Coming from KontrolFreek, purveyors of items to stick onto your Xbox controllers, come a new set of performance thumbsticks. These are branded with some glorious Call of Duty: Vanguard ideas, and promise to turn even an ageing old duffer like me into some kind of FPS god. Well, that’s a tall order, but I strapped them to my controller and decided to see if I could tell any difference. Please come with me to a whole new world of controller modification…

Looking at the outside of the box, the promises that are printed there to see are quite bold. KontrolFreek’s Call of Duty: Vanguard Performance Thumbsticks for Xbox will, apparently, increase comfort, improve accuracy and finally customise grip. So, let’s deal with the claims in order, shall we?

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First of all, increasing comfort. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve never held an Xbox One or Series X controller and thought “Gosh, that’s really uncomfortable”. These new thumbsticks neatly click over the thumbsticks on the controller via four prongs, and once in place they stay firmly affixed and do not come adrift. A good mark there. They don’t noticeably increase the comfort levels for me, but to be honest, I think the Xbox controller is pretty much perfect, so this was always going to a hard sell. 

Second point is that the sticks will increase accuracy. Now, if I may tootle my own trumpet for a moment or two, I can aim pretty well, thanks very much. What I did notice with these sticks and their 10mm of rise, is that in games like Outriders, they do make aiming down sights (ADS) move a lot faster, so much so that I had to reduce the sensitivity. I’d think similar would happen with the game which these are mostly focused on – Call of Duty: Vanguard, so much so that the thumbsticks come bundled with a code for an in game item – but I prefer the other side of the FPS war and so did the absolutely unthinkable, the almost blasphemous, the almost heretical: I played Battlefield 2042 with CoD thumbsticks. 

I don’t think the other folk in-game could tell, but I could almost feel the disapproval. 

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Playing an FPS with the sticks, the way they were intended, is great – you can certainly feel the difference. The input required in order to make the same amount of movement to your gun crosshairs is smaller, and so the aiming as a whole is faster. I’ll admit, it hasn’t made me any better at the game, and the change is quite large, so it does take some getting used to, but in a game where every ounce of advantage makes a difference, these sticks may just give you an edge. 

On the flipside, playing things away from the FPS scene – Forza Horizon 5 and Grim Dawn for example – haven’t shown any improvement in any way, sadly, so it’s really only worth sticking them on for FPS games. The one exception to this rule is should you spend some time with ANVIL, where the right stick is used to aim and fire your weapons. This again helps with the precision of the aiming, so that’s another tick for the thumbsticks. 

The final option that KontrolFreek claim, that of “customising grip” is again somewhat nebulous. You’d have to say, merely by attaching the sticks to the controller, that you have already customised the grip. The packaging mentions that Kontrol Freek have used the science of ergonomics to make the sticks more advanced, and they do feature a nice, bright red, Vanguard design on top of the sticks. I’ve yet to experience my thumbs slipping with the thumbsticks in place, but that only ever used to happen in the depths of Destiny’s Vault of Glass, when Aetheon was down to his last sliver of health and half the fireteam were dead. Again, it’s a claim that is hard to prove. I can report that the thumbsticks do offer a nice level of grip, enabling small movements of the sticks to be able to be replicated in-game, and so the customising of the grips is also a tick. 

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Are there any downsides with what KontrolFreek have mustered up this time around with their Call of Duty: Vanguard Performance Thumbsticks for Xbox? Well, honestly? Not really. The only game I had issues with was Outriders, where the aiming was sped up to a ridiculous level, but a swift adjustment of the sensitivity quickly makes everything groovy again. In short, the sticks look smart, feel fine under the thumb, and in FPS titles, do seem to offer a fractional edge over the competition. 

Now, where are those Battlefield 2042 branded ones!?


Huge thanks go out to KontrolFreek for providing us with their Call of Duty: Vanguard Performance Thumbsticks for Xbox for review. If you wish to pick some up, head over to KontrolFreek direct

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