Hands-on with Valve's Steam Controller

We rub our thumbs across the touchpads of the controller that Valve reckons will replace the keyboard and mouse

PC gamers are, it's fair to say, very attached to the old keyboard and mouse combo.

But with Valve planning to put gaming PCs in our living rooms with its Steam Machines project, it's looking to augment the traditional PC gaming setup with an altogether more console-esque controller.

The fruit of its labours is the Steam Controller – and it's very different to your Xbox One or DualShock 4 gamepad.

You got the touch(pads)

On its front face, the Steam Controller features a pair of touchpads in place of thumbsticks, with a touchscreen occupying the centre of the controller. Around the back, the standard triggers are joined by a pair of large buttons that run along the length of the grips.

The prototype versions that Valve brought along to its CES 2014 Steam Machines launch event feel a bit lightweight and flimsy – hopefully that will be fixed in the final model – and don't feature the central touchpad, offering four physical buttons in its place.

But what's the Steam Controller actually like to use? It has quite a steep learning curve. We tried it out with an FPS game, and although you can see exactly why Valve has placed the controls where they are, so that you can use the grip buttons to jump and crouch without taking your thumbs off the touchpads, those of us who are used to standard game controllers will struggle initially.

Touch too Much

The touchpads are pleasingly responsive, and deliver little bursts of haptic feedback as you run your thumbs across them. Again, it takes a while to get the hang of these controls – you're supposed to tap on the left pad to move, while swiping on the right pad to turn.

In practice, it feels a lot like trying to pat your head and rub your tummy. We also noticed that you have to adjust your aim slightly after a rapid turn – not something that troubles the mouse-and-keyboard brigade.

The Limits of Control

Only time will tell if the Steam Controller will displace the joypad and mouse/keyboard control setups in gamers' affections.

Our first impressions suggest that while it's certainly an accurate control device, it takes some getting used to – and you have to be prepared to put in the time to learn a whole new control scheme.