I resisted the urge to fling the controller across the room as I tried, once again, to beat the first damn level of Cuphead. I’d been making my attempts using what is currently one of the best PC game controllers to date, the Microsoft Xbox One Elite. But it wasn’t happening. Then I switched over to Razer’s ridiculously-named Wolverine Ultimate. The buttons on the Razer controller seemed to have the same response time, but they also had a nice snap to them and were so much more pleasant to press. I finally beat the level.
Video shot by Eleanor Fye, and edited by Mike Damanskis.
Controllers matter, especially if you’re making the shift from console gaming, where choice is limited, to PC gaming, where the only thing stopping you from grabbing a specific controller is money. But while every controller is trying to give you an edge, some do a better job than others. Some feel more comfortable, some allow you to do more, and some just look cooler. So I spent the last few weeks playing a lot of video games to find the very best controller you can buy.
All photos: Alex Cranz/Gizmodo
Identifying the best controller might seem like a question of personal taste—and to an extent it is! If you truly hate the feel of an Xbox One-style controller then you should go with a PS4-style device, but some controllers are objectively better, and the very best ones allow you to tweak little things like the joysticks and the draw strength on the triggers, so you can avoid annoyances and have the best gaming experience possible. So my first criteria for the controllers in the running was how customisation they were.
While you can pick custom colours on the £50 Xbox One controller if you’re willing to pay £30 more, that’s not the kind of customisation I was looking for. As a result, it (and the less customisable £50 Dual Shock 4 controller and £50 Steam controller) were excluded from this test. They’re great controllers, but they lack the ability to tweak the parameters that might make them truly exceptional.
These are great controllers, but aren’t customisation enough to be included in this test.
That left me with four controllers to evaluate: The Scuf Infinity 4PS, Scuf Infinity 1, Microsoft Xbox One Elite, and Razer Wolverine Ultimate. We judged them by their customisability, how well they handled, and their price.
What’s the most customisable controller?
I first picked up the Scuf Infinity 4PS because I was constantly wearing down the joysticks on my PlayStation controllers and wanted something with joysticks I could replace when they wore down. The Infinity 4PS was also appealing because of other cool little features, like the ability to customise the length of the triggers, as well as their pull distance. After a weekend playing Destiny 2, I became a committed fan of customisable controllers, and after a few weeks of testing, the Infinity 4PS and its Xbox One-like sibling, the Infinity 1, came out as the best of the bunch by this criteria.
The Scuf Infinity 4PS uses a lock and ring combo to keep joysticks secure.
Both controllers are significantly more customisable than the competition. Depending on how you build the controllers on the Scuf website, you can choose to tweak the triggers, joysticks, and D-pad, opt for different size paddles on the back, and even switch out the grips.
Scuf’s joysticks also lock in place with a fussy lock ring. You use the accompanying lock to twist and remove the ring so you can switch out joysticks. It can be difficult to get the joystick situated just right, and the lock takes some practice to use—which made me thrilled by the method employed by the Razer and Microsoft controllers. Both use a magnet to keep the joysticks in place.
The magnet system made it so easy to replace joysticks I felt like I was living in a luxurious future. Until I dropped the Microsoft Xbox One Elite and a joystick shot across the room like a rocket was attached to it.
The Scuf lock-and-ring system can be annoying, but it is much more durable than the systems the Microsoft and Razer controllers use. Combined with the sheer number of options for configuring your controller, the Scuf controllers come out as the clear winners.
Winner: Scuf Infinity 4PS and Scuf Infinity 1
What’s the best feeling controller?
Three of the four controllers we tested are based on the Xbox One controller design (the Scuf Infinity 4PS was the outlier, modelled on the Dual Shock 4). These controllers feel, for the most part, exactly like the controllers they’re modelled on. But there are small, subtle ways that they’re very different. Like the placement of the paddles or triggers on the back of the controllers.
The paddles are positioned differently on all the controllers, and in each case the layout is more than adequate. You rarely accidentally press a paddle on one of the Scuf controllers, and the placement of the triggers on the Razer Wolverine Ultimate are perfect. They’re easy to reach when needed, but not so close by that you might press the wrong button at a crucial moment.
Each controller has it’s on specific paddle layout on the back. From top left, clockwise, Scuf Infinity 1, Razer Wolverine Ultimate, Microsoft Xbox One Elite, Scuf Infinity 4PS.
The Xbox One Elite, however, was one of the worst ones tested in this regard. The paddles are positioned nearly on top of the grips of the controller. While that might work with a lot of practice in a professional gaming space, it led to the most accidental presses while playing for this weekend warrior.
It’s also the heaviest controller, which makes it feel more expensive, but the weight is too much for extended gaming sessions. After an hour with the Elite, I was always eager to go back to anything else.
And the buttons are super mushy! There’s a noticeable and unpleasant squish with the Elite. That squish wasn’t present in either SCUF controllers, which feel nearly identical to their cheaper counterparts, the Xbox One and Dual Shock 4.
Yet what really surprised me was how different, in a good way, the Razer Wolverine Ultimate ended up feeling.
An added bonus, the Wolverine Ultimate is the only controller with a full communication module. It makes it easy to mute chat.
Razer designs its own switches for a lot of its peripherals (including many of its keyboards). The company’s attention to detail shows on the Wolverine Ultimate. This thing has the best button feel in the bunch. Snappy and responsive, the buttons remind you of playing on an arcade cabinet or with a top-notch keyboard. Between the great feeling buttons and the excellent trigger placement, the Razer Wolverine Ultimate clearly comes out on top here.
Winner: Razer Wolverine Ultimate
For the Person Who Needs to Save Cash
Of course, the big problem with these fancy controllers is that they cost more than twice what a standard-issue Xbox or PlayStation controller would. So cost starts to matter, a lot. The Razer Wolverine Ultimate, at £160 is the most expensive controller. It includes a carrying case and some extra parts, but it also requires connection via USB (cable included) at all times. £160 for a controller that can’t go wireless is simply too steep a price.
The Razer Wolverine Ultimate and Microsoft Xbox One Elite both come with their own cases, cables, and extras.
The Microsoft Xbox One Elite is also steeply priced at £120. It, too, includes a case and extra components like joysticks and a different D-pad. Unlike the Wolverine Ultimate, it’s at least wireless.
Yet the Scuf Infinity 4PS starts at £100 and the Scuf Infinity 1 starts at £95. That’s £20/£25 cheaper than the Elite, and £60/£65 cheaper than the Wolverine! If you’re just looking at the basic price tag, the Scuf Infinity 1 is the clear winner.
But there is a caveat. Scuf controllers don’t include all the cool extra D-pads and joysticks. There’s no fancy carrying case or USB cable. Each extra little bit will cost you anything from £4 to £30. That sucks if you want the most tricked out controller, but if you just want to dip your toe into customisable controllers, then it’s kind of perfect. You can spend £95 on a basic Scuf Infinity 1 and upgrade over time, spreading the cost out over months and years instead of dropping all your cash once.
Winner: Scuf Infinity 1
When it comes down to it, price and the ability to customise are just a little more important than the feel of the controller. The Razer Wolverine Ultimate might be the best feeling controller when you’re playing, but it’s also the most expensive, and the only one that isn’t wireless.
The Microsoft Xbox One Elite, meanwhile, is neither the most customisable, the best feeling, or the cheapest. It might have been one of the earliest examples of a premium controller, but it’s definitely not one of the best.
Which narrows it down to the Scuf Infinity 4PS and the Scuf Infinity 1. The Infinity 1, based on the Xbox One design, works with any Xbox One or PC and is just £95. The 4PS starts at £100 and requires a little finessing to get it working on the PC. So while it’s definitely worth the extra money and hassle, if you’re playing PS4 more than PC, for most PC gamers its a no-brainer.
The Scuf Infinity 1 is the best controller available.
Winner: Scuf Infinity 1