Serious game players know that the right controllers make all the difference in the world. Whether you're a PC-based gamer or a video game console enthusiast, you'll have little trouble finding excellent controllers that meet a variety of needs.
For your desktop PC, consider an ergonomic, split-layout keyboard and a large mouse or trackball, both of which will help stave off carpal tunnel syndrome. The best of these come from Microsoft, which has been making excellent keyboard and mouse products for almost 20 years. The company's best keyboard is the Microsoft Natural Multimedia Keyboard ($50), which continued unchanged in 2003, with a blue and white fascia and several programmable multimedia keys.
You have many excellent mouse-device options, including the new Microsoft Wireless IntelliMouse Explorer ($50), which might be the first wireless mouse that's fast enough for online gaming. Featuring a new tilt-wheel scrolling mechanism that permits both horizontal and vertical scrolling, and an interesting selection of colors and surface textures (including an impressive black leather), the Wireless IntelliMouse Explorer is the most powerful mouse available. (Expect wired versions in early 2004.) Also worth your consideration are the Microsoft Optical Mouse Blue ($35), a basic model with two buttons and a scroll wheel; the IntelliMouse Explorer ($55), which includes five buttons and a scroll wheel; and the Trackball Explorer ($55), an optical trackball design with four buttons and a scroll wheel.
If you must use a gamepad, you have numerous excellent choices. The coolest option is probably the Smartjoy-X USB Adapter ($13), which lets you use any Xbox game pad on your PC. For dedicated PC gaming, however, consider the Logitech Cordless Rumblepad ($40), which features multiple buttons, dual analog mini-sticks, and an 8-way D-pad. And serious gamers will want the Belkin Nostromo SpeedPad n52 ($50), an intriguing secondary controller that offers the functionality of a keyboard and mouse in one unit.
Finally, the holidays wouldn't be the same without some PC games. Although some of 2003's most widely anticipated titles (e.g., DOOM 3 and Half-Life 2) have been pushed into next year, we still have plenty to cheer about. First up is the irrepressible Max Payne in Rock Star Games' Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne ($42), a violent film noir love story with some of the best action sequences I've ever seen on the PC. The original programmers of the excellent Medal of Honor regrouped for Activision's Call of Duty ($45), another first-person World War II shooter with even more realistic graphics and a stunning series of scenarios that let you drive tanks through Berlin, snipe Nazis in Stalingard, and perform other period tasks. Another first-person shooter, Microsoft Halo: Combat Evolved ($40), started on the Xbox and made its way this year to the PC. Excellent as this game is, however, Halo requires the fastest possible PC for adequate play