Microsoft Sidewinder Force Feedback 2
One of the latest additions to the Microsoft family of joysticks, the Microsoft Sidewinder Force Feedback 2 combines an ergonomic joystick with tactile response to create an interesting gaming experience.
This joystick was the first game controller I ever had to plug in. The built-in AC adapter powers internal motors that are designed to provide the tactile feedback to the user. The joystick is USB compatible. Which is good, since it both sends input and receives data from the CPU depending on the screen action.
The joystick also includes the relevant drivers, and depending upon when you buy it, there is usually an upgrade available from Microsoft's website. The driver also includes a nifty test package that has a different tactile response for each of the 8 joystick buttons. Sorry, no feedback for the throttle or hat switch. I recommend trying buttons 1 (trigger) and 3.
Combined with good software support, the Microsoft Force Feedback 2 can add a tremendous challenge to a video game. For example, in Falcon 4.0, if your plane is hit by enemy fire, the joystick will slam to one side as the plane spins out of control. The motors within the joystick will exert enough force that the user has to fight to regain control of the aircraft (if possible). There are several games that support force feedback technology, such as Jane's F/A-18, Lucasarts' X-Wing Alliance, and the aforementioned Falcon 4.0. Notice that these are flight simulators. To date, no non-flight sim was tested with the controller.
A game that supports force feedback poorly is worse than a game that does not support force feedback at all. There are cases within Falcon, for example, where the controller exerts no force whatsoever. This causes the stick to go limp, and the user has to work it to keep the aircraft under control. And everyone hates to work a limp stick. Also, unlike the Saitek X series of controllers, the Microsoft Force Feedback 2 only has 8 buttons, a hat switch, and a small throttle. This can be a drawback for those who like HOTAS in their gaming experience.
The Microsoft Sidewinder Force Feedback 2 is a decently priced (circa 2000 ~$100US) joystick for all that you get out of the box. Microsoft has scored with a niche market gaming controller that will appeal to middle-to-upper level gamers who desire a little more for their experience.