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Steam Controller Hands-On: The Final Version is Here

SAN FRANCISCO -- The original Steam Controller was first announced as far back as 2013. But its taken two years of tinkering for Valve to declare the $50 peripheral ready for production. This is it, or at least will be come November.

Valve, the makers of the Steam downloadable gaming service, has created a controller intended for use in the living room that supports a wide variety of PC games, ranging from strategies to shooters. The result looks very different from the Playstation 4 and Xbox One console controllers. After getting some hands-on time with the Steam Controller, I approve.

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Two circular touchpads dominate the left and right side of the device. These pads replace the typical analog stick or directional pad found on other controllers. The left pad features a subtle D-pad texture, which helps orient your fingers. But getting used to the haptic feedback, which creates a slight rumble as your fingers move across the touchpads, is the real trick. You can adjust the strength of the vibration from the Steam Controller's settings menu.

The touchpad are designed to work better with games originally designed for mouse control, like Sid Meier's Civilization games, while staying in a couch-friendly form-factor. There's also a traditional analog stick on the left side that features a convex top with a criss-cross texture around its circumference.

On the right, four face button are arranged in a traditional diamond pattern, three buttons in the middle, and a total of six buttons around the back (two shoulder buttons, two triggers and two additional buttons on the inside of each grip). One AA battery hides within each grip.

I played The Talos Principle and Unreal Tournament to test the Steam Controller. After a brief period of adjustment, I was quickly running and strafing through games with ease. The Steam Controller's slightly concave shape put my thumbs in the perfect place to fully utilize the large circular pads. I was able to flick my thumbs across both pads at the same time, which let me strafe as well as any a mouse and keyboard combination.

The one game I wanted to play that wasn't available for demo was Valve's own DOTA 2 MOBA game, which features controls that have been notoriously hard to translate onto a controller. It's proved so difficult that neither DOTA or League of Legends have been able to make the jump to consoles, despite a combined player base well higher than 30 million. Gabe Newell, Valve's founder and managing director told us that playing DOTA 2 with the Steam Controller is in a really good spot, with more custom tweaks in the works, some of which are based on his own personal play testing.

Overall, I was thoroughly impressed by Valve's first official foray into controller design. While the Steam Controller may not be a perfect replacement for the mouse and keyboard, it should be close enough that for most games I can finally play a wider range of games from my couch.

The Steam Controller will be available in November for $50 by itself, or packaged with the Steam Link streaming system or one of the various Steam Machines from vendors such as Alienware, Zotac and others.

Sam Rutherford is a Staff Writer at Tom’s Guide. Follow him @SamRutherford on Twitter, and Tom’s Guide on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.