Whether you have the cajones for the Call of Duty: World League or you just want to ruin a 12-year-old’s day on Xbox Live, you might be looking to get quicker with the trigger this season, the Season of the First-Person Shooter. Gaming peripheral company KontrolFreek have crafted a line of specialized thumbsticks that promise to do just that.
So, do they work? Almost. After I gave ‘em a whirl for a few weeks, here’s what you need to know:
- KontrolFreek’s “FPS Freeks” are rubberized thumbstick attachments you place over the PS4 and Xbox One thumbsticks. On the official website, it touts “the latest science” in “ergonomics to elevate your gaming.” The aim (Ha, get it?) is to improve your performance and reduce fatigue.
- And they literally elevate your gaming. These thumbsticks added a deep layer with a comfortable rubber face that makes it easy to turn, spin, or click joysticks. In games like Call of Duty, this makes melee attacks far easier.
- They have available a large amount of indistinguishable varieties. Some might just be branded purely for whatever you desire your thumbsticks to “feel,” others because you just love Call of Duty so dang much.
- They also have a small line of Grips that allow you to squeeze your sweaty, icky palms on your controller during those tense, heart-pounding moments all you want. They’re made of honeycomb Polymer and stick on the handles. There’s no glue or messy adhesive, and KontrolFreek says you can re-apply and reposition them with ease. (Not really, but we’ll get into that.)
- Their primary focus is on first- and third-person shooters, but KontrolFreek also have basketball, futbol, and racing-centric sticks. So 2K, FIFA, and Gran Turismo and Forza fans, keep reading.
For our input, KontrolFreek sent us their new FPS Freek Galaxy, Freek Call of Duty Black Ops III, Freek CQC Signature, and KontrolFreek Grips for Xbox One. I used the FPS Freek Galaxy sticks the most during my time with them.
So, do they work?
For the most part: Yes! Is it game-changing? Nah.
They definitely work for what they’re advertised for: FPS and third-person shooters. Out of curiosity I tried them with adventure games and the result was negligible. These are definitely for the shooter crowd.
When I was in high school I was pretty great in Halo 3. I never competed for realsies, but I was confident against the vast majority online. I stopped playing regularly during college, so I’ve had to go back to square one for games like Halo 5 and Destiny.
So these two headshots might not be a big deal for you, but to me? I want to put it on Vine. And my gravestone. This moment happened while using KontrolFreek’s Galaxy thumbsticks.
Look, it was probably just a lucky break. But I know when it’s hard to position your ADS on your target while they’re zig zagging or hopping like bunnies. I found Freek’s thumbsticks very comfortable to abuse in wild directions. The grip allows me to move my aim in indistinguishable yet crucial increments, which can be the difference between your bullseye, or theirs.
It’s not all great though. The right thumbstick for the Xbox One is raised higher than the left, maybe a half-inch taller. I already spend 90% of my work day typing, so when I get home to play my carpal tunnel is screaming.
Important side note: It must be due to the Xbox controller’s layout. In addition to what KontrolFreek sent, I was also given a pair of PS4 thumbsticks and the thumbsticks in that pack are the same size.
The Grips are a mixed bag. They’re not hard to apply (maybe a little confusing — I looked at the box for an awkwardly long time to ensure the right position). But if you’re like me and play with Turtlebeach headphones, they don’t mix well. Turtlebeach’s adapter and KontrolFreek’s Grips get in the way of each other. Refusing to give up one, I compromised by applying the bottom part of the Grips (which wrap around the controller’s legs) onto the Turtlebeach adapter. The adhesive is great, but it isn’t easily removable and adjustable like KontrolFreek touts. So Turtlebeach’s adapter is now stuck to my controller forever.
And it’s maybe not worth it. In the moment the Grips do make the controller better to handle, but it’s only noticeable for seconds at a time. Otherwise I couldn’t tell the difference from when I didn’t have them on.
I wish I had more game clips to provide — shocking how 1 terabyte isn’t enough hard drive storage in 2015 — so let me quickly illustrate using these thumbsticks per game.
Halo 5: Guardians
You saw the above clip. Legendary Mode and online matchmaking still kicks my ass, but I’ve been able to hold my own a little more than I had prior to the thumbsticks. Maybe it’s the placebo effect, maybe it actually helps.
I get more of those satisfying headshots than before, but those were never difficult to pull off. The Sparrow Racing have also been interesting to play using KontrolFreek’s thumbsticks. Still haven’t gotten first place though.
Call of Duty: Black Ops III
I’m playing the campaign on the hardest difficulty. When I got KontrolFreek’s thumbsticks, I was stuck at an annoying portion in the Singapore levels. After applying the FPS Freeks … I still had trouble. I eventually got through because I rock, but these sticks aren’t a magical cure-all. You still have to be good. But it is easier to run up walls and melee.
Gears of War: Ultimate Edition
Gears of War already plays well without special thumbsticks. KontrolFreek’s contribution to Gears is a little unnoticeable, though turning around was maybe less frustrating.
And for both giggles and actual inquiry, I tested the FPS Freek sticks with non-shooter games. In summary: It’s kinda pointless.
Rise of the Tomb Raider
The controls are everywhere in Rise of the Tomb Raider so the thumbsticks usefulness are a bit negligible. There’s still finagling with the camera, but other than that, no major changes.