Thursday, September 20, 2012

Hardware: Saitek Pacific AV8R FlightStick

The collector's edition of Mad Catz's new flight game, Damage Inc Pacific Squadron (see separate review) comes bundled with the Saitek Pacific AV8R (see what they did there?) FlightStick - and it's an admirable addition to the company’s vast arsenal of plastic plug-ins. This particular version of the AV8R has been coated with a 1940s-esque, US Navy colour scheme, as well as coming with a set of stickers. If you’re so inclined.

The AV8R FlightStick adds some realism - and enjoyment - to Damage Inc
The joystick itself is a sturdy beast, consisting of a nice, wide, secure base which clings well to tabletops. It also comes with four plastic ‘legs’ which fit quite nicely over the average thigh, so playing it on your lap without a tray or a table is reasonably easy, if a little fiddly (as console gamers rarely sit at a desk).

The joystick itself seems quite stiff on first use, but once the spring-loaded base pops up, becomes extremely loose. I was concerned that such looseness would be a problem, but once you’ve had a little practice, the delicate moves needed to control your in-game aircraft become second nature.

Alongside the stick itself, the AV8R’s selection of chunky buttons have a nice sturdy feel, and the controller’s face buttons allow easy control in-game and in-menu. I’m a big fan of the free-look mini-stick in the middle of the joystick’s ‘face’.

The base also includes a throttle, which adds to in-game realism, but the bar itself is fused in the middle, which is a shame as I would of liked to control my bomber’s twin engines independently. The primary trigger is also a little too ‘weak’ - as in it doesn’t pull back very far upon squeezing, which robs the moment of unleashing hell of a little drama – but this is, naturally, a very minor point.
The stick itself can be twisted to use the in-game aircraft’s tail rudder, which is a nice touch – it’s also detatchable from the base unit, for ease of storage.

Besides Damage Inc, the AV8R also supports Tom Clancy’s Hawx 1 and 2, along with Birds of Prey, Birds of Steel and the Blazing Angels titles. It also supports the critically unknown Apache Air Assault – and I’d recommend trying this one for sure.

On the whole, the AV8R is a very nice piece of kit, as you’d expect from a Mad Catz product. The design is sleek and ergonomically sound, and easy to plug and play. If you’re a fan of arcade flight simulators, it’s definitely worth a look – but whether there’s much call for such a peripheral on the console market remains to be seen.

Reviewed on PS3