Immersion and presence have become little more than annoying buzzwords in the VR community. However, that overuse from the past year is driven mostly by a fascination with the emerging technology its associated with — it’s absolutely accurate. The first time I blasted off in a ship while playing EVE: Valkyrie or got behind the wheel of a super-powered automobile in Project Cars while wearing an HMD will forever be burned into my memory. VR has the transportive power of wish-fulfillment unlike most forms of technology and when you pair that with simulation experiences it can really transport you.
One of my favorite demos I’ve tried recently was playing Project Cars 2 on a full setup complete with a racing wheel, pedals, and large seat rig with haptic force feedback. It really felt like I was driving a car, skidding around corners, and slamming into walls. They even had me strap in with a seat belt. Naturally, taking that level of simulation to the skies requires something other than a steering wheel. Instead you need a flight stick and throttle. That’s where HOTAS (Hands-On Throttle and Stick) systems like the Thrustmaster T16000M FCS Flight Pack come into play.
I’ll be honest and say this set was a bit intimidating at first. This isn’t the first time I’ve used a HOTAS, but it was the first time I had used one in VR and my first time with this particular set. The full Flight Pack is three core pieces: the T.16000M FCS flight stick, TWCS Throttle, and TFRP Rudder Pedals. Not all HOTAS setups include pedals, so getting all three of these in a single box is a nice arrangement. After a few hours of tweaking, testing control profiles, and tinkering with settings I was finally ready to dive in.
For what it’s worth, the T.16000M FCS flight stick might be the most comfortable, durable, and responsive flight stick I’ve used. That being said I haven’t performed an exhaustive test of every leading HOTAS and stick on the market, but it felt really comfortable in my hand and it’s 100% ambidextrous with its layout. The TWCS Throttle sits alongside the stick nicely with a very similar build quality and identical color scheme, tying the system together very well. Since I have a chair mat under my desk, along with a subwoofer from my sound system, the pedals fit a little awkwardly at first. It’s got four rubber grips as feet on the bottom which do a good job of keeping it in place on a flat surface (especially tile) but having half on the mat and half on carpet made it a little uneven until I rearranged things.
Comfort is extremely important for any flight pack setup and luckily once I found a good spot for the pedals that was never an issue for me. I placed the flight stick on the right side of my keyboard (essentially where my mouse usually is) with the throttle on the left.
While testing the flight pack, I primarily focused on two games: Elite: Dangerous and War Thunder. Of the two, I found Elite: Dangerous was the easiest to transition to if you’re previously used to using a keyboard and mouse setup due to the fictional, sci-fi setting. Since it’s not meant to simulate actually flying a real aircraft there are some affordances made with the controls to eliminate needless complexities. It’s far from a simple game by any means — it feels most like ARMA compared to EVE: Valkyrie’s Call of Duty by comparison — but it’s not exactly a die hard simulation of anything real either.
If you’re interested in using a HOTAS of any kind like this then the biggest thing I can recommend is to play a game like Elite: Dangerous or War Thunder first outside of VR. Get used to the stick, look down to find buttons, and get really, really comfortable with a specific ship. Then once you feel confident about that, put on your VR headset and try flying that way. It had been a while since I’d played Elite: Dangerous but once I got my bearings it felt great to have a real stick and throttle in my hands. It just felt so much more immersive, compared to mashing buttons on a keyboard.
War Thunder worked well too, but once you get into the simulation modes in that one it’s real tough to grasp things. I’m not much of a War Thunder player so there was a steep learning curve in several ways, but once I got in the air and able to actually handle myself for a few minutes it definitely felt thrilling. Playing in VR was even more of a rush.
My first crash in War Thunder VR though, while using a HOTAS, will probably take me a long time to forget. It’s a bit more visceral than casual, accidental deaths when flying a plane in Battlefield 1, for example. Those are funny — this was terrifying.
The final piece of the flight pack, the TFRP Rudder Pedals, were also the least essential from my perspective, but certainly fulfills a niche that not all HOTAS units can. Each pedal is raised at an incline atop the base and can be individually depressed as well as slid forward for enhanced rudder controls. The self-centering rudder axis strikes a great balance between adequate resistance and pleasing smoothness to help re-center the pedals when pressure is relieved.
While it could come off as sounding like a meaningless feature list, the flight stick itself boasts a patented 16-bit resolution that allows for pin-point accuracy while flying. With how smooth all three pieces operate individually — and as a unit — it feels wonderful to have a system that feels so natural. That muscle memory you develop is huge, especially when playing from inside a VR headset.
And the big cherry on top of the whole unit is the Thrustmaster Advanced pRogramming Graphical EdiTor, or T.A.R.G.E.T., which allows you to assign all three pieces as a single USB device in your PC so that you can easily create entire control profiles for specific games. That convenience shouldn’t go understated.
Final Recommendation: Great
The Thrustmaster T16000M FCS Flight Pack, aside from being a real mouthful to say, is fantastic. It’s a sleek, sturdy, and responsive HOTAS that is absolutely recommended for any simulation game enthusiasts looking to amp up their level of immersion. The only real caveat is that there is a tremendous learning curve. It works great outside of VR and is recommended to be used that way at first, but once you get inside the Rift or Vive in your favorite flight sim with stick support, it’s like playing on a whole other level.
You can purchase the Thrustmaster T16000M FCS Flight Pack from Amazon for $199.99.