"$US150 for a gamepad? Hell nah." When Microsoft announced the Xbox Elite Wireless Controller, those were my first thoughts. Then, like a fool, I decided to try it. You can probably see where this is going.
Two Novembers ago, when the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One first hit the market, I'd decided that the DualShock 4 was superior to the Xbox One controller. To me, it felt a little more solid, a little less matte-plasticy. The shapes and textures made it easier and more comfortable to grip. I loved the opportunities of the built-in touchpad and light bar, not to mention the 3.5mm audio jack that let me plug in my favourite headset.
And yet I'd throw it away in a heartbeat for one of these Xbox Elite gamepads. They totally leapfrog the DS4. You want to talk about grip? The rubberised diamond grip on this controller feels fantastic. Luxurious, even. I still prefer the shape of the DualShock 4's bulbous grips, but there's no way this controller is going to shift in my hands the slightest bit without my say-so.
The new scoop-like, faceted D-pad feels awesome for the precise, circular motions you need to throw "hadoken" fireballs and "shoryuken" rising dragon uppercuts in fighting games. And yes, that's a 3.5mm headset jack you see at the lower left.
The triggers have these shiny green switches beneath them that let you turn them into hair triggers at a moment's notice. Say you're switching to a semi-automatic rifle or pistol that requires a trigger pull for each shot? Just use your middle finger to flick this switch, and you'll cut the trigger's travel in half. Which means you can pull it way faster. It totally works, and it's super easy to switch between hair trigger and full trigger on the fly.
If my memory serves, the shoulder buttons (above the triggers) feel a bit better too.
And then there's these wonderful new paddles on the bottom of the gamepad. In competitive dual-analogue-stick games — say, Halo — you'll often need to take your thumb off the right analogue stick to hit one of the four face buttons. To reload, say, or jump, or perform some other action. But every time you do that, you no longer have control over where you're looking for a split second. Now, you can map those face buttons (or anything else) to these four paddles that you can press without shifting your grip one bit.
OK, but say you don't like all those paddles, or the new D-pad. Just swap 'em out.
They attach magnetically, with magnets strong enough and tolerances tight enough that they felt secure while playing — yet effortlessly lifted away when I wanted to change 'em up. You can use as many or as few of the paddles as you like, and it comes with a pair of taller analogue sticks if you need a little more precise control.
Hell, you can even swap out those analogue sticks tops for rubbery convex nubs, like the older PlayStation controllers used to use.
What I didn't get to try: actually customising all the buttons in the Xbox One interface. Microsoft claims you'll be able to adjust the sensitivities of the thumbsticks, triggers, and map any button to any other button or trigger on the entire gamepad, create controller profiles for each and every game, and even swap between a couple of profiles on cue with a two-position switch right in the center of the gamepad.
So you can have one profile for driving a Halo 5 Warthog, for instance, and another when you're on foot — and just flick a switch to swap between them. Makes perfect sense.
I also didn't get to test out Microsoft's claim that the new steel thumbsticks plus a new low-friction material on the rings around the thumbsticks will keep them from wearing out with intense use.
Comes with this carrying case, too.
To sum up: Super solid construction, loads of on-the-fly customisability at your fingertips, and maybe some cool future potential too. Now that it's got those paddle buttons under each of your fingers, it'd be pretty interesting to see if developers build psuedo virtual reality experiences that let you grip things with your actual fingers.
It's no longer surprising to me that this gamepad costs $US150. What surprises me is my sudden desire to buy one. It will be out this October.
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