My first experience with the Steam Link was using an Xbox One controller. The Xbox One’s controller is one of the best controllers I’ve ever used, and I hadn’t run into any issues with it so far. That said, it seemed like a great idea to try it out Steam Link with the Steam Controller as well.
And boy, was it a good thing I did. The first issue that the Steam Link controller has is an immediate firmware update. This isn’t uncommon in today’s industry, so it’s not as intrusive as it once would have seemed, but it still offered just another hurdle. For the first part of the day, I actually went without a firmware update because I couldn’t get the controller to update. Plugging it into the computer (as instructed) Steam never prompted to install an update for the controller.
It was only after the controller stopped working that the firmware update became a necessary evil. Over one hour later, I was finally able to use the controller again. Valve’s support for the Steam Controller and FAQ for downloading the firmware update is less then helpful, and will only leave your head spinning. It’s best to Google and find other user’s solutions if you’re having issues. From what I can tell, there are a lot of different factors that could be causing the lack of update prompting.
So far, past getting over the first firmware hiccup, the controller runs well. The controller is a fairly standard layout with two noticeable changes. There are additional triggers on the back of the controller, which you would effectively use with your ring/pinky fingers as you grip the handles. These can be mapped to several buttons, but the game that I experienced using them with was Spelunky, which used them as additional A and X buttons.
The second change to the controller layout is the large touchpad circles. Rather then giving you a left and right stick on the controller, the Steam Controller is equipped with one left stick and a touch pad right stick. The large pad is used in the way you would a right stick, but just not in stick form. The left touch pad is then meant to be a D-pad.
The controller also changes things up with the size of the buttons. Being used to the Xbox and Playstation controllers, the Steam Controller’s A/B/X/Y buttons are much smaller in comparison.
These new designs in the Steam Controller aren’t necessarily bad, but they take time to adjust to, just like swapping between any kind of controllers.
After adjusting however, which included a lot of looking down to see what buttons my fingers were on, it proved to be a good design. The buttons on the grips of the controller forces you to loosen your grasp, which could prove to be useful after long gaming sessions. Anyone who has molded their hands to the shape of a controller will understand the pain it feels to slowly stretch them out.
The controller began to feel almost second nature as I forced myself into using the D-pad while adventuring the rogue caves of Spelunky. And I quite enjoyed what I experienced. It didn’t feel like I was inconveniencing myself to use a product that I had spent money on, but rather I wanted to use it.
When using Steam Link’s big picture mode, you do have to use the left stick to navigate. This in no way effects using the software, and if anything would effect the Steam Link review over the Steam Controller.
The triggers are responsive and feel natural, but, if anything, are a little shallow for my tastes. I’m used to having a controller with ‘deep’ triggers so to speak, and a little more depth often makes a shooter experience that much more enjoyable.
I couldn’t force a durability test on the Steam Controller, so I can’t tell you if its one of the best controllers we’ve ever seen. I was never blown away by the controllers design, but rather surprised at how natural the touchpads began to feel once I got accustomed to them. The bumpers on the grips are a wise design choice and I do believe that’ll be a great feature for certain types of games down the line.
Besides the firmware updates, another problem with the Steam Controller – and anything Controller while using the Steam Link, really – is the lack of support for the controllers so far. Although you can get mapped out buttons done by the community or even Valve’s suggestions themselves, the support done by the developer helps much more. This isn’t to say your choice of games is limited as, depending on the size of your Steam library, you’ll have a lot to play. I’d just like to be able to experience any game and get the support for the controller already built in.
Overall, the Steam Controller doesn’t seem to be a bad choice. If you have a controller you already like however, say the Xbox One controller, you’ll be fine using it on the big picture mode. Steam Link does come with a cable to adapt to the Xbox One controller, and there is a wireless hub being released later on this month.
If you get the opportunity to try out the Steam Controller, and I do suggest trying it out for over an hour just to get accustomed to it, then by all means try it out. It simply isn’t a necessity to enjoy your experience on Big Picture mode.