The Right Tool for the Job: An Ode to Microsoft’s Force Feedback 2 Joystick
If you haven’t been following my inane ravings on Twitter, you might’ve missed that I got a new toy this week. I’ve had a Saitek X45 throttle and stick HOTAS combo for many years, and for a long time it has served me VERY well. Lately, however — likely due to increased awesome usage — it’s begun to creak, feel less responsive than before, and just feel kind of annoying. Long story short, it’s a lot less fun to fly with it than it used to be.
For a long time, I was considering a CH Combatstick, as I’m a big fan of CH products and have been for ages now (I finished X-Wing, TIE Fighter and Privateer with a CH Flightstick Pro back in the day). Since I recently got some CH pedals, I figured I’d eventually get their stick and throttle, which was an expensive proposition. However, I was recently reminded in a Freespace 2 thread over on Quarter to Three that Microsoft’s Force Feedback 2 is apparently an exceptional stick. Jumpgate pilots used to rave about how awesome the stick was, and once I learned about all the bells and whistles available in Freespace 2 (such as directional feedback, the stick fighting you if your ship is damaged, etc…), I finally decided to take the plunge and seek one out.
I found a refurbished model on ebay courtesy of Seattle Technology, who apparently clean them up, move around internal grease, replace parts and so on. This made it a bit more expensive that other models, but these folks sounded like they knew what they were doing, so I decided to shell out extra for a refurbished and cleaned-up stick rather than one that had been sitting in someone’s garage for who knows how long. Welp, the stick arrived on Monday afternoon, and as soon as I was able to that evening, I launched Freespace 2 with the thing, going for the famous “Into the Lion’s Den” mission (you know, THAT one).
I mean seriously. Holy. Shit.
The feel of your guns recoiling, the stick pounding against your hand as you take damage, the rumble of the afterburners, the way it changes its center if you’re damaged enough. It was like coming out of a fog I’d been stuck in for years into clear skies, if that makes any sense. It added another amazing layer to the game that I feel stupid now for ignoring.
Not only all of THAT, but it was a damned responsive stick aside. The stick has a great amount of resistance, and this will help with me specifically because, on the older spring sticks like the X45, I’d flail all over the place, overshooting and missing constantly. Now, with the motors resisting me, I have to calm down a bit, which is resulting in me lining up my targets much more smoothly and effectively. It really feels fantastic in the hand, and the stick and buttons are wonderfully responsive. I was floored, my friends. Just. Floored.
After Freespace 2, I had to try it with other games, and since have run it in X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter, TIE Fighter, Independence War 2 (which has force feedback support) and Elite: Dangerous. The results in every game have been nothing short of spectacular. The combination of resistance, the shape of the stick and the responsiveness of the stick and buttons have led to just a joyful experience in each game. Even non space sims like Wings over Flanders Field (which has force feedback) has been just wonderful.
So yeah, I’m kinda giddy right now. This stick might be the best one I’ve ever used, and I’ve used quite a few over the years. I can see now why people have sung its praises for so long, and why people have two of them so they can have a backup. This thing is built like a tank and will likely last forever, but having another one is a smart idea. Folks, if you’re in the market for a new stick, seriously, keep an eye out for this one. It’s just…sublime. It really is.
For a piece of equipment I plan to spend a lot of time with (if my Elite: Dangerous usage is any indication), overall I couldn’t be happier about my decision, and totally wanted to share my joy with y’all (because, isn’t that what this site is about? Sharing joy?). Thanks for reading folks!