While most PC gamers prefer the mouse/keyboard combination for shooters and strategy titles, there's no denying that many PC games--console ports, sports titles, and the like--are just crying out to be used with a controller. In the past, there was a wide variety of controllers available in the free-for-all PC landscape. But with its Games for Windows initiative, Microsoft is changing that: the company has developed a template, based on the Xbox 360 controller, upon which hardware manufacturers and game developers can standardize their offerings in the hope of making the forthcoming Windows Vista operating system a more game-friendly platform. Logitech, a company with a long and successful track record in the console- and PC-accessory realm, has created its first such Windows-optimized controller. It's called the ChillStream, and with good reason: the $40 gamepad is equipped with built-in fans that cool players' hands during competition.
The ChillStream may be touted as Vista-ready, but the controller will look instantly familiar to Xbox 360 gamers: it has the exact same button layout--with the same labels--right down to the centered guide button, which will have greater functionality when used on Vista PCs. Like the standard Xbox 360 controller, it's extremely comfortable, with easy-grip plastic on its sides and bottom. The internal fan pulls air through a grille on its front side and shoots it out through vents located in the left and right handles.
Here and now, in this pre-Vista PC-gaming landscape, we still got decent results from the ChillStream in our tests. While we encountered many incompatible titles in our testing, particularly first-person shooters that are optimized to the mouse/keyboard setup anyway, the titles that did work exhibited almost no problems. Since the controller is guaranteed to work with Games for Windows titles, we fired up a few of those games, and it seemed to work pretty well. For example, it was easy to map the controller's buttons to (you have 10 buttons between the face, the shoulders, and the click-in analog thumbsticks), and it controlled just as well with the ChillStream as it did with an Xbox 360 controller. Simpler titles such as were a breeze to configure.