In his infinite wisdom, my editor Steve decided to give me something that he thought I might find interesting to test or it might have been a hint that I might be talking a bit too much about 2 certain Kickstarter games called Elite: Dangerous and Star Citizen. I think that it may have backfired for him a bit because I’m more than up for the challenge of testing a peripheral that I might also be looking to purchase in the up and coming months.
With that in mind today I will be testing the Saitek X52 Pro Flight system. I know that I said I’m currently not averse to purchasing one of these if I like what I see, but I can also see the other side of the coin as well. The X52 is created for a very small market. That market being both flight and space simulators although I have also heard that it can be used for the Mechwarrior series. So I can see a lot of people thinking just over £100 for what can basically only be used for a handful of games is a lot of money.
As you can see the size of the box gives away just how big the X52 is and it will take up a lot of space on your desk so I hope that you have made room (it took me a good half an hour of cleaning my desk space before I could set it up). As you can see the X52 Pro out of the box is a complete H.O.T.A.S. (Hands On Throttle And Stick) which means the pilot can access every setting without ever having to take their hands off the controls. Considering most aircraft have hundreds of buttons, H.O.T.A.S. makers need to be very clever about button use and ergonomics.
As I first put my hands on both the joystick and throttle control I noticed that every finger was either resting on or near to a button which is the way that it should be, because as I said earlier the H.O.T.A.S. system is designed for your hands never to leave the controls, shame that I couldn’t find the ‘buzz the misses for a cup of tea’ button.
There is a fantastically useful two stage primary trigger, give it a gentle pull to activate your pulse lasers, squeeze it all the way to fire you’re missiles after you have locked on to a target. There are four other fire buttons gracing the stick, one of which is covered by a safety cover, great idea as long as you remember to put it back down and don’t accidently fire a missile before you have lock. The button when behind its safety cover glows green and when the safety cover is up changes to red which I found pretty cool.
The product overall has a fantastic build quality, I cannot fault it the feel of the grip and smoothness of the throttle just cannot be faulted, although I have to admit that the joystick was a little on the limp side, but after using it on some games I really got used to it and didn’t notice this issue. I’m sure that if I went away and came back to it a few months on it wouldn’t take me too long to get back into the swing of things. The unit is made from brushed aluminium and high quality plastic it feels very sturdy and also comes with some suction caps to ensure that the joystick stays in place.
As for the overall look of the X52 Pro, well compared to the silver X52 (none pro) it looks fantastic but then again I was never a fan of the colour scheme of the X52 and I didn’t like the feel of the system itself when I used it. At the bottom of the X52 Pro’s joystick are 3 toggle switches, perfect for less used controls such as landing gear and/or flaps.
Also I can’t forget the other half of the X52 Pro and that is the throttle control. It is a bit on the large size but I have to say that it is rather comfy and fits my hand very well indeed. One of the features that I did like was the little stick that doubles as a mouse control, which fits just under your thumb and is just fantastic to use. The downside of this is that I couldn’t for the life of me get this thing working in any of the games that I played.
The throttle control also sports a brand new MFD (Multifunctional Display) which is just fantastic and the key feature that makes this MFD in the Pro as opposed to a vanilla X52 is that you can now import game information to the MFD. The unfortunate thing at the moment is that I have been told that it only works officially with one game, and that game being FSX (which has also been confirmed on Saitek’s website). You can also get MFD plugins from their forums for Falcon 4, X3: Reunion and a couple of other older games. If you fancy a go at coding it yourself you can download the SDK off the Saitek forums.
Right, to business… I decided that to test this stick in all its glory I would go to two extremes of the spectrum of games. These games are Wings of Prey and X3: Albion Prelude, both fantastic games and both that I have played with keyboard and mouse but never with a complete H.O.T.A.S. system so I will be able to judge how having a full H.O.T.A.S. system affects the game.
X3: Albion Prelude is the latest Space Sim from Egosoft and as anyone that has played this series will agree, it looks amazing. I had to download a pack that contained the profile for the buttons but it was no big task as the download was only 5mb in size with a good few games thrown into the pack for good measure. X3 has kept me going over the years when I have needed a space sim to go to after completing both Starlancer and Freelancer, it never seems to get old for me and the gameplay is fantastic.
Wings of Prey is a fantastic World War 2 flight sim where you get to fly some of the classic World War 2 fighter planes (such as Spitfires and Mustangs and Sturmoviks) across multiple scenarios and this is one of the games that was contained within the pack that I download earlier so was able just to select the profile and away I went. Wings of Prey is another lovely little gem that I continue to play long after I bought it, I have had issues trying to get it to work and have had to download it twice off of Steam but when you get it working it's very fun to play and it is easy to make it as easy or as difficult as you want it to be.
First off I have to say that there is something fantastic about jamming the X52 Pro's throttle forwards into full power that satisfies my thirst for speed. In X3 I found myself saying ‘engage’ in my head in more than one occasion as I push the throttle forward and the led turns red as I hit 100%. Plainly put it is cool!
In conclusion, I love the X52 Pro, really I do. I think that if you are going to be doing a lot of Space and/or Flight simulation games then the X52 Pro is a must and I’m not just saying that. At the beginning I have to say I was a little bit sceptical of how much the X52 Pro would offer me over just using my keyboard and mouse but it really does. The feedback and control you get without having to look around the keyboard and think about what you are doing gives you the edge.
If you have the time the and effort it may be worthwhile using the configurator that is provided to map the buttons for your favourite game, for example, if you religiously play a flight sim then mapping your keys and using the X52 Pro will definitely give you an advantage.
On the down side, the H.O.T.A.S. system is not for the casual gamer, like someone who is going to pick up X3 once in their life time and never play it again, even though at £100 it is still not the most expensive H.O.T.A.S. system on the market.