Keyboard and mouse, or console gamepad? That question has plagued first-person-shooter enthusiasts since time immemorial--or at least, since consoles started supplanting the PC as a viable choice for first-person shooters. Since Counter-Strike: Global Offensive will support cross-platform multiplayer in the PlayStation 3 and PC versions, we decided to see whether a keyboard and mouse would give us an unfair edge over controller FPS players by using the Hori Tactical Assault Commander 3. You might not be surprised to learn that we personally prefer our keyboards and mice--but we didn't quite agree on how a keyboard-and-mouse combo would fare against a controller in a cross-platform scenario.
KB/M or Bust
Patrick Miller, how-to editor: I eat Chinese food with chopsticks, I fold my pizza down the middle, and darn it, I play my first-person shooters with a keyboard and mouse. I simply can't stand the way first-person shooters play on a gamepad. I've tried, believe me--I suffered through hours of Bulletstorm, Fallout 3, and Brink with the Xbox 360 controller, and it just didn't work for me. So when I tried Hori's keyboard-and-mouse controller with Battlefield 3 on the PS3, I was relieved to find that I didn't have to put up with those blasted analog sticks anymore.
The Hori TAC3 can't make a PS3 first-person shooter feel like a native PC keyboard-and-mouse-controlled game because it has to translate the mouse movements into analog-stick inputs for the PS3 to recognize them, which made the results feel slower and shakier to me. Even so, I still played better with a mediocre keyboard-and-mouse combo than I did with the PS3 gamepad, and I don't understand how anyone could prefer the gamepad. Mechanically speaking, I have far better control with a mouse--which I can move differently by engaging several different muscles in my hand and arm--than I do with a gamepad's analog sticks.
However, I wasn't the avatar of death that I thought I was going to be. Battlefield 3 rewards teamwork, practice, and intelligent play; it isn't nearly as dependent on speed and on quick, accurate shooting as Quake Live is, for example. So although the keyboard and mouse did give me a boost, I can see how gamepad players could stay competitive in a cross-platform match. That said, if a team of gamepads were to go up against a team of keyboards and mice, my money would be on the latter.
Clicks Trump Sticks
Alex Wawro, editorial assistant to the stars: No gamepad can match the precision of a keyboard and mouse when it comes to playing first-person shooters. But even though I love to play games with a keyboard and mouse, I also like to play games sprawled out on my couch after work. After all, one of the perks of playing games on a console is the freedom to kick back on a sofa, a chair, or even the floor, playing for hours without feeling sore from hunching over a desk.
Until recently I avoided playing popular console shoot-'em-ups like Halo and Resistance because I couldn’t stand the poor precision of the analog sticks on my gamepads. But a few hours with the Hori TAC3 convinced me that console gamers could enjoy the precision and accuracy of a great keyboard and mouse as early as the next generation of game consoles.
Will that make them better players? I think so; after I grew accustomed to using the Hori TAC3 to move and shoot, I was able to navigate the first few levels of Portal 2 on the PS3 more quickly and more accurately than I ever could using the analog sticks on the PS3 DualShock controller. While I agree with Patrick that playing with a gamepad does not disqualify you from holding your own in cross-platform play, my experience playing fast-paced action games on both the PC and the PS3 suggests that using a gamepad puts you at a disadvantage when you're competing against PC gamers playing with a precise and accurate keyboard and mouse.
Older cross-platform games such as Shadowrun attempted to compensate for that disparity by handicapping console players, with mixed success. As far as I know, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive will not include any handicaps for PS3 players engaging in cross-platform competition, and our testing leads me to believe that a console player going toe-to-toe with an equally skilled PC player (or a PS3 player using a miniature keyboard-and-mouse combo like the Hori TAC3) will always lose.
Accept No Imitations
Nate Ralph, desktops guru: If you’re a PC gamer hoping to muscle in on the console-shooter scene, buy a gamepad. Yes, I know--your mouse offers superior precision and better ergonomics, and is preprogrammed with all sorts of macros and shortcuts. Get over it. Console and PC games are fundamentally different beasts, and no $99 accessory will bridge that divide.
If you care so much about competing that you're seriously considering a $99 peripheral, you’re exactly the sort of person who shouldn’t buy the TAC3. Shooters are designed to make sense on their platform--it isn’t as simple as plugging in the sort of controller you feel like using today. Whatever dark magics Hori has worked in to approximate the PS3’s DualShock analog sticks with its keyboard-and-mouse contraption fall short, leaving you with a pricey controller that feels worse than your PC input devices, and isn’t fine-tuned for the platform.
As for the schoolyard controller wars: A keyboard and mouse, versus a gamepad? I'll take a keyboard and mouse, but personal bias aside, that’s largely up to the developers. Take a look at some footage of professional Halo players doing their thing; They have surgical precision with a gamepad, in a game engine that bends to their will. Until we have a perfect cross-platform game to use as a level playing field (and I'm not sure that could even exist), I don't think there's any point to comparing the two. Just play the game the way it was meant to be played.
What do you think? Let us know your preference in the comments!