(Click) Stick it to the man…
Stretch your mind back nearly two years to what is arguably the start of the current generation of gaming with the near simultaneous release of the XBox Series X and the Playstation 5. Not only did these new consoles bring 4K gaming with consistently high frame rates into the living room, each system took their own approach to what they considered “next generation”. For Microsoft, this was iterative, with the Series X keeping an almost identical OS and controller pairing over the previous XBox One models, while Sony decided to completely throw out the rule book and completely change the way that people interacted with their console, right the way down to the introduction of the innovative DualSense controller.
I doubt many people who have played a PS5 can forget the first time they used that chunky but aesthetically pleasing update of the PlayStation’s DualShock series controller, a more ergonomic take that fits nicely in the hand with some lovely textured grip and a good deal of heft. The big selling point though is the introduction of haptic feedback not only in the controllers rumble, but also in its triggers, allowing games to tweak the levels of resistance and movement that players feel when, say, drawing a bow in Horizon: Forbidden West, or the tightness of a vehicle’s brakes in Gran Turismo 7. It adds a surprising level of immersion in games but it’s also, understandably, a somewhat divisive feature, with many gamers looking for less gimmickry and a more “professional” feeling controller to really allow them to hone their gaming skills.
The idea of pro controllers isn’t a new one; third parties have been releasing controllers for years that feature more responsive controls, removing much of the fluff of the consumer level controllers we find packed in with our consoles, as well as adding features like physically customisable sticks and buttons and remappable controls, allowing players to shave nano-seconds off their response times while playing by providing quick access to things like reload commands or item uses. Microsoft got in on the pro controller game in 2015 with the release of the XBox Elite controller, a highly customisable joypad aimed at pro gamers who wanted more fine control over their gaming experience. Until recently (more on that later) Sony hadn’t released a first party pro controller, so many of the more advanced pads for the Playstation consoles were from third parties – enter The Controller People!
The Controller People is a small company based in London who have been selling customised controllers since 2016. These stretch from custom coloured chassis to full on paint jobs and, for the PS5, a series of Pro level modifications to the standard DualSense controller. Yes, these controllers are not simply third party devices from the likes of Power A or 8BitDo, these are the real deal; full fat DualSense controllers which have been cracked open and fiddled with to optimise them for the pro gamer – there are three tiers of modification available – Classic, Pro and Ultimate; we got a chance to check out the Pro version…
The Controller People Pro PS5 controller is a customised DualSense with the following features:
- Remappable Clicksticks
- Digital Triggers
- Interchangeable Analogue System (I.A.S)
The first thing that struck me when we received the controller was, yes – this is very much a DualSense! It ships in a standard Sony box with only a Controller People sticker over the flap providing any sign that something is different here. Inside, the pad looks to all intents and purposes like you’d just picked it up from your favourite videogame hardware retailer, an off-white device waiting to be paired to your PS5. But wait! Where have the analogue sticks gone? In their place are two slightly square nubs – this is The Controller People’s Interchangeable Analogue System (I.A.S). In a separate bag you’ll find three pairs of sticks which can be clicked into those aforementioned nubs. Each of the sticks has a different grip finish on the top and will sit at a different height from the controller, allowing you to find whichever one fits your play style or even hand size better.
Flipping over the controller you’ll find the second most obvious addition from The Controller People – their “Clicksticks”. Added on to the underside of the DualSense, these rubberised nubs can be pressed down from the top with a satisfying click. With the controller turned on these can be remapped to the button or direction of your choice by holding down both the stick and button for around 20 seconds. Once done, clicking the stick will trigger the controller to fire off the button command, meaning you don’t need to take your thumbs off the triggers to activate face buttons, or make awkward clicks on the R3 or L3 buttons.
The final, less obvious addition to the DualSense, is the tweak to the R2 and L2 triggers. Instead of the digital triggers with haptic feedback, these have been tightened into digital buttons. While the original triggers had a good degree of travel, these digital triggers simply click like mouse buttons, meaning that actions on them will take less time to register giving you faster responses.
On paper, all this sounds great – the form factor of a proper DualSense, with customisable sticks, programmable back bumpers and more responsive triggers; and indeed when using the Controller People Pro DualSense there’s nothing particularly bad about it. It is, indeed, a DualSense and it feels just as comfy in your hand as the controller you got with your PS5. The Clicksticks are easy to reach and straightforward to program. Using them in the likes of Demon’s Souls and Deathloop gave me quick ways to switch weapons or use items which was nice, and I didn’t at first particularly miss the analogue triggers. This latter point was where the controller started to lose its shine for me, however.
In more action oriented games, those digital triggers are great, leading to more responsive attacks, but they’re not THAT much more responsive than traditional analogue triggers. Swapping back to a standard DualSense as well led me to realise that the haptic feedback in those triggers, the way they change feel depending on the context of the game, is actually pretty good fun and something I was genuinely missing in the digital triggers of the CP Pro controller. There’s also the issue of racing games and, indeed, any game where the analogue triggers can be used to add finesse to the controls, digital triggers simply don’t cut it. I’ve found this when trying to play racing games like Grid on the Switch as well; without analogue triggers you have far less control over acceleration and braking, making playing the game on a whole a much more tricky experience and one which I would not want to use the CP Pro on.
That comes to my main criticism of this “chop shop” style approach to a pro controller – it completely lacks any kind of customizability. Look at the XBox Elite, or even Power A’s pro controllers; one of the features I’ve liked about the times I’ve used these controllers is the triggers. In both instances the analogue triggers have switches on them to allow you to tweak the level of travel on the button, from full to partial analogue and even digital, meaning that you can change up your controller set up for the game you want to play. The lack of flexibility on the Controller People Pro means that if you ever need those analogue triggers, you’re gonna be out of luck. Then there’s the question of price.
One thing is consistent through all of these controllers though – the cost. The XBox Elite in particular is a good £100 more expensive than a standard XBox controller, meaning that purchasing one represents a significant investment. The Controller People Pro will cost you £142.00, while the slightly more feature rich Ultimate version will set you back £185. That’s a hefty price when you consider the RRP of the regular DualSense is £59.99, however it’s also thrown into contrast when you consider Sony’s recently announced DualSense Edge, their first dip into the realms of pro controllers. The Edge, similar to the XBox Elite, will also have interchangeable sticks, remappable back buttons and triggers with tweakable travel distance, making it a far more customisable experience than the Controller People’s offering, however the eye opener here (or eye waterer) is the price which that beast comes in at, a whopping £209.99 RRP. This very much puts the CP Pro in the middle ground for a very specific type of gamer.
Yes, I am of course talking about the competitive FPS player. For those players who are looking for the responsiveness of those tweakable analogue sticks and digital triggers, the TCP Pro will be just the ticket at just the right price, coming in at a good £50 saving to Sony’s official offering while providing the kind of quality of life tweaks you need to improve your CoD skills; And while it is tricky, however, to recommend The Controller People Pro to the average consumer, their custom designed DualSense controllers look lovely and, for a player willing to pay a little bit more for their controller, they will be a unique addition to a PS5 set up.