FPS Master Xbox Controller Review
The FPS Master controller has been designed to give Xbox gamers better control in first-person shooter games by minimizing the need to move the hand or thumb from button to button.
Xbox gamers who frequently play first person shooters have a problem. In a game such as Halo, one thumbstick is used to move your character, and the other thumbstick is used to control your view (and hence targeting). The triggers are usually configured for primary and secondary fire. That's an ideal set-up until you have to do something other than move, aim or shoot. Switching weapons or punching with the butt of your rifle typically uses one of the buttons (A, B, X and Y), but to press those buttons, you have to take your thumb off the aiming stick. In Halo, for example, the alien foe might have moved around you in the time you took to move your thumb to the "punch" button.
To give dedicated first-person shooter fans a slight edge, Radica Games (under the Gamester brand) has released the FPS Master controller for the Xbox. As you can see in the above picture, this controller has two extended handgrips, each of which has two buttons on the inside of the grip. So, while keeping thumbs on the analog thumbsticks and index fingers on triggers (inside plastic trigger guards), you can activate the controller's A, B, X and Y buttons using your middle and ring fingers. To continue the Halo example, that means you can switch weapons or throw a punch without missing a beat or moving your thumbs.
The controller is surprisingly effective in any game that primarily uses the thumbsticks and triggers, but still requires occasional use of the other buttons. The ability to flick the secondary buttons quickly with little movement gives a gamer with the FPS Master a slight (but perceptible) edge in multiplayer games. The tiny increment of time needed to move your thumb is gone, and makes you just that much faster than opponents with conventional controllers. It also makes play more comfortable in single-player games. The FPS Master works for games beyond just first-person shooters. Crimson Skies, for example, relies on heavy and constant use of the thumbsticks and triggers, but occasionally requires the controller's other buttons. Using this controller will allow you to easily pull an Immelman, brake, fire rockets and thrust away without moving your thumb.
At the same time, if a first-person shooter doesn't require the A, B, X or Y buttons, there isn't much call for the FPS Master unless you find the grip more comfortable. In a game such as MechAssault there isn't much reason to use the other buttons, so the controller doesn't yield a significant advantage. The controller specifically isn't designed for them, but (as you might expect) the FPS Master is uncomfortable for conventional platformers, fighting games or anything that relies heavily on the buttons, and doesn't require constant use of both thumbsticks.
The FPS Master itself is designed to be comfortable in the hand, with the dual gun-like grips, and is well suited for all but the largest of hands. One inconvenience is that the Xbox's white and black buttons are near the base of the right thumbstick, so you still need to move your thumb to use those. To offset that, the controller comes with a small LCD screen that can be used to create up to three configurations so that you can reassign buttons on the controller to the functional setup most comfortable for you. The three pre-set configurations can be quickly switched using buttons in the middle of the controller. Another design choice of note is that the controller only has one expansion slot, unlike the conventional controller's two. This probably isn't much of an issue for most gamers, as one slot is enough for a headset, and no game currently requires two slots to be used simultaneously.
Overall, the FPS Master controller is highly specialized, but well suited to its purpose. Gamers who think of first-person shooters and such games as a calling rather than a pastime will find that the FPS Master gives them a slight edge (especially in a multiplayer environment like Xbox Live). The controller's usefulness doesn't extend to games that reward button-mashing, but it wasn't intended to do so. For PlayStation 2 gamers who are jealous, Gamester should be releasing a similar controller for the PlayStation 2 shortly.