My quality experience with HyperX’s first dedicated Xbox offering, the HyperX Clutch Gladiate, has all but convinced me that back buttons are essential to core gamers In The Year of Our Lord 2023, wired or wireless. Outside of my go-to Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2, I’ve dabbled with other wired, back-button offerings from NACON and 8BitDo. Still, the HyperX Clutch Gladiate is the first I’ve tried that executes the feature so well while keeping the controller itself fairly inexpensive.
This may be HyperX’s first foray into making an official Xbox controller, but from both a visual and ergonomic design perspective, the US-based peripheral manufacturer has wisely elected to steal from the best. It notably borrows some aesthetics from Nintendo and PowerA in particular, adopting the “front surface plate” design of the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller and the raised, unified shoulder button ridge found on many of PowerA’s gamepads built for Xbox.
I especially like the latter design element as it makes a subtle callback to the shoulder ridge accents featured in Microsoft’s first-party controllers from the Xbox One era, which includes the aforementioned Elite 2. Don’t get me wrong, the current Xbox Series S controller is a superb-looking gamepad, but visually it looks a bit “bald” up top when placed side by side with its predecessor, and the folks at HyperX seem to agree with me.
“The HyperX Clutch Gladiate feels fairly good in the hand.”
Other details that I fell in love with instantly when first handling the HyperX Clutch Gladiate were the glossy, Ferrari-red plastic selected for the back buttons and analogue stick covers, as well the slightly larger than average, convex Nexus button (a.k.a. Xbox Button, Guide Button) positioned near the controller’s top centre. The red accents effectively stand out, and while the Nexus button doesn’t light up, the protruding shape of the button makes it easy for players’ thumbs to find it by feel, even in a dark environment.
The HyperX Clutch Gladiate feels fairly good in the hand. The rear sides of the handles offer the obligatory, granular textured grip, but there’s a little less adhesion and more potential for slippage, so players cursed with sweaty hands or natural klutziness need beware. Form-factor wise, the HyperX Clutch Gladiate’s footprint is nearly identical to that of the Xbox Series controller.
Yet, it weighs just a little over half the mass, coming in at a ridiculous 280 grams, so all the more reason to maintain a good grip while playing. While we’re on the subject of traction, however, the slightly smaller caps on the analog sticks have a great feel to them, offering highly tactile non-slip rims that players will notice the moment they touch them.
Aside from these differences, the HyperX Clutch Gladiate features the standard Xbox controller amenities, such as a detachable 3-metre-long USB-C to USB-A 2.0 cable, a near identical face-button layout to the Xbox Series controller complete with a dedicated Share button, and a built-in 3.5mm jack for connecting a stereo headset.
It should be noted that, unlike Microsoft’s official controllers, there are no connector accommodations for the older Xbox One generation mono headsets or other obscure communication peripherals that make use of them, like the Xbox One Chatpad. Meanwhile, the Gladiate’s cross-type D-pad is a direct throwback to the ones found on late-generation Xbox One controllers, and aside from being a bit less clicky, it maintains the same general overall feel.
Ok, so let’s talk about the HyperX Clutch Gladiate’s “Pro” features. While I stand by the argument that the Gladiate is a Pro Controller (based largely on HyperX’s focus in the esports space and their insistence that the controller is designed for “serious Xbox gamers), it’s probably more technically accurate to colloquially refer to the Gladiate as a “Pro-Lite Controller,” given its limited feature set when compared to Microsoft’s Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2 or wired competitors like the 8BitDo Ultimate Wired Controller for Xbox or the NACON Revolution X Pro Controller.
“…the HyperX Clutch Gladiate doesn’t come with any kind of software to tweak the controller’s settings”
For starters, the HyperX Clutch Gladiate doesn’t come with any kind of software to tweak the controller’s settings, such as analog stick dead zone sensitivity or advanced button mapping, nor does it allow for multiple profiles to be stored directly on the device. Then there’s also the obvious lack of a second pair of back buttons, which experienced Xbox Elite 2 users like myself ride or die by, making this controller difficult to recommend as a backup option for advanced gamers that are set in their ways.
Nonetheless, the two standout features that the HyperX Clutch Gladiate does offer, however, are still quite useful. A pair of two-position trigger locks (similar to the three-position trigger locks found on the Elite 2) located on the back of the controller next to the triggers allows players to independently adjust the throw distance of each trigger between a long pull or short pull, with longer pulls being ideal for actions that utilize the trigger’s full range, such as accelerating and braking in racing games or pulling back the bowstring on a bow and arrow. In contrast, short pulls are better suited to fast-action games like first-person shooters, where a more instant, hair-trigger response is desired.
Then there are the two programmable back-buttons (dubbed P2 and P3), each of which can be assigned via a third, central button on the back labelled P1 to duplicate any of the controller’s main action buttons (A, B, X, Y, 4-way D-Pad Direction, L3, R3, LT, LB, RT or RB). This doesn’t disable, change or swap out the functionality of the original buttons, it just allows the player to use P2 or P3 as a more convenient alternative.
As someone who plays quite a few first-person shooters and regularly uses the four back paddles of the Elite 2 to enable jumping, crouch-sliding, reloading and interacting without having to take my thumb off the stick to press a face button, having only two back buttons feels like a bit of a handicap to me, but I can’t deny the beauty of the HyperX Clutch Gladiate’s user-friendly simplicity. Programming and de-programing P2 and P3 takes only seconds and eliminates the need for players to dive into the accessories menu on their Xbox. This latter can take several steps and doesn’t exactly provide a controller layout that’s easy to understand at a glance.
“…I can’t deny the beauty of the HyperX Clutch Gladiate’s user-friendly simplicity.”
For testing, I used the HyperX Clutch Gladiate extensively with both Halo Infinite Multiplayer and Atomic Heart, and although I had to get used to reloading, picking up weapons and interacting with items using face buttons again, being able to jump, slide and crouch with the two back buttons still provided me with a crucial advantage in combat both online and off.
The positioning of P2 and P3 at the base of the hand grips is excellent, putting them easily within reach of my middle fingers while not getting in my way of holding the controller firmly. Yes, of course, an additional pair of back buttons would be better.
Players that swear by a four-back-button/paddle layout likely won’t be swayed by any of the positives I’ve mentioned above. Still, gamers that are willing to compromise and/or play games with less complicated control schemes will likely find countless functions for P2 and P3 that are game-changers for their style of play.
The only real drawback that I’ve found regarding the HyperX Clutch Gladiate’s back buttons is that there is no way to temporarily disable them in situations where players might not want them to be active, like when navigating Xbox dashboard menus outside of the game or switching to another game that uses a different control scheme.
Suppose you want to eliminate any possibility of accidental back-button presses in such scenarios. In that case, your only options are either to reassign the buttons to more relevant functions or deprogram them altogether. It takes only seconds to do, but it still is a bit of a pain.
What isn’t painful, however, is the price; the HyperX Clutch Gladiate retails for only $34.99 USD, making it a very attractive wired Xbox controller option when compared to the pricier alternatives from 8BitDo and NACON, and even giving PowerA’s closest equivalent, the Enhanced Wired Controller for Xbox Series X|S, a serious run for its money. “Pro-Lite,” “Pro-Adjacent,” “Enhanced,” whatever you want to call it; if you’re looking to expand your gameplay horizons with some back-button action, the HyperX Clutch Gladiate is a delightfully affordable way to do it.