Hardware Review: AIE's MAG II Gun Controller Doesn't Quite Hit The Mark

The intent behind hardware maker AIE's MAG II Gun Controller is a solid one: allow point-and-shoot action for FPS games using a controller that's in the shape of a rifle. With a comfortable body type and gyroscopic controls allowing you to aim and shoot at your monitor or TV, the PS3 and PC-compatible MAG II would be perfect if not for some quirky, downright obscure design decisions and some limitations inherent to actually playing an FPS.

Ergonomically, AIE put some real thought into the layout of the MAG II--it just takes a little human reorientation to get used to where things are. The face buttons are just behind the the trigger and grip as well as a button that can sub for the R3 click on the PS3 while the d-pad and analog stick are located underneath the barrel. The size and weight of the MAG II should be a good fit for most gamers (I didn't get out the measuring stick but from front to back, the MAG II is around 36" and it's very light). The front of the MAG II hold what would be two of the bumper buttons on a PS3 controller as well as the "Mark" button which allows you to reset the orientation. On the top, there's a dial that allows you to toggle the sensitivity and mode of the MAG II, but I'll explain in a bit why that's beyond useless.

Four AA batteries are required to operate the MAG II, inserted in a compartment in the stock. The first of a few quibbles here--the directions for how to insert the batteries are on the bottom part of the stock and not on the compartment where you actually put the batteries. Plus, the batteries fit kind of snugly in there, and I actually had to unscrew the stock casing to remove two of my batteries during my test.

Setup was easy enough on the PS3--the MAG II includes a USB dongle/sensor that you plug into the console, then after powering up the MAG II, you'll hit the Mark button to pair it with the console. I never had a dropped connection, although the MAG II does power off after a few minutes of inactivity.

I tested the MAG II out using "Killzone 3," a title Sony was really pushing as a PlayStation Move-enabled title. I figured why not try another motion controller with the FPS and see how that worked out. Leaving the default controls in place in the game's settings, I proceeded to take on the Helghast.

After a few minutes of staring down at my character's feet while aiming straight at the screen, I realized I'd need to re-center the gyroscope with the Mark button. Movement was controlled using the left stick on the body, with look controls handled by swinging the MAG II back and forth. Pretty cool, right? And while shooting, ducking, aiming down gun sights, and throwing grenades worked like a charm, looking around was where the major obstacle for the MAG II came around. There's only so much range of motion you can get turning slightly left and slightly right without completely moving your targeting reticule off the screen. Plus, I could never get the hang of quickly turning around to deal with enemies at my back and flank.

I thought maybe this had to do with the MAG II's sensitivity or settings, but the dial on the top of the controller has a series of inscrutable pictograms and single letters that aren't documented anywhere with the hardware. What does "R" do? Or "explode-y" thing? How about the one that I think means turn off sound? No idea.

AIE had some good ideas with the MAG II, but I'm just not sure they arrived at the best execution for it in its current iteration. Here's hoping they keep trying because when they do nail it, they'll make someone's FPS fantasies come true.

The Mag II Gun Controller is available now and retails for $155 USD.

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