The Xbox Elite controller raised eyebrows during E3 earlier this year, promising a pro gamer experience along with its $149.99 retail price tag. Once upon a time, $150 was the price of a video game console, not an controller for use with it. As we enter the holiday season, the Elite is no doubt on some shopping lists, so now is the time to ask if it is worth it.
The answer is yes.
If you have a hardcore Xbox gamer on your shopping list, the Xbox Elite controller should be the top gift giving idea of the season. Comparing it to the standard Xbox One controller that is included with the console is like comparing a 1994 Ford Escort to a BMW. Sure, the former will get you around town just fine, but who isn’t going to choose the nicer all-around product if they have the means? If you have the budget to get an Xbox Elite for your Call of Duty or Halo pro, and you can find one, it will no doubt be a hit under the Christmas tree.
The Xbox Elite controller comes in a protective case along with a number of additional parts that allow players to customize the controls themselves. This is one of the most unique aspects of this specialty controller, as powerful magnets allow for a quick swapping of the various controller parts based on personal preference or control needs for a specific game title. All of the buttons can be custom mapped as well, ensuring that a serious player can get whatever it is they need out of the Elite. The magnets hold up to the standard use and abuse that come with intense gameplay. During heavy use in Call of Duty: Black Ops III, the thumbsticks remained on tight, never loosening from their magnetic bonds.
On the backside of the controller are four paddle buttons, also attached by magnetic bonds. These buttons can be mapped to duplicate the functions of other buttons, giving players an advantage on competitive games such as first-person shooters. Rather than having to move your thumbs from a key button position, gamers can use these buttons with their other fingers. Earlier this year, I wrote a piece on Examiner that found these paddle buttons broken during a pre-release demo at E3. During this review, this malfunction could not be duplicated.
Perhaps the best custom feature on the Xbox Elite controller is the ability to make the trigger buttons hair-sensitive. This can be done quickly for each trigger button by using switches on the back on the controller. By reducing the amount of pressure required to activate the button, this feature gives an immediate advantage in first-person shooter games. Using the hair-trigger in online Black Ops III matches for purposes of this review resulted in more enemy kills than without it, especially when playing with a run-and-gun style where quick reaction is important.
The only downsides to the controller are minor. Setting down the controller on the side of a chair or couch can accidentally activate the paddle buttons underneath, creating a potential mishap during a break from gameplay for a snack or a bathroom trip. This comes up often when using the Xbox One to surf apps such as Netflix or Hulu, so it is best to put the Xbox Elite controller away and use your standard controller(s) for non-gaming activities. At times, the paddle buttons can be knocked out of place, usually while putting the controller down or when it is first picked up. Lastly, the unit comes with a pair of AA batteries rather than a rechargeable battery pack, which seems rather out of place given the price point and overall quality of the controller. While it is easy enough to add a rechargeable pack to the controller itself, finding AA batteries inside the package kind of comes off like getting a side of chicken fries at a five-star steakhouse. It’s not enough to ruin your experience, but it seems unexpected and way out of place.
Overall, Microsoft outdid themselves with the Xbox Elite controller. It is by far the best video game controller ever released by a console manufacturer, and is better than many of the aftermarket pro gaming and eSports controllers on the market. It is not a recommended buy for a casual player who is more into Netflix and Peggle 2 than anything else, but for a hardcore Xbox One gamer who wants to compete with the world on the latest AAA title, it is a must buy for the holiday season. The bar has truly been raised.
Microsoft provided a review sample of the Xbox Elite controller for purposes of this review.