While a keyboard and mouse is still preferable for most PC users both for first-person shooters (FPS) and strategy games, the gamepad quickly finds its place when it comes to enjoying action-adventure, platform or racing titles.
Modern controllers have reached a high degree of maturity, so much so that those included in the latest batch of home consoles are difficult to surpass. However, whether choosing a budget model for occasional play or, conversely, a more sophisticated one for added comfort and accuracy, the market is brimming with choice. That’s why we thought of writing this guide to help you sort them out.
There are 4 decisive factors when choosing a controller
The controller also called gamepad, joystick or joypad is certainly an indispensable element for most video games. For a long time, it was synonymous with console gaming, while those who played on the PC relied mainly on a keyboard and mouse.
In recent years, however, the demand for PC controllers has raised exponentially, mostly since a good chunk of modern video games developed for consoles is also made available for PC and, in these cases, having an ad hoc controller at one’s disposal can be quite useful.
Another reason for the recent success of controllers also depends on the fact that many gamers just can’t do without it, preferring it to the keyboard and mouse and appreciating the convenience of a tool specifically designed for video gaming.
Today this type of product finds a further reason for existence, since digital platforms offering cloud gaming services (also known as gaming on demand) need a compatible controller, as well as a screen and an internet connection, of course.
At first, choosing a gamepad can seem quite straightforward. However, it is good to take a minute and consider some decisive factors in order to find the product that best suits you and your particular needs. We have found out that there are four defining characteristics that you have to consider before buying one. These are:
Let’s analyze them one by one.
Compatibility refers to a controller’s ability to connect and interface with our gaming platform. Although this factor doesn’t directly concern console gamepads that are specifically designed to work out of the box, it is rather important in the case of PC controllers.
Buying a device that is Plug and Play will allow you to immediately use it with the PC, without having to buy extra accessories (USB adapters) or install third-party software that will also have to configure.
PC, console or both?
Still, under the “compatibility” factor we consider the possibility of using the same gamepad on different platforms, be they consoles, personal computers or both. Since some video games are exclusive to certain consoles, it is not uncommon for a user to have both a PC and a console at his disposal and to use only one controller on both devices.
In general, if you can use your console’s controller with the PC then go for it, and if you want a better one, buy one that is compatible with both platforms!
The controller’s connectivity is another very important factor before choosing a controller. But why is it so important?
Wired or Wireless?
Although the function and features of most controllers have remained more or less unchanged, much has been done to improve the way these devices connect to their respective platforms. Traditionally the connection was done via cable.
With the advent of the seventh generation of consoles, manufacturers have introduced so-called wireless controllers, wanting to streamline the connection of these devices and making them more discreet and less cumbersome.
Naturally, wireless controllers rely on a battery to be able to work without a direct connection. Some of them have rechargeable lithium batteries (in some cases also interchangeable) and a cable to recharge the controller when the battery is low. Others use disposable batteries, completely eliminating the need for a cable.
The preference here is certainly individual.
Another important aspect concerns the range. These controllers can only work within a certain distance from the console or PC which, in the case of a wired connection is between 2 and 3 meters, while for wireless gamepads it varies between 9 and 10 meters.
As mentioned above, during its evolution the controller maintained its main functions and most of its basic characteristics.
Number of buttons
Most video games require between 17 and 18 command keys, which is also the number of buttons (including sticks, triggers, D-pad and face buttons) we find on almost all modern controllers on the market.
Starting from the fifth generation of consoles, most controllers incorporate a vibration system that has the function of making the gaming experience more engaging, and this is now an indispensable feature for many gamers.
Another interesting feature, increasingly present in modern controllers, is the audio jack. This headset port can be very useful if you are a fan of multiplayer games since communicating easily with your teammates is considered an added bonus.
Last but not least, when choosing a controller you need to verify that it is comfortable for your hands. Try using one from a friend, or find a physical store that has one that you can try out.
One important factor is the weight, that may not be important for casual players but can make the difference in comfort during long competitive sessions. Most controllers weigh between 200 and 400 grams; this weight is determined mostly by the internal components: a particularly sophisticated vibration motor or a touch-pad, for example, can significantly increase the weight of the gamepad. The optimal weight for most sits around 300-320 grams.
Other elements that can improve ergonomics can be the design of particular buttons and their responsiveness.
These can have a rough surface in order to facilitate grip or be perfectly smooth to make the transition from one key to another even faster. In some cases, the analog sticks are concave on top (or have a mushroom head) for more comfortable and precise handling.
Other factors to keep in mind when choosing a controller
Are the materials important?
Certainly, the materials are very important and have an impact on the controller’s strength and durability, although in most cases there are no major differences. The outer shell will be made of durable plastic and silicone, while the controls will be usually covered in soft plastic.
Is the brand important?
Yes, the brand plays a decisive role. Big manufacturers (Microsoft, Sony, Logitech, Razer, 8bitdo) ensure good quality products. We, therefore, advise against buying no brand controllers, since you will definitely encounter compatibility problems and the device will be fragile and poorly assembled.