The camera zooms for a tight shot on the pilot’s face. Eyes narrow, as his concentration becomes a laser beam. Quick cut shows his gloved hand, battling the flight stick, trying to track the enemy.
Cut to the view from the cockpit. The HUD (heads-up display) is jumping all over the place as man and plane seek to lock-up the enemy plane. Suddenly the locking display changes color.
“I’m taking the shot!” the pilot’s voice, stern and deadly, crackles through the radio.
Cut to his hand, as his thumb darts up to flip a cover on the top of the flight stick. Below lies another button. Instinct tells the viewer this is a special button, and to press it means horrible destruction. The pilot’s thumb jabs the button. A nasty-looking missile flares to life under the plane and rockets off, leaving only a vapor trail to mark its deadly, swift passage. The camera switches to an external view, well ahead of the jet fighter. Suddenly a gigantic fireball erupts in the sky, a miniature sun of death, incinerating all within its reach.
Countless movies involving jet fighter action have played out that scene. In real life, the scene is played out without the benefit of cameras, high-priced productions and glamorous stars squinting with a gleam in their eye from beneath the pilot’s helmet. In each instance, though, you are seeing the right equipment used for the right job.
For the game player, as software evolves to become more realistic, it is at the point when he or she must take up that refrain: the right tool for the right job.
For the player of flight sim, and combat flight sim games, that tool may well be the Thrustmaster Fox2 Pro Joystick, a weapon that puts the ease of flight and joy of the hunt into the game. Not only is the joystick comfortable in the hands, it holds the desktop well, through all the gyrations, twists and turns forced upon it by the pilot.
For testing this product, three games were used: Microsoft’s Combat Flight Simulator 2 WWII Pacific Theater, Particle Systems’ beta of Independence War 2 Edge of Chaos, and two older games, Jane’s F/A-18 Simulator and Origin’s Wing Commander: Prophecy (Electronic Arts is the parent company of both).
Nothing could be simpler than the installation of this product. Just plug it into the USB port, and you are ready to go. If you don’t have an available port, you can disconnect the USB extension and plug it in the soundboard or motherboard game port. Windows 98 or 2000 will detect the joystick, and install the appropriate drivers.
This joystick has seven programmable buttons, including the Fox 2, trigger, three base buttons and two more on the handle. There is also an eight-way hat switch, easily accessible on the stick by your thumb, which will allow you to look around any three-dimensional cockpit or around the exterior of the plane. Using the Thrustmapper, Thrustmaster states that this joystick can be programmed for 56 functions.
The throttle is handled by a sliding thumb control on the base. The base itself is heavy and holds the desktop well. If you encounter any movement, it comes with four detachable suction cups.
The stick features a rubberized-texture grip where the thumb muscles make contact with it, and an enlarged hand rest approximately two inches above the top of the base, which provides a very comfortable support.
Of course, the big advantage is the twisting handle, which handles the rudder controls.
Thrustmaster has a variety of joysticks that are geared for flight sim games. The Top Gun Fox 2 Pro is priced at $39.99, while the Top Gun Fox 2 is $19.99. If you want a detachable throttle, the Top Gun Afterburner sells for $59.99 and the lowest end Top Gun stick, the Platinum Joystick, goes for $14.99. The Top Gun Afterburner Force Feedback goes for $89.99.
Using this product on older products, like the F/A-18, produces a split decision. F/A-18 does not allow this joystick to do everything that it is capable of doing. Sure, the Fox 2 button works, but the rudder controls are disabled. You can use the Thrustmapper to set up the joystick for the game’s parameters, but why remap the joystick when it is obviously the game that can’t challenge the device, not the device that can’t keep up with the game. Don’t misunderstand: this joystick will work with older flight sim games; its capabilities just are not maximized. In Wing Commander: Prophecy, this joystick was a blast to use. Rudder controls allowed incredible ease of play when it came to rotating the small star-fighter jets, while the sensitivity of the overall control of the craft enabled the ship to dog the trail of the enemy craft like a bloodhound on the fresh trail of its prey.
In the WWII Pacific Theater, this product was nothing short of remarkable in the way it enabled me to lock up on a target and then keep it in my gun sites. In prior experience with this game, using keyboard controls and a Gravis Blackhawk joystick, the game was exceedingly tough to stay in, or even to shoot down opposing bandits. Not with the Thrustmaster product. As squad leader, it was a simple matter to lead, lock on a target and ride his tail until so riddled with bullets, he smoked, caught and fire and spun Earthward.
The experience in the IW2 beta was similar to the Wing Commander game. Control was sensitive, responsive and allowed a higher success rate than with the Gravis product that did not enable rudder control, and handled awkwardly by comparison. Think of it as the difference between a tricycle and a mountain bike, both trying to handle the same terrain.
Even my 12-year-old daughter, who disdains flight sims, enjoyed the experience of flying an aircraft. Sure, the combat wasn’t something she wanted to do, but free flight was a joy.
The Thrustmaster Top Gun Fox 2 Pro is an incredible instrument that puts joy and ease of flying into flight sims. It is affordable, well constructed, and a whole lot of fun to use. While not all the older games on your shelf will utilize the full potential of this game, some will and will take on new life. As for the new games … well, the right tool for the right job.
Though this is not a force-feedback
device, it still maximizes the playing the experience in flight sims.