Great Steam Deck controls show regular gamepads are outdated

The front touch panels of the Steam Deck allow you to instantly switch to aiming mode, just like using a mouse.
GIF: 343 industries / Kotaku

What makes Steam Deck the most unique gaming hardware currently available? You might be tempted to offer impressive graphics power crammed into such a small form factor, or portable access to Steam, or even the software gymnastics it does to make Windows games play on Linux. All of this is certainly cool, but in my opinion, the killer feature of the deck is the buttons on the rear grip and dual touchpads on the front, making it completely unique among gaming devices. These custom controls are rapidly changing the way I play, in one genre in particular: first-person shooters.

Just being able to enjoy such games so easily on a portable device is certainly commendable in and of itself. But as I experimented with mapping shooter controls to different areas of the machine, I began to realize that the Steam Deck was in a unique position to change the way we interacted with shooters. Porting mouse and keyboard control schemes to gamepads has always involved compromises, but Steam Deck’s unique set of inputs allows for new combinations that prioritize movement and aiming, as well as new ways to interact with the game.

Pay attention to the rear handles. Anyone with a Scuf or Xbox Elite controller is no stranger to petals. While many swear by these things that clearly offer beneficial management flexibility not otherwise possible, Scuf rear control patent means that paddles will remain a rarely used novelty until equipment manufacturers find a way to standardize their inclusion. Maybe Valve did just that with the Steam Deck.

Every Steam Deck model, even the cheapest one, has a set of four buttons on the back that help a lot in games that weren’t designed with controllers in mind. But they also benefit games designed for gamepads.

Although it was great to play games like Halo without having to take your thumbs off the analog sticks to launch A crisis pointed me to another benefit of the rear buttons: a rejection of the tyranny of the standard video game controller layout as it has existed, largely unchanged, since the late 90s.

Honestly, A crisis has translated fairly well to standard controller capabilities since the 2011 Xbox 360/PS3 port. But the original 2008 PC took the PC’s extensive set of buttons and keys for granted. Switching between suit functions, picking up items, changing attachments and fire modes all felt much more natural on the mouse and keyboard.

Console gamepad controls were full of compromises. Sprinting, for example, would automatically turn the suit into speed mode and thus drain energy. On PC, you used a combination of buttons and mouse movements to switch the suit’s abilities, which translates well to the Steam Deck’s rear grips. Switching the controls to “Classic” mode allows you to quickly bring up the selection menu using any bumper and then select the appropriate mode using the mapped buttons on the back, leaving your thumbs free to focus on aiming and moving. This control scheme retains the advanced features of the original PC without having to compromise and cram too many features into fewer inputs.

Instant access to advanced controls without moving or aiming ensures smooth action.
GIF: Krytek / Kotaku

Another great example of a game where additional inputs would make all the difference – although unfortunately Steam Deck can’t play it at the moment – comes to the rescue. Halo Infinite and his weapon falls. This usually requires holding down the Y key, but you can map “weapon throw” to a paddle or keyboard key to instantly throw a weapon without sacrificing your thumb on the joystick. This instant weapon drop is so devastating to the competitive meta that eUnited’s Tyler “Spartan” Ganza recently stated that it unfairly favors those with paddles.

If having additional features at your fingertips can change and possibly enhance the game, why not consider a future where paddles become the standard for game controllers? Imagine the advanced features and ease of play we’re missing out on by sticking to the same decade-old input sets in every “new” generation of consoles.

Steam Deck offers a glimpse into such a future. AT A crisisthe rear paddles allow me to instantly power jump, crouch and prone, change weapons, or change suit functions without sacrificing aim or movement. A crisis can get quite complex and hectic, so prioritizing agility while still having quick access to suit features is not only very convenient, I think it fits with the spirit of the game’s fantasy of being a soldier with heavy duty armor. It’s a shame Destiny 2 not easily accessible on deck; this would also be of great benefit.

The front touch panels are no less frank. With the ability to recognize simple directional gestures, in addition to being tapable, touch pads are my choice for sniping. It’s kind of a shame Halo: The Master Chief CollectionAnti-cheat for multiplayer doesn’t work well with Steam Deck, as tapping the touchpad under the right analog stick to fire quickly and accurately offers a new level of control. I would like to try it against other players. . For now, only the Covenant, Flood, and Prometheus of the campaigns will have to cower in fear of my new deadly snipers.

The Steam Deck management experience isn’t perfect. Halo: The Master Chief Collection in particular doesn’t want you to use the keyboard, mouse and controller at the same time, so sometimes you’re still limited in how much you can rearrange the bindings. But even having a secondary form of analog input to control fine aiming or zoom level makes the game a bit more complex and subtle. I’d like to see what a developer could do if they initially considered Steam Deck’s extended inputs in the game’s design.

Controls in first-person shooters have long been stuck in the mud; the genre has revolved around the same handful of control schemes for decades. Steam Deck offers a powerful demonstration of how new input styles and button layouts can offer truly better ways to interact even with these very standardized game types. There’s a lot of work to be done here, but first hardware makers need to make such innovation possible by moving away from today’s outdated gamepad conventions and really trying something new.

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