Product Review – Steam Controller

Steam, the platform that us superior gamers PC gamers know and love. We buy the majority of our games on this platform, we play with all of our friends on this platform, and we spend our life savings on the seasonal sales. No? Just me? Anyway…
Steam has developed a controller to be used on PC. However the advertising is so low that I’ve only seen it during seasonal sales. But I set out to answer a question that has been around since the dawn of gaming; is the steam controller worth it?
This article will contain my detailed review of the product, down to a final verdict.

What’s in the box?
As listed by the Steam Website, the following items are included:

  • USB wireless pairing dongle – Needed for wireless functionality with the controller
  • 2 AA batteries – Since the controller is battery powered
  • Dongle extension dock included – Extends your USB port and is meant to have the Pairing Dongle plugged in it.
  • 2m long 2.0 USB to Micro-USB cable – Provided for the extension dock, or for wireless functionality
  • Steam Controller – Provided because if it wasn’t then things would get really awkward really quick.

Aesthetics and Ergonomics
Since I had never bought a physical steam product before, I was in the dark in terms of what to expect. But upon opening the box, I was genuinely surprised. The controller looked amazing. A sleek, jet black device that just felt right to hold. The controller featured the classic ABXY controller layout. It had a joystick, Wait… NANI? There was only One Joystick? Of course this is vastly different to a traditional controller. Instead of a second joystick, it had a circular pad. One thing I was blown away by was the fact that the controller felt like it belonged in my hand. I had used other controllers before (PS3 and PS4) and I could already tell that the steam controller just felt better (especially the PS3 one, don’t get me started on PS3 controllers, dear lord). The steam controller trigger and bumper buttons were angled to support a more natural finger placement. In fact, the trigger buttons featured a contour which lets your fingers just rest on the buttons comfortably. Additionally there were new buttons at the back of the controller, which I like to call “paddles” (they’re officially called the “grip” buttons but I’m a trendsetter and from this point onward they’re paddles, it’s my article not yours). Having extra buttons that don’t compromise other buttons is always a benefit.
The USB dock was a very small and was surprisingly weighty for what it was. Though this is not something we’d pay much attention to, Steam managed to make it look so good but yet so minimal; Simple, yet seamless. The dongle is meant to be inserted into the port, and it did so without looking clunky.

The actual controller functions amazingly. Its complete list of features are down below:

  • Left trackpad (with the etched cross)
  • Right track pad (which can be pressed)
  • Joystick
  • STEAM button
  • BACK button
  • START button
  • ABXY Buttons (known as the FACE buttons)
  • left and right BUMPERS (the two buttons at the back and top of the controller)
  • Left and Right TRIGGERS (the two buttons at the back and bottom of the controller)
  • Left and Right PADDLES (or GRIPS, located underneath the controller)
  • Gyroscope (the weird magic thing that means you can tilt the controller physically to act as different inputs)
  • Door at the back to hide the batteries
  • The Charging slot in between the TRIGGERS/BUMPER

The two games I used my controller for are the famous Rocket League, and the new Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive age (I know I made an anime reference AND I play a JRPG but trust me, I’m not an anime-junkie, I was born better). In both games, I use the new Paddles which are missing on traditional controllers. Although I could make do without these buttons, they are much better to have allowing for an easier game-play.
As soon as I connected the controller, I noticed you can use the right track pad as a mouse, the Left trackpad as a scroll wheel and the two bumper buttons as left and right clicks. Although a cool feature, I knew it wasn’t one I would use. I won’t dive too much into the controller’s functionality as a mouse, because that’s not what the controller was primarily designed for, I wanted to get into gaming with it.

Gaming with the Controller
The first game I decided to play was a game called “Rocket League,”a game designed to be played with controllers . Rocket League meant I could use the paddles straight away; I configured one to show the scoreboard and one to switch off/on the ball-cam. This meant I didn’t have to stretch my finger to different buttons and it let me keep a finger on the face buttons at almost all times (apart from moving the screen). I was using the paddles a lot and boy did I love it. It was very helpful that the paddles were located underneath the controller; where my natural hand position meant that my fingers are there already.

The controller was light weight, and since there was no cord I could relax as much as I wanted to and play with it. With most PC-controllers you usually have to plug in a cord and this cord could get annoying quickly.

Having said this, there was a downside I noticed with the controller; the right trackpad. I’m used to having two joysticks (As most are) so I expected it to function as one. Instead it worked in a pretty strange way. If you dragged from any point on the trackpad, it would move the screen in that direction by the same amount you moved your finger. This would mean if you wanted to do a full camera pan, you would have swipe your finger across the trackpad multiple times. Typically a Joystick would mean you have to just hold to one side, and job done. It was a noticeable problem that I didn’t like, but I knew I could probably change it. This led me on to the second problem; the settings. You couldn’t actually change how the trackpad worked from the settings, you had to go onto each individual game and then edit the controller settings on each game. I’ve only had to do it on two games (since I only use the controller on two games) but I still find it tedious. It would be easier if the settings can be changed for every game all at once, rather than having to do it individually, then you could choose to change each settings individually per game if need be.

The only other downside I have is the controller’s batteries. It doesn’t exactly take a genius to know batteries run out, even Billy knew. I found myself having to buy batteries more often than I thought. PS4 controllers and Xbox Controllers are all rechargeable, meaning you never need to switch the batteries (unless you do a Billy and throw the controller around the room when you get killed and break it). The reason I prefer being able to recharge the controller is because the controller isn’t always in use. When you’re playing other games that you’d rather use a keyboard and mouse for, you could have been charging your Steam Controller. However since it is battery powered, it means you can’t ever recharge it. I’ve had my controller for a year and have replaced the batteries three times already.

I’m still using the controller for well over a year now, so I would say it was a successful purchase. It’s priced at a reasonable £39.99 (considering other controllers are priced at either the same amount or much higher. Controllers that feature paddles tend to be more pricey).  Though if you wait until summer or winter sales, the price is usually reduced by about half. The controller is in pretty much the same condition as it was when I first opened it up, meaning it’s very durable. All of the buttons are working perfectly. However after 10 months of using the product, the left trackpad started acting up; not registering clicks properly. Although the problem seemed huge, all you had to do was calibrate the controller again (which takes a few seconds).
I definitely am glad that I have the controller, but there would obviously be no reason to buy it if you don’t intend to play controller based games, since an old-fashioned keyboard works perfectly fine.