Hands on Preview (Literally): The New Xbox One Controller

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Let’s be honest here for a moment, just plain brutally honest. No fan boy nonsense or otherwise. The Xbox has had a bumpy road with their controller. Starting out on the original Xbox with a controller that was roughly the size of an iPad or small computer, Microsoft went on to design the clear stand-out controller for the last (current?) generation.  Sorry Sony fan boys, but the facts are what they are, the Dual Shock 3 controller was a design that was supposed to be phased out at the end of the PS2 era but a negative fan reaction and lack of a better design postponed Sony’s launch of a modern controller for what? 8 years?  Yes, the Xbox 360 D-Pad was junk and the battery life could have been better but there was a clear winner in the controller war this generation.  In some ways this controller design, coupled with the ability to function with PC, even helped to revive PC gaming. No small feat.

Why the history lesson?  Because quite frankly it’ll be tough to top that.

Microsoft seems aware of this fact and as such has chosen to not stray too much from the proven path.  The overall design of the controller is remarkably similar to the current gen’s.  The same general button and dual stick layout makes it as easy as it can be to make the transition from 360 to One.  In fact, there is a good chance if I put them both side-by-side the average non-gamer wouldn’t know one from the other.  There are some subtle differences worth pointing out though.

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First and foremost the weight is balanced differently.  The new controller seems a little top heavy. While I adjusted to this very quickly, it was without a doubt the first thing I noticed (in fact I found myself saying it out loud immediately after being handed the controller).  Possibly due to the battery, the top end of the controller is noticeably heavier than the rest of the controller but it still rests comfortably in your hands.

The Start and Select buttons have been replaced with two unlabeled buttons that are in roughly the same location and appear to serve the same function. I say “appear to” because neither worked in the demo so I was unable to use them to see what, if any, new function the change actually allows.  This was the only actual button change that I noticed and it was (obviously) minor.

Horizontal instead of vertical battery pack probably explains difference in weight distribution.

Horizontal instead of vertical battery pack probably explains difference in weight distribution.

The biggest change to the controller is probably the grips on the dual sticks.  The sticks on the 360 controller are relatively smooth where the Xbox One controller is notably textured.  These will wear down quickly and achieve a high level of comfort in no time, but at the start they are going to feel rough and coarse on your thumbs.  After my rounds on Killer Instinct I remarked that I would probably have some blisters on my thumbs by the 23rd. While I’m not sure just how much of a joke that actually was, I do predict this extra grip (which will likely improve precision) will also likely be the biggest complaint gamers have of the new controller.

Old & New

Old & New

Unfortunately the game I demo’d with this controller was Killer Instinct, which of course like most fighter games has a fairly limited range of movement, so I did not get to really let the new controller shine.  That aside, the new controller is mostly familiar to current gen gamers and will be a quick and easy transition. The game controller is one of the most underrated and underappreciated parts of a gaming console, and as many of us are likely to be switching back and forth between 360 and Xbox One for the foreseeable future, this easy transition is important.

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About Tristan Rendo

I've made movies, written and performed music, and in January of 2011 got bored and started the awesome gaming site you see before you. My gaming roots began with the original NES, and endless hours spent spilling quarters into machines at the local arcade. I have a personal collection of over 200 Nintendo 64 games, and for many years it was the only system I owned. I re-entered the modern generation of gaming consoles when I decided to purchase a 360. I typically prefer the single player experience of games, so I’m usually playing through some single-player campaign, but can occasionally be found doing some damage in Halo Reach.