Controllers might not be the very first thing that comes to mind when loading up a new game. Much of the time, a regular keyboard and mouse or whatever default control pad comes with a console will do just fine and you think nothing more of it. But many will know that after a while, you and your trusty input device may hit a rough patch. Everything is coasting along just fine but you find yourself looking at other control devices with a lustful gaze, your trusty companion is still there, still working, but that spark seems to have fizzled out and you find yourself drifting apart. This was the case for me and my HOTAS (Hands On Throttle And Stick) setup of many years. After countless hours of flying together things had gotten stale, parts had stopped working like they used to, and I found myself looking for a new, more exciting model. Enter the Thrustmaster T.16000m FCS HOTAS… From Thrustmaster obviously, who were good enough to send one out for us to review.
PC gamers have long had an advantage over their console player counterparts when it comes to control options, be it mice and keyboards, pads, steering wheels or joysticks. There’s a sometimes-overwhelming amount of choice and something to meet every budget. When it comes to flight control devices, console players really only have the T.Flight HOTAS to consider also from Thrustmaster and it’s a solid bit of kit for the asking price, maybe we’ll cover that at some point. Meanwhile over in the PC camp things are much more chaotic, with setups ranging from $60 or less with others costing staggering sums of money for those dedicated enough to invest. The T.16000m HOTAS sits at the more manageable end of the spectrum (Around $110 at time of writing) while cramming in a bevy of features not found on entry level setups. Having been marketed heavily toward the Elite: Dangerous player base when we covered its launch, I have been wanting to try out this thing for some time now, so let’s get into it!
UNBOXING AND SOFTWARE
I won’t spend too much time on the unboxing part – that’s not what you’re here for – but, the T.16000m FCS HOTAS comes packaged securely in an orange and black package to match the colour scheme of the device itself. I believe the retail unit comes in a single box containing both the stick and throttle however, our review sample came in individual boxes as each component is available to buy separately. There are rudder pedals also available as part of the system but we don’t have those to test currently, we’ll update if we ever get a hands-on (or is it feet-on?) with that component. Anyway, each part comes with the usual warranty information and basic setup guide and not much else. It all looks very smart and does the job.
Before we get into the hardware side of things, I just want to give a quick mention to the software. Each device was recognised and immediately ready-to-go by windows 10 (the throttle and stick each connects via separate USB cables) and are perfectly usable from there. Thrustmaster does offer their own “T.A.R.G.E.T” software for those who want to go and tinker with things. There is a lot on offer in here from joystick sensitivity curves to assigning macros to buttons and all manor of other advanced things. However, while it does work, I found it somewhat clunky or slow, confusing at times and ultimately unnecessary for anything I was playing using the HOTAS, choosing to just map things in game. Nonetheless, the software is available and does offer advanced features for those who need or want them!
The Joystick will be familiar to many, as it’s a revised version of the well-known T.16000M stick (Yes, the naming of these devices is indeed a bit confusing) except this time it’s all black with orange detailing, rather than the old green details and silver buttons. I assume this was done to tie into the default orange cockpit display found in Elite: Dangerous and if that’s the case, it works nicely. There’s an orange light around the base of the stick that comes on every time you move it, but no option to keep it always on/off. Constructed entirely from hard plastic with the exception of a couple of rubberised bits on the grip, I was initially expecting the joystick to feel a bit harsh and cheap to the touch. In practice though it feels strong and perfectly fine in hand, with no annoying creaking from plastic flexing as you manipulate the device. It’s comfortable even after hours of use with buttons being spaced out well, my hands are on the larger side but never felt either cramped or over reaching for anything. There’s about 6ft of cable available and rubber pads on the base to help stop it shifting around while in use and it stays still surprisingly well, but for those wanting to hard mount to a desk or some other frame, there are indeed bolt holes available on the bottom for this very purpose.
As for buttons on offer, on the base there’s six buttons on either side of the stick for a total of twelve, all of which are large and easy to find without looking, the bottom row having braille-like bumps and the upper row each has a concave centre. The buttons feel more like a keypress on a membrane keyboard rather than having a click, but have a positive resistance and are not easy to mis-press. On the base you’ll also find one slider in the middle (slightly remodelled from the one found on the old green stick) which… well it slides back and forth. It’s smooth enough and doesn’t feel like it’s catching on anything.
Moving to the top of the stick, one button sits under your thumb in the middle flanked by two additional buttons either side, all of which share the positive feel of those buttons on the base, with the middle button feeling somewhat more clicky to my hands. Above those is a single 8-Way POV hat, this has a nice click to it and just the right range of movement. Finally, for the buttons, we come to the trigger beneath your index finger. This is a single stage trigger which may disappoint some, but it clicks nicely and has both enough travel and resistance that you probably won’t accidentally hit it. I have read that others have suffered failure on the trigger as its design secures it to the rest of the assembly with just one small pin and while I can see how this might break under particularly heavy use, the part doesn’t feel flimsy or vulnerable assuming normal use.
Movement in the actual stick is nice and smooth through its travel, including the twist action. It all feels very positive with a fast return to centre. It’s accurate too, I found myself over cooking manoeuvres when initially swapping from my usual setup as I didn’t have to throw the stick around as much anymore. There’s a fair amount of resistance, not to the point of having to wrestle with it, but it isn’t adjustable so you’re stuck with the default resistance.
The stick does have another little party piece, which is that it can be swapped from a right-handed to a left-handed configuration and comes with the mirrored bits of trim packaged in to allow for this. As a result, many space-sim players opt to buy two of these joysticks and use one in each hand for controlling six degrees of movement. Changing from right to left-handed only requires the removal of one single screw and flipping a switch on the base of the stick (Mine was set to lefty mode out of the box, so do check that). Longevity might be of concern to some, and that’s something that has been an issue for me personally with other HOTAS setups. I have not opened this joystick up to see what’s going on under the hood from a maintenance perspective but there are no springs or metallic parts that might get loose or scuffed up over time, aside from the potential trigger button issue we spoke about earlier I cannot see anything of obvious concern when it comes keeping the stick in good working order. That’s pretty much wrapped up the joystick portion, time to look at the star of the show…
This is the part that most potential customers are going to be attracted to with its somewhat unusual design and offering a good range of buttons and hats, but more on that later. Construction is entirely of the same hard plastic we see on the joystick portion aside from a little metallic trim found on the outermost edges of the unit, no soft rubber in sight. I had the same concerns about comfort here as I did with the stick, the throttle unit doesn’t look particularly ergonomic and I suspected the hard plastic might start feeling unpleasant to the touch after a while particularly if sweaty palms came into the equation. The throttle doesn’t use a typical “Up and Over” action from a central pivot as seen on many throttles, instead employing a sliding mechanism, it’s one smooth forward or backward motion for throttle control. I suspected this design might promote an uncomfortable wrist position with my palm resting on the face of the throttle. Once again, I was proven wrong in practice with the shape of the throttle feeling more natural that it appears it should and grip not being any issue; your palm ends up resting comfortably over the top of the unit rather than against the face as I had feared it might. Like the joystick, I found that everything, for the most part, was spaced out well and I was neither overreaching or feeling particularly cramped given how many buttons are packed on to this thing. Like the joystick it has around 6ft of cable and rubberised feet on the underside to help it stay put which works fairly well but also features bolt holes for hard mounting. There’s an RJ11 port on the back for hooking up rudder pedals if you want the full package.
On to the buttons, the throttle packs a lot in, so I’ll break this up into sections –
Right Side, bottom to top
2. 4-way POV hat
3. 4-way POV hat
4. 8-way POV hat
Rear, left to right
1. Analogue Thumb stick, clickable
2. 2-way rocker switch
5. Analogue slider/rocker (the paddle at the bottom)
Phew! So that’s the list of all the inputs available under your right hand at any one time. The digital buttons all have a satisfying click when pressed as do the POV hats when pushed around, all of which have a different texture to them making them easier to identify without looking. The bottom 4-way hat does at times get a little bit lost if you’ve moved your hand a bit too much but it also features the most aggressive finish with little spikey bits at its cardinal points so finding it again is a quick task. The clickable analogue stick is fantastic for things like thrusters allowing for precise control, it has a concave face to it and rests neatly under an index finger with a smooth range of motion and just enough resistance, feeling a bit heavier to move than an Xbox One thumbstick but a similar range.
The 2-way rocker is digital “up or down” but is positioned perfectly to be accessed with the middle finger and won’t be activated accidentally. Third and pinkie fingers take control of the two digital buttons found on the back, with pinkie pulling double duty to control the dial on the left (which I thought was just decorative prior to receiving the product). Finally, this leaves us with the analogue rudder on the back and this is a bit of a mixed bag. The fact that it’s analogue is great and it works well with enough range of motion that fine adjustments should be possible and it returns to centre positively. It’s just in a bit of a strange place being positioned far enough away that you probably won’t hit it accidentally, but so far away that it feels a little awkward to reach while also keeping those other buttons firmly in check, maybe map non-essential controls to this one! Additionally, I’m not sure who this paddle is for given that the T.16000m FCS HOTAS was largely designed with Elite: Dangerous in mind, I personally didn’t find anything requiring analogue input that I wanted to assign to the paddle so just ended up using it as a 2-way digital rocker. Still, it’s there if you want it!
The throttle action itself is great and as mentioned earlier, does away with the usual central pivot instead offering a forward-backward motion. It feels a little odd at first if you’ve come from a traditional throttle design but quickly becomes natural, however it might feel a bit out of place if you want to use the HOTAS with conventional flight sims. The action itself is smooth and allows very rapid adjustments throughout the full range. Be aware that there are no detents to indicate throttle-centre or other points. Resistance IS adjustable but the means of adjusting this are a little hidden. Slide the throttle to the 100% forward position, now flip the unit over. There is a little hole with a screw inside at the top, tighten or loosen that accordingly.
As for maintenance, I did pop this one open and see what’s going on inside, which requires only a few screws to be removed. The throttle movement is just a clamp mechanism (that little resistance screw is making this grip harder or softer) on two metal rails so should the throttle ever start feeling sticky, you could carefully clean these rails and re-apply an appropriate lubricant with little difficulty. I assume doing so will void any warranty so keep that in mind.
The Thrustmaster T.16000m FCS HOTAS brings a lot to the party for the asking price. It’s well built and “just works” every time, offers a huge amount of inputs with the throttle brimming over with POV Hats and buttons adorning every other available space, I never found myself wanting for more controls. Ergonomically it feels far more comfortable than it appears it should and never seems cheap or flimsy, the stick is accurate and the throttle smooth and fast. It’s a great bit of equipment with very few complaints and the option to add rudder pedals is a nice option (Thrustmaster does sell all three components as a single package). The main let down for me being the T.A.R.G.E.T software which is wholly optional anyway, with the only other minor complaint being the strange rudder paddle seeming a little redundant at times.
So, after a few sneaky dates with the T.16000m FCS, me and my old HOTAS have separated, gone our own ways and haven’t been in contact since. We had some good times, but it was time to move on.
Thrustmaster T.16000m FCS HOTAS
I wasn't sure about this device when it first came to market and held back on picking one up but the Thrustmaster T.16000m FCS HOTAS has proven to be a great product. Well built and accurate while being far more comfortable that it appears it should be, while offering a wide range of inputs and that analogue thumbstick is a welcome feature at an affordable price. Has made my previous HOTAS obsolete.