USB Game Pads

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As more and more games come out for the Mac, we need more alternatives for directing the action. Sure, you can use your keyboard -- nothing beats it for first-person shooters such as Quake III Arena or Unreal Tournament -- but when it comes to driving games, such as MacSoft's Driver and 4x4 Evolution from Terminal Reality, or sports-simulation games, such as Aspyr's Madden 2000, nothing beats a gamepad, a small controller that you hold with both hands. Unlike a keyboard, a gamepad lets you quickly bounce back and forth between buttons. And unlike joysticks, which are better suited to flight sims because of the large, sweeping movements involved, game pads are better for tight, small movements.

Gravis's Eliminator Aftershock has two thumb-controlled joysticks. The Destoyer Tilt, also by Gravis, responds when you tilt the whole gamepad.

We looked at five USB game pads: CH Products' USB Gamepad; Gravis's Destroyer Tilt, Eliminator Aftershock, and Eliminator GamePad Pro; and Saitek's P750. We put them through the paces using Terminal Reality's 4x4 Evolution and LucasArts' Star Wars Episode I Pod Racer. All of these game pads will make you want to say good-bye to your keyboard and mouse -- at least as a way of controlling your games -- but we found that Gravis's Eliminator Aftershock and Saitek's P750 offered the most features.

Get a Grip

All of the game pads have the same basic shape and design -- twin grips with controls within thumbs' reach, and a few buttons on the front for your forefingers. We found the Eliminator GamePad Pro, with its ribbed grips, to be the most comfortable, but ergonomics is very personal, so if you can, see if you can try them out before you buy one.

These game pads use USB, so they don't need drivers. You do, however, need to install Apple's Input Sprockets, which are free and can be downloaded from Apple's Web site. Not all games take advantage of Apple's Input Sprockets, and many of the older one's don't, so if you have a favorite game, be sure to see if it supports Input Sprockets before you invest in a gamepad.

All of the game pads have 10 buttons except for the Destroyer Tilt, which has six. (It does, however, allow you to move forward, back, left, or right, just by tilting the gamepad.) Usually, the default settings within games is sufficient enough for smooth gameplay, but you can easily configure the buttons using the game's control settings.

Gravis's Eliminator Gamepad Pro has ribbed grips, so it's easy to hold on to; CH Product's USB Gamepad is a basic, no-nonsense game controller; and Saitek's P750 comes with a handy throttle control.

Whistles, Bells, and Throttles

Some of the game pads offer special features. The Destroyer Tilt's Tilt feature, which we've already mentioned, is innovative, but I found that it actually made the games harder to control. To use it, you've got to make a lot of excessive movements. The Eliminator Aftershock offers dual joysticks (small joysticks that you operate with your thumbs), which I found to be very useful for games that involve steering. The P750 has a single joystick on the right side, and it also comes with a throttle wheel that can be used to control the acceleration of your vehicle, and it works for both forward and backward acceleration. Both the Eliminator Aftershock and Eliminator GamePad Pro include a Precise button, which is supposed to offer more accuracy and maneuverability when used. In most games, however, it just made the steering stiffer. The Eliminator Aftershock also supports "rumble feedback," which is supposed to vibrate appropriately according to the actions in the games, but unfortunately, the Mac OS doesn't support this feature. USB Game Pads Compared

Macworld's Buying advice: It's a matter of preference in choosing the right gamepad, but we were very impressed by the Saitek P750, with its throttle wheel, and the Gravis Eliminator Aftershock, with its dual joysticks. It's best to buy a gamepad based on a hands-on experience. But, if you're buying it online, think about what features you'll need, and think about how quickly you can adapt to the gamepad's design to get that extra edge in your games.

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