SplitFish SplitFest; Dual SFX Evolution hands-on and FragFX v2 review
We’re big fans of the classic Sony DualShock design here at Attitude Towers, so whenever we are presented with the opportunity to use optional third-party hardware to control our games, our eye is often super-critical.
So what did we think when we tried out the most unusual controllers yet devised for the PS3; the SplitFish Dual SFX Evolution and the FragFX v2? And do they make you better at online gaming?
This write up is in two parts. We had some hands-on time with the SFX at GamesCom but we have been able to spend a lot more time on the FragFX. Whilst the latter is an older controller and will not be new to a lot of you, we still felt it warranted a complete review, especially with our love for games like Killzone 2 and the impending release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.
After all, if a device exists that can give you a competitive advantage in the latest AAA FPS, why wouldn’t you use it instead of the trusty DualShock 3 or SixAxis?
Dual SFX Evolution
The SFX is a wireless two-part controller that has independent motion controls in either handset. On your left hand you have an analogue stick and a D-Pad. On the right hand you have the second stick and all the PlayStation buttons. Both sticks also feature the relevant L and R triggers.
Button layout is important for any controller, and whilst the PlayStation buttons are not laid out in the usual style, they are quick and easy to access – although you will need to go through a short learning curve in order to remember where they each sit.
Overall, the feel of the device is good. The unit is very light but doesn’t feel cheap. The location of the D-Pad on this device is perfect as you can slip your thumb straight off the analogue stick in your left hand and land directly on it.
As with the FragFX that came before it, you are able to download software that manages the mapping of every button on the device, as well as the programming of macros that can be triggered with a single button press. The only problem with this approach is only one button mapping is stored in the device, which means that every time you want to play a different game, you need to swap the configuration on your PC before you play on the PS3.
Playing with the SFX is an interesting experience. It takes a while to get used to it, but once you do it doesn’t feel that much better than using the standard controller. It doesn’t feel any worse either. So where is the benefit?
What you do gain is free movement of both your hands, so you can position them wherever it feels comfortable for you. In addition, the opportunity to program the separate motion controls on each side offers a great deal of customisation, allowing you to play games in ways the developers probably didn’t imagine. For example, how about moving your arms to control the boxer in Fight Night 4 instead of using the sticks or button controls.
We couldn’t spend much time with the SFX, but what we did see was quite impressive. However, the learning curve does mean that you really need to think hard about whether you can live with such an alien design, but the extras such as programmable button/motion mapping and macro activation might help you become a better gamer, or just have more fun playing.
The FragFx is also a split device, but instead of two similar controllers, the right side is an optical mouse. It is also a wired device as opposed to the SFX, which is completely wireless. The PlayStation buttons are located on the left side of the mouse, with the mouse buttons acting as your R triggers.
Specifically designed to give you a competitive edge in shooting games, such as first and third person titles, we focused on only those genres when testing the device. Whilst we’re sure you can use the FragFX competently within any game, it really comes into play when you staring down the barrel of your favourite golden gun.
Inside the FragFX box you get the controller and a very good quality mouse mat. The mat is not flexible, which means it can be used whilst perched on your leg if you are unable to have a table in front of you whilst gaming, although we would recommend you set yourself up with a flat surface to place the mat on before starting.
The left controller has a similar setup to the SFX except that it has a slightly different form factor and the D-Pad is located to the bottom-left of the stick instead of the top-left.
Unfortunately, this is the area where the FragFx falls down in comparison to the SFX. When playing FPS games that make use of the D-Pad for choosing abilities or switching weapons, it is awkward and uncomfortable to pull your thumb down and left to choose your D-pad options.
This was particularly true in Killzone 2 as we found it very difficult to enable secondary abilities without considerable delay and a good amount of discomfort.
The design of the left controller also doesn’t suit this particular reviewer’s hands like the SFX did. Because the left controller is thinner but still as deep, it just doesn’t sit with comfort like the wider, more ergonomic SFX.
However, once you do get the unit into a position where you can access all the buttons, it works just as well as the SFX. Before taking our review unit away to try out, we had the opportunity of seeing one of the world’s best CoD players, Dennis ‘zDD’ Dozier, show us a few setup tricks with the FragFX. One of these is the use of the motion control in the left hand to melee your opponent. We set this up in CoD4 for ourselves to try it out, and it is a revelation.
Just sweep your left hand in the air, and your knife does all the hard work for you. It is much quicker and more intuitive than pressing the relevant button for that action, and with the button and controller customisation software to hand, you can set these kinds of motion controls up for any game.
The mouse is well built and feels like a quality device. The movement of the mouse replaces the right analogue stick, so aiming your crosshairs is just a matter of sweeping the mouse into place, something PC gamers will be very used to.
Using the mouse instead of the analogue stick doesn’t really take any time to get used to, since it works exactly as you would expect it to. The accuracy of this approach, however, depends on which game you are playing and how you have set up the controls in that game too.
For example, in CoD4 the developers gave you the opportunity to turn the control sensitivity up to ’10’ which, by their own description, is ‘Insane’. And true enough, if you use level 10 on a standard controller, you will initially find it difficult to keep up with the sheer speed with which you can turn and change viewpoint.
However, level 10 using a FragFx is completely necessary and totally controllable. The speed with which you can turn to check your corners, or spin around to take out someone coming at you from your ‘six’ is impressive and completely without issue when using a mouse.
Killzone 2, on the other hand, doesn’t offer a high enough sensitivity setting to make movement with the FragFX a simple affair and you have to resort to tweaking and programming the device on a PC first in order to set it up to make it useful in that particular game. If you don’t alter the settings for KZ2, be ready to keep ‘lifting and sweeping’ the mouse to create enough extra desk space to turn 180 degrees.
The customisation software itself is an easy application to use and it takes no time to get the device up and running with your personal configuration. We tried another of zDD Dozier’s favourite tricks as a test, and it works a treat. Enabling the rapid fire option, when you run out of ammo in CoD4 you can switch to your pistol and use it as a fully automatic gun to take out anyone close, before flipping back to your main weapon to reload. Much quicker and more effective than getting shot whilst you change clips.
The only recurring issue we had with the FragFx was the design of the left controller which will suit many of you, but not this reviewer. If the D-Pad was in the top-left instead of the bottom-left of the device that would alleviate a lot of the issues, but we found that prolonged gaming sessions were just not possible thanks to the ‘rigor mortis’ we were experiencing in one hand.
If SplitFish were able to offer a fully wireless FragFx that mimics the design of the SFX, it would solve that issue.
And thankfully, they have done exactly that with the forthcoming Dual SFX Frag Pro – a device that combines the best of the SFX left controller with the Mouse in the FragFx v2. They have made it completely wireless and placed the D-Pad in exactly the right place. The device isn’t available right now, but we’ll be amongst the first to let you know when it is due to hit the streets.
Other than that small issue, and the fact that some games may have to offer higher sensitivity in their control options to make it really useful across the entire platform, the FragFx does make you better at online gaming with the right setup. And that setting up process is simple to manage, even if it does mean a trip to the PC each time you switch games.
In all, we’ve enjoyed our time using the FragFX so far, and intend to keep on testing and tweaking to get the very best out of it across as many shooters as possible. And with the Dual SFX Frag Pro coming soon, now might be a great time to get your hands on a FragFX v2 if you’re feeling the pinch – prices are certain to be keen with a new device on the way.
The SFX and FragFX both offer something you can’t get from the standard controller, so why not go give them a try to see if you can live with the way they feel, as the customisation and separate controls do offer a good amount of benefits to anyone who likes their multiplayer gaming.