Scuf Gaming one-upped Microsoft with its new Xbox Series X/S controllers

The Instinct gamepads will run you $170 or $200 for their opulence.

Kris Naudus / Engadget

“Luxury” isn’t really a word you associate with gaming controllers, but when you’re spending $200 on a gamepad, that’s essentially what you get. The fact is just masked by words like “Elite” and “Pro.” One of the companies making controllers at that level has been Scuf, a brand that even collaborated with Microsoft on an official high-end gamepad. Now the team at Scuf is taking its expertise to the Xbox Series X/S with the new $170 Instinct and $200 Instinct Pro, which bring back fan-favorite features like an interchangeable faceplate while also improving the buttons and switches.

I was sent the more expensive Instinct Pro, though rest assured that even the cheaper model is still high quality. They each come packaged in a patterned black box that feels more appropriate to jewelry than gamer gear. The standard consumer version will come with a black faceplate, but the one I received was printed with a map pattern in black, gold and blue. I really like it, even if I’m not a fan of the FPS games it's meant to invoke. The faceplate comes off with a firm pull, though five magnets underneath ensure it’ll stay put during your gaming sessions.

Instinct Pro with faceplate removed
Kris Naudus / Engadget

The d-pad also comes off easily when pulled with two fingers, but my attempts to dislodge it with my left thumb while playing were thankfully ineffective. However, the package does not include a replacement. What is included besides the controller is one USB cable, two AA batteries and two convex thumbsticks, one short and one tall. To swap these in you need to pry the faceplate off then pull at the thumbsticks so forcefully it feels like you're doing something wrong. The replacements can then be snapped into place, though it might take a few tries to get the pegs to line up with the holes on the back of the joysticks.

Scuf Gaming Instinct Pro with faceplate removed
Kris Naudus / Engadget

The front of the gamepad’s layout contains the standard array of buttons plus a mute switch for any headset that may be connected to the 3.5mm port on the bottom. The back, however, is a different story. Scuf has included four buttons just south of the battery cover, which can be mapped to duplicate any of the front buttons. However, unlike the long paddles found on the company’s other controllers, these instead consist of two flaps molded into the controller casing that jut out slightly, along with two buttons in between them. Your middle fingers should rest comfortably in the two concave nooks the buttons create, and flexing your fingers backward is enough to push those flaps, so you never have to shift where your fingers rest as you do with your thumbs on the front of the gamepad and forefingers on the shoulder buttons and triggers.

Instinct Pro in black from rear
Kris Naudus / Engadget

The triggers on the more expensive Instinct Pro have also gotten a bit of a redesign. Previous Scuf products allowed players to adjust the sensitivity and install trigger stops that gave them a shorter pull, like a mouse button. Now the triggers can be adjusted on the fly thanks to a set of switches that can flip the buttons between the traditional long pull like you’d prefer in a driving game, to a shorter mouse click for weapons fire. Each trigger can be adjusted independently, too, which can make the feature useful for even more genres.

The last new feature on the back is a button that allows you to switch between three different configurations — the controller comes preprogrammed with settings for FPS/battle royale, sports and racing titles. The settings can be changed on the controller itself by holding down the profile button until it blinks and then holding down the paddle you want to change and the button you want it to emulate.

Instinct Pro controller, top
Kris Naudus / Engadget

Aside from all the bells and whistles, the Scuf Instinct Pro has a really nice, premium hand feel. It’s solid but not heavy, and the grips have a rubberized hexagonal pattern that allows airflow to prevent excessive palm sweating. I can’t tell you how it feels compared to other Scuf controllers, but matched up against the standard Xbox gamepad or recent releases like the Turtle Beach Recon Controller, it feels premium. Which it should, given that it’s so much more expensive. Like all Scuf products, the Instinct and Instinct Pro are for professionals and other people who take their games seriously enough to spend hundreds of dollars on gear.