What you need to know:
There is nothing wrong with the stock controller offered for both 360 and PS3 as they do their jobs quite well, especially if you like having a wireless controller. Keep in mind that a lot of the fully featured third party controllers are all wired, so if that's a concern you may want to stick with your stock controller. There are gripes to be had with them though, d-pads being the prime example. As you make your way up the controller food chain there are definitely more features to be had. Unlike some peripherals, most of these features are actually useful, such as upgraded d-pads and interchangeable components. Controllers are an easy upgrade to make for yourself or even as a gift to a fellow gamer.
Budget: Razer Onza Tournament Edition $49.99
Available for 360 only
-Adjustable Resistance Analog Sticks
-Two Additional Fully Programmable Buttons
-Hyperesponse Action Buttons
The Razer Onza Tournament Edition is well worth the investment considering it only costs $10 more than a stock wired Microsoft controller. Have you ever wished that a certain button was in a different place, but couldn't change it because it would change every other button? The additional fully programmable buttons are the most noteworthy feature of this Onza. Instead of attempting to reach for the A button and right trigger simultaneously, you can map the crouch button to the programmable button (next to the right trigger), making it much easier to, say, drop to the prone position while shooting people in Black Ops II. Also, if your analog sticks feel too loose or too stiff, the Onza's adjustable sticks allow you to fine tune your controller exactly to your specifications. If $49.99 is still too much, there is a standard Onza available for $39.99 without the adjustable analog sticks and backlit buttons.
Mid-range: Power A Fus1on Tournament Controller $79.99
-Available for 360 and PS3
-Braided 9.8ft Cord
PowerA's new Fus1on tournament controllers offer a slew of options not available on stock units. For starters, it comes with a fancy carrying case and a braided cable that ensures minimal input latency and maximum protection, even against the chewiest of cats. Not all hands are the same size, so why should a controller be? The interchangeable grips allow you to customize the shape of the controller to the perfect size that fits your hands. It's got a precision D-pad, meaning each end point on the pad is raised to prevent accidental input; more accurate 8-way control is especially important for fighting game players that don't use fight sticks. The Fus1on has a smaller form factor than other tournament options, as well as stock controllers, and you can even toggle between five LED accent colors when gaming in the dark.
Premium: Madcatz MLG Pro Circuit Controller $99.99
-Available for 360 and PS3
-"No Slow" Analog Sticks
-Removable Top and Side Faceplates
-Durable 3-Meter Cable
Spending $100 on a controller might be a tough sell for a lot of gamers, but if you've got the money to spare, you can't go wrong with Madcatz' MLG Pro Circuit Controller. So what does $100 get you? A lot, actually. Like the Fus1on, the MLG controller has a braided cord--except you can detach it from the unit for storage and travel. It also has interchangeable grips and faceplates, which are easy to snap on and off thanks to a series of magnets, and you can fine-tune the controller's heftiness via removable weights. Best of all, the D-pad and analog stick modules can be removed and placed in any configuration you'd like. Playing on PS3 but prefer the layout of a 360 controller? No problem--the MLG controller can accommodate either configuration. It's one of the most durable and versatile options out there.
Are there any other stand-out controllers that we missed? Let us know in the comments below.