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Over the last few years, Microsoft has become well known for its excellent hardware releases. The Microsoft Mouse, Intellimouse, Intellimouse Pro, Natural Keyboard, MS Digital Speaker System 80, Precision Pro and Force Feedback (ok one not that great) have not only been big sellers due to the Microsoft name, but also been excellent in both design and usage.
The Freestyle Pro has something that I have yet to see on any other system or console, the ability to control movement without touching a button, just by tilting the gamepad from side to side and forward and backwards. It also has full Digital control, by just pressing the sensor button you get the digital precision of any normal gamepad. The Freestyle Pro gamepad comes with six programmable buttons (Plus the shift button to double the amount of available button moves) and two trigger buttons at the front. Not only do you get those, but Microsoft has also managed to pack on a throttle and a "Start" button, which you have probably seen on most console gamepads. There are a number of other features I'll mention later on in my review.
Installation and Game Controller Software Options
The Freestyle pro comes with the Sidewinder Gaming Device software version 3.0. First thing it does it check what version of DirectX you have on your PC, once it does that, it will either install a newer version or just go straight into the gaming device software setup. Once there you are asked to enter your name, then it is just a case of clicking next a few times. Once installed you are asked to restart your computer, when the computer has rebooted you need to plug in the Freestyle pro, now I have a free USB port available so I plug the gamepad in there. Windows 98 detects that new hardware has been added to the computer and asks for your Windows 98 CD (For no reason it seems as I already had the files it needed), the it is all installed, or is it?. You will need to double click on the Sidewinder Gaming Device icon that is on your taskbar, this loads up the central area in which you control most of the Freestyle Pro' setup, click on the Sidewinder control panel option and make sure that the gamepad is installed correctly and that it states that the gamepad is connected (The version 3.0 software sometimes likes to say it isn't, this is fixed with the newer 3.02 software that can be downloaded).
The first time I went to this control panel section, I was told my Freestyle pro was "not connected", removing it from the USB port and then plugging it in again fixed the problem. I also noticed that somehow the Gaming device software had decided that I have a Microsoft Sidewinder 3D Pro installed, I used to a year ago, but not anymore thanks, so I removed that controller from the list of devices.
Next if you click on the Sidewinder central icon you can go to the "Sidewinder Software" section of the program. In this area you can setup certain "profiles" for your games, for the freestyle pro gamepad there were only four default profiles, only one of which I could use (Motocross Madness). It is unlikely you will have a need to use any profile in any game assuming they have been designed properly.
Design And The Feel
Ok then, by now you must be wondering just how the Freestyle pro feels and play. Well it is, without any doubt the most comfortable gamepad I have ever used, and I have been able to try quite a number due to the fact the rest of my family love consoles. Each button is easy to reach with your thumb, and the actual pad is positioned as well as possible.
Now on to the actual tilting part of the gamepad. "Tilt" is clearly designed for racing games and thankfully Motocross Madness comes in the box. At first you are likely to tilt the gamepad too much, this results in over-steering in whatever racing game you are playing. Tilting the gamepad is not easy to master, it will take you much longer to master than you expect...At some points while playing you may decide to switch off the sensor and just use the pad instead of tilting, I would recommend tilting until you master it, as it becomes far easier to use as you go along.
Motocross Madness is the perfect game to begin your testing of the Freestyle pro, and the more I play it with this gamepad the more I realize how much better I am at playing it compared to my former joystick control.
The Freestyle pro is an excellent gamepad, there is no doubt about that, the only worry I have with it is the price, £50/$70 for a gamepad seems a little pricey to me. Then again it does come with the equally excellent Motocross Madness. I would also recommend that if it isn't completly vital for you to install it in a USB port, DON'T - There are still so many bugs in the USB setup in Windows 98, it isn't worth the hassle.
Sidewinder Gaming Device Software 3.02
In The Box?
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