Thresh's comments in BLACK
Kenn's comments in BLUE
Though the name is a certainly a mouthful, Microsoft's ongoing foray into the game controller market simply keeps picking up steam. The PC steering wheel community, while certainly niche when compared to standard joysticks and flightsticks, is at once both adamant in their preferred hardware, as well as currently being bombarded with new choices and technologies from a number of manufacturers jumping on the force-feedback bandwagon. I've had my run through NASCAR II, and while far from exceptional, I've really grown to like my Thrustmaster NASCAR Pro Racing Wheel.
The first thing I thought when I saw this oddly squid-head shaped controller was "Oh no, a shaking toy wheel." My first experience with the Sidewinder FF Wheel was back in E3, where Microsoft had a few stations lined up running Monster Truck Madness 2. I was slightly amused, but far from overwhelmed. The wheel and pedals are constructed of plastic, with rubber grips at 3:00 and 9:00. On the front inner edge of the wheel are 6 trigger buttons, and behind the wheel are two paddles, intended for shifting - definitely enough functions for most racing games available. In the center of the wheel, in lieu of a standard SRS airbag, is a large force-feedback toggle button lit in green. Props to Microsoft for providing an instantaneous way to turn feedback on and off.
Force feedback controllers have been around for quite some time, and while I found them amusing, most games make use of the force feedback feature as more of a novelty than a useful addition to gameplay. It's one thing to feel the G-force resistance in your grip as you're taking a hard turn on a windy road, but it's another to create an accurate response that actually helps determine when your car is losing traction, or when it's about to spin out. My primary concern was that this might be a product that became a hindrance to performance once the player has mastered the characteristics and precision of the game. Considering that some of the top drivers on the net remove the springs on their steering wheels to get the most precision out of them, I can't foresee force feedback adding much in the "skill" respect. Influences on driving ability aside, force feedback in general adds a whole new dimension of immersiveness to driving games.