/ You know you want to flip these toggles. Just look at them.

Lee Hutchinson

I think I have a problem. I am not attracted to that many gadgets, but I lack anything even remotely resembling impulse control when it comes to those I do want. We don't keep review hardware at Ars, so while I can often scratch an itch by requesting that companies send me the toys I lust after, I end up simply buying the things I want most—to hell with budget and consequences.

It was in mid-May when I stumbled across this fan-made video of the complex and sprawling spaceship simulator Elite: Dangerous showing off the new features added to the crowdfunded game's alpha build. Ninety seconds into the ten minute video, I scraped my jaw off the floor and bought into Elite's premium beta (you can read my thoughts on the game in this long-form review with video). Immediately I knew my current control set-up just wouldn't cut the mustard in a game as complex as Elite: Dangerous. On top of that, Chris Roberts' Star Citizen was also due to release a playable module in the near future. With two huge space sims on the horizon, I needed to step up my game. Substantially.

And that's how a YouTube video convinced me to head over to Amazon and drop $463.53 on a joystick and throttle combination. As the price may indicate, this was not just any joystick and throttle—I aimed as high as I could reasonably aim. I bought a Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog.

Now, I never intended to fully review the HOTAS Warthog. We're not going to do a disassembly or get into weights and measures and try it out with a dozen different flight simulators. For that kind of depth, you'll want to consult something like SimHQ's wonderfully deep HOTAS Warthog review and tear-down. However, we are going to talk about how I've been using the set-up for the past four months and what I've come to love (and hate) about it.

Heads-up and hands-on

You could spend a lot more on joysticks than the minuscule $463 I dropped on the HOTAS Warthog. In the insane world of flight simulator enthusiasts, a stick and throttle combo like the Warthog is a rather pedestrian entry-level type of kit. The real crazies are building partial or full cockpits with functional multifunction displays. Those throttles and sticks are made from genuine surplus aircraft components, surrounded by a half-dozen or more monitors, all chasing after true verisimilitude.

My goals, though, were much less lofty—I just wanted a really good stick and throttle with a bunch of buttons. For this, the Warthog delivers.

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The Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog.

Lee Hutchinson

"HOTAS" is an acronym that stands for "Hands On Throttle and Stick." It refers to a control layout configured such that pilots can perform most aircraft functions without lifting their hands off the throttle and control stick. HOTAS configurations are common in military aircraft—it's the reason why there are so many knobs and switches and buttons all over the throttle and control sticks in photos.

The evolution of HOTAS setups for home users is far beyond this article's scope. The earliest HOTAS set-up for PC that I've actually fiddled with was CH Products' Flightstick Pro and Pro Throttle combo in their pre-USB forms during the mid-1990s. CH Products and Thrustmaster—along with Saitek and a few other companies—would occasionally put out updated big HOTAS setups, but the market for these kinds of expensive specialized controllers isn't anywhere near as big as the market for standard joysticks (to say nothing of gamepads). There usually aren't more than a dozen or so worthwhile HOTAS setups available at any given time.

Today a number of mid- to high-end HOTAS combos are available, but none are quite so well put together—or quite as expensive—as Thrustmaster's HOTAS Warthog. The follow-on to the company's successful-but-also-expensive-as-hell HOTAS Cougar, the HOTAS Warthog is a two-piece bundle of heavy metal, modeled—as the name suggests—after the stick and throttle of the venerable A-10C Warthog ground attack aircraft. The stick itself is sized to match the A-10's stick in every dimension, and Thrustmaster has also weighted each of its buttons and hat switches. The amount of force required to manipulate them is equivalent to the amount of force it takes to actually press the buttons on the flight versions.

The throttle section is a little less accurate, since the design alters the dimensions and layout of the controls slightly in order to fit the required form factor, but it's still just as stunningly heavy and precise-feeling as the control stick. The HOTAS Warthog throttle is more than heavy enough to be used as a weapon of blunt force if someone breaks into your house, and it's studded with aircraft-grade toggle switches that yield with an almost indescribably satisfying solid snap.

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The Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog in its natural habitat: my desk.

Lee Hutchinson

Carry a big stick

First, let's look at the joystick component. The Warthog joystick can be purchased separately if you're not interested in going the full HOTAS route—it currently costs $299.99 on Amazon. Even without the matching throttle, the Warthog joystick is just an imposing beast of a joystick.

According to my measurements, the stick weighs 3375 grams (or a bit under 7.5 lbs). Most of this is the large metal plate to which the joystick is mounted. The plate is 232mm wide and 272mm long (9.1 inches by 10.7 inches), with holes drilled at each corner in case you want to mount it to your desk or other surface.

The stick's springs and sensors are contained within its cylindrical base—and a beautiful cylindrical base it is. Glossy black and ringed with brushed metal, the base is capped by a metal ring drilled through with eight screws. This gives it a gorgeous military aircraft-like appearance. The cylindrical base can be removed from the metal plate if desired by four screws on its bottom.

Inside the base is the ball joint mechanism to which the actual joystick is affixed, along with the springs that keep the stick centered and the Hall Effect sensors that measure its movements.

Thrustmaster is particularly proud of those sensors, noting in its marketing copy that they deliver 16-bit accuracy and can measure 65,535 discrete positional values on each of the stick's two axes. Ideally, using Hall Effect sensors and big springs means that the Warthog stick will be tack sharp, without a noticeable dead zone, for the whole time you own it (which, given its construction, should be years and years).

The actual stick part of the stick is also detachable from the base. By unscrewing a locking ring, the A-10 stick can be removed from its base and replaced if it ever breaks (it's a hefty component even when separated from the base—it weighs 1043 grams, or about 2.3 lbs). You could conceivably also mount the stick from Thrustmaster's previous-generation Cougar onto the Warthog base if you happen to like the Cougar better.

Attached and ready for action, the stick is 296mm tall from base to tip. It's bristling with buttons and switches, and it absolutely begs to be touched and fiddled with. On its top it has a gray eight-way hat switch, two additional black 8-way hats, and a red pushbutton. There's another push-button near the joystick's forward edge, which can be engaged with your right index finger.

The red trigger has two stages of engagement. One breaks right away, then the trigger travels through its full range of motion before engaging the second stage, at the very back of its stop. Each stage can be assigned a separate function in software.

There's another four-way switch along the stick's side, suitable for resting your thumb on. It also can be pushed down, giving it five assignable functions. Then, below that, there are two pinkie buttons—one of which is attached to a long lever which can be grasped and actuated by your pinkie and ring fingers.