Review: Thrustmaster T.16000M joystick

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With a name like the T.16000M, you kind of expect this joystick to sync with your cerebellum and control eight games at once. But no, it’s just Thrustmaster’s latest, which uses a magnetic sensor to provide extra precision in your controls — 16,000 analog states per axis, to be precise (many analog sticks use 256 or even 16). I’ve always thought of joysticks as being precise, even if I was never good with them, and this one appears to be the most precise non-military joystick out there right now.

I’ll be honest here: I don’t have a lot of experience with joysticks. I do have lots of experience with joypads, and I used to drive stick, so if you add them together it’s almost like I could have reviewed this thing years ago. So I’m not a specialist, but I do know what to expect from a controller.

Workin’ in the button factory

As you can see from the pictures, the T.16000M is an extreme-looking device. The wing-shaped button clusters and overall design were, I think, designed to accommodate Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X., which you can buy bundled with the joystick. It’s quite large, and those of you with small hands might want to try it out at the store first; it was almost too big for my mitts, though that gives it an air of authority.

It has 12 buttons on the base, a trigger, three thumb buttons, a four-way POV hat and throttle slider. With a grand total of 16 buttons to push, you’re quickly going to be wishing that they were labelled. But they aren’t — to preserve the futuristic look of the joystick, they’ve been left blank, which is trouble when the game says “Oh my god, use your flares, press button 12!” You’ll be firing secondary weapons, strafing, and quicksaving all at the same time as you scramble to find out which one of these silver buttons mocking you from the base is the one called 12. You can always bust out the Sharpie, but that really shouldn’t be necessary.

The buttons’ shapes have been sacrificed to the god of looking cool, too. While they’re not too badly deformed, there are no spaces between them and it can be difficult to hit the right one in a hurry.

The throttle slider goes about 3/4 of an inch up and down. I would have liked a bit more give, but when I was playing it was never an issue.

The stick

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How about the joystick itself? Very nice. I feel like there’s more resistance than on other joysticks, but that just means you have to use more of your arm and probably achieve greater precision. The weight and a no-slip pad prevent it from sliding around when you have to bank suddenly, so no worries on that part. As far as the 16,000-state axes, I can only tell you that every little change I made was reflected in-game. It seemed very responsive and exact, but having been out of the joystick business for a long time, I can’t go into too much more detail.

It has plenty of give in the X and Y axes, and it also has a twist axis that’s very limited, but great for setting as a rudder or strafe.

You may have noticed that it’s pretty clearly right-handed. Well, Thrustmaster aren’t a bunch of evil right-hand supremacists — they include switcheroo bits to make it totally left handed.

How can you make a button wrong?

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Now, the top of the joystick is where all my problems are. It feels cheap. The trigger has a lot of give before it clicks, which may be by design, but it just feels loose. The POV hat is clicky and precise, but slippery — there’s a reason people add that rubber stuff or at least little nubs on the top of hats like this. Lastly, all the buttons on the top of the T.16000M feel mushy and loose. They wobble around in their enclosures, rub against the edges, and pressing them feels squishy and wrong.

Come on, Thrustmaster, you must have made enough buttons by now to know that these ones are garbage.

Easy as you pleasy

Install was a snap. H.A.W.X. recognized the joystick immediately and had no trouble, nor did Descent 3, which I installed because I didn’t like H.A.W.X. very much. You may recall that Descent 3 came out in the freaking middle ages. Worked fine with the T.16000M, even the extra axis, which may or may not have been invented at that time.

The bottom line

Looking for a new joystick? Well, I can’t recommend this one yet. Despite what they insist is a revolutionary position-detection system (and certainly feels great), the rest of the joystick doesn’t live up to expectations. The cheap-feeling, unlabeled buttons are something I’d get tired of really fast if I were a joystick kind of guy. Basically, Thrustmaster has the analog part of this thing down but really needs to work on the buttons. When they release a successor or revision, I’ll be happy to give it another shot.

If you’re interested anyway, you can get it here at Amazon for $42, at a slightly more shady store for $33, or bundled with H.A.W.X. for $51.

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