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Freestyle Review

By:

08/01/98
PRINTER FRIENDLY VERSION
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Sidewinder Freestyle Pro

PC Hardware Review
Category PC Controller
Review Date 8/98
Company Microsoft


by Baldric


If you're anything like me, there's somebody important in your life who doesn't play video games. In this case, its my wife. But it could just as easily be your mother or your girlfriend, or even your boyfriend.

Here is my problem:

When I bring home a groovy new piece of hardware for my PC or PSX, my wife turns to me and says, "That's nice dear. You can take that out of our house as soon as you like." When I express my reluctance and try to convince her of the merits of having a steering wheel clamped to the desk, she starts to suggest that the rest of the house might look better with lots of little lacy doilies and glass figurines of animals. The wheel returns to the Game Revolution office. Yin and Yang. The balance is maintained.

So while I have been able to keep a gamepad tucked away where it cannot be seen, my ActLabs RS Wheel is not allowed to live on our desk (nor the pedals underneath). The compassionate, friendly company that is Microsoft has decided to see personally to my needs (and perhaps a few others of you out there).

Introducing the Sidewinder Freestyle Pro. The Freestyle is an innovative new controller that looks and works like a gamepad, but doubles as a flightstick. It can do this because any direction you tilt the controller is registered by the computer. Tilt the Freestyle forward and it's like pushing your flightsick forward. Tilt slightly to the left or right to bank, or tilt harder to barrel roll.

This is not the first time this type of controller has been made. I even had a device for my Intellivision called 'the glove' which worked similarly, but required you to install sensors at the corners of your TV.

However, the Freestyle is the first controller to use a solid state sensor that actually senses the gravity field of the Earth (or planet of your choice) by measuring the flow of electrons in a special chip. This means that there is no little internal pendulum or gyroscope to wear out or break. I actually even bashed the controller against the side of a moving car (long story) which marred the outside a bit, but left it functioning perfectly.

Ergonomically, the pad is great. It is shaped a bit like the PlayStation game controller, but it is a little larger for more adult hands. It has a nice 6 button layout and 2 triggers. The throttle is a rubber wheel in the center that you can turn with your right thumb. In tilty flightstick mode, the D-pad functions as the hat-switch, but switching to gamepad mode is as easy as hitting a single button.

Installation is a snap. The Sidewinder software installs easily and automatically detects the Freestyle. The software allows you to fully customize the controller functions and even emulate the keyboard, saving different configurations for different games (I hate controlling Lara Croft with the keyboard).

As a gamepad, it works... well... like a gamepad. It has good, solid control and the same full custom options. Having established that, let's move on to the more interesting part of the Freestyle: all that tilting.

As a flightstick, the Freestyle takes a bit of getting used to. The response is fast and surprisingly accurate, but this is a control method you won't recognize at first. You have to remember to keep those tilts steady and not react reflexively (when you get hit by a missile, for example).

The most intuitive control is with motorcycle racing games, which is why the Freestyle comes bundled with Microsoft's Motocross Madness. Just tilt the controller like the handlebars: within minutes you'll be cruising along side of Peter Fonda for some easy riding. Peace, man.

Flying your favorite aircraft sim takes a little more patience. All the controls you need are there, and with some practice, there's no reason the Freestyle couldn't be just as effective as a desktop flightstick. However, the Freestyle just doesn't "put you in the cockpit" the way that a flightstick does.

Finally, the controller is weakest with action games like Unreal. You will quickly get toasted by people using a keyboard/mouse or the SpaceOrb. On the other hand, nobody ever uses flightsticks for those games, anyway.

What I'm saying here is that the Sidewinder Freestyle Pro is a great compromise controller for those of you with space or budgetary restrictions. Or even if there's just a woman (or man) in your house whose decorating tastes do not mesh with geeky video game paraphernalia.

For flight sim junkies, this will never replace your flightstick and aileron pedals. You racing buffs will want to keep your wheels and pedals, also. However, the Freestyle is a great little controller that does everything without taking up any space or making you crawl behind the computer to plug in a new controller every time you want to play. If you only want one controller in your life, this is a great choice.


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