Reviewed: August 15, 2004
Type: Joystick & Throttle
What's in the box
I have been a big fan of stick and throttle combos ever since ThrustMaster released their first HOTAS (Hands on Throttle & Stick)system back in the early 90's. It didn't take long before Saitek hopped on the bandwagon and their X36 stick and throttle found a permanent home on my desktop for games like Wing Commander and nearly a dozen sophisticated flight simulators. Now, nearly ten years later, Saitek is back with their X45 Digital Joystick & Throttle, and while the basic design and function of the HOTAS system hasn't changed, this new combo is one of the sexiest and most functional flight systems currently available.
Casual gamers be warned, this is not a controller to be taken lightly. There are more knobs, switches, and buttons on these two devices than you are likely to find on any four other controllers combined. Even when you figure out how to program all of these inputs you will still have to train your hands and fingers to work them, but that is part of the fun and really helps immerse you in the overwhelming technology and complexity of modern flight simulators without having to resort to clumsy keyboard commands and overlays.
Installation - 9
Slightly more complicated than your typical joystick, you must first install the software. This can be done using the Quick install that installs just the drivers but you will certainly want to install Saitek's custom configuration utility that allows you to configure the controller and save various profiles specific to each game you play.
The joystick plugs into your computer using the attached USB cable and the throttle connects to the joystick with an old-style gameport plug. From opening the box to ready-to-use takes about ten minutes. The only problem you are likely to encounter is freeing up enough desk space to use both of these controllers. Ideally, the X45 should replace the need for any keyboard input, so you can set your keyboard aside and use that space for the stick and throttle.
Aesthetics - 10
The X45 is as cool as it is large yet it remains one of the most comfortable stick and throttle combos I have ever had the privilege of wrapping my fingers around. The contoured grips on both the stick and throttle are molded for comfort and functionality and every button, knob and switch is in perfect position so you don't even have to stretch your fingers to any awkward positions.
The black, silver, and royal blue color scheme with red highlights is quite stylish and all the buttons are labeled using a diagram printed on the top of each controller.
The WCS unit features a smooth moving throttle with detents and afterburner position, two rotary knobs, and even a trackball, and there are three LED's to indicate the various status modes.
Durability - 10
The X45 is rock solid with smooth motion on both the stick and throttle. The stick is highly responsive and a bit stiff but not overly so, allowing it to snap to center. The buttons, twin hats, knobs, and even the trackball in the WCS are all top-quality and even after 20 hours of rigorous use nothing seemed worse for the wear.
Performance - 10
Flight simulators, both recreational and combat, have taken a backseat to other genres like FPS, RTS, and RPG's, so I had to do some digging to find a couple of games to do the X45 the justice it deserved. I naturally started with Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004: A Century of Flight with its huge library of planes offering ample opportunity for customizing my control system. The X45 offered enough functionality to control all but the largest of planes without ever having to go to the keyboard.
Next up was Lock On: Modern Air Combat. Now this was a game that the X45 was designed for. Loaded with complicated commands, targeting, radar, counter-measures, primary and secondary weapons and more, I was in Top Gun heaven as I pushed the throttle forward and taxied down the runway. A click of a button and my landing gear retracted. One of the three available hats allowed me to look out the cockpit in any direction. I was able to adjust radar, select waypoints, target and fire upon the enemy, all without ever removing my hand from either controller.
Value - 9
Casual gamers aren't likely to drop $80 for a joystick, but the X45 isn't just a joystick and it's certainly not for casual gamers. This is one of those controllers that hardcore flight sim junkies demand for the ultimate immersion in their games and won't have a second thought when prying open their wallet. It just doesn't get any better than this.
Overall – 9.5
Complicated flight-sim games are few and far between these days. When I had my first HOTAS system I had games like Wing Commander, Mech Warrior and countless F-15, AH-64, Falcon, and A-10 games to keep my X36 busy. Even though the demand for a HOTAS system might not as great, when the need finally does arise you won't want to be without the X45, easily the best stick and throttle combo you can currently buy.