In Search Of The Ultimate Xbox Controller
Posted on Tuesday September 20, 2011, 15:32 by James Dyer in Infinite Lives
With Gears of War 3, Battlefield 3 and Modern Warfare 3 each vying for position as this Christmas’ obligatory time sink, the need to get a leg up on the multiplayer league tables has become rather more pressing. While the average thirteen-year-old can put in a dozen hours a day to develop pixel-perfect sniping and nanosecond reflexes, we ‘mature’ gamers (ones with, jobs, wives or iPad editions to put out) simply can’t compete. It’s with this catch-up mentality in mind and the bitter taste of a recent CoD defeat at the hands of a cackling German teenager fresh in my mouth (“I am ze master, you are ze noooobie!”) that I set out to do the only mature, responsible thing left to me. Cheat.
There are literally dozens of different controllers out there and I’ve tried them all. But extra tactical buttons (thank you Mad Catz) or adjustable thumbsticks (Razer, please stand up) have only provided the smallest of performance boosts. To take my game to the next level, I decided, would necessitate entering the murky world of controller mods. I’m not talking about the online companies that will kit out an existing controller with quick fire buttons and charge you £70 odd quid for the pleasure – that’s a sure way to get yourself kicked out of matches in a hurry. Rather, I looked for ‘bolt-on’ accessories that could turn my bog standard Xbox controller into a cybernetically-enhanced killing machine. After trawling the Net and discounting a variety of weird and not very wonderful bobbins and whatnots that promised non-slick surfaces to stop deathmatch sweats or pads to ward off RSI, I selected a winning combo of The Avenger and a pair of FPS Freeks.
The Avenger from N-Control is, as you can see from the image, the most demented-looking thing in all of creation. But however off-putting the aesthetic might be, the principle is sound. A good kill/death ratio comes from good reflexes and The Avenger aims to give you the twitch-response of a clairvoyant ninja. The plastic exoskeleton snaps snugly over the official Xbox controller (a PlayStation 3 model is also available) and, via a series of tentacle-like levers and arms, frees your thumbs from any duties other movement and aiming control. It’s fair to say that the need to reload/crouch/swap weapons is where you’re most vulnerable in the average free-for-all - that split second when you take your digits of the thumbsticks, leaving yourself ripe for a bullet to the brain. With The Avenger, a Call of Duty match sees you reload with a flick up of the left rigger finger, swap weapons with a flick up of the right and go prone by twitching the knuckle on your index finger. Added to this, The Avenger uses adjustable straps to depress each trigger one notch away from activation - effectively giving you hair triggers for both aiming and firing.
It took some getting used to but after a couple of matches the sequence of flicks, twitches and nudges soon became second nature and I was racking up kills with wild abandon. While I could just have been having a good evening, during my Black Ops marathon I consistently ranked in the top 2-3 across deathmatch, CTF and Domination (I still died on my arse in Search & Destroy but you can’t have it all) and The Avenger seemed to have a noticeable effect on both my twitch firing during sudden face-offs and my evasion of enemy fire while mid-reload. It even survived a man-height tumble to a hardwood floor with no obvious ill-effects, allaying fears that the tangle of appendages would be the first casualty in any mid-match fit of frustration.
Compared to The Avenger, FPS Freeks are positively rudimentary in design, though no less inventive for that. Available in an assortment of colours and designs, they’re basically a snap-on cap that acts as an extender for your thumbsticks. The physics behind it is that it takes a certain amount of pressure to overcome the controller’s spring, which means it can be hard to make minute adjustments without wildly overcompensating. With the Freeks in place you have more leverage to counteract said spring, leading to more precise aiming. The first thing you’ll notice with these in place is that it alters your grip on the pad as your thumbs now float an extra centimeter or so above the action, which can be a little uncomfortable at first. The second is that the extra height takes your thumb that much further from the X Y A B buttons (a problem happily neutralised by combining your Freeks with The Avenger). As to their effectiveness, I initially found the difference marginal, however once I turned up the sensitivity in-game I found myself able to cope with far higher turning speeds while maintaining the same level of control. Result! Ultimately I removed the left Freek (after all, how precise do your forward and back steps really need to be?) while leaving the right one on the aiming stick in place and found that to be the best balance between comfort and control. After an entire weekend of endless carnage I found that, along with a finely tweaked Avenger configuration, provided the optimum load-out for taking on the M16 kiddies and emerging victorious.
Should you do likewise, though? The bottom line is this: if you, like me, have limited time to plough in to your online FPS shenanigans then both The Avenger and the FPS Freek could certainly give you an edge over the competition. Is it really cheating? Well, I’ll leave that one to your personal code of honour, but the advantages over a vanilla controller setup are pretty evident. The only major drawback is that if you ever find yourself at a LAN party or playing splitscreen at a friend’s house, going back to ‘normal’ controls will probably see you playing like an arthritic gibbon and eating grenades like blueberry muffins.
Both The Avenger and the FPS Freek are made and sold in the US but if you’re in the market for either mod on this side of the pond they can be picked up from www.limexb360.co.uk
for £39.99 and £11.99 respectively. As stated earlier, The Avenger comes in both MS and Sony flavours, while the Freeks are flexible enough to handle either format.