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InterAct HammerHead FX Gamepad
...continued

The second portion of the driver is the profile configuration screens -- the look is drastically different but for the most part gets the job done; the screens below cover the highlights of the interface. One concern we had with these screens was that they seemed to contain more peripheral graphics than they needed, at times to the detriment of the usability of the software. For instance, the final of the five screens below lists a question on a background that makes it somewhat hard to read due to the busy background and the lack of contrast. While the functionality is there, we would have preferred a simpler interface with less non-essential graphical elements.

The three screens below are actually accessed from the profile editor, even though they look more like the Control Panel screens shown earlier. They ended up feeling 'tacked on' and are visually inconsistent with the slick screens shown above.

The fact that these screens are so inconsistent is representative of the entire package. Yes, the key functions are all there, but the fact that the interfaces are so different and there are pop-up screens to address what appear to be left-over or unresolved issues makes this package harder to use than it should be. From the configuration list oddities mentioned earlier in the software section to the switch from graphic-intensive screens back to the standard gray dialog boxes shown above, it is apparent that continuity was not terribly high on the priority list when the programmers put the package together. It would benefit greatly from a good "once-over" that helped bring all of these screens under one consistently implemented interface.

We found two functional oddities that deserve mention: When we rebooted the machine we found that the driver software in the control panel did not seem to properly initialize the hardware.

On the left screen, we found that we were not able to select any of the configuration options from the pop-up menus in the Advanced configuration screen. Once we re-selected the option from the list at the top of the tab, then clicked upon the text of that selection, the menu was made available to us.

On the right screen, we could see that we had indeed configured the buttons to match our preferences, but when we tried to use those buttons, the pad did not properly respond. If we went back and re-selected the options, in essence verifying what we had entered before the reboot, then selected the OK button, the keys responded correctly. Even though the configuration was shown correctly, that modification was not sent to the pad upon boot-up, so we had to force it to re-initialize each time we restarted. These types of small inconsistencies will likely be addressed in a future driver release, but certainly caused us some headaches during testing. Luckily, InterAct provided us with some good responses to our email inquiries and we were able to work around the issues.

Performance

The FX was very responsive and easy to use once all of the programming oddities had been addressed. The default mappings were less than optimal, but once adjusted things worked very well. We played Freespace 2 and Descent 3 and though we did miss a dedicated throttle, were pleased with how well the FX performed. The two analog sticks have a great level of resistance and controlling our craft was very easy indeed. During some hardcore play in Descent 3, we were surprised that the 'hat' of the right analog stick actually broke off of the controller. We super-glued it back on and it worked great from that point forward, but that may be a quality control issue that InterAct may want to take a look at. We found ourselves wishing that the indentation on both analog sticks was a bit deeper, as our fingers slipped off of the hats more than once, however.

The D-pad worked great during some hardcore Jazz Jackrabbit 2 sessions, as did the standard six buttons on the right of the controller. Complex movements were a breeze thanks to the responsive nature of the buttons. Combo moves were also easy, even though the buttons on the right seemed a bit close together and we occasionally pressed two buttons when we meant to press one.

Driving and pinball games were fun thanks in part to the flippers on the front of the pad, though we again wished for some kind of throttle slider. Rollcage Stage II supports vibration effects and we found that overall, the effect worked fairly well. On our particular controller, only the left vibration device worked -- the right was inactive at all times. We also found that the Rumble ON/OFF button did not actually work, we had to disable rumble effects in the driver software instead. This is a minor but annoying problem that again we hope InterAct addresses.

The HammerHead FX is a pretty good pad. Though it lacks a throttle control, it has a ton of other programmable controls that help you get the most from your games. We had some hardware issues, such as the broken hat and the non-working right vibration control, but otherwise the pad felt solid. We do not like the idea of having to stuff two "AAA" batteries into the device in order to get the rumble-effects to work, but feel that an updated USB version will likely be self-powering, thus eliminating the concern.

The software is both the strongest and weakest link in the package. It has a ton of programmable features and appears to work well overall, but there are some nagging inconsistencies that keep it from being a top-notch contender. There are a number of interface issues that make the drivers feel incomplete and thrown together. A few key functions don't work properly after reboot, requiring a forced re-initialization. Also, the look and feel of the interface needs some quality control. In using it, we had the distinct feeling that at least three different people worked on the product at the same time and kind of plugged together their efforts to create a final product -- all this without really talking to each other about layout and graphical consistency. All the elements are there for a great driver, it just needs to be polished-up and bug-fixed.

We like the HammerHead FX and feel it has some serious potential. It is pretty much one step away from being a top-tier player in the PC gamepad market. That said, we have a hard time recommending the current iteration over the Logitech RumblePad, perhaps its chief competitor. It is $10 higher in cost, lacks a throttle, and really needs a driver overhaul before it can reach its potential. We recommend that if you like the HammerHead FX, that you give it just a little more time and look into the upcoming USB version of the product. By that time the battery issue will likely have been addressed and the drivers may have been improved.

 

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