With graphics becoming more advanced every day, our yearning for realism in gaming is slowly being satisfied. While the virtual reality craze of the early 90s didn't quite take off, the idea of enveloping a player in the action seems to have lingered. The rumble pack in the Nintendo 64 introduced tactile contact with a video game, by giving the player immediate feedback to the on screen action by way of a gyro motor that would vibrate on command.
The Dual Shock controller from Sony jumped on the bandwagon while also perfecting it. These days people are so used to the vibrating controller that they don't give it a second thought. A new benchmark needs to be set, and the senses need to once more be uniquely stimulated. Enter the Pyramat PM 550. The PM 550 is a mat with what appears to be a raised pillow at one end. Inside the pillow is a vibration mat (really just a big sub woofer) and high quality speakers. The gamer attaches the RCA audio plugs from their console into the base and all sound for the game is routed to the mat instead of their television.
The effect is quite stunning. At first, it is slightly annoying and having something vibrating on your back seems more distracting than anything. However, once we got used to it, we actually found it contributing to the gaming experience. Sometimes, our jobs can be rather fun. In reviewing this product we got to set it up in front of a 62 inch DLP rear projection TV while playing Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter on our Xbox 360 in 720p high definition. It was very cool. The audio coming from the speakers was outstanding and the bass thumped hard against our back as we landed at our insertion point. As the helicopter flew away the rumble of the blades faded as the sound faded and we moved quietly toward the rally point.
With each hostile we brought down, the mat would react beautifully, each bullet corresponding to a thump from the bass or a hiss from the speakers. At first this was frustrating, as it was really distracting, but as we were cowering behind some cover that was being pummeled by AK-47 fire, we realised that it was actually helping the experience. The vibrations were causing a highly intense interaction with the game that hadn't been possible before. This is not a slight on Ghost Recon, the game is the best thing on the 360 at the moment, but with every game there is a level of detachment that the Pyramat seems to slightly melt away.
While it's fun to use and is a great idea, there are some fundamental flaws to the Pyramat that can't be ignored. The first and most obvious is that it is a mat. As experienced gamers, we really don't believe many people actually play games while lying on the floor. Most people play sitting in a chair or on a couch. Laying on the floor is too uncomfortable to play for extended periods. Secondly, the mat takes up a lot of space and would have to become a permanent fixture in a room to be used. While it goes fold away it's not terribly compact and would need to be set up every time you use it, which would be a pain. The last point is that having only RCA connections, the use is only limited to stereo usages. If you wanted to play a game with in a home theatre environment the Pyramat MP 550 would be useless.
We enjoyed this product and appreciate both its originality and quality but at the same time believe that you really need to decide if you will actually use it regularly enough to fork out the cash to get one. We are told there is a range of chair based products coming in the range in the near future and look forward to seeing those. We will have reviews for those products as soon as they become available.