Third-party console controllers have traditionally taken a back seat to their OEM counterparts. Often purchased only for their lower price, non-standard controllers are usually the designated “guest controller,” used by that friend whom you don't entirely trust with your precious DualShock 3. However, Gioteck—a UK-based manufacturer of high-quality console peripherals which just recently expanded into the US market—has just released the HF-2, an ergonomic “360-style” controller which, to put it lightly, blows the DS3 out of the water. Eschewing the DualShock's traditional symmetrical layout—two analog sticks in the middle—in favor of the staggered-stick configuration of the Xbox's controller, and packing a turbo button, legitimate triggers, and perhaps the best surface feel I've come across, the HF-2 is a threat the DualShock should not take lightly.
Right off the bat, the HF-2's quality is apparent in its construction. Rather than the cheap painted plastic used in many other controllers, Gioteck has opted for a soft-touch, matte finish that feels almost like hard rubber. In its striking (but not overly gaudy) black-and-gray camouflage pattern, this finish exudes quality both tactilely and visually. At first, it feels unnecessarily wide, especially when switching over from the much smaller standard PS3 controller, but this width allows for a more relaxed grip, preventing cramps during marathon sessions. The contours on the underside are very well placed for most hands and keep your fingers from wedging against the battery pack.
The control layout is, as mentioned before, cribbed from the Xbox controller, with the left stick positioned higher than the D-pad. Whether this improves performance or creates a more “natural” thumb position is up to the individual, though I personally don't mind either layout. The analog sticks themselves have concave heads and a “crosshair-inspired” shape with small nubs placed at 90° angles for increased control. To some, the control nubs might be too intrusive—I did find that it tended to dig into my thumb when I pushed it forward. The HF-2 is also able to hook up to a computer and change analog stick sensitivity via a downloadable driver, but I found it unnecessary since virtually all games allow you to do the same in-game. Nevertheless, should you decide to do so, changing the sensitivity is pretty intuitive. In addition, Gioteck bills the HF-2 as “future-proof” as the same driver that changes sensitivity also allows for firmware upgrades.
I do have one gripe about the analog sticks, though. When clicking them (L3/R3), there's a sort of “half-click” that engages partway down which feels almost like a full click but doesn't actually register. Although the standard PS3 controllers also have this issue, the HF-2's analog sticks require a noticeably more forceful push (from my highly scientific and precisely-calibrated thumbs) to actuate, occasionally resulting in missed clicks at first. After a while, you get used to the increased force required, but the first time I used the controller I had to make a conscious effort each time I crouched or zoomed in.
Some customers might initially balk at the D-pad, which is a solid dish similar to the almost universally-hated Xbox 360's D-pad rather than the individual buttons present on the DualShock and other controllers. However, the HF-2's D-pad isn't nearly as mushy and vague as that of the Xbox controller; it responds with a very satisfying and confident 'click.' It might not be as good for fighting games, but for the FPS genre Gioteck says it was designed for, this D-pad has no issues.
The triggers are very solid and have just the right amount of linear resistance. The bumpers, on the other hand, are actually hinged at the inside edge. At first it seems like a design flaw, but you then realize that it allows you to hit the bumper's outside edge with the first knuckle of your index finger, letting you use those buttons without taking your fingers off the triggers. Also, a switch allows you to alternate the functions of L1/R1 with L2/R2, since in many games the trigger and bumper functions are reversed.
There are only two instances where the HF-2 is beaten out by the DualShock. First, it takes a pair of AA batteries, rather than having a rechargeable internal one. Performance isn't affected, but it is a minor inconvenience. Also, there's no SixAxis support. I played Uncharted: Drake's Fortune with the HF-2 and repeatedly fell off logs. However, games that support SixAxis are becoming fewer and farther between, suggesting that the feature will soon become irrelevant (if it hasn't already).
Gioteck's HF-2 is one of the few third-party controllers I can confidently say deserves a place beside the OEM controller. At $50, it's actually a bit more expensive than a DualShock 3, but the $5 price difference is more than justified by the difference in build quality, ergonomics, and usability. The HF-2's faults are few and minor. You can be sure, then, that when friends come over, the guests are using the DualShocks.