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Kor-FX Haptic Vest: Our first take

Kor-FX's haptic feedback vest will make you quiver, not quake

Kor-Fx’s vest is a rumble pack for VR, but it’s not for everybody

Treadmills, motion controllers, force feedback –  there are a lot of ways to bring more than just your audio and visual senses into play when it comes to gaming, and there’s no shortage of brands trying to do so.

The Kor-FX haptic vest places a series of specially tuned speakers at strategic points over your chest, so you can really feel the game you’re in to your very core. Kor-FX has been around the block already, with a successful Kickstarter campaign in June of 2014, and a loyal community of owners and optimizers.

More: Feel like you were shot in the back with KOR-FX (in a good way)

It’s hard to say whether there’s mainstream appeal for such a device, but virtual reality has shown there’s no shortage of enthusiasts willing to throw down for fun new toys.

How does it work?

Though it’s a vest, the Kor-FX is basically an audio device. It replicates a specific set of frequencies in game and movie audio, which are translated to the vest’s vibrations, before passing the audio off to your headphones or speakers.

Shooting a gun is sure to cause it to shake, but getting hit might not always cause a loud enough noise to register.

The best part of this arrangement is that the Kor-FX requires no software, and very little setup. Simply plug the adapter box into an audio port on your system, and connect the USB port for power. Connect your headphones to the other side of the adapter box, and you’re ready to go.

The downside is the Kor-FX can’t always respond to specific events as it should. Shooting a gun is sure to cause it to shake, but getting hit might not always cause a loud enough noise to register. That’s why game choice is important when considering the Kor-FX.

For best results, turn it up

The Kor-FX is most effective in games with a lot of loud audio. The over-the-top weaponry and heavy soundtrack in Gears of War 4 made a great example for showing off the vest. As the ground shook from the violent windstorms, and pieces of buildings came crashing down, they were accentuated by a rumbling to the chest.

That said, the Kor-FX isn’t a game-changing experience, even in the best of situations. It’s more effective at adding immersion than a rumble pack, but reactions in the office were mixed. Some users said the vest didn’t do much for them in terms of immersiveness or long-term appeal, while others felt it added an audio element that wasn’t there before, like the shaking you feel at a live concert.

It’s particularly ineffective in games without dramatic explosions and gunfire. If you’re playing Hearthstone or Minecraft, you might as well leave it on the shelf. That’s to be expected, and there are other peripherals, like high-end gaming headphones or a high-resolution screen, that won’t be used to their full potential all the time.

The VR difference

The Kor-FX shines when paired up with a virtual reality headset. In a field where immersion is the name of the game, anything that brings you closer to the action is worth its weight in gold.

We also observed a similar effect to what we felt with Adr1ft for the Oculus Rift. The fact the in-game character is wearing a helmet helps the headset feel more natural — you’re in space, so of course you’re wearing a spacesuit. The same is true in racing games with the Kor-FX. Because you’d be strapped in with a heavy seatbelt, the extra padding on your chest and shoulders feels more natural.

On the other hand, it doesn’t feel as natural in games like Hover Junkers, where you’re moving quickly and dodging often. Combined with a headset, motion controllers, and headphones, and it starts to feel like you’re carrying around a lot of stuff while you play – because you are.

Something new

There’s a lot to like about the Kor-FX, but its appeal has limits. It’s only a solid offering for those who play loud games – racing simulators, over-the-top shooters, and confrontational action games. If you’re more of a MOBA fan, or you mostly play quieter, more subdued games, the Kor-FX isn’t nearly as impactful.

More: HTC Vive review

The good news is that Kor-FX isn’t done, and work has begun on a new vest that will improve on the current model’s functionality. It’s still in the very early development phases, but the second iteration of the haptic vest will build on critical user feedback, and target second-generation virtual reality headsets that are no doubt coming down the pipeline later next year.

For now, the Kor-FX remains a fun addition for the enthusiast who already has a full virtual reality setup, or a full racing wheel and pedals. That’s a great position to be in as virtual reality begins to take on the mainstream.

Highs

  • Uniquely immersive
  • Comfortable, lightweight fit
  • SteamVR support
  • Easy setup

Lows

  • Works best in loud games
  • Mixed reactions