- Durable construction
- Measurable gaming performance increase
- Allowed in gaming competitions
Not necessary for all games
- Requires a minimum skill
Online gameplay is becoming more and more competitive, to the point where there an assortment of leagues where "pro gamers" can be found earning a very good wage, if they perform well enough. In the past, some gamers have turned to "modded" controllers, meaning console controllers that have been artificially boosted in some way; but lately, nearly all of these have been banned from organized play. One that has not been banned is the Avenger Controller peripheral -- a snap-on case, extending the reach of buttons on the controller, and allegedly reducing response time and boosting the overall gameplay of the user. Lofty claims -- but do they hold up?
We're hesitant to call this product a "mod" -- it does nothing permanent to the controller, and just remaps inputs mechanically, making it easier for the user to pull off multiple button presses without the right thumb leaving the analog stick as much as it has to in order to hit four buttons normally. Instead of the left index finger just being used for two triggers, and the right thumb being responsible for four buttons and an analog stick, a lever moves the X button over to the left index finger. The right index finger can now hit the B and Y buttons with just a twitch.
Adjustable rubber straps on the bottom of the controller can be adjusted so the fingers that wrap around the controller can be used to activate the main triggers. In all, the buttons have been spread around, for more even finger distribution, and on a hair-trigger. Microseconds mean defeat, sometimes, and the Avenger is designed to shave reaction time down, if even only just a little.
Installation of the product itself is remarkably simple. Put the faceplate on the controller, snap the hinged back shut, and go. The box contents are festooned with at least three warnings, exhorting the user to watch the YouTube video before playing with the controller -- but, tossing caution to the wind, we tried it out of the box anyway. We were met with dismal failure and pinched fingers, so yes, we wholeheartedly recommend watching the YouTube video.
The video is very short, and addresses "calibration" of the controller before entering into a competitive environment. This calibration entails screwing down adjustment screws that sit above three of the four ABXY buttons, setting exactly how far the "throw" of the lever is before the button is actuated. If you want a mere twitch to set off the button, crank the screw nearly all the way down. If you want more give to the switch, then not so far. We'd recommend that this calibration be done before every gaming session. The procedure is as simple as playing a first-person shooter solo for a few minutes to set up the controller, so after the initial breaking-in period, it will only take a few minutes.
We used Halo 4, Borderlands 2, Halo Wars, X-Com, and World of Keflings in the process of testing the controller. The unit served very little purpose in World of Keflings, or X-Com, since micro-second response times just aren't needed. We do think that response time in Halo Wars was boosted, but we also believe that it isn't needed in that venue either. The Avenger excels at first-person shooter "twitch"-oriented gaming like Halo 4 and Borderlands 2.
We let five users experiment with the Avenger controller add-on in Halo 4 online matchmaking, and did find something notable. All of our players normally range between a 0.9 and a 1.2 kills-per-death (KPD) ratio in the game over the last 500 games in a history of at least 3,000 games. A five-hour session (following calibration and an hour adjustment period) for all players allowed this number to grow to 1.2 KPD for our player with the 0.9 KPD, and rising to a notable 1.6 KPD for our player that started with the 1.2 KPD!
We repeated the same tests, without the Avenger add-on, and still with the hour adjustment period so players could re-adjust back to the un-altered controller. Our testing panel's performance over another five-hour period (at the same time of day and in the same playlists) fell back to expected norms, dropping back to "average" performance. We did consider the effect that perhaps matchmaking was altered by the enhanced performance, but given that no player had played less than 3,000 games as we previously mentioned, we were assured that the mathematical effect that the few games would have statistically would make no difference.
Less tangibly, two of our five testers ordered an Avenger. They all felt that after the (sometimes aggravating) hour-long "break-in" where they adjusted to the controller that they were faster, and could tackle the "target-rich environment" of the Halo 4 battlefield a bit better. We briefly hit the games that we dismissed as not suitable for the Avenger, and they all agreed that herding Keflings around and building a town just didn't need the peripheral at all.
We haven't yet addressed the original purpose of the controller add-on, a modification for partially-disabled gamers; upon some consideration, one of our participants noted that it would be good for gamers with limited range of motion, allowing just a slight motion to set off a face button or trigger. So in that aspect, the controller is a success.
No two testing environments are exactly the same in gaming, so any sort of numerical comparison is a bit fraught with peril. However, even given 25 hours of gaming spanning five users, the temporary boost given to all of our players of a variety of skills while the Avenger was installed was notable.
The Avenger controller isn't a panacea for total lack of skill. Proper implementation of the twitch responses still requires an understanding of the same system, and a good mental grasp of the rock-paper-scissors approach that online game balance entails. We feel that the Avenger achieves what it is meant to do by shaving precious milliseconds off of response times, and giving a user with a firm grasp on a game's mechanics an edge over those not-so equipped without what some of the gaming league would call cheating.