I'm sure you've all heard about the silliness going on about the N-control Avenger. That whole PR mess sucks for the people who make these things. At last PAX East, I got one to review. I'm sad to say it got tangled up in a larger article about assistive gaming technologies that has yet to get itself together. But with what has been sloshing around the larger internet, I thought maybe a few words about what the product actually is, and my reflections on it specifically might be helpful to some.
The Avenger is an add-on for your standard Xbox360 or PS3 controller (I assume it works with both the Sixaxis and the Dual-Shock 3 because of their similar chassis, but if that's a concern you might want to ask them before buying). It's designed to make it faster and easier for you to move between the buttons and triggers on the controller, with a support underneath to help you stabilize your grip. This is supposed to equate to better reaction time and performance in fast, reflex-based games like online FPS's.
I am not, nor will I ever be the kind of twitch gamer that their marketing seems to be aimed at. I honestly can't judge it on that basis. It did improve my game, but the biggest pluses for me had nothing to do with 'leetness. For those who have mobility problems with their hands, the N-control Avenger is something you may want to look into.
Right out of the box, the first thing you run into is getting the thing set up. This isn't a Plug and Play device. The way it works is you wrap the unit around your controller and then tweak a set of screw pegs and rubber bands to make the controls responsive to your own particular grip. Make sure you follow the directions sheet – what order you do things in does matter.
Then you’ll run into a rather steep side of Mt. Learning Curve. This device changes the movements of using the controller in some very profound ways, and you have to re-learn everything. It reminded me of going from a flat keyboard to one of those Microsoft ones with the bump in the middle, or switching to the Dvorak keyboard layout. You have to spend some time with it and be patient with yourself and the device. Don't just jump onto a COD server thinking you're going to p0wn; you won't be able to hit the broad side of a barn from the inside at first.
The materials I have for the device really point it at the FPS space and specifically the triggers on the controller. Within my own limitations, I can say that over time I have gotten somewhat better at playing FPS. At least, there are improvements where my hands were the actual problem. The fact that I get lost and have trouble dealing with enemies behind me isn't going to be fixed by anything short of a Ghost In the Shell-type implant.
It seems to work well across multiple game types. Over time I have tried it out with Final Fantasy XIII, Soul Caliber IV, Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, Rayman: Origins and just for kicks, Hexic. The only thing I had a real problem with was hitting multiple A, X, Y, B buttons at once on accident, and sometimes not being able to hit them simultaneously on purpose. This is standard stock-in-trade for fighting games and some realtime RPG combat systems, but it seems to be going out of style as a mechanic, so it’s not a big deal.
Despite its good points, this thing isn't perfect. It is fragile. If you have kids, you're going to want to find a place keep the controller it is attached to away from them. No controller-throwing rage quits, either. It's a goat rodeo to pull it on and off, so you'll probably want to designate a specific controller for it. The fit is somewhat customized for each person, and you can’t just flick a couple switches to adjust it like the mirrors and seats in your car. You don't want to have to hand that controller back and forth. My son looked like I'd handed him a naked human brain or something when I had him take over for me for a second. Each person in the house who uses one is going to want one of their own. That can pinch with an MSRP of around $50 bucks.
All that said, the rubber hit the road for me as an assistive technology. I have osteoarthritis and peripheral neuropathy in both hands. I've fought for years with this, and have been handling it by doing my own aftermarket mods on various controllers — with very mixed results.
Is it going to work for everyone? Probably not. I can see ways that some people with smaller hands could have trouble. For me, not having to warp my fingers down to the trigger and bumper buttons and hold the controller in such a crabbed position is very helpful on bad days.
It's not the speed runs, but the long haul where this thing shines for me. Instead of playing for about half an hour before it just gets to be too uncomfortable, I can go for much longer, which makes my occasional RPG-binge a much more comfortable ride.
I’m not sure how well the device will compensate for what the ravages of time and a grown-up schedule do to your reflexes. But if you're like I am and things have gotten to a point where you’re frustrated enough with your current situation to keep going in the face of fundamentally re-learning how to play, it might be worth a shot. I'm looking forward to really putting it to work on the new SSX game coming down the pike in March.