OPINION: When we think of advancements in PC gaming, the gamepad doesn’t usually spring to mind.
That’s mostly because PC gamers are obsessed with keyboard and mice instead, while new advancements for graphics cards, processors and monitors are generally far more exciting, but the PS5’s DualSense controller has shown that it would be foolish to ignore the gamepad too much, as they can have a huge impact on your gaming experience.
Thanks to the fantastic haptic feedback inside the PS5 DualSense, the controller is able to create the sensation of a horse’s hooves hitting a road or the pulsations of a sci-fi gun as it unleashes a blast of energy. Such features help to boost immersion to such a degree, that I genuinely think the DualSense is one of the best features of the PS5.
So this got me thinking, have we seen any similar advancements in the PC controller market? That question took me down a rabbit hole that led me to the concept controller from Dell’s Alienware Nyx project.
If you’re not familiar with the Alienware Nyx concept, this is a high-powered system that allows external devices such as a smartphone, tablet or laptop to leverage its processing power via a network connection. Think of it like streaming via services such as Google Stadia, but instead of connecting through the cloud, you’re able to stream via your own hardware for a local connection.
This clever concept was announced back in early 2022. Jump forward to the present day, and Dell is still calling Nyx a concept, with no sign of a release, but it has unveiled a new concept gamepad that pairs up with Nyx.
This is one of the most feature-packed controllers I’ve ever seen. Just like the PS5 controller, it uses haptic feedback and adaptive triggers to simulate the feeling of various in-game activities, whether it’s using a bow, firing a gun or swimming through water.
Alienware hasn’t stopped there however. It’s also got thumbsticks which allow you to alter the pressure required to move them. For example, if your game character was wading through a swamp, then the controller’s thumbsticks could become harder to move. It also has eSports-grade advantages, just in case you prefer a little more sensitivity when aiming a sniper rifle.
Alienware has also added sensors into the right and left bumpers, allowing you to swipe them to trigger a separate input from pushing them. This may be useful for quickly swapping weapons or shifting through gears in a racing car.
The inclusion of a shift button is one of my favourite aspects about this controller, as pressing down on it will temporarily alter the functionality of all the other buttons on the pad, just like a keyboard’s shift functionality. This is especially useful for MMO and MOBA games where there are so many attacks and special abilities that a traditional PC controller just doesn’t have enough inputs to keep up with.
Dell even claims it would have a clever overlay that showed which new inputs became available once pressing down on the shift button. That’s incredibly useful for someone like me who struggles to remember a phone number, never mind all of the commands in League of Legends.
There are a couple of features that may prove divisive, such as ditching the D-Pad for a touch panel, which reminds me of the Steam Controller and Steam Deck. With that said, it’s a great way of enabling the controller to be used like a trackpad, just in case you’re playing a game that has been designed specifically for use with a keyboard and mouse.
The Alienware Nyx controller also has a fingerprint sensor, which allows you to quickly sign into your profile without having to bother with passwords and the like. It will be especially useful for services such as Alienware Nyx, which has been designed to be used by multiple users simultaneously. With this feature, you’d be able to avoid the possibility of accidentally signing into your brother’s account and logging them out of the server when they’re just about to defeat a Dark Souls boss.
Just like with Google Stadia, the Alienware Nyx controller has a Wi-Fi antenna built into the controller. This enables you to connect directly to the server, rather than using a gadget as a go-between. This should hopefully reduce latency while also removing the need to faff around with Bluetooth.
When Dell introduced me to this controller back in December 2022, I was allowed to hold it in my hand and press all of the different buttons, but I wasn’t able to play any games with it. This is just a prototype after all, with Dell refusing to commit itself to a full launch for Alienware Nyx just yet.
I can understand why Dell is hesitant to launch such a device in 2023. There isn’t anything like this right now, so it’s bound to have numerous obstacles, chief among them is its dependance on a fast Wi-Fi connection. I’m not convinced that most UK households have a fast enough W-Fi connection to take full advantage of such a concept. I also think gamers are a little wary of cloud gaming, as shown by the failure of Google Stadia.
Despite the limitations of my time with the device, I was really impressed with both Alienware Nyx and its accompanying controller. Going hands on with these devices felt as if I was stepping into the future, and even if it is too soon for Nyx to replace the gaming PC, I’d still love to see more PC controllers embracing the same level of innovation.
Ctrl+Alt+Delete is our weekly computing-focussed opinion column where we delve deeper into the world of computers, laptops, components, peripherals and more. Find it on Trusted Reviews every Saturday afternoon.