Most people play PC games with the keyboard and mouse, but since the emergence of the Microsoft Xbox 360, PC gamers have the choice of using a console controller. You can buy this Xbox 360 gamepad branded as “for Windows”, however it is simply a wired version of the familiar controller.
More and more PC games will benefit from a gamepad like this (such as Assassins Creed, Lego Star Wars, etc...), creating a console-like gaming experience. For all intents and purposes, these cross platform games should play almost identical to the Xbox counterpart. The benefit of this is the familiarity of the control system, rather than reverting to a traditional keyboard/mouse input.
If you use Windows Vista, the controller will be recognised straight away without the need for the driver CD. For Windows XP, you will need to either install the drivers provided, or download them from the Microsoft website. Either way, you should be up and running with the controller in less than 5 minutes.
Along with the controller, you get 2 paper manuals and the driver CD. The manuals contain some basic setup information, but most experienced computer users will simply opt for the plug and play method. Interestingly, Microsoft wrap the USB connector with a note recommending that the driver software is installed before connecting the controller, however on a Windows Vista system everything was automatically detected without using the driver CD.
Not surprisingly for a console that sells millions of units, the controller is a very well thought out device. It is lightweight, comfortable to hold and has good button layout – allowing you to press 10 configurable buttons, 2 thumb sticks and an 8-way d-pad. It has worked for the Xbox 360 console, and it works just as well when used on a PC.
The primary 4 buttons (ABXY) perform most functions, however there are another 4 shoulder buttons located on the top of the controller. The thumb sticks can also be clicked to act as a button. There are the familiar “start” and “back” buttons that you can use in many games to load the in-game menu. The central Xbox logo button does not do anything when used as a PC controller, as this is specific to the console guide menu.
One nice touch is the snag device built into the USB cord. If you are quite active with your gamepad and suddenly jerk it, you could normally pull your PC away from the desk or damage the USB port. With this clever addition, you’ll simply detach the two connectors without damaging anything.
Lego Star Wars 2, Trackmania NF and Assassins Creed were used to test this gamepad, and it made a massive difference compared to using a keyboard and mouse. Movement is much more intuitive and fluid in all three games, as using the keyboard limits the directional and amplitude capability. These selections of games are all console style and benefit greatly from sharing the same control system. However, trying to play an FPS with this control system proved more difficult (primarily as the mouse allows for a more accurate aim).
Although this gamepad costs slightly more than many competitors on the market, it is worth every penny. The development time for the Xbox controller has been significant, and it is no wonder that most other PC gamepad controllers are simply a cheaper clone of the original. The build quality and comfort of the pad are at the top end of most other options on the market, so it would be difficult to find any controller able to beat this device.