There’s nothing massively wrong with the standard Xbox One controller - yes the bumpers are niggly and if you drop it you might find the shell cracks open at the seams, but on the whole it’s a solid piece of kit. So why would you fork out enough money to pay for three of them to procure a single Xbox One Elite wireless controller? It isn’t an upgrade for everybody, but those willing to splash the cash will get a premium product to match the premium price-tag.
A free app makes customising the software side of things just as simple as the the hardware: you can put your personal stamp on everything imaginable, from stick and trigger sensitivity, rumble intensity in each individual motor and the brightness of the Xbox button, to, of course, button layouts.
Any two configurations can be saved to the controller’s memory at one time, easily and instantly toggled at the flick of a switch; configurations not currently in use are stored in the app and there’s room for more than you would ever conceivably need. It’s all incredibly simple to get to grips with and the two simultaneous setups are of great convenience - you might use them for different elements of the same game (for example one to run and gun and one to stay back and snipe in an FPS), or implement your favourite set-ups for your two favourite games and be set for the foreseeable future without needing to again access the app.
If you aren’t the tinkering type, first party games have developer-made custom presets (that's Gears, Halo 5, Forza 6 and Sunset Overdrive presently) corresponding to variables like campaign, manual gear shifting and multiplayer in their respective games. Naturally they’re expertly put together and we’d recommend using them where possible. Whilst there isn’t any offering at launch, expect to see more third party-developed and published games jumping onboard in the future.
One foible with presets is the language used, they may be intended for ‘pros’, but the terminology isn’t accommodating to those outside of that circle. Gears touts easy slipping and bouncing, whatever that means, and Halo 5 has presets for “Fishstick” and “Hell Jumper”... anyone have a clue?
There are a couple of things to be mindful of when customising the controller, both physically and through the software app. Firstly, some paddle configurations will cause overlap and thus pressing one will trigger both button inputs. Secondly, remapping can be taken to silly extents (you could map RT to depressing the left stick, for example) - go too crazy with your setup for both memory slots and have fun getting things back to normal when you don’t know what buttons do what.
Whilst the above aren’t true negatives and might prove useful to some, there is one true issue and it lies in putting the controller down. It’s just fine on a flat surface, but if you place the pad on the arm of your chair or lap, expect the paddles to activate and unpause the game, un-snap your app, or quit party chat. Naturally, it’s always something catastrophic.
As we recently discovered thanks to Guitar Hero Live's remodelled guitar, adding new buttons and methods of control to those longstanding can be a struggle to grow accustomed to. The Elite controller’s paddles are no exception. You’ll likely find yourself gravitating towards standard control methods out of habit and consciously having to be mindful to use the paddles, but before long it becomes second nature, their services called upon just as often as your friends A, B, X and Y.
The Elite controller features a headphone jack that enables receiving game audio straight from the device, so there’s no further need for extension cables to trail across the floor from the back of your TV - your parents/partner will be happy! A smaller, yet no less technically impressive addition is the ability to update the pad wirelessly, though whatever witchcraft is responsible we can only assume harmful to humans, as you're instructed to leave it close to the console and not move it during the process.
For the uber-serious gamer that doesn’t want to eliminate cables because of the ever-so-slight input advantage they carry over wireless, you’ll be glad to know that for all the wires it gets rid of, the Elite controller comes bundled with a lengthy one of its own. For everybody else it can be used to power the pad if you don’t have any batteries to hand, or to replace your Play & Charge Kit’s shorter offering. As you’ve probably just worked out, the Play & Charge Kit is indeed compatible and know that whatever power method you choose, despite all the fancy extra features, the controller is far from power hungry - in tens of hours of play the home screen’s battery indicator hasn’t yet indicated any level of depletion.
With all that said, does the controller actually help improve your performance in-game? That largely depends on the game in question, but you should be aware that whilst it’ll help improve your game, it won’t carry you from zero to hero.
It actually provides great value for money - it’s cheaper than its closest competitors, much sexier, of a better build quality, and official.
Gears of War Ultimate Edition plays like an absolute dream. Using the custom preset, main weapon switching occupies rear paddle buttons, P3 and P4, whilst A and B occupy P2 and P1 respectively; this setup means your thumbs rarely need leave the analog sticks - equipping a pistol or grenades and picking up weapons or ammo are the only necessary occasions. This means you’re always ready and able to act and react to whatever is thrown your way, combine this layout with active hair-triggers for faster shooting and aiming and a domed stick on your aiming side (you can flip for lefties) - which allows your thumb to roll over and achieve a smoother aiming arc - and you may as well be cheating. I didn’t lose a game thanks to the ability to track opponents during melee attacks and maintain camera control during rolls, cover transitions and roadie-runs, neither of these are viable on a standard controller as they’d require using the right stick and face buttons in tandem.
It’s worth noting we were already pretty good at Gears (and modest too), but the controller was a definite tool at our disposal and did boost performance. The experience did further highlight the fact that the damn inconsistent Gnasher spread needs fixing, however!
Other shooters tested similarly well and really they’re the controller’s bread and butter along with MOBA SMITE, which sees a similarly sizeable improvement. Mapping the face buttons to paddles makes for more accessible and quick to employ abilities that can save you and your team in clutch situations, complete that kill on a fleeing God and help capitalise on that short buff/negative status effect window after a little bit of practice. In a game with a high point of entry, it helps level the playing field.
Fighters see less of a performance boost, however. We opted to remove the paddles as with no use for the right stick, thumbs are free to tangle with the face buttons. The faceted d-pad helps somewhat with MKX and KI combos: it doesn’t roll in a perfectly smooth fashion, instead the eight directional inputs are clearly defined and the feedback lets you know you’ve hit them and with that when to stop, or change direction as appropriate. The difference was disappointingly slight, but it is there and the hair-triggers also help with timings on move modifiers thanks to their faster reaction time. Serious fighters will want to hold onto their fight-sticks.
Switching gears in racing games has never felt more natural, though it’s insignificant by comparison, truth be told. Then games like Divinity: Original Sin and Project Spark didn’t benefit in any way from the controller, though it was still nice just to be holding something more comfortable regardless.
The Xbox One Elite wireless controller is easily the best we’ve ever held, but, that said, it should be, considering it’s the most expensive we’ve ever held. Comparably it actually provides great value for money - it’s cheaper than its closest competitors, much sexier, of a better build quality, and official. It has genuinely changed our gaming experience for the better; after a lifetime with no paddles, hair triggers and other gadgetry, we’re now glad to have them in our lives and will never look back.