In every trade and hobby, the right tool can make all the difference. This holds true for eSports, and now PlayStation 5 competitors may have their first specialized options specifically for Sony’s next-gen console, in the Rival Tactical Controller from HexGaming.
A year into its lifespan, the PS5 is beginning to see third-party alternatives for its DualSense controller, and the HexGaming Rival is one of the first designed specifically for eSports. I was admittedly skeptical of anything that wasn’t Sony’s official controller, but the Rival surprised me off the bat with its quality construction.
Out of the box, I was impressed with its design. On the top side, there’s a chrome edge that looks sharp—along the inside of the hand grips that runs along the top of the thumbsticks, to the bottom of the touchpad. The model I received for review also happens to feature one of my favourite pieces of art, “The Great Wave off Kanagawa” by Hokusai, so that helped make a first impression.
On the back side, however, are the Rival’s defining features: four customizable paddle buttons. Two larger paddles sit just inside by your middle finger, with a smaller pair set inside them, and the reprogramming button beneath them. These paddles can be reset on the fly without using any additional apps, or even a UI; simply hold down the reprogram button until the light turns on, then press the button you want to map with the paddle you want to map it to.
These are one of the biggest appeals of the Rival, but they’re also one of the biggest downfalls of it. In practice, I found the paddles quite obtrusive. Playing a heated match without accidentally pressing one at an inopportune moment took some conscious thought at first. I also had to be more mindful of where I set it down while it was on, as the paddles could trigger on my knee or the arm of my couch—a bit of a hazard when the PS5 is my family’s primary media hub—and I quickly decided against using it outside of games.
“I was admittedly skeptical of anything that wasn’t Sony’s official controller, but the Rival surprised me off the bat with its quality construction.”
Furthermore, I found it was better to reserve the Rival for online or competitive games. When used deliberately, the paddles are responsive and convenient, but I also struggled to find good applications for them. If they were capable of programming macros, this controller might have become my favourite option for Final Fantasy XIV. With only single inputs per paddle, I ended up exploring different approaches, like mapping both sides of my controller hotbar to one hand, and ultimately found no real advantage to it.
The true edge comes from the traditional inputs. Smaller returns on the trigger buttons enable faster reactions, and the face buttons respond smartly. I can’t say that the Rival helped me win every game in Destiny 2’s PvP, but I did find the whole experience smoother, especially once my reflexes adjusted.
Grippy texturing on the underside and swappable thumbsticks round out this specialized design. Though I ultimately preferred the thumbstick style that came installed, the process of changing these components out was admirably easy. The Rival is advertised as a customizable controller, and you can certainly experiment with these features while waiting for your next match to load.
“I can’t say that the Rival helped me win every game in Destiny 2’s PvP, but I did find the whole experience smoother, especially once my reflexes adjusted.”
So, the Hexgaming Rival is a flawed but largely well-made controller. There is, however, an elephant in the room we must address: price. All these features, warts and all, retail for $270 Canadian (with Amazon suggesting at the time of writing that there is up to $50 in additional shipping and import fees).
In today’s market, this price point isn’t unheard of; Microsoft sells their Halo-themed Elite controller in the same ballpark. Considering the competition provides a carrying case, more customizable features, and matching charging peripherals, the Rival does feel overpriced . Of course, one of these controllers is an official pad made by the console manufacturer and the other comes from a third party, who’s adapting a more technologically complex controller. Still, it’s hard not to look at what the kids at the other table got with the same amount of lunch money.
Not to mention, the hair triggers negate the DualSense’s typical adaptive triggers, so you’ll want to turn this feature off or avoid games that utilize the feature heavily, like Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart. It does feel like sacrificing base functionality for bells and whistles.
If you’re willing to invest in something meant for competitive play, the Hexgaming Rival will serve you well. Just don’t sell your traditional DualSenses to fund it, because this is something you’ll likely want to reserve for the most heated multiplayer games.