After a few weeks with Saitek's Heavy Equipment Precision Control System, the custom-built control set made for the Farming Simulator series, I've put a lot of miles on my shiny blue New Holland tractor. I've also put a few hundred light-years on a Lakon Spaceways Asp Explorer, my main ride in Elite: Dangerous. Whether you're chopping corn or tucking into an orbital space station for repairs, this controller is a solid piece of kit. But is it worth the price tag?
The Heavy Equipment PCS is actually two different USB-connected peripherals, a wheel and pedal set, and a side control panel. Each is sold separately for $149.99, or you can get both for $299.99.
At first glance, the wheel and pedal set doesn't really seem to be anything special. But once I got my hands on it, it was clear that Saitek made some very clever design decisions. First, it's placed two proper analog thumbsticks right where your hands should go; at the nine o'clock and three o'clock positions. Alongside each of those are eight controller-sized buttons, and on the back of the wheel are two paddle-sized buttons.
What this configuration means is that without taking your hands off the wheel you have everything you need for first-person shooter style control of your in-game character. There's also a suicide knob, which fans of the Euro Truck Simulator series should be pretty excited about. It's a bit small as suicide knobs go at around an inch in diameter, but it is particularly well made and features inlaid brass fittings for the attachment screws so they won't strip out over time.
The unique item, however, is the side panel. It sports an array of 24 buttons and accessories, including 16 round buttons and seven faux rocker switches. If that weren't enough, there's also an analog wheel for the throttle and a fully functional, short-throw, three-axis joystick called a "loader stick" for controlling complex equipment like logging machines.
Both the wheel and the side panel are fully integrated into Farming Simulator 2015 Gold, which Saitek provided for Polygon along with the review unit. We simply attached the devices via USB to a Windows 10 PC, installed the software through Steam and started farming. There was virtually no nonsense — no drivers to manually install, no calibration to do and no buttons to configuration. I just sat down and started farming.
Well actually, I wasn't the first one to give it a try.
To test how intuitive the controls were, the first person to try the device was my five-year-old daughter. We live in far northern Illinois. There's a cornfield 50 feet away outside my office window. Throughout her short life, my daughter has seen more than her fair share of tractors and combines, so I plopped her down at my desk, put a box under the pedals so she could reach them, started up the tutorials and told her to go plant some canola.
In about 20 minutes she had all the lights turned on her big blue tractor — front lights, rear lights and both yellow cherry lights on top — and was having one hell of a time. By the end of the week, she was round-baleing hay like a pro, all thanks to how easy to use the Saitek Heavy Equipment PCS is.
To test how intuitive the controls were, the first person to try the device was my five-year-old daughter.
But we didn't stop the testing there. Another famously good Saitek integration is Elite: Dangerous. The spacefaring game features presets for both of Saitek's most popular joysticks, the X52 and the X55. So we plugged in the side panel and jumped into the persistent universe.
After about 15 minutes of futzing with the presets, we had full control of our landing gear, our cargo scoop and external ship lights. I was able to map power distribution to the side panel, as well as the navigational maps. We also had a big, friendly red button to push to engage our frame shift drive, as well as a secondary control stick for precision maneuvering around space stations. You can check out our experiment in the video below.
So what else will the Heavy Equipment PCS do? Well ... we tried to play Dark Souls 2, and unfortunately we couldn't get that game to recognize the steering wheel or the side panel. But, we have no doubt the modding community will find a way before long.
So as far as that $300 price tag goes, yes it's a pretty penny. But there's an awful lot of value in the box. For flight and space simulation fans, the side panel is a great investment and doesn't take up much desk space at all. And, as far as the wheel goes, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better dedicated driving controller for Grand Theft Auto 5 — just keep tabs on when the community confirms that it's been made compatible.