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PC Joystick, Gamepad, and Racing Wheel Buyers Guide

Mar 21 2011, 1:35pm CDT | by , in Shopping | Shopping Tips

PC Joystick, Gamepad, and Racing Wheel Buyers Guide
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Get more realism and fun with the right controller for the job

I have been a PC gamer longer than I have been gaming on consoles. You will find that many PC gamers shun the controls that the console folks really love like joysticks and gamepads. I am all for a mouse and keyboard combo for gaming on most genres on the PC like shooters and RTS games. There are however a few game types that you need a joystick, gamepad, or other controller to play. The mouse and keyboard won't work well for everything.

One of the genres that you can't play that easily with your mouse and keyboard are flight simulators. I have tried it and to be really efficient on a flight sim you need a gamepad or joystick. The problem for me is that the lack of re-centering on the mouse means I end up out of control a lot. Adding a joystick or even a HOTAs system like a real fighter jet uses makes a flight simulation much more fun and realistic.

Another of the genres that won't work well with a mouse and a keyboard are racing simulations. Much like the flight sims, you need a strong and fast re-centering on racing games to be accurate. A racing wheel makes racing and driving games much more fun and if you opt for a force feedback wheel racing games are pure joy. Force feedback allows the wheel to pull against the driver just as the wheel does in a real car that is moving.

You will still need the keyboard on most racing and flying simulations for ancillary controls. However, you can generally bind the most important controls to buttons on the joystick, gamepad, or racing wheel so the key functionality of the game is right at your fingertips. All PC controllers that I have tested have included software that allows them to be programmed. Most of them will also have adjustable dead areas so you can tweak the controls to your liking. I found that a lot of the games that I thought were too hard to play over the years really just needed a better controller to enjoy. Check out my list of some of the best controllers gamepads, joysticks, and racing wheels you can get below.

1. Logitech Dual Action Game Pad - This controller is one of the cheapest and most basic that Logitech offers. It works very well and connects to your computer via a USB cable. You will want to be sure that your computer is close enough for the cable to reach. The controller is programmable and sells for under $13. The buttons, controls, and sticks of the controller are set up in a virtually identical layout to a stock PS3 controller, which is a good thing. This controller will work for any PC game from flight to racing sims and anything between.

2. Logitech Extreme 3D Pro Joystick - If you are the sort that really like flight simulation or flight combat games a joystick is a great thing to try. The Logitech Extreme 3D Pro Joystick is a nice choice. The controller has 12 programmable buttons and an 8-way hat switch. All of the controls and buttons can be programmed to your preferences and tastes. It connects to your PC with a wire and has a wide base to help it stay put when you are playing hard.

3. Thrustmaster T-Flight Hotas X Flight Stick - If you want a joystick for flying games that also has a throttle just like a real jet the HOTAS X is a great controller. The throttle handle on the left side looks like something out of a fighter jet. This controller will also work with the Ps3 for flight games. It has 12 buttons that are programmable on the PC. The controller also supports mapping on the fly letting you bind controls to buttons. You can also make profiles for specific games and switch between them with the press of a button. The handle can also be rotated on this controller for controlling the rudder or other controls and the resistance is adjustable.

4. Logitech G27 Racing Wheel - Racing simulation fans, this is one of the coolest wheels you can get for the PC and it will work on the PS3 as well. This wheel works fantastically with Gran Turismo 5 on the PS3 and it is equally at home playing games like R-factor and Need for Speed on the PC. This wheel has some of the best force feedback you will find on a racing wheel. On a game, that fully supports it; you will think you are actually driving on the racetrack.

The G27 has three pedals and a gated shifter as well as paddle shifters behind the wheel. The only downside to this is that you need something to secure it to like a desk or a racing seat. You can secure it to a coffee table for racing on the TV, but it can be a challenge to keep it still. The force feedback is strong enough that using it in your lap is a big challenge. The wheel is an 11-inch unit and it has a RMP/shift indicator light on the top of the wheel. It also has a bunch of programmable buttons on the wheel and shifter allowing you to bind all your controls to the racing wheel. The biggest downside here is the price at right under $300.

5. Saitek Pro Flight Yoke with Throttle - Hard core flight simulation fans that want to fly like pilot using a yolk and a throttle with multiple levers will want to check out the Saitek Pro Flight Yoke package. This thing comes with a yoke that has a LCD screen and multiple buttons in it and a three-quadrant throttle that the user can use for throttle on multi-engine aircraft or other needs. The package with both parts is about $145. Programming software is included to allow you to set the controls up to your needs. It has 15 buttons, a hat switch, 3-position mode switch, and elevator and aileron axis on the yoke. This controller system connects via USB cables.

6. Nyko Airflow EX PC Game controller - If you are anything like me your palms get sweaty and hot after gaming for a few hours. Nyko has a cool controller that is setup like your average PS3 controller and has a fan inside. That fan circulates cool air through the grips of the pad so that your hands stay nice and cool while you get your game on. The controller connects via USB and has 13 programmable buttons.

7. Macally iShockX Dual Shock Gamepad for Mac and PC - If you are a gamer, but you prefer to game on a Mac there are gamepads for you. The Macally iShockX dual Shock controller will work on Mac and PCs. This controller has dual vibration motors inside to give you some feedback. These motors will activate in some games to let you feel when you are shot or hit a wall racing. The controller has 4-axis, 12 buttons, and a d-pad along with dual analog sticks. It has the standard PS3 controller arrangement. The controller connects via USB and sells for under $25.

8. Logitech Cordless Rumblepad 2 - The problem I have with a lot of the gamepads and controllers for my PC is that the cords are too short to reach my computer over next to my desk. I also don’t like the wires crossing things up. I prefer wireless controllers like the Cordless Rumblepad 2 from Logitech. Not only does this connect wirelessly via a USB dongle and 2.4GHz tech, but it has vibration feedback too. That means the controller will vibrate when you are shot or crash. The controller has the standard PS3 layout. It has ten programmable buttons, and a d-pad, and dual analog sticks. The controller sells for about $50.

9. Logitech Flight System G940 Force Feedback - Force Feedback is also great for adding realism to flight simulations. Logitech has an awesome flight system that has a separate joystick, throttle, and rudder pedals. The joystick has force feedback so you can feel the g-force as you bank and fly in dogfights. Like any high-end gear, the G940 system isn't cheap at about $300. It has rudder pedals with toe brakes, a dual throttle for dual engine aircraft and an authentic design. There are a huge number of programmable buttons on the controller system as well.

10. Thrustmaster Hotas Warthog Flight Stick - If I had to pick just one flight control system for my flight simulation needs, the Thrustmaster Warthog would be it. This is an exact replica of the controls inside the A10 Warthog attack jet. Everything about this control system is high-end, including the price at about $500. You get a dual throttle system, special tech for accuracy and the joystick uses 3D magnetic sensors on the stick to pick up every little movement of your hand. The controls connect via USB and have upgradable firmware. The joystick and throttle both have a number of programmable buttons and switches.

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