Mad Catz has a new controller on the market that promises to marry customization with solid construction in a package suitable for competition on a professional level. The MLG Pro Circuit Controller was developed with input from pro gamers and bears the hallmarks of a certified device. At $99.99 MSRP, it isn't cheap, but what you get is more than just a controller; you get a kit with features beyond comparison. In practice, however, the controller leaves much to be desired. Innovation is a wonderful thing, but it doesn't necessarily equal perfection.
The most exciting and unique feature of the MLG Pro Circuit Controller is the modular design. Each controller ships with two sets of analog sticks and two styles of D-pad that can be arranged in a number of ways. You can, for example, pop in the PlayStation-style D-pad in the Xbox 360 model for a setup that's more suitable for 2D games. Likewise, PlayStation 3 owners can finally play shooters in a way that mimics the Xbox 360 controller. Mad Catz went so far as to provide a hardware solution for swapping the shoulder button functions on the PS3 model for this very sect of gamers. This welcome transformation is accomplished by holding the start and select buttons down at the same time.
However, there are limitations to the modules. While you can install two D-pads or three analog sticks, only some of the inputs will function. Only one D-pad can be active at a time, and it has to be in either one of the two left slots. The analog sticks will work in any of the slots, but one must be on the right at all times. Because these limitations make sense, they don't necessarily detract from the potential value as a customizable device.
You can take customization a few steps further with the two included 35-gram weights and swappable face plates that come in glossy or matte finishes. The 35-gram increments provide three distinct options. The controller already has a pleasing heft to it, but it feels incredibly solid when you install both inserts.
All of this fits neatly into an MLG-branded carrying case. While no one would call the case particularly durable, it does a good job of keeping the kit in order. Just don't expect the canvas and meager padding to stand up to anything beyond minor wear and tear.
If you press down, you may go left. Maybe right. That's the fun; it's a surprise every time! Truthfully, the D-pads are inaccurate to the point of rendering them functionally stunted.
There's no doubt that this controller has a lot going for it. Third-party controllers have the reputation of lower quality when compared to first-party models, and at first glance, this might be the exception to the rule. Sadly, that isn't entirely the case. Everything functions as it should except for the D-pads. They respond quickly enough; they are just horribly inaccurate. If you press down, you may go left. Maybe right. That's the fun; it's a surprise every time! Truthfully, the D-pads are inaccurate to the point of rendering them functionally stunted. Have fun inputting text with onscreen keyboards. Truthfully, any game that utilizes the D-Pad will suffer from this defect. To say we were let down is a bit of an understatement. It makes the standard Xbox 360 D-pad seem useful, dare we say accurate, by comparison. Luckily, the analog sticks perform quite well. Adjustable tension would've been a nice option though.
It's also worth mentioning that to install or remove the D-pad modules, you apply rotational pressure to the D-pad itself, rather than small plastic ribs present on the housing of the analog sticks. It seems like this action can't be good for a mechanism that is already lacking in the reliability department.
Overall, the poor performance of the D-pads feels like a slap in the face. Any controller that sports the MLG brand and is marketed as a device for competitive gaming should function as intended. This goes double for one that costs $99.99. How can something as tried and true as a D-pad fail so consistently?
The cost-versus-performance ratio is certainly off. This is also illustrated by the lack of force feedback and wireless functionality. Even though it's built to cater to pro gaming standards, that shouldn't hinder its value in a casual setting where these features would be appreciated, especially considering the huge investment.
Don't get us started on the printed Xbox logo in the home button. Mad Catz couldn't even bother to center it properly. We have a cheap, $20 controller with the same design "feature." Thankfully, the PS3 model employs a less-garish design that reflects the same motif used in the button labels.
The Pro Circuit controller is not without its problems. Some of them have to be dealt, with while others might be fixed down the road. Mad Catz has stated that it will ship additional control modules, and a price drop is bound to happen eventually. The solid construction and ability to move parts around make it an attractive piece of equipment. If it weren't for the inaccurate D-pads and lofty price tag, this controller could easily be recommended. In reality, it's all about expectations, and the MLG Pro Circuit Controller from Mad Catz fails to meet even the more modest among them. A D-Pad is important to pro and casual gamer alike, and the inaccuracies present in this controller are unacceptable for any controller, let alone a premium product.