I’m not sure about you but I haven’t had many complaints when it comes to playing first person shooters on the Xbox. Of the three major consoles I always felt that playing them on the Xbox gave me the most comfortable and enjoyable experience. The layout of the analog sticks and the general resistance always allowed for me to be precise and lethal when picking my enemies apart. Apparently Radica and its gaming division, Gamester, doesn’t see it this way and thus, has decided to unleash the FPS Master, a new Xbox controller designed to cater specifically to the FPS shooter market.
Its main selling point is that the buttons are on the handles as opposed to the face of the unit. This means that you won’t have to take your finger off of the right analog stick in order to access the A, B, X and Y buttons anymore. Radica has also replaced the back triggers with actual triggers, the kind that you would find on a firearm or an R/C car remote. To top things off, the controller can be programmed and the buttons can be mapped to your liking. One neat feature of this is that you can invert the analog sticks on the controller independently from the game. This means that if you’re playing a third person shooter that requires you to use inverted controls you can simply program the unit to go to inverted mode to cancel it out, leaving you with standard controls.
Some of the largest problems of third-party controllers are the construct of the device and the resistance of the triggers. Most times the buttons feel mushy, as if someone had spilled some Coke in them the day before and allowed it to dry before shipping it. This simply is not the case with the FPS Master. Every button, and most importantly the back triggers, exude a proper amount of resistance and successfully avoid that sluggish feeling. Another neat aspect of the device is the trigger wells on the back of the controller. It’s like an actual firearm in that it’s an entire enclosure, because there’s a restriction on the other side of the triggers it makes it easier for you to wail on them faster. It also provides the latent function of keeping your fingers on the triggers so that they don’t slip off.
There are a few aspects of the device that I didn’t like and it begins with the analog sticks. It’s not the actual tension of the sticks itself, there’s enough resistance here to provide accuracy in even the most frantic shooter; it’s the suppression of the sticks themselves. They simply don’t suppress deep enough and it causes the sticks to become very loose and difficult to handle. In games like HALO where the left analog stick must be suppressed in order to crouch, this becomes a huge pain. It’s difficult to crouch and aim and move at the same time. Another fault of the controller is the positioning of the D-pad. It’s basically impossible to access it comfortably, causing you to reposition your hands into awkward positions. This isn’t a huge factor in most shooters but games like Brute Force, which use the D-pad to order commands, become insanely tedious.
It seems like this problem could have been resolved had the D-pad been centered more on the unit instead of being placed on the left handle. Radica opted to put in an LCD screen in the middle of the d-pad which is pretty nifty for techno geeks but really cripples the unit’s design. It’s kind of like the Xbox jewel that was in the middle of the original Xbox controller, it looks nice from an aesthetic standpoint but it really hinders the unit’s functionality. Instead of having a functional D-pad we have a nifty LCD screen, pick your poison I guess.
The way you hold the controller is you wrap both of your hands around the grips. Your index fingers rest on the triggers while the middle and ring fingers rest in the A, B, X, Y buttons. One huge problem with the buttons is that it’s too easily to accidentally press the finger buttons. Because you’re placing so much pressure on the unit to stabilize it in your hands your fingers may have a tendency to accidentally grip the base a little too tightly and trigger one of the buttons. Another problem is that it requires the use of the middle and ring fingers to stabilize the unit. Games that require heavy use of the face buttons become difficult because you’re forced to rely on your index fingers to stabilize the unit. This caused us to accidentally activate the shoulder triggers on more than a few occasions.
In the final part of the controller’s design the vibration function is just as prevalent here as it is on the actual Xbox controller. The FPS Master gives a satisfying rumble and kick whenever a weapon is fired or a hit is taken. The motors are powerful and will give you a sense of satisfaction after you’ve just mowed down an entire army of baddies with your machine gun. Likewise the controller thumps and vibrates just as strongly in non-shooters like World Series Baseball 2K3.
Just how functional is it? Was it really necessary to provide instant access to each of the four face buttons? Well not really, unless you’re a huge fan of Red Faction 2, which requires you to use the face buttons to scroll through your weapons, you probably don’t utilize the A, B, X and Y buttons on a consistent basis. Playing in a variety of shooters I found that the sticks were smooth enough to provide for precise aiming. Sniping in Time Splitters 2 was very easy thanks to the amount of resistance providing by both of the analog sticks. Initially I thought that the parallel placement of the analog sticks would be cumbersome to me but the long handles on the controller gives me a stable enough base to aim precisely with the right analog stick. I had a difficult time becoming accustomed to the odd placement of the buttons, having to look down at the controller from time-to-time in order to press the correct button. After playing for a few hours or so I had the buttons memorized and pressing them was a matter of instinctual reaction as opposed to thought. If you don’t like the way the buttons are mapped out you can configure them to your liking, storing up to three different profiles on the controller.
Strangely enough the controller is pretty functional as a substitute for your casual Xbox controller as well. It wasn’t too difficult to play games like Midtown Madness 3 or Otogi, both of which don’t rely too much on the face buttons. However, games that rely on the face button were just too difficult to play, especially games that Tony Hawk-like. The placement simply is too difficult to use in twitch-based games so if you’re planning on buying this controller to play Tony Hawk’s Underground I’d suggest you think twice about your purchase.
The ironic thing is that the FPS Master’s selling point is the very aspect that serves as its downfall. It places a heavy emphasis on easy and comfortable access to the face buttons without relinquishing control of the right analog stick, but the questionable construct of the device makes it difficult to use at times. Games that require heavy use of the face buttons become impossible to play because the device is simply too difficult to hold and stabilize for long periods of time. As a purely first person shooter controller, however, the device functions just fine and will most likely serve the needs of all you HALO freaks out there. Pick it up if you’re trying to add a new spin to your shooters, but if you’re looking for a substitute to your Xbox S it’s in your best interest to keep looking.
Itâ€™s pretty functional as a FPS controller but the placement of the face buttons makes the controller a bit difficult to stabilize. Not the best 3rd party controller on the market but itâ€™s still worth checking out if youâ€™re looking to get more out of your first person shooters.
Rating: 7.8 Above Average
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.
It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.
It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.
When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."
As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.
When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.
Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile