Microsoft’s and Sony’s standard controller have both gone through some iterations over the years, but have mainly withstood the tests of time. They’re each worthy options that serve most people incredibly well. But when Microsoft changed the game when it introduced the successful Elite Controller. Aside from the tepidly received SCUF gamepads, Sony hasn’t had its own pro controller to give the competitive players the same options on PS4. The new officially licensed Astro C40 TR has stepped up to fill that void, aiming to latch on in a way the competition’s Elite controller has. It is a worthy step up in many regards, but also not quite as tournament ready as its name suggests.
Astro C40 TR Review | Any way you want it
The C40 TR’s most immediate eye-catching aspect is its look and this look gives way to how modular the controller is. Its two sticks and D-pad are all interchangeable and the kit comes with four additional nubs that vary in height and whether or not they are concave or convex. Changing the location of the sticks is incredibly simple as the faceplate comes off once the four screws prominently displayed on the front are taken off. Magnets and helpful markers ensure that you can’t mess up where everything goes, which is a godsend for anyone who has tried to reconfigure a more traditional controller.
Swapping sticks is even easier as you just pull the actual stick out and snap in the other nub — no disassembly required. All of this is even possible while the controller is on and in use and while that is a bit odd, it does allow for some necessary on the fly adjustment. Since this controller is quite unique, you’ll likely need to tweak it around to make sure you find what you want.
And the C40 TR is designed to help you find what you want because it has a staggering amount of moving parts and customizable options to make sure you are comfortable. Easy to reach knobs let you adjust how far the R2 and L2 buttons go down. It’s binary — it either goes all the way down or about halfway — but it works out well for semi-automatic weapons in first-person shooters. The two paddles on the back of the controller can be mapped to anything (or nothing) on the fly by holding a tiny button on the back. There is even a switch on the top that lets you change profiles in case you want different settings or configurations for different games.
Astro C40 TR Review | Trigger happy
It doesn’t stop at the hardware either since you can plug it into your computer and use software to tweak sensitivity and button layouts. The R2 and L2 buttons can be made into hair triggers or be set so they only activate after a certain threshold and the same goes for both analog sticks. It’s interactive during the whole process too, meaning you can see exactly how everything will trigger as you’re testing, which is a fantastic way to avoid a bunch of tedious trial and error. Tweaking every granular aspect setting sounds laborious but everything is quite simple and once again shows how customizing the C40 TR sits at the nexus of depth and accessibility.
There are some aspects that you can’t tweak and where the controller runs into some issues. The R2 and L2 buttons are incredibly wide, meaning they are entirely too easy to accidentally hit while you’re playing. Unexpectedly blasting off your blunderbuss in Bloodborne or accidentally using one of your important abilities in Overwatch runs counter to the precise, professional narrative this controller was made to support and is extremely frustrating.
This makes going into the software and manually dialing down the trigger sensitivity a necessary evil that partially addresses the issue, but never completely solves it. The standard DualShock 4 has significantly thinner triggers that make it almost impossible to hit by mistake. Wider triggers fit the overall aesthetic of the bigger controller but it comes at the cost of function; a sacrifice a controller should never make.
Even though the R1 and L1 buttons are more like stiff Xbox bumpers, the other buttons feel great and quite sturdy like the controller as a whole. The sticks are tight and the whole unit is hefty in a way an expensive controller should be. Even though it oddly doesn’t automatically turn off after you power down the system or have any inactivity features, the battery life is quite impressive in its wireless mode. Playing with a wire is allegedly faster, but most people probably won’t even notice the milliseconds it reportedly shaves off the response time. Most people will, however, pay attention to the overall solid build of the buttons and controller.
Although the default D-pad is noticeably under the standard of the other buttons and sticks. The cross is hardly raised with the plastic surrounding it and just one solid piece, making exact inputs a bit harder to discern. While functional for most games, its imprecision doesn’t lend itself to fighting games or 2D platformers. The raised, individual D-pad buttons of the DualShock 4 are still superior in specific cases. Since the C40 TR is so modular, Astro can (and should) solve this by selling an additional DualShock-esque D-pad sometime in the future. Competitive gaming isn’t just limited to shooters, after all.
Astro C40 TR Review | Technical issues
The DualShock 4 has a better D-pad but it’s also more reliable. During my many hours with the C40 TR, I had more glitches and mishaps in a week than I have with my entire five and a half years using my DualShock 4 controllers. It disconnected on me for in its wireless mode once for a few seconds, which wasn’t too disruptive when compared to the other mishaps that occurred. Right in the middle of an online Overwatch match, the right stick randomly started turning left at about a third of the speed it would turn right. Aiming and following targets was a nightmare and not something any controller should do.
But this was just a prelude to how it went off the rails shortly after. After the match ended, I adjusted the sticks to ensure it wasn’t a hardware issue. Once everything was snapped back into place, the entire controller went haywire as if every button was being repeatedly mashed. The entire console was unusable even after I shut the controller off and went back and forth between its wired and wireless modes. I couldn’t even press the home button on my DualShock 4 to quit out. Plugging the C40 TR into my PC and resyncing it was the only way it started working after that.
Whether a rare freak accident or an unfortunate underlying issue (which others have reported on as well), it’s unacceptable for a $200 controller to be less reliable than its $60 counterpart even if just for a bit. The price disparity doesn’t explain these problems but the cost does explain its vast array of customization that lets you find how you want to play and easily fine-tune it accordingly.
And while not every button is perfect, it should satisfy most kinds of people for most of the time. When it works, it has the potential to be the bigger, more feature complete controller the hardest of the hardcore have been waiting for on their journey to hit Grandmaster rank or top the leaderboards. But those people may have to wade through some unfortunate bugs and pay a high price on their journey there.
Astro C40 TR review unit provided by Astro Gaming.