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Microsoft SideWinder FreeStyle Pro Review

Date: 12th January 98
by Anurax Lian

- The Good
- The Bad
- Test System Configuration
- Conclusion
- Rating

- Other reviews


A company relatively unknown for its hardware, Microsoft has really outshone itself this time round with a really innovative design for it new range of joystick, the SideWinder FreeStyle Pro.

The first generation of Sidewinder gamepads were a bit of a disappointment because it only work in a Win95 environment and not MS-DOS, which was then, a common standard platform for most games. Even so, the Sidewinder was also sluggish in responding to movements and the triggers were not as smooth as one thought it would be.

The Interactive Media Group of Microsoft Singapore has been very active in the gaming scene for the past few months. This time round the FreeStyle Pro came in at the correct time where Win95/98 and DirectX and Direct Input is seen as THE environment for games to run in. Featuring a free motion sensor, a throttle and 10-function button (all full programmable!!), I feel that this is one game controller that will have a great impact on the gaming industry.

 

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System Requirements:

To use Microsoft SideWinder FreeStyle Pro you need:

These are the contents of the box:

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The Good

The Perfect Controller

From top to bottom of this controller, every thing seems perfect. This baby was meant to work for everything and when I mean everything, I do mean EVERYTHING! Here is list of features that makes this controller stand out above the rest.

Connections

The FreeStyle Pro connects to the standard 15pin Sub-D game port. So, older PC users will not have any difficulty in finding a place to fit in (unless of course there’s no sound card or game port). Newer PC users would find the USB converter cable (provided) useful as they can attached this game controller to the USB port. (Ah finally we can use the USB port that has been lying around for the past 1 years). Using the USB port has its advantages. Midi Users need not plug in/out their keyboard just to play games. Another noteworthy issue is the CPU utilization is significantly lower so that games will respond/perform better. However, PC owners who do not have a USB port need not worry as the Freestyle Pro is a fully digital controller and performs much better than older analog controller when CPU utilization is concerned.




Features

The FreeStyle Pro is a full-featured controller meant to cater for gamers intensive requirements. On the right side of the controller there are six buttons on the front there are two flipper buttons and on the left the direction pad, two buttons. All the 10 button are fully programmable, which means that is a game (e.g. FIFA99) does not allow you to manipulate the button to your own discretion you can re-program the buttons your liking. (E.g. Button A = Shoot / Button B = Pass you could reprogram the controller to Button A = Pass / Button B = Shoot)

The FreeStyle Pro adds a new function never seen in any PC game control pad before, a motion sensor. This allows you to
control the movement in a game without having to press any direction button. All you’d need to do is tilt the controller to the
desired direction. The even better thing is that now that the direction pads are no longer required for movement they are
redirected as a POV (Point of View) HAT. Games like Mech. Warrior and Quake will find these 2 functions extremely useful.

1.    The motion sensor add realism to the game as People tend to move with the game (so why not use this excessive movement control the game)

2.     The POV HAT can control the movement of our eyes. Thus we can have full control of our game at our
fingertips all in one controller. However, if the free motion sensor does not suit you, you can easily switch to the traditional
direction buttons by simply pressing the sensor/direction pad switch button, and this can be done even in the middle of the games thus you need not restart. However, if you do switch to directional button mode the POV HAT function is no longer available unless it is switched back to free motion sensor mode.

This Freestyler is also ergonomically designed to fit any gamer. The handles fits nicely into your hands and gosh...it makes you feel that you are in control of the game. I have an extremely thrilling experience playing Microsoft MotoCross Madness (Part of the Software Bundle.) with this controller. You got to try it for yourself. Another added function to the controller is the Throttle knob at the rear. Flight Sim gamers will defiantly find this a plus point as the need not purchase a second Throttle controller (e.g. Thrustmater WCS). Added to 10 buttons and motion sensor this controller packs an entire F16 control system in a (16 x 16)-cm aprox. Game pad.

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The Bad

In every great product there are to be few flaws and even this great does not escape. The Free motion sensor is extremely sensitive but getting use to it is extremely hard, it took me weeks before I could actually control Need For Speed III properly, but after much hard work it is defiantly worth the effort.

Button 9 and 10 seem to placed in a rather awkward position, and I think that button 9 should be smaller and both the button (9 & 10) ought to be lower a bit.

Another thing to add is the placement of the directional pad, it is not at an angle of 90 deg. but rather tilted for a more ergonomic design so new users please take note.

The Free Style Pro is also not the ideal controller for RPG (Role Playing Games) such as Final Fantasy 7. As games of such nature require a long time grip on the controller. If there are not enough of support for your elbows, it will be rather tiring for your arms. I guess this is also a problem associated to all gamepads. So do take care of yourself in extended gaming. Ok....I guess the next ergonomic peripheral that Microsoft will target on will be perhaps a really cool looking and comfortable arm-rest gaming throne

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Test System Configuration

Processor(s) AMD K6-2-300
Ram 64MB 100MHz LGS-7J SDRAM Dimm
Motherboard AOpen AX59-Pro
HardDrive(s) IBM Deskstar-3 3.2Gb
Operating System MS Windows 98 Build 4.10.1998
DirectX Version MS DirectX Version 6
Other software used Power-Strip 2.29 (for over-clocking)
Video Card(s) Canopus Spectra 2500 AGP
Video Card Bios Ver: 1.03.01
Video Card Drivers 1.10.04.

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Conclusion

The FreeStyle Pro currently seems to be the best game pad/controller in the market. Priced at $119, it may seem quite pricey initially. But then again, for all its wonderful functions and features, not to mention a free game included, this could be a real steal if you are comparing money for value. For the enthusiastic gamers out there, this is one game controller you ought not to miss out on.


PERIPHERAL RATING

Overall Rating (Out of a maximum of 5 Star)

Installation *****
Performance ****
Price ****
Software Bundle ****
Material Quality *****
Overall Rating ****

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Copyright 1998, Singapore Hardware Zone. All rights reserved.
Last updated January 14, 1999.

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