The Best PC Joysticks for Flight and Space Sim Games

Before the analog stick or directional pad, there was the joystick. These primitive rudders might seem simply by today’s standards, but it’s the granddaddy of all modern control schemes we have today. Over the years joysticks have delineated into several different types of controllers including your standard gamepad, flight sticks and fight sticks, and joysticks have even made their way into specialized gaming mice and PC keypads.The right joystick can make you feel like Maverick in Top Gun, or perhaps Kara Thrace in Battlestar Galactica. Other implementations of joysticks offer a surprising amount of innovation with some devices like vertical mice and fight sticks giving people better and more customizable ways to play.

Whatever you are looking for, I’ve rounded up the best PC joysticks below, organized by category. And be sure to check out the end of the article, where I’ve put together a buying guide that highlights what you should keep in mind when you shop for a controller outside of our recommendations. If you’re browsing in the UK, click here to find out where you can find the best PC joystick.

TL;DR – These are the Best PC Joysticks

1. Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog PC

Best Flight Sim Joystick

Our Pick

Thrustmaster Hotas Warthog PC

For the ultimate flight simulation, you need the ultimate flight joystick. That happens to be Thrustmaster’s Hotas Warthog PC joystick. You won’t find cheap plastic or fake buttons added just to give it an authentic look. Instead, you’re getting a joystick with almost a complete metal construction. As far as authenticity goes, the Hotas Warthog PC joystick is perhaps predictably modeled after the A-10C Warthog.

On the joystick and throttle, you’ll find 20 controls split up between switches, hats, and triggers. And, all of those controls are made not only to look like those found on the A-10C Warthog but also to feel like them. Each is programmable as well, so you can get your flight setup tweaked just how you like it. When it comes to the actual flying, you’ll get fine control through the joystick’s magnetic HallEffect sensor. So, if you want to rule the skies, this is a worthy ally.

2. Hori PS4 HOTAS Flight Stick

Best Midpriced HOTAS Joystick

Hori PS4 HOTAS Flight Stick

Hori has just what you need to get deep into your favorite flight sims or space dogfighting, and it doesn’t charge an absurd premium to get you there. The Hori HOTAS flight stick, as the name suggests, isn’t just a joystick but also a throttle, letting you get both hands fully in on the action.

You’ll find this flight stick particularly well suited to games that have been ported from console, as it has been made for PlayStation. It has all the typical controls you’d need spread out between the joystick and throttle and will work with your PC. Since buttons and controls are only part of the experience, the Hori HOTAS Flight Stick also includes rumble, so you can feel when you’re under fire from enemies in your game. The throttle will also let you dial in the resistance while the joystick lets you tune sensitivity, so you can get the controls operating just how you like.

3. Thrustmaster TCA Sidestick Airbus Edition

Best Midpriced Flight Sim Joystick

Thrustmaster TCA Sidestick Airbus Edition

If you’ve got a bit of wiggle room in your budget, you can move up to the Thrustmaster TCA Sidestick Airbus Edition. This joystick really has it all, and that’s because it’s practically real. Thrustmaster has modeled this after the sidestick and quadrant in the Airbus A320. It’s actually a 1:1 scale replica, making it perfect if you’re looking to go deep into Microsoft Flight Simulator.

Between the joystick and quadrant, you’re getting a ton of control. The joystick features 17 controls and the quadrant has 16, so you’ll be able to map a ton of functions to be easily within reach. You can also swap out a number of the head buttons on the joystick to suit your needs. For nuance and feel while you’re flying, the joystick uses a Hall Effect sensor. You’ll also be getting rudder control thanks to the joystick’s ability to twist, and the quadrant offers a thrust reverser mechanism, so you’re definitely getting more for your money.

4. Logitech Extreme 3D Pro

Best Budget Joystick

Not everyone needs an authentic flight stick – if you just want to jump in the cockpit and start flying without mastering dozens of controls, a budget stick like Logitech’s Extreme 3D Pro is just what the doctor ordered. Even so, it offers a dozen buttons and an eight-way hat for controlling your ship without resorting to the keyboard.

The focus here is on simplicity, so the trigger features a rapid-fire mode, you get a manageable number of programmable buttons, and the z-axis rotation delivers simple rudder control. The whole thing sits firmly on a very wide base to prevent tipping and sliding during gameplay.

5. Thrustmaster T16000M FCS

Best Joystick for Lefties

Another solid budget-priced joystick made of the same DNA as Logitech’s Extreme 3D Pro, this model uses Hall Effect magnetic sensors for precision, which is great in a budget-priced stick. It also features 16 buttons, an eight-way hat switch, and z-axis rotation.

The best feature, though, is a gift to leftie gamers. The joystick is fully ambidextrous; by swapping around three components, you can play it with either the left or right hand.

6. ZLOT Vertical Gaming Mouse

Best Vertical Gaming Mouse

ZLOT Vertical Gaming Mouse

It might seem odd to put a joystick on a gaming mouse when they’re designed to be pointing devices in the first place, but the ZLOT Vertical Gaming Mouse makes good use of its stick. You can think of the joystick on this peripheral as more of a four-way toggle than a true joystick. Sure you can set each of the cardinal directions as WASD, but you won’t get the diagonal movement control of a true joystick. Still, you can use the stick here for quickly switching weapons, activating character abilities, and putting other commands.

Joystick aside, the vertical tower design in the ZLOT Vertical Gaming Mouse reduces stress on your wrist and fingers and improves reaction time while eliminating fatigue. Despite being easy on the budget, the ZLOT mouse uses a Pixart PMW3325 IR sensor with five adjustable resolution settings from 1,500 to 10,000 DPI, and includes 11 programmable, macro-capable buttons (including the thumbstick), with the settings stored in the mouse’s internal memory.

7. Mayflash F500 Arcade FightStick

Best Fight Stick

Mayflash F500 Arcade FightStick

Specialized games sometimes require specialized controllers – flight sims have flight sticks, for example, and fighting games have fightsticks. The Mayflash F500 Arcade FightStick is a step up from an entry-level controller, and justifies a slightly higher price tag with a hefty metal frame and support for headset audio for gaming consoles. Speaking of which, it has broad compatibility – you can plug it into a PC or pretty much any gaming console. It also includes both square and octagonal top plates, so you can set it up with the layout you prefer.

The F500 has eight buttons, and while they’re perfectly serviceable controls, it’s easy and inexpensive to customize the F500 by swapping out the buttons for arcade-quality Sanwa Denshi parts. Many dedicated fighting game users do exactly that.

8. Razer Tartarus v2 Gaming Keypad

Best Gaming Keypad

Razer Tartarus v2 Gaming Keypad

You’ve got to be a dedicated gamer to invest in a gaming keypad, since these one-handed keypads are generally pretty limited to just games (though some people also use them for professional applications like macros in Photoshop – go figure). The Razer Tartarus v2 includes 19 hybrid mechanical/membrane keys for less clicky, yet tactile input and an eight-way D-pad with a removable knob. The entire keypad is programmable with remapping and macros options, with three different profiles you can switch between on the fly, making it great for both MMOs and FPS titles.

It’s all supported by a cushioned, removable palm rest, and the thoughtful ergonomics of the Tartarus make this a great choice to set off to the side of a laptop for very comfortable gaming – and it also features full RGB lighting, so it looks as good as it feels.

Where to Get the Best PC Joystick in the UK

Are you still marvelling at the brilliance of Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020? Well, maybe it’s time to up your game and invest in a brand new joystick for the PC. There are plenty of brilliant options to choose from, with our favorites including the lovely mid-priced Hori HOTAS Flight Stick, or the Thrustmaster TCA Sidestick Airbus Edition, which is currently up for preorder on Amazon.

Thrustmaster

HOTAS Warthog PC

Best Flight Sim Joystick – In Stock

Hori

HOTAS Flight Stick

Best Midpriced Flight Sim Joystick

Thrustmaster

TCA Sidestick Airbus Edition

Another Great Midpriced Flight Sim Joystick

Logitech

Extreme 3D Pro

Best Budget Joystick

Thrustmaster

T16000M FCS

Best Joystick for Lefties

What to Look for in a PC Joystick

Joysticks aren’t run-of-the-mill gaming accessories. They’re specialized gadgets with their own lingo and features. Right off the bat, for example, you should decide if you just need a stick, or also a detached throttle control. HOTAS (Hands on Throttle and Stick) configurations try to authentically simulate aircraft and, more fantastically, spaceships. For sure, having your hands on both throttle and stick can feel authentic and significantly increase your immersion.

Bonus points: Some throttles also split to let you separately control two engines. On the other hand, you can sacrifice realism with a less pricey joystick that includes a rudimentary throttle lever integrated into the base.

The quantity and configuration of buttons is also critical; more controls add up to more realism and fewer reasons to ever touch the keyboard in-game. But 30 buttons with three programmable modes each can mean 100 or more different commands, which may be a lot more than you have the patience to learn as a casual gamer. If that sounds intimidating, you might be happy with a simple keyboard with a dozen buttons and switches.

Once you get past those basics, there are a lot of smaller details that distinguish joysticks. Stick tension is important to the feel of the game, and that’s something you can really only appreciate by trying out in person. Some joysticks err on the side of being too stiff, but that’s probably far preferable to a joystick that’s too lose, which feels cheap and inauthentic.

Some joysticks twist from side to side – this is referred to as “z-axis rotation” and lets you easily apply rudder or yaw. As a general rule, you’ll want this, particularly in flight and space simulators. And don’t forget that in the heat of combat, it’s good to have a joystick that stays put. Some joysticks ensure stability through sheer mass. Others have suction cups to keep it from sliding.

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Dave Johnson has been writing about gaming and tech since the days of the Palm Pilot. See him shout into the Twitter void @davejoh

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