- Review Price: £45.00
A quick cyber jump over to the Saitek website reveals that this company is serious about gaming peripherals. In fact, in its joystick section alone there are currently 14 models available, all the way from budget models like the ST90 to more sophisticated ones such as the X52 Flight Control System.
Now if you’re wondering why this joystick looks familiar, then cast your minds back to our review of the Cyborg evo. Well the evo Force is pretty much the same blue LED lit model, but with one main difference (apart from the golden brushed metal plates), and that’s the addition of force-feedback. Yup folks, this stick vibrates, shakes and rumbles to bring you a sense of reality when playing force-feedback compatible games.
But before I get onto its effectiveness, let’s take a look at what’s on offer from “the world’s only fully adjustable force-feedback joystick”, as Saitek likes to call it. As I’ve mentioned already the overall design is the same as the Cyborg evo. Like its standard stable mate, the Cyborg evo Force can be tweaked to suit both right-handed and left-handed users by way of the detachable hand/palm rest. After unscrewing the shiny metal knob that secures it to the stick, the whole arrangement can be split, reversed, and then re-screwed into one of the three holes that run up the length of stick. So whether you’ve got dinky little mitts or huge dinner plate sized paws, there should be a level that’ll suit you.
The adjustability doesn’t stop there either. Another two of those shiny knobs can be found on the head. These are both geared and allow you to rock the head from side to side and raise or lower the three thumb buttons situated below the eight-way point-of-view hat switch. With a little tweaking I was soon able to find a comfortable fit.
Of course there are plenty of buttons dotted around the evo Force. There are five fire buttons situated around the hat switch and a further six positioned on the flanks of the base that include two shift buttons for doubling the function of each button. Completing the control array is the obligatory rapid-fire trigger that sits neatly under your forefinger, and a centrally mounted lever-type throttle.
All of the buttons can be programmed to your preferences using the SST (Saitek Smart Technology) software provided on the driver CD. The option to install this arises during driver installation which was a relatively smooth process. After plugging in the USB lead and the mains power adapter, it’s a simple case of following the prompts for button and force-feedback testing. There’s also an opportunity to adjust the gain levels of the various forces in order to make them weaker or stronger. The only issue I had with the SST installation was its insistence upon installing drivers for a keyboard and mouse emulator. There’s no choice in the matter – you get those whether you want them or not.
However, what I do like is the profile editor. This is used to customise (using macros or a combination of button presses) the functions of each button, which can then be saved as a profile – ideal if you want to create and save external button configurations for your favorite PC games. You can also assign keyboard and mouse commands so that you can use the evo Force to play games that do not offer support for joysticks. If you can’t be bothered to do that you can always download ready-made profiles from Saitek’s website, and if you’re really keen you can upload your own there too.
DemonStar Secret Missions 2 – a force-feedback compatible vertical scrolling shooter game – is also included on the driver CD along with a neat little demo that interprets the forces involved in bouncing or spinning a ball on a string and passes them on to the joystick. Simple, but strangely addictive…
Moving on, I tested the evo Force with a couple of force-feedback compatible games – Star Wars Episode 1 Racer, and Crimson Skies – and my overall impression was excellent. The evo Force’s action is smooth thanks to its spring loaded gimbal mechanism and the sprung twisting action was essential for tweaking my plane’s rudder during controlled dive attacks on enemy aircraft. In terms of force-feedback, its effectiveness largely depends on the game you’re playing.
For Star Wars Episode 1 Racer, the forces were somewhat muted and limited to a continual hum that mimicked the Pod Racer’s engines and the occasional rumble for the odd collision or two. On the other hand, Chrimson Skies offered up much more excitement partly because of the various weapons I had at my fingertips, and partly because a joystick is extremely well suited to flight sims. For instance, the evo Force would alter its kicking action depending on whether I was firing canon, rockets or machine guns, whereas in a steep climb the increased resistance in the stick gave the impression of pulling a few extra G’s.
The only real issues I had were three-fold. First, the joystick is little light in construction and as a result machine gun fire would shake the stick violently enough to cause it to vibrate on the desk. That said you can always drop the gain on this force to minimise this, but the evo Force would benefit from more weight in its base as well as a set of larger rubber feet for that extra bit of grip. The second gripe are the flushly set buttons, both on the base and on the thumb paddle, which makes it far too easy to press the wrong button. If these were bevelled or grooved for your fingers and thumb then I am sure that would help. And last of all, because the throttle lever is mounted in a central position (obviously to suit the evo Force’s ambidextrous design), it means that while one hand is on the stick, the other will find itself awkwardly controlling the throttle underneath.
All in all, however, the evo Force is a comfortable and responsive force-feedback stick that has an excellent level of adjustability for a reasonable sub-£50 price tag. I’m also impressed that Saitek has managed to squeeze all the necessary motors and sensors within the same moulded body as the standard Cyborg evo, and that has to be applauded.
Whether you’re left or right-handed, the Saitek evo Force should certainly be considered if you’re after a joystick with force-feedback. There could be some subtle improvements but the responsive nature of the stick, its comfort and range of forces really brings the element of realism to compatible games – especially if you’ve been using a standard joystick up until now.