How to play racing games – Step One: Get a wheel.
It may seem like a simple and obvious instruction and one that is only acceptable if you are a racing game nerd, but the truth is that certain video games come much more alive and enjoyable with a peripheral. Racing games are most definitely one of them.
When we knew we were going to review Project Cars, we knew that Thrustmaster had been working with Slightly Mad Studios in developing their new wheel and said “hey, want us to try it out?” And they did! So after some creative construction, a frame was created to test the Thrustmaster T300RS wheel and the T3PA 3 pedal add on. I’m by no stretch an expert in wheels so consider me a good novice who’s riding the next generation hardware introduction beside you.
Why did I make a frame? Well firstly height is an issue. If you’ve got a regular office chair for gaming, you need an acceptable height for the wheel. But you don’t need spend hundreds of pounds on a steel frame, although you can, and I would recommend it if you want the comfiest experience possible.
If you’re worried about spending a lot of money on a wheel and having a ghetto frame for it, don’t worry. I have a piano stool that mostly I use for putting my feet on and, with some parental DIY help, reconstituted an old draw to sit on top of it. It’s completely fine and very stable given the force feedback.
Force feedback is an amazing thing, which has only got better since the days of Microsoft’s SideWinder controller. It brings a realism that breathes new life into a game. But enough of me babbling about how easy the set up and placement of a wheel is, let’s get to it.
The T300 RS is the first official PS4 wheel and comes with a detachable wheel in case you want to ever want to swap it for other add-ons. The wheel is very solid with a rubber texture for easy non-sweaty gripping, solid paddle shifters made of metal and easy to reach buttons for boosts, adjustments and pausing.
The wheel unit itself has a big motor that is actually rather quiet given the input it can throw out on you. The technical is that it’s a brushless motor with a dual belt. There’s a mount on the bottom for you to screw it down securely and believe me you’ll need to. The buttons are all excellently placed and responsive with standard controller layout and more cockpit style placement of the trigger controls. It’s a sleek black and all in all is a good-looking thing, although the mount isn’t particularly friendly to desks with a beam or metal bar underneath.
The pedal set up we have is the T3PA, which is a three pedal unit available separately – clutch, brake and accelerator. There’s a mode button on the wheel to invert the clutch and accelerator, which I’m assuming is useful for some people. But they are robust metal pedals and the brake pedal actually has some good resistance like a real car and makes for some interesting late braking fear in the games. There is something called a conical rubber brake mod included (a big bolt-adjustable rubber stopper) which basically means you can adjust the pedal to have more resistance which is good if you’re heavy on the brakes. All of the pedals are adjustable too in both height and position so you can have wider pedal spacing.
The games we tested the wheel on were Project Cars and DriveClub on PS4, Euro Truck Simluator 2 on Mac and finally GRID 2 and Gran Tourismo 6 on PS3. So don’t worry, there’s plenty of games it works on and with Assetto Corsa, F1 2015 and WRC 5 coming for the PS4, there’s plenty of next generation stuff coming for you. A note that we couldn’t get the pedals working with Euro Truck Simulator 2 on the Mac, but the wheel worked fine. On investigation on forums there isn’t a single issue on PC so it’s probably a Mac driver issue. PC users, you are good to go.
It is strange though that the most problem I had with the use of the wheel was mostly dictated by the games themselves. For example, whilst there’s several adjustments you can make on Project Cars for the wheel’s force feedback, steering resistance, etc, which you’d probably expect given the dual development. DriveClub by comparison has nothing and the old PC player in me would have loved some remapping options or clearer indications on what button does what (damn this no game manual age).
The thing is once you have a good wheel (which this is) it can highlight the fault in some games. You can’t get a feel for the car in some games like GRID 2 and DriveClub because the controls are so arcade like and slidey or there just simply isn’t enough to the car to warrant the precision the wheel brings, or the wrist ache from all the fighting you’re having to do with the car channelling the uneven ground and torque to the steering.
This is why I’m looking forward to F1 2015 even more now, as this is a wheel that rewards racing. Precision, practice, lap times and feedback from the track, the dirt, and the edge of a kerb you can hang on to until the last millimetre. Project Cars is definitely best for this on console at the moment and the wheel. The different between these games (and they’re all enjoyable on a wheel for the realism) is that you are constantly fighting an unsettled car and wrestling compared to understanding the car and knowing how and why it becomes unsettled.
For GRID 2, there were moments that the game was kicking the car out all over the place in a straight like which the feedback and precision of the wheel could only translate violently. Which shows the power of the wheel if nothing else. If you are getting rougher with the wheel, the pedals and steering feels like it can handle it. On my forum search I found a lot more serious gaming racers than I who were worried that there would be too much plastic on the pedals especially, but everyone seems to be rather happy. So don’t feel like you can’t give it some.
There are a list of supported games on the website with many more to come on PS4. The easy switch between the PS3 and PS4 is great for those gamers who still love a bit of the older games and PC enthusiasts can use it to for all the serious simulation games and the more mercurial Euro Truck series. In a way it’s quite a nice price point too at £299 to know that you’re getting quality but not paying ridiculous sums of money for a pro set-up you’ll only use for one game. If you’ve got the PS4 and a decent PC then this is pretty good multipurpose purchase. The things you need though is somewhere sensible to set it up, something to set it up on and a spare mains plug for it.
In summary, the wheel is a fantastic bit of kit. The T300 RS is a well built and enjoyable way to experience simulation racing, and if you get it set up right in the game, it can be good for the more arcade drifting based games as well. But this is best when you’ve got the time and inclination to spend a few hours tinkering your cars downforce and feeling why the car is wrong. It’s perfectly set up and designed for this and at times can be a bit too good for games that aren’t designed as simulations.
The build quality of the wheel is great and it isn’t going to kick you all over the place. The T3PA pedal add on is great although the clutch is pretty redundant unless you get the gear shift stick peripheral as well. If I had one bit of advice, it is to remember why in real life racing drivers take their hands off the wheel when in a spin or an accident… No sprains here please.