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What is the Steam Controller?
The Steam Controller is designed to work with Valve's soon to be released Steam OS and a whole host of Steam Machines that will launch alongside it later this year. It's already made its way to beta testers along with the first PC games console and now we've had a play. Bottom line: it's shaped like an Xbox or PlayStation controller, but that's where the similarities end.
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Steam Controller: Design and Features
What is instantly noticeable about the Steam Controller is just how light the plastic body is. Whether this represents how the final version will feel in the hand we are not entirely sure. Valve has yet to include the touchscreen it promised when it first announced the controller, but in its current guise there's very little weight to it compared to Xbox One and PS4 controllers. The curved design closely resembles Microsoft's Xbox controller, though the handles seem to sit more snug in the palm.
Once it's in your hands and you glance down at it, it's when you realise just how many buttons there are to get used to. There’s 16 in total with three sets of triggers, the two in the usual place and the other hidden beneath the controller that are assigned to jump back to the Steam OS homescreen menu.
Up front there’s even more with traditional A, B, X, Y buttons at the four corners of the central trackpad with three more buttons below. The two circular trackpads aim to replicate the movement of a mouse to offer greater accuracy than analogue sticks. The circular pads are also clickable and deliver haptic feedback to add an immersive element to gaming.
All the buttons and pads can be customized to correspond with any keyboard and mouse functions and the profiles can be saved to a Steam profile so you can use them when you are on another Steam Machine or a ‘normal’ PC.
Steam Controller: Performance
Playing Starbound and Metro: Last Light it definitely takes some time getting to grips with. We spent a lot of time trying to work out which buttons did what and had to study the help section to help speed up the learning process.
The circular analogue pads are very sensitive so trying to roam freely through environments can initially be a frustrating experience. The haptic feedback on the pads feels more weird than immersive and we are not sure if the more radical X, A, B, Y button layout really works. The triggers do though as they have a satisfying feel under the fingers and is something that definitely impresses.
Whether you are a console or a PC gamer, the Steam Controller is going to feel very strange to use. The button overload clearly has its benefits for games where you rely on dipping into inventories, but for other games, it might feel like overkill. This is still a work in progress but touchscreen aside, most things seem to be in place. It remains to be seen if Steam fans will really take to it and be willing to give up the keyboard and mouse for a controller that’s by no means perfect.
Next, read about the first UK confirmed Steam Machine from Scan Computers
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