Saitek P880 Dual Analog PC Gamepad
Developed by: Saitek
Retail price: $20
System Requirements: - Windows 98/ME/2000/XP - CD-ROM drive - USB port
Features: - 2 analog sticks - 1 8-way d-pad - 6 face buttons - 2 trigger buttons - 2 analog (PS2-style) buttons - 10 buttons plus a shift key = 20 programmable buttons - Easy-to-use mapping software - A cool-looking glowing blue light on the gamepad - A 2-year manufacturer?s warranty
With the mass popularity of the PlayStation 2 and Xbox, more gamers have become used to the control and feel of dual analog controllers. So it was only a matter of time before manufacturers would begin to create dual analog controllers for the PC. Unfortunately, some of these controllers have been of poor quality or bad programming. A particularly egregious example is the Logitech Dual Analog controller, which despite the reputable brand has nevertheless been plagued by mechanical and software issues. Saitek, meanwhile, has created a surprisingly-good controller that retails for only $20.
The P880 is laid out much like an Xbox controller and the analog sticks are well-constructed and responsive. The manual explains in detail how to install the software, and the CD does the rest for you. The game's programmable buttons are one of the controller's stronger features. By going into the 'Profile Editor,' you can click on any button or control unit on the gamepad and map it out to something else. The game allows mapping through both a menu-driven selection process or a simple macro recording tool. For example, clicking on 'button 1' and then pushing the 'F' key will cause the F key to be pressed every time you push button one. It is a great feature for games that use keyboard hotkeys, and in theory the Profile Editor can even allow you to use the gamepad in a game that doesn't have joystick capability.
I tested the P880 with two games, Morrowind (a first-person RPG) and Independence War 2: Edge of Chaos (a space pirate flight sim). At first I had some small difficulties with Morrowind, which owed more to Morrowind's own scheme than Saitek's controller. Namely, the right analog stick - which handles where your player looks - was inverted, where pushing up and down caused the character to look left and right, and vice versa. But with a small change in the morrowind.ini file, I was able to remedy the problem, and now the game handles as it would on the Xbox. With Morrowind's robust control configuration system was able to handle my 10 buttons, and I used the Saitek Profile Editor to map out my shifted buttons, including those for quick save and quick load. (NOTE: Saitek released a downloadable profile configuration for Morrowind, but I could not get it to work correctly. Fortunately, I didn't need it.)
Independence War 2: Edge of Chaos is a space sim designed primarily to be played with a flight joystick with a hat. This translated well into a dual analog system, and with some changes to I-War's control scheme, as well as a couple of mapped buttons through the Profile editor, I was able to tweak and refine the controls into something I could use. By mapping out the fire button to the left trigger and using the left analog for movement and the right analog for throttle, I was able to create a versatile system that let me maneuver almost as easily as I could with a flight stick.
There are only a couple of minor quibbles one might have with this controller. It is a budget-minded controller, meaning it has no force feedback (rumble feature) and no wireless capability. Also, the Profile Editor looks more intimidating than it is - some gamers may be hesitant to play with it, but it works quite easily and can really beef up a game's controls. And finally, I had some difficulty mapping out the mouse to the analog stick. Although the profile editor allows it, I kept having issues getting it to work correctly, and I'm not sure if that owes to my operating system (Windows ME), my mouse driver, or the Saitek program itself. Others, though, have been able to get it to work correctly without any problem.
Overall, I think this controller is one of the best values for your money currently on the dual-analog market. The controls are sharp and the versatility and customizability is boundless. And although I have only had the controller for a relatively short time, the message boards assert that this is one of the more durable controllers out there, and it does come with a two-year replacement warranty. If you are in the market for a good all-around gamepad, this is an easy choice, and can be found at many major retailers at the time of this review, including Circuit City and Best Buy. Highly recommended.