Most of my comparisons will be based upon what I perceive are the differences between the TrackIR2 and the TrackIR 3-Pro. I have read on the boards that the TrackIR 3-Pro is a significant improvement over the first version of the TrackIR and I will have to take their word for it.
A Comparison of the NaturalPoint TrackIR Series
I played four games with the TrackIR3. Three of them used for testing the TrackIR2 were included in the TrackIR3 testing. These include Lock On: Modern Air Combat, IL-2 Sturmovik – Forgotten Battles: Aces Expansion Pack and Flight Simulator 2004. I added one new game, WW2 Online, which I am currently writing a review for SimHQ. WW2OL is the latest game to add TrackIR enhanced support giving the player the chance to look around vehicles, AT/AA guns and vehicles. I dropped Aces High II since they haven’t, at least to this point, included enhanced support.
Editor’s Note – July 31, 2004: Aces High II has added TrackIR support.
I had some fairly serious complaints about LOMAC with the TrackIR2. In enhanced mode the game panned unevenly and too quickly. I found it more than irritating. With the TrackIR3 the panning has improved substantially. At the default settings I find the game eminently playable. In fact, the panning is downright perfect for the game. Whether the fix is related to the TrackIR3, the 2.02 patch or a combination I am not totally sure but I don’t really care. The result of it all is I finally feel like I can recommend the TrackIR system for fliers of LOMAC. I really couldn’t do that before.
IL2FB really didn’t seem much different to me. I think this is because the software optimization for the TrackIR is probably the best with IL2. Oleg Maddox’s masterpiece offered TrackIR support from the beginning and it’s use in the game has always been outstanding. Panning is smoother but overall I wouldn’t recommend upgrading from the TrackIR2 if you are primarily an IL2 flier. Of course if you haven’t gotten a TrackIR yet then I would highly recommend it for the IL2 crowd.
FS2004 is somewhat smoother as well. As I said with the TrackIR2 I am not totally convinced that the TrackIR systems are an essential item with the Microsoft title. I’m not saying it doesn’t work well with the game, it is excellent in virtual cockpit mode. The thing that probably limits the overall need for the system is the lack of urgent pinpoint control of the bogies. It certainly makes the game more realistic feeling; I find that it makes all games feel more realistic. At the same time I also think that everything the TrackIR makes easier in the game can be done pretty much as well with current hat switches and the mouse. If you buy a TrackIR3 for FS2004 you will not be disappointed to be sure but it isn’t the life critical device that I personally think it is for combat related simulations.
The last game with enhanced support is WW2OL. In air-to-air mode this really improves the functionality of the game. Prior to the last major upgrade to Playnet’s title, cockpit viewing was limited to the hat switch only — even with a fully virtual cockpit. v1.14 fixed this problem, allowing for mouse view, and enhanced support in the game. Just like IL2FB in multiplayer mode, the ability to pan the cockpit gives the flier an almost “unfair advantage” over opponents.
I did have a problem, something that I am sure is related to the new nature of the support. In the default settings I was able to setup and use the TrackIR3 without any difficulties. I thought the panning was a little too quick so I decided to modify the settings in the control panel of the TrackIR and get back into the game. Unfortunately, for some reason this completely lost the TrackIR in the game. In mouse emulation and in enhanced mode I couldn’t get anything. Reverting back to stock mode and firing up the game again fixed the problem but this is a bug in either the TrackIR drivers, WW2OL’s build or a combination of both.
I’m going to take a small piece and comment on a game that doesn’t have native support for the TrackIR. HiTech Creation’s Aces High II has just been released and I was disappointed to see that the game does not have native support for enhanced mode. The TrackIR3 works fine in mouse emulation but AHII really needs enhanced mode to work optimally. Right now bringing up the interface clipboard to check on something or to click on the map creates a wild gyration as you move your mouse, your TrackIR and try to click. A setup like IL2FB would be marvelous in the game.
When you consider the outstanding view system in the game, one where you can not only pan the cockpit, but move your seat position around to get a better view (very nice when trying to land your F4U on that aircraft carrier) the omission of enhanced support is almost sinful. I hope HTC will read this or that someone will forward my comments to them. With the enhanced mode support Aces High II will have the best view system in flight simulation. Without it, it is marginal at best.
Overall these games gave me a decent overall impression of how the device works with what I consider a decent cross reference of simulations that support enhanced mode with the device. There are many new sims coming out including GTR, the new racing simulation from SimBin and some first person shooters like Operation Flashpoint 2 from Bohemia Interactive. I potentially see a quick crossover into fps games. I could easily see enhanced mode allowing realistic head movements while the mouse working for gunsight mode when you are ready to shoot. Hopefully developers of these games will quickly recognize the potential of the device and will increasingly support it. Not only will this make the games more popular, but it will also increase NaturalPoint sales, something that I think should happen.
As I said before, any simulation that comes out without enhanced support for the TrackIR3 will be dinged by me. It may seem cruel, but to me releasing a title without native support for the TrackIR is like releasing a sim without the ability to re-map keys. It was fine in the past but not even close to acceptable now.