We've been seeing a lot of reactions to the new generation of controllers being pretty great. And they are true. Mostly.
This weekend at the Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle, I had a chance to get some more hands on time with the Xbox One controller and the DualShock 4. I'll confess; it's the first time I've had time on with either of them since last year's convention, and while they were pretty nice, I couldn't help but notice some issues that I couldn't quite call minor.
My first issue arose with the DualShock 4, and it was during the demo for Bloodborne that it came up. I noticed that every time I tried to roll backwards, I was rolling back and to the left at about a 45° angle. I nearly bit the dust a few times because of it, and was about to ask my buddy, standing next to me at another demo station, what the hell was wrong with the game. But looking across to him, I noticed that my issue wasn't the game, it was how close together and low on the controller the analogue sticks were. As a result, what felt like "back" was actually 45° back towards the left of the stick.
The sad thing is, I actually love the sticks other than that. The tension is pretty good, maybe a touch too light but better than the Xbox One's gamepad. The top grip is a super smart design that works great and is very comfortable to use. The triggers are a lot more functional and the whole thing has a lot less "squish."
But it just isn't quite perfect. Now, this seems a little silly to complain about but the controller is one of the few constants we have when interacting with the mechanics, worlds, and concepts of the games we play. The far from optimal placement of the controller's analogue sticks immediately impacted my game experience, because it went against years of formed habits from using the Xbox 360 and PS3 gamepads. Honestly, I felt the position of the sticks was off enough that I couldn't quite overcome it with use.
All in all the controller felt really nice. But not quite right. It reminded me of the analogue drift of the 360 sticks, or the triggers of the DualShock 3. It never quite broke the experience, but I was always left wondering why the thing I experienced these games through for years on end hadn't quite met my expectations.
I had a few more experiences with the DualShock 4 that weren't quite as negative, but mostly because directionality wasn't quite as important, or at least not as easy to detect. The issue was still there though, irking it's way into my awareness occasionally.
Unfortunately, my experience wasn't exactly that different when I got my hands on an Xbox One controller once again. First time I got to use it this year was at Forza Horizon 2's booth. I played the original game for 24 hours while watching Tested.com's "Octobercast" charity event, and loved the new take on a favorite franchise of mine, so as you can imagine I was pretty excited to see what the new generation could bring to the sequel. Especially with the new features and improvements to the controller.
But my first reaction wasn't exactly super positive. Sure, the sticks were in a much more natural position. The triggers were great, and were complimented very cleverly by the bumpers. The Dpad was pretty good, about as good as they get by modern standards.
There's a pattern here though. Once again, the sticks just weren't what I was looking for. It's a criticism you've probably heard: the tension on the sticks is just way too loose. Now, tension is a weird thing. Make it too high and you risk fatigue and over-compensation. Too loose, as is the case with the Xbox One, and you make precise, small adjustments difficult and you give less feedback to the player.
Once again, it's not to say that this controller was in any way bad. But it wasn't up to the standards I'd hope it'd be. Considering the prices we pay for these devices; $60 for either option, I think it's reasonable to expect the analogue sticks won't wiggle within a significant dead zone, that the sticks be positioned in a way that is familiar and comfortable, and have a healthy amount of tension. These devices are so key to how we experience games and I have to say I wonder why they keep turning out with these not inconsiderable (at least to me!) flaws.
Of course, this all probably translates to the fact that there is no "one size fits all." But I can't help but feel that at least some of these issues come from a lack of quality in the product, and maybe a bit of arrogance. On that last bit, I have to wonder why the PS4 controller has it's sticks where it is, other than a compromise of the new form and the old form. The PS4 controller has made huge strives on the comfort side of things but I can't help but feel that the positioning of the sticks, which was already too close together for some people's tastes, has suffered because they aren't willing to let go of the last 30% of DNA from the last design. And with the Xbox One controller, I feel like they have taken a few of the criticisms directed at the 360 gamepad a little too seriously and over corrected somewhat, an attitude I feel has gone a long way to driving the Xbox One's name down in the eyes of consumers.
Do people feel that there's opportunity to have a "perfect" (or close to it) controller that comes in the box? Or is it just an issue of personal preference that makes the margin of error too great to overcome? What would it take for either of the existing gamepads to be "perfect," for you?