VG Tribune

Hardware Review: Steam Controller and Steam Link

November 14, 2015 / 4:05 PM

By: Zack O'Neill


FULL DISCLOSURE: These units were provided by Valve for reviewing purposes.

So after years of early mockups and speculation, the public finally has their hands on Valve’s first contribution to the hardware market: the Steam Controller and Steam Link. I’ve previously written my preview of the controller and the link, and I definitely had some concerns and complaints due to compatibility and comfort. I can easily say that with the firmware updates that Valve has released between then and release, the majority of my issues have been completely solved.

In terms of the Steam Controller, I had voiced a big issue with game compatibility where a lot of games weren’t going to work with the primary feature of the steam controller: High-precision aiming. Even in some modern games, there’s no support for mixed input, a split between a controller and mouse, which is what the steam controller emulates in order to preform the high-precision mode, but before the official release of the controller, a firmware update was released that added a similar control mode that worked even with games that wouldn’t support high-precision. The new mode is called mouse-like joystick. As the name implies, it makes the right trackpad emulate a joystick that behaves like a mouse, and it works very well. Before the addition of this setup, it was near impossible to play games like Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, because the mixed input wasn’t supported, so you would either have to fully emulate a controller, or map all the keyboard controls to the controller. As you can imagine, neither of those options were ideal. Now with mouse-like joystick, you are able to get the same setup as you would get from a Playstation or Xbox controller, with the added benefit of much more accurate aiming that you would expect from a PC game. In the case of MGSV, Konami has even added this particular setup as the recommended one, and you’re able to select that from the controller configuration menu. Of course, if there’s anything in particular that you want to change, like the function of the grip buttons, you can do so to your liking.

One issue that I have had with this new mode though, is that it seems like it forces the player to alter the sensitivity in-game, and not every game will support changing joystick sensitivity. Because of this, it may take several swipes across the touchpad to get to the exact view that you want. If a game does allow you to change the sensitivity, then that won’t be too much of a problem, but there are absolutely those games that will present a problem here. Hopefully a new firmware update will allow the ability to change the sensitivity in the controller settings, but until then it’s working mostly fine. You can also set it to work like a trackball in that mode as well, if you’d prefer to be able to flick the view, which does solve a little bit of the issue, but if you just want the screen to stop moving once you lift your thumb, that may not be exactly what you’re looking for.

Everything positive I’ve previously said about the Steam Controller still holds up, it’s very comfortable, fun to use, easy to configure, and usable in all kinds of games. I’ve tried it in MGSV, Fallout 4, Cities: Skylines, Undertale, Pajama Sam, Alien Isolation, among several others and it works very well for just about anything with the right configuration. Overall I can definitely recommend the controller.

There’s not quite as much to say about the Steam Link. It does what it’s supposed to do and that’s a good thing. Even after launch though, there’s some bugs that need to be worked out. Using it will sometimes cause my Steam account to log off out of nowhere, and that will crash the Link, and some games that have superimposed launchers won’t be easy to start up. When trying to play Fallout 4 on it just yesterday, I had to go back and forth between my room and the living room about four times to make sure that it was starting up right. First the game didn’t start up, then it launched in the background, then it crashed, then the launcher couldn’t be controlled with the Steam Controller with the configuration I had on it, and it wouldn’t let me access the config menu, so I had to use the mouse in my room. Eventually it worked, and maybe that’s more of a testament to Fallout 4 than the Link, because there is a lot of really hideous artifacting whenever I play that game on it, (even over a wired connection) but not on any other game. For the majority of games though, the Steam Link works very well and is a good option for playing PC games on your big living room TV if you don’t want to carry your PC out there to connect it via HDMI or buy a Steam Machine.

If you want a flat answer to the question that we all want to know: “Are these worth it for PC gamers?” I can absolutely say yes. They are very nice pieces of hardware that help any PC gamer who wants to play on a big screen with a controller, or maybe doesn’t want to use a keyboard and mouse for games. It’s all up to you for however you want to play. And for all we know, any remaining issues may be fixed soon.

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About the author /

Zack started working at VGTribune at 15 years old and has been gaming since the the age of 2. He is currently in college studying film and technology with plans to continue in the game industry. He’s also really good at Counter Strike.

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