We’ve looked at using a PC from the comfort of a couch before and we’ve also looked at playing console games like you would on a PC. What if we told you there was a product on the market that allowed you control your PC with a controller and allowed you to play PC games from the comfort of your couch with nothing more than a wireless receiver and an Xbox 360 looking controller? Yeah, Holy Grail indeed.
We first glimpsed the Gamecore at CES 2010 and were immediately intrigued by what iGuGu (pronounced eye-goo-goo) promised. We certainly agree that the PC is a strong gaming platform with the best flexibility, most powerful hardware, and the most publishers. However the natural thing for most people isn’t to sit at a desk to play games and with the advent of console gaming, couch gaming is the new standard.
What the Gamecore is, at its most basic level, is a wireless trackball, joystick, and keyboard controller jammed into a shell shaped like the familiar Xbox 360 controller. The idea is that the analogue stick serves for movement while the trackball replaces your mouse for aiming. There are other features such as a full QWERTY keyboard not unlike the Xbox 360 communicator pad, motion control a la SIX-AXIS, and different control modes to adapt to different types of games.
The Gamecore has many LED status indicators to signify controller modes and power statuses. It’s also completely dipped in a soft touch rubber which gives it a nice grip during gameplay but also leads to lint attraction. The unit uses 4 AAA batteries which are included but requires you to unscrew the back cover to install, which is a poor design choice in our opinion. There’s also the choice to use AAA batteries when perhaps 2 AA might have been just fine. And the addition of a rechargeable base for a $100 peripheral would have also been a nice touch, but you’re left with AAA batteries and a cover that needs a #0 screw driver to remove.
Setting up the Gamecore is as easy as plugging in the receiver unit, which has build in driver firmware so no disk installation is necessary. There isn’t any calibration of the controller either and a simple pairing procedure is all that’s needed to have your Gamecore up and running. This was probably the most painless a peripheral installation could be! They have also included a setup video that you can watch and follow along instead of reading a boring instructional video (although the voice-over in the video could do with a bit more emotion!)
iGuGu does offer a launcher utility that you can optionally install which allows for downloadable webgames and a unified launcher for your own games. You have to register for an account with iGuGu in order to use the launcher but it’s not necessary for the Gamecore to function.
We tested the Gamecore intensively with Dirt 2, Battlefield Bad Company 2, Call of Duty Modern Warfare, and Starcraft 2. A wide variety of games was used to make sure our experience is consistent across all genres. Motion control was only tested with Dirt 2 and unfortunately we didn’t have any flight simulators on hand to test the Flight option of the motion control.
In general, the Gamecore handled all the games as expected from a hyper sensitive trackball and joystick. The thing that surprised us was that despite what you would have expected, the Gamecore didn’t excel as a FPS controller or a racing controller. The trackball was better than using dual analogue sticks (I personally can’t play FPS’ on consoles because the control isn’t precise enough for my taste) but on a console, you get the auto-aim assist which sort of helps the general usability of a controller. On the PC, there is not such thing as auto-aim because it’s designed with the precision of a mouse in mind and a trackball just can’t replicate that. Movement using the analogue stick was also a little awkward as it didn’t replicate the feeling of left stick moving on a console as you’re once again mapping WASD to a joystick. For example, the escape scene from COD: MW was very difficult to navigate using the Gamecore and the first act in BF: BC2 with all its tight corridors was also a pain.
In Dirt 2 the natural thing was to wish for dual analogue sticks but instead you had to modify the controls for use with a single analogue stick and a d-pad. Motion controls worked as advertised but just as awkward as driving with a SIX-AXIS on the PS3. The controls just weren’t as tight as using a traditional gamepad, wheel, or even the keyboard. And in a game where seconds count, this isn’t going to make anyone trade in their existing controller.
Surprisingly in Starcraft 2, the Gamecore controlled extremely well. Navigating the menus, selecting units, initiating commands all worked flawlessly. The only problem was that there wasn’t enough buttons for grouping and shortcuts. Even though there was a QWERTY keyboard attached, its size was simply too small to be functional during a Zerg rush!
What iGuGu does well is the thoroughly thought out Gamecore package. They don’t simply sell you the controller but they provide a complete solution including VGA splitters, audio splitters, and HDMI cords. Overall, the Gamecore as a package is great value. You get a wireless controller with a trackball and keyboard and PC connectivity kit all for less than $100 USD.
However, the Gamecore just can’t replace the accuracy of a mouse and the multiple keys of a full keyboard. And in the high speed racing genre it’s even less precise than a controller. If you’re used to playing with a mouse and keyboard for FPS’s or a dual analogue stick controller on a console, the Gamecore can’t compare to either.
But the surprising thing is that the Gamecore is an excellent HTPC controller! The small compact size is easily stowed and the trackball allows fast and accurate navigation of the desktop. The QWERTY keyboard is just enough for the short bursts of text entry you need to do on an HTPC. Unfortunately, the Gamecore isn’t marketed as a HTPC controller but instead it’s to replace your keyboard and mouse on a PC for gaming. As intended, we would not recommend the Gamecore as other alternatives are still better and offer an greater user experience.