[Hardware Review] Splitfish FragFX Controller

Has Splitfish found the magical sweet spot between keyboard/mouse and a console controller? We take a peek to find out.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: February 19, 2008
Console gamers have long had to endure the slings and arrows of PC gamers "nyah-nyah" attitude toward a simple twin-stick controller -- especially when it comes to first-person shooters. Though the sometimes antagonistic nature of PC gamers isn't exactly warranted, they have a point: there is no better way to play first-person shooters than with a keyboard and mouse -- or at the very least the latter part of that equation. The precision allowed by a mouse not only makes for more fine-tuned aiming, but a quicker means of drawing a bead on someone.

Here's the thing, though: a controller isn't all that bad a way to do things. Can an analog stick beat a mouse in terms of precision? No, of course not, but can a keyboard even hope to duplicate the finesse that can be administered with analog control? Noope, sorry. A keyboard at least offers a near-unlimited number of shortcuts and quick keys, sure, but what if someone were to throw on a little Barry White, bust out the bubbly and introduce a keyboard/mouse to a SIXAXIS? Might they make the sweet, sweet forbidden love that must never be discussed? Or would it mean an unholy abomination not even the most compassionate of deities could accept?

Tossing all regard for the jibes and snickers that would come from both PC and console sides, German hardware manufacturer Splitfish set out to let the input device ménage a tois bear fruit, and the resulting creation, the FragFX actually manages to -- gasp -- do both parents proud. In fact, with a solid understanding of firmware updates and the patience to not only re-train your muscles, but fumble with game-specific settings, you can actually get good at games playing with the FragFX. I know it's a frightening concept.

Chalk it up to the peanut butter/chocolate combination of an analog stick and a mouse, though the FragFX's real allure is far more complex than just that. Yes, that's the functional outcome of the controller, but Splitfish, to their credit, really tried to go all out with the controller. They made the thing insanely customizable -- to the point where you can remap every single button on the controller (not to mention the four face buttons, and middle/left/right buttons on the mouse). Sensitivity can be adjusted on the fly. There's a dedicated button under the normal L1/L2 buttons for making extremely small (read: sniper-friendly) movements while flicking away on the mouse called the Frag Button. A simple toggle lets you use the controller as a normal mouse in menus. Oh, and did we mention you can actually program in SIXAXIS motions as light macros?

Yes, the FragFX rocks, and rocks hard.

But it's not all perfect. As mentioned before, tinkering with some of the deeper parts of the system requires plenty of patience and the possibility of really digging into a PC's Device Manager depending on how you have things set up. I personally had to disable one of my other input devices before the FragFX firmware update utility would properly see it. On top of that, the documentation (what little there is) and the software for programming in new inputs is all delivered with English that teeters on the edge of being frustrating (instead, it's just annoyingly cute). Again, though, these are the advanced options, and with a little poking online or using the included cheat sheet for the more popular first-person shooters out there like Call of Duty 4 and Resistance, you're more or less good to go right out of the box.

The actual build quality and some of the overall design choices are also slightly iffy. Nothing feels cheap per se, but the plastic in our review unit was a little on the squeaky side (if that makes any sense), and the cumbersome cradle for the analog controller part of the FragFX was bad enough that we ended up just holding it freely in our left hand (which makes sense as that's the only way to do the SIXAXIS functionality). The buttons for both mouse and traditional controller parts were a little on the mushy side, and the d-pad on the controller part (no, Splitfish, I will not call it the "FragChuck") was nearly as prone to accidentally registering an up or down press while trying to move left and right (or vice-versa) as the Xbox 360 d-pad.

Even still, the core parts of the controller (read: a mouse and analog stick) work very, very well indeed. Considering there's nothing remotely close to what the FragFX does for the PlayStation 3 out there, and that it absolutely works as advertised (with a bit of coaxing and prodding, mind), we're going to have to give this a definite recommendation to anyone longing for a mouse for aiming.

One other little note: we reviewed the wired version, and admittedly the wires were a little constricting at first, but apparently Splitfish is working on a wireless model too. Should we get our hands on one, we'll make sure to let you know what we think.

Verdict: Buy It!