A more realistic racing experience, without worrying about the Cops. Unless you are playing Hot Pursuit, that is.
Much like Bazaboy in his review of the Logitech GT Driving Force Wheel, I have not used a video game steering wheel controller in a long, long time. I am a creature of habit and find it difficult to make a change from one control method to another (making the transition from Mouse and Keyboard to controller for FPS games particularly hard on me. Many lives were lost). However, being that I drive in real life, one would have thought that using a steering wheel in a video game would come naturally. Mind you, that could have had something to do with the rather budget style steering wheels that I used in the past which, in reality, I had picked up from a carboot sale for a matter of a couple of quid.
Hearing Bazaboy excitedly speak about how far video game steering wheels had evolved got me interested and when the chance came to try out the Wireless Racing Wheel for Xbox360 from Mad Catz, I leapt on it like a boyracer on a bigboy exhaust (I don’t really know what that means).
First up, I was impressed with the size of the box that it came in. Surely that is a sign of good things to come? Inside, I found the steering wheel unit itself, the pedals and footrest, the gear stick, and a choice of mounting options. Oh, and a set of batteries, of which it takes three of the AA type.
The wheel was quite a weight, showing the quality of the build, and seemed to be nice and sturdy, willing to take a few knocks. The actual steering wheel was covered with a perforated moulded rubber, handy for maintaining grip with sweaty hands, and had a green detail at 12 O’Clock indicating where the wheel centres. The turning arc is good and it springs nicely back to centre when you let go. On either side of the wheel are paddles that can be used for gear changing or other functions. There is also a gear stick that can be mounted to either the left or right side, offering sequential gear changing. All of your standard controller buttons are mounted on the centre of the wheel, giving easy access and navigation of menus and such. On either side of the unit are panels with “dimples” in. It took me a while to find but amongst the dimples can be found the sync button and a headset socket. They are well camouflaged, so look carefully.
The wheel comes with two mounting options, desk and lap. The desk option attaches a simple bracket, although I would imagine use of this to be a bit limited as the wheel is for the Xbox360. The lap mount attaches two curved “rests” on each side, allowing the wheel to sit comfortably on the legs. Both of these rests have a non-slip material on the underside.
The pedals, of which there are two, are raised off the ground and require the clipping on of the footrest. This unit is then attached to the steering wheel via a cable. Both of the pedals have a nice spring back action and seem to be as well built as the rest of the unit. The foot rest has a non-slip material on the underside, preventing the pedals from sliding away mid-race.
Getting comfortable, I opted for a bit of Forza action to begin with. I am not going to lie, it takes a bit of getting used to. I found that the wheel was very sensitive and that I would spin from one side of the track to the other. However, once I got used to the minimal movements that were needed, it performed very well. I did find it a lot easier to use in the cockpit view, rather than my normal behind and above view, which makes sense as the wheel replicates real driving much more than a controller. I handed the wheel over to someone who does not usually play racing games, and they found it easy to use and actually did quite well. That is until the fast cars came out, then they had to master the use of the pedal rather than simply slam down and hope for the best.
This past week I have been spent a lot of time being pursued across Seacrest County by various cops in Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit and decided to see how the wheel fared in this environment. The handbrake and boost are automatically assigned to the left and right paddles, making them easily accessible. But I did have a slight shock when I hit the A button to boost, only for it to change my view. But using the wheel in Hot Pursuit seemed to be a lot less chaotic than using it in Forza. I put this down to Forza being a simulator and requiring much more precision than the arcade racing found in Hot Pursuit. The wheel performed incredibly well in Hot Pursuit with only one problem that I found, that being drifting. Getting into a drift is relatively easy, simply releasing throttle, dipping brake and then slamming the throttle again, all while turning. But I found that controlling the drift was difficult and nearly always ended with me hitting a barrier. But that is something that could come with practice.
One thing that did surprise me was the lack of force-feedback in the wheel. Given it’s price point of Â£109, force-feedback would likely be expected by most gamers. But, I believe there is a reason for this. The wheel is wireless and runs from three AA batteries. As it stands right now, three new batteries will offer up to 40 hours of gaming, which is quite impressive. But how much power would it take to run the required motors for force-feedback? And by how much would that battery life be reduced? Quite a bit I would imagine. Either way, force-feedback is the only thing that is missing from this package.
Will the wheel replace my favorite controller? At the moment, I am not sure. It has taken years of gaming to get as good as I am at racing with a controller (which is still not great) and using the wheel would be like starting all over again. But it does have me interested enough to keep trying. It is quite intuitive to pick up and play with and it does take my driving games to a whole new level of realism. For Xbox360 owners who fancy racing with a wheel, I have two bits of advice. Firstly, you get what you pay for. Cheap wheels tend to be cheaply built and will not give a very good experience. Secondly, try out the Mad Catz Wireless Racing Wheel. It may be a bit pricey, but the quality of the experience is more than worth it.
Motion controls may be all the rage at the moment, with players standing there with their pretend steering wheels or lifeless lumps of plastic. But nothing beats the feel of a real wheel if you are serious about racing.