Suncom FX 2000. (joystick controller) (Evaluation)
by Scott A. May
Ergonomics and aesthetics can make strange bedfellows, especially when applied to joysticks. What's pleasing to the touch is often peculiar to the eye, and vice versa. Suncom's FX 2000 is one such duck, a flight control stick resembling an errant prop from a Roger Corman sci-fi flick. First impressions, however, can be deceiving. Despite its odd, anamorphic shape, Suncom's latest offering is a marvel of user-friendly, functional design.
The pistol-grip controller is 8 inches high and 4 1/2 inches wide at the base, with a cord that's 5 feet, 9 inches long. Symmetrical design allows identical handling and performance capabilities for both left- and right-handed players. Twin fire controls--front trigger finger and top-mounted thumb button--can be manually switched between A and B settings, as designated by the software. The V-shaped top button is particularly well suited for ambidextrous play. Both buttons can be set to autofire by controls concealed in the base or to fire on demand with a top-mounted switch. Sliding x- and y- aixs trimmers are located on the bottom, recessed to prevent accidental adjustments. Finally, a throttle wheel is located at the front of the unit--a handy option utilized by a growing number of flight simulators.
The stick performs best when firmly anchored, via built-in suction cups, to a table or desktop. The stability of this arrangement depends on surface texture, cup moisture, and how vigorously the device is handled. If the seal is too dry, the rubber cups will not maintain the suction. The little-known Murphy's Law of Joystick Suction dictates that if a seal can break, it will, and at the worst possible moment. Few things are more frustrating than having the front end of the stick pop off the desk in the midst of an intense aerial battle. Try using a small, damp sponge to lightly moisten the cups before securing them to the table, and pause the simulation and reapply pressure to the base before the action heats up.
If you prefer to hold the stick, you're in for a pleasant surprise. Unlike square-based controllers, the FX 2000 features smooth, rounded curves, molded on the top and bottom to fit your grip. Another unique feature is the ability to lift and lock the joystick handle at a 45-degree angle to the left or right. In theory, this dramatic shift creates a more natural line between your wrist and forearm. The results are less fatigue and potential pain, allowing you to play longer and, hopefully, score higher. Although awkward at first, prolonged tests in both positions favored this new twist on an old technology.
The controller tested well in such diverse and demanding environments as Aces of the Pacific, Chuck Yeager's Air Combat, Wing Commander, and Falcon 3.0. The pistol grip's short-throw and stiff, tactile feel account for its quick and steady response--a pleasant change from commonly loose and sloppy analog sticks. Primarily intended for flight simulations, the stick also performs reasonably well with driving, sports, and arcade games. Its only drawback is its size, which may prove too bulky for smaller hands.
Though not the ultimate flight control stick, as touted by Suncom, the FX 2000 succeeds on three key points: response, comfort, and price. That's enough to send most armchair pilots soaring with delight.