Monday, March 29, 2004

InterAct AxisPad Gamepad

Rating: 1 out of 5
Pros:Inexpensive, similar to the PSX controller Cons:Sticky, unresponsive buttons, force feedback don't work

Introduction

First off, let me say that I was never a big user of computer game pads. In fact, I had only ever owned one game pad until last year, when I bought two inexpensive ones from Wal-Mart to try out. One of those two was a Saitek P150, and the other was this InterAct AxisPad.

The AxisPad is compatible with Microsoft Windows 95/98/ME and XP, as well as Macintosh.

I ultimately bought two of these controllers. After I brought the first one home, and started trying to play with it, I realized that one of the buttons was broken, and another was sticking so badly that it was unusable. I brought it back, and exchanged it for another identical controller. My mistake, I guess, because the second one wasn't much better.

Features & Layout

The AxisPad is a semi-transparent blue color. You can look through the casing and see the circuit board, some wires, the motors and weights for the force feedback. The AxisPad is also available in purple, but the blue color was the only one that Wal-Mart had on the shelves at the time of purchase.

At first glance, the AxisPad seems to be a clone of the popular PSX controller from Sony. There is a directional pad, two analog joysticks (which can be pressed and used as extra buttons), and four buttons arranged in a diamond on the right hand side. They are numbered 1, 2, 3, 4 instead of square, triangle, circle, x though. The start and select buttons on the PSX controller are replaced with enter and esc buttons, respectively.

There are similarly two buttons on the left top, and two more on the right top, to correspond to the L1, L2, R1, and R2 buttons on the PSX controller. The final button is situated between the two analog sticks, and is labeled mode/game set, and is similar in usage to the same button on the PSX controller. It is used to switch between analog and digital control modes.

This controller is also supposed to have force feedback. If you look at it, you can see a weight in the left hand side, and a smaller weight in the right hand side of the hand grip. These unbalanced weights spin around, making the controller vibrate unevenly, to simulate the force feedback. The only problem with this, is that it has never worked for me.

The AxisPad is really cheap feeling too. It's really thin, and very light weight. You might not want to squeeze it too hard while playing something like a sports game where emotions run high. You might also want to be careful not to drop it, as it might just break. Overall, it just has a really flimsy feeling too it.

My Experience

When I got this controller home and hooked it up, I decided to try it out and see how I liked it. Installing it was just a matter of plugging in the USB cord to the computer. It worked right from the start. That's cool, but I figured I should probably install the drivers from the included CD, rather than take a chance on the default Windows 98 drivers. There really seemed to be no difference after installing the included drivers, but I figured it was probably best to keep them.

I plugged in a few games, and proceeded to give it a complete testing, and see what it could do. First came a racing game. I noticed right away that the directional pad was just plain terrible. You really have to mash the heck out of it to get your car to move. The analog stick was a little better, but it tends to stick if you push it up and left. The esc and enter buttons don't map correctly half of the time, and the bottom shoulder button on the right side is unresponsive. I don't know quite what the InterAct testers were doing with these things, but they sure are big pieces of junk.

The force feedback never worked at all. You can look and see the motors and weights, they just never kicked in or turned. A big disappointment, as this was the first PC controller I ever owned with force feedback capabilities, and I was looking forward to trying it out.

On the plus side, the controller fits well into your hands. Not quite as well as the PSX controller, but maybe that's just because I am used to using the PSX controller I guess. It is a hair bigger than the PSX controller, and the directional pad is bigger as well. The shoulder buttons are shaped differently, as are the esc & enter buttons in the center. All the buttons are in roughly the same position though.

If you look past the unresponsive and sticky buttons though, it would be a pretty good controller. Maybe if you get lucky, you can get a controller that works right. If so, you will probably be extremely happy with it. That was just not the case for me, such is my luck.

Conclusion

I would only recommend this controller if you can't afford a better one. Unresponsive, sticky buttons, and non-working force feedback make this one a bit too cheap for it's own good. I still have mine, but I rarely use it. I keep it only because it was so inexpensive, and I havn't really had the money to go search out and purchase a better controller.

Even my Saitek P150 was better than this, but has less buttons, no force feedback, and no analog sticks. If you are looking for a decent quality PC controller, take a look at some of the latest offerings from Microsoft or Logitech.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Logitech Dual Action Gamepad

Rating: 4 out of 5
Pros:Comfortable, fully featured controller, and the Logitech Profiler software is great Cons:No force feedback, directional pad can't be used with many games

Introduction.

After having tried a couple of bargain priced game pads, and not really finding what I was looking for, I decided to check out Logitech's Dual Action game pad. It was only twenty dollars, and it looked like a decent game pad for the price. I have had good luck with Logitech products in the past, so I was willing to bet that the Dual Action would also be good. I couldn't believe I actually found a decent game pad at a K-Mart store, as they carry very few computer products around here besides printers.

I was not mistaken. My opinion may be slightly biased after trying out the Saitek P150 and InterAct's AxisPad, but then again the Dual Action is a much better game pad while still retaining a low price. As an added bonus, it comes with a really handy piece of software called the Logitech Profiler, which allows you to use your game pad with games and programs that do not natively support a game pad.

Look & Feel.

At first glance, the Dual Action looks similar to a Dual Shock controller for the Sony Playstation. The only noticeable differences are the obviously different color (the Dual Action is a slate blue color), the lack of an analog selection button, and a differently shaped directional pad. Upon closer inspection, the Dual Action also does not contain any kind of force feedback, which is not that big of a minus, as many computer games do not support force feedback anyway.. there are a few, but not many when compared with the sheer number of titles available in total.

The Dual Action has all the same buttons apart from the mode button. There are 1, 2, 3, and 4 buttons where the Playstation controller would have Square, X, Circle, and Triangle. The Playstation's L1 and L2 buttons are replaced by buttons 5 and 7, while R1 and R2 are replaced by buttons 6 and 8. Buttons 9 and 10 take up the space where select and start buttons would be on the Playstation controller. There are also two analog sticks on the Dual Action, both of which can also be pressed and used as buttons.

Personally, I think that the Dual Action game pad is a little bit more comfortable to hold than the Sony Dual Shock, though they are very similar in design.. and I do mean very similar. The hand holds on the Dual Action are just a tiny bit wider, and they are contoured so that they slope towards the outside of the controller. This makes it really comfortable to grip and hold on to. It also feels as though there is a hair more room on the back side of the controller, so my fingers do not always feel like they are smashed like they do with the Playstation controller.

The Dual Action is a little bit lighter than the Dual Shock Playstation controller, but like I said, it has no force feedback. That means that it lacks the motors and weights that are present on each side of the Dual Shock. The Logitech Dual Action feels really durable and well made. It is sturdy, comfortable, and does not rattle around when you shake it.

The cord is about six feet long, giving you plenty of room to move around. Or, if you are like me, plenty of room to feed the cord up through the back of your computer desk, so that it can sit on the shelf under the monitor when not in use. When I pull it out, I have three or four feet of slack to play with, and I do tend to use it while I squirm back and forth while playing a game.

Profiler.

The Profiler is a rather nifty piece of software. It allows you to map keyboard or mouse commands to game pad buttons. Just type in a name for a command, and hit record. Press whatever keyboard or mouse buttons you want, and hit stop. Assign that command to a button on the game pad, and you can use the game pad for games that do not natively support it.

It don't stop with just games though. The short tutorial that comes with the Profiler lets you use your game pad in Microsoft Notepad. You can assign a mouse axis to an analog stick, allowing you to control the mouse pointer with it. You could in theory use the Profiler to surf the web with your game pad, check your email, or even balance your check book.

The Profiler is really fully featured, and is one of the most handy programs that they could have possibly shipped with the controller. I gave it a pretty good test while playing Age of Empires Gold and Delta Force 2.

Age of Empires Gold worked pretty good using the left analog stick in place of the mouse, with buttons 1 and 2 set as the left and right mouse buttons. Since Age of Empires Gold is a game that makes heavy use of the mouse, this was more than good enough to play. It will, however, take a few minutes to get used to, as a joystick does not handle the same as a mouse does.

My only qualm about the Profiler came while trying to play Delta Force 2. I noticed that it does not seem to handle the directional pad very well. When I set the directional pad to work the same as the arrow keys, then loaded up Delta Force 2, it was really hard to walk around. My character kept stopping and not walking correctly, jerking his way forward in glitchy steps instead of walking smoothly like he does with the real arrow keys.

You can make your own commands to assign to various buttons, but it is usually easier to download a ready-made profile from the Logitech web site. For a few hundred kilobytes, you can download a ton of profiles that are ready to go, just load it up and assign the ready-made commands to your game pad keys, and start your game.

My Experience.

I found the Dual Action to be a pretty good game pad. I am really happy with it, and will be using it for a while now. Maybe it is because my last couple of inexpensive game pads did not perform as well as I would have liked, or maybe it is simply because the Logitech Dual Action is a good game pad. Regardless, it has earned itself a place on my computer desk.

The only thing I did not like about it, was the directional pad. I loaded up Grand Theft Auto 2, and went to customize my keys, only to find out that the directional pad could not be used at all. The Dual Action seems to automatically trade the directional pad for the left analog stick instead. Fine, but in Grand Theft Auto 2, an analog stick don't quite work the same as a directional pad does. Setting left and right on the stick to turn, up to move forward, and back to reverse.. since pushing up on the joystick always ends up pushing up, as well as a tiny bit to either side, my character would only walk or drive in circles when I tried to move. Not good. Easily fixed however, by making two of the action buttons work for forward and reverse, and using the analog stick only for turning.

I fared a bit better while playing F-16 Multirole Fighter and Comanche 4 however. Since both of these games use joysticks by default, the analog stick on the game pad worked pretty well. I did have problems, but it was with the games and not the joystick, as neither game would allow me to customize my game pad keys. I could move with the joystick, or shoot with a couple of buttons, but the rest I had to use the keyboard for. The Profiler came in great here, I used it to set the remaining keys to work and didn't have any more problems.

Of the games I tried with the Dual Action, there were ready-made profiles available for Age of Empires Gold, F-16 Multirole Fighter, Delta Force 2, and Comanche 4. Games which had no profiles ready were Armored Fist 3, and Grand Theft Auto 2, though the original Grand Theft Auto did have one.

Other Stuff.

The Logitech Dual Action is PC and Mac compatible. For a PC, it requires a Pentium processor or compatible, 64 MB of RAM, 20 MB of hard drive space, a CD-ROM drive, a USB port, and Microsoft Windows 98, ME, 2000 or XP.

Apple Macintosh requirements are a Macintosh computer with a USB port, Mac OS 9 or Mac OSX v10 or later.

The package contains the Dual Action game pad, as well as an installation guide, and a gaming software CD-ROM that contains the Logitech Profiler software. The Dual Action also comes with a 1 year limited warranty.

Conclusion.

I am really happy with my purchase of the Logitech Dual Action game pad. If I ever decide to get another game pad, I will certainly remember this game pad and look at Logitech first. I will probably purchase a second one of these, for use with my other computer, as that computer is setup for my little brothers to play games on.

If you need an inexpensive game pad with some quality, I would suggest the Logitech Dual Action. If you don't need analog sticks, or very many buttons, you could also check out the Saitek P150. It is half the price, with half the features. Still, I think the Dual Action is a better deal.

I would recommend this game pad more for games that can be played easily with the analog stick. With the directional pad issues, it is really hard to play with it, and it is the sole reason I am not giving the Logitech Dual Action five stars. A great game pad over all, I will not be looking to replace it any time soon. Unless, of course, I upgrade to another Logitech game pad with force feedback.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Saitek P150 Gamepad

 
Rating: 3 out of 5
Pros:Comfortable, inexpensive, works fairly well Cons:No force feedback, no analog sticks, too few buttons

Introduction

The Saitek P150 is the first of the two inexpensive controllers I purchased at Wal-Mart, the second one being InterAct's AxisPad. I originally wanted a nice controller to use with Need for Speed, Sega Smash Pack, and any other PC games that I had lying around that would benefit from doing so.

While the AxisPad costs twice as much, it also offers dual analog sticks, and force feedback, both of which are missing from the P150. The only drawback is that the error prone game pad didn't work well enough to bother with, so I would still much rather have the P150 myself.

Features & Layout

The Saitek P150 is very light. It weighs about as much as a CD in a slim jewel case.. needless to say, this makes it very easy to break. If you are too rough on your controller, or if you are just plain accident prone, you may want to opt for something else.

On the other hand, it is fairly well designed. The "wings" that you hold on to are slightly longer than normal, giving you a sure and comfortable grip on the controller at all times. The two shoulder/trigger buttons are set into grooves, which your index fingers rest in. There are two more grooves underneath for your middle fingers.

Besides the two shoulder/trigger buttons and the directional pad, there are six standard buttons on the right hand side. They are set three long and two high, and labeled X, Y, Z, A, B, and C. One thing that I find really odd, was the absence of a start button, and some sort of mode or select button. Those common buttons have been included on nearly every game pad I have seen, whether for a game console or a computer, for quite a long time now.

One unique feature of the Saitek P150 is the detachable joystick. If you flip the game pad upside down, you will notice a little gray slider. If you slide it to the left, it will release an inch long spike with a gray disk on one end. This spike sets into a hole in the center of the directional pad, allowing you to use the gray disk as a joystick of sorts.

My Experience

The Saitek P150 installed very easily. Just plug the standard USB 1.0 cord into a free USB port on your computer, and it's good to go. No special drivers are needed, and you don't have to restart your computer. I have mine hooked up to a 4 port USB hub, because I only have 4 total USB ports in the back of my computer. With a USB mouse, keyboard, scanner, printer, and game pad, these ports fill up rather quickly.

Even though the Saitek P150 is very light and cheap, I have not managed to break it yet. This even considering the fact that it has been hooked up to my spare computer for the last few months, where my little brothers give it a good work out every day. My brothers somehow got the detachable joystick wedged into it's holder, and it took me a while to pry it out with a pocket knife. It never did actually break though..

The directional pad is designed poorly. It is prone to point diagonally, whatever you do. Maybe they should have rotated the pad a bit, so that your hand would more naturally rest where it could hit the different directions straight, I don't know. It's not that bad for some games, but for others it's just terrible. The joystick was a nifty idea, and I wish it would have worked better. Not that there was much of a problem with it, but with the directional pad the way it is, using the joystick just takes away from the feel, and makes the problem twice as bad.

Conclusion

The Saitek P150 is a good choice if you are looking for a very inexpensive game pad, and don't require all the whistles and bells of more expensive models. There is no force feedback, no analog sticks, and not even all that many buttons. I got mine for $10, and have it hooked up to a spare computer, which is only used for my little brothers to play games on. For this purpose, it is very well suited, and performs perfectly.

If you need more features or buttons, you would probably be better off to check out some of the latest offerings from Microsoft or Logitech. The directional pad may be a little quirky, but other than that this controller is fine for most purposes. Pretty average, but at a below average cost, this one is a toss up.