes with a USB dongle that enables wireless usability. Installing the batteries was easy enough, and I assume if you use rechargables, you’d be able to charge them via the USB cord, but I could be wrong about that. Outside of installing the batteries, there was no other setup required, just plug in the dongle and start up steam. It will update the firmware automatically and then you’re good to go.

Big picture mode is not required though it makes navigating Steam a bit easier with the controller. Overall I like the construction of the unit and the feel of it in your hand. It feels like a great controller. In practice, it takes some getting used to.

I started off by checking out steam controller supported games in my library, and the first one I tried wouldn’t work with the unit. The second game I tried worked well, but it was a platformer and only used the one stick and buttons. The trackpads feel great, but they are hard to use in the case of FPS games. I tried one, and it didn’t feel very good to move the camera with a trackpad. Apparently you can push on the trackpad and swing the controller in various ways to help with the camera control, but I didn’t really figure that out until watching a video later on. People rave about the controller being great for any game, but I feel like it’s best saved for slower paced games or more simplistic ones. Those that require twin sticks will definitely require some practice, but I want to put in that practice because I made the investment. We’ll see how that develops over time.

My final verdict? It’s worth the sale price. It feels and looks great. Most games that you would traditionally think about using a controller for (fighting, shmup, beat-em-ups, side-scrollers, and platformers) are going to benefit. Those that use twin-stick camera and movement controls might irritate you at first, but I think once you get past the learning curve it can be great. I’d buy it if you dislike Xbox controllers and want something built for the PC.