There are tonnes of things out there which aim to increase immersion in games and we’ve looked at some of them before. The Novint Falcon, which focuses on giving players haptic feedback as they play. The GeForce 3DVision, which provides both a fully stereoscopic effect and a headache.
One thing all these things have in common though, beyond being gimmicky and novel beyond belief, is the infeasible price tag. They just cost too damned much and, unless you’ve got a bigger wallet than Activision, it’s likely you’ll never really get to go hands-on with most of this tech. Just as well really, it’s cool for a bit but most of it is usually more trouble than it’s worth.
One of the simpler and cheaper bits of tech to make its way onto the market in the last decade is that of gaming chairs and add-ons, which have been getting steadily cheaper in recent years. Finally, they’re starting to reach a point where you can pick up a proper, all-singing, all-dancing, all-vibrating chair-piece without breaking the bank or resorting to rude jokes about vibrators. Heh.
The Ultimate Gaming Chair - complete with tiny, tinny speakers that dig into your shoulders
The Free Play is one of the cheaper chairs on the market and it’s certainly one of the cheaper models available from manufacturer Ultimate Game Chair, who goes all the way up to selling the actual Ultimate Game Chair if you’re really ready to flash your cash to get the full-set of massaging motors with surround sound and so on.
For most people the Free Play model is a much more reasonable model though – a touch over £100 gets you most of the features in a cut-down and more portable model. Where the actual Ultimate Game Chair has twelve ‘game-synced’ motors and a reclining back and foot rest, the Free Play has the benefit that you can fold it up and shift it around pretty easily. It can be fitted on to almost any chair with a sufficiently high back, easily fastening onto most office chairs or car seats.
Fitting the Free Play on to any chair is as simple as laying it down how you want it, then slipping the elastic belt on the back over the chair. There are two smaller elastic loops near the bend of the chair which don’t seem to have a prescribed use that we could make out, but are for just generally securing the Free Play mat in place.
The control hub lets you plug in headphones and alter volume and sensitivity
Our first move was to slip each loop over the arms of our office chairs, but this ended up just pulling the mat too far down so we just tied them in a knot around behind the chair, which worked a treat. We didn’t have any troubles fastening the Free Play to any chair after we learned that trick.
The size of the mat itself is worth bearing in mind as although it fits over most chairs, it isn’t perfectly sized to the people who might use them. The overall length of the Free Play chair mat is around 100cm – 60cm above the bend, 40 cm below. For most people that size is going to be fine, but I’m 6ft 4in and so are most of the people I work with (Rich: Speak for yourself!), so the first thing that any of us thought when we sat down was “the speakers are digging into my shoulders”.
The speakers aren’t even any good either – they’re plastic, moulded little lumps near the top of the mat which offer more tin than a four pack of soup, sounding like a herd of eunuch mice being slowly run over a cheese grater.