Reviews

MadCatz Ghost Recon: Future Soldier Pro Gamepad Controller – Review

Tech Specs:

Cable Length: 13ft / 4m

Xbox LIVE Communication Port: Yes

Audio Input Type: Optical

Speaker Diameter: 40mm

Frequency Response: 25Hz–22kHz

THD: -97dB

SNR: 106 dB/V

Magnet Type: Neodymium

USB Powered: Yes

Thanks to MadCatz for providing this controller for review

I’m always wary about third-party controllers entering the market. As an avid Xbox gamer, I can’t help but feel that Microsoft successfully designed a near perfect controller for the 360. It fits snuggly into the hand, has responsive and well tensioned triggers and sticks, and generally just feels nice to use. The result is that with every third-party controller I’ve ever used, I’ve always ended up going back to the regular Xbox controller. So, is MadCatz new officially licensed Ghost Recon controller the one to change my mind? Will it make me abandon Microsoft’s controller? Nope.

But let’s start with the basics: this is a bloody good-looking piece of kit, isn’t it? The Ghost Recon artwork stamped across it just looks great and it has a nice smooth finish to it as well, giving the whole thing a subtle beauty, which is fine by me as I’m not a fan of in-your-face stuff. Having said that, the control does feature one in-your-face design choice: backlit analogue sticks. Plug the controller in and lights underneath the plastic at the base of the analogue sticks will flash into life, giving off a faintly blue light, which is described as “immersive” by MadCatz. On a purely aesthetical basis, they do look rather cool, even I have to admit, but on a gaming basis they’re a little bit irritating. Quite often I’ll play with the lights out to better highlight the on-screen action, so every time I moved one of the analogue sticks, and let’s face it, that’s quite a lot, I’d get a flash of light at the bottom of my eyes. You’ll quickly adjust to this and it’s not that annoying. It’s even worse when you’re wearing the MadCatz Ghost Recon 7.1 Dolby Headset (also in for review from MadCatz, so watch this pace)) which also lights up. You look like a freaking christmas tree, albeit one that can talk. Or at least grunt.

Whacked on the sides of the controller are two “pistol grips”, which essentially just means two textured pieces of rubber, for a little bit of extra grip during those late night session. Out of everything on this controller, this is without a doubt my favorite feature: they feel nice on the hands and combat that irritating sweaty-palm syndrome that can affect even the strongest of us. And so I hereby proclaim that all controllers from now on should feature “pistol grips”. Get working on that, Microsoft.

Front the front the Ghost Recon controller looks like it mirrors the regular 360 controller in most ways, and in terms of button layouts this is true, but from an ergonomical standpoint it differs somewhat. The very first thing I did when I unpacked the MadCatz controller was slip it into my hands, because ultimately what matters most to me is that it feels good to hold, and while the regular controller still stands on top in this category, the Ghost Recon controller sat in my hands pretty comfortably with my fingers resting exactly where they needed to be.

Where the controllers ergonomics and design fail is in the placement of the two extra combat buttons that adorn the back. On paper these two buttons are a cool idea: using two sliders, also on the back, they can have functions from different buttons on the controller assigned to them, such as X or one of the D-Pad directions, in theory giving you an edge over the competition by lessening the times you need to take your fingers off of the analogue sticks. See what I mean, cool idea, isn’t? However, in practice the buttons are placed too far up the back of the controller to reach naturally. My fingers don’t rest naturally on the buttons when I hold the controller, with them needing to be slightly lower down and more toward the centre to fall under my fingers. This meant that to actually use them I had to adjust my playing style considerably, which in turn compromised my use of other buttons making the whole thing a bit pointless.

But the big question is, of course, how did the controller perform out in the field? During the testing of this controller it was, of course, used to play through the entire Ghost Recon: Future Soldier campaign and a considerable amount of multiplayer, as well as other shooters and styles of games, such as Trials Evolution, F1 2011 and more. It was in the shooters where the controller performed, but outside of that it struggled. So let me break this down.

The controller features quick-fire triggers to try to give you an edge over your opponents out on the battlefield. What this means is that there’s less movement required when pulling the trigger to actually fire off a round in comparison to the regular controller. In conjunction the Ghost Recon controller’s triggers also have less tension in them, giving them a much looser feel, meaning they’re even easier to pull all the way in. Whether any of this actually does give you an advantage over others is hard to say. Certainly the triggers feel nice and responsive, especially when you panic fire because someone just ran around the corner into your face, but really the advantage that it gives you is so small that you’ll likely never notice it unless you’re a professional tournament player. Likewise the analogue sticks gave a swift response when turning, and when combined with the PrecisionAIM tech, which slows down aiming and movement when aiming down the sights or sneaking, it produces a nice feel, although the sticks do have a slight deadspot, so it can feel like you’re going from no movement to lots of movement in an instant.

However, outside of Ghost Recon and shooters in general this trigger and analogue stick setup proved to be a bit of a problem, with a prime example coming whilst playing F1 2011. Now, the reason I chose to use the controller with F1 2011 is simple: it’s a game that requires a good degree of precision from a controller. Throttle, brakes and steering all require pinpoint precision and feel to get the best times around the track, and as someone who loves the game, I feel that I know when things are letting me down a little. The more sensitive and loose triggers were the first. Without the nice level of tension that the standard Xbox controller has on the triggers, controlling both my throttle and brakes precisely was tricky. It often felt like I was going from no throttle to lots of throttle, making it hard to nail those quick lap times, and when I did have throttle it didn’t feel like there was much of room to play with on how much I was getting, it was either very little or loads. The same problem with braking: getting a nice and controller level of braking was a bit awkward. The analogue sticks were also a problem, again with both the deadspot and the increased sensitivity I found myself oversteering and understeering like mad, unable to get the same smooth line that I could from my normal controller. Perhaps I simply need to spend more time on the game with the controller to adjust, learn exactly where the biting point on the triggers is, but it just didn’t offer the same degree of precision and control that I’ve come to expect

The same problem cropped up on Trials Evolution, another game that demands precision if you want the best times. While it by no means made it impossible to complete levels or anything, my performance definitely felt off with the Ghost Recon controller. I also noticed that sometimes when I let off the throttle trigger, it would take a split second for it to actually register in the game.

In terms of the other buttons and stuff on the controller, the right bumper button on my controller has an irritatingly loud click to it that gives it a sort of cheap feel. However, keep in mind that this little problem may just be on my controller that MadCatz sent over. The face buttons use a flat top rather than the rounded that the standard Xbox controllers feature and they  all feel nice to the touch and to use. What more can really be said about them: they function exactly as you’d expect and do the job well. When it comes to the D-Pad the quality drops a bit again, offering up a D-Pad that feels cheap and clumsy. It feels much cheaper than what we see on the Microsoft controllers and, to me, feels worse to use.

It’s also important to know, boys and girls, that this controller only comes wired, so you wireless addicts out there may want to look elsewhere. Obviously having a cord does mean that there’s no input lag and that you won’t be running out of batteries at horrible times, but it does mean you’re going to have one more tripping hazard in your home. Happily you do get a 13ft long braided cable for it, so if you do trip over it then the only thing you’re going to break is your skull rather than the wire. Hoorah for braided cables!

Finally, the vibration (steady on, ladies) power that the Ghost Recon controller gives out is suprisingly weak.

The Good:
+ Looks purdy!
+ Works pretty well with shooters.
+ Pistol grips!

The Bad:
– Doesn’t work well outside of shooters.
– Extra buttons were designed for a monkey or something.
– Tripping over the cable.

The Verdict:  5.5
MadCatz have crafted an okay controller that performed well with Ghost Recon and other shooters, but didn’t really deliver outside of that genre. In short, if you’re dedicated to playing Ghost Recon online, and don’t mind paying a little extra, then this controll should serve your needs well. But if you just want an everyday controller, then look elsewhere, because while it looks pretty with its Ghost Recon paintjob, there really there’s nothing here to warrant the price-tag. Go and buy a regular Xbox 360 controller instead.

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