I am a fan of gamer gear. I use a gaming mouse and keyboard on a DIY HTPC. The gamer community prizes functionality above all else, an approach that often results in great price/performance ratios.
The other day I was shopping in Best Buy when I spotted a fancy-looking new controller, The PowerA Fusion Tournament. I enjoy playing games on my big screen and anything that promises more precision gets my attention, even a corded gamepad with a retail price of $79.95. The PowerA Fusion made exactly such promise, so I picked up the Xbox-compatible version and took it home to see how it performs on my Windows 8 HTPC.
PowerA does not skimp on the packaging with the Fusion. The box itself is heavy-duty; it feels like it contains something expensive and important. I started to wonder how much of the price tag actually goes towards the packaging instead of the hardware. Within one minute of opening the box, I started thinking “This really is lipstick on a pig, the emperor’s new clothes, nothing but window dressing.” That might sound harsh, but consider the following: The same company that sells the Fusion ($75 on Amazon, $80 at Best Buy) also sells a number of budget gamepads for $20-$30. Other than costly packaging, what did I get for the extra $50 I spent on the Fusion versus the less-expensive PowerA Airflow?
One of the Fusion’s primary features is replaceable handgrips. The package includes rubberized grips and a screwdriver—every review I read suggested changing the hard plastic grips that come pre-installed. This felt like a pure gimmick, a completely unnecessary modification. I was concerned that the cheap screwdriver might strip the screws that hold the grips in place. After a few minutes of fiddling, I finished the grip swap and the Fusion was ready for action.
My standard reference for gamepads is the Xbox 360 controller. So far, the 360 controller has proven to be the most comfortable, accurate, reliable controller I have used. In a direct side-by-side comparison, the Fusion did not outperform the Xbox 360 controller. There was no improvement in accuracy, latency, or comfort. Nothing. The only fair conclusion is this: The Fusion costs more and is not cordless.
Gameplay on the Fusion offered no major surprises. The buttons worked, vibration feedback worked, and all the buttons registered properly on a PC as well as on an Xbox. After a couple hours of gameplay, I concluded that the Fusion Tournament is rougher around the edges than the Xbox controller is. The triggers are squared-off and become uncomfortable to use during extended sessions. The replacement handgrips feel cheap, the whole device does not feel as solid as it should. The headline feature of the Fusion is the quality of the analog sticks. After a fair amount of game play, I found nothing remarkable. There is no sense of improved control or responsiveness.
Looking at the bright side, the Fusion controller works exactly like an Xbox 360 controller when used with a PC: It is cross-platform compatible, pure plug-and-play. The Fusion Tournament is also available for the PS3, without the PC plug-and-play capability, but otherwise it is identical.
Coming back to the question of value, what does the extra money spent on the Fusion buy? A fancy looking 10-foot cable, LED lights inside the controller body that make it glow in various colors, replaceable hand grips, and a fancy zipper casefor the whole package. It is hard to find where a single dollar was spent making the controller function better than its competition, even when it comes to products from the same company.
The issue is this: why pay $75-$80 for fancy packaging and an extra-long cord when the cordless Xbox 360 controller costs less? You should not. Because in the end, you don’t judge a book by its cover, you judge it by what is inside. Inside the Fusion Pro’s fantastic packaging is a cheap corded controller masquerading as Tournament-level gamer’s gear. I’m not falling for it.