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by Microsoft

 

So many joysticks, so little time.  And money.  There are so many options, abilities, and programmability variances between them that it can be a nightmare selecting one that suits your gaming needs. Luckily, Microsoft’s latest model, the Sidewinder Force Feedback 2, covers just about every detail with a responsive, USB compatible, compact package of gaming goodness.

The Sidewinder Force Feedback 2 retains the stylish ebony looks as its predecessor and keeps the number of buttons the same as the original, but tweaks the configuration a bit, with great results. There’s still a hat and three buttons for your thumb, but this time the two smaller buttons are placed on either side, rather than packed together on the right side. The long slim button is now a curved button for the lower part of your thumb, which allows you to pop off customized button commands very efficiently.  The trigger has become a bit firmer and packs a little more punch than the original's rounded design. The buttons are also conveniently numbered 1-8, making in-game configuration easier. The stick supports USB only and doesn't always support games that aren’t Windows 98 compliant. The base is heavy and solid, because the power supply is inside it—that means that there's just an AC cable on the outside, with no bulky transformer-brick to plug into an outlet.

The software drops drivers, Control Panel customization applets, and the powerful SideWinder Gaming Controller software into place. The latest version of the latter is built into the FF2's Control Panel applet, so there's no need to launch a separate application to map keys and combos to buttons. A green light on the base lets you know if the flight stick is plugged in properly.  There are two shades of green for the light.  A bright green means that the force feedback is active and that the stick is working.  If the light is a darker shade of green, it means that your hand isn't covering up the optical beam, which engages the force feedback motor.  For those who like to, you can also create your own custom profiles for the games you play. Each button lights up on the screen when you configure it to confirm the settings.

Most games are prepared to handle input from the standard eight-button joystick, but that didn't limit the Microsoft wizards when developing software—there’s a high level of customization possible with the Force Feedback 2. The Sidewinder software allows for custom profiles, and has the ability to map keystrokes and macros to button presses. Details like pauses are available to be used as well. Many sticks rely on your game to set the dead zone, sensitivity and calibration, but the Force Feedback 2 allows you to set it for the controller in general. The software is easy to use and makes it very intuitive to implement routines for new game profiles. There was a bug, recently squashed at Microsoft's website, that made the stick problematic with VIA-based chipsets, but that's resolved now.

Compared to the original release, the new Sidewinder Force Feedback 2 is a nice upgrade that takes up less space, has more programming versatility, and no power brick to deal with. If you're in the market for a new force feedback joystick, you’ll want to consider this one. For around 90 bucks, the Sidewinder Force Feedback 2 is a great stick that demonstrates Microsoft’s ability to improve a well-established product with several enhancements.  Overall, with it’s reduced size, weight, USB connection and the internal A/C power supply the Sidewinder Force Feedback 2 is more than a worthy successor to the original—it joins the ranks of must-have peripherals for serious gamers.  

Al Wildey

Snapshot

Ups: Great design, versatile, smaller footprint, small plug!

Downs: A bit spendy.

System Reqs: P166, USB, 16MB RAM, WIN 98.

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