First-party controllers occupy a place of privilege in the pantheon of gaming peripherals. They’re the gold standard, the official controllers, the good ones. They stand head and shoulder-buttons above the competition, sneering imperiously down at the hordes of lesser gamepads. Like mighty Thanos bearing all six infinity stones, Microsoft- and Sony-branded controllers swat aside third-party competitors with ease, turning them to dust with a snap of their fingers.
There’s still hope for third-party controllers, but they get a bad rap, thanks in no small part to the glut of cheapo gamepads that feel like knockoffs of the real thing. (I’m looking at you mid-’90s MadCatz.) In recent years, companies like Razer and Scuf have worked tirelessly to rehabilitate the reputation of third-party controllers by spending serious time and money engineering them as precisely as a high-end mouse or keyboard, devices that don’t just emulate, but innovate. Astro made a name for itself by producing quality gaming headsets. With the C40 TR gamepad, it plans to supplement its sound with improved control.
Before you ever lay hands on it, the C40 TR sets itself apart from the usual crop of third-party gamepads. At $200, it has no choice. Unboxing it is like opening up a new smartphone or pair of high-end headphones. There’s no blister packaging or flimsy card stock here. The packaging is heavy, thick, matte-and-glossy, classy, and understated.
Lift up the matte-finished box and you’ll find the controller lying in its padded clamshell carrying case, black with details picked out in red and gray. The PlayStation logo on the power button serves as a reminder of this PC/PS4 gamepad’s dual purpose and pedigree.
The Astro C40 TR borrows some of the best design elements from official console controllers for Xbox One and PS4. The black and red design makes the C40 TR feel like a Dark Mode version of the standard Xbox One gamepad, with almost the same exact profile and shape. The joystick layout, where both sticks are on the bottom, mimics the DualShock 4.
Similar to the Xbox One Elite controller, the C40 TR is compatible with two sets of swappable joysticks—short and tall. The tall joysticks were awkward at first. They made movement and aiming feel too fast or too slow in some games. However, after a few hours I got used to them, and aiming with a tall stick felt very natural. The extra height offers more precise control than you normally get with a gamepad. Using the included screwdriver, you can even swap the locations of the joysticks or position your D-pad higher and left joystick lower—less like an Xbox One pad and more like a PlayStation controller.
The Astro C40 TR offer practical customization options, and it packs a couple extras that give it a leg up. On the back side of the gamepad you’ll find two additional buttons you can set (map) functions to with the included software—helpful for battle royale games like Apex Legends and Fortnite, which have a lot of special abilities you can remap. (Be careful though; it’s easy to accidentally click them when you pick up the controller.) Just above those buttons you’ll find two mechanical switches that toggle the built-in trigger stops, turning the standard trigger buttons into hair-triggers you barely have to press, suitable for twitch-fast response times. They’re perfect for tense, oh-no-I-didn’t-see-that-guy moments in a game like Destiny 2. Sometimes an extra millisecond is all you need to stay alive.
If you’re itching for more custom tuning, the Astro C40 TR configuration software lets you remap every button individually and switch between multiple customization profiles—two of which are stored on the gamepad itself. It’s perfect for sharing the C40 TR with a roommate without worrying they’ll change up your painstakingly tuned button mapping. Just double-check the onboard switch to make sure your profile is loaded, or else you might give an enemy a friendly wave instead of a grenade.
Serving Two Masters
Here’s a question for the PS4 owners out there: How do you turn on your console? You probably just pick up a controller and hit the PlayStation button, right? Right. Unfortunately, that’s not going to work with the C40 TR. You won’t be able to turn on your PS4 with this gamepad. You’ll need to use an actual DualShock 4, or just get up and turn it on manually. (But c’mon, this is 2019.)
To be fair, the C40 TR isn’t alone here. Third-party controllers for the PS4 all share this limitation, due to some Sony-imposed hardware restrictions. The only exceptions are a handful of Scuf controllers, which are built using DualShock 4 components.
The Astro C40 TR also cannot display its battery percentage onscreen like a standard DualShock 4. This isn’t a big deal, since the C40 TR features about three to four times the pitiful battery life of the standard PS4 controller. You’ll rarely need to check on it. Sitting down for a marathon 11- to 12-hour gaming session? Your C40 TR will be with you to the bitter end, long after every DualShock 4 in the room takes its last breath.
If I’m going to pay $200 for a controller, I want it to be the only PC or PS4 controller I need. When I’m playing games, the Astro C40 TR is better than the DualShock 4 in every imaginable way. It’s also phenomenal as a PC controller. But because it can’t turn on the PS4, my old DualShock 4 always has to tag along like an annoying little brother. Even if it is due to a Sony-imposed hardware limitation, that’s disappointing for a lot of reasons, and it doesn’t make the C40 TR’s exceptionally high price any easier to swallow. A standard DualShock 4 will run you about $60—$140 less than Astro’s gamepad. That’s a big price gap for a controller that can’t perform a basic function like turning on the console, no matter who’s to blame.
Still, if you’re looking for a stylish, customizable PC/PS4 gamepad, and you don’t mind spending top-shelf-keyboard money on it, you can’t do much better than the C40 TR. Just don’t put your DualShock 4 out to pasture quite yet. It has a long life ahead of it as a dedicated power button.