When it works, the Steam controller is a marvel. The box and packaging are beautiful, easily feeling as special and exciting as any new Apple product. A cute cardboard wraparound showed the details of the inside of the controllers, something I can only enjoy visually but that might actually prove useful to the more tech-savvy amongst us. The setup was quick and painless and each game had settings to customise the experience and make everything how you want it. With any new technology there’s going to be a learning curve and as someone with no dexterity and bad memory I experience this even switching from one console to another. The Steam controller was no exception.
One issue I noticed was that the gamepad’s B button was closer to where the Xbox 360 controller’s A button was, making me constantly press the B button under the assumption that it was in fact the A button. In time, I’m sure I’ll adjust to that however and it’s hardly Valve’s fault. I might prefer the haptic gamepad and the buttons switch places, but I’m sure many configurations were tested and this was found to be the smartest. The haptic pad itself gave feedback as intended and was just as smooth and easy to use as described by early reviewers. I absolutely loved the addition of the easily clickable buttons on the underside of the hand grips and the positioning and ease of use of the triggers. As someone who’d experienced finger strain from PS3 controller triggers in the past, I felt Steam’s version to be a lot more gentle on the old digits.
An interesting surprise was the encouragement to use ‘big picture’ mode; a steam setup that I have always avoided like the plague. Pressing the steam icon button on the controller functions much like a dashboard or home button, taking the player to ‘Big Picture’ mode and making the PC feel a lot more like a console. I was also surprised to see a port on the top of the controller where a charging cable might go, as I hadn’t realised it had the ability to be used with a wire (although the wire they supply is far too short for this). It leads me to wonder if they might eventually develop a charging product, as coming without a rechargeable battery pack was one of my bigger disappointments when first hearing about the Steam controllers.
Now for the negatives. It should be noted that about a week before getting the Steam controllers, my PS3 controllers both gave up the ghost, leaving me without a way to play at all, so I fully expected to be writing an article praising Steam. I wanted to be telling you about how most people complaining underestimate how amazing it is to be able to create a controller that imitates a keyboard, that gives controller support to all games. After all, that’s what we were promised, isn’t it? To sell it for only $50 was the cherry on top, considering they could have reasonably charged more. After all, the wired Xbox controllers commonly used in PC gaming still sell for ridiculous prices. I grew up in the era of the Spectrum and Atari, playing video games on tapes and floppy discs. I wanted so badly to be impressed. If I was single we might be having a totally different conversation here, but with adult life leaving precious time for hobbies and a partner who is also a gamer, Local Co-op is the lifeblood of our household.
The Steam controller lists “Local multiplayer capability, as supported by games.” as one of its features. “As supported by games.” didn’t set alarm bells ringing for me, because as a company I’ve always trusted Valve and Steam, but maybe it should have. Out of two triple-A titles and four indie games we tried so far, only one has co-operated with an attempt to play Local multiplayer (also known as couch co-op); indie darling Guacamelee.
A bigger surprise came upon trying Portal 2; one of the releases pre-order customers receive with their controller. The assumption was that indie games were having problems because they didn’t have controller support in the first place and thus the controller pretending to be a keyboard was confusing it. This, I was saddened by, but I could forgive. However, when attempting to join as a second player on Portal 2 co-op mode (a game which features controller support) the same problem emerged. If the Steam Controller didn’t allow local multiplayer to be used on the game they were giving away to pre-order customers, it didn’t bode well for other titles. It even raised the question on whether Steam cared about local co-op or had forgotten it completely. Honestly, I felt a little lied to.
Upon trying Rocket League and encountering the same problem, my controllers promptly stopped communicating with the computer and their lights turned out. I became increasingly frustrated until as a last resort I restarted my entire computer, removed the batteries and put them back in. Imagine my surprise when it started to function as intended. Upon a second retry of the pre-order titles they both worked; and Rocket League turned out to be such a blast that I promptly forgot all my woes, adjusting to the controller without much trouble. Sadly, some Indie titles still refused to cooperate and I was unable to even start the game ‘Pid’ with the controller; a game which had functioned with single player earlier that day, leading me to feel like the whole thing was rather luck based.
+ Play Single player games without controller support.
+ Play Games on the couch without access to the keyboard in conjunction with Steam Link.
+ Ergonomic design
+ Good Price
+ Easy to install and good interface which recommends best settings.
– Local co-op functionality is unreliable.
– Controller quite large, causing strain in people with smaller hands.
– Takes time to adjust to new controller due to difference in button placements.
– Doesn’t come rechargeable out of the box.
– Inconsistent bugs can cause stress and frustration.
Overall the Steam controller does what it’s intended to do, give players a way to play games that don’t have a control scheme (with or without the Steam Link usage to stream to your TV) in a way that is relatively pain free to install, but sadly still a bit buggy. Hopefully as things move along there will be improvements made and future games will be able to integrate with the controller stress free. The Steam controller has the potential to be an incredible product and I have no doubt they’ll continue to move it in that direction. In it’s current state, I’d give it Three out of Five Lorna’s, but my advice is if you’re a person who primarily or regularly plays local co-op and you only have money for one type of controller, I’d recommend sticking with the old, reliable wired Xbox controllers.
Rating: 3 out of 5!