Bogey on your six! Bogey on your six!
When it comes to "trying to get immersed" in my video games, I'm as serious as a pack of 3rd graders in search of the last Pokemon card. I don't mess around. And I feel that controllers have a large part to play in that immersive experience. Who wants to play a game like Starlancer or Tachyon using their keyboard? No one.
Like all space combat junkies, I want a bloody cockpit in my living room, with all the dials, switches, levers and buttons you would expect to see. "What? In your dreams!" you say. Well, listen up non-believers. The folks over at Saitek have the makings of a cockpit with their USB Gameport version of the X36 Flight Controller and Throttle System. Using the new USB option, let's take it for a spin.
Installing the X36 is easier than Cartman's mom. All you need to do is install the Saitek Extensions software, provided on the CD-ROM. Now connect the throttle to the flight control stick using the 15-pin connector. Then plug the USB connector to a USB slot on your PC. There, you're finished and ready to go.
The original X36 gave gamers a considerable amount of programming freedom. However, Saitek has one-upped themselves. The Extensions software now allows each and every trigger, switch, and knob to be configured. For most games, this can empower potential pilots with the chance to cast off the shackles of their bulky keyboards and experience complete control through the X36. Is this not every virtual pilot's dream?
The Saitek Extensions software also comes complete with drivers, Internet Explorer, Direct X, and Adobe Acrobat Reader. A very well-rounded package.
The design of the X36 is quite nice. It has a slightly sci-fi look, yet borrowing heavily from the control system of a contemporary fighter plane. This gives the X36 a relatively authentic look and feel.
So far I have flown very successful missions in Starlancer, Tachyon, and Freespace 2, on and off line. If I didn't know any better, I would say that the new USB version of the X36 has enhanced precision over the original. In any case, this puppy is accurate. I was even able to play Soldier of Fortune proficiently, using the throttle for forward and backward movements. Very cool!
The X36 does have a few minor flaws. One is in the design of the launch button. To fire or launch a missile, you leave the flap covering the launch button down. Then you flip the flap up when you don't want to use it. This is just stupid and completely pointless, as it requires you to do some sort of weird thumb calisthenics to get the darn thing down again in order to use it. Why not place a button underneath the switch that could only be accessed by flipping the flap up? That's the way it is in the movies. Don't concept designers and sketch artist check out the movies?
Another of the X36's misgivings is the continued absence of Force Feedback. This was easily excused the first time around, since Force Feedback had no substantial presence then. But now? Come on, Saitek! Why doesn't she shake for me? We gamers would love you for it.
At any rate, the X36 is a dynamite Flight Control System. I highly recommend it. Initially, you may find that it offers more than you need. But spend some time with it, and I bet you will find a way to map all those knobs and buttons.