Even the most diehard PC gamers know that a mouse and keyboard won’t cut it for every single game. Whether you’re emulating a classic or playing some couch co-op title with friends, some games are best enjoyed with a gamepad or joystick in hand.
There’s plenty of PC controllers out there to enjoy, and for some PC users that already own a console, they may not need to buy a new controller at all. If you’re interested in rounding out your PC setup with a new gamepad or two, here’s our top recommendations. Read on for more information.
|Best Well-Rounded Gaming Controller||Xbox Wireless Controller|
|Best Retro Gaming Controller||DualShock 4 Wireless Controller|
|Best Nintendo Emulator Controller||Buffalo Classic USB Gamepad|
|Best Fighting Game Controller||Pad Warrior: Hori Fighting Commander|
|Best Racing Game Controller||Thrustmaster T300 RS|
|Best Customizable Controller||Steam Controller|
Best Well-Rounded Gaming Controller: Xbox Wireless Controller
|Best For||All-around gaming, especially for console ports and platformers.|
|Price||With Adapter: $54.99 on Amazon, $79.99 MSRP|
|Where to Buy||Amazon|
|Reason to Try||Sleek, wireless, and ergonomic, the Xbox Wireless Controller is perfect for all-around PC gaming and can play almost anything you throw at it.|
Let’s say you’re not a hardcore PC gamer at heart. There’s a few titles that you’re interested in picking up and playing with your friends. We get it, the PC crowd just isn’t your thing. If you still want a well-rounded solution for general gaming, we recommend picking up the Xbox Wireless Controller.
There’s a reason why most PC ports feature controller support for the Xbox Wireless Controller. It’s an easy gamepad to pick up and play with thanks to its ergonomic design. Unlike some of the more complicated controllers from yesteryear, such as the Sega Saturn or N64, the Xbox Wireless Controller features four primary buttons, two thumbsticks, a d-pad, and two bumper pairs in a compact and confined space. It fits right into your hands and it’s wireless too, which prevents your PC setup from becoming a spaghetti dinner.
Granted, the Xbox Wireless Controller doesn’t feature all the bells and whistles of its hardcore sibling, the Xbox Elite Wireless Controller, but the controller won’t break the bank, either. Costing just $54.99 on Amazon with the adapter, it’s the perfect solution if you want a versatile controller setup that can be used on PC for casual gaming or couch multiplayer.
Best Retro Gaming Controller: DualShock 4 Wireless Controller
|Best For||Old-school 3D games, retro emulation, and games originally released on console first.|
|Price||$43 on Amazon, $59.99 MSRPG|
|Where to Buy||Amazon|
|Reason to Try||Designed by one of the leading names in console gaming, the DualShock 4 Wireless Controller is the perfect gamepad for 3D gaming and console hits ported to the PC. Just be prepared to download some additional software before playing.|
If you’re looking for a controller to play some of your favorite games of yesteryear, then you may want to hit up the most popular console maker on the market: Sony. The PlayStation 4 creator’s Bluetooth-based DualShock 4 may not be intended for PC gamers per se, but with a little bit of DIY magic and commonplace cables, you can connect your controller to your PC and play some of the best classic games around.
The DualShock 4 excels where other PC controllers fail for one simple reason: It’s designed with console games in mind from the start. Like Sony’s original DualShock, the DualShock 4 features a symmetrical button configuration, with a d-pad, four primary buttons, two bumper pairs, and two thumbsticks on the bottom. The end result is a sleek design that’s easy to learn and even easier to control, especially for platformers and third-person action-adventure titles. If you don’t believe us, just try using it with Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. It’s a world of difference over a keyboard and mouse.
Setting up the DualShock 4 is pretty easy thanks to its Bluetooth compatibility, but you’ll need to download some extra software to get it running. For Steam users, all you need to do is plug your DualShock into your PC with a micro USB cable and download DS4Windows, which reinterprets the DualShock 4 as an Xbox controller and configures it for playing games on your PC. For more information, check back soon for our guide on getting the DualShock 4 setup on your PC.
Best Nintendo Emulator Controller: Buffalo Classic USB Gamepad
|Best For||Emulating that retro 2D gaming experience, especially if you’re an NES or SNES fan.|
|Where to Buy||Amazon|
|Reason to Try||Buffalo’s Classic USB Gamepad simulates an SNES controller in both look and feel. Pick this controller up if you’re a diehard Nintendo fan interested in some NES, SNES, or GameBoy emulation. This controller even works well with Sega Genesis and Sega Saturn games.|
Let’s say you’re into more than just retro 2D platformer video games. That’s right, you want to emulate that 1990s console gaming feel that came with playing SNES titles like Earthbound and Super Mario World. Consider picking up the Buffalo Classic USB Gamepad, which is built to mirror the original SNES controller’s design.
The Buffalo Classic USB Gamepad is a simple and affordable controller shaped just like Nintendo’s original SNES gamepad. It features four primary buttons, a d-pad, two back bumpers, and a turbo button too. The whole entire model is USB-based, so while it’s wired, it’s easy to plug in and pull out, especially if you want a controller for gaming conventions or for your RetroPie setup. Because it’s such a simple controller to use, players can easily map the SNES’ controls onto the Buffalo Classic USB Gamepad with their favorite emulator. If you want to use it to play Sega Genesis, NES, or MAME arcade games, it’s perfect for that too, although we don’t recommend this controller for 3D games due to its limited design.
Best Fighting Game Controller: Pad Warrior: Hori Fighting Commander
|Best For||2D and 2.5D fighting games like Street Fighter III: Third Strike and Skullgirls.|
|Where to Buy||Amazon|
|Reason to Try||This controller is designed with fighting games in mind, and it features a unique controller configuration perfect for any 2D or 2.5D game. Access your light, medium, and heavy kicks and punches all in one place, and the controller’s d-pad gives players the movement range they need for those perfect quarter-circle attacks.|
There’s an entire art to picking the best controller for fighting games, and many players prefer an old-school fight stick over a classic d-pad controller. There’s nothing wrong with that, although for some, the learning curve may be a little too steep or get in the way of that perfect Shinkuu Hadou Ken in Third Strike. So if you’re allergic to a fight stick, you can always go with a DualShock 4, but consider the Pad Warrior: Hori Fighting Commander instead.
The Pad Warrior: Hori Fighting Commander gives players the best controller design around to properly excel at titles like Street Fighter V and The King of Fighter XIV. This gamepad features six primary buttons on the front, including R1 and R2, which means players have full access to their punch and kick attacks without having to use their left or right bumpers. Each button is sensitive, so only a little bit of force is needed to execute combos, and the d-pad gives players a stiff yet accessible range of movement for executing quarter-circle attacks. The Hori Fighting Commander’s PlayStation model even has a turbo feature, while the Xbox One’s rendition lets players reassign their controls.
For many, the Pad Warrior: Hori Fighting Commander isn’t just a solid fighting game controller, it’s one that’s perfect for competing on the professional stage at conventions like EVO. Whether you’re a fighting game newbie or a veteran, this one is a must-buy for fighting game fans on PC.
Best Racing Game Controller: Thrustmaster T300 RS
|Best For||Hardcore and arcade racing games alike|
|Price||$348.49 on Amazon, $399.99 MSRP|
|Where to Buy||Amazon|
|Reason to Try||Thrustmaster’s T300RS is one of the best steering wheels available. It simulates the steering and handling behind a real car, and combined with its metal accelerator and brake, it lets players feel like they’re really driving a car from their armchair.|
When it comes to racing games, we’re inclined to agree that the genre is best enjoyed with two hands on the wheel and a foot on the pedal. As far as steering wheel controllers go, the Thrustmaster T300 RS is one of the best.
Originally designed with the PlayStation 4 in mind, the Thrustmaster T300 RS features a 1080 rotation angle, metal breaking and acceleration pads, and a nifty steering wheel that’s 11 inches in diameter and built with primary button options on the front. Responsive, smooth, and incredibly realistic, this racing wheel is perfect for BeanNG.drive and Assetto Corsa fans that want something a little more immersive than their mouse and keyboard during play.
Be warned, while the Thrustmaster T300 RS is an incredible PC controller, it’s also an expensive one: The whole setup will cost you $499.99 to pick up, making this a hard sell for all but the biggest racing enthusiasts out there. Of course, if you really want to immerse yourself in a round of Forza Horizon 4, this wheel just can’t be beat.
Best Customizable Controller: Steam Controller
|Best For||Turn-based strategy games, action-adventure titles, vehicle games, roguelikes, and third-person single-player shooters.|
|Where to Buy||Steam|
|Reason to Try||The Steam Controller lets you program a gamepad to play practically anything from your Steam library. Whether that’s Civilization VI or Dark Souls III, this controller gives players the tools they need to enjoy almost any game from their couch.|
There’s something about the Steam Controller that just works so well. It’s ergonomic, emulates mouse movement, features just the right amount of buttons for any genre, and best of all, it’s built so any Steam game can work with the Steam Controller. That’s right, if you want to play Dota 2 or Civilization VI from the palms of your hands, you can do that.
The Steam Controller differs slightly from some of the other PC gamepads. It features a d-pad, a touchpad, a thumbstick, a Steam button in the center, two bumper pairs, and two back bumpers. Combined with the controller’s Bluetooth connectivity, this gives gamers a huge amount of control over their control scheme while keeping the actual physical design easy to use. If you need to use the mouse to play games like XCOM 2 and Battletech, the touchpad is right there. On the other hand, if you’re more of a Dark Souls III fan, this controller comes packed with all the buttons you’ll need to fight (and die) on your own terms. There’s no need to use every single bumper and button if you don’t need it, but if you do, it’s all right there.
As far as controllers go, the Steam Controller is pretty affordable: Valve sells it for just $49.99 on Steam, and fans can even buy it packaged with some of the best controller-supported games on Steam, like Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy or XCOM 2. Be warned, this controller’s D-Pad isn’t the best for fighting games, but if you’re looking for a solid overall solution that can handle any modern game and most classic 3D ones, the Steam Controller is your best bet.