ZALMAN IS KNOWN for doing things that initially seem a bit odd but are quite cool and useful. When they come out with the FPSGun mouse/gaming device, we had to try it to see about the cool and useful part.
The short story is the FPSGun is highly user and game dependent. Some people will love it, some will hate it, and some, like me, fall in the middle. One thing you can say is that it really is different, sometimes cool and useful, sometimes not. In the end, it defies a clear thumbs up/down on performance, but on looks, it is right up there with the best.
Zalman FPSGun from the back
The FPSGun itself is a mouse made for FPS gaming, and it actually does that quite well. The raw specs on it are exactly what a hardcore gamer likes to see, 2000DPI tracking, 1000Hz polling rate, and light enough to fling about with the tips of your fingers. It has ive buttons, a scroll wheel, and three adjustable DPI settings.
DPI settings screen
The software suite that comes with it allows for a fair bit of customization on the tracking front, you can configure the three DPI settings separately, change the polling rate, and in a nice touch, adjust the X and Y axis separately. There are also 5 profiles you can set individually should you feel the need. Customization also includes scroll speed, pointer speeds, and the usual clicking and wiggling options.
On the up side, they didn't miss much in terms of the breadth of settings, most of the movements can be set from way to slow to way to fast. There is usually enough to keep baby, mama and papa bear happy.
There are two downsides, one is minor, the other a little limiting. The minor problem is that the on-the-fly DPI settings are indicated by lighting up the scroll wheel. Purple is low, blue for medium, and red for high. Nowhere is it listed what color is what setting, but since the DPI settings do not overlap, it doesn't take much to figure it out. Once you do, the colors are really nice, they allow you to figure out where you are with a glance. A little more overlap on the settings would be nice too, but far from necessary.
More problematic are the choices for button actions. There are five buttons, and six choices for actions, plus the obvious 'do nothing'. They are click left and right, double click, forward, backward and scroll. The problem is that there is no way to bind anything else to the buttons, making the last two fairly useless in gaming. Keybinding really should have been included here.
The front of the gun
When you first grab the FPSGun, it feels odd, not bad, but odd. The buttons have a fairly light touch, and fall under the right finger, and the scroll wheel sits at an easy height for my thumb. People I gave the FPSGun to with smaller hands reported it fit better, large hands had a little more difficulty, but it was still usable.
If you like holding the mouse with your entire hand and flailing away, you can grip the FPSGun in a way that allows for that, but I found holding it with a light touch and twitching with it was the best way. While it may look clunky, it is pretty light and flingable, and the slender cable rarely gets in the way.
The killer function to the FPSGun is the X axis movement. With a normal mouse, it tracks where you are going, left for left, up for up etc etc. The FPS gun does up and down like it should, but the X axis is not straight, it is an arc. To move right, you don't move the gun right, you bend your wrist to the right.
In an FPS, this lets you fling your character around very quickly and precisely. Up and down are used to a much lesser degree in these games, so the normal action there is just fine. The name FPSGun is more than just a marketing phrase, the mouse is designed for them.
Tracking is pretty good, the red LED seems to catch many surfaces, but will have trouble on more surfaces than an IR laser mouse. It is a bit worse than a Logitech G5, but far better than a generic red laser mouse. Most of the surfaces that the FPSGun wouldn't see were also problematic for the G5, but it would track a bit. It could be better, but is decent enough for most uses.
That said, how does it work? Depends on the game and the person playing. Really. When first started testing, we played Portal, and it just rocked. With just a little fiddling around on the DPI settings, we were able to fling the character around and place portals precisely. It worked really well.
From there, we went of to Crysis, and the usual testing spot we use in Paradise Lost. At first we had some trouble aiming, we tended to chronically aim lower than we were used to. After a few minutes, hand caught up with eyes and mind, and it worked out. Unlike Portal, it didn't seem clearly better than the G5 we normally use, but it was still quite playable, no problems to report.
The FPSGun is not meant to be a mouse replacement, more of a joypad-like accessory, and it does that well. On the desktop, it isn't very natural feeling, and you tend to get caught between having a high DPI and the twitchiness problems that causes, and the constant scrolling of low DPI. The arcing X-axis that makes FPSing so nice bites back a little when your wrist is fully twisted.
This is why the performance in Fallout 3 was a little less than impressive, mainly due to the non-game parts. The FPSGun did nicely in the in-game navigation portions, all you needed to do was up the vertical movement speed. When you got into the menu or the VATS system however, the desktop limits were once again apparent. In most action FPSes, this type of inventory work is limited, but in first person RPGs, the FPSGun gets a bit tiring.
In games that require a lot of movement and selection like RTSs or puzzle games, don't even try them with the FPSGun. Warhammer 40K and Puzzle Quest were functional, but the precision quirks made mousing a minor impediment to playing. The last thing you want in a game is a controller that makes you pay attention to it instead of the game. A controller should be your partner, not your adversary, or at least not a friend leaning over your shoulder making distracting comments.
In the end, the FPSGun was really quite nice in games that require heavy left/right movement with the up and down motions taken over by the keyboard. The more menus and precision clicking you needed to do, the less of a benefit the FPSGun was. This is the long way of saying take the FPS in the name seriously, and it will likely be a good thing to have on your side.
The learning curve may seem pretty high, but once you get in front of it, the action seems very natural. Most of the needed fiddling is the same for any new gaming device, setting the DPI and movement speeds for the game you are playing. From there, if you are playing the right class of game, it just works.
We had two friends play with the FPSGun, one a gamer, the other not. The gamer came away with the same general impression that I did, low learning curve and very game dependent functionality. He is a big WoW player, and it worked adequately for that on the lower resolution laptop screen he usually plays on. Other games were once again hit and miss, the more FPS-like, the better.
The non-gamer only played one game, Portal, and the FPSGun was not an impediment at all to her playing. Her only comments were that it required a different set of muscles than she normally used with a mouse. Since she has some wrist problems, this is a big plus for her, at least it felt that way for the 30 or so minutes she was using it. The learning curve for a n00b was also pretty low.
All this said, the $69.99 question is, is the FPSGun worth it? Yes, no and maybe, but we would definitely not tell you rush out and buy one without trying it. For some games it is great, others it is a slight impediment, and to top it off, that line is fairly user dependent. If you can try it at a store or a show, it is worth taking the time to play with, especially if you can use it with a game you like.
For us, it is a keeper, but it will likely sit only be plugged in when FPSing. Then again, that is the point, is it not? If I had to put a number on it, I would rate it between 4 and 8 beers out of 10, depending on the game, the player, and the phase of the moon. If they ever update the keybinding, add one to that. Try it, you just might like it, or read more on their site here. µ