Expensive, but worth the cash for a select few
Despite my decade-long hand-eye-thumb coordination training, first-person shooters on a dual-stick controller just donâ€™t feel right. I can take a perfect headshot while jumping off a careening Warthog, thanks to my dexterous digits, but at the end of the day itâ€™s a very unnatural skill Iâ€™ve manifested. If you were to give me a real gun and chuck me into wartime Afghanistan, Iâ€™d probably have the accuracy of a one-eyed muskrat.
But the MAG II looks like it could change all of that. It is a motion sensing controller shaped like a small rifle that allows gamers to realistically line up their shots, but also have access to standard movement controls for a wide-range of games.
Itâ€™s difficult not to compare the MAG II directly with the Sony SharpShooter Move controller, which is a similar thing in size, form, and function. Their layouts are almost identical, except the MAG II controller has a more contoured handle and a trigger which feels smoother to the touch. Itâ€™s also lighter with a better centre of gravity than the awkwardly balanced SharpShooter.
In fact the MAG II gun is surprisingly lightweight, which allows for fatigue-free gaming sessions. But, unlike the SharpShooter peripheral for PlayStation Move, it doesnâ€™t have an extendable stock which limits those with long arms holding the gun up to the shoulder for aiming. The MAG II works fine shooting from the hip, but for accuracy and realism, itâ€™s best enjoyed looking down the sights - which can grow rapidly uncomfortable.
Of course the main competitive advantage to the MAG II is that it doesnâ€™t require PlayStation Move, or any clumsy sensor bars or cameras. Instead all youâ€™ll need to do is plug-in the included Mag Cube, a small box with a USB cable and â€˜connectâ€™ button that syncs your MAG II with either your PS3 or PC.
The calibration and setup is quick and painless and, once done, works across a wide variety of games straight out of the box. We tested it with Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, Killzone 3, and House of the Dead 3. All of which had the same responsiveness and accuracy when compared to the Move Sharpshooter controller and with some practice, feels natural and improves your aiming reflexes. Of course there are limitations, such as dramatic turns will place your crosshair off the screen, but itâ€™s the same restraints weâ€™ve come to expect with motion controller aiming.
To alleviate this, a handy dial on the top of the peripheral allows players to select different pre-programmed control settings to do things like; tweak the sensitivity, enhance any auto-targeting features, or allow for split-screen gameplay. In fact, the dial has a ridiculous 13 settings with abstract (and usually hard to decipher) icons marking each one out. It even includes a Toy mode setting where pulling the trigger causes the gun to vibrate and rattle like a real rifle. Itâ€™s a strange extra but ideal for little kids or those who like to roll around the living room floor pretending theyâ€™re Bruce Willis.
The major upside to the number of settings is the MAG II can be plugged into a PC via a mini-USB port and programmed or updated specifically for games. Firmware updates and custom-game updates are available for download via the official website (www.magcontroller.com).
Despite the colourful Xbox360-esque buttons, the MAG II is compatible with only the PS3 and PC; and on hindsight this does appear to be a bit of a design flaw as many have queried whether it supports Microsoftâ€™s console. Apart from the poor choice of colour-coding however, the layout of the buttons, triggers, and analogue stick are all well placed and logical, once you rewire your brain to remember what each one does.
The MAG II takes 4 AA batteries (which are housed in a stylish ammo cartridge shell) but regular users will probably want to invest in some rechargeable ones as it is a relatively thirsty device. Despite the aforementioned USB port, the controller has no way of recharging itself - but it does have an auto-sleep function that helps preserve the battery life.
For a recommended retail price of around $190, the MAG II gun will only be for real first-person shooter enthusiasts looking for a more authentic experience. The good news is, for those willing to part with the dough, the MAG II gun does fit the bill. Itâ€™s well-built, durable and has enough future-proofing (via the updates and customisation) to ensure it gets plenty of use across current and future releases.