Scuf is one of the premium players in the third-party controller market, offering gamers on PC, Xbox, or PlayStation well-built, smartly designed pads to go with their platform of choice. The new Scuf Instinct Pro controller (opens in new tab) is its latest Microsoft-focused pad, but when the Elite Series 2 (opens in new tab) exists in the world, how does anyone else compete in the enthusiast controller space?
You give people options. And lots of them.
The controller market is a mighty tough place to try and make a living, and that's true whether you're talking about the PC or console worlds. The biggest issue is that, starting with the original PlayStation pad, it's the actual console makers themselves which have all but sewn up the market with their own first-party pads.
The fact that both the latest Xbox and PlayStation consoles already have outstanding controllers—made by Microsoft and Sony and bundled in the box—makes it hard to see why you'd go elsewhere. Factor in the $50-or-less pricing for these pads, and when you're after either a second controller or a replacement one, then it's tough to look past the standard controllers.
But there's always the enthusiast market… and Microsoft went and conquered that too, with its second-gen Elite Series 2. That's a premium priced pad, with a $179.99 sticker price, and a premium feel to match. Though it's also been around long enough to get regular discounts.
The Scuf Instinct Pro, with its own $200 price tag, has got a lot to do if it wants to depose the current best PC controller (opens in new tab) from its lofty perch. Scuf's previous MO has been to offer an unprecedented amount of choice in terms of the look of its pads, and with the Instinct and Instinct Pro it's looking at giving you a whole lot more choice about how your particular controller feels right out of the box too.
Compatibility: Windows 10, Xbox One and Series X/S, MacOS Catalina
Connectivity: Xbox Wireless, Bluetooth
Ports: USB-C, Extension Port, 3.5mm Stereo Headset Jack
Wireless range: Up to 45 feet / 12m
Thumbstick layout: Asymmetric
Price: $199.99 (plus customisation options)
Scuf has at least acknowledged there's little point trying to one-up Microsoft when it comes to the overall design of the Instinct Pro, because it looks physically identical to a standard Xbox Series X/S controller. Obviously aside from the faceplate, rings, and mute button on the front.
Some manufacturers—looking at you, Min—have chosen to mostly follow the standard design, but with some larger flourishes so that you know for sure who actually made the pad in question. Often making third-party controllers look overblown and over-designed.
So, if you can't beat them, join them and iterate from there. Which is exactly what Scuf has done in offering a huge variety of different cosmetic and physical customisation options from the initial store page. The faceplate options, and the rings around the thumbsticks, are the most obvious, but you also get to pick your choice of actual thumbsticks in terms of length and topper (convex or concave).
There are also options to change the D-pad, button facades, as well as the styling of both the bumpers and the triggers. Interestingly, there is also the option to remove the rumble motors from inside the controller. That's something you'll often find the pros, at least those who use pads, will end up removing from their tournament controllers in favour of a reduction in weight, and to cut down on the inherent distraction of hand-wobble.
The Scuf Instinct Pro is more than just the sum of those largely cosmetic options, however, offering multiple profiles for its button configurations. That's necessary because of the four built-in 'paddle' buttons on the reverse of the pad. They're nowhere near as intrusive as the flappy paddles of the Elite Series 2, or previous Scuf controllers, and are easily accessible and have a satisfying click to them, too. They can be programmed to correspond to any of the standard controller buttons, though sadly are restricted to the pad, so you couldn't map a keyboard function to the controller and add to the inputs already on offer.
The triggers are dual-function, but in a different way to the Elite. Instead of offering different depths of analogue movement the Instinct Pro has a flick switch that allows you to move from a smooth analogue trigger to a quick-shot button that feels more like a shallow mouse click than anything else. This is supposedly for fast-paced shooters, where a hair-trigger is more desirable than analogue control.
After all my own pre-purchase personal customisation choices, I'm left with a gloriously hot pink pad that costs $247.92 out of the gate. Thankfully all the option pricing is obvious, so you can tune down your demands if things start to get a little out of hand. Still, somehow, I've managed to add another $50 on top of the cost of this already premium-priced controller.
But hell, it's a damn fine looking controller now, and feels as good in-game as my suddenly rather drab black Elite Series 2.
The thumbsticks are reassuringly solid and responsive during gaming a session. Hammering the sticks with quick switches of direction in a twitch game haven't had an impact on the pad, and they still feel smooth and accurate when you're in something less fast-paced. The triggers have a pleasing action, too, maybe not quite so deep as the Elite, but still just as accurate.
The rest of the button-feel is robust and reassuringly clicky too, though I would say the hair-trigger mode feels a little too shallow for my tastes. But I can see where some folk might prefer it, so I'm not going to count that as anything more than personal choice, not a negative.
It feels great in the hand too, with the interchangeable faceplates and high-performance grip meaning it never feels like it's going to fly out of your hand. Unless you mean it to, obviously. And it's a lot like the texture of the Elite's grip, and the latest Series X/S controllers.
Though this continued comparison with the existing Microsoft controllers is still the big issue. I could have spent the best part of $250 to get a pad that looks different, but feels largely the same as my absolute favourite controller, which costs significantly less. It's rare that we get to call out the Elite Series 2 as the value option, but that's what it is in comparison to the Scuf Instinct Pro.
It all comes back to the fact that Microsoft has already done such a good job with the Elite it leaves little room for competition. A whole lot of the customisation options Scuf offers when you order the Instinct Pro come as standard with the Series 2, things like multiple different D-pads and thumbsticks.
And the Elite also offers one main thing Scuf's best doesn't.
The Instinct Pro still requires AA batteries, like standard Xbox pads, unlike the Elite which houses a lithium ion battery and can be charged from its cradle or when wired up.
Again, this could simply be about Scuf's purported esports leanings, with the ability to swap in a fresh pair of batteries mid-tournament potentially being a selling point. Equally lithium ion batteries have a finite shelf life, so for heavy, heavy users that could be an issue. Though it's not something I've ever experienced with my Elite pad in the past few years of use.
Were the Elite and the Instinct Pro the same price, customisation and all, then this might have been a tougher choice. The Scuf pad is the best of all the alt-controllers I've ever used, with a solid, reliable feel that gives me total confidence in its longevity.
But the Elite is the best controller I've used, and comes with the customisation options that really matter as standard. And it's cheaper too. Which feels a weird thing to say about Microsoft's premium pad. Sure, it may not be as pretty as my personal Instinct Pro—and therein lies Scuf's main selling point—but the Elite Series 2 still gets my vote.