This article was written using products provided by Alienware and the The Alienware Steam Machine First Look program.
It’s been over a month since Kill Screen’s first piece introducing the Alienware Steam Machine and our blossoming relationship, and you’re probably wondering how we’ve been getting along in our new life together.
The answer is, “Very well, thank you.” We’re out of the honeymoon phase, and no longer marveling at how the Steam Machine packs a surprising amount of power into such a tiny and delicate frame. It’s no desktop gaming tower, but it does the things it was designed to do quite well, and it’s got more juice than the Xbox One and PS4 right now.
As anyone who’s been in a long-term relationship could tell you, one of the joys of settling down is the surprising discovery, years down the line, of new things to love about your partner. The latest discovery, in our time with the Steam Machine, has been the controller.
In discussing the Steam Controller, we would like to begin by saying that change is scary and terrible. Remember the first time you picked up an Xbox controller? It was heavy, clunky, and the signature triggers that would establish the Xbox and its successors as masters of the shooting game interface just felt ungainly. It was no Playstation controller.
Of course, the Playstation controller felt like quite the departure as well when all you knew was the Nintendo 64. You remember those, right? Poseidon’s trident made incarnate in a gamepad? The only controller (outside of movie theater arcades) that forced you to continually switch your grip in order to push all the buttons?
Our point is that often, initial feelings of skepticism are founded more on our own fear of change, rather than any rational observations. So when we first picked up the Steam Controller and our first thought was to cry and scream for your mommy, we recognized that as a rash reaction and resolved to stick with it.
If, like us, you’ve been playing basically every game you possibly could with an Xbox 360 controller for years now, your fingers might initially betray you due the lower position of the button pad. The usual second joystick common to most gaming controllers was gone, replaced with a touchpad. It took some getting used to, but eventually that patience was rewarded. We stopped promoting Sauron’s orcs with death after death in Shadow of Mordor, one of the games runnable on the Steam Machine’s operating system. Once we were more acquainted with it, the touchpad offered a level of precision in first-person shooters unheard of on a traditional controller.
But the real game-changer came when we booted up Door Kickers, a game that was never intended to be played with a controller. In situations like these, important keys from the keyboard are mapped onto the Steam Controller, with the touchpad acting as a mouse. It made our brains contort in the way that playing Sudoku for the first time might, but it worked. After a few levels, the controller had become peripheral in that mystic sort of way, no longer physically considered, just the bridge between player and game.
With its totally unique approach to the gaming interface the Steam Controller flits with impressive nimbleness between console imports and games so dedicatedly PC that a controller was never considered. We said in our previous article that the Steam Machine wanted to close the gap between PC and console gaming, and the more we use it, the more we’re convinced that the Steam Controller is the strongest weapon in that fight.
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