Xbox 360 Wireless Controller for PC Review

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But Wait. For The PC?

If you’ve been looking at a game controller for a PC recently, then this review’s location (in the PC hardware section) may not surprise. If, however, you’re only just starting to take a gander at ways of getting a console experience without shelling out for the actual console, then you may not realize that the Xbox 360 wireless controller also works for PCs. “But it’s wireless!” you probably say, and indeed you’re right - the 360 wireless controller for the PC is in fact identical to the regular 360 controller in every way, including how it connects to your computer. That, however, does not mean the 360 controller can magically hook up to your existing PC wireless card, nor does it use bluetooth. Instead, 360 controllers for the PC come with a special piece of USB hardware that puts out a wireless signal the controller can communicate with.

In theory, this seems like a good idea. The controller itself seems to work well for the Xbox 360. But console ports have never been a bastion of quality, so there is good reason for the seasoned PC gamer to be skeptical. So, is the 360 controller any good for the PC, or it simply another example of how what’s good for the gander being not-so-good for the goose?

The Controller (5 out of 5)

If you’ve used a Xbox 360 controller a fair amount, then obviously you know what it is all about. But if you haven’t - and if you’re a hardcore PC gamer, just as ready to burn the controller at the stake as use it to blast baddies, then you probably haven’t - let me fill you in.

The controller leaves a good first impression. The plastic body is thick and firm, and instantly communicates its quality to your finger-tips. Squeeze or shake the controller, and the 360 remains strong. The plastic does not creak or groan from the pressure, nor does it feel flimsy or thin, even when gripped by both ends and flexed. The shape of the controller is exceedingly well contoured, and will fit most hands very well. The only downside of to the controller’s comfort is that the plastic feels a little slick to my hands, which can become annoying over time. That said, the initial build quality of the controller is impressive.

For the most part, the honeymoon isn’t quick to fade. The controller’s buttons are sensibly laid out, with the main joystick being controlled by the left thumb, while the secondary joystick is controlled by the right. The four face buttons are, well, there - they’re positioned well, but they’re still face buttons, and there isn’t much to be said about them. The triggers, however, deserve a great deal of praise. They’re analog, which is very useful in certain types of games (like racing sims), and they communicate well with your index fingers. The joysticks are also a bit better than average, providing good response and reasonable comfort, although they have the dubious distinction of being the only part of the controller that feels flimsy after prolonged use. The only real black sheep of this otherwise respectable family of buttons and joysticks is the directional pad, a poorly thought out control that communicates as well as a space alien. Thought you pressed left? Nope, you pressed up, sucker. Such are the hi-jinks of the directional pad.

Overall, however, the 360 controller scores well in comparison to other controllers available for the PC. The fact that it does so well is as surprising as it is obvious. On the one hand, this is a console controller, a breed of gaming device known for is oddities (N64, I’m looking at you). But on the other hand, this is a Microsoft product. As un-cool as Microsoft may seem, they’ve made some great gaming devices over the years. I’d donate a kidney to get my hands on a mid-90s Sidewinder joystick. It appears that heritage has paid off, because the 360 controller is firmly at the top of the pack, at least in terms of the quality of the controller itself.

The Wireless Adapter (2 out of 5)

If in case you didn’t notice, I really like the Xbox 360 controller itself. But apparently someone at Microsoft’s console division got a hold of the plans for bringing the wireless controller to the PC and, upon realizing much fun it would be to use, became deeply disturbed. Surely, they thought, it must be handicapped in some way, just like every other scrap we toss PC gamers. And so they introduced the wireless adapter.

If the controller is proof positive that plastics don’t have to feel cheap, then the adapter isn’t. Sure, it is only a wireless based, best put out of sight - but would it have hurt to have made it out of something that didn’t flex when you squeezed it slightly in your hand? Pick up the little white-and-gray device and you’ll quickly understand why it feels cheap. There’s nothing in it. I’ve held feathers that weigh more, and while it may seem unwise to make it heavier than it needs to be, the lack of substance makes it abundantly clear that Microsoft could have achieved the same function with hardware a fraction of the size.

These flaws might be tolerable if the setup functioned well. But it doesn’t, at least not if you plan on using it with a Xbox 360 already in your home. Although the controller is supposed to mate with the adapter, I still found that the controller would, on occasion, turn on the Xbox 360 when I was merely trying to play a PC game. The fact that you have to re-program the controller every time you want to switch devices is also annoying. Let’s say you’re playing some Bionic Commando on your computer, then decide to switch to GTAIV on your console. You’ll probably walk into your living room, pressing down the 360 button on the controller to turn on your console. Except you can’t. Because the controller is mated to the adapter, and the only way reacquaint it to your console is to press the little reprogramming button on your 360 and press the same button on your controller. This isn’t the kind of thing you’re going to throw your back out attempting to do, but that isn’t the point. The point is that Microsoft’s conversion of the wireless 360 controller to a PC device has the scent of a bare-minimum effort - a smell I’ve never found appealing.

The Value And Verdict (4 out of 5)

With an MSRP of 59.95, the Xbox 360’s wireless controller isn’t cheap. In fact, its one of the most expensive PC gaming controllers around. The question, then becomes one of quality against value. The Xbox 360 controller, is certainly a good product, in terms of its performance when gaming. But is it good enough to justify the price difference?

In my opinion, no. And not just because the Xbox 360 wireless controller is much more expensive than alternatives like the Logitech’s gamepads, but also because the 360’s wireless controller is more expensive than itself. Cut out the wireless and buy the wired version, and you’ve just netted yourself slightly less expensive controller without any of the wireless controller’s problems.

Of course, this review is about the wireless version, not the wired one. And although I do dislike the problems with the adapter used to make the wireless work with PCs, and I do find the price high, I can’t help but recommend this product. It is simply a well built controller. Costly? Yes. But in this case, you get more than what you pay for. The 360 controller will give you years of tireless service, thanks to its high build quality and comfortable design. In my book, that makes it a winner.