One of the most surprising announcements from this E3 was Microsoft’s announcement of the Xbox Elite Controller. This new controller is designed with the competitive gamer in mind, and adds features to the standard Xbox One controller such as replacable sticks and D-pad, adjustable triggers, and underside paddles with quick control. I was lucky enough to grab some hands on time with the controller, playing both Sunset Overdrive and Gears of War: Ultimate Edition on the E3 showfloor.
To start with, the Elite Controller feels incredibly nice in the hand. It’s weighted differently than the standard controller, feeling slightly heavier in the hand. The best part, however, is the addition of a rubberized grip on the back of the handles. It’s a small touch that makes all the difference, and it just feels phenominal. Even though I only used the controller for around half an hour total, I was already dreading the thought of returning to a controller without the grip.
The actual buttons themselves didn’t seem to feel any different, but the same cannot be said of the sticks. I’m not sure if it was just my imagination or not, but the sticks seemed to have slightly more tension than on the standard controller, and it felt great. The D-pad also felt better, especially once it was switched to the alternate, funkier looking D-pad. It was extremely accurate and felt good on my thumb. The reps from Microsoft said that it was designed with fighting in games in mind. A nice touch was that the controllers on the Gears of War demo station were customized. The tops of the sticks were tiny Crimson Omen logos, and each direction of the D-pad had a picture of the weapon it would switch to stamped on it. These little customizations are cool, and it’s possible we’ll start seeing them sold seperately in the future or even packed in with collector’s editions.
The actual art of switching components couldn’t be easier. With only a small amount of force, the sticks can be popped off the face of the controller and replaced. The D-pad is even cooler, being held in by magnets and popping off in a very satisfying way. The paddles on the underside of the controller work in a very similar way, using tiny anchor locks as well as a magnet to hold them in place. The triggers can be customized, as well. On the back of the controller are two switches, and each one will alter the functionality of the corresponding trigger. They can be switched between normal, full movement, or changed to hair-trigger mode, wherein the trigger becomes a digital button and only depresses a partial amount. This vastly increases the sensitivity and allows you to press the trigger, and fire your weapon, much faster.
However, everything is not perfect. I personally did not like the way the paddles felt. They were positioned where your fingers naturally fall on the underside of the controller, but they require next to no effort to press. Just by resting my fingers normally I found that the paddles kept depressing and would constantly mess me up as my Lancer would rev up in Gears of War or I would swing with a melee attack in Sunset Overdrive. This is probably something that I could get used to given enough time, but in the shoft amount of time I used the controller I either disabled the paddle functionality or removed them from the controller entirely. Such is the beauty of such a customizable controller – unwanted features can be completely removed from the equation.
When the Elite Controller ships later this year, it will include 3 sets of stick at different heights, as well as both versions of the D-pad. The official price of the controller is $150 USD.