Reviewed: November 20, 2000
I seem to learn a little bit more about gaming and my personal tastes with each review I do whether it be hardware or software. What did I learn from this review? That there really aren't that many PC games out there (that I play) that benefit from the use of a game pad and those that do hardly need force feedback.
For the past five years I have owned a Gravis game pad, the Xterminator to be precise, and it has served me well on those few occasions when I do come across a game where the keyboard is too little and a joystick or steering wheel is too much. Games like Plane Crazy, Motocross Madness, Midtown Madness, and Metal Gear Solid come to mind. I'm sure there are probably dozens of games that can work well with a controller but they just aren't the style of game I prefer. When I heard that Gravis had a new game pad out called the Eliminator that featured force feedback (or "rumble feedback" rather) I was intrigued enough to do the review.
I opened the box to find something that resembled a hybrid between a Dreamcast controller and a PlayStation controller. It had an attractive silver matte finish and felt good in my hands even though it was slightly larger than the Xterminator. This game pad was molded in a glossy smooth plastic, which I quickly discovered caused a severe case of "sweaty palms" during game play. The Xterminator is finished in a nice textured plastic that allows your skin to breathe and maintain a firm grim on the controller. While using the Eliminator I found myself constantly wiping my hands on my pant leg.
Installation was a snap. The Eliminator is USB so you just plug it in and it loads the drivers from the installation CD. After that you can hot-swap with other USB components in mere seconds. The CD also features the latest version of the Gravis Xperience software, a powerful utility for calibrating, configuring, and testing your Gravis controller.
One annoying feature of this software is that it only supports one type of Gravis controller so once I installed it for the Eliminator I could no longer use (or at least configure) my Xterminator without a complete reinstall of the software. Granted this will not be an issue for most gamers, so I reserve it as a personal gripe and didn't allow it to influence this review.
Gravis game pads can be used either in DirectX mode where the buttons are automatically assigned by the software you are using, or you can customize the controls by assigning keyboard commands to the various buttons and saving this configuration as a profile you can load with the games. It comes with profiles for Tomb Raider 3 and Tribes, so you will have to make your own for any other games. You can also adjust the sensitivity and dead zone for each of the analog sticks which is nice.
The first thing I did was to try all the test feedback effects in the setup screen. This was where I received my greatest disappointment. There were 15 different rumble effects you could assign to any of the buttons then press that button to feel the effect. Not only were the 15 effects barely distinguishable from each other, they were so weak it was hardly worth the effort. The most severe effect on the list, "BOMB", felt like I was holding a trembling hamster. All the other effects such as Chainsaw, Plasma Gun, Punch, Kick, etc. had only minor variations in the vibration frequency.
Then I realized something. All of my other force feedback controllers such as my Logitech Wingman joystick and my Microsoft steering wheel all plugged into the wall and used AC power to drive the motors to generate the feedback effects. Just how much power could a game pad possibly draw through a USB port to create its effects? Not enough.
Even with the disappointing effects I proceeded to play-test the controller with the included Madden 2000 game and a few of my own. Naturally football is a poor choice to experience feedback effects and I wonder why they even chose that title as a pack-in. I then moved on to Midtown Madness 2 and Motocross Madness 2 which offered powerful feedback effects on my steering wheel but just fizzled out using the Eliminator.
So casting the force feedback aside I decided to evaluate the game pad on its own merits as a controller. The Eliminator costs about $40. It features two analog sticks, a D-Pad, four buttons, and four shift buttons on the front end (just like a PSX controller). Additionally, each stick has a precision button that you can toggle off or on to increase the precision of your movement. There is a green LED that lights up when precision mode is activated. Personally I found the sticks rather difficult to use. They stick up nearly a half-inch above the controller and my thumb kept wanting to slip off. They could have put some texture bumps on the top like those on the Dreamcast controller.
The Xterminator features a single analog pad which is only slightly raised above the surface of the controller and has a curved recess that fits your thumb perfectly allowing for precise control. It also features six buttons, an analog throttle slider and four additional buttons located on the front and bottom grips of the controller. You might not need those two extra buttons for every game, but it's nice to have them when you do. There is also a POV hat and the standard D-Pad just below the analog pad. This controller also sells for around $40.
Given the choice of these two controllers at the same price I would clearly have to recommend the Xterminator. The feedback effects of the new Eliminator are not even worth consideration when choosing, plus the smooth plastic, wobbly analog stick, and fewer buttons compound the reasons to avoid the Eliminator.
Gravis makes great controllers. Unfortunately this isn't one of them. The rumble effects are a "gimmick" at best and while it serves its basic function as a game pad, it simply isn't as comfortable or feature-rich as its cousin , the Xterminator. Even if I didn't already own a game pad that was better than the Eliminator and this was my first purchase, I would probably have taken it back.