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Review: Latest gaming tools from Saitek

PC World

(IDG) -- It seems new joysticks, trackballs, pads, mice, and other utensils for gamers are hitting the market almost as often as the games for which they are intended. Yet gamers stick with keyboards and mice simply because those tools are unrivaled when it comes to providing precise control in first-person shooter games. That hasn't stopped manufacturers from introducing all sorts of new devices in the hope that one will appeal to this large and dedicated audience. The latest, the $50 GM2 from Saitek, features a sleek, feature-rich Game Mouse that works in tandem with an included hand-shaped Action Pad. Overall, I liked the mouse, but I had some problems with the pad and the supporting software.

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Saitek's gray, contoured mouse includes a scroll wheel between the two buttons and a programmable four-way "hat" switch on the thumb side. (For the uninitiated, hat switches are multidirectional controls that allow you to access multiple functions.) But the placement of the hat switch was a problem: It was set a bit too far back to be used comfortably, so I had to take my hand off the mouse to reach it. Despite its awkward placement, the hat switch was well suited for jumping or for changing the player's view. And the wheel was useful for switching weapons.

The lightweight but solidly constructed mouse glided smoothly and accurately in gaming and in normal desktop usage. Since the Game Mouse's plug connects only to the Action Pad (which in turn plugs into a Universal Serial Bus port), you can use it in place of, or alongside, your existing mouse.

Confining Action Pad

The Action Pad's buttons are thoughtfully placed, with four function buttons for the middle and ring fingers, an eight-way hat and trigger button for the forefinger, and a throttle and action button for the thumb. In addition, a shift button allows the pinky to switch the pad's controls to a set of secondary functions. The thumb throttle proved especially useful for strafing in its autocentering mode, and for weapon switching in its freewheel mode.

Unfortunately, the Action Pad's design lacks the utility of the Game Mouse. After 10 minutes or so of running around in both Unreal Tournament and Quake III Arena, my finger had become stiff from using the forefinger hat. Moreover, the hat didn't offer the same accuracy as keyboard movement, which made quick spins and "circle strafing" (shooting at enemies while circling them) difficult. I was able to perform those actions with the GM2, but a lot more slowly than I would have with a keyboard.

Like other Saitek controllers, the GM2 uses the awkward Saitek Gaming Extensions software to assign game functions to controller buttons. While you can import 25 preset profiles from the CD-ROM and 88 from Saitek's Web site (with some overlap between the two), making adjustments to the profiles requires that you use an unintuitive interface, and it takes many more steps than similar software offered by competitors Gravis and Microsoft.

That said, the GM2, with its excellent mouse, works well in most other game genres, including role-playing games such as Icewind Dale and real-time strategy games such as Age of Empires II. But in the first-person shooter battlefield for which it was intended, the GM2 can't muster the muscle to unseat the keyboard-and-mouse combo as champion.

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