Old Dog, New Tricks
The age-old debate over which control system is superior for playing first-person shooter games (keyboard and mouse versus tradtional gamepad) has been raging for what seems like decades now. While opinions are like proverbial arseholes (everyone has one), the consensus among competitive gamers has been more or less unanimous – the K&M has unmatched precision while the console players prefer the comfort and ergonomics of the gamepad for extended gaming periods on the couch instead of sitting at a desk.
I’ve leaned towards the old school corner of K&M for most of my gaming life, honing my twitch shooting skills in the ruthless servers of Counter Strike. However, once Halo came along I often found it frustrating when I would play with friends and get shot to pieces. When games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare began to appear on consoles, it only got worse. With a gamepad you simply can’t whip around to check your six quick enough, and lining up iron sights seems so clunky in comparison. The theory has been proven plenty of times with K&M players facing off against gamepad players in games like Battlefield 4.
On the flip side, I’ve learned to appreciate gamepads in third-person cover shooters such as Gears of War and open world sandboxes like Fallout 3. Any game that relied heavily on stealth (like Dishonored) I also found more fluid with thumb sticks because my success depended on movement, rather than constantly aiming for the elusive head shot.
The clash of the two peripherals really came to a head last year when I played Wolfenstein: The New Order. Stealth was a large part of the game, but all out firefights were always inevitable. For the first time I had to resort to awkwardly exchanging controls from the gamepad to the K&M when the robo-Nazis detected my presence. It was the only way I could beat certain levels on the hard setting that I like to play on. Had it really come to this?
The Steam Solution
I was recently invited to the EB Games Managers Conference in Whistler to take a look at some of the products hitting video game shelves this season. In between sessions of Star Wars: Battlefront and a very exciting look at PlayStation VR, I arrived at Valve’s booth to sample the much-anticipated final version of the Steam Controller for the first time.
Gone was the right thumbstick – forever my Achilles heel – in place was a touch pad with haptic feedback. The Steam rep talked me through how the touchpad could swing around my view on the vertical axis with a swipe and every button and pad could be mapped to exactly what I wanted. Playing around 10 minutes of Borderlands: The Presequel I finally began to find the groove of the Steam controller, the subtle rolling of my thumb felt considerably more accurate than the Xbox 360 controller that plugs into my PC every day.
Sober second thought
But is the Steam Controller perfect? Far from it. I still yearn for the laser precision of good old K&M every time I look down the iron sights. But with more and more stealth and cover gameplay elements making their way into the FPS genre and the Steam Link liberating bulky desktop PC gaming into the living room, this just may be the solution I’ve been waiting for.