Wednesday, February 6, 2013

[Accessory Review] Kontrol Freek's FPS Freeks

Precision is everything in first-person shooters; when even a millimeter or two can mean the difference between a headshot and impotently hitting the wall behind your target, dedicated deathmatchers need every advantage they can get. A particularly brutal night of Halo 4 made me realize that I had simply plateaued in my ability to use a stock Xbox 360 controller, so I started looking for a way to gain that extra edge without shelling out hundreds of dollars for a tournament-level controller. Amidst the snakeoil promises of products like screen targets and illegally modded controllers stood a constant recommendation: Kontrol Freek's FPS Freek line of analog stick extenders. They sure seemed like an attractive option given their sub-$20 pricetag and numerous positive reviews but the important question remained: would they actually work? The  answer is a resounding hell yes.

FPS Freeks improve the control stick in two basic ways: by adding length for an increased area of movement, and a wider/grippier rubber surface for your thumb to rest on. This allows players to use the higher sensitivity ratings on FPS games without losing the ability to make minute aiming adjustments. Best of all, they are tournament legal and work with both stock Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 controllers and can be easily applied/removed without damaging the control stick.

It took a while to get used to them but HOLY HELL did the FPS Freeks make a difference! My first test was Call of Duty: Black Ops II, and after snapping on the Freeks the aiming sensitivity that I had been using seemed like wading through molasses. Once I dialed in the correct aiming sensitivity it was like playing a whole new game, letting me tactically maneuver around hallway corners and respond to enemy ambushes like I actually knew what I was doing. It was incredible; I dominated the top of the scoreboard for three or four matches straight when I'm usually lucky to make it out of the bottom half. This win streak was promising but far from conclusive, so I fired up Halo 4 and dove into the SWAT playlist. This was the FPS game mode that I have the most experience/muscle memory with and requires surgically precise aim to compete in: the perfect test for me to judge the Freek's effectiveness. The results weren't as immediate as in Black Ops II and required more menu tweaks but the end result was the same: an unprecedented ability to survey the landscape and line up headshots. I was finally 100% in-sync with the controller I was holding. No more shoulder shots, no more terrible sniping, no more reasons to bitch my buddy's ear off. I tested out a few more games (Gears of War 3, Killzone 3, etc.) for kicks and the results held: these things actually work. They're not going to make up for poor tactics or a laggy host but they will definitely improve your ability to put the hurt on the opposing team.

Now despite all my bromantic gurglings there are a few potential drawbacks to the current design of FPS Freeks. The increased height added to the right stick can interfere with pressing face buttons until you get used to it; there were several instances where I inadvertently whipped my ingame crosshairs toward the ground while attempting to reload/jump/etc. It is also harder to click the sticks in, making actions like melee in Call of Duty much more cumbersome. These issues will eventually pass with practice but they do take an initial toll. There have also been complaints that the current design doesn't seat properly on PS3 sticks, causing the Freeks to slip off in the middle of gameplay. I was able to replicate this problem on my Dualshock but only after applying far more force than required by normal play. Hopefully Kontrol Freek can get this issue sorted out in a future revision but as long as you aren't hammering on your stick during a game it should stay secure.

There are seven different models of FPS Freeks that Kontrol Freek offers, mostly differing in aesthetics. The three basic models of FPS Freek (Classic, Ultra and Vipr) have a concave surface with twelve small nubs and differ only in color. The SNIPR model is tan and features a convex, nub-free surface embellished with a sniper's crosshairs for players that prefer a more Dualshock-like experience. The remaining three models are based on major FPS franchises: Havoc for Black Ops II, Infinity for Halo 4, and Elite for Modern Warfare 3. These full size models offer the biggest precision boost but can be clumsy when used for movement or aiming in third person shooters. This is where the Close Quarters Combat (CQC) variants come in: they have the same large, grippy surface as the standard model but are about half the height. Although they are less precise than their bigger brothers they are MUCH easier to use for movement and aiming in games like Gears of War. There are two CQC models currently available: the standard concave nub model and the CQC Signature model, which features a convex green surface embellished with Kontrol Freek's initials. I found that using a CQC for movement and a full size model for aiming was the ideal setup but you can mix and match as you see fit.

I cannot recommend the FPS Freek add-ons enough. They produce immediate, quantifiable results and after using them for a few weeks I refuse to play any shooter without them. If you are serious about improving your first-person shooter performance in an affordable way, then Kontrol Freek's FPS Freeks are a no brainer.

buy it!

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