We’ve all been there. You’re in the heat of battle when – boom – your controller just up and quits right on your suffering self. As the PlayStation 4 is the most popular console out there, chances are good this has happened to you or someone you know already. Only replacing Sony’s DualShock 4 will still set you back a steep 60 bucks…if you’re wanting the real deal. But what about all those alternatives with names like Power A, Astro Gaming…and Snakebyte?
Third-party gaming controllers can be – and often are – hit-or-miss. Snakebyte has been slowly trying to reclaim a foothold in the American markets, having become a familiar presence for European gamers in recent years. Their Game:Pad 4S Wireless Controller for the PlayStation 4 is, basically, a wireless variant of their already available Game:Pad 4S – minus the wires and more battery. Oh, and it’s nearly half the price of Sony’s DualShock 4.
The design is identical, only instead of a tethered cable there’s now a single Micro USB slot to connect – and charge – the controller. For variety there’s four colors available: Black, Grey, Blue Camouflage, and Bubblegum Camouflage. There’s also a regular Blue variant floating around but good luck finding it!
Pairing the Game:Pad with the PS4 was as simple as plugging in the (included) USB cable and letting the console recognize it. Once paired it’ll function just like the standard DualShock controller, which means putting the console to sleep, waking it up, and haphazardly losing it under your couch. Battery life seems excellent, at least on par with the standard DualShock. We spent at least three solid days using it before the battery indicator warned us it needed recharge.
Let’s not mince words: the Game:Pad’s design was clearly redrived from the PS4’s rival, the Xbox One Controller, right down to the slightly upturned L2/R2 triggers. This is a good thing, as the added weight and bulk ripped borrowed from Microsoft’s beefier controller feels nicely comfortable even when held for longer sessions. Gone are the PS4/Xbox controllers’ smoother edges, replaced with sharp angles and contours that look like Jim Carrey’s boxy face in The Mask.
While the body styling and bulk take inspiration from Microsoft’s gamepad, its button placement remains largely the same. The dual analog sticks are placed identically to the PS4 DualShock layout, as are the four action buttons – but with a twist. Because this controller isn’t an officially licensed by Sony, none of the familiar shapes appear on the buttons. Instead, we’ve got literal SPELLINGS of the shapes to button mash during those intense sessions. I’m sure muscle-memory will help save the day, but games requiring excessive QTE (quick-time event) presses could be a nightmare using this controller.
Speaking of using this controller, there’s a few subtle – but critical – differences between using it and a stock DualShock 4. Apart from the silly word-buttons, those rear L2/R2 triggers definitely feel more like the Xbox One controller versions they’ve been modeled off. Second, the Share/Option buttons – never the PS4’s best-placed buttons – have been transformed into mushy blips and moved to just underneath the touchpad. The mushiness makes them, incredibly, even more difficult to press than before – which I didn’t think was possible.
Another big change from the stock DualShock 4, and possible dealbreaker for some, is how terrible the D-pad is. It’s now a chunky concentric (i.e. circular) pad, instead of the familiar PlayStation directional buttons. This is good. Not so good, unfortunately, is how cheap and thick it feels, with clicks that take a lot more pressure to register. Worse, the D-pad feels like it takes longer for depresses – almost like it’s sticking or grating against the enclosure – when pressed quickly. Trying to play D-pad reliant games like Mortal Kombat 11 or the retro-Contra blaster Blazing Chrome felt much less responsive than they should’ve.
For all other uses, thankfully, the Game:Pad does a respectable job. The analog sticks feel responsive in a pinch, which is what you’ll want when blasting zombie hordes – and endlessly walking forward! – in a game like Days Gone. Same goes for surviving the brutal Russian apocalypse in Metro: Exodus or killing Nazis in Wolfenstein 2. Pressing the analogs for L3/R3 also felt responsive, as did the standard buttons, though mashing them quickly in succession can feel a bit mushier than stock buttons. Mushy buttons is something you’ll have to get used to with this controller.
PC gamers will be happy to hear the Game:Pad 4S Wireless controller also works nicely with Windows 10 – just not wirelessly. At least my attempts to pair it wirelessly came to nothing. You’ll have to tether it directly via Micro USB, after which the operating system will auto-install the necessary drivers without a hitch. Unlike using a standard Xbox One controller, however, Windows will recognize the Game:Pad as a PS4 controller (naturally), and seems to use the Steam client to approximate all the appropriate buttons in games (i.e. Square for X, Triangle for Y, etc.).
When playing PC games there’s no discernable difference between using it or a regular Xbox controller, minus the above-mentioned build quality and button issues. You can even route system sounds through the 3.5mm jack if you’ve got a spare set of headphones.
There’s a major caveat if you’re thinking about picking up this – or any Snakebyte – controller: firmware updates. Again, the Game:Pad isn’t officially licensed by Sony, meaning you may be required to update the controller’s firmware from time to time. While our controller didn’t require this, earlier versions did break compatibility whenever Sony issued a large system update to the PlayStation 4. At least Snakebyte was ready for this as there’s a sticker pasted over the touchpad instructing users where to download any necessary updates using their PC or Mac.
Snakebyte’s Game:Pad 4S Wireless Controller is a decent wireless controller for your PlayStation 4 – just as long as you don’t plan on spending a lot of time using its terrible D-pad, which could be an issue for 2D and arcade fighters requiring pinpoint precision. But for shooters, racers and everything else, this is a respectable second controller that looks and feels good enough to go the distance. Plus, it also plays nice with Windows 10 – though not wirelessly – if that’s a concern, provided you’ve got Steam installed already (and if you’re a PC gamer, you probably do).