With the Xbox 360 controller, Microsoft offered everything that a gamer would want from their peripheral, between the comfortable design, the responsive analog sticks, and the placement of triggers, making it easy to fire, aim and perform other functions.
However, with a new system come a few changes. For its Xbox One system, Microsoft has revamped the controller into a slightly smaller, cohesive unit with a revamped trigger system, smaller D-pad, and conveniently moved home button, located near the top instead of the center. Does this redesign make all the difference?
Actually, yes. First, let's talk about the general feel of the controller. While it isn't as wide as the Xbox 360 build, everything is easily accessible when it comes to gameplay options. The controller is comfortable in your hands – whether big or small, since we know a lot of kids will be playing this – and the analog sticks have no problem rolling around on your thumbs. In fact, the revised thumb pads on top of the sticks make it easier to move things around, whether you're hacking away at enemies in Ryse: Son of Rome or rolling motions in Killer Instinct (although Mad Catz' custom-made FightStick is also available for those who want a more authentic fighting experience).
The buttons, which are simply labeled with the classic "A," "B," X," and “Y” layout as before, work exceptionally well, too. They respond to your touch with ease, and don't appear to wear out over prolonged gameplay sessions. They're also closer together, in case you need to perform combo attacks or go right from a jump to an attack, like you would in Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag.
Up next is the Xbox home button. Though it doesn't light up as it did on the Xbox 360 controller, it is conveniently placed so you don't accidentally hit it during your frivolous gameplay sessions. The start and select buttons sit comfortably underneath, and are smaller than the typical face buttons, but work just as well when it comes to accessing menus and changing options. You may accidentally pause your game every once in a while, but it certainly beats opening up a home menu by mistake. Oops…
One noticeable difference with this controller is the smaller D-pad. It also lacks the "twist" effect that current Xbox 360 controllers have, where you can twist it and make it pop out for easier maneuverability. After getting over its redesign, we found it to be quite accurate with gameplay sessions, particularly with fighting techniques in Killer Instinct. You probably won't be using it as much as the analog stick, though, so you shouldn't worry too much about it.
Then we come to the triggers, which have undergone the heaviest revamp when it comes to controller redesign. The feel is still about right when it comes to clicking them in for functions, such as aiming and firing. However, Microsoft has rebuilt the rumble system so that it has a more effective response to these controllers. The controller still rumbles overall if something happens in the game, like the earthquake in Call of Duty: Ghosts. Yet the triggers have their own rumble features, adding a little uniqueness to the proceedings.
We tested these new triggers out with Forza Motorsport 5. Within the game, we could feel the distinct differences between the rumble coming from our car stopping on the road and the one building up in our acceleration. It's a little bewildering at first, but it's one you can quickly become accustomed to, and, in turn, it makes you feel more of the features in your car itself. We're not sure how other third-party developers will adapt to this rumble system just yet, but they're likely to throw in improved functionality. Can you imagine all the wild rumble effects that would come with a game like EA's Titanfall? We certainly can.
Though the bumpers don't have their own independent rumble feeling, they respond quite well in the games we tried out. Better still, they don't get in the way of the trigger functionality, just like on the original Xbox 360 control pad. It's good to see Microsoft keeping some design conventionality intact for its new peripheral.
Most of the other functions for the controller are still the same. It's wireless and requires two AA batteries, unless you feel like investing in the useful Play and Charge kit, which plugs into the back and lets you recharge with ease. There's also an accessible headset port on the unit, so you can plug in your included headset with ease and chat with your friends. Finally, it's got a nice build, and a luxurious black color. Still, we'd like to see some custom ones down the road. A glowing neon blue Halo controller would certainly make our day, whenever the next-gen version arrives.
In all, the Xbox One controller is a good improvement over the Xbox 360 model. Even if some things have condensed or changed to something simpler, it still feels like next-gen through and through – and that's what matters.
The Xbox One will release on November 22nd.
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