For years, the standard in colour TVs was the 50/60Hz interlaced CRT (cathode ray tube) display running at 576/480 lines. However, recently TVs have been anything but standard. First came 100/120Hz for less flicker. Then came progressive scan for a higher clarity of picture. Then the traditional tube was usurped by flat screens often running at 720-or-higher number of lines. When there was only one type of TV, making a lightgun was easy, but on more modern TVs most lightguns will either not understand the refresh rate, or just not function at all since they depend on detecting the electron beam coming from a CRT TV. Whilst there has been an attempt at getting a universal gun to work before, we weren't impressed by the results. However, the EMS LCD TopGun is worth looking at.
The Topgun works by sensing the orientation of the gun. A strip of infrared emitters is placed on both sides of the screen and connected to the gun. Once calibrated, the gun then knows where you are pointing it, based on the signals received from each emitter. A simple enough solution that will work for any display - futureproofing is looking good. These strips can be simply hung from the top of the screen via removable hooks, screwed to a wall (for huge screen projector action) or our favoured choice of just bluetacking them to the sides of the screen to avoid having to recalibrate each time.
The gun is a Beretta pistol rip-off, made from plastic and feels good in practice. The weight of the gun is a good trade-off between being heavy enough to allow good spatial/inertia awareness and light enough for extended use. Importantly, left-handers are catered for with the button layout. It's packed with features that we weren't expecting from something so cheap to buy, including laser-sight, recoil mechanism, rapid fire and a variety of button placements. There are four buttons (including the trigger) and a digital pad for easy menu navigation. Two of the buttons are just under either side of the barrel where your right or left thumb naturally falls when supporting the gun with the non-trigger hand (thus good for left-handers). There's another button on the grip for those able to co-ordinate the trigger finger independently to the rest on the same hand. Start and Select buttons are also available, easily accessed for quick pausing when someone walks across the room during a tense gun-fight. The rapid-fire is a two-stage affair: mode 1 just keeps firing as fast as it can, whilst mode 2 fires off a few shots and then pauses very briefly before firing off a few more.
The recoil mechanism is quite intrusive, both in movement and in the noise it makes, so although it looks good, it can't quite keep up with machine guns in Crisis Zone, or with the rapid trigger-fingers needed to finish off bosses as quickly as possible. It doesn't limit the rate of fire, but is slightly disorienting when it is going off at a different rate to the bullets hitting the screen. It works perfectly with the slower pace of Time Crisis 3. Either way, if you get bored of the recoil, it can be turned off.
A rather special feature is that it works on the PS2 and PC (drivers included) via a USB cable, and on the Xbox via a normal Xbox pad plug, so it's compatible with a large range of shooters. A small switch under the grip switches between the two different lead types.
In use, the TopGun performs admirably well. The laser dot position can be moved so it lines up with the gun sights, so doing a calibration straight after this makes the gun aim right down the sights as you would expect. Turning the dot off during play is the shooterís preferred option, but if you wimp out and leave it on during play, it matches up with the bullet holes most of the time, apart from near the edges of the screen where the bullet holes seem to drag slightly, not quite making it all the way to the edges. However, this was only noticed when we turned the dot on during play and hasnít adversely affected play in the games we used for testing (Crisis Zone or Time Crisis 3), with unconscious aiming adjustments sorting it out. What is more noticeable is the way you need to be a certain distance from the screen, both to calibrate properly and then to retain working function during play. Too close and it just wouldnít calibrate properly and if you moved closer (after a successful calibration), or too far above the screen, accuracy was lost to varying degrees. However, this is to be expected due to the nature of the way the TopGun works. The only way this might bother you normally is if you had an enormous screen in a small room. On our 32Ē widescreen, we had to sit 1.8m from the screen, which happily coincided with the sofa. People with projector screens or large flat-panels will probably have the space to stand the extra metre or so required, but itís worth considering. The official website has guidelines if you are concerned. The cable can cope with up to around 3m, although you would need to reposition your console or get extension cables for anything greater than 2m.
The only other niggle is that on PS2 Guncon-compatible games, because itís a USB device, the PS2 assumes itís a Guncon, so you have to wait 'til the game has fully loaded before plugging it in, otherwise the Guncon calibration screen appears.
We werenít sure what to expect when we ordered this gun, but itís pleasantly surprising. It does the job and we would have still been impressed with the TopGunís performance if it came in at twice the price. As it is, itís an absolute steal. It may not be the best gun ever, but it comes close to rivalling CRT-only guns and if you have any other sort of screen, this will bring a huge smile to your face Ė you havenít really got much option if you want to play gun games.
Since originally publishing this feature, there have been various revisions of this gun which can be purchased at Play-Asia