If you dream of sitting in a cramped cockpit for a midair dogfight, a flight simulator game and a joystick can get you halfway there. Using your keyboard and/or a game pad is fine for first-person shooters and sports simulators, but a joystick is optimal for flight-simulation games like Fly 2K and Falcon 4. In addition, a yoke, the steering mechanism in a civilian aircraft, and/or pedals can add realism to a game.
We looked at five USB joysticks: CH Products' F16 CombatStick USB, Gravis's Destroyer Xtreme, Macally's iStick, and Saitek's Cyborg 3D Gold and ST220. In addition to the joysticks, we also looked at CH Products' Flight Sim Yoke USB and Pro Pedals USB. Each of the peripherals in this review are compatible with any game that supports Apple's Input Sprockets software technology, which is available by free download at Apple's Web site.
While Saitek's Cyborg 3D Gold and ST220 joysticks are comfortable for either hand, the iStick, Destroyer Xtreme, and F16 CombatStick USB are configured for right-handed users. This is potentially problematic for lefties because the handle and buttons on these joysticks are designed exclusively for the right hand. However, in real life, left-handed pilots fly F-16 jets using a right-handed stick, so it's possible to adjust. While I found the grip on the Destroyer Xtreme to be the most comfortable, my personal preference does not reflect what is best for other users. For example, my small hands fit like gloves around the handle of the Destroyer Xtreme, and all the buttons are within reach. The adjustable handrest on the Cyborg 3D Gold makes all the buttons usable; the buttons on the ST220 aren't adjustable, but they work fine. Yet, with my hands on the hand rest on both the F16 CombatStick and the iStick, I was not able to reach the buttons.
A joystick usually includes some combination of the following: a throttle control to increase or decrease aircraft speed; a hat switch for controlling ammunition aim; and trigger buttons for shooting. Each joystick in this review offers a different feature set, geared for playing different types of games. In air-to-air combat games, for example, the hat switch is key as it helps to aim missiles and lock on a target faster. Not all joysticks include a hat switch, but both the iStick and Cyborg 3D Gold have one; the F16CombatStick features two. The Destroyer Xtreme, like its counterpart game pad, features a precise button similar to a hat switch - geared to offer more accuracy and increased maneuverability. Throttle controls - especially useful for increasing and decreasing the speed of your aircraft - are available on a separate lever for the Destroyer Xtreme, ST220, and Cyborg 3D Gold, and as a rotary controller for the iStick and the F-16 CombatStick. Though both types of throttle do the same thing, we found the lever type easiest to use.
The iStick has a huge base, making it sturdy on the desktop; the Flight Sim Yoke easily clamps to a desk, but its switches are obscured by the yoke itself. Adding more realism to the experience, the F16 CombatStick USB closely resembles a real F-16 jet stick. At the bargain price of $20, the Saitek ST220 can be configured for both left- and right-handed players, but it does not feature a hat switch.
Hands and Feet: The Ultimate Setup
The combination of the Flight Sim Yoke and Pro Pedals are expensive, but make the ultimate, though costly, realistic station for flight-simulation games such as FLY 2K. The Flight Sim Yoke has enough buttons, hat switches, levers, rocket switches, and up/down switches to control just about every function of an aircraft without a single touch of the keyboard. The Pro Pedals are versatile as well, enabling you to disable forward and backward motion (used to simulate rudder controls of an aircraft) so the pedals can also be used in racing sims. For overall value and comfort, the Destroyer Xtreme delivers at a bargain price. The Cyborg 3D Gold, though it costs a little more, is packed with features and configured for both left- and right-handed players - certainly worth the extra dollars.Saitek Cyborg 3D GoldGravis Destroyer XtremeMacally's iStick