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Defcon is a trickier proposition: how do you use amBX in a slow-burning, abstract strategy game? The answer is to use the lighting to enhance the mood, with different colours of ambient light to tie in to the different stages of Defcon. This isn’t perhaps such a compelling use of the technology, but with the lights switched down the atmosphere is strengthened, giving your desktop that authentic Wargames missile command bunker feel.
For a real glimpse of amBX’s potential, however, you need to try the specially modified version of Quake 4. It helps that the moody glow of the ambient lights works especially well within the game’s dark, futuristic interiors, and that the boom and rattle of shotgun and machine gun works so effectively with the powerful speaker system and vibrating wrist-pad. But Quake 4 also manages something that few other amBX titles seem able to manage – to really use the fans for atmospheric effect.
The key word is subtlety. Sure, you get a big blast of air when you make a big jump or let off a rocket, but the more impressive thing is how the fans produce small, low-power drafts to give certain environments a more immersive feel or to represent air ducts or outdoor spaces. The overall effect is to really drag you one step further into the game – and make a slightly dated and noticeably old-school shooter into a new, compelling experience. It really is that good.
The problem is that few other titles tested match up to that. Crysis could and should have been the biggie, but with only FXGen rather than a full mod controlling the amBX setup, it never really comes together as a coherent whole. The lighting works wonders in night scenes or when inside the alien craft, but not always so effectively in sunlight or jungle shade. It’s also a bit jarring that you get a rush of air when you throw a grenade and it explodes, but not when an old drum blows.
AmBX still adds something to the game, but the overall effect isn’t as convincing as it should be. The same goes for Mass Effect, where again, the lighting enhances atmosphere and mood but the rest of the equipment feels a bit wasted – at least in the stretch I played. Basically, while amBX works with a large library of games, it only truly comes alive when a game has been written or modified to make full use of it. All the more disappointing, then, that Race Driver: GRID doesn’t seem to use the fans or rumble pad at present.