Controllers are a critical part of our hobby, but the asking price for a quality item can be daunting to newcomers. Very few people are willing to put down $300+ on hardware their first time trying out a new game, regardless of how cool it looks or how well it is reviewed. On the other hand, opting for poorly made equipment just to save on cost will leave a new user disappointed with the overall experience, so the right combination of cost and quality is critical.
Thrustmaster’s T.Flight Hotas 4 (their capitalization, not mine) was released in in January of 2016 as a follow-on to their T.Flight Hotas X. Practically the same controller, the T.Flight Hotas 4 adds compatibility with the Playstation 4 as well as shrink axis dead zones for tighter play.
Sporting a twist-stick, separate throttle, and a smattering of buttons, the T.Flight Hotas 4 certainly looks like a decent step up from a stick-only controller, so I thought I’d take a critical look at this low-cost HOTAS and see if it would be something I would recommend to a newcomer. In addition, I took a look at the T.Flight rudder pedals, a set of rudders at an economic price.
Note: Mudspike prides itself on unbiased and honest article content. In the interest of full disclosure, the author of this article was provided both the T.Flight Hotas 4 and T.Flight rudder pedals by Thrustmaster for the purpose of this review. The comments and opinions expressed here are the author’s alone.
Stick and Throttle
The stick features a single-detent trigger, an 8-position hat switch, three buttons at fingertip’s reach, and a twist axis which can be locked in a fixed position via a set screw, if desired. The pitch and yaw axes are 10-bit resolution (1024 position) while the twist axis is 8-bit (256 position). The default stick pressure is pretty stiff but can be adjusted via a dial on the bottom of the stick. Even at the loosest setting, the stick still has pretty good centering pressure and doesn’t go limp.
The throttle part of the controller has a single pivot-axis full-hand grip with four buttons ready to go at the thumb and two underneath the forefinger. A rocker axis input rests under the other fingers. I’m still not sure how to use the rocker — although it could be used as rudder inputs, it’s difficult to get precise positioning with this input and I’m not sure what this buys you over the twist joystick axis. It can be mapped to lateral thrusters in Elite:Dangerous which can be quite handy to have, but I’m struggling to find other examples where this switch found a good home. A profile utility would help users adapt this unusual input to their game, but, unfortunately, Thrustmaster’s T.A.R.G.E.T utility doesn’t support the T.Flight controllers. Big oversight, in this reviewer’s opinion.
One of the selling points of the T.Flight Hotas 4 is the throttle can be detached from the stick to give a little wider input stance on your desk. The included cable that connects the two is pretty robust and permanently fixed at each end. While this means there are no plugs or connectors to wear out with repeated use, it also means the max distance between the two devices is fixed at about 20 inches (about 51 centimeters for you metric folk). While I preferred this separated configuration over the combined stick/throttle, I would have preferred a little wider separation than the cable allows.
The T.Flight Hotas connects to your PC via USB and Windows recognizes it and installs it, but you must download and install the Thrustmaster drivers for full functionality. Without the Thrustmaster drivers, Windows will only recognize some of the axes and buttons. The good news is that the drivers are very light: they download fast, there’s no cumbersome interface or bloatware, and installation is painless, although there a restart is required. Thrustmaster has drivers for Windows 7, 8, and 10.
The rudder pedals are front/back sliders with rocker toe brakes. The rudders have a narrow base but sport full-sized pedals – with my heel in the heel cup (removable, by the way), my toes just barely edge over the top. The cable from the pedals has a proprietary connector to plug into the T.Flight 4 Hotas, but the rudder package includes a USB adapter if you want to use the pedals standalone.
The shiny rails under the pedals aren’t an illusion — those rods are real metal and guide the pedals up and down. The rails even have a fancy name, S.M.A.R.T., or Sliding Motion Advanced Rail Tracks. To play smart, you need to play S.M.A.R.T.! … I’ll show myself out, thank you.
The T.Flight Hotas 4 connects to Windows and is configured and works just the same as any other HOTAS. The custom control panel window that pops up shows the currently installed firmware and as a button for quick firmware check and update. Just remember to leave your stick plugged in and PC powered during the entire update, or you risk a bricked HOTAS!
For those of you looking to use this stick on a Playstation 4, you’ll enjoy the PS4-style labeling of the buttons on the throttle and quick access buttons on the base for PS4-unique functions. On the PC, the two gray buttons pictured below on the throttle base function as normal buttons, but the third “PS” button acts as a toggle, swapping the throttle with the joystick twist axis. This may help with games that have fixed control mappings and are looking for the twist axis on the joystick instead of the pivot throttle.
The T.Flight Hotas X does not come with any profile software and all control mappings have to be done in game. There are no advanced bindings, macros, or mode switching built into the drivers, other than the axis swap I referred to earlier. This is a pretty big handicap for the controller as even a simple profile utility would multiply the few buttons on the controller into many more functions available in game. If anyone from Thrustmaster reads this, *please* consider adding the T.Flight controllers to T.A.R.G.E.T. It would greatly improve the adaptability of this controller series.
Thrustmaster has published a mapping for the controller in War Thunder and I found this map below very helpful for Elite Dangerous. It’s written specifically for the T.Flight Hotas X, but the same mapping would work fine for the T.Flight Hotas 4.
Comparison to T.Flight Hotas X
There are not a whole lot of differences between the T.Flight Hotas X and the newer T.Flight Hotas 4 aside from the PS4 compatibility — sensor technology is the same, and output resolution on the axes is unchanged, although many users are reporting a significant reduction in axes deadzone sizes. The form factor of the HOTAS hasn’t changed at all: although the highlights have changed from red to blue, if that’s a big deal for you.
Spec sheets and mold lines do not a good controller make, so it’s off to the virtual test range to see how the T.Flight Hotas 4 feels in the tactical environment.
- Overall, the stick feels solid. At times, it was hard to believe this was a plastic stick. Both the stick and rudder are stiffly constructed and don’t bend or twist, even under hard pressure. The controller is light, but not feather-light, and I wasn’t constantly worrying about accidentally snapping or crushing the controls in the heat of battle.
- The ergonomics of the control stick seem optimized for a side-stick position. After a short dogfight with the stick in the center of my desk, my hand was a bit cramped. While trying to flight and fight with the stick and throttle combined, I found each hand wanted to pull its associated control to its side of the desk. I split the two and was able to find a better position for each, although I could have used a few more inches on the cable.
- The buttons are well laid out, easy to reach and depress with a satisfying but not overwhelming amount of pressure, and the tactile click feedback is always nice. During initial testing, I occasionally hit an button on accident, but as I used the controller more, my fingers learned their place.
- For the most part, the layout of the buttons was intuitive, but I feel like the two thumb buttons on the stick could use a little more texture differences to separate them. While one button is a little more of a reach than the other, I accidentally hit the wrong button here a few times. Something as simple as scuffing up the surface of one of the buttons or putting a square of tape on it might solve it for me if a few more hours of practice doesn’t.
- I haven’t figured out how to really use the rocker slide control on the throttle but this might come in handy for precise rudder control without rudder pedals; wheel brakes; or some other slider input where it’s handy to have the slider zero position at the middle of the scale. A profile utility would greatly expand the usefulness of this input as well *cough* *T.A.R.G.E.T* *cough*.
- The total number of buttons (4 buttons + hat on stick and 9 buttons on throttle ) is a bit on the underwhelming side, especially given that there’s no profile software to create modes or modifiers. It takes some creative mapping or in-game tools to fully map some of the more complex games out there, and high function HOTAS systems like the A-10C or Falcon F-16 will be impossible to fully recreate.
- The throttle friction is very light and there’s a detent right in the middle of the axis. The detent doesn’t spring the throttle one way or the other, but it is a little jarring when flying in formation and trying to finesse the throttle around this point. There are some offline hacks to remove the detent, but they involve taking your HOTAS apart and filling in grooves with hot glue or candle wax.
- The default stick tension is pretty strong. It’s adjustable via a dial on bottom of stick, but even at very lightest setting, it’s pretty stiff which increases hand fatigue.
The T.Flight rudder pedals stand up pretty well, too. They feel nice and solid, the pivot for the toe brakes is smooth. Although I would love to see a much wider track, the ergonomics are overall pretty good: I can leave my heel on the floor and push with my toes, even with the heel cups in place. I have carpet flooring in my game room and didn’t have any issues with the pedals shifting or sliding around.
I went for a run in a few of the games in my library, to see how the T.Flight Hotas 4 changes the experience.
- Elite Dangerous
- The default mapped controls let me deploy weapons, fire primary and secondary weapons, boost, re-direct power to systems, but there was no mapping for translation thrusters, which can be a decisive edge in combat. The mapping above proves there’s enough buttons to create a more customized approach, however.
- basic combat was OK, but need more buttons to do all the functions
- Rise of Flight
- I inadvertently forgot to map the rudder inputs, so I flew a quick combat mission with the twist axis as my rudder and was impressed with the results. The stiff spring tension made for a sore hand at the end of the match, but the controls felt smooth across all the axes.
- Digital Combat Simulator
- Dogfighting in the F-86F with the T.Flight Hotas 4 felt almost as good as with my Warthog HOTAS. The shorter, fatter stick made me feel like I was a giant for a few minutes, but I got the hang of it. Having the stick and throttle combined was, in hindsight a bad idea. My wrists and hands were held at awkward angles for the duration. Splitting the two devices apart made an immediate and significant difference.
- Trying to make this stick work for more complicated aircraft, like the A-10C, will take some ingenuity to get all the required functionality on the limited real estate.
- Cheap Cost — At time of writing this article, Amazon.com was selling the T.Flight 4 HOTAS for $59.99, which is a great price for the quality you get. Amazon also had the T.Flight rudder pedals for $89.99, which is very competitive with other rudder pedal options.
- Decent Build Quality — The overall rigidity of the controller is impressive given that it’s plastic, and the stick and throttle feel solid connected together or separate. The rudder pedals are also robustly built – pedals slide along the S.M.A.R.T. metal rails and the pivot joints are pretty beefy.
- PS4 Compatible — As I don’t have a PS4, I wasn’t able to try the stick out on the console, but the multi-platform capability should be very useful to folks who switch back and forth between their PS4 and PC.
- Partially Customizable — Both the T.Flight Hotas 4 and the T.Flight rudder pedals come with Allen keys to tinker and adjust various bits to your preference. While the amount of customization isn’t extensive, it is unusual for an economy controller, and much appreciated.
Could Be Better
- Ergonomics Of The Combined Stick and Throttle — The ergonomics of the stick make it most suitable as a side stick, so combining the throttle and stick seems pointless – you’ll save some desk space but gain hand-pain over a short period of time.
- Fixed Length Stick-To-Throttle Cable — The cable connecting the stick and throttle achieves a respectable distance for a desktop setup, but if you need a slightly wider placement, or a longer cable run to route through your custom home cockpit, there’s no way to extend it. You’ll have to cut and add extension wiring yourself.
- Not Much New From T.Flight X — It becomes a personal choice whether the reduced dead zones or PS4 compatibility is worth the extra $10.
- No Profile Software — The lack of a profile utility to create advanced control mapping, modes, and macros really limits this controller’s potential. I sincerely hope Thrustmaster considers at least adding the T.Flight to their T.A.R.G.E.T utility so users can apply this nimble stick to more complex simulations.
It won’t be replacing that $500 HOTAS on a fanatics desk, but if you (or someone you know!) is new to the sport of home simulations and looking for a entry HOTAS, the T.Flight 4 is an excellent value. It is a few dollars more than the T.Flight X, but the price difference includes tighter dead zones, not just the PS4 capability.