As technology marches on, certain things ultimately get left behind. Whether it’s your prized Discman you got after an eternal wait, only to be made redundant by modern mp3 players and smart phones, or those hefty, slow laptops that look ancient compared to modern tablets; there’s no doubt a lot of the time change is for the better. No always though. Gamer’s from the 90’s will no doubt remember a staple of arcades and home consoles that sadly disappeared with the advent of modern flat panel displays; the Light Gun shooter. The technology behind them only working with older CRT screens, for one reason or another there seemed to be almost zero interest in finding a decent solution to allow them to continue. Which was a shame, as personally it’s one of my favourite genres. Countless hours were spent on The House of the Dead on my beloved Sega Saturn, as well as on titles such as Time Crisis and Silent Scope in the arcades. I think the simple, instant fun – just point and shoot – made it an experience that never truly got old. Even to this day, I still maintain a few old CRT’s in order to revisit these classics as they were meant to be.
There have been the occasional attempt to revive the genre over the years. The Wii’s sensor bar allowed somewhat accurate tracking, with HotD: Overkill and the Resident Evil spin offs making good use of it. Ultimately though, it could never match the accuracy of the traditional model, feeling more akin to simply dragging a cursor around the screen than wielding a virtual firearm. VR has allowed a resurgence of sorts, though the need to don the (pricey) headset has kept it from truly taking off. Enter PDP and their MARS light-gun system. As you may be able to tell, I’m quite picky when it comes to getting this tech right; have PDP managed to satiate my needs?
In a word; absolutely. We’ll cover some of the software in separate reviews (Voyage of the Dead and Qubits Quest) but in terms of the hardware itself, well, things are pretty much spot on. Inside the box we have a bright white and orange wireless gun alongside the required camera and associated cable. Initial impressions were a little underwhelming, with the look of the gun coming across a little cheap and plastic-y. Once it’s in the hand though, these concerns melt away. The gun itself has a good weight to it, balanced well to make keeping it elevated for long play sessions easy. The trigger has a satisfying click to it when pulled, though not overly loud to be noticeable during play. Reloading is performed by pulling the orange slide barrel at the front of the gun. This moves easily and springs back quickly, again giving a great tactile feel to proceedings. I initially wasn’t keen on this – I’d have preferred the classic shoot off screen to reload – but quickly found it to be a good solution overall. There’s also an orange button on the rear of the barrel that again has a nice click when used. Finally, the little circular light on each gun changes colour depending on the player allowing you to easily determine who is who on screen (in Voyage, the player banner is aligned with the gun colour for example). The only thing that’s noticeably missing is some sort of vibration feedback, though it’s hardly a deal breaker.
Turning on the unit is a simple as pressing the right side of the coloured button, at which point it syncs with the base unit. This base unit is where the magic happens. Plugged in to the console via the provided USB cable, you’ll need to calibrate the setup each time you boot up a game. According to the manual, it will need to be placed at least the equivalent of your screen size away to function properly (i.e if you have a 50-inch screen, this is the distance away the camera will need to be). I found this to be spot on; whipping out the tape measure, my camera synced up at almost exactly 58-inches away. Handily, it doesn’t need to placed square on either. As long as the four corners of the screen can be seen you can place it pretty much anywhere. I found I had best results by placing it off to the side and a little further away than required. Of course, if you’re space limited you may find this to be a tad more tricky but the included cable is long enough that you should be able to work something out. It’s only micro-USB too, so longer cables could potentially be bought to aid placement.
When ready, the game will bring up the sync screen. A cursor will appear to indicate where the camera is pointing – this needs lining up with a symbol in the centre of the screen by manually moving the cameras position. I’ll admit, it took a little while to set things up the first time, the cursor moving in a delayed fashion in relation to your movement of the camera making it hard to properly line up. Small movements are the way forward, with a little patience required to see how the set up has changed. Once you get it roughly aligned, the cursor will flash for a few seconds before four more symbols appear in each corner. Again, provided the camera can see the corners, this part is over in a matter of seconds, an audible click from the camera indicating it is locked in place. As long as you don’t move or knock the camera, that’s the set up completed. On repeat plays lining up the camera becomes much simpler – even more so if you’re able to leave it in the same spot – so you’re really only looking at 10-15 seconds before you’re good to go. The camera itself can be adjusted up and down in its base, allowing it to be placed high or low according to you’re needs. Also bear in mind that it will need to be unplugged each time the console is powered off. Leaving it plugged in seemed to hard lock it, requiring unplugging and re-inserting before the console will recognise it’s there.
But, the key to all of this is accuracy. If after all that the guns feel off then it’ll all have been for nothing. Thankfully, that’s not the case. Each gun emits a low powered laser that is picked up by the camera which is then turned – via some sort of magic – into an action on screen. Let’s use Voyage as the example: Throughout you have a red laser dot indicating where you’re aiming. Looking down the sights on the gun show this perfectly aligned with the the dot. Equally impressively, quickly flicking the sight back and forth across the screen shows minimal lag – certainly small enough to never hinder during gameplay. While during my initial play I did find the far corners of the screen seemed to be dead zones – the laser simply refusing to go past a certain point – though a quick adjustment of the camera to be a few inches further away solved this instantly. Pulling the trigger sees the appropriate action – a zombie head exploding into chunks, for example – happen instantly, and rapidly pulling it saw my clip empty out as fast as I could go. There is also a gyro-meter inside, used in Voyage to escape the clutches of a zombie. I did find this to be somewhat hit and miss, though I’m not entirely sure it wasn’t just the game failing to recognise the input more than the hardware.
But the simple fact is that the act of playing is as seamless as it can be. Much like the older guns, simply pointing and shooting just works, with no perceptible lag or inaccuracies – indeed, older systems required a much more hit and miss calibration set up, so if anything this is a big improvement! For me, there’s something timeless about this genre and I’m so glad that it appears to be coming back into the scene.
I never thought I’d see the day, but a worthy successor to the light guns of old is finally here. Despite initial impressions based on the cheap looking aesthetic, the MARS Lightgun is a solid piece of kit that functions almost flawlessly. Set up can be a little fiddly first time round, but soon becomes second nature, letting you experience the quick responding and accurate action easily. I really hope we get to see more titles – both new and classic – support it, as it would be a shame if the current line up of just 3 titles were the end of things.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by the publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.