Unlike the controllers for Sony and Nintendo’s latest systems, Microsoft Xbox One controller doesn’t feature any fancy touch panels or motion sensors. Still, even with the lack of new control inputs, the Xbox One controller might just end up becoming one of my favorite controllers of all time.
The 360 controller is one of my favorite standard gamepads of all time. It worked well across a variety of genres, it was comfortable to hold, and as far as I’m concerned, it was the only controller of its generation that had the analog sticks in the right place. Sure, the terrible d-pad was pretty much useless, but the subtle perfection of everything else made it easy to overlook that failing.
Most people will be happy to know that the Xbox One d-pad seems to be much better than the 360’s useless disc-shaped atrocity. But the d-pad isn’t the only thing that Microsoft fixed: the Xbox One pad features a host of subtle improvements that manage to make it a fair bit more comfortable and functional than its predecessor. With the Xbox One controller, Microsoft has managed to fix things that I didn’t even realize were wrong with the 360 pad, so much so that I actually had a hard time going back to my old, beloved 360 controller after E3.
Let’s take a look at that d-pad for instance: the d-pads on both the 360 and the original Xbox controllers were notoriously awful, but it looks like Microsoft may have finally gotten it right with the Xbox One’s iteration. Instead of a circle, the new d-pad now adopts a more traditional cross shape, and it now feels more responsive and “clicky.” Unfortunately, there weren’t any playable demos on the showfloor that made extensive use of the d-pad — most of the Xbone demos were 3D games, and the demo stations for the brand new Killer Instinct were equipped with arcade sticks — but at the very least, I was able to move through menus without the d-pad mis-reading my inputs. The old 360 d-pad had a bad habit of registering left or right button presses as a downwards input, but that never happened to me during my time with the Xbox One, so it seems like the controller can register the cardinal directions just fine. Of course, like I said, I didn’t get to play any fighting games with it, so I have no idea how accurately it registers diagonals or quarter-circle type movements, but then again, you shouldn’t be playing fighting games with a standard controller anyway.
The Xbone’s shoulder buttons and triggers have also been redesigned: while you still pull the triggers inwards at an angle like the 360’s triggers, they’re now much wider and longer — in terms of how your fingers sit in them, they almost reminded me of how the old Gamecube’s analog shoulder buttons felt. The left and right bumper buttons have been made significantly larger as well, and they’re also indented so you can comfortably rest your fingers in them as well.
The biggest new addition is how the Xbox One controller handles rumble: instead of the usual two rumble motors (one for weak vibrations and a bigger one for sudden jolts,) the Xbone pad features multiple rumble motors on each side of the controller, allowing for localized rumble that you can feel in the controller’s triggers. There’s a lot of potentially cool applications for this innovation: for instance, if your character fires a gun with his right hand, you’ll feel the controller kick back on its right side. In addition to being able to direct where you’ll feel the rumble, the Xbone pad can also create different intensities: in Forza, the controller vibrated gently when a car was idling, but when you slammed down on the accelerator, the controller started letting off some massive jolts. Microsoft says that the Xbone’s rumble may eventually get tuned to the point where you’ll be able to tell what angle you’re getting shot at from in an FPS based on the controller’s directional rumble, or when you’re supposed to shift gears in a manual car by feeling the engine revs through the controller. Force feedback is one of those features that I’ve gradually learned to take for granted and ignore in most games, but the Xbox One controller got me to notice it again.
There were a host of other, smaller improvements as well: the Xbox home button has been moved up so that it no longer crowds the Start/Select buttons, the face buttons are slightly larger, and the handles are wider so they’re easier to grip. The 360’s bulky battery bulge is gone, and Microsoft says the analog sticks are now more sensitive and have less of a dead-zone than the before.
I’ve been pretty outspoken in my criticism of the Xbox One’s ridiculous DRM, but to be honest, I like everything else about the Xbox One — it’s got a good line-up of exclusives, its games looked slightly more “next gen” than Sony’s offerings, and the controller… well, the controller might just end up becoming my favorite controller of all time. With all that said, I still probably won’t buy an Xbox One at launch because of Microsoft’s before mentioned ass-backwards DRM, but I really hope somebody releases adapters for the 360, PS3, Wii U, or PS4 that lets you use the Xbone pad on it — it’s honestly that good. At the very least, I’m really looking forward to playing some PC games with it. Microsoft may have messed up a lot of aspects of the Xbox One, but the controller is definitely one thing that they got very, very right.