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Choosing the right controller for a console is one thing, but choosing the right one for PC gaming is a whole different kettle of fish. As PC games have advanced and adapted to more complex gameplay, a controller is now no longer simply a PC accessory but a must for anyone wanting to play on their home computer. But which controller should you go for? With the 360 imitation and the fairly reasonable price-tag of £16.99 on Amazon.co.uk, the Speedlink 360 is an attractive prospect - but does it perform when it matters most?
In design terms, the controller is an instant winner. Taking the best parts of the official 360 controller and adapting parts of it to be unique, Speedlink have made one good-looking pad. Finished in matt-black plastic with a smooth rubber coating, finger-marks don't show up on the surface while all the buttons you know and love from an official Xbox 360 controller for Windows controller make it in. To the top-left and top-right there are the Left Trigger and Button and Right Trigger and Button respectively, essential for playing the latest games titles. On the controller's face there is an analogue stick to the left and another to the bottom right, as on the official 360 controller.
Likewise, a directional pad sits on the bottom left, while the face buttons have the same multicoloured layout as on a 360 controller, though rather than playing with ABXY buttons you'll have to settle for 1234 labelling. To the centre, start and select buttons (numbers 7 and 8 respectively) frame a Speedlink button emulating the 360 dashboard button, though it serves a merely stylistic purpose, lighting up in red to acknowledge connection to a PC. Finally, a little Turbo button sits between the D-pad and right analogue stick. Style-wise, then, the Speedlink sticks to the design essentials of the official controller and succeeds as a result.
Nevertheless, looks would mean nothing on a pad which doesn't perform well - so does it match the competition? Well...yes and no. Connection to a PC is a seamless 'plug-and-play' affair. I connected it via USB to my Windows 7 laptop and the drivers were automatically found and made the controller instantly ready to use. What's more, it even automatically mapped my pad to the FIFA 12 controls. Using it on NBA 2k12 was more of a chore, and required manual input, but this is what happens for the majority of third-party controllers and was to be expected. The cable length is also reasonable, though it is half the length of the official pad's cabling. But, before you ask, it cannot be used on an Xbox 360 even though it is a USB pad; this was disappointing but a long shot so can't be levelled against the controller.
The first few times you use the controller, you will be amazed by the build quality. The face buttons respond well and, being finished flat rather than rounded, I found it easier to use this pad than the official one. I was also impressed by the trigger buttons, which have a good response and may even be considered better than those on the official option. Likewise, unlike the smooth rear of the official pad, the Speedlink has grooves for your fingers to rest on and, rather than being a tacky gimmick, actually gives you extra grip on the controller which is aided by the rubbery coating on the outside of the entire controller.
Unfortunately, the pad simply doesn't last. Indeed, arguably the most important part of any controller - the analogue sticks - fall way behind the competition, and fail miserably when compared with the official pad. The analogue sticks of the official controller sport concave nubbins with grips, ensuring your fingers don't slide off, and though the Speedlink incorporates them, they last half as long. After a short while, your hands, sweating at the prospect of a Cup final win in FIFA will be sliding left, right and centre off the analogue sticks and infuriating you to no end. Even more importantly, after weeks of sustained use, my controller face buttons have begun to do what every gamer fears: they stick down when pressed. In practice, when sports or shooting games are all about precision, timing and response, the pad infuriates and shows itself as a third-party peripheral once and for all. The lack of grip on the sticks and exceedingly poor response of the face buttons will both anger and disappoint avid gamers. To top it off, the pad turns itself off at random moments, requiring you to unplud the USB connection and plug in again. Try doing that while playing online...
For the price, this simply isn't a long-term purchase you'll be looking to make. I was lucky, finding one second hand for a fraction of the price, but the price-tag of £16.99, which seems rather cheap on the surface, is ludicrous considering you could get the official one for merely a pound more. Design wise, I even prefer it to the official controller, but performance-wise, you'll be howling at the sticking buttons and poor analogue sticks within weeks. For those looking for a sleek controller they'll use very rarely, this may be a good choice. For those dedicated to PC gaming though, just go with the official controller for Windows, which offers you much more value for money than this option.
The Speedlink 360 can be nabbed for the average price of £16.99 on Amazon.co.uk