The Great PC Space Sim Joystick Quest!

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I have played flight simulations on and off for years, though not for any extended amount of time. When I backed the Elite: Dangerous and Star Citizen space games on the Kickstarter crowdfunding site for Alpha access, I owned an extremely old stick:
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It did the job, but without anything like the kind of precision I wanted. I knew I’d be playing the new influx of space sims quite a bit, so thought that maybe it was time to consider a hardware upgrade!

By May, 2014 I had decided it was time to try something else, so I bought myself a Thrustmaster T16000M; This is a fantastic stick that allows me to control – with absolute precision – my movements, probably due to the magnetic sensors inside. Tracking targets with fixed weapons feels easy, and it is hugely beneficial to have a stick that you can twist to access another axis.

After quite a few requests, I made a video profiling my controller setup at the time:

The only real negatives I can find at the time of writing (well over a year later) is the position of the throttle (awkward, being behind the stick), and also the fact that it seems some sticks are shipped with sensors that detect movement all the time. I have to add a slight deadzone in the Elite: Dangerous controller options to compensate for that.

I went until August, 2014 before I realized I wanted something more. I needed easier access to more buttons, perhaps even a HOTAS (hands on throttle and stick) setup… I went straight to the top of the list, and got myself a Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog A-10C replica.

I made a video of the unboxing, along with an overview of the stick (I will sum up below in text):

The Warthog is a fabulous stick and throttle combination! The build quality is amazing, the amount of buttons is excellent, for any usage. The only negative that I had was that there was no twist axis on the stick…

Elite: Dangerous does have ‘yaw into roll’ in the control options and I was able to effectively use the stick, but I didn’t feel like I was able to adapt to that fully, or have as precise control without a twist axis.

I tried using pedals, similar to how you would with a flight sim to control the rudder, and although I liked this for a while, the effect wore off. It became tiresome and eventually felt way more difficult than it should be to do simple tasks.

November, 2014: Time for another change. I’d grown tired of the pedals, and annoyed at not being as precise using ‘yaw into roll’, so I got myself a Saitek X52 HOTAS that did have an axis available on twisting. Again, I did a video unboxing, overview and opinion video:

While functional, with plenty of buttons and the basic controls I required, I didn’t like this stick:

– The build quality isn’t good enough for even occasional use – it’s going to break – and it feels like it from the instant you take it out of the box.

– It’s not as precise as either the Warthog (using yaw into roll) or T16000M, so it felt like a step backwards in terms of control.

– The throttle sticks at 20% and 80%, requiring you to push extremely hard in those zones. While realistic for flight, in space sims 0% and 100% throttle access is essential.

I gave the X52 about a month to change my mind, but I disliked it the more time I spent with it.

By December, 2014 I had shifted again and now owned a Thrustmaster T-Flight HOTAS X. Very much a budget stick, around the same price as the non-HOTAS T16000M I started out with, you can tell there are a few cheaper materials used, but overall it feels of better quality to me than the X52 did – and that’s another nail in the coffin for that X52.

Here is my unboxing and opinion video for the T-Flight:

I liked this stick quite a lot; it has all the axis I required (including twist), enough buttons to get by, the build quality beat out the X52 and it simply does the job. If I’d never owned a T16000M I’d have been 100% happy.

So why wasn’t I 100% happy? The T16000M feels precise! I’m connected through my hands and arm to the images on the screen infront of me in a way that I feel I can truly feel. After a few months using the T-Flight, I decided I wanted to go back to the T16000M…

What joystick did I end up with?

I ended up with two! Thrustmaster T16000M with my right hand, and the Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog A-10C throttle (now available for purchase separately from the Warthog stick) with my left.

dualthrottles2

I have a stick in my right hand that feels precisely connected to the space sim infront of me; It has plenty of buttons, a twist axis and to put it simply, just works. It’s also now over a year old and working perfectly (apart from the deadzone issue that might have been there out of the box and just went unnoticed).

The throttle in my left hand is sturdy, heavy (so it doesn’t move like most can), and still functions perfectly even though it also is over a year old as well. There are a huge amount of buttons, axis, sliders, etc to literally keep my hands on the sticks all the time.

It honestly did feel like a never-ending quest to get to this point last year, but finding something I’ve been happy with for such a long time now really does make me feel good about sharing those findings with other people. I genuinely believe it is the best HOTAS controller combination on the market right now… You just have to purchase them separately. :)

2 thoughts on “The Great PC Space Sim Joystick Quest!

  1. Hi,

    interesting combination. I had almost the same story. I started with T16000 and really liked it. But still I would like to have a HOTAS setup and more colie-hats (thrusters, power management etc.).

    I tried the Saitek X52 (could borrow one from a colleague) but was quite disappointed. I didn’t like the flight stick, the placement of buttons on the throttle feels wrong. So, that was not an option.

    Finally I bought the CH Pro Throttle. That combination works great for me and I don’t want to miss it anymore. More buttons than I could wish for. In Elite I use one of the buttons on the throttle grip as a kind of shift key to get even more button options.

    Only the throttle could weight a little more. That would help.

    Regards

    Dirk

  2. You know what, I had never thought of using a button combination as a shift key! What a brilliant idea (that I wish I had thought of)! :)

    T16000M is such a strong stick, makes everything else feel a bit crappy. Glad you found a throttle combination for it!

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I began my gaming journey via the family Commodore Vic-20, then later with my own C-64 and Amiga A600. These systems kept my attention until I moved up to PCs around the Windows MS-DOS Pre-Windows 95 era, which means I never really got into the console gaming market in a big way.

My parents spent a significant amount of time sharing my early gaming experiences, and this really helped foster my interests. I discovered racing games and space games for the first time, and those are still my main genres of interest to this day.

These days I use gaming to try to escape from the pressures of real life. I also occasionally upload or stream gameplay to YouTube and Twitch, and rather than doing this to instruct others of the best way to play, I do it because of the social interaction with viewers and other gamers.

Left: Monkey Island 2 Special Edition (a remaster of the original Amiga and PC-DOS classic).

 
 
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Tim is British and lives in the United States with his wife and kids.

He works for software developers Image Space Inc. and Studio 397 on their racing simulations, and is a fan of Gaming, Motorsports, and photography.