With the arrival of a new generation of consoles, we’ve already been gifted a host of freshly unpacked peripherals to plug, connect, and attach to our shiniest new family members. Today it’s the turn of the Xbox Series X|S – and of course Xbox One and the ever-ready PC – with the appearance of the Thrustmaster eSwap X Pro Controller, a wired, esports-focussed pad that’s determined to change the way you think about controllers, much like its PlayStation 4 counterpart.
The eSwap X Pro’s party trick is that you can move the central components around, and replace them with whichever alternatives you see fit. If you want to have a symmetrical PlayStation-style stick layout instead of the traditional offset Xbox one, it’s just a case of pulling the modules out and switching them around.
Thrustmaster also provides a number of different packs to further customise your experience, giving you the option of having three analogue sticks (for those of us with… three thumbs?), a pair of D-Pads, or just differently coloured triggers and palm rests. There are more specialised options too, such as the Fighting Game Pack, which helps shift the layout to six face buttons. It’s all very clever, and while on paper it might look like a gimmick, the implementation is fantastic.
The underside of each module features a powerful magnet that helps to lock it into place within the controller housing. There’s also the contacts for connecting the unit to the controller’s actual workings, though I do have a mild question as to whether the less careful amongst us could damage these contacts if the module is knocking about in a draw or bag. Thrustmaster do at least provide a carry bag for the eSwap X Pro, so that should help minimise any problems, and to be fair, most people will set up their pad how they prefer and forget about it.
The body of the eSwap X Pro has slightly longer arms than the standard Xbox controllers, and it’s less rounded than the official one as well. It feels slick without the textured grips, and just feels ‘stiffer’ than the newest iteration from Microsoft. That said, this is still a comfortable controller, fitting effortlessly into the hands, and the longer arms will no doubt please those with slightly larger palms.
The three removable modules house the two analogue sticks and the D-pad, with the sticks sitting a few millimetres taller than those in the official controller. That extra height affords you a shade more incremental control, and the concave, textured tops ensure that your thumb stays where it needs to be.
If you’re after something more rounded like the DualShock 3’s sticks, there’s two different tops that you can screw into place instead. I’m hugely appreciative of the decision not to go with the magnetic caps of Microsoft’s Elite controllers, as it’s a continual recipe for disaster as they disappear into the bottom of draws or roll around the case. Once you’re set with the eSwap X, you don’t have to worry about anything.
This being an elite/esports focussed controller, there’s rather more buttons than your average pad. The underside hosts four additional inputs that you can assign to different functions using the PC-based Thrustmaster software, and they sit easily within reach of your middle digits. Again, I like the implementation here over Microsoft’s Elite range, with the eSwap X opting for round, physical buttons rather than the odd additional paddles MS include. They’re certainly a lot less intrusive, and I didn’t feel like I had to relearn controllers to use them.
Alongside the additional buttons, the underside houses two sliding switches that alter the range of the L and R triggers, reducing their movement by 50%. If you’re playing twitch shooters like Call of Duty where every millisecond counts, the reduced trigger range could make the difference between success and defeat, so it’s great to see Thrustmaster including the enhancement. It still clearly relies on your own reflexes, but there is an advantage to be had, and the eSwap X can provide it.
Other than that, you’ve got the brand-new Xbox Series X|S menu button layout that includes the very welcome Share button. The face and shoulder buttons on the eSwap X are all digital and ring out with a resounding click with every press. Personally, I love the added tactility and audio feedback that they provide, but you may find it distracting if you’re not wearing a headset. They’re rated for 5 million presses, which is a hell of a lot of reloads, and across our time with them they felt unbelievably swift and accurate.
Speaking of headsets, the eSwap X has one more party trick for when you’ve tired of moving the components around and started actually playing games.. Alongside the central 3.5mm headphone port there’s a batch of physical audio controls that allow you to change the volume, mute your microphone, and switch between your two preset profiles at the push of a button; perfect if you have a particular game that you need a very specific setup for.
The ThrustmapperX software is your one-stop shop for customising your controller, and it’s clean, clear and astoundingly comprehensive. It’s available for Windows 10, as well as appearing on Xbox via a dedicated app. Here you can tinker around with pretty much every facet of how the controller functions, well beyond simple button mapping. You can reduce vibration levels, and really dig into the individual stick setups with sensitivity curves and dead zones, and that’s before you start on the triggers as well.
The eSwap X’s primary competitor is Microsoft’s own Elite series controllers. Having owned both iterations of the Elite controllers the main aspect that the eSwap X loses out on is the option of wireless or Bluetooth connectivity. Otherwise, it’s much more customisable, has more inputs, allows for more personalisation, while boasting a lighter, longer frame. I also prefer the response of the eSwap X’s digital buttons, despite the additional noise. They both have an RRP of £159.99 though, and it’s a shame that the Thrustmaster is the same price despite the reduced connectivity.