Steam Controller Review

The Steam Controller
The Steam Controller

TLDR;

A great controller that works over many kinds of games.
Touch pads work great.
Great battery life.
Paddles on the back add lots of flexibility.
Super customizable.
Hard to change batteries.
Faux vibration support.

Verdict

Highly recommended.

I’ve been actively playing with the Steam Controller since it launched in November 2015. This gamepad is unlike anything you’ve ever played with.

I’m a PC Gamer, Why Do I Need This?

Config Overview
Config Overview

I’ve seen many PC gamers dismiss controller users, admittedly I use to be one of them. Controllers, however, are the way many games are played these days due to the popularity of consoles. Because of this many games are targeted toward this type of input. Keyboard and mouse are not great on a couch either.

Although a controller can not replace a mouse and keyboard for some games, I believe this controller can replace it for most casual games. It can also replace your mouse for many everyday navigation tasks.

Trackpads

Trackpad Config Options
Trackpad Config Options

If you had asked me years ago if I thought a controller should have trackpads on it I would have probably told you no. The idea of not mainly using a joystick or a d-pad as central input seems almost like a bad joke. But it works, and well.

The Steam Controller has 2 trackpads. The right side one is smooth and left features a cross like groove on it. Both sit naturally where you want to put your thumbs on the controller, and they are going to generally be your main input.

The settings for these are vast. They can be a mouse, joystick, single button, scroll wheel, or a few other things. You can change sensitivity, rotation, friction, haptic feedback amount, and more. You can customize the pads to do what you want, exactly how you want them, for each game until they fit you like a glove. Some experimentation is required. Once you figure out what works for you I find that I set a lot of the same options on most games.

Gyro

The Steam Controller features a gyroscope function. This gyro allows you to move your controller in 3D space and have it affect the output of your cursor or mouse on the screen. You can bind the gyro to any button.

When playing a shooter, this feature is invaluable. I use it to make small precise adjustments to the aim that I might not be able to get with the trackpads. This leads to higher number of head-shots than using only the touch pads.

Dual-Stage Triggers

Trigger Config Options
Trigger Config Options

You probably don’t think a lot about your triggers on your controller. That is going to change.

Both your right and left triggers have 2 stages or pull lengths. The first part of the pull is your soft pull. If you keep pulling the trigger farther you will activate your full pull. Each pull can have a different action set to it. You can change how far you need to pull the trigger to activate each.

To give you an example of how awesome this feature is. Consider a shooter. Normally there is a button, like the right mouse, that will bring up your sights on your weapon. Then you left click to shoot. With a dual stage trigger, you can set the soft pull to bring up your sights, and you full pull to fire the weapon.

Another example would be Rocket League. You can set your soft pull to just drive, and then the full pull to use your boosters. It works amazingly well once you get it down.

Batteries

Unlike some other controllers out there this controller uses batteries rather than some kind of charging pack. I personally find it very convenient. I would recommend you purchase a few rechargeable batteries and swap them as you go.

You change the batteries by sliding a release switch below the back panel causing the back panel to pop off in a spring loaded style. You will see a battery on each side of the controller tucked into the handle. You push a tab and it will pop out the battery. Pushing the tab is actually harder than it should be, and one of the things I dislike most about the controller. The Xbox One S controller does this so much better.

Valve claims that a pair of AA will last you 80 hours. I would say this is accurate. Even with solid use, I don’t swap batteries more than once every 2 weeks. Usually much less often. So even though the batteries are harder to change than I’d like, you won’t have to do it often.

Grips

The back cover doubles as a left and right paddle like input. These are referred to as the left and right grips. Your middle and ring fingertips naturally rest on top of these two grips. In order to activate them, you simply squeeze your hand, like you are trying to grip the controller harder.

Having two extra inputs on the back of the controller is very helpful and a feature I’ve only seen on the much more expensive controllers like the Xbox Elite. You can map either grip to whatever action you want.

Steam Only

The controller only works with games that run through the Steam client. This sounds worse than it is. You can add and run pretty much any game through Steam by adding it to your Steam library and then running it from there. It’s usually pretty easy, for example, I had no trouble getting The Witcher 3 on GOG to work. However in some cases, for example, Mass Effect 2 on Origin, it can be difficult to get it to work correctly.

Customization

The options to be able to configure your controller are vast. The prime goal of the controller is to cover as many types of games as possible.

Once you run a game with the Steam client you have access to the Steam overlay by pressing the Steam button on your controller. From there you can go in and make adjustments to your controller scheme without quitting your game.

You can also make adjustments by right-clicking on the name of the game in your Steam library and go to ‘Edit Steam Controller Configuration…’ or inside Big Picture Mode.

Comunity Configs
Comunity Configs

Luckily the community, as well as yourself, can create profiles for a game and upload them for public or private use. All your profiles are synced with your Steam client installs which is handy if you move you controller to another computer or have to reinstall Steam.

It’s been a while since the release of the controller and I’ve not run into many games that don’t have profiles already uploaded for them. Usually, all you have to do is browse through the public profiles, find one that fits your styles, and make a few minor adjustments. It’s not completely foolproof but it eliminates most pain points if you’re willing to put a few extra minutes in.

Vibration?

The controller does not have a traditional vibration or rumble effect like you are probably used to. Instead, it has an experimental vibration mode that uses the touch pads haptic feedback to simulate the vibrations. Although this provides some vibration, personally I find it very weird, and annoying. The Xbox One S and PS4 controllers are by far better in this regard.

A Mouse Substitute

I feel this controller is very ergonomic.

I’m in my early 30’s and PC gaming has left its mark on me. Long gaming sessions on a mouse over many years have at least partially damaged my mouse hand. I can still play in limited quantities but tend to have more pain than in the past.

I do know changing up the way I play and navigate around my computer is very helpful. I often times use this controller for all normal tasks I would use a mouse for. You can set up commands on different buttons for different applications as well. It is the best mouse substitute I’ve been able to find.

There are some games this controller can not really replace a mouse. I’ve never been able to find a way to play a MOBA like DOTA 2 on this controller. In general, any kind of competitive game that requires fast mouse reflex is going to be better with a mouse. I feel like a fighting game like Tekken is much better on other controllers as well.

Conclusion

I’ve played so many games on this controller. Shooters like FarCry 3, and Metro 2033. RPG’s like Final Fantasy XII, Shadowrun, Grandia II, Knights of the Old Republic. Open world games like GTA V, L.A. Noir, Mad Max, Saints Row, and The Witcher. Point and click games like Prison Architect. More than I can list over various genres. This controller does well over a variety of games.

In the future, I hope Valve releases a new version with easier battery installation, and proper vibration support.

I highly recommend it.

The pen name of the illustrious editor of this fine site. Randomly generated for a D&D game called Baldurs Gate. A chaotic good, male, dwarf, dual class fighter/thief.
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