Many PC gamers like me, prefer the mouse and keyboard for most applications. This is because of the greater precision of aiming offered by a mouse and the greater number of functions and macros offered by a keyboard. However, a mouse and also a keyboard tend not to work as well for a kind of game. Many games will perform better with a gamepad.
With this in mind, it makes sense to find the best PC gamepad for your needs. Let’s get started.
One important thing to keep in mind for PC gamers looking for game controllers is that, outside of Xbox controllers, you can’t guarantee that the in-game button prompts will match your controller, unless the game in question specifically supports multiple controller layouts or you modify it. To make the experience smoother for many users, Xbox controllers have a general advantage over the PC platform that other controllers may not appreciate.
However, this can easily be overcome with the right settings, and some interesting features (such as the gyroscope) are not available on Xbox controllers.
Top PC Game Controller
Xbox 360 controller
The Xbox 360 controller is a classic for many gamers. It is considered to be one of the most popular controllers of the seventh generation of consoles. Regardless of its ranking, it remains one of the most influential controllers of all time. And thanks to XInput, it is also by far the most influential gamepad for PC gaming.
However, does it stand the test of time compared to other gamepads?
With the release of the Xbox 360, Microsoft launched “XInput” for Windows. XInput offered full compatibility with the 360 and 360 controllers, making it the most compatible gamepad on the platform. This also led to many controller-dependent titles being ported from the console, such as Dark Souls.
- Full Steam Input support.
- Familiar design, comfortable grip.
- The poor, spongy D-pad.
- Small dead spots on the analog sticks cause “drift” problems in some applications, such as emulators.
- Batteries are required for wireless operation.
- No longer in production, so prices may be inflated by some vendors.
PlayStation 3 controller
The PlayStation 3 controller, or DualShock 3, was Sony’s first major wireless controller for its consoles. The PS3 was released after PS2, which is one of the most excellent consoles. So it makes sense that the PS3 controller has changed little from what made the PS2 pad so great. Here’s how it works on PC.
- Familiar design and comfortable grips.
- Super D-Pad and analog sticks.
- Official Steam support, with some rare games even offering PS button prompts. If you can launch something through Steam, your PS3 controller will be detected.
- Pressure-sensitive buttons, useful for PS2 and PS3 emulation. However, you will need to configure the controller outside of Steam for this to work.
- Rechargeable via USB, no batteries needed for wireless operation.
- You have to install XInput Wrapper for it to work properly with a non-Steam kind of game. (Epic, Ubisoft, or Microsoft Game Pass games).
- There is no gyroscope support in Steam.
- It is no longer produced, so prices may be inflated by some vendors.
As part of its Steam Machine and Big Picture movement, Valve has been trying to bring PC gaming into the living room. For many users, they succeeded, it remains the best for PC gaming even though it has been discontinued. Let’s see how it stacks up.
- Compatible with all games in the Steam library, including those designed primarily for mouse/keyboard.
- Extensive software customization allows you to tailor any game exactly to your preferences for this controller.
- The touchpads and gyroscope offer a far superior solution to analog sticks for fast and accurate aiming in FPS games but fall short of the level offered by a proper mouse.
- Unusual design and grip: comfortable but rather strange compared to regular gamepads.
- Touchpads have a steep learning curve, and for games best played with a D-pad, such as 2D fighting games or 2D platforms, this controller is far from ideal.
- Batteries are required for wireless operation.
- It is no longer in production, and unlike other previous generation tablets, it was not in production for a long time, so prices may be highly inflated.
PlayStation 4 controller
Humbled by the initial reception of the PS3, Sony intended to do big things with the PS4, including converting it to a developer-friendly x86 architecture. Understanding the need for change, the PlayStation 4 controller tweaked the PS design for greater comfort and ease of use. The touchpad was an odd choice for a console controller, but it makes all the difference on PC.
- Super-versatile controller. The touchpad can also be used as a PC touchpad with the right software.
- Great comfort, D-pad, analog, etc.
- Gyroscope support, which can be used by Steam Input and some emulators.
- No battery is required for wireless operation.
Unlike the PS2 and PS3 pads, there are no pressure-sensitive buttons. This makes it less suitable for emulating these older consoles, at least with games that rely on this feature (such as Metal Gear Solid 3).
Which one is right for you?
There’s a non-zero chance that you already own one of these controllers because you already own one of the game consoles it was designed for.
For those who aren’t super hardcore gamers or who aren’t used to dealing with button prompts that don’t match their controller, an Xbox controller becomes a top contender for the mere fact that it’s plug-and-play with everything – even outside of Steam – and the buttons match.
For gamers who prefer deeper control options and additional features such as aim turning, Steam, PlayStation and Nintendo controllers offer an incentive over Xbox controllers in these areas. If you prefer 2D or other D-Pad games, you can also lean towards the PlayStation and Nintendo controllers based solely on their superior D-Pads, although the Xbox Core and Elite controllers are no slouches in the D-Pad department either.
If we were to narrow the list down to the top three choices with the most coverage, they would be:
- Xbox Core controller
- PlayStation 5 controller
- Switch to a Pro Controller or PlayStation 3 controller.
In the meantime, you can learn how to run old games on Windows 10.