Saturday, February 26, 2011

My Search for the Perfect Wheel

I make video games for a living and I'm a car enthusiast so it doesn't take a stretch of the imagination to guess that I'm a big fan of racing games.  Gran Turismo,  Test Drive Unlimited, Need for Speed, Forza, Dirt, I love them all.  But when you first get a game there is always a huge and unrealistic learning curve as you get use to the controls.  Some let you remap them to your liking but some like Test Drive Unlimited 2 are set and you can't change them.

Old Driving Force GT
As you might expect I own a racing wheel already but it's an old Logitech Driving Force GT wheel.  This thing is very "plasticy ", loose, and sloppy once configured.  I attempted to set this up for use with Gran Turismo 5 and it was a complete fail.  It would setup but the controls were so sloppy I would have better luck guiding the car with mind control.  So obviously this thing has to go.  But what should take it's place?  Also I have the additional problem of my TV and game systems being setup on my fireplace mantel which makes them up high and far away from where I sit.  That means I need wireless or a extremely long cord.

New Driving Force GT
At first I went at it like most guys do.  "Ugh, me  need wheel.  Me go to store, get wheel" and that's what I did.  Went to Best Buy and some home with the new Logitech Driving Force GT wheel.  Got it home, unpacked it and instantly noticed the endless miles of wires.  What?  I didn't even look, certainly by now everything is wireless.  Nope, not wireless.  So it when back in the box and back to the store for a refund.  Never even hooked it up and took it for a spin.  So I got back home and thought do I really need a wheel?  I've already got one, maybe I just need to get used to it.  So I hooked up the old wheel and tried playing for about on hour or two.  Two hours of absolute frustration and rage.  Yes, I need a new wheel.

HKS Racing Controller
After that I started thinking small and found a different kind of hand held controller made by HKS. HKS which we all know is an actual car tuner company has put their name on an interesting controller that has been getting great reviews.  It's shaped like a regular PS3 controller but the steering, gas, and brake buttons are unique and more logical for racing applications.  After reading many outstanding reviews I thought this was the one but was it wireless?  Certainly it being a PS3 controller it's wireless but as I got to looking in the fine print I saw no mention of it.  Then looking at some video review it revealed it wasn't.  WHAT THE HELL?!?  Why in the world would they not make this wireless when the standard PS3 controllers not to mention the controllers of ever other game system out there are wireless??  Okay so that's out.

 Next I went to the other extreme.  I thought I'm a car nut and I love car games so I should treat myself and get the best damn wheel out there.  First I had to decide what that was and I came up with a list of some "must have" options.
  • Wireless
  • Strong Construction
  • Paddles & Stick Option with Clutch Pedal
  • Precision Calibration with No Lag
Logitech G27
I started looking at Logitech.  They make a controller called the G27 which appears to have it all.  Leather wrapped steering wheel and shifter, metal clutch, brake, and gas pedals and paddle option.  The price is about $299 which isn't too bad I guess since I was saying I wanted the best.  However it was missing one huge thing.....NOT WIRELESS!!!  What is the deal?  Everything these days is wireless why aren't racing controllers?  Digging further into the reviews it didn't sound like it was stellar often getting 4 out of 5 stars for feeling a little cheap compared to it's price.  But I think for me personally if this controller was wireless I would purchase it.  Other than looking like an uber geek for having this thing sitting in my living room I think it has most of what I wanted.  So I decided to just focus on the wireless aspect of what I wanted.

Ferrari Wireless GT F430 Scuderia
That lead me to Thrustmaster, yeah I know nice company name huh.  Actually Thrustmaster has been in the business a very long time and my first wheel I ever bought was a Thrustmaster.  They recently made a wireless wheel and petals setup based one the Ferrari which has the extremely long name of  Thrustmaster Ferrari Wireless GT F430 Scuderia Edition Cockpit.  This thing is a folding all-in-one unit which claims the wheel is 70% a replica of the actual wheel in the Ferrari F430.  It's extremely pretty and slick looking.  It's also nice that the wheel and pedals are connected because I often find myself chasing the pedals across the floor as they slide away from me.  It is around $250 but doesn't have some of the features I'm looking for such as clutch pedal and manual stick option.  Also I didn't have to read many reviews before I saw one where a guy said he snapped off the gas pedal and after a home repair later snapped off the brake pedal.  So apparently it lack in the strong construction category as well.  So I decided to pass on this one as well.

Thrustmaster T500 RS
I had kind of given up the search when one day Gran Turismo 5 had a huge patch update.  After it was done I  saw they were promoting a couple wheels for the game.  One was the lower end Logitech Driving Force GT but the other was a Thrustmaster wheel called the T500 RS.  This wheel is on the high end of the scale selling for around $600.  From the reviews I read it is has super sturdy construction and realistic force feedback.  I also watched some video reviews where they compared the wheel's movements to that of the wheel in the actual video game and they precision looked very good.  It does have a clutch pedal but no stick shift which I don't really understand.  But it's not wireless which is the big thing I need.  Also I can't justify paying $600 on something that doesn't meet absolutely my every need.

So for now I'm just sticking with the regular old controllers.  I really don't think my list of features is that crazy and I surprised it's so hard to find the wheel I'm looking for even at a high cost.  It seems that if I want the ultimate realistic driving experience I still need to take my car to the track which isn't a bad thing at all.

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