Thrustmaster eSwap Pro Controller - review
– elegance and precision
Whenever you play Tekken, Street Fighter or any other dynamic competitive game, there's a need for a proper gear to be able to perform well. There's not much time to think and wonder, the command inputs are usually extremely fast and must be very precise. A top player must trust his controller at any time. Top FPS / RTS players use top-tier mouses and keyboards. Competitive players in the FGC world use either arcade sticks or gamepads – and most recently: also custom-modified controllers, hitboxes, mixboxes or other inventions. There are advantages and disadvantages of every one of them. All the modifications and inventions have one goal – to enable player to perform as fast and precise as possible while maintaining the comfort of gameplay. Playing competitively means also a lot of practice hours so the controller of choice must be comfortable to use.
As for me, I've been playing Tekken competitively for 15 years and I've always been playing it using various gamepads, starting from basic Sony Playstation controller, through Sony Playstation Dualshock 2, Dualshock 3 and now recently Hori Fighting Commander and some custom-modified ones. I have chosen to play Tekken on a gamepad since arcade stick felt too heavy for me to carry around and even though my origin are the old-school arcades, I've never felt confident using an arcade stick. Moreover, my hands were getting tired too quickly when using it and, probably because of weak and over-flexible joints, my wrists were getting hurt pretty easily. Because I felt like I would gain little competitive advantage from using arcade stick, I continued to use gamepads.
Gamepads have one serious disadvantage – they wear off way too quickly. It's because of the rubbers used in d-pad and button design which have a limited lifespan and can be destroyed really fast. Not to mention that for some controllers it's almost impossible to buy a replacement of inner components. When the button inputs of my gamepad felt off more and more frequently and, upon examination, I found out that the d-pad rubber is almost torn to shreds, I usually faced a neccessity to buy a brand new gamepad. That's very unfortunate for a competitive gamer since we really get attached to our favourite controllers. With heavy usage, a gamepad can wear off even within a couple of months.
That's why I've always dreamed about a gamepad that would utilize highly durable microswitch parts, just as it is the case with arcade sticks.
A dream that came true
When I first heard about Thrustmaster eSwap Pro controller, I thought to myself: „This is exactly what I always wanted!”. I decided that I definitely need to give it a try. Even though one Thrustmaster eSwap Pro controller costs around 3 times more than a popular PS4 gamepad, the utilization of high-quality components is a promise of extremely long lifespan. Time will tell but from what I was able to see so far, I predict that during the same time spent using a single Thrustmaster eSwap Pro, I would wear&tear and buy at least 2 cheaper gamepads (and this is only because I don't press buttons as hard as my colleagues). Not to mention the modular design – even if some of the modules eventually wear off, we can still buy just a new module – without the need to buy a whole new controller. In my opinion, if we're dedicated to playing a lot and we're thinking about using the same controller for a few years, buying such a high-quality controller is cheaper in the long run even if it doesn't look so at the first sight.
Unpacking the controller
Going back to the quality, it is first seen with the packaging. Even though there is a saying that „we should not judge the book by its cover”, I definitely liked the box, which is sturdy, elegant and sports out a fantastic design (I am partially a designer myself so I couldn't help but admire the looks of the box). I also like the magnet in the cover and the interior material used to house the gamepad. I am the type of person who doesn't like to keep useless stuff and usually throw boxes away, but this one I will definitely keep!
The contents of the box includes:
1 x Thrustmaster eSwap Pro Controller, which is equipped by default with:
2 x short mini-stick modules
2 x grip modules
2 x triggers
1 x D-pad module
1 x power cable
1 x screwdriver for removing the modules
1 x handy storage bag for a cable
Quick start guide and warranty information
When I took out the controller, I loved it from the first sight. It is heavier than other controllers I own but obviously not as heavy as arcade stick. The material from which it is built feels like top quality plastic, the feeling of button presses is fantastically responsive with a distinct „click” sound, and the grips are very well made – controller feels as if it was made specifically for my hands (which are not too big). The braided USB cable is also something I've never seen in any other controllers I own – from length, to flexibility and a special plug which ensures no accidental disconnect – everything looks like it was prepared with great attention to details. One of my first thoughts was - Thrustmaster eSwap Pro Controller is like a Ferrari among other controllers. It might sound funny but this is what I thought!
I will put it simple: I love the modularity of this gamepad. It's not just a catchphrase or a fancy addition that is cool at first but you'll never use it again. T-Modules are smartly engineered: they fit into place tightly and are secured with a pretty strong magnet. They can be swapped effortlessly even in-game – for the gamepad to function, all 3 slots must be occupied. T-modules without any protruding element can be lifted using the T-shaped end of screwdriver which fits into an oval hole in the module.
The modules give hope for infinite future customizations for any type of game. When toying with the modules, one of my thoughts was: „Oh yeah, so I can just switch the modules and play God of War using the same controller!”. I was previously playing Tekken on Hori gamepad so I needed to switch controller specifically for this game – Hori was not equipped with analog mini-sticks. Most importantly though, the T-modules and ability to replace them easily are a promise of a long lifespan of the controller since the d-pad is the most used and frequently damaged part of a controller for any fighting game fan.
Not only T-Modules can be swapped around – so can be rubber grips. The magnetic field around the grips is apparent if we put any metal object next to it. Don't worry though – the magnetic field will certainly not hurt you, and there are even some pseudoscientific and unofficial reports about magnets being good for health! (take them with a grain of salt) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnet_therapy
A great addition to the gamepad is the Thrustmapper software. It's very intuitive and works smoothly on both Windows 7 and Windows 10. It allows to create multiple profiles which consist of various settings, including front and back buttons mapping, sensitivity of R2/L2 triggers, sensitivity and dead-zones of mini-sticks and strength of vibration. I like the fact that there's a visual feedback of the setting that I'm currently adjusting – I can literally see the strength of pressing R2/L2 triggers or the angle of mini-sticks tilt. When adjusting the strength of vibrations, I can also test them directly in the application. There's a possibility to save two profiles in a gamepad which then can be effortlessly switched (even in-game!) using only one button. There's a led indicator of the profile that's currently used by the controller. Everything about the software and profiles seems to be top quality and very well designed.
As I mentioned, my recent gamepad of choice was Hori Fighting Commander which I chose because of a very well-made d-pad and 2 additional face buttons that could be mapped to L3/R3. During that time I thought that lack of headset support or lack of touchpad is a required trade-off for a good quality gamepad. Boy, I was wrong!
Thrustmaster eSwap Pro gamepad has it all covered – it includes a touchpad, headset support AND also incorporates vibration motors, the strength of which can be freely adjusted in the Thrustmapper software. I'm usually not using vibrations because they are way too disturbing in a standard Dualshock controller. This time though, I decided to give them a try for two reasons:
1) I can adjust the strength of them up to the point they can be barely felt
2) Vibrations are used by some games to indicate important factors like a counter hit.
I'm going to try out whether this setting will make it easier for me to counterhit-confirm some of the Tekken strings.
I also appreciated being able to plug my favourite headphones to the controller. I'm not an expert as for the quality of sound – for me, the in-game music and sounds were loud and clear. I guess my neighbours also appreciated not hearing the sounds of Tekken fights at night!
Who needs wireless?
I've seen in some reviews that the lack of wireless support is a minus. For me, it's rather an advantage! Not only this solution is helping to achieve the lowest latency possible, I also don't need to worry about accidental controller activation and disrupting somebody's fight during a tournament. Every time tournament organisers will search for guilty of disrupting the fight, I can just raise my wired Thrustmaster eSwap and do a classic „shrug” pose with the most innocent look on my face. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Finally, let's talk about the gameplay! I've tested Thrustmaster eSwap Pro controller both on PS4 and PC. On both platforms the controller felt very responsive. Windows 10 recognizes gamepad's internal headset functionality as additional sound device which is something that also happens with Dualshock 4 gamepads. On PlayStation 4, all of the gamepad functions like headset, touchpad and home button worked as expected. Keep in mind that the Thrustmaster controller is wired – which means that it cannot activate PlayStation 4 the way Dualshock gamepad can.
I've tested two kind of d-pads – the standard one, supplied together with the controller, and the flat, plate-like d-pad, supplied in the Fighter pack. Both of them give the charactertstic clicking sound of microswitches – the sound is a bit different that the one heard when using face buttons or triggers. Due to my slender fingers, I personally had some troubles with diagonal inputs. The d-pad cross is not as short as in Dualshock or Hori, the arms of the cross are slightly thinner and a bit longer. However, my problems were solved with the d-pad supplied in Fighter pack. This kind of d-pad felt a bit awkward at first, but surprisingly it allowed me to input all possible Tekken commands with little effort. No matter if it was a backdash cancel, (E)WGF or QCF/QCB – the inputs were clean and precise. I suppose the plate-shaped d-pad is more frequently used in 2D games like Street Fighter, but I also felt pretty comfortable while using it.
The microswitches used in both of the d-pads not only give a clicking sound, but also produce a really soft and almost unnoticeable tremble - the feeling of engaging the microswitches. It's especially useful when hitting diagonal directions – the feeling should correspond to hitting two directions at once. This is a little detail but I think it's extremely helpful to train the precision of inputs.
The face buttons, in my opinion, are among the best ones around. They are very fast and responsive.The clicking sound of microswitches gives me an instant feedback which allows me to correct my button presses and train the precision of inputs. This clicking sound is distinct but also silent enough not to be a nuisance (like the sound of arcade stick buttons). The force needed to activate the buttons feels slightly bigger than with DualShock ones, it was not bothering me though. My impression is that the buttons look solid enough to survive any kind of button mashing – don't take it for granted though!
With the additional Fighting pack, there's a possibility to insert a T-Module with additional 2 buttons, which can then be mapped as L3, R3. It means more configuration options in Tekken and is currently my preferred setup.
The input of R1/L1 triggers feels crispy and responsive, giving the microswitch clicking sound. R2/L2 triggers feel more like the ones found in Dualshock. Moreover, the R2/L2 triggers can be customised: as mentioned earlier, their sensitivity can be adjusted in Thrustmapper software. Additionally, the supplied screwdriver can be used to unscrew the handle of triggers and swap them with more specialized ones. For example, the Fighting pack is equipped with longer R2/L2 handles which give me an impression of being able to press the triggers with smaller force. With longer R2/L2 handles, it's also easier for me to constantly have all buttons in reach, ready to be pressed – including the back buttons.
There are 4 additional buttons in the back of a controller which can be mapped to any single button input. It's important in competitive gameplay not to be able to map double button inputs or macros to single buttons – Thrustmaster eSwap Pro complies with these rules. These additional back buttons and the ability to map directional inputs to them is in my opinion a big advantage in my primary game – Tekken. Some of the complicated movement techiques used in Tekken (like backdash cancel or Law/Shaheen slide) can be made much easier when supporting myself with the back buttons. I'll soon publish a tutorial movie, explaining the advantages of using back buttons and different techniques of performing these moves.
I think the Thrustmaster eSwap Pro controller is an excellently engineered hardware that I will definitely use as my controller of choice during tournaments. I would recommend the Thrustmaster eSwap Pro controller for anybody seeking a high-precision, high quality gamepad that won't break even if you are a passionate gamer!
Check it out at https://eswap.thrustmaster.com!