Shot in the back!
Unless you've had your head under a rock for the past few years, you're well aware that first-person shooter games are all the rage. Kids love to play them, and adults love to blame them for their kid's actions. Thousands of dollars are given out each year for Quake tournaments. For better or for worse, first-person action games are here to stay.
If anything, the games are getting more complicated. With the upcoming release of Unreal: Tournament and Quake III: Arena, players now have to constantly pit their skills against their peers in the ultimate test of Darwinism. Those with the best control and fastest reflexes win, plain and simple.
Because of this, players have come up with ingenious ways of controlling the different games. From the traditional mouse/keyboard layout to the solo joystick experience, players are constantly looking for new and better ways to control the action. Hearing the cry, hardware manufacturers have developed a few controllers over the years in an attempt to redefine first-person game control. Some have worked better than others, but none are as good as the old mouse/keyboard.
Microsoft Sidewinder, whose name is synonymous with game controllers, has answered the call with their new product, the Sidewinder Dual Strike. While a definite improvement over previous attempts, it still just doesn't get it right.
The Dual Strike is basically a normal controller cut in half. The left side has a trigger, a digital thumb pad, and a couple of buttons. The right side has another trigger and four buttons. Connecting the two sides of the controller is a loose ball-joint, which allows the right side of the controller to rotate freely. This action is equivalent to moving the mouse. Ah hell, just look at the picture.
Upon hooking up the pad, gamers will be amazed at how easy it is to set up and get used to. Being a USB controller, the Dual Strike plugs into one of the USB ports on the back of your computer. Installation is completed via the nifty Sidewinder software disk included in the box. Pretty painless.
Setting up the pad for gameplay is easy. With large graphical menus, bindings are really easy to create. They even include a vast number of setups for many popular games, so all you have to do is select and play.
Playing with the Dual Strike is a cinch as well. You get really comfortable with the pad remarkably quickly. Also, freeing yourself from the keyboard allows you to lean back in your chair before you become a hunchback. However, as easy as it is the learn, it has one core flaw.
Using the pivot-ball as the mouse works great...until you get to the extremes. As you might tell from the picture, the controller has a range of movement. Unlike a mouse, which can move in a single direction ad infinitum (if you reach the end of the mousepad you just pick it up and move it again), the Dual Strike can only move so far until it stops. At that stopping point, there's a digital switch that is activated that continues your movement at a constant rate of speed. While not a bad idea, it can lead to some bad situations.
Imagine, if you will, a game of Quake 3. There you are running down a corridor. At the end, you turn to the right to pick up a shotgun. Suddenly, a person appears even further to the right. You try to turn, but the constant acceleration kicks in. So, while you're slowly turning, the other guy cuts through you like a hot knife through butter.
While you can set the acceleration for that extreme, it just doesn't move fast enough. This is fine for many first person games that don't require you to move as fast (ie System Shock 2). However, it is a distinct disadvantage in quick twitch online multiplayer games like Quake 3 or Aliens vs. Predator.
Maybe if you could set the acceleration even faster, or if the switch was analog (so the harder you turned the faster you went), the Dual Strike would be the best controller for all first-person shooters. As it stands, however, the Dual Strike is a great controller only for folks who want something easy and simple. If you want to be fully competitive in online play, however, you should stick to the tried and true.