Whether you’re a fan of it or not, Microsoft Flight Simulator is a firmly established title on Xbox. It cannot be denied how popular it is on the platform and as a result, deserves the attention of developers and hardware manufacturers. For years, Thrustmaster has been at the forefront of bringing a range of peripherals to the market, including numerous flight sim HOTAS equipment. Their latest release, however, is officially licensed by Airbus and gives those using an Xbox the chance to fly with a one-to-one replica of the blue and black sidestick found in so many Airbus aircraft.
I reviewed the TCA Captain’s set a year ago on PC with multiple simulators. The question is, how does it work on Xbox and has the additional year brought about any improvements to the sidestick. Just to note, we were only provided with the sidestick to review, so we will focus exclusively on the stick.
If you aren’t aware of what the TCA Sidestick X Airbus Edition is, it is an officially licensed product where Thrustmaster and Airbus collaborated to make a truly one-to-one replica of what a pilot would handle in the cockpit of an Airbus A320. From the colour palette to the ergonomics of the stick itself, it’s all been designed to give you that cockpit feeling at home. Of course, there are limitations to that design, such as the fact it needs a base, a cable and other controls in order to make it functional for the simulator.
From an ergonomics perspective, it’s a really comfortable stick to use. The grip has a nice form factor, with the base of it designed to mold nicely around your hand as you rest it. I have medium-sized hands and I found the placement of the hat switch and accommodating buttons at the top of the stick to be fairly accessible. With such a nice chunky design, they’re easy to press, with each button having a nice clunk to them as well.
In terms of moving the stick, there’s a good deal of tension between the axis’ as you move it around. I actually really like the range you can push and pull, along with a 20-30 degree twist providing a nice amount of smooth movement too. The stick uses Thrustmaster’s H.E.A.R.T precision technology, as it did before. This provides 16-bit resolution tech allowing for even the smallest movements to be detected.
What I love is the fact that Thrustmaster has considered the lefties in the flight simulation community. The interchangeable controls take a few minutes to plug in, but once sorted, anyone can take charge of their flight stick. Of course, it’s not just for lefties, as perhaps you want to fly from a different perspective (First Officer instead of Captain), and with the configurable controls, you can do just that.
Across the whole unit, there are 21 ‘action’ buttons, with 14 of them defined as remappable buttons. The others are the hat switches and a bunch of Xbox-related function buttons (e.g. home button, share, etc). If you have additional Thrustmaster hardware (say the extendable throttle and flap set), then you can plug that into the Sidestick X and then plug the stick into the Xbox for it to all function seamlessly. Many of these big functional buttons have Xbox letters on them (complete with the correct colour). Whilst this makes it obvious for Xbox owners who are comfortable with that set-up, I think I would’ve preferred a more subtle approach to it with perhaps a bit more of a stylistic choice. That’s purely an individual preference though.
Bringing the hardware into the simulator, I’m really pleased to say that it really is a case of plug-in and play. Ensuring that the toggle on the back is set to Xbox, the simulator instantly recognised the stick and assigned everything correctly. I immediately tried out the hardware without adjusting any of the curves or sensitivity and felt that everything felt just right. I took the default A320 out for a few circuits initially and, given it was the default A320 (which I rate as decent), it felt good. I was able to easily fly patterns around various airports and complete a mix of approaches. It took a few minutes to learn the key assignments, but overall, using it felt natural. The new A310 released with the 40th Anniversary Edition of Microsoft Flight Simulator also felt really great with the stick (yes, yes, I know, it’s a yoke, not a stick…).
I then tried out the stick with smaller and lighter aircraft and had a similarly fun experience. Since there is no physical tension adjustment with the sidestick, I used the simulator’s control set-up to adjust things to make it feel a little looser. This did the job well enough to make the experience feel different enough without taking too much effort. For those that are casual and just want to fly, then there’s really no need to make any changes.
Finally, I gave some love to helicopters with the TCA Sidestick. The smoothness of the axis made flying helicopters quite comfortable, even for an extended period of time. For me, the fact that the stick felt this great in a variety of aircraft types meant that despite it being marketed clearly to the airliner crowd, it’s versatile for all types of flying experiences.
The biggest complaint I had with the PC-based TCA sidestick is sadly still my biggest issue here with the ‘X’ edition. That’s the throttle control on the base of the product. It’s as flimsy as ever with such little range, which makes it hard to provide precise control in the simulator. Considering this is an Airbus-specific product, I would have liked to have seen some detent zones. There is a reverse section, but to not have anything for climb thrust, FLEX or TOGA is a missed opportunity. If you have the full kit then this isn’t an issue, but those investing in just the stick will be let down by this aspect.
All in all, other than some cosmetic changes and the addition of two new buttons, this is an almost identical product to what was released a few years ago. That’s not a bad thing as the original still stands strong today. I had just hoped to see some more changes based on feedback from reviews and the community.
What discourages me from completely recommending it is the price. This version of the stick costs £99.99 for the privilege of being Xbox compatible and few additional buttons, which is substantially a lot more than the PC-only original (£59.99). That’s quite a jump without too many changes to justify the price. I also feel this slightly discourages the more casual simmer, aka the target audience, from wanting to check out the hardware.