Reviewed: February 19, 2001
Type: Gamepad Controller
What's in the box
After 10 years of using ThrustMaster controllers of all kinds, it was no surprise that the Firestorm Dual Power game pad is one of the best game pads I have had the privilege to review.
It seems that there are few games made these days that support the use of game pads. Sports and platform games aside, most people usually find a joystick, steering wheel, or mouse more suited to PC gaming and leave the game pads to those console gamers. My own PC game pad experience has been limited to the Gravis Eliminator, the Gravis Xterminator, and a very brief encounter with the Microsoft Sidewinder. Of these, only the Eliminator was force feedback and it didn't perform very well, perhaps giving me a negative bias on force feedback game pads. So when I heard ThrustMaster had a new game pad on the market and it was force feedback I was excited and skeptical.
The Firestorm Dual Power game pad derives its name from the twin motors inside that generate the surprisingly good force feedback effects. The game pad also offers these features:
So What's Good About this Controller
For those of you with a PlayStation, this game pad is modeled almost exactly like Sony's Dual Shock boomerang-style controller. There are the 4 standard buttons on top as well as the traditional 4 front buttons (known as L1, L2, R1 and R2 in the PSX world), plus two additional buttons further down on the bottom that fit perfectly into your 3rd or 4th finger when gripping the pad. This gives you excellent control over several buttons and commands without having to move any of your fingers.
All of the buttons are molded in ThrustMaster's new trademark blue color and feature very nice defined clicks so you will never miss another command.
The Firestorm is USB so it only takes moments after opening the box until you are using this controller. It can be hot-swapped with any other USB device and auto-detected in seconds. The extra-long 9' cord will let you sit where you want and not where the controller will let you. You can use the standard Windows drivers or install the ThrustMapper 3 software that comes with the game pad. This software allows you to configure and program the buttons on the game pad as well as define and map commands for any other compatible ThrustMaster devices you may have installed on your system. You can also create profiles for specific games or choose from a list of pre-configured profiles provided on the installation CD and have them auto-load with each game.
One of the things that surprised me the most about the Firestorm is the sheer power of the force feedback effects. Up until now I would have sworn that the USB port could not generate enough juice to make a game pad rumble like my other controllers that are plugged into the wall. And while I will admit the Firestorm effects do not equal those of AC-powered devices, it does surprisingly well, and the twin motors easily generate the most force of any game pad I have tried to date. It also makes this one of the heaviest game pads in the current line-up of available handheld controllers.
One word of warning; this device does seem to draw more than its fair share of power through the USB port and if you are using a USB expansion or mini-hub you may be asked to remove one or more other devices if your computer detects a power drain. I had to temporarily remove my UMAX scanner from my 4-port mini-hub.
So What's Wrong With this Controller?
After many years of using my Gravis Xterminator I will admit I have become very comfortable with six buttons on the top of my game pad. Most of the games I play that require the use of a game pad also require lots of additional input so the more buttons the better. The Firestorm has just as many buttons; I'm just not sure they are located in the most logical or useful locations. I suppose for those that are used to the 4-button configuration this won't even be an issue.
My other complaint about this game pad is the location of the analog sticks. Few game pads seem to get this right, but when you are holding a controller like the Firestorm the molded grip forces you to hold it a certain way. This natural grip will instinctively have your thumbs facing forward as a lateral extension of your forearm, yet ThrustMaster has positioned the two analog sticks lower and closer to the middle forcing you bend your thumbs 45 degrees at an unnatural and rather uncomfortable angle, at least for prolonged usage. I can't blame ThrustMaster entirely, as Sony and many other manufacturers design their controllers the same way. SEGA Dreamcast controllers and many of the game pads in the Gravis product line have figure it out and put the sticks where your thumbs want to be and move the D-Pad down toward the more awkward location.
My only remaining complaint about the Firestorm Dual Power would be a lack of texture on the tops of the analog sticks. This is another useful tip for game pad designers. Gamers' thumbs sweat and when they do they slip off of miniature joysticks unless there is something there for us to grip onto. Just a few raised bumps on the top of each stick would fix so many bad moves and lost games.
How Does it Work?
The Firestorm doesn't ship with any games but I still had a few left on my hard drive from a previous game pad review so I fired them up to see what this little dual powered controller could do.
First I loaded up Midtown Madness 2 which is always a good test for me since I wreck quite often and my car is almost always a vibrating hunk of wreckage. Sure enough, the Firestormdidn't disappoint. Not only did the controller vibrate with the engine, it also changed pitch as the RPM's changed in my car. Collisions and even jumps over the curb were all perfectly recreated in the palm of my hand.
Motocross Madness 2 was next and it performed equally as well. I ride a motorcycle in real life and know how the vibrations feel in your hands while you grip the handlebars, and the Firestorm was pretty close. Perhaps the coolest effect is when you catch some crazy air and you let off the gas. Without any engine or ground vibrations the controller goes eerily silent in your hand just before the THUMP of impact as you land.
The game pad easily adapts for use with driving sims. You can split the functions for the analog sticks allowing for independent braking/gas and steering. While not as agile or accurate as a big stick, the mini-analog sticks can also be used in flight sims. Most computer pilots will opt for a real joystick, but the controls of the Firestorm are more than adequate for the arcade style plane games like Plane Crazy or AirFix Dogfighter.
For $40 SRP the ThrustMaster Firestorm Dual Power game pad is one of the best (if not the best) force feedback handheld controller you can currently buy. It offers the best force feedback effects and plenty of fully customizable controls and buttons to make it more than a match for any of the competition. Once you get used to how this controller handles you may never want to switch to another game pad.