[Originally posted to my PC gaming column at Examiner.com]
Why should console gamers have all gun-shaped motion controllers? The MAG II also lets PC gamers get in on the fun—if you can stomach a very high price for a very limited product.
The Mag II is essentially a standard console game controller married to a small ‘assault rifle’ styled, wireless motion controller that is compatible with both the PS3 and the PC—but it’s probably best relegated to a PS3. More on that shortly.
Installation & Setup
The MAG II controller itself requires 4xAA batteries, and it connects wirelessly to a small cube-shaped receiver that attaches to your PC through a USB cable. Once you’ve got your batteries installed (rechargeable batteries are not recommended according to the MAG II FAQ, by the way), it’s just a matter of turning on the rifle, pressing the ‘mark’ button on it, centering the cursor on your screen, and pulling the trigger to center it.
The entire process takes about 10 minutes and then you’re ready to rock your FPS games with a gun-motion controller. Pew Pew noises not included but the MAG II does provide rumble effects.
A dial on top of the MAG II provides additional features and settings. You can switch between 3 sensitivity levels (Beginner, Intermediate, and Expert, which is supposed to be the most sensitive) or even set the MAG II to a simple ‘toy’ function if you’re brave enough to let the kids run around with a $150 controller.
In addition, the MAG II can be put into a light gun mode for use with light gun based games, and it features a ‘turbo fire’ mode and Autolock (aiming enhancement). Light gun compatibility is nice for console games. Turbo Fire and Autolock were pretty useless to me as a PC gamer. We don’t need no stinking aim-enhancers, thank you very much.
The MAG II Web site (and Compuexpert’s, their US distributor) also claims that we can “expect regular downloadable (via PC) updates for the MAG II Gun Controller that will unlock new functions and gameplay modes accessible via the MAG II Gun Controllers’ Function Dial.” As of this writing no new PC updates for the MAG II are available.
Presently, aside from changing the sensitivity level your options (as a PC player) are basically limited to swapping button functions. If you want to re-map the ‘square’ button to one of the trigger buttons (for example), you can do it. Press and hold the START+SELECT buttons for 2 seconds and the MAG II enters a remap mode. Press the buttons you want to swap, and then press the START+SELECT buttons again for 2 seconds to swap their functions.
Fundamentally, I’ll admit I kind of enjoyed using the MAG II—even just sitting at a desk and playing on a 28” monitor. But as it stands—at least for the PC—the MAG II is just too limited in the games you can play with it effectively. Despite claims that the MAG II is automatically compatible with FPS games, “compatible” doesn’t mean it improves the experience.
In my own play experience, the MAG II worked pretty well in Left 4 Dead 2, and to a lesser degreePainkiller: Hell and Damnation. Sniping enemies was particularly satisfying with the MAG II (and probably testament to some darker side of human nature I’d rather not question).
In general the MAG II seems to work best with FPS games that stick to the fairly common (and console-friendly) control schemes typical of many FPS games (and in particular Call of Dutygames). More complex games like Borderlands 2 don’t work as well because you still need or want to use the keyboard fairly often, which makes for a lot of tedious controller switching. For example, shopping for new weapons is easier (and less tiring) with a mouse.
The MAG II’s thumbstick and motion control work pretty well for shooting stuff but not much else. It may have the full functionality and all the buttons of a standard console controller, but it lacks the ability to re-map keyboard commands to those controls. It’s reasonably accurate enough to replace a mouse but it can’t replace the keyboard.
The MAG II is a decent controller but best left to PS3 players. Despite some of the visceral pleasures having a gun-shaped controller can add to an FPS game, the MAG II is far too limited for PC gaming to justify its $150 price tag.
If you had $150 to blow for a new PC ‘controller’ I’d recommend spending it on a good gaming keyboard or gaming mouse, both of which could enhance all your PC games and not just a limited subset of them. (And for less than a $150 you could get both a good keyboard and a mouse—or maybe Razer’s new speedpad.