Flight Sticks appear to be going the way of the cartridge in the console gaming industry. It’s no secret that flight games featured on the PlayStation 3 have yet to feel as fluid as they should when being controlled by a flight stick. With titles like Warhawk opening up the world of airborne combat for PS3 users, it’s no surprise that some gamers prefer the ground combat compared to the shaky flight controls of the DualShock 3. This is where Saitek and their leading technology in the field of flight sticks come into play.
Saitek has been designing flight sticks for the PC for a long time now, and are finally branching out into the console kingdom. With Tom Clancy’s HAWX prepared to release just around the corner, every gamer is going to want to control their fighter jet like a true pilot. Thankfully, Saitek understands this desire and is currently putting the finishing touches on their Saitek Aviator Flight Sticks for the PlayStation 3. The flight stick takes the same mold you’d expect of a PC controller, except for the fact that the top of the stick features the four basic PlayStation face buttons.
The front base of the Aviator for the PS3 features your standard start/select buttons as well as a D-Pad for picking different options within game menus. Sticking out of the back of the sticks is the throttle control in order to increase or decrease the speed of your aircraft. I had the chance to test this bad boy out on Tom Clancy’s HAWX and Flight Simulator in Las Vegas, and left very impressed by how well the throttle functioned (though this was primarily with Flight Simulator on the PC). That, however, brings me to my next point; the Saitek Aviator not only functions with your PlayStation 3, it also works seamlessly with any PC.
Our favorite feature on the stick has to be the missile launch flip. Nothing felt more satisfying than giving the tab a flip up with your thumb followed by the press of that "red button" you’re always warned not to touch (except in this case, it’s a black button with a square on it). Once pressed, the reaction time was instantaneous and the missile was en route to the targeted tank headed towards a friendly zone I was instructed to protect. As you can see at the top of the face panel, an analog stick is present where the Triangle would most likely be. The functionality of this part of the stick operates just like you’d imagine it would, allowing you to change your point of view in the game and browse through menu options.
On the back end of the stick itself is your new best friend, the firing trigger. This trigger has been given enough sensitivity to allow you to choose whether you want to fire short burst shots or to hold onto the sucker and just let it rip. Regardless of which way you choose to punch holes into your enemies, it’s supremely satisfying to do so.
It goes without saying, but all the sleek design and button response times aren’t going to impress anyone if the stick handles your jet like a kid blindly swinging at a pinata. Fortunately, Saitek and Mad Catz have delivered an ultra-responsive flight stick that leaves you feeling as though you have complete control of your aircraft. If you turn the stick to the left or right lightly, the rudder moves with you in order to change direction very carefully. Jerking back on the stick quickly and holding strong will allow you to do 360s in the air, while pulling the stick to the left or right has you barrel-rolling your way in and out of danger. The flight stick offers up a responsive alternative to the DualShock 3, regardless of the flight game you’re playing. According to the Saitek representative, this flight stick works not only with HAWX, but with past titles like Warhawk and Blazing Angels as well.
Unlike the Mad Catz Tournament Edition FightStick, which marks in at a hefty $139.99, this Mad Catz product retails for a modest $49.99, and is definitely the best choice on the market in terms of console-oriented sticks. The fact that this stick will allow casual gamers to easily transition to flight-style titles without much of a learning curve is only an added bonus. If Mad Catz continues to publish refined products like this, their reputation as a third-party peripheral supplier will continue to rise to one of the best in the industry.