My First Week with the Steam Link and Steam Controller

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I’ve been interested in both the Steam Link and the Steam Controller ever since they were announced. I haven’t been playing many console games lately, so I’ve been doing most of my gaming at my desk with a mouse and keyboard. I’ve been running a weekly Video Game Night at TheLab.ms for the last couple of months, and that’s gotten me interested in playing something besides Team Fortress 2 again. Because of that and Valve’s sale on the Steam Link and Controller last week, I finally had to break down and buy them.

Steam Link, Steam Control, and Rascal

And I’m glad that I did! Each device fills a gap in my gaming experience, and I’ve been using one or both of them almost every day so far.

The Steam Controller

My Controller arrived one day earlier than the Link. As soon as it got here, I plugged its dongle into my computer and fired up Super Meat Boy. I expected to have a bad time using the emulated d-pad on the Steam Controller, but I got used to it pretty quickly, and I was breezing through levels at a reasonable pace.

I’d rather play Super Meat Boy with a good d-pad, like the one on an Xbox One controller or any controller from Nintendo—even the subpar d-pad on the Xbox 360 controller isn’t all that bad. The emulated d-pad on the Steam Controller is quite usable, though, and I bet you I’ll like it even more as time goes on.

Steam Controller and Xbox 360 Controller

Then I tried Saints Row: The Third. This was a a good way to try out the Steam Controller’s touchpad aiming with gyro assist. This unique way of aiming is rather intuitive, but continuing my game that was already set to the highest difficulty level was like jumping right into the deep end of the pool. I felt like I was doing a good job aiming, but I wasn’t picking off headshot after headshot in rapid succession like I can with the mouse.

I took my Steam Controller to TheLab.ms’s weekly Video Game Night last week, and I let everyone try Saints Row with the Steam Controller. My friend Brian gave it a shot first, and he didn’t find it intuitive at all. He was flailing about, trying his best to shoot at the bad guys, but he just couldn’t do it well. He ended up resorting to fisticuffs. We had the fresh game of Saints Row set to the easiest difficulty, so this worked out alright for him.

Three or four other people tried, and most of them were clicking off fairly quick headshots within a few minutes. Brian ordered his own controller, and it is on its way as I’m writing this. I bet he’ll manage to get the hang of it soon!

The Steam Link

The Steam Link is a small box—not much bigger than the Amazon FireTV—that streams games from your computer to your television, and it does a fantastic job. It operates well enough over Wi-Fi. It is responsive enough to play Super Meat Boy, and I played at least an hour of Borderlands 2 over Wi-Fi. Unfortunately, my Wi-Fi signal isn’t the best here, and the Steam Link eventually had connectivity issues—I blame the neighbors! I’ve plugged it into my network since then, and both Valve and I recommend you do the same.

I wanted to play a game on the Link that I was already familiar with in order to hone my first-person-shooter skills. I chose Borderlands 2. I’ve played through the game more times than I can count, and the game is ridiculously easy when you start a new character.

Things started out pretty rough. I died in lots of embarrassing ways, but things improved rather quickly. I managed to get past Boom Bewm and Captain Flint without much fuss. Shortly after that, some friends of mine started popping in and out of the game to help me out.

At first, I thought, “Oh great! These guys are going to be doing all the work for me with their fancy, fast-aiming mice!” Things went better than I had anticipated. I wasn’t dying much more often than everyone else, and I was nearly doing my fair share of damage to the enemies. The Steam Controller makes me feel like the most inexperienced guy in the group, but I could see that skill gap closing every day.

On the first day, I could only hit slow-moving targets at a distance. I have the most trouble when they charge at me, and get right up in my face. On the first day, those enemies were nearly impossible to hit, and I had to backpedal to get them into my sights. Today, I can at least aim at them, but not as quickly or accurately as I’d like.

Even a few days in, I still couldn’t hit flying enemies like Rakk or Buzzards. After a week, I can manage to get a few hits and kills in. A lot of enemies are easier to hit when I play solo, since they’re all coming right at me, and this is especially true with these flying enemies. They’re much harder for me to hit when playing with friends, but I do manage now.

I’m getting better at using sniper rifles—I can often hit a Hyperion robot in the shoulder before one of my friends takes the kill on me.

The best part is that all the practice with Borderlands 2 transferred well to Saints Row. I look significantly less ridiculous trying to shoot things in Saints Row, but I still may need to start a new game on “normal” difficulty.

Do you know what’s really awesome about the Steam Link? My desktop computer is significantly faster than an Xbox One or PlayStation 4, and I have hundreds of games in my Steam library. Tons of those games are better played from the couch or your favorite recliner using a controller, and the $50 Steam Link is a fantastic way to do that.

You may have noticed that even though this section has a heading of “Steam Link,” I ended up talking about the Controller even more. There really isn’t that much interesting to say about the Link. It has one job to do, and it does it extremely well.

Should you buy both?

The Link and Controller make a good pair, but each one can provide quite a bit of value on its own. The Link functions just fine with other controllers—I plugged in my Xbox 360 Wireless dongle, and I had no trouble powering up the Link and playing Super Meat Boy. The d-pad on the Xbox 360 controller may not be the best, but it is more appropriate for a twitchy platformer like Super Meat Boy.

Steam Controller Packaging

Likewise, the Steam Controller will work just fine on your PC or laptop. I know some people that plug their laptop into their TV to play games—heck, we used to plug my laptop into the TV every week for Video Game Night at TheLab.ms!

Personally, I’m glad I bought both. I once played through Saints Row: The Third on the PlayStation 3, and I recently played through half of the game on my computer with the keyboard and mouse. Driving on the PlayStation 3 was fantastic—driving with the keyboard is just awful. On the other hand, aiming with the mouse is a huge upgrade over the PS3.

The Steam Controller tries to provide the best of both worlds. Driving with the Steam Controller’s analog stick feels great, and aiming is so much more comfortable than it was on the PS3. I may not be able to aim as quickly and accurately as I can with the mouse, but I’m doing better than I can with an analog stick, and I’m getting better every day.

Do you own a Steam Controller or Link? What do you think of them?

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