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Gear Impressions: Novint Falcon 3-D Force-Feedback Controller, Part 2

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The Games

Texture Tech Demo – Absolutely mind-blowing. It's the first part of the Novint Falcon tutorial, and if you aren't sold on the power of force-feedback yet, then this will single-handedly change your mind. Each of the many textures felt how they appeared: you could feel the grooves on the bumpy texture, the tension of the ball as you pressed into the rubber texture, the slickness of the ice texture, the roughness of the sandpaper texture, and the stickiness of the molasses texture, among other things. This is something that needs to be experienced to be believed, as my words alone cannot describe the experience for you.

Ball on a String Tech Demo – The next demo featured a ball tethered to the pointer. Moving the Falcon from left to right with varying degrees of speed were translated into short swings or long ones. Similarly, the ball pulled against the tether, and the controller responded with the appropriate force. It literally felt like the controller was trying to throw itself across the table when I flung the ball with all of my strength. Quite an incredible feeling.

Catch Tech Demo – In this demo, you caught balls in a glove from a robot pitching machine. When you caught the ball in the glove, you could feel the feedback from the controller. It felt exactly like when you caught a ball in a glove in real life. Similarly, you could feel the ball bouncing off the glove if you just missed it.

Slingshot Tech Demo – Not too impressive, honestly. Basically, you had a slingshot and had to shoot little cans off a fence. Nothing too special here, as another game demo showed this capability better.

3-Point Shootout – This was a basketball game that used the Falcon to shoot the ball by determining the point of release and force put behind the shot in order to determine how the ball traveled to the hoop and how it went in. For what is basically a simple little game, this was incredibly fun and easy to play, and it mimicked the science of shooting a basketball in real life pretty well.

Home Run Smashout – This demo was basically a home-run hitting contest, and honestly, it didn't worked as well as I had hoped. The Falcon does everything the Wii remote does, just to a somewhat lesser degree. It doesn't give you the as much freedom of mobility in swinging the bat as the Wii, so I'm going to have to pass on any baseball games using the Falcon for now.

Air Table Hockey – This worked pretty well. You moved the Falcon from side to side, forward and back to hit or block the oncoming puck. It controlled pretty well, with few complaints, and it felt a little more natural than the air hockey game that came on Wii Play.

Fish Sticker – An odd demo which involved you having to move around a pond, shooting fish with a plunger gun to collect points. I think it's just a tech demo to kind of show off the FPS capabilities of the Falcon controller, which it does, but another game they had did a much better job of this. More on that to come.

Newton's Apple – A simple bow-shooting game where you try to shoot an apple off a monkey's head. It did a good job of showing how force-feedback and the Falcon works in a 3-D environment. You could actually feel the tension as you pulled back on the bow string and released it. Aiming was simple and worked well, as I had little problems hitting the apple.

Road Race – Okay, here's where the Falcon doesn't work well, and it's probably why I had to do a bit of digging to find this demo. Using the Falcon, you are supposed to push the controller in, as if you were using an accelerator, while at the same time, you use the Falcon to steer left and right. Needless to say, this was very clumsy and I got irritated at it incredibly quickly. This obviously isn't going to be the thing that replaces the force-feedback steering wheel.

Feelin' It Golf – Even more clumsy than Road Race was this little demo, and this one was right out in the open. Using the Falcon to try and hit the ball was near impossible in this game, as it took me forever to finally learn how to swing with full power. Even then, I kept slicing the ball to the right, which kept landing me in the rough and pissing me off greatly. Again, the Wii remote does this a lot, lot better.

Top Pin Bowling – You would think once again that the Wii remote would easily best the Falcon in this department, but bowling on the Falcon, while different, felt pretty easy and accurate. With a little practice, I could put the precise power and spin I wanted on the ball. This was definitely the second-best sports game I played on the Falcon

Duck Launch – Such a guilty pleasure. The game basically let you shoot a duck out of a slingshot and into a pond to score points. If there's one thing the Wii remote can't do that the Falcon can, it's something like this. It was not only a game I enjoyed, but it was one of the most popular games I saw other people around me playing. It's the Wii Sports of the Novint Falcon.

Haptic-Life 2 Demo – And this was the Twilight Princess/Metroid Prime 3 for the Novint Falcon. That's right, a version of Half-Life 2 designed with the Falcon in mind. Working with the keyboard, the game allowed you more precise aiming with the game's weapons than the mouse and keyboard set-up. Or at least that's how it felt. This was perhaps the most impressive thing that the Falcon had to offer in the time I played it. I can easily see the Falcon becoming popular on PCs for FPS games.

Counter-Strike Source Demo – This wasn't playable, but it was listed among the other shortcut icons on the desktop, so take from it what you will. I wish I could have played, this, though. Would have been amazing.

Overall, the Novint Falcon did some things well, while it did others very poorly. The FPS genre seeks to gain much from this, while other types of genres will fit better on the Wii with its intuitive controller. There's a lot of potential for the Novint Falcon, and while it's no Wii 2.0, it's still impressive in its own right.

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