Hands On: Xbox One Controller
Posted by Ken Barnes
At a small building in London’s Waterloo area on a bright and sunny Wednesday, Microsoft decided to give the UK press their first taste of the Xbox One. Spread across three floors, the event showcased Kinect, Forza Motorsport 5, Kinect Sports Rivals, Ryse: Son of Rome, Killer Instinct, FIFA 14, and Dead Rising 3.
Demonstrators were on hand when it came to most of the titles, with the press contingent being able to get their hands on each of the games in turn. We rocked up just as the smallest cheeseburgers in the world were being handed out by the waiting staff, but decided that we’d forgo the refreshments and jump right on in.
Xbox One Controller
When it comes to controllers, you wouldn't think that there’s a lot that could be done to improve them. Not without throwing in head-tracking, or allowing games to be controlled with your thoughts, anyway. But – and we’re as shocked at what we’re about to say as you will be – the Xbox One controller truly is the absolute best that we've used so far.
The consensus here at Pure Xbox is that Sony's Dual Shock 2 is the champion – it’s in most of our staff’s top three lists, even if it isn't in each writer's number one spot - and even though the Xbox 360 controller is a decent input device, it can feel somewhat cumbersome at times. Get into a tough-fought game of FIFA or a head-and-head battle in Forza, and you can find that you've been gripping the controller so hard that your hands hurt at the end of a single match.
Not so with the Xbox One controller, which is truly light years ahead of anything we've seen so far. What’s strange is that the changes that have been made are relatively small in the grander scheme of things. The bumpers have more of a plasticky “click” to them (which some will undoubtedly hate) and are more closely fitted to the case. The sticks are a touch lighter. The buttons are a little flatter. The battery housing has been crushed into the back of the device so it doesn't stick out at all. The device as a whole is noticeably lighter - as light as an Xbox 360 controller without batteries in it, in fact - even though the demo controllers we were using were wired. The grips are ever so much slightly rounder. The triggers feature individual light rumble motors, outside of the controller’s main rumble motor. None of it is particularly mind-blowing, on paper.
But the combination of those points are what could well cause it to oust your favourite controller from the top of the pile. With the flat battery housing and the more rounded grips, the device is so much more comfortable to hold. We played a couple of hotly contested matches of FIFA 14, and it just felt right. A bit of co-op Ryse was on the cards too, and after a good while of hacking and slashing our way through stacks of enemies, there was no fatigue or tension to be found.
But the thing that absolutely blew us away, was those tiny little rumble motors. Sprinting around Laguna Seca in our McLaren P1s, we could FEEL the car losing grip on the right hand side as we took the corkscrew turn far too quickly. It shouldn't make sense - what’s essentially happening is that your accelerator button is vibrating to indicate that the right hand tyres aren't in full contact - but somehow it just does. Without any tuition or demonstration beforehand, we took our first corners, realised what was going on, and started correcting our driving in response to the feedback from the triggers.
It has to be noted that none of the other games that we played used the triggers anywhere near as well as this. In fact, we were hard pressed to remember which other games actually had any sort of vibration going on. But even with that in mind, the controller is a really accomplished piece of design when those motors aren't being used. There's an element of "Well, you're an Xbox site, so you would say that, wouldn't you?" to be taken into consideration of course, but as gamers who have used every type of controller from the Atari VCS' classic single-fire-button brick right through to the current generation of pads, we have to say that Microsoft have crafted something that feels new and fresh, but at the same time feels beautifully familiar. That isn't to say that some things will be tough to get used to - the "Start" button equivalent is now round, recessed into the controller housing, and in a slightly different position, for example. We missed that button every time we tried to hit it, although we're sure it'll become second nature after a while, just like it has with the Xbox 360 pad.
The most minor of minor complaints aside, the 40 or so changes that the company have been talking about making have garnered a big return, let there be no doubt. Of course, we can't say that the Xbox One Controller is the best bundled controller of all time, as we haven't so much as held a Dual Shock 4 at the time of writing, but Sony's revisions will have to be absolutely on the money in order to top this.