Rating: Needs some work
Joysticks have come a long way. They used to be a flimsy plastic stick with one fire button and that was about it. Over the last few years they have evolved into complicated contraptions with multiple configurable buttons, different shapes, even into specialized joysticks for certain type of games, such as special throttle and rudder controls for flight games, steering wheels and pedals for driving games, etc. The only game category that has not seen its own specialized joystick was first-person shooter games. The reason for that was that most gamers, as archaic as it might sound, prefer to use keyboard and mouse, and for a good reason. No joystick has been able to offer the response, accuracy, handling and ease of configuration that the mouse and keyboard combination does. Now Microsoft released the Sidewinder Dual Strike, the first joystick specific to first-person shooter games such as Quake, Half-life and many more. But while it is a good first attempt, it won’t make gamers abandon their mouse and keyboard quite yet. Let’s take a closer look at it to find out why.
The first thing that catches your attention when looking at the Dual Strike is its odd shape. It looks like a capital letter H. You grip it by the top part of each one of the vertical bars. Check it out:
Lots of programmable buttons
The right bar is connected via a ball-type joint and swivels horizontally as well as vertically. This movement controls your view to look up, down, left or right. On the top of the right bar, within easy reach of the right thumb, are four buttons. On the top of the left one, within easy reach of the left thumb, is a thumb pad. It controls your actual movement, such as moving forward, backpedaling, or side-stepping. Then there are 3 additional buttons where the left vertical bar joins the vertical middle bar, one of them being a shift-type button. Lastly, there is one button at the front of each vertical bar, within easy reach of the index finger, serving as primary and secondary fire.
The whole contraption connects to your PC via USB and requires Windows 98. Installation is easy, as would be expected of a USB device. This means you can install this as a second game controller, even if your regular game port is already occupied by another game controller.
The software for the Dual Strike puts an icon in your system tray and launches SideWinder Central upon double-click. From here you can get to the Game Controller Control Panel, the user guide, the SideWinder web site, the MSN gaming zone, or look at compatibility information. Going to the Control Panel option, you can configure and test the joystick.
Under the settings tab, you’ll find some interesting options, namely the Aiming zone and the Spinning zone. This means that within the normal movement range of the right arm of the controller, you move your view for aiming. But if you push (literally, there is some resistance there) it to the end of its range, it will go into spin mode and continue to spin in that direction until released out of that spin zone. Hard to describe, you have to try it to really understand it. But you can experiment with the settings and change the spin duration and pause time to your preference.
After configuring it and testing it, I fired up some Quake 3 Arena and Half-life action. Boy, did I die quickly and often! This controller definitely takes some practice getting used to. So I played and configured and played and configured. Eventually I died less often and got the hang of it. Then I started alternating between keyboard/mouse and the Dual Strike for comparison. Here’s what I came up with:
The concept of the swiveling arm for aiming is pretty cool. It definitely was easy and intuitive to aim this way. It also helps with circle-strafing. Instead of having to keep moving the mouse, picking it up, setting it down, moving it, etc., you only have to keep pushing the right arm of the controller in the spin zone and it will keep turning.
The thumb pad just doesn’t cut it for movement. It is crude and not anywhere close to the accuracy that you get with the keyboard. Instead of working gradually depending on how far you push it, it doesn’t do anything until it clicks – if it clicks at all. Too often I missed the right spot on the thumb pad, ended up not moving – and dying. If it had something with the feel of a touch pad that really reacts to touch, not to mechanical action, it might improve maneuverability, I don’t know.
The 3 buttons on the left are useless. To use them, you have to take your thumb off the pad, therefore stop moving, therefore die. In addition, the shift button requires too much action and thinking to make sure you hit the right combination – and if you don’t, you get a different action than what you wanted, and die.
Another thing that happened occasionally that my view ended up very skewed when returning the right arm to its neutral/center position due to spinning and/or turning, and I ended up programming one button to re-center my view to get around this awkward situation.
While this is a interesting concept and has its advantages with all the programmable buttons and swivel action, it’s nowhere ready to establish a permanent spot in gamers hands for first-person shooters. Sure, maybe after spending an extended amount of time playing and configuring you might get more proficient with it. But the learning curve seems steep and even after several weeks of use I was nowhere near the comfort and accuracy level I had with the keyboard/mouse. An improved thumb pad and more overall sensitivity might help to improve its performance. As for me, I’ll continue to use my trusty mouse and keyboard.
Submitted by: Alex