I know it all sounds crazy, but it actually works better than you might think – depending, of course, on how effectively amBX works with the game of your choice. The issue here is how games are supported. They can be developed specifically with amBX in mind, in which case code is embedded that tells the lamps, fans and wrist pad what to do. They can also be modded afterwards with amBX specific patches, in which case the same applies. Finally, they can be supported by amBX through the special FXGen applet, which analyses the graphics and audio data and uses that as a basis to create relevant amBX effects.
FXGen doesn’t support every game – you can check out the supported titles over at www.amBX.com – but it does support a decent selection including Crysis, Mass Effect, Age of Conan and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. The problem is that the degree of support varies greatly from title to title. To get the measure of amBX’s potential I tried a few fully supported titles, including the slightly venerable TOCA Race Driver 3 and Defcon, which were included in the Premium bundle, plus Quake 4 (modded for amBX).
TOCA gave me a pretty good introduction. The first surprise is how good the 2.1 speaker setup is. The sound is meaty and powerful, with the sort of pumping bass response that, while not ideal for all types of music, is perfect for high-octane gaming. In TOCA, the glow of the lamps mainly reflects the colour of the sky or immediate scenery, meaning there’s an awful lot of blue, but at the start of the race they glow red then green for the starting lights, which adds a little to the pre-race build up.
The rumbling wrist pad, meanwhile, responds to the roar of the engine and the interaction between tyre and terrain. The effect is good, much like the rumble in a console controller, but personally, I’d rather play with a steering wheel than a keyboard and have proper force feedback effects.
The surprise star, however, is the fans, which kick in as the car gains speed to give you an invigorating blast in the face as you race along. The effect might be more convincing if the speed of the fans (and so the blast of air) responded more directly to changes of acceleration or direction, but it certainly adds a certain ”je ne sais quoi” to the racing experience. £150 worth of ”je ne sais quoi”? On the evidence of TOCA Race Driver 3 alone, probably not, even if the title has held up pretty well, given its age.