Alienware Steam Machine Review: Dell's SteamOS Console Competitor

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Steam Machine Setup, Gameplay & User Experience

Setup with the Alienware Steam Machine is a breeze. Plug the included HDMI cable from your computer display or HDTV to the HDMI-out on the back of the system. Then plug in the included power cable. Connect your router via an Ethernet cable or WiFi and power the system on by pressing the Alienware symbol on the right-front of the machine. Login to your Steam account and follow the onscreen instructions to grab the latest version of the SteamOS and current firmware for the Steam Controller. Its pretty intuitive and the UI is well-labeled. 

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Also, the user interface is quite different from the standard Windows OS-based Steam. Have you been playing with Steam Big Picture on your PC recently? Then you will be right at home here if you plug in a USB mouse and keyboard. Things do get a bit trickier when using the accompanied Steam Controller but again that controller is about as good as console controllers get for navigating around a 10 foot UI.

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With it all ready to go, we downloaded a variety of games from our existing Steam Library including Shank 2, Metro Last Light Redux, Shadows of Mordor, Broken Age, CS:GO, Dying Light, GRID Autosport, Borderlands 2, Torchlight 2 and more. You will notice, quite a few of those are considered "AAA titles." While there is a noticeable absence of brand new AAA titles (GTA V, The Witcher 3, Fallout 3 and 4 etc.), some greats have been ported over to the SteamOS and perform quite well.  

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Regardless, performance in general is pretty solid. It’s the control that troubled us. Many games play very well on the new Steam Controller. The ones don't keep the fun locked behind a steep learning curve. Shank 2, Trine 2 and other 2D games and platformers were easy to control with console familiarity. GRID Autosport took some getting used to, but was very playable and fun. 

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Yet, MOBAs…? Forget about it. There are just too many buttons to manage. We never worked out a decent configuration for Torchilight 2 or Smite--the latter we streamed from our gaming PC. Luckily Valve keeps the SteamOS platform open, allowing users to upload and share controller mods and configurations. It’s a much-needed and welcomed addition that will hopefully pay dividends in this area over time.

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Sadly, this was no help at all in first-person shooters, exacerbated by the fact that, we’re not gamepad FPS aficionados. And one might argue that PC gamers with Steam libraries may all have a similar, common problem -- No configuration felt right. The touchpad was either too sensitive or too dull and sluggish. Luckily a keyboard and mouse works via the included USB ports found on the Steam Machine. This will reintroduce comfort and convenience problems when sitting on a couch as many PC gamers have learned. You can also use those ports for your own aftermarket gamepad of choice.

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