Monday, March 18, 2013

Tech Review: Xbox 360 Controller

It started as a dial. It evolved into a joystick. Buttons were added, analog sticks were invented, and the Home button found a place in the center. Video game controllers are one of the single most important aspects to a console. Without one, we couldn't save the princess, kill the aliens, win the tournament; decide our destiny. They allow us to interact in a way no other medium can offer, and give us the control and precision to conquer any task. But not all controllers are created equal. The world is littered with the remains of failed ideas and concepts. But there are some that shine through, that become the template others are based on, and that live on for years to come. I'll be taking a look at as many controllers as I can get my hands on, to find the ones that succeed, and those that fail. First on trial: Microsoft's Xbox 360 controller, the current favorite of the generation.

The 360 controller is very comfortable to hold. It has good weight to it, and is feels high quality all over. The buttons and sticks are easy to get to, and the triggers conform nicely to your fingers. The only problem I can see people having with the way the controller feels is that it is rather large. Though not nearly as big as the original Xbox controller, it definitely is a bit of a struggle for those with smaller hands. For me personally, it fits just right, but it is something to consider for those looking to pick there controller of choice.

This is one nice looking controller! The contrast between the colored buttons and the white or black plastic is a thing of beauty. I definitely prefer the black one over the older white model though. The white model had a tendency to collect stains, and the gray sticks don't look nearly as appealing as the all black model. The black model on the other hand is immediately iconic, and really makes you want to pick it up and play with it. The menu button in the middle is reflective and really captures the image of the 360.

The controller features a traditional 2-stick and D-pad approach  Like the original Xbox, the sticks are offset each other, and this works well for most games. The sticks have an extremely small deadzone, making them very precise. The resistance is a bit more than other controllers, but I personally find it allows for more accurate refinements to things such as driving or lining up a headshot. The D-pad though is absolutely horrid. It's all one giant disc, and makes intricate movements near impossible. Hitting left or right will often cause you to go up or down as well, and this can really be a problem in games like Pac-Man, Super Meat Boy, other arcade games. This is easily the biggest downfall of the controller, and one that Microsoft has still failed to completely fix.
Buttons and Triggers
The face buttons are really nice. Immediately distinguishable due to their bright color, they have a nice click to them, but without feeling to hard. One feature they do lack though is being analog. This allows the controller to change behavior based on a hard or light press, used extensively in games like Metal Gear Solid. It's not a huge loss, as this is rarely used on controllers that offer it, but for games that do it's a big annoyance. The triggers are probably the best I've ever used. They are in fact analog, and have the perfect amount of resistance. This is most useful in racing games, allowing you to slow down and speed up gradually. I'm not as big a fan of the two bumpers, but this is mostly do to them having an annoying click. I think this varies from controller to controller though, so it's more a manufacturing problem than a design problem. 

Special Features
The most significant feature that the 360 controller has that others don't, is a headphone jack on the top. This makes plugging in a headset so easy that anyone can get talking online (though this isn't always a good thing). You don't have to fuss with long chords, or setting up a wireless headset, simply plug and play. The controller also comes in a wireless model, and it works flawlessly. I never once had a disconnect or lag, and this is a huge step up from wireless controllers of the past. I do wish it came with a rechargeable battery, but these can be purchased separately for those that need them. On two AA batteries I got a ton of playtime, and have only had to swap batteries twice in five months.

When it comes down to it, I absolutely love the 360 controller. It feels great to play with, the sticks are tight and accurate, and the triggers are a joy to use! If it wasn't for the D-Pad it would be practically perfect. I really hope that Microsoft gets this right when the next Xbox drops. It's the one glaring flaw in their plan, and is really a problem for platformers and arcade games that are much better using the traditional control. But for everything else, it's hard not to love the controller. It's one of my all time favorite video game controllers, and one that I can't help but highly recommend!

Final Opinion: 5/5 Incredible

Note, this review is of the stock 360 controller. It does not represent any third party controllers, or Microsoft's own controller featuring the revolving D-Pad.

1 comment:

  1. Dentorhedge De MuAugust 4, 2013 at 9:17 PM

    Nice. About the top bit and the evolution of controllers. The new big controller evolution comes with the touch screen-- and not Nintendo's Wii-U. Brass Monkey and Nitrome Touchy iPhone apps are doing big things.