I’m not generally one to buy many console peripherals. Maybe it’s because there aren’t many good ones, maybe it’s because they’re often cheap and break easily — or maybe (and most likely) it’s because I’m the one who’s cheap, and I simply don’t want to spend more money than I absolutely have to. With that background, the first thing I noticed about the new Xbox 360 Wireless Racing Wheel was the price. Honestly, $150 for anything, let alone a peripheral, is pretty expensive, so to think someone would want to drop that much money on an item that only works with a few games seems hard to believe.
Yet the racing-game genre, perhaps more than any other genre, definitely has its hardcore fan base. And for hardcore racing fans, the Xbox 360 Wireless Racing Wheel is the ultimate peripheral.
Once the sticker shock wears off, it’s easy to see why Microsoft would insist on the high price tag. Plain and simple, this steering wheel is built like a truck. In many respects, the peripheral actually seems more sturdily built than the Xbox 360 itself. The base is heavy. The pedals, which attach to the base via cable, are heavy duty yet sensitive to pressure changes. The wheel is solid plastic and provides a nice sense of friction even before the force feedback kicks in during a game. Heck, the wheel even has a pleather cover. Quality is truly the name of the game with this thing.
But no amount of touching is going to make a peripheral perform; the true test of its value comes out during the gameplay. And that’s where the Xbox 360 Wireless Racing Wheel gets mixed marks. In terms of performance, the wheel does admirably — so long as you race in “cockpit” mode. Trying to steer from an outside-the-vehicle perspective, which is how I most often play, results in a frustrating amount of over- and under-steering, which in turns mean you’ll be the victim of your car repeatedly bouncing off one barrier and into another. Games also appear to have a delayed response to your steering while in this view, which only aggravates the problem of under- and oversteering. The minute the cockpit view is activated, though, steering becomes much more responsive and true to life, which indicates the issue is one of design, not a faulty wireless connection.
The other performance issue we encountered also affected a minority, but it’s definitely worth mentioning: overly enthusiastic steering. The wheel includes a sort of vice grip if players want to mount it to a table rather than lay it across their lap, but most gamers don’t have a lap-height table near their sofa, so the vice grip seems almost pointless. This theoretically shouldn’t pose much of a problem, as the base of the wheel is slightly curved at the edges to keep it in place during a race. However, the wheel doesn’t have a curve or cushion in the middle to go between players’ legs, so an enthusiastic or quick turn of the wheel, or a series of high-speed hairpin turns, can leave the wheel flailing about on your lap. Skilled drivers know full well not to oversteer in this way, and novice drivers who take every track at a slower speed won’t encounter this problem, but for average driving-game racers, this can be a problem that’s not only frustrating when it happens but also on subsequent turns, as the player struggles to steer a wheel that’s twisted on his or her lap.
Again, let’s go back to the hardcore racing fans for whom this is the ultimate peripheral. Many of those fans play exclusively from the cockpit view, so the squirrelly steering in third-person view won’t be a problem. Likewise, those racing fans probably don’t oversteer or panic when they encounter a hairpin turn, so the Wireless Racing Wheel won’t do a lap dance on them around every corner. And finally, they likely won’t balk at the wheel’s $150 price tag, because the two Xbox 360 racing games that support it right now (Project Gotham Racing 3 and Need for Speed Carbon) see plenty of play time in their consoles. However, for gamers who play from an outside-the-car view, who don’t know when to strategically down shift, and who don’t have a spare $150, the learning curve will be a bit steeper and the desire to buy this peripheral will be much lower. The quality and craftsmanship of the Xbox 360 Wireless Racing Wheel cannot be denied. Its appropriateness for a mainstream audience definitely can.
- Overall: 8
- Surprisingly sturdy, but it’s remarkably expensive and performs best when played in a specific viewpoint. Hardcore racing fans will rejoice, but casual gamers might want to steer clear.
— Jonas Allen