I got a Steam controller all the way back in December, almost two months ago now. I’d been meaning to write down my thoughts on it, but for some reason I couldn’t quite decide how I felt about the whole thing. This might be indicative of the controller as a whole, because after two months, I’m still ambivalent about it. Is it genius, awkward, or somewhere in between? I’m still trying to figure that out, honestly.
The Steam controller is Valve’s take on the modern day controller, with the intention of marrying mouse and controller. This matrimony is fraught with issues though, and I’m pretty sure I’m still having some kind of affair with my mouse and keyboard. When I first picked up the controller, it felt sort of…uncomfortable. I have tiny hands, so I’m a bit used to controllers feeling too clunky for me, but this controller still feels like the most gargantuan piece of plastic I’ve ever played games with. After a few minutes of holding it, I was almost completely convinced that it had to go, but I gave it more of a chance, telling myself that I was just used to other controllers, and that the comfort would come eventually. I scoured the internet for other opinions on the controller, and found that one user said that the controller needed to be held with a lighter touch in order to feel comfortable. This helped a bit, and was one of the main reasons I didn’t give up on day one.
The haptic pads vibrate precisely where my finger is on the pad, but that precision isn’t quite as evident when I’m actually trying to aim with the pad. I really want to like this, but even after two months, I can’t quite aim with the precision I want to. I always either over or undershoot my intended target, no matter what game I’m playing. I’ve found that because of this, the only games I can feasibly play with the steam controller are slower, more deliberately paced games.
Recently I’ve broken out this ancient Citybuilder (and I mean ancient…I think the last time I played it, I was 5 or 6) called Pharaoh. Pharaoh doesn’t run through Steam, so I don’t have all the added benefits of community controller schemes, but I’ve gotten to where I can comfortably play the game, within reason. Sometimes I botch a path when I’m trying to use the touchpad, and the triggers are a bit annoying to press every time I want to click something. Every motion I make takes a little bit of thought, but it’s definitely manageable.
I think my main gripe with the controller is that it requires so much thought to use. I hoped that this would go away with time, but after two months of moderate use, it’s clear that it’s not. Every movement is just a little bit off, and overall, the controller feels cheap and clunky. It kind of reminds me of a Mattel toy, a la Fisher Price. I think it would survive a chuck across my room if I started raging about something, but I’m not sure if controllers should be designed with that much durability in mind (nor do I have the habit of throwing $50 objects across my room). And ultimately, if a controller is so uncomfortable that you have to think to use it, should you be using it at all?
The problem with this controller is it tries to do everything at once, and it isn’t particularly good at any single thing. Yes, it allows you to play with a controller, but there are other controllers that do that much better. Yes, its haptic feedback sort of resembles the feeling of playing with a mouse, and the typing setup is kind of ingenious, but I can play the same games so much more efficiently with a keyboard and mouse alone.
While I’m not quite convinced that Valve got it right this time, I don’t want to say that the controller is without merit. It has a lot of really great things going for it. It’s customizable like no other, and with more and more users adding to the customization profiles, it gets more versatile every day. Typing with the controller was probably the best experience I’ve had attempting to type with a controller so far, and is a far cry from the clunky initial ‘petal’ typing system initially released in Big Picture Mode.
The Steam controller doesn’t nail it, but it does many things moderately well, and I think it will go even better places in the future. So, in the spirit of Steam and its interesting innovations, I’ll cap off my review with a Steam Community flavored one:
Lets me shut my PC down from bed when I’m too lazy to get up. 10/10 Would purchase again.
Do you have a Steam controller? How do you feel about it? I’d love to hear in the comments!