Reviewed: December 29, 2001
What's in the box
If you have read any of my other ThrustMaster reviews then you have probably read about my extensive history with this company. Just in case you are a first time reader, here it is again.
My history with ThrustMaster goes back over 12 years to their humble beginning when their joysticks were assembled in the company founder's garage. Each one was hand-built, and when you called to ask questions you actually got to talk to the owner of the company. Thus began my twelve-year history with this company that has grown from an assembly line inside a garage to a worldwide leader in game controllers.
One thing that ThrustMaster has always had going for it is its unparalleled technical support. On more than one occasion I have broken my controller (even out of warranty) and have returned it to be repaired only to have a brand new (or possibly rebuilt) one sent back to me. Needless to say I have owned virtually every steering wheel and joystick that TM has built over the past ten years. At one time I even had those crazy pinball flipper buttons that go on your keyboard. So when I was offered the chance to do the review for their latest joystick, the Fox 2 Pro Shock, there was no way I was saying "no".
Out of the box, the Fox 2 Pro Shock is a beautiful stick. It is the same design as the Fox 2 Pro USB and the Top Gun Afterburner, only this reiteration offers force feedback...or does it? In my 5+ years of reviewing hardware a lot of controllers have come across my desk for reviewing and many of them have been force feedback. While I may not be a recognized authority on controllers, I do know what I like and I really don't like this stick.
So What's Good About this Joystick?
The Fox 2 Pro Shock "looks" awesome. The two-tone grey finish with orange highlights definitely catches your eye. The molded grip of the main stick fits perfectly into your hand and there is an extra-large wrist-rest, which is just perfect for keeping your hand from getting fatigued. The buttons are all within easy reach, and each has a nice defined click to it. There is also a throttle slider located at the base of the stick.
Even though this stick has fewer buttons than some other joysticks you should still have plenty of buttons to assign your most frequently used commands to. A directional hat offers you the choice of 360 degrees of views or you can assign other commands to each direction on the hat. The joystick swivels on its main post and can be used as a rudder or possibly even a throttle for a helicopter flight sim. If you don't like the twisting handle you can lock it down. A handy knob is located on the bottom of the base that you can use to adjust joystick tension/resistance. Using the ThrustMapper 3.0 software, you can program up to 56 possible function into the 7 buttons on this joystick.
Installation is a snap. The joystick plugs in using a USB connector so it can be hot-swapped with any other USB component and auto-detected in seconds. You can use the standard Windows drivers or install the ThrustMapper Software that comes with the joystick. This software allow you to configure and program the buttons on the stick and throttle as well as define and map commands for any other ThrustMaster controller 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.
So What's Wrong With this Joystick?
While my list of "flaws" for this joystick are few , they are quite serious. Let's start with the force feedback effects. In a word, they suck! I suspect the main reason for this is the fact that this joystick relies on the USB cable to get its power. I've tested other joysticks and gamepads in the past that got their "juice" from the USB cable and they just aren't as good as AC-powered controllers. Every effect in every game I played was weak; very weak.
The accuracy of the effects were so bad I would have laughed if it weren't so sad. The control panel for the joystick offers a variety of "sample effects" you can try out when setting up your joystick. The only problem is that every effect was identical to the next. No matter if you picked a "machine gun" or a "vortex" the stick just hummed and vibrated a bit. It may have changed frequency but it was always a vibration. There was no realistic motion or interaction with my game environment that I have come to expect from my other force feedback controllers.
And finally, the press materials proudly proclaims a "Weighted metal base with non-slip rubber pads". Surprisingly, for a stick with such weak effects, this thing was all over my desk. Perhaps it was the frequency of the vibration that almost made this joystick "float" above my desk. ThrustMaster should have used suction cups instead of rubber pads, and it may have been more stable. Moving the stiff throttle slider was often enough to make the entire joystick slip on my desktop.
How Does it Work?
The Fox 2 Pro Shock doesn't ship with any games so I resorted to my favorite force feedback joystick game of all-time; Star Wars: Episode One Racer. This game has always offered -in my opinion - the best force feedback effects of any game I currently own, and I use it as a benchmark for all my joystick reviews to give me an established base of reference. My experience with this new stick was downright disappointing.
A typical speeder race using my current favorite, a Logitech Wingman Force, goes something like this. As I idle at the starting line my stick rumbles in tune with my RPM's. If I rev my engines the stick hums accordingly. When I lurch off the line the stick jerks in my wrist. I can feel the ground effects and G-Forces with every bump and turn in the track. Every time I hit the afterburners the stick tries to tear out of my hand. If I strike a wall or another speeder the stick jerks to either side to reflect the collision. If I burn out an engine the stick pulls to the appropriate side to reflect this.
When I use the Fox 2 Pro Shock to play this same game all I get is a vibrating stick that changes frequency, seemingly at random. It never interacts with the environment or reflects any of the action happening on the screen - and isn't that the point of force feedback; to enhance the realism of the games we play.
You can find the Fox 2 Pro Shock for anywhere from $30-40 in stores or on the Internet. This puts it slightly above a "budget stick" and below the cost of the more high-end (and realistic) sticks such as the Logitech Wingman Force. Sure, this stick looks cool, but the quality and accuracy of the force feedback effects are far below the standards set by the dozens of other competitors out there.