For as long as I can remember, I’ve had third-party controllers for my consoles and PC. From Mad Catz as a kid to Hori and EasySMX in recent years, I’ve probably had more third-party gamepads and peripherals in my life than I’ve had official products. They’ve always been serviceable and provided good value for money, but given the choice, I’d choose a standard official Xbox or PlayStation controller every time.
The Turtle Beach React-R controller has changed that, so much so that I’ve bought a “pixel” design one to go with the “nebula” design that Turtle Beach sent me for this review. I can’t have my kids fighting over controllers now, can I?
First, let’s cover the basics. The Turtle Beach React-R is an officially licensed wired controller for Xbox Series X, S, One, and PC that looks and plays like a much more premium product. With an RRP of £29.99/$39.99, it undercuts the £54.99 official Xbox wireless controller by a solid £24.99. “On paper, it looks like a bargain – and it is.
Despite the budget price, the React-R controller doesn’t hold back when it comes to premium features. You get all of the standard Xbox buttons, however the Xbox, view, share and menu buttons have been shifted slightly down the face of the gamepad to make room for a trio new React-R-specific buttons. Running from left to right, these buttons are for “Superhuman Hearing”, gamepad shift, and microphone mute. The microphone mute button is self-explanatory, but the other two buttons definitely require some explanation.
The superhuman hearing button essentially rebalances the game audio to make it easier to hear quiet audio cues, such as enemy footsteps and weapon reloads. In competitive games, it could be the difference between winning a losing, but I also found myself using it in solo games to pinpoint enemies, too.
The d-pad shift button opens up additional functions on the d-pad, essentially making it 4 buttons in one. Pressing and holding it while pressing a direction on the d-pad can switch between game and chat audio, then turn the volume up and down for each. It sounds like something you’d rarely use on paper, but I found myself using it more and more as I got used to the function being there. Unfortunately, chat mix isn’t compatible with Windows, but it came in handy on Xbox.
The d-pad shift button also has another function. A quick double-tap switches on two rear-mounted paddle buttons that sit on the tips of your fingers as you hold the controller. The buttons are easily programmable, so you can put, for example, a face button (such as jump) on the back of the controller so that you don’t need to remove your thumb from a thumbstick in the heat of the action. It took a bit of getting used to, but now that I have committed the buttons to muscle memory, I wish every controller had them. I’d never used the paddle buttons on my Steam Deck before, but certainly do now!
If the nebula design seen in our pictures isn’t your style, fear not. The React-R controller comes in several other colours, including Pixel (which has Minecraft vibes), red, black, and white and purple. Which one looks best will obviously come down to personal preference.
So, the Turtle Beach React-R controller gets full marks, right?
Literally the only things that gives away the React-R’s low price is the fact that it is wired, and the way that it feels in the hand. The fact that it is wired shouldn’t be a deal breaker – after all, if you wanted a wireless controller, you’d probably pick up an official Xbox controller anyway. But the way that it feels is important.
Don’t get me wrong – it feels as comfortable and ergonomic as any Xbox controller. However, the materials that have been used don’t feel as premium as those used by Microsoft. The moment you pick the controller up, the controller feels very light, in part due to not having a battery, but the plastic also feels like it isn’t as strong as the official offerings. I’m also not a huge fan of the textured grips. It feels very rough and noticeable, unlike the official gamepads more granular dot design. Overall, the React-R just isn’t as nice to hold.
There is an advantage to this build, however. The lightweight materials that have been used mean that the controller feels seriously light. This can lead to less fatigue during long gaming sessions, or can make the gamepad more comfortable for younger gamers to hold.
But, let’s not forget, there is a significant price difference between the Turtle Beach React-R and the official Xbox controller. At full price, the React-R is almost half the price, yet packs in several premium features that you’d only find on Microsoft’s Elite controllers, which cost 4-5 times more.
Towards the beginning of this review, I said that the Turtle Beach React-R controller has stopped me reaching for official controllers every time that I want to play, and that is certainly true. Previously, whenever I wanted to play on the family Xbox Series S in the lounge, I’d have to bring my own Xbox controller into the lounge and go through the hassle of connecting it, then re-connecting to my Series X on my gaming desk later. These days, I just use the React-R. I love using all of the premium features and it is a massive step up from any budget controller that I’ve ever used.
Should you buy the Turtle Beach React-R controller? That depends.
If you want a wireless controller, or if you want a controller that feels like every component is craft from premium materials, then no. Those features will cost you more money, but if they are important for you, you should look elsewhere. This isn’t the controller for you.
For everyone else, there are so many reasons to buy Turtle Beach’s React-R controller. It is an excellent, officially licensed controller by a reputable company. It has premium features, such as the volume mixing options and rear paddle buttons, that would normally only be found on significantly more expensive controllers. And, it’s extremely affordable, especially in comparison to Microsoft’s offerings.
For me, the Turtle Beach React-R controller is a “buy”. After all, I did literally buy a second one to go with the review sample, and I’m looking forward to my son opening it on Christmas morning. For the price, they provide exceptional value and I’m sure my family will enjoy using them for years to come.