Review: Xbox One Controller
Microsoft made huge improvements to its gaming controller design going from the first Xbox to the Xbox 360, with one being regarded as a mistake due to its shape and heftiness, and the other as one of the best controllers of all-time. Can Microsoft duplicate that success with its Xbox One controller?
From far away the Xbox One Controller can be mistaken for the Xbox 360 Controller, but don't let its asymmetrical sticks and button configuration fool you. This is a proper refinement of what many gamers consider to be the best controller of the last decade. Upon holding it for your first time the first thing you'll notice is the materials feel luxurious. While still made of plastic, its balance of weight, outstanding build quality, and matte black finish give you the sense that it's something special. It helps that it's absolutely gorgeous, too.
In operation, the Xbox One Controller is remarkably comfortable to hold. The shape makes no compromises; your hand comfort is its utmost priority. The grips are shaped to facilitate well-being during long game sessions no matter what size hands you have. The trigger buttons are hooked so that when you hold them down your fingers feel secured to the controller. The centimeter or so of travel also give you some leverage for throttle control in racing games. Most noticeably, the battery pack has been integrated into the center housing. You won't have to worry about your fingers feeling uncomfortable now that the back if flush.
The joysticks are the most impressive part of the controller. They're concave just like the Xbox 360's, but a little smaller with a rough texture around the edges. Maintaining grip has never been so easy. Whether you prefer to dig your fingertips into the grooves, or push against the rim, you'll find the joysticks pleasurable.
The face buttons haven't seen much change, but the d-pad certainly has. Unlike the wonky omni-directional pad of the previous Xbox controllers, this latest controller offers good feedback on button presses. You can hear it click when you press in a direction, and you can have confidence in the controller receiving the input you intended. For platformers and menu navigation it's excellent. Though, its hard plastic can wear on your fingers when playing fighting games.
The new bumper buttons aren't as well-designed. Intended to be pushed on their far edge, they can prove troublesome for those not used to them. Their long shape is misleading as they appear long, but can only be pressed on the far end. Microsoft has shaped the controller so that your index fingers on each hand lie right between the bumper and trigger, providing instant access to both. Sometimes it's nice being able to press a bumper button without moving your trigger finger, but they feel foreign when compared to any other controller on the market. They may get in the way of accurate grenade throws and other game interactions for an hour or two before you feel you can use them them accurately.
Microsoft has chosen to go with a battery-powered controller once again. In a way it's understandable, Microsoft likes that you can use your controller for years without worrying about Lithium Ion discharge, but most consumers are willing to deal with that instead of batteries. So, you have three options if you're a fan of wireless: pony up batteries every month to keep the thing running, opt for rechargeable batteries and use a charger to keep them fresh, or purchase the Plug and Charge kit ($25 MSRP) which converts it to a Lithium Ion battery design like its adversaries. If you don't want to deal with the nuances of a wireless controller, it comes bundled with a USB cable so you can plug it in and play forever without any caveats. Well, except for the possibility of tripping over the cable.
Not every improvement is visible from the outside. Microsoft has installed motors underneath both triggers so you can feel the vibration feedback from games at your fingertips. It might not sound like much, but it's an excellent addition that enhances gameplay. When firing a weapon, you can feel the vibration of the weapon's recoil. If driving, you can tell where the weight of the car has shifted when going around a turn, or even feel the bumps of an apron when you run over them. This, amplified by the controller's ergonomics, makes for great interaction with games.
There's also a port on the bottom of the controller where the Xbox One headset plugs in. The audio controls fit well within the space of the grips and the headset went beyond our expectations in audio quality. The Xbox button still remains on the controller, but its functionality has changed a bit for UI navigation in addition to it being a little harder to press. No radical changes in that regard.
The Xbox One Controller is the best controller I've ever used. It's extremely ergonomic and dependable for all types of games. Its joysticks and triggers are so successful that others are sure to emulate it. Sure, the bumper buttons take some getting used to, and by default the controller runs on AA batteries, but those negatives are made insignificant when compared to the long list of positives. Microsoft says it has 40 improvements over the Xbox 360 Controller. I can't say what all of those 40 changes are, but I can tell you that this thing is very special.
Jonathan Leack is the Gaming Editor for CraveOnline. You can follow him on Twitter @jleack.
Review copy provided by publisher. Game is exclusive to Xbox One.