XBF Daily: The Controller Conflict
I make little secret of the fact that I prefer my Xbox to my PS4. For a time, I was happy to place this at the feet of preference and personal history alone, but more and more I’m realising a solid, material reason for my preference…and it’s only getting more extreme. To be clear, I game a LOT. Having no kids and a wife who likes to read, together with being utterly fed up with all but a very small selection of watch-on-demand shows, most of the time I might spend watching TV is instead passed playing games…and I used to watch a lot of telly.
So, where is it that there’s such a material difference? One which impacts, not just my passive entertainment, but my active comfort? The controller, of course. That often overlooked little device which must quietly and accurately report every little twitch of your hands and finger into control movement, hour after hour, day after day. I have always preferred the Xbox controller to Sony DualShock. Being a larger-than-average grown-up (physically, at least) man, I find the extra size comforting. That’s where my preference started.
Over subsequent years, the Xbox controller evolved; things shifted, subtly, migrated, moved, mutated, chiselling out a wonderfully comfortable and ergonomic piece of hardware. In the meantime, Sony’s offering stayed more-or-less exactly the same as it was.
To look at the latest generation, because that’s where it counts; I have to focus on What’s wrong with the PS4 DualShock, rather than What’s good about the Xbox…and that’s sort of the issue. I don’t want to think about the controller I’m using; it should be a physically and psychologically invisible transponder between my intentions and the input to the console. I can play my Xbox for hours (embarrassing numbers of hours) together without ever considering the controller in my hand. In contrast, I can never forget the PS4 controller. For starters, it’s small; my fingers meet uncomfortably around it’s slender frame and after only an hour or so, I find my hands beginning to ache and cramp from clutching around the little device. The resistance in the sticks is too low, although I guess that’s entirely personal. worst of all, the control surface of the sticks themselves are designed in such a way that my thumbs are constantly slipping across them. Every few minutes I have to stop and reposition my thumbs on the sticks before they slip off the side.
They’re small things, but they matter; perhaps only to those of us who waste our lives for days at a time in the Commonwealth Wasteland, but they matter.
And here’s the thing; it recently got so much worse.
Microsoft’s Xbox Elite controller is a ridiculous luxury. Nobody who can have one should be allowed to complain about anything, but this is the internet and I am allowed to render obnoxious privileged opinions. So, considering the amount of time you or I spend using a console controller, the investment is not so extreme. Anyway; it’s based upon the same excellent footprint as the basic controller, but it’s tweaked and tuned, the materials are finer and stronger, the build closer and tighter. On top of this, there are four totally customisable paddles on the underside allowing use of your previously redundant fingers to use alternate control surfaces. The software on the Xbox dashboard allows the user to customise almost every aspect of the button mapping, trigger response, even tweak the speed of the stick response. As a non-competitive gamer, many of the finer features are of little more than passing interest to me, but the whole experience is transformative.
Even just going back to a standard Xbox controller feels like a handicap and I was genuinely startled when I first picked up my PS4 controller again in anger; the damned thing is so small, light and flimsy, the sticks are wobbly, slick little things, the trigger response is rubbery horror and the whole thing just hurts my hands. Sony was already falling behind with the DualShock and the Xbox Elite controller further opens the gap. Sure, it takes a few weeks to retrain the last decade of muscle memory to properly use the new paddles, but once it’s done, you never look back. Sony need to answer this. They need to close the gap. Yes, they have motion control and a speaker and a dumb little touch pad, but they do not have the basics down.
Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy playing PS4. I will put too many hours into No Man’s Sky, I will play enough of Uncharted 4 to complain about the combat balance again…and Sony’s machine does pack more of a graphical punch…but I will always default to the Xbox so long as the point of interface between me and the machine is so many leagues beyond.
Thanks for the awesome guest post Matt. For those that don’t know our occasional contributor Matt is not only a great guy but a fantastically talented artist. His work adorns my kids bedroom walls and Terence is perhaps the biggest badass I’ve ever met. Check out his excellent Facebook sites HERE and HERE