The first Steam Controllers and Steam Links are being delivered to those who pre-ordered. I received mine on Friday and spent a few moments this weekend playing with them. We’re not yet ready to offer reviews of either, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a nice chat about it. Do you have a Link or a Controller? If so, what do you think?
For those not in the know, the Link and Controller mark Valve’s first steps into hardware production. The Link is a small set-top box designed for streaming games from a desktop PC to a TV, like a Chromecast for games. The Controller is a gamepad designed as a viable alternative to the keyboard and mouse, offering the triggers, buttons and analogue sticks familiar from other pads, but also having two touch-sensitive haptic pads for finer, mouse-style control.
My first impressions of both are not good. I knew what I was getting into when I pre-ordered the first generation of two new pieces of hardware, but it has still been a disappointment. Of the games I’ve tried to stream to my TV via the Steam Link, only two have resulted in anything other than a blank screen. The others almost all transmit sound but no picture. On one of the occasions I got a game to appear on my TV, it flickered every few seconds back and forth between the game and the Steam interface, meaning it was still unplayable.
Steam’s Big Picture interface also seems bafflingly different when running through the Link than on my desktop PC, and I’ve yet to find the ‘exit game’ button within the Steam Link version, if there is one. I don’t understand why these are different and so it might simply be in an unobvious place, however this means that every failed attempt to load a game requires me to walk back upstairs to manually close the game down on my desktop PC. (Or to control that machine by using Chrome Remote Desktop to wirelessly stream my desktop PC to a Chromebook laptop, which works flawlessly).
The one game that did work, 80 Days, was laggy to the point of being unplayable. The ambiguities of networking make it hard to pin the blame directly on the Link for that, but I have all the hardware involved connected to the network via wires and I regularly use a similar but wireless setup for streaming HD video from my desktop to the TV. I was ready for streaming to require image compression and therefore to affect quality, but instead it has been pinsharp but stuttering.
I had better experiences using in-home streaming with an old netbook, I suspect I can get better results from the Steam Link by fiddling with default settings, and Valve have said that there are firmware updates on the way between now and its official release date on November 10th. For those reasons, I’ll reserve judgement for now.
The Controller has fared better. I’ve used it on my desktop PC to play a number of time-insensitive games and the trackpads do a decent impression of a mouse. I’ve also used it to control Downwell however, and for an arcade game of that type, it seems a poor replacement for either an Xbox pad or a keyboard. The analogue stick is in a slightly awkward position, the XYAB buttons are unusually small, it’s too easy to accidentally knock the squeezable palm triggers, and the right haptic pad occasionally springs to life unbidden, exerting influence even when the pad is stationary and level on my desk.
Oh, and if you do want to try the pad with Downwell, make sure to unplug your 360 pad first because otherwise you’ll run endlessly to the left. In fairness, this might be the game, not the pads.
Otherwise, I can imagine comfortably controlling mouse-based strategy and adventure games with the pad from my couch, should I be able to get the Link working. That’s all I really want: to play Her Story on the couch with my girlfriend.
Right, so what about you lot: have you received your Link and/or Controller? What do you make of it? Are you planning on getting one when they’re released or are you holding off for future iterations?