[Hardware Review] Splitfish FragFX Controller v.2

Splitfish improves on a good thing, but have they done enough?
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: April 12, 2009
A while back, we reviewed Splitfish's first attempt at merging a traditional controller and the classic keyboard and mouse setup and came away surprisingly impressed. Though it was hardly perfect, the configuration options and general concept were more than passable for a first attempt -- especially because nobody else was even trying to replicate the host of features on display with the FragFX.

That was over a year ago, though, and in that time... well, not a lot has happened. There were rumors that Splitfish was going wireless (something we would have loved, but it never really materialized in any form we've come across), but other than that, there's really been nothing in the way of competition. Perhaps that's why the new version of the FragFX (dubbed, fittingly, "v.2" -- and note the interesting placement of that decimal point) isn't really so much a full-blown successor to the first version but more of a tweaked iteration.

Oh, but there have been improvements, and some of them are significant indeed. The biggest is probably that the nunchuck-like wand -- containing motion sensing functions, three "shoulder" buttons (the usual L1/L2, plus the addition of the Frag Button, which instantly reduces the tracking speed of your view for sniping shots -- an insanely awesome and borderline unfair option), a d-pad, analog stick, start, select and all-important mode buttons -- is now blessedly unbolted from the actual mouse pad -- or at least there's no weird plastic cradle for it attached to the pad. It now exists as a separate and mostly unattached (save for the usual cords) option for you.

That mouse pad is now much larger, and the felt-like surface feels higher-quality than the original pad. Without the stupid plastic cradle for the wand, you're free to use the entire pad without it hitting your hand, and lefties can attempt to swap things if they want to take a stab at feeling even more retarded than usual (stupid right-hander's world...), but it almost instantly makes using the mouse feel more natural and gives a far wider range of motion. The documentation included is also much more intelligible and the unit ships with the latest firmware (at least as of this review), so no need to brave the German manufacturer's quaintly Engrish-filled app to update things.

Most of the actual equipment itself, however, feels more or less identical; the d-pad is still rather scrawny, and the shoulder buttons -- particularly L2, which hangs off with an exposed edge that could very easily be hooked and ripped off -- feel loose and wiggly. The analog stick is nicely springy, though, and the rest of the face buttons do their job with no real issues. The mouse's buttons are still spongy -- there may be an analog response need for this, but it's honestly more off-putting than anything else. We wouldn't have minded the replicated face buttons of the DualShock sitting on the side of the mouse to stay the same, but a non-clicky mouse just feels... cheap.

Luckily, the best and most impressive part of the FragFX is still intact: the macro recording functions. As mentioned before, with just a few button presses, any action or combination of actions can be mapped to all but the Select, Start and Mode buttons on the wand -- or, and this is important, to a motion. This turns repetitive or complex sequences into something incredibly simple (going through a loadout screen, for instance). When coupled with things like the on-the-fly sensitivity knob and the Frag Button, the FragFX suddenly becomes dangerously effective.

But not without lots of practice. It's not unfair to say that the bulk of the FragFX's feature set will be alien to newcomers until they've spent more than a few hours re-adjusting to the feel of everything, the feature set, and each game's individual quirks. Because the PS3 and its games see the controller as, well, a controller, there's always a bit of per-game fine tuning that has to be done. It doesn't take long to get everything set up, but finding the sweet spot for each person between the in-game sensitivity and the FragFX's built-in options is part of the process. For some, it could be viewed as a major impediment. Even if everything clicks early on, playing a game with PC-like motions that translate to controller inputs is a daunting task. It's probably a good thing, too; once you get good with the precision that the FragFX affords, you will see your stats improve. It's simply the nature of what the controller offers.

And so, we find ourselves in much the same place we were with the original release. Is the controller better? Yep, absolutely. Will it make you a better player (or at least improve stats)? Again, absolutely. Is it an instant kind of change? Oh heyall naw. This is a controller that must be learned to be properly used. It can offer some basic advantages, but in the end you still have to have a decent-sized coffee table setup, have to take the time to learn how each game plays with it, and go from there. Luckily, once it's done, games like Killzone 2 (especially after the new patch), Unreal Tournament III, Call of Duty: World at War and Resistance 2 become innately more PC-like.

That, for some, may not be what they're going for, and the fairness of having so much power in one's hands is debatable, but one thing is not: this controller is a radical shift in how console games can be played. And yes, it still rocks hard. We're just hoping that the next version is both wireless and feels more solidly-built. If they can do that, it'll be an instant recommendation for just about any FPS player -- and maybe other types too.

The Verdict: Buy It!