Ask me what my favourite games controller of all time is and I'll almost certainly point you towards the Nintendo Gamecube's Wavebird. The GameCube controller certainly had its issues -- a dodgy C-stick and that tiny little Z shoulder button to name but two -- but in terms of ergonomics, it made my hands the happiest they've ever been. When Nintendo brought out the Wavebird, my palms reached nirvana. It was heavier, felt sturdier, and it was seamless in its wireless connectivity. It was pure comfort and thus an absolute joy to hold.
Then Microsoft made it better.
The Xbox 360 controller decided this generation battle for me, that and the fact that Microsoft's console arrived earlier and proved cheaper than the PS3. And though I love my PS3 dearly for its superior collection of diverse exclusives, I've always found the DualShock controller to be abhorrent. The thumb sticks are the wrong places, it feels squashed and lightweight, and playing on it with my giant mitts for long periods of time results in an imagined sensation of bone deformation. The DS4 is a definite improvement, however, and you can read all about that here.
But the Xbox One controller might be in another league in terms of comfort. It's smaller than the Xbox 360's game pad, sitting in the hands the way that Ubisoft's limited edition Ghost Recon Future Soldier pad did, albeit without the mesh grips (more on that in a bit). But the shape is still incredibly pleasing.
Also welcome is the degree to which the analogue sticks have been refined. They're more dimpled on the Xbox One and have a significant amount of grip (compared to those of its predecessor). The fatter lip on each stick, combined with a new surface substance that never yielded to our sweaty thumbs, means that a greater degree of control is paramount. The resistance has changed a little too, with Microsoft saying that the sticks will respond to 25% less force than on Xbox 360, and even playing Peggle 2 it was clear to see that the Xbox One is a little more responsive in terms of the gamepad's dead zone. When it comes to headshots, Microsoft have clearly gone to great lengths to try and ensure that the Xbox One provides virtual marksmen with all of the precision that they need.
Microsoft have lost this generation's D-pad wheel (thank Christ for that), replacing it with a simple cross that feels miles better than before. We tested it out on Killer Instinct and it felt far more clean and precise in terms of execution, although we'd wager that if you absolutely must play a fighting game without a fight stick, the PS4 will probably still be the console of choice thanks to the distinct directional buttons on the DualShock 4.
One feature that this does have which the DualShock 4 doesn't, however, comes in the form of finger-tingling motors. The rumble triggers, with added haptic feedback, are one of the biggest new features with this new pad and they feel really, really weird. But part of that is that we're so used to a one-size-fits-all approach to rumble feedback. With dedicated motors in each trigger, gunfire splutters recoiling feedback into your index finger, you can feel a car's engine cough as it turns over in alternate hands before it settles into a smooth rev cycle. The shift in rumble from palm to fingertips feels utterly alien at first, but once the strangeness of the experience wears off, it does seem pretty cool. Whether or not it'll make a difference to levels of immersion in a game or not is something else entirely -- I for one am hardly a rumble evangelist -- but Microsoft seem to think so. It'll certainly take a bit of getting used, but first impressions are probably best summed up with the words I said at the time: "Ooooh! Well that's pretty nifty.'
"The rumble motors are actually quite big, the 360 ones," Microsoft's head of Xbox accessories Zulfi Alam said earlier this year. "Think of taking those and shrinking them down to one-tenth of their size and having them react to multiple frequencies. It was a humungous engineering challenge.
"You don't want a telephone-like rumble which is almost a buzzing sound. You want rumble to be true rumble. The way a tire spins out of control or the way a tire hits gravel? That's a very specific, which is not like a-buzzing feeling."
Elsewhere, there's not much that immediately pops out aside from the sleeker, curvier design, and the fact that Microsoft have evidently come to conclusion that there really ought to be a way of fitting a battery pack into a controller without having it jut out of the back like some sort of plastic cyst. They're spouting some PR rubbish about how battery packs give consumers options, which is actually true enough in and of itself, but given the disparity between the lifespan of an Xbox 360 rechargeable battery pack and a DualShock 3 we'd wager that using better parts might have something to do with it too. At least be honest about wanting to fleece us for accessories, Microsoft.
Nonetheless, the Xbox One pad is seriously impressive where it counts: when you're actually holding it. Console decisions have been made for far less.