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Flight mode

Flight Mode is activated with Fn+F3. Although I didn't spend a lot of time testing flight sims with the Aimpad R5, I went over the basics to see how the analog arrow keys on the keyboard contribute to the experience. We haven't used those keys until now, since the extra dimension of movement they afford isn't required by shooters or racing games. Airplanes have more control surfaces, though, and all of them can benefit from analog control. That's why joysticks exist in the first place, after all.

Behold my simple ugly plane!

I chose Simple Planes as my primary game for testing Flight Mode. I picked it because it only advertises partial controller support and it's not on Aimpad's list of supported games. I figured it would be a bit of a worst case scenario. It turned out that the things I thought might trip up the Aimpad ended up working perfectly. Simple Planes lets you build your plane, and the traditional keyboard and mouse controls were clearly the best way to do that. I then switched to the Aimpad's Flight Mode for the flight tests. That mode allowed for full control of my plane using only the keyboard.

In Simple Planes, the W and S keys control the throttle. Those keys responded well to the analog input. The A and D keys control the plane's rudder, with proper analog granularity, too. The up and down keys arrow keys took care of the elevators, while the left and right keys move the ailerons. Everything worked with smooth analog precision, provided you had a subtle enough touch.

It was pretty sweet to have flight controls with that degree of precision from "just" the keyboard. Flying without doing the "tap-tap-tap" dance was more intuitive than racing. If Simple Planes works this well with the Aimpad, then I'm confident that more sophisticated flying games or simulators would work as well or better. If you're a flight-sim junkie, the Aimpad R5 probably won't make you give up your joystick—but it could satisfy the needs of gamers that don't have one. It works really well for flying.

I did check out one other "flying" game with the Aimpad. Truth be told though, the controls for Race the Sun are so basic that the game works the same way regardless of what mode the Aimpad's set to. That said, it was clearly the game I played that most obviously benefitted from the Aimpad R5's analog input. I started playing Race the Sun with a normal keyboard when the game came out, and it's a "tap-tap-tap" fest when played that way. Switching to an Xbox controller has a significant positive impact on how the game plays, but gives me a tendency to overcompensate my movement.

Playing Race the Sun with the Aimpad felt like having the best of both worlds. Don't get me wrong, I'm still fairly awful at the game and the leaderboards never let me forget that. However, I was able to consistently progress further with the Aimpad than with the other control methods. I credit that difference to the combination of subtle control borrowed from a gamepad with the benefit of having completely separate keys for each direction.

Mouse mode & MOBA mode
The last two modes on the Aimpad R5 offer mouse control (Fn+F4) and high-sensitivity key activation (Fn+F5). Mouse Mode is a feature that works well but that I didn't find myself actually needing to use (it does makes for a mean Etch-A-Sketch). This feature ought to be standard feature in all keyboards, since it's great to have in a pinch. It's really straightforward, and the diagram below is pretty self-explanatory—there's one key per mouse direction or button press, including the scroll wheel.

Analog Keyboard Activation mode (also described as "MOBA" Mode or Hair Trigger) is specifically intended to register a keystroke with a minimal amount of key travel, well before the key's physical switch is activated. The pitch is that the split-second difference between key taps with this mode and a regular keyboard will lead to advantages in RTS-type games. Keys with less travel and faster response switches are a thing, so the Aimpad's goal doesn't seem outlandish. Frankly though, I've never played a MOBA in my life, so I'm in no position to judge this mode's merit in that arena.

Unfortunately, we lack the gear to empirically measure the actuation force or distance of travel required to trigger the keys in MOBA Mode. Subjectively, I can say that it is very, very sensitive. The closest thing I can compare it to is a really good resistive touch screen. Barely touching a key won't activate a press, but it doesn't take much force to make that happen. If I had to guess, I'd say the analog keys actuate with half the force and half as much travel in MOBA Mode. How much this mode helps pwn noobs in LoL, though, I just don't know.

Putting it all together
My verdict is that while the Aimpad R5 doesn't automatically improve every type of gaming experience, it also has few downsides. If you're willing to learn its intrincacies, there's lots of potential on tap to improve gameplay. Every genre of game I tested has at least some aspect that can take advantage of the combination between the analog input of a gamepad and the precision of a keyboard-and-mouse setup. That left me wondering if games that combine shooting, driving, and flying would be the best experience the Aimpad could offer. The short answer is: almost definitely.

Grand Theft Auto 5 and Battlefield 4 are high on the list of games that the Aimpad's creator recommends. Unfortunately, neither of those blockbusters are in my game library. Those recommendations seem logical based on what we've evaluated so far. I did have a couple games that featured different types of locomotion, so I fired up Just Cause 3 and Arma III to see how things went.

Good luck finding me here coppers.

Just Cause 3 is nowhere to be found on Aimpad's supported games list. Technically, it worked okay, but it was obvious that JC3'S developers had other priorities in mind. As a side-note, I find it interesting that it takes an analog keyboard to realize how a gamepad is really working in any given game. In Just Cause 3, this meant that there are two different speeds when traveling by foot, one speed while driving, and two positions that you could turn and keep vehicle wheels in. I didn't find a plane during testing but I assume flying would be similarly simplified. The findings were a bit of a bummer—but not entirely unexpected for such an action-oriented game. I did smirk at the constant tool-tip swapping as the game was trying to figure out what to say, given that I was playing with a keyboard, mouse, and gamepad at the same time.

You win again Arma...

In Arma III, the results were better. Aimpad claims full support for this game. Since it's a more serious simulation, Arma III has more serious control options. Since all Bohemia Interactive games share a lot of code, it was no surprise to me that running around on foot worked the same way as in DayZ with its different speed tiers.

Driving and steering in Arma III worked more like the racing games I've describe. I, uh, don't have my pilot's license in Arma III yet, so I didn't get a chance to take to the air in this title. However, I'm confident that based on the "full support" rating, the game's overall chops as a simulation, and what I've read elsewhere, Arma III ought to model analog flight control surfaces at least as well as Simple Planes.