KontrolFreek – Havoc FPS Freeks Review
When I first encountered a pair of FPS Freek control sticks by Kontrol Freek, I was skeptical. I didn’t really understand their utility or use, and they appeared to me to be a purely cosmetic product akin to Xbox 360 faceplates or mobile phone skins. Upon taking them out of the package and attaching them to my Xbox 360 controller, I immediately recognized a way they were going to affect how I play. They snap on to the top of the analog stick quickly and easily, adding about half an inch of height to each stick. Having spent years using arcade-style sticks for fighting games and the like, I realized what a difference these control sticks could potentially make.
I first took the FPS Freeks for a test drive with an FPS game, given that was their intended function. The game I chose was Halo: Reach, because I wanted to try them out with a game that I have many hours of experience with to see if they’d really make a noticeable difference. At first, my performance suffered. There’s a learning curve when making an adjustment to your controller, a reality I know all too well from learning to use different peripherals for different games. Using a pair of FPS Freek control sticks is no different; the increased stick height initially threw off my muscle memory and reaction timing: when I’d quickly move my thumb from the stick to a face button or to press a direction on the D-pad, the difference in spacing messed with my precision, and I sometimes hit the wrong button.
This initial learning curve lasted for about a half hour, but eventually the FPS Freeks felt pretty natural. Once I was comfortable with the new arrangement, I turned the sensitivity up a few notches to take advantage of the extra range of motion that a taller control stick creates. The elegant mechanics of it boils down to a taller stick increasing how much leverage you get for a single movement, making it easier to fine-tune your aim and take advantage of higher sensitivity without over-shooting your target. The improvement to my Halo: Reach performance was dramatic.
I also tried the control sticks with other FPS games that I own, like a few titles in the Call of Duty series. In games where you actively aim down the sights, this increased precision and range of motion is a godsend.
I could’ve stopped there, but I was curious to see if this product intended for FPS games would be useful for other genres, or if I would be taking the FPS Freeks off every time I played something other than an FPS. So, for the next game I tried Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer mode, a cover-based third-person shooter. As with the Call of Duty games, the increased precision with aim and the ability to crank my input sensitivity was enormously helpful.
Soon, I found that the benefits of the FPS Freeks extended to fighting games, such as Soul Caliber IV, Street Fighter IV, and BlazBlue. While the fighting-game fanatic in me wanted to pull out my arcade stick controller, I wanted to see if the Freeks could be a cheaper alternative for someone who wanted to improve his gameplay without having to shell out the expense of buying a full arcade stick. While I wouldn’t say they exactly compare to an arcade stick, I still found that I was quarter-circling with a lot more ease than I would be while trying to play these games with a controller’s unmodified analog sticks. Once again, the extended leverage was universally an improvement, regardless of the character or game I played.
There were some issues with the FPS Freek sticks, though. Besides the initial and inevitable learning curve, I can certainly imagine that they might almost be too tall for players with smaller hands to use comfortably, especially for long play sessions. Even with my big paws, I found trying to hold down a stick to click on a function while also moving in a direction difficult to sustain, which is a requirement in some FPS games for actions like sprinting. I actually had a very minor cramp in my hand after one game of continuously sprinting around the map. That said, I enjoyed using them so much that I actually found it hard to go back to playing without them. Trying to play the same games again without the Freeks attached meant I not only had to relearn muscle memory and rhythm but actually caused a backslide in the improvements I had made since trying them out. I quickly snapped them back on and have continued to use them since.
The pair of Freeks that I have been using for this review are from the Havoc line. They are black, with a distinctive skull logo evocative of Call of Duty and other FPS games. They look right at home attached to a black Xbox 360 controller, although, aesthetically, they stood out a little awkwardly when attached to an older white one.
For the console gamer who wants to improve their control and accuracy from a hardware perspective, you can’t go wrong with a pair of FPS Freeks. While some games might be better served by specialized (and sometimes expensive) controllers designed especially for that genre, the Freeks still offer a marked improvement for a fairly low cost and a very minor learning curve. Once you get accustomed to them, you won’t want to go back to the default.
The Havoc FPS Freeks score 4.75 out of 5
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