[Hardware Review] KontrolFreek FPSFreek and SpeedFreak Controller Adaptors

Four little bits of plastic will change the way you play games forever... if you can learn to love them, that is.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: October 25, 2009
The PlayStation 3's official controllers have been the source of an unusual amount of frustration on the past of some gamers. The advent of the Xbox 360's controller with its asymmetrical analog stick layout and the popularity of first-person shooters like Halo and Call of Duty have popularized some of the unique design features that Microsoft cooked up with its latest controller.

When the SIXAXIS controller debuted with the PS3's launch, it was remarkably similar to the DualShocks that have come before it -- meaning the convex analog sticks and symmetrical layout were all but unchanged. There was an addition, however, in the form of new L2/R2 triggers rather than buttons and their convex shape, like the analog sticks was the first of more than a few complaints. For years, Sony had enjoyed the de-facto controller configuration and now there were other options -- options, some would say that were better than the vanilla offering.

To help soothe the frustrations of PlayStation gamers, a number of simple clip-on accessories have been whipped up; the first of them being trigger add-ons that turn things concaved and give the controller a lip, but the latest from KontrolFreek actually do more than just give the analog sticks a concave surface. In the case of their driving aids, they actually change the nature of how the sticks are used entirely.

Both add-ons, SpeedFreek for racing games and FPSFreek for... well, I'm sure you can figure that one out, are simple, non-permanent additions that clip securely to the DualShock 3 or SIXAXIS' analog sticks. Though they come in near-identical cases, the functionality is rather wildly different, though they both serve to augment things well beyond just being a simple little cap.

FPSFreek is arguably the most controversial of the two, as it actually adds quite a bit of height to the sticks, requiring that your thumbs rest well above their normal placement. KontrolFreek's reasoning is that the increased height adds precision to finer movements as you have the appearance of more travel range, and when combined with the convex tops (complete with little dots around the outer and inner circle of the "cup"), they're mean to make things like sniping or making more minute adjustments easier.

SpeedFreek, on the other hand, is a rather marked departure to how you're meant to even use the analog sticks. Essentially a pair of U-shaped scoops, they clip onto the left and right sticks in a L/R and U/D configuration, respectively. The idea, then, is to sort of roll your thumb and use the sides to make very precise slides to from the inside to the outer boundaries of the sticks' normal travel. Restricted to simple analog movements, the add-ons aim to actually improve your ability to make the kind of small changes to steering that you'd normally only get out of a wheel -- that or a ton of practice at barely moving the analog stick.

[Build Quality]
Both sets of caps come in simple, unassuming little plastic snap cases with paper inserts where the clip-on part of the controller grabs the paper. It's a no-nonsense approach to delivering what are really just a pair of rubberized add-ons, but the minimalistic graphic design on the paper sleeves really does make it seem well thought-out.

The construction of the caps themselves are nice and solid -- as solid as they can be for bits of plastic with some rubber on top (in the case of the FPSFreek caps). It'll take a bit of work to get the FPSFreek ones to clamp on and stay that way, but once they've properly gripped the underside of the analog stick, they're on they're -- to the point where removing them is a bit tough. Still, better that than having them fly off in the middle of a heated match (which can happen if they're not securely fastened in the first place, so proper installation is key). SpeedFreak's clips actually ride flush with the rim of the analog sticks, so the grippy, textured part of the tops of the analogs pokes through, good for maintaining grip as the U-shapes are glossy and meant to let your thumb slide a little.

Both add-ons are made of solid plastic, though the SpeedFreek ones can actually bend in the middle if you squeeze either end. This didn't cause any issues with the plastic's integrity, but I only added and removed them three or four times, and it could end up causing them to bend or snap over time. Of course, these are meant to be more or less permanent additions (provided you dig them, of course), so taking them on/off is supposed to be kept to a minimum.

Here's the real question, though: do they actually help the games they're made for. Surprisingly? Yes, and to a fairly impressive degree. After about five or six hours of playing with the things on with games like Gran Turismo 5 Prologue, Borderlands, DiRT 2, the MAG beta, MotorStorm: Arctic Edge on the PS2 (via backwards compatibility), Call of Duty: World at War and WipEout HD, it became obvious that the add-ons were uniquely suited to those types of games, and they became standard on my back-up controllers.

Both required a few hours of proper, uninterrupted conditioning before they started to feel normal, but once I'd gotten used to them, I noticed that precision aiming and steering -- particularly in games with smoother framerates like COD and GT5 Prologue -- offered the best payoff. I won't make any attests to it helping my frag count or lap times (mainly because I was rather rusty in most of the competitive modes in the above-mentioned games), but they do let you be more precise with less effort than the standard controller set-up, and have now effectively turned my non-all-purpose controllers into role-specific ones, which is about the best possible praise I could heap on them.

[Final Thoughts]
The specific nature of both of KontrolFreek's controller mods means they can be a little cumbersome in games that aren't suited to their particular benefits, so I'm not entirely sure they'll be as ubiquitous as, say, a trigger mod (for the record, I was against them and had no issues with the controller as it was), but their move from out-of-the-blue arrival in the TPS offices to supplemental controller configurations -- and go-to ones at that -- speaks highly of their ability to, yes, make you better at the games they're designed for.

At just $10 a pop and available at major online retailers like Amazon, they're a very, very cheap way to at least dabble in augmented controller setups. I personally saw a difference -- one that was pronounced enough to make them a mainstay on first-person shooters and racers. They may not have a permanent home on my workhorse controllers, but they definitely fill a void I didn't even know existed before they arrived.

Verdict: Buy 'Em!