Good to the last frag.
I've been a gamer for a long time, and an obsessed one at that. I remember telling strangers: "I have spent all of my money on videogames. Can I please have a quarter for bus fare?" (back when a quarter would get you on the bus). After pulling the pity strings and duping some sympathetic adult, I would run as fast as I could to Mama's Pizza and plunk that shiny George right into the Donkey Kong machine with no regrets at all.
Since then, games have only gotten better. Now I sit here at home with the same sense of awe, but in front of my own computer. I have been building this machine purely for gaming - it's not the fastest on the block, but with good video acceleration and 3D surround sound, all my setup was lacking was for my desk chair to swing around something fierce.
Wingman Force 3D
While Logitech has yet to make a flight simulation chair, they do make a pretty good joystick that rumbles. In fact, it does much more than rumble. Featuring the latest force feedback goodies, the Wingman Force 3D is a great addition to any gamers rig.
For starters, it's cool looking, so you don't have to hide it when your friends come over. It's easy to install, and hey, it has force feedback, so you can finally take advantage of all of that extra programming that game developers went through to really bring your favorite titles to life.
If you already own a Logitech Wingman product, installation is a non-issue. The Force 3D uses the same power cord and drivers as their other controllers. I have the Formula Force 3D steering wheel, so all I had to do was swap the power cord, plug into the USB port on the back of my computer, and start playing; it was instantly recognized. In fact, since it uses the same profiler my games were already available and ready to play.
If you don't already own any WingMan products, installation takes about five minutes. Pop the CD in your drive, click 'setup', and away you go. USB support means that you wont even have to reboot your computer, unless you really want to. It's about the easiest installation I've come across.
The WingMan profiler is a nice, simple interface that makes configuring the controller a breeze. All you have to do is point the profiler to your game's executable file and add it to the list. Then use the game's controller options to configure the buttons the way you like. You can even reassign the buttons to take on keyboard functions (in case your copy of Mechwarrior 2 doesn't support a 4-axis, 7 button controller). Logitech also has a website where you can download custom profiles for a number of games.
As far as ergonomics go, the Force 3D is pretty good. The seven buttons, hat switch and throttle are in natural positions for human hands, making them easily accessible, which is a definite plus. The shape seems like it should be comfortable, though my hands cramp up a bit after a half-hour or so. However, this may not be the case for everyone.
The force feedback is done well. Rough roads in racers or the recoil of the machine gun in a dogfight translate as they should. Road vibration and loss of control due to scraping the wall really add to the realism of a good racing game. Flight games like Crimson Skies really come alive when you feel the impact of bullets rattling the hull of your plane or the stuttering of a bad engine.
My biggest problem with the Force 3D is that I've also played with the Sidewinder Force Feedback Pro from Microsoft, and when compared, the Force 3D just feels a bit cheap. Logitech is famous for putting out products that perform well, and I have always liked their utilities, but they are somewhat lacking in the assembly department. For instance, when driving over rough roads, the whole thing feels a little rickety. I could say this was adding to the realism, but I think that would be stretching it a little far. Also, the stick is a bit too loose; it's hard to pull off precision flying maneuvers when there is little resistance to steady your hand.
The upside is that it comes bundled with Superbike World Champions, which is a really good racer. I have never really liked motorcycle games, but SWC has won my affections. It boasts superb graphics (except your rider's hands, which are big rectangles), challenging courses, and really good support of the force feedback.
The WingMan Force 3D is a good choice for the price. The only real comparison I can make is to the Sidewinder Force Feedback, and comparing the costs, you save about half by sacrificing a little quality in the assembly (try around $60 compared to around $120). And of course, a decent racer bundled with it is a sweet bonus.