Microsoft's first venture into the console business with the Xbox was a learning experience for the company, and there's no greater evidence than the evolution of the system's controller. The original Xbox controller was an oversize mess, with oddly shaped and placed buttons. Roughly halfway through the console's run, the original controller was replaced with the Controller S, the smaller alternative created for the Japanese launch. Heralded as one of the best controllers ever created, Xbox fans wondered how Microsoft could improve upon its design as it set out to create the official controller for the Xbox 360. Here's the answer.
Carrying a retail price of for $40--or only $10 less than the Xbox 360 wireless controller--the Xbox 360 Controller is currently available in only one color, and it plugs in via the console's USB port. The controller's cable measures in at nine feet and has a breakaway component that keeps the console from falling if someone trips on the wire. The USB connection poses a problem; the system has only three USB ports, one of which is on the back of the console. In order to hook up four controllers (the maximum allowed by the system), at least one has to be wireless.
The Xbox 360 Controller borrows many design elements from the Controller S. The left and right analog sticks and triggers, the control pad, and the face buttons are in the same spots, constructed rather similarly. The start and Back buttons have been moved to the center, flanking the new guide button, which allows access to your gamer card at any time. Removed from the older controller are the black and white buttons, which were awkwardly placed below the face buttons. Taking their place are the left and right bumpers, which make their home on the top of the controller in front of the triggers. The slight changes have resulted in a nearly perfect design; not only is the controller great for 360 games, but you may just prefer the new layout for the backward-compatible Xbox1 titles, as the bumpers are better located than the black and white buttons.
On the bottom of the controller is a headset input. You can plug in any headset with a 2.5mm jack (standard for cell phone headsets), but the input is form-fitted to accept the Xbox 360 Headset, which has built-in volume and mute buttons. Compared to the wireless controller, this model is slightly lighter and less bulky due to the absence of a battery pack at the back of the controller.
The performance of the Xbox 360 Controller on the console is phenomenal, with instantaneous response time. The controller syncs with the system much faster than the wireless controller, and the force feedback is a bit stronger. On the PC, the controller performs more than admirably. Once you download the software from Microsoft's official site, the controller will work with any controller-compatible game. As long as the game you're playing allows you to customize button usage (most do), the controller ranks among the best available for the PC. Games specifically designed to work with the controller can also make use of the headset input and the force feedback.
The Xbox 360 Controller is one of the best-designed and best-performing controllers on the market. If you're looking for faults, you might argue the controller lacks any startling new features--especially in comparison to the motion-based controllers for the upcoming Nintendo Wii and Sony PlayStation 3--which may hinder true game design innovations. And you might also say the controller's about $10 too expensive. Overpriced or not, however, it serves as a great third (or fourth) Xbox 360 controller and, when called upon, fills in nicely as a PC gaming controller.