Third party pads have generally had a rough deal over the years. I remember getting a few for my Mega Drive that couldn’t match Sega’s official ones, and even in more recent times they tend to just feel off, be it the ergonomics, buttons or one of a number of other reasons. So I entered this review of the NACON Pro Compact with some trepidation. Could it become a worthy go-to pad, or would it be the one you lump your younger siblings with? Well, I’m pleasantly surprised with the end result, even if it might not quite stand shoulder to shoulder with the official Xbox controllers.
As the name suggests the Pro Compact has a much smaller feel in the hands than other pads. Its body doesn’t quite have the same contours as the official ones, and it can feel a little strange to hold at first. That’s not to say uncomfortable mind; once I got used to the new feeling it is actually very enjoyable to hold and use. Being a wired pad it weighs slightly less than the Series ones, and that wire is pretty lengthy too (at 3 metres) so even though my Xbox is located on above my TV I was still able to run the cable down behind it and to my chair easily. It has a little break away section as well, so any wayward feet won’t necessarily send the console flying. Perhaps the only drawback when it comes to the form factor is that it won’t fit certain accessories, such as the Chat Pad. It does feature a 3.5mm headphone jack, but if you’re still rocking the old Headset Adapter from early Xbox One days that won’t fit either.
The face buttons are much larger than found on the official pads. Initially I wasn’t so keen on this aspect but again, with time I got used it and I actually found it made playing Pacer a little easier. It was more comfortable to hold these larger to A and X buttons with my thumb when racing than on the Series pad. They have a good click to them too, not overly spongy but not too firm. The Xbox Nexus and Capture buttons are aligned nicely in the centre, though the choice to have the Menu and View buttons placed in the top corners (one near the analogue stick, the other almost touching the face buttons) is a bit bizarre as there is a ton of dead space between them which could have allowed them to move slightly closer to the centre.
I am a big fan of the sticks here too, with them having a nice sturdy metallic ring preventing plastic on plastic movement, and on-brand grip designs that work well. They’re more than responsive enough too. The dpad leaves a little to be desired when compared to the Series pad, but it’s not exactly poor quality, just doesn’t quite have the tactile feel to it that I’d like to see. The triggers feature the Xbox’s rumble tech as well as the main body rumble, with the effect actually coming through a little stronger than I expected. The RB and LB buttons are much chunkier than the Series pad, though I found them a bit cumbersome to use frequently thanks to their placement and size.
There is a Pro Compact app that can be downloaded and used with this controller directly on the console, and it’s here where it starts to punch above its weight. Reminiscent of the Elite controller, we’re able to adjust stick sensitivity, button mapping, vibration intensity and trigger travel lengths to an impressive degree. While those looking to try their hand at top tier competition might still be better suited to the official Elite pad, this is a solid second choice – at almost a third of the price. I didn’t see an option to have look inversion on by default here, but then at this point I find it’s better to just take the time to do it on a per game basis anyway.
The final feather in the cap of the Pro Compact is the inclusion of Dolby Atmos. I’ve suing the praises of DA ever since I first tried it when reviewing Metro Exodus, and that is comes included with this controller is awesome news. You’ll need to download the free Atmos app to get it to work, but doing so will change the experience for the better. It’s hard to do Atmos justice in words, but it is simply incredible to hear the difference it makes.
There’s a lot to like about the Pro Compact controller. It feels strange at first thanks to it’s smaller form factor and larger buttons, but after a few games I found myself really digging it. It might not match the official pads for sheer brilliance in terms of ergonomics , but it also breaks clear of the bad name many poor controllers have given third party efforts in the past. Chuck in the Elite style customisation app and Dolby Atmos, and at just under £50 this makes recommending the Pro Compact easy.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by the publisher.