The Crossbow has long been the sign of a nerf veteran. It is a weapon whose reliability and performance is matched only by the increasing rarity with which it can be found. The PlusBow has been designed, by our very own Captain Slug, as a homemade alternative to the crossbow. The question this review seeks to answer is, "Has Slug succeeded?" Does the +Bow represent a viable substitute, or even an upgrade, for those who cannot procure a working crossbow?
I have been an outspoken proponent of the crossbow for years. My current crossbow, Binky, has been my primary for almost a decade and has been through various modifications and iterations. Some might say this would make me a hard nerfer to sway, but that is, I suspect, precisely why CaptainSlug chose to send me the Beta version of his foam cannon with the caveat that I would evaluate and publish my thoughts on it.
What follows is a review throughout which I will compare the +bow to the crossbow on several criteria including performance, comfort, reliability/durability, legality, and potential. As such, I warn that there are no numeric ranges (if that's what you were looking for, fuck off now) posted here as they are entirely dependent on the barrel and darts of your choice, and really do not tell the tale of the weapon's effectiveness.
Finally, before I begin I want to make clear a few assumptions upon which I will base this review. 1. The Plusbow being evaluated represents Slug's working model as of today, 1/23/08, and may not be identical to models available for purchase or production at a later date. 2. The crossbow it is being compared to has been subject to standard modifications, has no integrations, and shoots roughly 90-100' depending on the ammo and barrel material. 3. The person using both weapons is VERY familiar with the crossbow, and is an experienced nerfer. 4. For a variety of reasons, this reviewer believes the Crossbow to be the single finest nerf weapon for a skilled and experienced nerfer.
Ok, on to the Review.
The PlusBow has matched or outranged every crossbow I have run across. Using the same barrel material and dart it is certainly a more powerful and accurate weapon. I have found that I can pick people off more easily using the +bow and its simple sighting mechanism (one raised sight in the rear matched to the front of your barrel) than I can with my crossbow. When using the gun you have a choice between 3 plunger settings, and these comparisons are utilizing the longest possible pull. The performance using the shorter pulls scales very uniformly, providing accuracy over shorter distances. I personally have found little reason to use anything but the longest pull, but the shorter pulls are certainly useful when confronting enemies at a closer range as they will marginally decrease priming time (not by much though) and are a more humane option when shooting a nearby opponent.
More important than the maximum range, I have found, is the consistency with which this weapon shoots. As with any gun and barrel match it has its favorite ammo type, but its massive plunger tube and spring seem to fire anything I put in it with more regularity than my crossbow. I find that with my crossbow, despite its reliability, a wider variety of darts drop the range of the gun while the plusbow is generally more forgiving. This is especially useful at large wars where you may run short on your own darts and be forced to chamber a lesser make of foam projectile.
Rate Of Fire
There are 2 components to rate of fire: reload, and priming.
For reload, I use the same style of flip breach with this weapon as I do with my crossbow. The muzzle adaptor on the +bow is a little grippier than the coupler on my crossbow, and this slows my reload a bit. However, the fact that I don't have to thread my barrel down the coupler in the front to the recessed chamber, as I do with a crossbow, saves almost as much time as the tighter connection wastes.
The plunge pull is a bit longer than and not quite as smooth as that of a crossbow. The pull is a little heavier as well, but this depends entirely on how many bands you have on your crossbow I suppose. Using the double handle setup slug has designed provides a nice track for the plunger, but this is really a matter of your personal comfort. I have found that using several coat hangers bent to shape and covered in electrical tape (LNL special) is a VERY comfortable way to prime this weapon, and while I did this initially out of necessity, I am tempted to leave it that way.
Performance Advantage : Plusbow
This is a bit more of a subjective evaluation, but as a long time crossbow user I feel it is an important issue. The Plusbow is modeled to replicate the feel of a crossbow very closely, and in terms of function is does that well. That said, it is difficult to match the comfort of the crossbow handle, stock, and fore grip. The foam slug has added between the parallel handle panels helps a bit, but a very healthy helping of it still falls short of the contours of the crossbow. I would recommend anyone building or purchasing this to really overstuff the handle, as a dearth of this padding may leave the heel of your palm sore when repeatedly cocking the +bow. Personally, I got over this very quickly and have had no blisters or abrasions on my hand after a full day of use, but it is definitely something one must consider. Additionally, the cocking handles provided, while making for a relatively easy pull, are not as easy on the hand as the curved crossbow handle. My coat hangers, on the other hand, are pure e-tape heaven.
The trigger pull is another concern. The strength of the massive plunger spring and the requisite beefy nature of the catch mechanism combine to make a trigger pull that is closer in feel to the Big Bad Bow than to the hair trigger of a crossbow. Finally, the stock is of good length, but takes a little getting used to. It, again, is a flat plastic panel as opposed to a seductively curved crossbow stock. I did find, however, that Captain Slug added some foam to the rear of his personal stock and this brought it a lot closer to its nerf predecessor in feel. While the +bow has become more comfortable to me with use, the Crossbow is certainly an easier weapon to pick up and perform with on first try.
Comfort Advantage : Crossbow
When I first received my plusbow I had two concerns about this. 1: the screws slug had used to assemble it liked to jog their way out of place with a lot of use, and the plunger handle (slug had only sent one side of it) was a little flimsy. Fortunately, slug addressed both these problems and made them complete non-issues by the second war I attended with the gun. During the second war I found myself using the +bow exclusively, and had absolutely no problems with misfires, jams (the design prohibits this really) or any kind of wear and tear. The gun performs admirably similar to its non-homemade sibling. This is about the highest praise I could give a gun because the crossbow is the most reliable nerf primary I've ever used. Add to that the fact that the +bow is machined out of higher grade plastic, and that all its parts are completely replaceable and you get a leg up in the durability department like no weapon that's come before.
Reliability/Durability Advantage: Plusbow
Ok, what the hell am I talking about? This is simple really. There are many wars where homemade nerf guns are not allowed in play. In such wars the plusbow will not be an option. On the other hand, the crossbow is an original nerf blaster and will never leave you empty handed. That said, the plusbow is so similar in function and style to a stock nerf gun, combined with the fact that it is a springer, and I think you will find more venues accepting of this weapon than they are of other homemade blasters. Still, it is something you must consider. At our annual invitational war, will the other horsemen let me use my new blaster? Doubtful.
Legality Advantage: Crossbow
This is something that the crossbow has long dominated in. The ability not only to heavily modify the blaster itself, but also to add additional components, via integration, to its spacious shell has made it the benchmark in nerf ingenuity. Well, it's met its match. The plusbow comes in no need of modification to its primary mechanism, and offers just as many options for additional components. The rail system, which Slug has added to the gun, works precisely as it appears. Though I have not yet added anything to it myself, with an appropriate bracket adding a pistol or second barrel should be a cinch. Again, I have not yet done this and cannot directly comment on its function, but with a system already in place the +bow certainly has an edge over the crossbow which must use epoxy/goop and tape to adhere its integrations. And yet, that advantage pales in comparison to the ability to refine the primary mechanism that slug has already demonstrated to me. I have had this gun for roughly 3 weeks and slug has addressed every concern I had with this blaster. He has replaced the ever loosening screws with completely secure ones, he has given me a double sided cocking handle to replace the flimsy single sided one, and I have just been told that he will ship out a new and improved trigger design that he has been working on this week. While I doubt he can keep up this kind of tech support indefinitely, he is determined to refine this weapon into a finished product that will satisfy even the harshest critics. This gun is only getting better.
Potential Advantage: Plusbow
In summary, Captain Slug has succeeded in engineering a very suitable replacement for the Crossbow. While this blaster is not the panacea of nerf weaponry that I'm sure some Slugophiles are yearning for; it does an admirable job of mimicking the crossbow's strong suits, and improving upon them when possible. While I am not ready to declare the +Bow out and out superior to the crossbow, I would highly recommend it to anyone who does not have a crossbow, and does not want to shell out the increasingly exorbitant price to obtain one.