After the release of our Wolfclaw 2 review, a lot of forum members suggested other alternative game controllers that they had found to be very useful in the arena of putting a virtual bullet through the brain of digital entity.
One product in particular was intriguing: The Claw.
Made by an Australian company and manufacturered in China, the Claw is the gaming-peripherial baby of Jason Ferraro. It's actually been out for a few years and while I'd personally not heard of it before now, quite a few people suggested it. It's not exactly mind-bending to look at and doesn't have that many bells and whistles - but what it does have is excellent, heavily configurable software.
As you can see, the main casing of the Claw is designed to be ergonomic, albeit only for the left hand, meaning left-handed folk will be forced to use their weak hand for mouse functions with this device. The plastic casing is thick with a textured surface, presumably to give a better grip to users. However, thanks to the rounded shape, it's not actually that easy to grip when frantically stabbing at the buttons.
While it is relatively weighty, thanks to the metal plate in the base, it's still fairly easy to move around accidentally. That makes it much harder to depress the buttons. When you do press the buttons on the Claw, your finger tip is actually pushing on the button, back under the palm of your hand. As a result, if there's no resistance and you don't have a good grip on the unit, the button may not be pressed correctly.
This problem could be resolved by stickier rubber feet, or more weight internally, or some sort of small protrudance for the hell of your palm to push against, providing resistance for when your fingers mash the 'reload weapon' button in a panicky manner.
A small note on the buttons themselves: they are very good, in terms of quality, action, amount of resistance and tactile feedback. You definitely know when you've hit that button, and you're pretty happy about how it felt when you did, as they have a nice clicky action.
There are ten buttons: one each for your little finger and your ring finger, two stacked vertically for your middle finger, two stacked horizontally for your index finger and 4 in an angled square for your thumb. The ring, middle and index finger buttons are analogous to the normal WASD confugration most gamers would recognise, although it does take a little getting used to, since they're so widely separated and your hand is in a position you're probably not used to.
The Claw's software is designed to be adaptable, yet intelligent in its use: when you set up a profile for a game, it will ask you to select the executable file for the game in question. When the Claw software is loaded into the system tray, it will monitor to see if any specified applications are executed, and then will load the related profile, with buttons being mapped to specific keys you preset in the game profile. If there is no game profile for a loaded game, the Claw has a generic profile that will work happily. I tested the Claw on World of Warcraft, Battlefield 2, and ESWC Trackmania.
World of Warcraft and Battlefield 2 worked perfectly. The Claw software detected the relevant executables when they were run, and it all "just worked". I used Battlefield 2 mostly, since the FPS is pretty much home turf for the Claw, and it worked fine. Admittedly at first I did spend a fair amount of time sorting out my key mappings and just which commands I needed available. This setup process is a fairly typical routine with any new controller, or even when using a conventional keyboard with a new game. However with only 10 buttons and 4 of those set aside for the WASD keys, I ran out of buttons quickly - but then I realised that you can set one button to be a "shift" key. This changes the mappings of the Claw buttons to another set of keypresses, essentially giving me another 9 buttons available for key maps.
Another useful facility of the software is the ability to assign a sequence of keypresses to one key, along with options such as the Enter key, or a "Wait X seconds" option, in case a previous command in the sequence requires time to complete. This is very useful for games such as World of Warcraft where players will have a sequence of moves or spells which complement each other and do more damage when performed in a particular order.
Unfortunately I struck a different story when attempting to use the Claw with ESWC Trackmania, the free racing game that has sucked in many decent, god-fearing folk like Agg and I.
For some unknown reason, the Claw software would just not accept that Trackmania was running, but wouldn't even load the generic profile. I suspect this is due to Trackmania having a "prelauncher" applcation, but even when I specified just the directory holding both applications - which is an acceptable option with the Claw software - it still wouldn't work. Any suggestions would be well received.
In conclusion, the Claw is a well constructed game controller, with a powerful support application - if it likes the game in question. I do think there could be more resistance used to support keypresses and stop the controller scooting away from your fingertips, but maybe this was just something particular to me. I'd recommend it to people who are looking for an edge to their gaming, although that being said, don't expect it to propel you into a higher-consciousness state of gaming skillz.
The Claw is available only via the web, at http://www.claw.com.au, for $50USD, including shipping.