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SGN's Holiday Special

Can you imagine Mark McGwire swinging a souvenir baseball bat at a wicked curve? Randy Moss leaping high above bewildered defenders to snare a Nerf ball? Or Michael Jordan putting up a buzzer beating mini-basketball? Of course not. When you're playing sports, quality equipment is of utmost importance.

This is also true when playing sports games. Hint: you ain't gonna beat Jordan by driving the lane with the Up arrow key on your keyboard. So, we've turned our critical eye to one of the most important components of a well-equipped gamer's setup: controllers.

We're going to look at three of the top controllers currently on the market: Gravis' Xterminator, and the Sidewinder and Freestyle Pro, both from Microsoft. Microsoft's Sidewinder is becoming an industry standard for simple, straightforward gameplay. Gravis' Xterminator is a jack of all trades, with buttons, switches and sliders meant to work for whatever your needs are. Microsoft's Freestyle Pro is the bleeding edge of controller technology: you can control the action in your game by moving the controller itself; tilt it left, and your onscreen character moves left. One interesting twist on our review: we understand the importance to a sports gamer of multiplayer action on the same machine. Few games lend themselves as well to two (or more) players on the same machine as those in the sports genre, so we put these gamepads through their multiplayer paces, as well. Let's take a look at each of our contenders.


Gravis Xterminator
A slick, complicated looking affair with a gameport connector that looks like a copyright-protecting dongle, the pad practically screams, "I can take whatever you want to throw at me." It features two directional pads (D-pads): one analog and one digital. It has six buttons placed for your right thumb, two top-and-center buttons, two analog shoulder buttons for your index fingers, a switch button to change modes, and, to top it off (pun intended) a hat switch! Not to mention the sliding throttle control. The layout can cover all the bases, but seems pretty intimidating the first time you hold one in your hands.

Microsoft Sidewinder
Similar, bat-wing style design, like the Xterminator. One, fairly large D-pad on the left, six thumb buttons on the right, a mode button, start button, shift/M button (to double button features), and two shoulder buttons. Another nice feature: a green LED which lights up when the controller is hooked up and recognized by your PC.

Microsoft Freestyle Pro
Unusual, over-sized design, with very thick left and right handles and an overall bulk that seemed a bit uncomfortable to my hands. Six right thumb buttons, again with a shift. A sensor button to turn the motion tracking on and off. It uses a wheel design for the throttle, as opposed to Gravis' slider. It also features two shoulder triggers. One other difference: it can be plugged into either your gameport, or a USB outlet with the provided adapter.

One final comment on appearance: Microsoft has got the coolest cords in the business. I don't know exactly what the material is, but all of their controllers have the same kind of rubberized cord, which seems very supple and yet very durable. Everyone who plays with these controllers remarks on how interesting the cords are to the touch. A minor point, but one I like.

Layout winner: Microsoft Sidewinder. The Xterminator can do more, but I found the layout to be a bit of overload. Also, the analog D-pad was too far up and left to be comfortable for me. The Freestyle Pro I found to be bulky, uncomfortable and non-ergonomic. The Sidewinder is simple and comfortable: everything a controller should be. Additionally, oftentimes it seems that your playing partner is someone who doesn't frequently play PC games: most of my friends were bemused, at best, by the Xterminator; they all took like ducks to water, though, with the Sidewinder.

Read how the installation is...

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