Continuing from part 1 of my Steam Controller review.
The first thing I need to get off my chest is Steam’s In-Home Streaming feature. Most of my time with the Steam Controller involves In-Home Streaming, and this is also my first experience with that technology. I want to focus mainly on the Controller, but in order to do that I need to clear the air on In-Home Streaming.
All in all, In-Home Streaming has worked much better than anticipated. My experience showed it is actually possible to play low-latency games like Counter-Strike and Portal via In-Home Streaming. The responsiveness and picture were both good, as long as you’re willing to explore the settings available.
However, adding this extra moving cog into the mix did introduce some new struggles. I had to troubleshoot several things, and so far have not been able to get the Steam Controller to play Portal or Portal 2 via In-Home Streaming, even though Counter-Strike: Source, which has a very similar setup and engine, worked just fine.
Update Oct 20: Valve has released an update to address the issue with Portal and Portal 2.
Now, about the Steam Controller.
I spent enough time playing Counter-Strike to get a few kills; with this controller, it took a while. If a person who scored 15 kills in a round with a mouse and keyboard would only score 4 or 5 with dual analogs (and yes, I believe there is that much difference), the same person could probably do 6 to 7, maybe 8, with the Steam Controller. The Steam Controller is a definite improvement over dual-analog options, but not, in my opinion, to the level where it can replace a mouse and keyboard.
It may be possible with practice to get pretty good, and there may be new configurations or better support for this class of game coming, but as it stands it’s just too hard to aim well at close range at someone moving across the screen. While this isn’t great for the Steam Controller, it’s not out of line for my expectations coming in, and if anything it still exceeds them.
First person shooters like Halo that were born on consoles tend to take this into account in their level designs, and I may look to try a few of those in the future. I may also put in more time with the Controller when I get the Portal games working. With time, I may get good enough to make another attempt in a team game versus real people. However, I’m competitive enough to cringe at the idea of going into a game like this with that kind of handicap.
Where I am most interested in this controller is for more “casual” games, and here it worked great.
I had given up on Lego Marvel Superhero after I first purchased the game. It’s not the kind of game I want to play sitting at my desk, but it didn’t play well at all with the wireless keyboard/touchpad combo I have for the computer. It just wasn’t fun. The Steam Controller makes this game fun again.
Final Fantasy XIII worked pretty well, too. There were some glitches involving In-Home Streaming, but overall I prefer playing this game from my couch, with the Controller, on my TV over playing it at my desk, as well.
I played several hours of Civilization V, and it was good. I needed the keyboard handy at time just to adjust amounts of Gold when bartering with other nations, but that’s something I do rarely. The only other problem is not related to the Steam Controller: the text was just too small in many places. I often found myself standing in front of the TV so that I could clearly read information. I doubt the publisher ever fixes this game, but I’d look for future releases to be sensitive to that issue. Overall, I think I prefer this experience to playing the game at my desk.
The controller worked well for browsing and watching Netflix. I especially found it easier to manage for browsing than the bulkier keyboard. I could improve things further with some custom button binds, but I haven’t explored that yet.
I do have a few real complaints. Something in the driver for the Controller seems to conflict with the wireless keyboard/touchpad combo I use. Sometimes one device or the other will not function, while the other device has taken precedence. In this case, I’ll point the reader back to the last article, where Valve is very explicit that this is still beta, and they are watching for this kind of issue. I’ll be surprised if a firmware update in the next few weeks doesn’t fix this for me.
I also promised an update on battery life. After 14 hours over three days using the controller, Steam still reports 100% battery life remaining when I check it’s settings. Doubtless this is another issue, possibly due to standard instead of rechargeable batteries, but so far battery life seems to be at least reasonable.
One area where I could see the Steam Controller doing real, but did not get a chance to try, is in an MMO like World of Warcraft, Star Wars Old Republic, or Perfect World. If someone tries one of those games, I’d love to hear about how it worked for you.
In conclusion, I’m very pleased overall. There are some things I’d like to do with the Steam Controller that I can’t do well, such as play Counter-Strike, but within the expectations I set for the device, it’s performing admirably.