Gears Of War Xbox One Elite Wireless Controller Review

Disclaimer

This controller was provided free of charge by Microsoft for this review.

Introduction

Elite controllers are designed to be the height of quality in the Xbox One line, for pro and casual gamers to gain a similar experience and be able to further their skills. A relatively short while after they first released, I received one as a gift. Unfortunately I had to return this unit as it had an audio defect and its replacement didn't serve much better after a bumper sheered away from the housing.

Being at the time dissatisfied with the quality of the product, I decided to use the money from the refunded controller to what I considered at the time to be a better use, namely to build my own arcade style controller using a Brook Universal Fighting Board.

Now, a considerable while after the first wave of releases and all the issues surrounding even getting hold of one in most retail stores, I've been assured that the quality has improved and I'm looking forward to seeing just how much this is the case. Not only that, but I also get to see a controller that is arguably more sought after, given its custom additional design elements.

With that out of the way, we begin this review of the Gears of War elite controller.

Unboxing

With the plastic piece used to hang the product in stores facing towards you, look for the 2 adhesive circles to the left and right of that hanger that you can then remove with the aid of a fingernail and a few careful scratches. There is a third one on the opposite side of the box to where the hanger is, remove that as well.

Being careful not to pull too hard and break anything, simply slide the top section away and put it to one side.

You will see a large case underneath (more on this later). Remove this case and the section that holds it (using the circular whole in the packaging's centre).

This reveals the free emblem and gear packs download code (on a laminated card), a quick setup guide, a piece of paper detailing the free xBox Accessories app and the regulatory and warranty guide, all in print.

You will also see an oblong box that you can pull out using the hole in its top. From this, pull out the USB chord (the item that looks like string on the left-hand side). There are also a set of batteries inside, in a separate holder. Poke the terminals and the batteries should slide towards you and out of the small oblong box.

The case

The main feature of the elite controller's packaging is the aforementioned carrying case.

If you've seen a standard elite controller case, take a closer look at the top of this one and you'll find, not an Xbox logo, but an embossed lancer (the go to gun of the Gears Of War franchise) instead. A very well executed touch, if I say so myself. You can even feel the individual teeth of the chainsaw attached to the lancer's assault rifle.

In the case, you'll find the controller itself, along with a number of parts that can be swapped in and out. That process is relatively simple, but will be covered in its own section.

There aren't many tactile differences between the Gears Elites and the standard one, other than the back plate (with a crimson omen on the surface). However, the quality of this unit doesn't suffer either, meaning that if you're a Gears fan, you might just want to get this for the additional tactile markings and the unique case.

Testing

PC

The first thing I do when I play on a new controller is look at the DPad. Why? Because I play far too many fighting games to make it anything less than the first thing I look at. Given my previous experience with these controllers though, I pretty much knew it wouldn't be an issue.

The DPad supplied on the Gears elite controller when you retrieve it from the case is a circular one with small facets (i.e. indents) and is only really good for those who are used to using their thumbs to make fireball motions. However, once I swapped it out for the more standard alternative, Killer Instinct, Karateka and other games worked flawlessly.

Xbox One

Gears of War 4, the game this controller was designed for, worked smoothly and without any issues, other than the easy to understand one of me not remembering what paddle did what in-game.

Titanfall2, once I'd mapped a configuration for it and switched using the physical profile switcher, was also a breeze, and I was traversing the maps just as easily as I had done with a standard controller in mere minutes.

Switching between configurations for these titles was as simple as pushing the switch on the top one way or the other. Mapping, as described below, does take a little while but if you take the time to get it just right it can serve you well.

Swapping parts

With elite controllers, one of the unique features is the ability to swap out the directional pad (DPad), analogue sticks and remove the back paddles. All the replaceable parts are held in place via magnets. However, the design of the paddles makes them somewhat unintuitive to remove without sight.

The trick, it turns out, is to pull the larger end of the paddle (closest to the sides of the controller rather than the back) in towards the centre.

Being careful not to apply too much force, push past the point of resistance and if done correctly, the paddle should cleanly detach from the unit.

Removing parts from the rubber area in the case is a little harder. With the cross-shaped DPad, hereafter known as the standard one, you should push down on one side until you see the opposite edge move upward enough to get a fingernail underneath it and help pull it free. Placing it on the controller (when there's not an alternative on it) is as simple as lining up the cross-shaped area with the underside of the DPad and rotating if needed until it slots into place.

Putting the paddles back in the case is a tricky task, simply because at first it's hard to tell how to make sure they stay there. After trial and error though, trying to match the paddles to the correct side, you should be able to figure out how they fit.

Replacing Paddles After Removal

If you've elected at any point to remove the paddles from the controller, getting them back might be a difficult task at first. However, it's doable if you keep a few things in mind, not least of which is that the areas that look like thumb grips aren't actually thumb grips at all. They face towards the controller's rubber handles, with the shorter paddles closer to the trigger lock switches.

If you want to disable the paddles (for example to put the controller down on a table, or on your lap) without the fear of activating them, press the sync/bind button on the controller (the circular one hear the left bumper) twice in rapid succession.

The controller should vibrate 4 times in a row, which is the indicator that you've succeeded in deactivating the paddles. Repeat the procedure to re-enable the paddles and if successful, the controller should vibrate again.

The Xbox Accessories app: Introduction

This app, available for both Windows 10 systems and consoles in the Xbox One family is designed to let you remap buttons and change various aspects of your elite controller, as well as enable CoPilot if you wish. It works with non-elite controllers as well, but mostly its purpose is as a configuration tool for the premium accessory.

The windows 10 version

The Windows 10 version of the app, whilst it does work, isn't exactly that intuitive compared to the layout presented by its Xbox One counterpart. This is partly because the arrow keys don't move you between areas like the Tab key or DPad does. You can still do all the same things on this version of the app but if you have the choice, go for the console version, as reviewed below.

The Xbox One Version

The Xbox One app is accessible and, compared to its PC equivalent, actually a little easier to understand. However, there are still a few kinks that I feel need to be ironed out before it becomes a fluid task to remap buttons and configure your controller.

For one thing, I found remapping any functionality (say, the paddles to the triggers) to be a problematic affair and one fraught with frustration as none of my changes seemed to actually take any kind of effect.

What I realised after a little reading around was that it's easier to map a change, back out of the mapping screen, map the next change then back out and so on. It's not ideal, but after I started doing it this way I could also verify that my changes were successfully in place

Using the paddles in games like Titanfall2 is a little tricky to get used to if you've played the game without them for a while, but once you get the hang of what buttons you've put where, the dynamic of the game changes completely and, other than the occasional forgetful moment on my part, for the better.

Summary

Pros

Cons

Conclusions

The Gears Of War Xbox One Elite Wireless Controller, whilst being at least double the price of standard Xbox One controllers, certainly feels like it's improved compared to my previous rough experiences with the normal elite controllers

Having used it for some time, I can safely say, at least on a personal level, that it has improved my skills during shooters and games where I use it as a CoPilot controller.

The ability to swap out the parts is very much appreciated and relatively painless for the most part. However, improving the procedure for swapping them out, as well as how they fit into the case, would be something to look into for future iterations, particularly with the DPad.

Speaking of replacing parts, whilst the analogue sticks and their ease of removal is an interesting feature, it'd be even better if you could tell, without sight, which set goes where. For example if, for whatever reason, you have both sets out at the same time and want to return them to their rightful places in the case.

If you want a method of controller configuration that runs deeper than just system-level remapping, then the Xbox Accessories App on Xbox One is certainly a step in the right direction, even if it does need a few tweaks here and there.

The ability to switch configurations with simply the flick of the profile selector is much appreciated, especially given that changing mappings can at times be a little time consuming.

If you get the opportunity to try one of these controllers first, I'd highly recommend you do so before putting down the necessary cash to see if you feel its right for you physically. However, overall, I'd certainly say that Microsoft have done a great job with the Gears elite controller and if you're a Gears fan and want something a little more unique than a standard elite, this will surely do the trick.

I would like to again thank Microsoft for their generocity in providing the elite controller used in this review.

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