Scuf Vantage review: a complete reimagining of the PS4 controller, but with big flawsOctober 18, 2018
If you’re considering a pro PlayStation 4 controller, you’ve probably heard the name Scuf. It’s the leading brand of custom gamepads for competitive console players, and in the absence of a proper Sony-made controller like Microsoft’s Xbox One Elite, it’s become a de facto option for those who want to overcome key disadvantages of using your standard DualShock 4. These controllers, for those who may have never held one, place paddles underneath the grips of the gamepad, and you can create custom button mappings so that you never have to take your thumbs off the joysticks to perform actions like jumping, reloading, or switching weapons. It’s a must-have for higher-level first-person shooter players and, more recently, for Epic Games’ Fortnite.
There are other brands out there, like Battle Beaver Customs, and some officially licensed third-party pro controllers from like the likes of Razer and Nacon. But Scuf has become pretty much the Kleenex of the category — and for good reason. The company has built a name for itself creating well-made devices with a variety of color options and various customizable tiers.
Typically, these controllers have between two and four paddles on the underside and come with tools and a small keychain-sized puck, known as electromagnetic remapping (EMR) device. The latter lets you customize the button mappings, while the tools let you tweak mechanical aspects of the controller, like the how far down you have to press a trigger button before it activates and kicks back to its original position.
The newest Scuf device, however, may be the first controller the company has made that has a chance of rivaling the Xbox One Elite as the best, most feature-packed pro gamepad on the market. It’s called the Scuf Vantage, and it’s an overhauled PS4 controller with instant, built-in remapping and an entirely new set of buttons that rest on the sides of the controller. I’ve been using the controller for about three weeks now, and I’ve played dozens of hours of Destiny 2, Fortnite, and Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 with it. I can say that it’s an immense improvement over the standard DualShock 4, but it does have some big issues that may make its $170 price (or $200 for the wireless version) hard to swallow.
The Good Stuff
Right out of the box, it was clear to me that the Scuf Vantage has a superior build quality to both the bundled DualShock 4 and other Scuf controllers. It’s the nicest gamepad they’ve ever made. For me, the Xbox-style layout is an appreciated touch, making the controller much more comfortable to hold.
Yet the biggest and most impactful feature the Vantage offers is instant remapping. Instead of sticking an EMR device onto the back of the controller and doing your remapping that way, you can remap whenever you want by simply sliding a switch at the base of the Vantage and pressing two buttons at the same time.
It’s easy, takes just seconds to do, and is a huge improvement on the standard remapping practice of past pro controllers. Even the Xbox One Elite controller requires you use Microsoft’s own app to remap. With the Vantage, it’s instantaneous. This may be the primary selling point of the entire device for those who really like to tinker with button layouts and remapping combos.
The other differentiating factor with the Vantage is the addition of the “sax” buttons, which are side buttons located underneath where you’d rest your pointer fingers on either the bumpers or triggers of a standard controller. This may sound like a feature you’d never use, but I personally found the sax buttons hugely helpful and just as integral to the experience of using a custom PS4 controller as the back paddles.
For instance, when playing Destiny 2, I kept jump and slide to the two most prominent back paddles, while the reload and switch weapons functions were remapped to the sax buttons. There was a learning curve involved, but once I really got into the groove of using all four of the extra buttons as intended, I felt my playing improve considerably. Being able to jump, switch to a new weapon, and reload almost simultaneously and without removing my thumbs from the joysticks has been critical in helping me squeeze out victories in particularly tricky situations.
The final benefit you get with the Vantage is easy customization. Normally, you have to tinker with some tools, pry off parts, and do other laborious manual operations on the controller to switch out thumbsticks, change trigger action, and so on. With the Vantage, almost every part of the controller can be easily accessed, thanks to the removable faceplate and the custom base, which Scuf built from the ground up. From there, you can swap parts, customize the joystick rings, change out the D-pad, and even remove the rumble packs if you don’t like those.
The Bad Stuff
Unfortunately, for the many positives the Vantage offers, there are also some serious issues. First and perhaps most importantly is that I have been completely unable to get the Bluetooth to work. I was able to easily pair the controller to my PS4 the first time I used it, but from then on, the controller has never automatically paired with my console. And I have been unable to figure out how to fix that. I’ve tried the whole pairing many times over, and I’ve tried removing the profile for the Vantage from my PS4, but nothing has worked.
As a result, I’ve used the Vantage almost exclusively in wired mode. Granted, it’s totally fine, but I would not recommend spending the extra $30 on the Bluetooth version of the Vantage given my personal experience. And because I’ve been forced to use the wired mode, the Vantage doesn’t appear to save any of my button remaps when I turn the console back on, forcing me to remap every day. (It only takes about 10 seconds to do so, but it’s still a problem that shouldn’t exist.) Scuf tells me this may be an issue restricted to the PS4 Pro, and it’s testing a solution right now to save button remaps that a future software update should fix.
Not only that, but because of proprietary Sony protocols, the Vantage, at least in wired mode, is not able to turn on the console when pressing the PS button. This is not a problem with Scuf’s other controllers, which are all based on the DualShock foundation. So each day that I go to turn on my console, I have to use my old DualShock 4 controller, and then activate the Vantage once the console has come to life. This has resulted in some strange connectivity issues with my Bluetooth headset, too: I’ve had to reinsert the USB stick for my headset a few times in situations where the Vantage kicked audio back to my TV.
Beyond those issues, I’ve also experienced a frustrating mechanical problem with the controller. Occasionally, my left thumbstick has registered downward movement even when it’s sitting in place, meaning my characters will move backward ever so slightly. I notice this mostly with in-game menus and, more annoyingly, when trying to sprint in games like Destiny 2 and Fortnite, as my sprint function will lock up when the controller registers anything other than forward pressure on the thumbstick. I was able to fix this by swapping out the thumbstick to a different version included in the box, but it’s still been rather obnoxious to deal with.
Although I’ve been pleased with how the controller has held up through some rather long play sessions this past month, I did end up snapping one of the back paddles in half during a rather intense game of competitive Destiny. I can’t say whether I was being too aggressive with the paddle or whether I simply put too much continual pressure on the plastic and caused it to snap over the course of days or weeks.
Either way, it’s something worth considering if you’ve found yourself inadvertently destroying controller thumbsticks or other easy-to-wreck parts in the past. Scuf will replace the parts for you for free, and I’ve been able to use an inner paddle as a replacement for the outer one in the interim.
The Final Verdict
Are these issues enough to sink the controller entirely? Not in my opinion. Being stuck in wired mode and needing to regularly remap are annoying problems, but, ultimately, they’re not huge problems. I would not buy the wireless version of the Scuf Vantage, at least not right now or until the company determines if there’s an issue with the Bluetooth connectivity.
As for the durability issues and that thumbstick drift, I can say that Scuf does provide up to a 180-day full warranty on the controller, so you can always talk to support, send it in, and get a new one. The paddles are always under a one-year warranty, which is nice. The company was able to send me a set of replacement paddles, though I am still not sure what exactly caused the thumbstick drift and whether it will return.
You might be wondering why you’d ever want to spend this much money on a controller that has these issues. That’s a valid criticism, and my defense is that a controller like this, while not perfect, is the most fully featured one you can get for PS4 right now. And with the kind of wear and tear they’re expected to receive, I can understand some aspects of the device suffering more than others; the paddles are clearly the most vulnerable, and the warranty is there to account for that.
If you’re looking for a custom PS4 controller for competitive play, and you really like the Xbox-style thumbstick layout, the Vantage is a powerful device with some obvious hurdles to overcome. If you don’t think you’d ever really need more than two paddles — and instant remapping or the “sax” side buttons aren’t all that appealing — there are cheaper customizable gamepads out there, including less expensive Scuf models that don’t have these issues.
In that sense, the Vantage, for all its bells and whistles, may cater to a small market: gamers with the money to spend on a device that may not be measurably better than existing options and is plagued by too many problems to justify its cost. Whether you’re the target customer, there is a decision you’ll have to make. But I did recently plug in a Scuf Infinity Pro to use as an alternative to the Vantage, and I’m finding that I really appreciate the Infinity Pro’s durability and the familiar, no-frills DualShock design. I miss the sax buttons and the instant remapping, but I haven’t plugged in the Vantage for a few days now. And I don’t imagine I’ll feel the need to go back anytime soon.