Every negative article on the Steam Controller has been from experienced gaming journos, all of whom tend to profess to having used traditional controllers for over a decade. These are people who love Xbox or Playstation controllers and have a ton of muscle memory invested in them. It’s not surprising that they’re finding it difficult to adapt to something very different. Crucially, I think they’ve forgotten the initial learning curve they had with the Playstation and Xbox controllers, because it was decades ago.
I come from a very different perspective, as someone who never owned a joystick and has always played with keyboard and mouse. Although I owned a PS2 and 3 I never enjoyed using the controller, finding it awkward and imprecise. Playing multiplatform games on PC I tend towards keyboard and mouse, even with games like Assassin’s Creed. In the last couple of years I have switched to a PS3 controller for third person games, such as The Witcher 3, but still don’t get on with it in anything requiring aiming.
So that’s how I’m coming at the Steam Controller.
As a result, I’m finding it to be much easier to use than every preview would have me expect. I’m already getting more comfortable and accurate results in FPS games than I ever have with a traditional console controller, after just a couple of evenings. The previews would have me believe that it would take weeks to get comfortable.
It’s not as natural as keyboard + mouse yet, sure, but I’m confident I’ll get there based on my ability after a few hours. I fully expect the controller to become my preferred interaction method for FPS games, in fact, even if I’m sat at my computer. It’s more comfortable than the outstretched arms of using a keyboard and mouse, and also feels less like the posture I use all day at work.
Although I’ve sacrificed a small amount of accuracy while I become more familiar with the controller, it was immediately entirely usable. And the thing to remember about keyboard and mouse, especially in FPS games, is that really you’re just talking about the mouse. The keyboard offers very little benefits. The Steam Controller manages to get the best of both worlds, with mouse-style aiming and gamepad-style analogue movement via a traditional thumbstick. Analogue movement is something I’ve never been able to enjoy while also having mouse look.
One of the first games I tried out was Invisible Inc, a game which is almost entirely mouse-driven (plus some very useful keyboard shortcuts). It’s not something I’d normally ever consider playing with a gamepad. The devs, Klei, have already put out an official setup for the Steam Controller, though, and it works brilliantly. Here’s what the setup looks like:
Thanks to Klei providing that setup it was zero effort to to get it set up. This has been the case with most games I’ve tried – minimal effort. This will only get easier once the community really digs in and starts sharing optimum setups. I bought a traditional joystick for space sims a few months back and still haven’t used it much due to the setup being such a faff. Not a problem with the Steam Controller – though, again, journos used to instant console gratification seem to be finding any kind of setup time annoying. As a PC gamer, tinkering has always been part of the experience for me.
My point is that for anybody who has never really liked console controllers, the rumours of the Steam Controller being difficult or disappointing are quote exaggerated. It’s a fascinating gizmo which is surprisingly easy to get to grips with, if you’re used to a keyboard and mouse. If you’re an experienced console/gamepad gamer then you might have a trickier time adapting, but that’s to be expected.
I’m excited to find out how adept I am at the Steam Controller after a couple of months of use.