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FPS mode

Image courtesy of Aimpad.

Let's kick things off with the FPS mode, accessible with Fn+F1. To get a feel of how everything mentioned so far actually ends up working in practice, I'm going to start with my perennial favorite, DayZ. As it turns out, this title is a particularly good candidate to reveal both the Aimpad R5's strengths and weaknesses. The standalone version of DayZ isn't one of Aimpad's "certified awesome" games.

Part of what makes DayZ an interesting test for the Aimpad is that it supports three distinct movement speeds: walking, jogging, and sprinting. On a normal keyboard, you jog by default. Holding Ctrl makes your character walk, and Shift makes him sprint. DayZ supports XInput devices, so if you were masochistic enough to play it with an Xbox controller, you could move though all three speeds just by pushing the left thumbstick further.

I feel like Woody Harrelson!

After a bit of dead-zone tweaking, it turns out that the Aimpad has no problem driving your DayZ character around at each of the three speeds when you apply the right amount of pressure. The very top of the keystroke makes the character walk, a half-way press gets him jogging, and sprinting kicks in when the key is more or less bottomed out.

In DayZ, when the key switch fully actuates, instead of just registering the analog signal, the game ignores the "W" input and continues to move your character at a sprinting pace instead of dropping you to jogging like the W would normally do. If this input hierarchy wasn't in place, you'd need to press Fn+Home to disable the keys' digital input. It's nice to be able to leave that feature off so that if you need to quickly Shift+Tab to chat with Steam friends or whatever, your mege on't look like thi.

There's an extra note to add here. Even though the dead zone was properly configured to allow for all three movement speeds, the game wasn't registering diagonal movement at full speed. The fastest I could move while holding down both W and A (or W and D) was a jog. I checked the Game Controllers panel to see what was happening. Sure enough, with the deadzone configured as it was, I couldn't move the crosshair all the way into any of the corners. To fix this, I had to switch the dead zone compensation type from radial to axial. DayZ was the only FPS I tested that had this problem—all other titles worked fine with the default dead zone compensation percentage and type.

All those words, and I still haven't articulated that I prefer playing DayZ with the Aimpad R5 rather than a normal mechanical keyboard. Sorry, but there's a lot of ground to cover when it comes to this particular game (ba-dum-tss!) Anyway, the novelty of playing DayZ on the R5 is that I don't need to hit an extra key to change my character's speed.

I find the elimation of those modifier keys valuable for both practical and preferential reasons. The practical side is easy to relate to: no more sprinting around using Shift and forgetting that hitting Tab at the same time will dump me into the Steam overlay instead of opening my inventory. Sure, I could reconfigure those hotkeys, but using Tab for the inventory in DayZ and Shift+Tab for the overlay are two shortcuts so ingrained that I never went ahead and changed them. With the Aimpad, I can sprint and simultaneously open my inventory to reload, and never accidentally come to a dead stop in the middle of a firefight.

The second practical reason is closer to what the Aimpad is actually geared for: letting you dictate movement speed more precisely. DayZ already offered this option, but the analog input makes it your default choice instead of something you have to initiate separately. Peeking around a wall or corner can be a life-or-death event. Exposing less of your character by walking slowly instead of stepping out from cover because you tapped the key for a split-second can make a big difference. If you're already wired to do that manually, that's awesome. But if you occasionally get careless or complacent, the Aimpad may just bail you out.

So peaceful.

The intangible reasons for preferring the Aimpad R5 may be specific to me. One of the reasons I've stuck with DayZ so long is that I enjoy simply roaming the environment. It's probably the most atmospheric game I've played since Metroid Prime. For whatever reason, playing DayZ with the Aimpad frequently compels me to slow down and walk my way around Chernarus instead of madly rushing around to gear up as fast as possible. DayZ is sometimes the most intense game I'ver ever played—thanks to the zombie apocalypse going around—but other times, it's downright relaxing. Walking by default, with a panicked sprint just a little bit of key travel away, does something mildly transformative to my experience. Your mileage may vary, though.

So the Aimpad works well in DayZ after a little tweaking. What about other controller-friendly shooters? I checked the R5 out with Halo 5: Forge, by running around in my own empty match (fingers crossed for an update that offers a server browser), and came away impressed. Unlike DayZ, movement in Halo 5 doesn't have fixed speed tiers. There's a direct relationship between how hard you're mashing the keys down and how fast you're moving. Obviously, your maximum movement speed is clearly defined, but its lower bound is only limited by your dexterity.

I can imagine how useful the analog keys would be if I were a dirty sniper. It's like having a lower DPI setting for movement on top of aiming. I didn't feel any weird sense of acceleration, either. Full speed is literally at your fingertips, and that's how I moved around most of the time. The run-and-gun instinct is ingrained, but it doesn't take long to adjust and occasionally take advantage of analog-specific movement. That was emphasized for me in Team Fortress 2, the only FPS I've spent anywhere near as much time in as I have in DayZ.

If I were a dirty spy, I'm pretty sure the analog movement of the Aimpad would be a welcome addition to my bag of tricks. Good spies are maddeningly frustrating, but one of their "tells" is their constant movement speed, no matter which class they're disguised as. Maybe that fixed speed has changed since the time I played TF2 regularly, but I suspect that if a good spy were to disguise as a slow Heavy and then use the Aimpad to to match his speed, he could be next to undetectable—all the while retaining all the advantages of using a mouse for aiming. It amuses me to think about other players' reaction to a Scout creeping slowly around the map but whipping around to aim with the speed and precision of a mouse.

Since I rarely (if ever) play any FPS as a sniper or spy, those thoughts are only theories. In TF2, I typically play as a Pyro (I know, I know) with the Back Burner (I know, I know!) However, the way I play the Pyro, my flare gun is as much or more of a primary weapon than my flamethrower. I can say with confidence that the Aimpad did no harm to my generally-accurate aim. In fact, there were times in my last session where I surprised myself by pulling off a couple of tricky shots while on the move. I can't say for sure that's to the Aimpad's credit though.

Overall, I'd sum up the FPS Mode of the Aimpad R5 like this: it doesn't appear to have any downsides. More importantly, it has the potential to offer unique advantages to skilled players willing to learn and exploit the analog controls. Personally, I don't think I'm skilled enough to fully exploit that potential, but I appreciate that in theory I could.