Flight sims have been some of the most popular games of 2020, including new titles like Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020, Star Wars: Squadrons, or even older titles like Elite Dangerous. And while you don’t necessarily need purpose-built hardware or controllers to excel in games like these, it certainly does help with your control and overall experience. This is what fueled me to take the plunge and invest in what is regarded as one of the best flight controllers on the market, the Virpil VPC MongoosT-50CM3 throttle. With a price tag of almost €370 (over $440 USD), it’s an expensive piece of hardware. But is it worth it?
What is the MongoosT-50CM3?
The MongoosT-50CM3 (affectionately referred to as the CM3 from here on) was introduced by Virpil at the end of November 2020, succeeding the CM2 model. The CM3 does everything the CM2 can do, and then some. In addition to having dozens of buttons, and encoder dials of all types, the CM3 introduces physical detents.
The detents are configurable by unscrewing and swapping out the plastic plate between the two throttle levers. The CM3 ships with several different styles to choose from, allowing you to customize your experience down to the game you’re playing. The detent plates seem very easy to manufacture as well, so I have no doubt the large community of hobbyists will begin designing and 3D-printing custom plates to further refine play styles. My personal favorite right now includes a small detent in the middle of the throttle range that works perfectly for space games like EVERSPACE 2 or Elite Dangerous. This allows me to configure my throttle to work for both forwards and backward thrust, with the detent in the middle being easy to find to zero out my engines.
The throttle action feels great, and the dual throttles can be separated by sliding a switch, allowing for individual control over each throttle axis. This would be useful if playing a game like Microsoft Flight Simulator where you want individual control over each engine.
Where It Shines
I am head-over-heels in love with this throttle. There are more buttons than I know what to do with, but I especially love the quantity and variety of buttons on the grip. I’ve got an analog stick and a slider at my disposal, along with a variety of other directional buttons of all shapes and sizes that make them easy to distinguish from one another by touch alone.
Dials on either end of the throttle are present, along with a pair of encoder dials at the bottom of the device. For Elite Dangerous, I have the dials on the sides of the grip to adjust sensor zoom, while I use the encoder dials at the bottom in Microsoft Flight Simulator for easy adjustments to autopilot heading and altitude dials.
A variety of switches adorn the base of the console along with glowing momentary buttons. The great thing about the buttons is that there aren’t really just six of them. Thanks to the ‘Mode’ switch just to the right of them, changing the mode allows each button press to be registered as a separate action. So B1 through B6 in Mode 1 are one set of buttons, while they are presented as a completely different set of buttons in Modes 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.
Add to it Virpil’s basic but powerful configuration software, and you can configure LED colors down to individual behaviors of the hardware buttons. Do you want switch T1 to register as ‘ON’ the entire time it’s in one position and ‘OFF’ in the other? Or would you prefer that the CM3 register a flip-up as a different button press than down? Or would you rather it provides a single ‘ON’ and the ‘OFF’ burst in each direction? You can do all that and even more with Virpil’s powerful configuration software to tailor every possible aspect and button behavior to your preference.
In fact, there are so many buttons and so many options that not all games will recognize all the buttons. This is the case with Elite Dangerous, which only recognizes the first 32 buttons due to the game’s antiquated architecture supporting peripherals. However, I secretly hope that the upcoming Odyssey expansion fixes that. This isn’t the case with any of the other modern games I’ve played like Star Wars: Squadrons or Microsoft Flight Simulator, which can recognize every single button press. Just be sure to do your research regarding a particular game to see if other gamers are running into the same issue.
There are a couple tricks you can use to get around it. For example, you can program the throttle’s extra buttons to be registered as keyboard presses with ALT, SHIFT, or CTRL modifiers so that you can use all the buttons, however, this will require some meticulous mapping in-game.
Where It Stumbles
When paying a premium price for a premium product, you would expect premium quality. While that has largely been the case with my throttle, there are a couple of minor issues that have not met my expectations. For example, the switch that links the two throttle levers together feels a little loose when engaged. Not much, mind you, but there are a few millimeters of play between the two throttles when linked if I only put pressure on one of them. In similar dual throttles like the Thrustmaster Warthog, no such wobble exists. I’m tempted to wrap the switch’s peg with a little bit of masking tape to reduce the play, but I shouldn’t have to do that.
The other issue comes with the consistency of the toggle switches, labeled T5 through T7. Two of the three perform as expected, but one switch requires significantly more force to engage than the other two and makes a much louder clicking sound when engaging. The switches also seem to wobble from side to side. While the buttons still register correctly, the lack of quality control on these components from Virpil’s supplier worries me. If I’m shelling out over $400 for a controller, it had better be absolutely perfect – and sadly it’s not quite perfect.
After interacting with Virpil’s customer support, I’ve been reassured that should something go wrong with the switches and they fail to respond, they’ll ship me out a new set of switches to swap in. It’s a pretty simple job requiring just a couple screws to come out and detaching a ribbon cable. My experience with Virpil’s customer support for other products has been positive – just a little slow given the small size of their operation and the time zone differences. But I’m comfortable that should this annoyance turn into an issue, there’s a simple solution.
Some may question the wisdom of spending so much money on what is essentially a fancy game controller, but that’s not the way I see it. This device has improved my game immersion and experience, giving me obsessive control over every aspect of the game I wish. I’ve never had an accessory so directly pull me into the world I’m exploring in whichever flight or space sim I happen to be enjoying. I’m confident if you try one, it’ll leave you wanting more, too.