Flight sticks for consoles are a rarity. Like the games that require them, there is just not that many on the market, and choice is really slim to none. Today I’ll be checking out one of the few on the market, the Saitek Aviator.
Now Saitek is not alien to making flight sticks, they have been doing so for many years now, though mostly for PC, which makes sense seeing as that is where the entire simulation heritage resides. But with consoles now having power to produce complex and graphically rich simulations, Saitek has released the Aviator to fit in with today’s flight simulations for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 consoles. Also, should you also have a PC, the Aviator works with that too – bonus!
So lets take a look around the stick itself. Unlike arcade-based joysticks, the Aviator is a true analogue stick, so there is no use of 8-way switches here, instead, you have full 360 direction, which is ideal for pitch and roll that is found in flight simulations. The stick itself can also be twisted from side to side to accommodate the yaw/rudder motion in flight.
That covers the basic necessities for flight, yet how about speed? Well, this is achieved thanks to the throttle leaver, which is poised at the front of the base. Looking like two independent throttles, this leaver is actually one piece that you bring towards you or away from you to increase and decrease your engine’s throttle. The length in which the throttle travels is a generous amount, which means small increments to the engine can be made should you wish to maintain a particular flight speed. This is ideal for PC simulations, however it is a little wasted on the more arcade-like simulations found on consoles. The type of gameplay found in console simulations mostly require the ‘on or off’ type of throttling, so you’ll find yourself pulling the throttle to the maximum or minimum most of the time here.
At the top of the stick we have the four face buttons, A B X and Y. The X button has a ‘safety’ switch covering it, should you really want to stop yourself from accidentally pressing it (which is unlikely). This is a little overkill if you ask me, but if you are sitting in front of the computer or console in a flight suit and flying helmet, then I can see the authentic appeal here. Rounding off the top of the sick is a POV (Point Of View) thumbstick, which is most commonly used in-game to rotate your internal or external viewpoint.
On the base we have a few more buttons; namely the Xbox Guide, Back and Start buttons, which we all know about. There are also buttons for the left and right trigger and shoulder buttons, and finally an 8 way directional stick, which mirrors a controller D-Pad. As I am reviewing the Xbox 360 version of the Aviator, there is also a socket for your headset too, should you wish to be screaming ‘Banzi’ into your microphone over Xbox LIVE.
Underneath the wide base you’ll find four flat rubber pads in each corner, not the usual suction cups that I am used to finding on the bottom of flight sticks. With this in mind, you begin to understand how its makers envisage you holding the Aviator – that is in your lap whilst being held in your hands. Sadly, although the base is nice and wide, the Aviator has been made with a base that is best suited to be positioned on a flat surface or table. Another reason this stick is meant for the lap is its feather-like weight. Simulation sticks I have used in the past have been nice and heavy, to avoid any slippage, but if you are hand holding the stick everything feels too light and, well, a bit wrong.
I’ve put the Aviator up against three key simulation titles on the Xbox 360. Ace Combat 6, Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. and the most recently released IL-2 Sturmovik. It is worth pointing out that on the side of the stick is a Mode switch, which can be switched between Mode 1 and Mode 2 for certain control layouts in titles. On all of these titles I found Mode 1 worked the best, as in Mode 2 your normal controls were swapped with view controls – which wasn’t good.
Ace Combat 6
Control felt good and responsive. It was strange though that the safety covered X button was used to flip between the map modes, instead of being mapped to firing missiles for example. Navigating through the menus was done through moving the stick or D-Pad on the base of the Aviator, and the throttle was responsive throughout. Switching to Type – B controls in the Options menu did make things more bearable.
Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X.
Once plugged in, this game picked up the Aviator automatically, displaying its full set of controls on screen in the options menu. All commands are shown here, which was great, however no buttons could be re-mapped. The throttle response was much better here as the throttle behaved in two halves. The first half was 100% to 0% while the remaining half was how much air brake was being applied. For the type of gameplay H.A.W.X. brings, this was ideal, as the on and off throttling needed in this game was set to a shorter throw distance. Once again the X button was oddly assigned to the ERS function instead of rockets, however this was still set at a comfortable B position.
IL-2 was developed in conjunction with the Aviator. So it goes without saying that the Aviator handles perfectly in this game. The last 10 degrees of the throttle initiates the WEP function of your engines, and being able to accurately set your engines to 100% at all times is much easier than using the triggers on a controller. The X button is correctly assigned to any Bombs you are carrying, whilst the B button is used for the more commonly used rockets. I couldn’t see a function used for the Y button however, though everything else was catered for around the Aviator’s base unit.
My main criticism was with holding the stick whilst playing these titles. The Aviator would have been a better controller if the base buttons were more easily to reach with one hand still nearer the throttle. Microsoft’s age-old Sidewinder stick had this system and it really worked. Navigating through game menus with the main stick felt a bit long-winded, and this forced me to use the base’s D-pad thumbstick and the sticks trigger instead. Ideally the P.O.V. stick and trigger would have been an ideal combo here, or make the sticks movement a little less rigid.
Overall, I found the Aviator to be the finest flight stick you could purchase today for your console simulation games. The fact that it also works for PC titles too is a fantastic addition and helps save money on purchasing another stick for your desktop. The Aviator comes recommend to anyone willing to have a little more control in their simulations, especially if it’s IL-2, which this stick is clearly made for.