Thank you Turtle Beach for sending us this joystick to review!
I have been playing games on PC since the early 1990s, and have played games with joysticks since those days. They aren’t perfect for every kind of game, but I’ve spent countless hours configuring them to enjoy classics like Mechwarrior 2, Wing Commander, Descent, and others. My last major joystick purchase until more recently was the Microsoft Force Feedback 2, which was the last great joystick before the market died in the early 2000s. That incredible stick lasted me a long while, but several of the face buttons have stopped working, and few games support it anymore, so I had to upgrade (by necessity). The Thrustmaster T16000M I bought has worked well, but the price on those things has shot through the roof since I bought mine, especially the model without the optional throttle or rudders. (Of course I wish I had gotten those add-ons, which can’t be purchased separately, but one can’t always make every perfect life choice.) All that to say, as soon as I found out that Turtle Beach was releasing a flightstick, I begged and pleaded for an opportunity to review this beauty, and I was blessed with their agreeing to my desperate pleas.
And yes, this thing is quite a looker at first glance. The glowing rings around the main base buttons, the circular LED ring around the base, and the LED ring around the top of the flight stick all look really sharp, with customizable color presets (I use white). What really takes the cake of course is the OLED display, which you can use to adjust a bunch of the settings right on the stick in real time. If that’s too clumsy, several settings are also available from the Android/iOS configuration app as well, as you can connect to your phone via Bluetooth. This stick makes an incredibly good first impression that has kept me pleased with it since. Despite a few flaws, some major, I still think the pros outweigh the cons, making this a compelling device.
When it comes to the simulation genre, there are a few eternal truths that we must all accept. The primary one is simply this: there are never enough buttons or axes. Given the opportunity, one will find a way to map every conceivable action to a button, until there are no actions left. The more buttons we can map, and the less we need to reach for the keyboard, the more immersive the experience. The same applies to axes; for each control that allows one to use an axis, we will try to as analog control is more fine-grained than a digital button. Pressing a button to turn or go fast is certainly less immersive than twisting a stick, using a pedal, or moving a slider. Thankfully, it seems like the VelocityOne Flightstick was designed with crazy people like me in mind. As long as it avoids becoming The Homer of flightsticks!
Whether it becomes The Homer or not is in the eye of the beholder, but it's certainly packed to the gills with features. I used it with four games, in an attempt to represent each genre: X-Plane 12 (flight simulator), Overload (six degrees of freedom shooter), Absolute Territory (space combat), and MechWarrior 5 (giant robot simulator). This controller worked wonderfully in each situation, though the quirks were different in each case.
Right around the time we received this flightstick to review, we were also offered an opportunity to review X-Plane 12. Of course I had to check it out, especially since Turtle Beach officially supports the game. I quickly learned a few things. First, it's awesome how X-Plane 12's configuration screen shows a picture of the VelocityOne Flightstick to help make configuration easier (in Windows; it works in Linux also, but no pretty pictures or an automatic default). In general, it works really well together, but there were a few features I couldn't figure out how to get working. I wanted the analog stick hat to control my camera, but for some reason, it's not working. Getting the plane to fly straight 'hands off' is more difficult than I expected; I blame this on my lack of experience and understanding on how planes work more than the controller. I also found that there can never be enough buttons, as sometimes with certain planes, I still needed to reach for the keyboard. Some planes work better with a different configuration with the flightstick than others, depending on what I was flying. I don't blame the controller; this is the nature of the beast when simulating real-life aircraft designed for different purposes. (Please look forward to our review of X-Plane 12 soon!)
The next game I played, is in my opinion an overlooked modern classic, Overload. This game is the best sequel to the classic '90s Descent games that we never got. For those not familiar, Descent (and Overload) was a six degree of freedom game, where you can move your ship in any direction at any time - turn, rotate, forwards, backwards, side to side, all of it - at once. While many gamers find the mouse the more accurate aiming mechanism, playing with a joystick is more immersive and fun. There are few sticks on the market that can map all axes the game offers to an analog axis, but this one can! For those keeping track, that's:
Turn Left/Right (lean main stick L/R)
Pitch Up/Down (lean main stick U/D)
Roll Left/Right (twist main stick L/R)
Move Forward/Backwards (main throttle forward/back)
Slide Left/Right (H2 hat L/R)
Slide Up/Down (H2 hat U/D)
This is one of the only controllers in existence that can do all of that. It's awesome!
After that, I picked one of the simplest space combat games I could find, Absolute Territory. Another overlooked indie game, this takes the combat directly out of one of my favorite games growing up, Wing Commander. It also has an excellent joystick configuration system, and I was able to use pretty much the same joystick/throttle configuration as Overload above, with one key difference. You see, four of the buttons are actually integrated into the throttle. If you push the throttle all the way forward or backwards, it presses a button. With that, I was able to integrate the afterburner directly into the throttle by having it activate if you slide the throttle past the maximum point to where it clicks into place, activating that hidden button. This meant that I could save the actual stick and bottom buttons for more important functions like firing or target selection. This is a useful feature I would never have thought of if I hadn't seen it implemented here!
The final game I used it with is MechWarrior 5. This game is a lot of fun, but also has a rather nasty flaw: you have to manually configure new joysticks by editing config files. And, it doesn't support more than four axes. It's a shame that they dropped the ball on joystick configs as they did. But lucky you, I spent the several hours needed to get this stick to work so you don't have to! In my testing, the stick works well with the game. One thing I recommend is to change the trim control setting from an axis to buttons, so you can map scrolling up and down to a function in MW5. The other slider's hidden buttons can also be used, though the second slider itself probably won't be. Same with the H2 analog hat; this game can't take advantage of them, and that's sad. But the stick click button works great, as does the digital H1 hat.
One other thing to note: there is a cluster of four buttons at the bottom of the base, that look a whole lot like the Xbox cluster of buttons: the Xbox, View, Share, and Menu buttons. These do predictable things on Xbox, but on PC? Since this flightstick uses DirectInput rather than XInput, those are just usable buttons with a familiar face. So feel free to map them for special uses in games.
One button that is a neat idea but mixed execution is the tiny touchpad in the center of the thumb-side flightstick cluster. I like the idea behind this; with access to a mouse-like device, you can navigate menus and things without needing a mouse nearby. You can also map the button press (which is mouse left click) to an action if you wish. It's nice, but it's not super accurate, so if you want it to navigate menus, you'll probably want to set the sensitivity super high (which you can do from the VelocityOne's OLED display). However, if you wish to use it to aim or something similar, you probably won't be happy with it for that use. Nevertheless, it's a decent addition; I just wish I could remap that functionality to something else. I wish I could assign it to the Pro-Aim feature, personally.
Speaking of which, this is a situational but neat feature that Turtle Beach also offers on some of their gamepads. What it does is, when one of the selected buttons is pressed, it restricts the movement range of your main joystick axes to be within a smaller circle, so that you can more easily execute fine movements. Any of the face buttons except for the Xbox navigation cluster can be assigned to activate this; interestingly, it also presses the button in-game, so if you want it to be dedicated, you might not want to activate that button in-game. When I was testing it, I used the right throttle's hidden button to do this; just throw it all the way up (or down) and have finer-grained movement. I didn't find it super useful, but I see how it could be in the future.
I could go on about the many less obvious features included; for example, if you want to time your flight, press the action button on the stick's OSD (on-screen display) dial, and it starts a Chrono clock. There is a 3.5mm audio jack on the front of the stick, and if you want to listen to the game audio from there, you can; there are also EQ presets available, and the stick has a volume adjustment level on the OSD. You can also set if you are going to use it left or right handed, and the wrist rest can be moved to either side if you wish. If you need to adjust deadzones, you can determine the ranges you want right from the stick's performance test, or set one of the default curves, which changes movement from linear to precise or fast. You can change the trim wheel to be either an analog axis, or become digital buttons. You can lock the twist rudder if you plan to use physical pedals instead - and the flightstick has USB-C ports for additional accessories, though Turtle Beach has said that they are meant for Xbox use, not PC.
Speaking of Xbox, this VelocityOne Flightstick is designed for Xbox use, and it has an Xbox mode, but I must say that it only works in supported games at the moment, which is, well, one as best as I can determine: Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020. Since I don't currently have access to that game (I don't have an active Game Pass subscription), I tried it with other titles that I have in my library with mixed results. While you can navigate the Xbox menu, and it appears that despite having enough buttons and axes to simulate a gamepad controller if it were possible, it doesn't appear that it is. In Xbox mode, I tried to launch some Games With Gold titles that we'd collected over the years, like Battlestations: Pacific, an Xbox 360 game that features dogfighting. And I discovered that the emulator for both 360 and original Xbox games hangs whenever the VelocityOne Flightstick is connected in Xbox mode!
Right before this review was scheduled to go live, Turtle Beach added a new firmware with a second Xbox-compatible mode, called 'Compatibility Mode'. (I had to flash this firmware twice, as it failed the first time. I'm glad there is a failsafe that lets you do it again!) This new mode simulates an Xbox controller more closely, so it works with a lot more games, including Xbox 360 and Xbox original games emulated on Xbox Series X|S. Those games now launch in this new mode, and the ones I tested can be played, but have missing functionality; for example, Battlestations: Pacific seemed to work at first, but I couldn't control pitch for some reason. This new mode is designed with a few games in mind, namely Star Wars: Squadrons, Elite Dangerous, and War Thunder, and those are guaranteed to work by Turtle Beach. Other games are either confirmed to not work (Ace Combat 7, Everspace) or may by pure luck and happenstance. I really hope that Turtle Beach adds the ability to map axes and buttons to the Xbox controller's controls directly in a future update, so we can get more games to work.
In my operation of the stick, I found it to be fine with two major issues. One is that if you are trying to one-hand the flightstick, the base can easily tilt if you push forward or pull backwards, as the base is not symmetrical or large enough to counteract the force of the movement. Thankfully, this is easily worked around by screwing the stick into something to anchor it; three M5 screws are included to do just that. The other major issue I ran into is that the throttle caps are supposed to be swappable, but I would discourage you from doing so. After pulling the tops of mine off, one of them broke in half. I was able to piece it back together, but one of the clips broke, so it was loose all of the time. I ended up using superglue to fix it, and it's solid now. The good part is that the rubber cover that is included in the design of the throttle covers the super glue, so it's completely invisible in use.
One quirk worth noting is that the joysticks I owned before this use what is called a square gate - that is the area that the stick moves in is square, while this joystick uses a circle one. It does mean that rotations are very smooth, but you can't move the stick as far in the diagonal extremes as some joysticks/flightsticks allow. This isn't a flaw, as much as a difference.
Turtle Beach's latest foray into input devices, their VelocityOne Flightstick, is a really great controller with some quirks. But in my opinion, overall, I like it a whole lot. If I was going to use this along with another in a two-joystick configuration, I would mount them both to a base or board, as the VelocityOne needs that extra stability. And I wouldn't swap out the throttle caps unless the default positions drive you nuts. What I will say is that this stick feels much better and higher quality than my Thrustmaster; the stick twist axis is already drifting on that! I look forward to this VelocityOne Flightstick serving me well into the future; I love many things about it, and if I need a joystick for a game, you better believe that's what I'm going to be reaching for first. While I wouldn't call it cheap, I believe it's a great value given the incredible functionality included for the price, especially if they keep adding more features. If you are looking for an all-in-one with room for future growth, I believe this is a great place to start as it covers so many bases for flight and other simulator gamers everywhere. Just make sure that it supports your favorite game before buying it if you are planning to use this exclusively on Xbox.