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Steam Controller Review

Steam Controller Review – Round 2

Well, it’s been… what, about a week since I wrote the Steam Controller review? This thing is a moving target.

Valve has made a liar out of me. Already. Not that I fault them for it; They’re improving their product, after all. In the short time since the review went to print, they added a “Mouse Joystick” mode for games that don’t support mixed inputs, fixed the overlay flicker, and pushed a firmware update that I believe enabled mapping the gyro. I’m happy to report that this has immensely improved my experience with the hardware, however, it’s still not to the point where it’ll be my daily driver. The recognition issues still plague the device in every mode. It’s still good if you don’t need quick and accurate headshots, but if that’s what you need, hold on to your analog sticks just a bit longer.

Steam Controller Review

Given the speed at which updates are being pushed out, this thing should be a completely different beast by the time it reaches the public at large. At this time, though, it remains the domain of tweakers. If you enjoy spending more time configuring your controller than playing the game you intend to use it with, this is your dream controller. Every piece of it is configurable. If you’re looking for something more plug-and-play, I recommend holding off until more of the kinks are worked out.

I gave it more testing in Dying Light (To see if Mouse Joystick works as advertised), Sniper Elite III, Mad Max (Which received an update for “Steam Controller Support”, whatever that means), Sublevel Zero, Downwell, Star Wars: Republic Commando, and Metal Gear Solid V. I used the top-rated config whenever possible, and made adjustments where necessary.

Dying Light performs a lot better with the Mouse Joystick configuration, to the point where I’d say the game is mostly playable with the Steam Controller. Since it’s a game that focuses on melee combat, pixel-perfect accuracy isn’t strictly necessary, and the vague nature of the touchpad doesn’t hurt the experience too much. I missed a few ledge grabs here and there, but I’m willing to accept a portion of the blame on that for not planning far enough ahead.

Sniper Elite III fares a lot worse than Dying Light did. I still can’t get the precision I need to line up a headshot on a moving target. The inconsistency of the touchpad, along with the unwillingness to accept anything that doesn’t start from the center in joystick mode, creates a feeling that you’re fighting the controller.

Mad Max had a popular setup that I’d never seen before. It uses “Joystick Move” on the right pad. I thought this meant it’d use the right pad for movement, which sounded insane. But, I used it anyway to see how it performed. Surprisingly, this is more useful than I thought. It doesn’t control movement, it still controls the camera. However, you can lightly press on a part of the pad, and it acts as if you were holding a button. It works really well for camera control, but still lacks precision for aiming. It also robs you of a place to rest your right thumb when moving the camera isn’t necessary.

Sublevel Zero was awful on both a regular controller and a Steam controller, so I can’t really fault it for anything here. Play it with either mouse and keyboard or a flightstick. Anything else is masochism.

Downwell is a 2D game, which relies on the analog stick and the trigger. Both of these aspects of the controller work flawlessly, so full marks for it here. There’s also a config for tapping the right pad to fire, but I’d advise against it. The trigger is easier, faster, and more reliable.

Star Wars: Republic Commando with the Steam Controller is an unplayable mess. It’s the only game on this list that doesn’t have explicit controller support, and suffers greatly for it. The config of choice by the community makes use of both the right touchpad and the gyro, however, resting your thumb on the right pad is all it takes to enable the gyro. If your thumb slips while trying to aim with the gyro, the gyro’s input will be added to the input from your thumb, which is set as a mouse. I attempted to turn the sensitivity down for the touchpad/mouse input, and it was no help. Rolling my thumb was enough for 90 degree turns, making giving orders to my squad (mapped to clicking the right touchpad) impossible. In desperation, the key for giving orders was rebound to the A button. This doesn’t help either, as you will be pointing with your right thumb, which you’d also use for pressing A. Didn’t really think that through, but everything else was sensibly mapped, and moving anything else would only have compounded my misery. The movement was also really jerky on both the gyro and the touchpad in Republic Commando. Stick with mouse and keyboard for this one, for now at least.

Metal Gear Solid V’s reaction to the Steam Controller remains mostly unchanged. Lining up headshots with the tranq rifle is still more difficult than it has any reason to be, especially once helmets get involved. If long-distance headshots aren’t part of your MGSV playstyle, then you might be okay. But the radial menu works now, so that’s a plus.

Steam Controller Review

In summary, Valve’s latest additions have made at least two more games (that I tested) playable for me, and in just a week’s time. That’s damned impressive. Some of you may find even more games playable through the use of the gyro in combination with the new Mouse Joystick mode. Just be warned, the gyro requires a button be held in order to activate. The current favorite is just having your thumb on the right touchpad. I’m hoping someone finds a better way of activating the gyro, for the reasons I mentioned above, regarding Republic Commando. If you were interested in it before my review went to print, keep your eyes on it. It’s showing rapid improvement for the time being, and I can honestly say I’m impressed. I don’t say that very often. Valve appears committed to making this thing work for as many people and games as possible, and I respect that. Maybe next year, it will finally become my daily driver. But for now, it’s not ready for prime time. It’s closer than it was last week, but greatness is still just out of reach.

Valve, I look forward to you making me wrong again.

About John Howard

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  • madjr

    Nice round 2. I was curious about dying light and Sublevel Zero, thanks for testing those. Seems for SLZ, they might be needing to add some more features (or maybe there’s a config am not aware of yet..)

    Anyway for your Gyro problems, you can actually change how to activate it or even have it always on (mostly if you’re racing maybe and like that style, like a lot of people do with their phones or Wii’s), however this MGS5 SC tutorial should help sort out some of that:

    Hope to see a round 3 😀
    Also hope Valve actually starts promoting some of these features or adding a tutorial at first setup instead of just throwing it to the community to figure out…

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