X36 Flight Controller
back. Oh, yes, it's back. With surprisingly little
fanfare, Saitek grabbed its screwdrivers and
wrenches and performed a complete overhaul to the
already outstanding X36 flight-control system.
Though a quick glance won't reveal any major
differences, the new version of the
joystick-and-throttle package is USB-ready,
DirectX-friendly, and absolutely spectacular.
you're like me, you wince when you hear about a
modern "update" of a classic product. Abominations
such as the Flintstones movies come to mind.
There's also New Coke, Blood II: The Chosen, After
M*A*S*H, and the Sega Dreamcast, not to mention the
shot-by-shot remake of Psycho. (Who the hell
green-lighted that?) When I heard the Saitek X36
was getting an update, I almost puked. I was
picturing a pathetic, cheap, neon-colored, hunk of
trash, a mockery of the 1997 X36, which is widely
considered one of the best PC flight-control
products of all time.
so I was wrong. The new controller has the same
sensually comfortable grips, the familiar, solid
feel of a well-built product, and the satisfying
Swiss Army functionality of its predecessor.
Saitek's changes are transparent, but significant.
The new X36 is a USB controller and it's fully
DirectInput compatible. And the few
incompatibilities and bugs that plagued the
original have been surgically removed.
who have experienced the original X36 have probably
stopped reading this review and are rushing to find
their wallets. For the rest of you, here's what the
X36 is actually two separate units, each of which
resides on wide, sturdy bases (you shouldn't need
the included suction cups). They're both encrusted
with buttons, switches, knobs, and gizmos, just as
a vain king's crown would be slathered with jewels.
your right hand, there's a unique and formidable
joystick with a pair of eight-way hat switches, and
six buttons. Only three of the buttons are familiar
red nubs. Of the other three, one's a trigger, one
is the cool Launch button that can be quickly
flipped into Safe (unclickable) mode, and one's a
clever slot that you can hold down with your
pinky--perfect for use as an afterburner, strafe
toggle, or other functions that require prolonged
left-handed throttle is adorned with a similar
array of controls. There's a thumb button; a
four-way hat you control with your index finger; a
thumb-operated four- or eight-way nub that can
function as another hat or a mouse emulator;
another button, right next to the nub, that can be
programmed to act as a regular DirectX button or a
mouse button; a pair of dials (one of which is a
little hard to reach) that function as
miscellaneous analog axes; a proportional rocker
situated beneath your fingers that serves as a
rudder or z-axis; and, to cap it all off, a
three-way mode switch that triples the programmable
functionality of every button and gadget on both
the throttle and the stick.
amazing thing is, even with all that stuff crammed
onto two controllers, they're both
palm-and-finger-friendly and there's no risk of
accidentally hitting a button or other controller.
The controls are all placed conveniently near, but
not in the way of, areas where your fingers and
thumbs naturally fall.
programming software, called SGE (Saitek Gaming
Extensions), allows you to fully dictate the
function of every switch, axis, button, and knob.
Like any worthy programming software, it lets you
build separate macros for each of your games and
automatically detects when a game is launched. Gone
is the need for the X36 Launcher program that the
old DOS-happy version needed. The downside is that
SGE's interface is a horribly muddled mess, about
as intuitive as a long tax form.
only other complaint we have about the X36 is that
it became intermittently unresponsive when
connected to a USB hub--and we tried several hubs.
Games would start to lag in their response to
control input, and the lag would grow longer until
the game became unplayable (think five seconds
between a button press and a missile release).
Connecting it directly to the USB ports on the back
of our test systems alleviated the problem.
you figure it out, the new X36 will give you
satisfaction in proportion to the time you put into
programming it. This is a controller for methodical
fans of flight sims; it's marvelous in any Jane's
sim or similarly serious title, such as MiG Alley,
Falcon 4.0, and Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator,
and it also rocks in less simlike titles that have
tons of controls, such as Tachyon: The Fringe,
Descent 3, and Allegiance. Be warned, however, that
using the X36 will make your games new to you all
over again: thanks to the sheer number of controls,
it takes time and practice to perfect, and then to
remember, your own programming macros.