For a long time, PC gaming was exclusively the premise of keyboard-and-mouse users. Many PC games in the 1990s and 2000s were obtuse, difficult affairs, often requiring players to memorise hundreds of different button combinations and keyboard shortcuts in order to maximise their efficiency while playing (lookin’ at you, System Shock 2). Incomprehensible flight simulators, complex RPGs and real-time strategy games dominated the landscape, and all looked bleak for the “casual” gamer.
These days, though, the lines between PC and consoles are blurred. The immediacy of console gaming has not gone unnoticed by PC gaming enthusiasts; many titles which would have been console-exclusive in a bygone age, such as the PS4’s Nioh or the Xbox One’s Dead Rising 3, are available for PC, and their controls haven’t been overcomplicated by their transition. A great PC gamer now needs a great controller, so we’ve gathered together some of the best PC gaming controllers money can buy.
It might sound odd that the best controller going for PC gaming is a Sony creation, but it’s the truth. The controller created for Sony’s PS4 console is beautiful to look at, wonderful to hold and still represents the most ergonomic design yet seen in a piece of gaming hardware. The triggers are responsive, the face buttons won’t trouble even the most dainty of thumbs, and the analog sticks are comfortable for prolonged use. A slight caveat: the DualShock 4 does require third-party software in order to use it with PC, and many games still won’t display Sony’s button configuration. PC is still a Microsoft platform, after all, so most games are crafted with the Xbox button layout in mind (more on which later). Still, grabbing some great unofficial software like DS4Windows will solve the former issue, and any gamer worth their salt has already committed both the Xbox and PlayStation button layouts to memory, so you’ll settle into the groove quicker than you think.
Microsoft’s official peripheral for its Xbox One console is only slightly less great than Sony’s DualShock 4 controller. It’s chunkier and more difficult to hold – those with smaller hands should opt for the PS4 controller instead – but the Xbox One controller more than makes up for this with the best-feeling buttons we’ve ever experienced. The triggers feel amazing, and although the pool of games that support the controller’s wonderful Impulse Triggers feature is small, we’re hoping it will grow with time. The Xbox One controller also has the innate advantage of being an official Microsoft piece of hardware, so it’ll work straight out of the box with Windows and won’t need any extra drivers or software. Most games will display the Xbox button layout; newer games even display the buttons as though they’re on an Xbox One controller rather than the more colourful Xbox 360 configuration.
This is a curious little piece of hardware, isn’t it? Valve’s Steam Controller was constructed in order to fill a gap between conventional controllers and the keyb-mouse setup, and it shows. The controller’s face is…idiosyncratic, with a typical D-pad on the left, an analog stick just beneath it, face buttons to the right of that and a huge circular…thing on the right. That thing is intended to be a substitute for a mouse; it’s a hugely configurable setup, and Valve is hoping that it’ll help PC gaming become a home staple just like its console brother. If you’re prone to a spot of the original Witcher, or you just can’t tear yourself away from Starcraft II, but you don’t want to sit at your desk and neglect your loved ones, then the Steam Controller is for you. Just don’t expect it to feel as brilliant as the PS4 or Xbox One controllers do.
Microsoft’s Xbox 360 controller may no longer be the head honcho in console town, but it was the best controller around for a long time. It’s technically been bested by its Xbox One equivalent; the buttons are less responsive, the build quality is slightly lower and the analog sticks just don’t feel as premium. That said, you’ll usually find wired Xbox 360 controllers going for around £20 online and in used gaming shops, and that’s around what you should be paying for it. The version we’ve included here is a wireless bundle with an official receiver, so if playing without cables is important to you, you should definitely opt for this one. Most people aren’t going to sit that far from their PC, though, so the wired version should do just fine. This controller is a real steal if you grab it for £20ish, and it’s still the best option at that price range.