Tired of getting owned by your fellow gamers online? Maybe the FragFX Shark game controller is just what you need. The FragFX Shark pairs a wireless mouse and handheld chuck, allowing gamers to utilise the precision of a mouse on a home console or the ease of a joystick on a computer.
Compatible with the Mac, Windows and PS3, the FragFX Shark is one of the few cross-platform gaming controllers out there. But due to remapping issues and a lack of practicality with Mac gaming, the FragFX Shark is probably best suited to first person shooter enthusiasts looking for smoother movement controls than what they typically get with a keyboard.
The FragFX Shark also comes with a mousepad and USB dongle that can fit into a PS3 controller slot or a conventional USB slot. The right-handed mouse is comfortable, with black and blue buttons on the right side of the mouse’s curvature that correspond to the four buttons on the PS3: triangle, circle, square and X. The mouse was easy to grip and though it’s a bit larger than I’d like, it still felt natural to hold. As a wireless mouse, it’s also easy to use in a desk or couch setting.
The chuck is a black little device that is about a third the size of a conventional console controller and surprisingly light. The design is reminiscent of the PS3 in not only aesthetics, but in how the buttons are laid out. With your left thumb, you can manipulate the joystick while your left fingers can tap one of the three buttons in the front of the controller. There’s also a directional pad in the left corner of the controller face and each direction has corresponding text for remapping the controller.
The dongle has two settings, one for keyboard, one for gamepads. It’s important to note that you can only change the setting from one to the other before your system boots up, doing so while your computer is running won't have any effect. So if you have the dongle set to "gamepad" and want to switch it to "keyboard" and it's plugged into your iMac, you'll need to restart your machine. The mousepad is pretty generic, but is useful because it’s very stiff, so you can prop it your lap or your couch and use it effectively when playing on a console from a distance.
When it’s at its best, the FragFX Shark gives console players a major accuracy upgrade when playing first person shooters. Not only is the mouse a more accurate way to aim than a conventional joystick arrangement, but the controller also enables “rapid fire,” which effectively turns weapons like sniper rifles and pistols into semi-automatic weapons. Of course, there’s good reason why the FragFX is banned from professional tournaments. The sensitivity of the mouse really does make a difference, if you’re comfortable manipulating a mouse at level 10 sensitivity, you can quickly pick off not only opposing player’s heads but shoot the digital wings off digital flies. The difference between a conventional console gamepad and the FragFX Shark is night and day, but such gameplay improvements aren't as obvious on the Mac.
For one, if you’re playing first person shooters on the Mac, you should already be using a two button mouse. Games like Team Fortress 2 and Call of Duty 4 require second mouse button functionality and if you’re not using a two button mouse, using your gun’s alternative fire becomes a difficult proposition.
Still, for the Mac gamer there’s still reason to like the FragFX. The FragFX mouse is a great two button mouse and gives you four more buttons to map, which can be helpful to assign to different weapons, squad commands or movement options. Though personally I find the “WASD” controls on the keyboard to be pretty intuitive at this point, if you’re a lifelong console gamer, using the FragFX’s chuck will allow you to keep that joystick feel. With first person shooters especially, movement can be much more intuitive while using the FragFX than your standard keyboard ever could. Perhaps most importantly, it’ll also let you stand further back from the computer screen and avoid hunching over your keyboard, compared to using "WASD" movement controls, from a posture perspective, the FragFX is a major upgrade.
But there are some caveats. While moving might feel better with the chuck, mapping buttons can be a complete pain. Even after going over the manual several times and calibrating the mouse sensitivity to that sweet spot that I liked, I still had to struggle to map the buttons for combat while playing Team Fortress 2. Both a Macworld intern and I couldn’t get one of the chuck's middle buttons to ever map, which was a real pain. That said, we both enjoyed how smooth the movement felt and how easy weapon switching became while in combat. As advertised, we experienced no lag when playing with the wireless devices. Though it’ll likely take you a little while to get used to, we feel comfortable recommending the FragFX as a moderate upgrade over your conventional keyboard and mouse arrangement when it comes to first person shooters on the Mac.
Unfortunately, first person shooters are about the only thing that makes sense to use the FragFX with. Third person action games like Darksiders or Assassin’s Creed 2 never feel right with the FragFX. The mouse always feels too sensitive and creates some major camera issues, while the mapping never quite worked for me, despite the press release's claims of being able to map on the fly. After several tries to map the buttons correctly in Assassin’s Creed 2, I never was able to achieve a run, let alone any of the more complicated acrobatic combos. When my intern was able to finally get the game's protagonist to run, we realised we had lost some of his combat moves in the mapping process. With a game controller, you never have to make such tradeoffs. Of course, Mac users only have a limited number of options when it comes to gamepads on the platform. Personally, I use an Xbox 360 controller when playing OnLive titles, as these are generally the only ones that require gamepad functionality.
Though not really relevant to the Mac game experience, I also tested out the FragFX with a PS3. With Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, I saw the FragFX hit its stride. My aiming was much improved and the rapid fire functionality made certain weapons much easier to use. Instead of having to tap the R3 button to hold my breath and get more accurate aiming, the sensitivity of the mouse ensured I had a steady, exact aim throughout. In short, I can see why the device was banned from competitive use, it really does provide an advantage over normal gamepad functionality.
Of course, the trade off is that you’ll have to be patient with it. A friend of mine and I traded off playing with the FragFX and achieved varying success with various control mappings. We liked the precision, but would either find grenade throwing or weapon switching or something that didn’t quite behave how we wanted. Remapping on the PS3 is also far less intuitive, requiring you to hold down certain buttons to reset and then correctly lock in the correct mapping. Frankly, I’ve seen VCRs with easier-to-use programming sequences.
The problem with the FragFX Shark controller isn’t that it’s poorly made, it’s that the target demographic isn’t mainstream Mac gamers but rather hardcore first person shooter junkies. Third-person action titles are limited primarily to OnLive and are thus better suited to something like an Xbox 360 controller than the FragFX. Strategy games, similarly, gain nothing from the FragFX. But if you’re looking for an advantage in Left4Dead 2, Call of Duty 4, or Team Fortress 2, the FragFX can offer players the best of both worlds: the exactness of a mouse and the smooth movement speed of a joystick chuck. If you see me playing a Steam game, be wary, because I’ll probably be using the device.