The Tech Zone (Review)
Posted: 2002-10-24, Written By: Nex, Price: $29.99 USD, Provided By: Act Labs


For all you gamers out there wishing for an arcade/console gun shooter experience on your PC, Act Labs has the answer to your prayers. Act Labs, makers of many highly acclaimed peripherals for the demanding PC gamer, has done it again with their PC USB Light Gun peripheral. The PC USB Light Gun is an excellent way to experience the thrill of light gun shooting games right on your very own desktop PC.

Aside from the immersing experience given to you by the light gun, the actual hardware itself is also very well constructed. It is comfortable to hold, highly accurate, and extremely easy to install. And for all you gun lovers out there, you can even use it with your regular Windows desktop programs as the light gun itself can somewhat substitute as a mouse.
Contents & Hardware

The contents include the light gun, a VGA adaptor box that is attached to the gun, a VGA cable, and an installation CD. The light gun has a 6-foot cable attached to the VGA adapter box and is used to connect your gun to your monitor.

There are no drivers required for this gun. The gun mimics a mouse, so your OS thinks you’re just plugging in another mouse. The concept of the gun is simple, when you fire on the screen, it acts as a left click on that position. When you fire outside of the screen area, then it is a right click. This works well for games like House of the Dead 2, since the default mouse control is set to left click for shoot, and right click for reload.

On the light gun, there is a button on the left hand side and a slider switch on the right hand side.

The left side button acts as a right mouse click, and the slider switch on the right activates the light gun calibration mode. Since the slider switch is not labeled, you may accidentally switch the gun into calibration mode when you first install it, which will cause your entire monitor to go white.
No respectable light gun should come without a line of sight to aid you in accurate shooting. Act Lab’s light gun is no exception.

The tactile feedback on the trigger is firm and does not give a hint of the trigger mechanism loosening up or breaking anytime soon. Every time you squeeze and release the trigger, you get a nice satisfying audible click feedback.

For you “hobby enthusiasts” out there who like to tinker with the hardware, you can slide off the back top half of the gun to reveal the last 2 remaining screws to unscrew the gun.

Also, for all you tense shooters, squeezing the light gun does not cause it to creak like a cheaply made plastic contraption. To top things off, the light gun has a comfortable and smooth rubber grip for you to grasp the light gun firmly.

There are even additional rubber grips for holding the gun with two hands.

The Setup:

The term “plug and play” defines the ease of the light gun setup precisely. For those of you who have installed USB devices, this light gun installation is no different. To sum up the installation quickly, you just plug the monitor’s VGA cable into the VGA adaptor box and then plug the VGA cable from the adapter box directly into the video card. Then you plug in the USB cord and Windows will automatically detect the light gun and complete the installation. Power is drawn from the USB port.

The CD-ROM contains very easy and intuitive instructions for the uninitiated. You simply the onscreen instructions as you install your light gun. Calibration of the gun, which will be discussed next, will be required before you can use it for the very first time. The installation CD comes with a video that shows you how to perform a proper calibration.

Due to the technology of the light gun, calibration of the hardware is mandatory. Calibration is required whenever the monitor’s resolution or refresh rate is changed. For example, if the game you are playing has a resolution different from your desktop, you must recalibrate the gun before playing or else the gun will not work properly. Recalibration should be done on a regular and frequent basis depending on how often settings change. If you want to ensure you are getting the best accuracy out of your light gun, then recalibration should be done often.

The Performance:
The accuracy of the light gun is impressive. Whether I was aiming from up close or from the maximum length of the light gun’s cord, I was able to consistently hit my intended target. The line of sight on the gun adds a degree of accuracy should you choose to use it. Routine calibration may seem like a hassle at first, but I found it as a small price to pay for the accuracy I enjoyed. The weight of the light gun is quite light, so it should not be a fatigue factor when playing for long periods of time.

The only caution I have about this product is due to the way this technology is implemented. For each and everytime you squeeze the trigger, whether you are pointing on screen or not, the screen gives off a quick white flash to calculate where you are aiming. People who are susceptible to epilepsy may find this a problem or a cause for concern. While testing the light gun with many games, especially with House of the Dead 2, I did not find the flashing white screen bothering me at all as the flash seems to blend in quite well with the action of actually firing a gun. Especially in the heat of a battle, in a game like House of the Dead 2, you should not conscientiously notice the constant white flashes. This is not to say that that it will not bother some people, but it certainly did not bother me.

Disconnecting and reconnecting the light gun per use will be a hassle. For those of you who are conscientious about leaving your monitor connected through the VGA adapter box regularly, fear not. I have found no degradation in the monitor’s signal quality whatsoever by leaving the VGA box connected permanently. It would take the most discriminating person to identify any degradation in terms of color, sharpness, or brightness that may be compromised by leaving the VGA box adapter plugged in.

Since the gun is design to mimic a mouse, you cannot set up two guns on a single computer. We enjoyed playing House of the Dead 2 so much with this gun, we were considering about buying a second gun to network two computers. The folks at Act-labs were nice enough to send us an additional gun to review when we asked if we could have another one! Playing multiplayer side-by-side makes you really feel like you’re at the arcade with your friend.

Software Support The first game that should come to mind when thinking of shooting games is Sega’s famous House of The Dead series, specifically House of the Dead 2. House of the Dead 2 is perhaps the best light gun game to be enjoyed with Act Lab’s light gun. The installation CD also comes with links to play games on the web created with Macromedia and Shockwave technology. Act-Lab’s web site also provides links to games and all the information on game compatibilities.

Conclusion :

At an affordable price, you can make no mistake in picking up an Act Lab’s USB Light Gun. For less then 30 US dollars, you will be bringing home the arcade/console shooter experience without much compromise. Small, lightweight, comfortable grip, great accuracy, affordability, ease of installation, what more can you possibly ask for?