What makes the Steam Deck the most unique gaming hardware out there right now? You might want to cram its impressive graphics horsepower into such a small form factor, or portable access to Steam, or even the software gymnastics it does to run Windows games on Linux. It’s certainly nice, but for my money the Deck’s killer feature is its rear grip buttons and dual front touchpads, which make it completely unique among gaming devices. These non-standard controls are quickly changing the way I play one genre in particular: first-person shooters.
Being able to easily enjoy such games in your hands is certainly worthy of praise on its own. But as I played around with the car mapping shooter controllers to different areas, I realized that the Steam deck is uniquely positioned to change how we interact with shooters. Cracking PC mouse and keyboard control schemes onto a gamepad has always required compromises, but the Steam Deck’s unique array of inputs allows for new combinations of movement and aim, while providing new ways to interact with the game.
Consider the rear grips. Anyone with a Scuf or Xbox Elite controller is no stranger to getting behind the paddles. While many swear by these things, which clearly offer superior handling flexibility not otherwise possible, Scuf’s patent on rear-hand control features Until hardware manufacturers find a way to standardize their inclusion, middle paddles will remain a rarely used innovation. Valve probably did this with the Steam Deck.
Every Steam Deck model, even the cheapest, gives you a set of four rear-mounted buttons that absolutely help with games that weren’t designed with controllers in mind. But they also benefit from games made for gamepads.
Although it’s great to play games like Hello Without needing to take my thumbs off the analog sticks, I fired Crysis Which got me hooked on the other benefit of back buttons: bypassing the tyranny of the standard video game controller as it’s existed virtually unchanged since the late 90s.
to be fair Crysis Since the 2011 Xbox 360 / PS3 port, it has translated quite well to the standard controller experience. But the 2008 PC original adopted a wide variety of PC buttons and switches. Changing between suit functions, picking up objects, and changing attachments and fire modes felt more natural on the mouse and keyboard.
The console’s gamepad controls were full of compromises. Sprinting, for example, automatically activated the suit in Speed mode, thus draining energy. On PC, you used a combination of buttons and mouse movements to change the suit’s powers, which translates well to Steam Deck’s back grips. Switching the controls to ‘Classic’ allows you to quickly pull up the options menu with both bumpers and then select the appropriate mode with the mapped buttons on the rear, leaving your thumbs free to focus on aiming and movement. Such a control scheme retains the advanced functions of the original PC without the need to compromise and squeeze many functions into fewer inputs.
Another great example of a game that extra entries will handle – although it’s a heartening twist, Steam Deck can’t play it right now – comes in Halo Infinite and drops his gun. Normally this requires holding down Y, but you can map “weapon throw” to a paddle or keyboard key to fire weapons instantly and without sacrificing your thumb on your sticks. This instant weapon drop is so disruptive to the competitive meta that eUnited’s Tyler “Spartan” Ganza recently expressed how it unfairly favors rowers.
If having more functions at your fingertips can change and perhaps elevate gameplay, why not consider a future where paddles will be standard on game controllers? Imagine the breadth of features and ease of play we’ve missed out on by sticking to the same decades-old entry-level consoles for each “new” console generation.
Steam Deck offers a glimpse into such a future. In Crysisback paddles allow you to instantly perform a power jump, crouch, change weapons, or change suit functions without sacrificing aim or movement. Crysis can be quite tough and exciting, so not only is it very convenient to prioritize agility while still having quick access to suit functions, I think it fits the spirit of the game’s fantasy of being a soldier with super-powered armor. This is embarrassing Fate 2 not so easily accessible on deck; that would also be very helpful.
Do not touch the frontpads are just as obvious. Besides being able to recognize simple directional gestures, clickable touchpads are my go-to when sniping. It’s kind of a shame Halo: The Master Chief Collection‘s anti-cheat for multiplayer doesn’t play well with Steam Deck, as dropping down to the touchpad under the right analog stick for some quick, accurate sniping offers a wild new level of control. I would like to try it against other players. . For now, only the Prometheans of Covenant, Flood, and Campaigns will have to fear my new deadly snipers.
The Steam Deck management experience isn’t perfect. Halo: The Master Chief Collection in particular, it doesn’t want you to use a keyboard, mouse, and controller at the same time, so you’re sometimes limited in how much you can adjust bindings. But just having a secondary form of analog input for fine-tuning or zoom control makes the game feel a little more complex and nuanced. I’d love to see what a developer could do if they incorporated Steam Deck’s expanded inputs into the game’s design.
First-person shooter controls have long been stuck in the mud; the genre has revolved around the same handful of control schemes for decades now. Steam Deck provides a powerful demonstration of how new input styles and button arrangements can legitimately offer better ways to interact with even these highly standardized game types. There’s a lot to build on here, but first hardware manufacturers need to make the choice to break away from today’s old gamepad conventions and actually try something new to make this kind of innovation possible.