Impressions: Combat Controller

The Mad Catz Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Wireless Combat Controller for PLAYSTATION 3 to give it its full name is a third party controller that I wanted to look at as it addressed the two bugbears I have with the SIXAXIS/DUALSHOCK 3.  Those are the convex triggers and the sometimes awkwardness of clicking and/or holding L3 or R3 while moving the analogue sticks.

This is what Mad Catz’s marketing department have to say about the combat controller:

Infiltrate the world of state-of-the-art combat with the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Wireless Combat Controller for PLAYSTATION 3. Equipped with unique, easily-accessible “Combat” buttons for on-the-fly custom remapping; seamlessly render your adversaries helpless as you flaunt your tactical skills with optimum control and accuracy. With immersive backlit analog sticks, digital camouflage design and ergonomic firearm grips, the Combat Controller thrusts you upon the frontline of military gaming. Featuring a built-in rechargeable battery and lag-free 2.4GHz wireless signal-which permits gameplay anywhere in the room-this is the weapon of choice for Modern Warfare.

“Combat” Buttons
Let’s look at each of the main selling points they identify starting with the most significant one which is the “Combat” buttons with on-the-fly remapping.  This pair of buttons are the main selling point of the controller.  They are located on the reverse of the controller, halfway between the front and back, where the ‘arms’ meet the main body.

Two more three-position switches on the reverse control which of the face button presses the two combat buttons replicate.  The combat button operated with your left hand can be mapped to L3, ‘X’ or ‘O’, while the other can be mapped to R3, square or triangle.

However, the combat buttons just seem to be in the wrong position when I hold the controller with a finger on each of the shoulder buttons and my other two fingers wrapped around the ‘arm’ of the controller to give it more stability in the hand.  Even when I made a point of positioning my finger over the combat button it did not fall comfortably under my fingertip, more against the side of my fingertip, requiring almost a sideways movement of my finger to operate.

Worried that it might just be that I hold controllers in an odd way I also got a number of gaming friends to give the controller a try.  None of them found the combat buttons easy or comfortable to operate either.

Ergonomic Firearm Grips
Here I do not know whether Mad Catz are referring to the textured sides of the controller or the concave profiled triggers.  Either way those are two feature of the controller that do get the thumbs up from me.  The textured sides really do grip your palm well without being so rough that they become uncomfortable after prolonged use.

While I can ‘get by’ with the convex triggers (L2 & R2) on a normal SIXAXIS/DS3 the Combat Controller’s concave triggers just feel better.  Not only does their shape mean that your finger is more secure in its position on the trigger throughout the range of its movement but they offer a little more resistance than their Sony-made counterparts.

Also, where the triggers on the Sony controllers feel a little spongy during the initial part of their travel before firming up around the halfway point, these present a steady level of resistance throughout their movement.  That took a little getting used to but I quickly found myself preferring that increased resistance.

Immersive Backlit Analogue Sticks
Trust me, there’s nothing immersive about the LED lighting of these.  It might not have looked too bad if the effect was more subtle, but the lurid green light is a bright enough presence in the lower extremes of your vision while playing to become distracting when playing under artificial light.  Fortunately the controller’s power switch has two ‘on’ positions, one with the LEDs lit and one without.

Lag-free 2.4GHz Wireless Signal and Built-in Rechargeable Battery
In common with other third party wireless controllers for the PS3, including all those plastic guitars and buzzers cluttering up our homes, this controller does not use Bluetooth, instead requiring you to plug in a small dongle into one of your PS3’s USB ports.

That does not seem to hamper the Combat Controller in operation though with it feeling just as responsive as my DS3s.  As with other third party wireless peripherals the wireless dongle will take the lowest available controller ID when plugged in (or when the PS3 is switched on) so it is best to remember to remove it when you are not using the Combat Controller.

The controller has the same mini-USB connector as a SIXAXIS/DS3 so your existing cables will be fine for charging it, though Mad Catz have included a cable in the box.  The rechargeable battery has held ample charge for several respectable-length gaming sessions and seems comparable to my DS3s in terms of battery life so far, though you get no battery meter so there is no way to tell how much charge remains.

Other Controls
There is little difference in feel or responsiveness between the symbol buttons on the Combat Controller and those on my DS3s.  They, along with L1 & R1, perhaps require a slightly firmer press than Sony’s equivalents but it made no difference when I was playing a game.

Like the triggers, the analogue sticks offer more resistance to movement than those on the DS3.  The sticks also have a more ‘positive’ center position to which they feel a little quicker to return to.  Again these small differences in feel have caused me no problems in games like PixelJunk Shooter that require deft twirling and jabbing of the sticks.

The D-Pad is a different matter though.  As opposed to the excellent D-Pads that have featured on all of Sony’s various PlayStation controllers, the D-Pad on the Combat Controller feels much more like the soft and occasionally indecisive one that appears on the 360’s controller.

One further odd difference is the layout of the ‘Select’, ‘PS’ (or ‘Home’ in this case) and ‘Start’ buttons.  As you can see in the pictures they are arranged vertically rather than horizontally which can mean that your SIXAXIS-accustomed fingers may take an extra moment to locate them if you do not look down at the controller.

I should also note that like the SIXAXIS this is a rumble-free controller.  Rumble is not that important to me so personally I did not miss it but that may be an important consideration for you.  The lack of the rumbling weights and their motors means that despite the controller being slightly longer and wider than the DS3 it weighs slightly less, though noticeably more than a SIXAXIS.

The slightly convex profile to the outside of the Combat Controller’s ‘arms’ and the fact they are not angled backwards to the degree the SIXAXIS’ are means it feels a little more like the 360’s controller in the hand, which may or may not be a good thing depending upon your own preference.  Appearance wise the ‘digital camo’ colouring of the Combat Controller does not look as tacky as it might have done and this is a reasonably smart looking controller.

Pros

  • Concave, more resistive triggers.
  • Textured side grips.
  • Wireless and rechargeable.

Cons

  • Combat buttons mis-located for me.
  • 360-like D-Pad.
  • Not Bluetooth.

Verdict
Controllers are a very subjective topic as we all spend so much time holding them.  This is one of the better third party PlayStation controllers I have used over the years though it will not be supplanting my SIXAXIS and DS3 controllers in regular play.  Perhaps if the combat buttons on the rear were in a position where I found them comfortable to use I would be more willing to tolerate the mushy 360-like D-Pad.  If you prefer the 360’s controller’s shape to the SIXAXIS/DS3 then this may be one worth looking at.

(Apologies for the quality of the photos, I could not afford to fly Peter over to take some decent ones.)

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