SteelSeries SRW-S1 Racing Wheel Reviewed

Our Rating
out of 5.0

The joy of sitting behind the wheel, the roar of a car engine, the adrenaline as you pass other cars at high speeds… These are the thrills one looks to reconstruct via racing simulations.  The folks at SteelSeries have taken a step toward recreating these feelings with their new controller, the SRW-S1 Racing Wheel.  Developed alongside Ignite Technologies, the makers of SimRaceway, this beautiful (and initially intimidating) peripheral is designed with racing in mind.

The SRW-S1 Racing Wheel is modeled after a real-world Formula 1 steering wheel, features a plethora of buttons and paddles, and uses accelerometers to sense steering.  On the front are several preset inputs such as camera control, lights, front/rear brake balancing, seat adjustment, boosts, and ignition – just to name a few.  Alongside these buttons are three knobs: one for steering sensitivity and two for assists.  The sensitivity knob allows the user to change how much the car turns in relation to the wheel, and the others adjust various assist settings like shifting or traction control.  Also available topside is a horizontal line of lights, which serve as an RPM indicator to help you know when to shift.  On the back there are the four paddles: two for shifting, one for gas, and the other for brakes.

In terms of comfort, the wheel delivers in stride.  The handles are shaped perfectly for the average set of hands, with a space for your thumbs and a larger one for your other unused fingers.  The top holes have a small inlet on them, making a super-comfortable resting place for your thumbs.  The majority of the face buttons are all within immediate reach of your thumbs, with minimal movement required to press them.  Only non-essential controls such as ignition and camera control require the user to actually take his or her hand away from the driving position.  The size of each paddle has also been designed very well, with the throttle and brake usable with any finger comfortably and easily.

Since the wheel doesn’t need pedals or a mount to function, it’s incredibly portable.  Fitting in any bag you can take it anywhere to show off to all your friends.  However, should you want to expand your experience there is a port to attach an optional mount, and as long as the program supports multiple devices you can add floor pedals to the mix.

So it’s comfy and portable, we got that, but how does it perform?  The short version: fantastically.  Looking at it with more detail, though, the wheel has phenomenally accurate control both while steering and adjusting speeds.  Sensitivity settings range from a tight 180 degrees to a wide 360 degrees.  This large range allows the user to find his or her desired setting for the best possible player control.  Whether you like to over- or under-steer (or a happy in-between), the controller will perform wonderfully, translating the user’s movement perfectly.

That same accuracy can also be found in acceleration, shifting, and braking.  The back paddles used for speed control offer very light resistance, taking no effort to move, and have a very large pull range.  For the paddle shifter, you’ll hear a click when they’ve been pressed hard enough to work, but have some give past being triggered (for those who pull pretty hard, like myself).  These designs mean whether you like to put the pedal to the metal, feather your brakes carefully, or slam the shifter around like a terrible actor – err, I mean, driver – in The Fast and the Furious, your driving style will come across perfectly every time.

All in all, the entire racing wheel is a beautiful, but what about the program it was designed for?  SimRaceway is a game simulating not only driving physics, but the lifestyle of a professional driver.  Players are able to jump into a quick race against others with various rules (such as race length, or allowed controllers and assist settings), take part in an event for rewards (such as in-game credits), or get some practice either alone or against AI opponents.  Gamers are given a single starting car (a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X), though more can be purchased either through in-game credits won or real-world dollars.  Certain cars are needed for specific events, making victory necessary for advancement.  Players who purchase the SRW-S1 are given a $10 card for use in SimRaceway, so you’ll have some flexibility starting out.

What makes SimRaceway great is just how real it feels.  When you’re driving in any game mode you feel like you’re actually driving a car.  Treat it like any two-bit racing game and chances are you’ll be hitting the walls or spinning out every turn.  For the enthusiasts looking for a full simulation, settings like tire wear and mechanical failures can be turned on to give an impeccable sense of realism. I actually found myself looking at my car’s virtual dashboard for speed or RPM, instead of the virtual heads-up display just centimeters away.

It’s not just driving physics that make SimRaceway a great simulator, as the general layout feels designed around a real-world racing lifestyle.  Practice to learn a new track or car, take part in an exhibition race, sign up for a big event (possibly paying an entry fee), and spend your spoils on shiny new cars for other races.  Slap on a mount for your wheel, plug-in a set of floor pedals, and sit down in a comfy chair and you might have difficulty believing you’re just playing a game – assuming you have the game on the highest graphics setting, anyway.

Unfortunately, the same features that make it a fantastic simulator cause it to fail as a game.  Your average gamer doesn’t have real-world racing experience, so playing the title will be a very frustrating experience as they crash time and time again.  I myself had to turn up many assist settings to be able to keep up with just the AI opponents.  This is definitely a simulation for people who know how to drive in real life.  Thankfully, the SRW-S1 is compatible with any and every other PC racing game.

There were also a few issues with controls, or rather a lack of them working.  Every once in a while I had my throttle and steering simply not work when I attempted to start a race, and was forced to exit and then re-enter the session for them to work even though they appeared to be working via tests in the controls menu.  The frequency in which this occurred (which would be about every fifth attempt to play, if I had to average) was a bit disturbing, though it seemed to be an issue with the program and not the controller itself.

At the end of the race, the SteelSeries SRW-S1 racing wheel finishes in the top spot.  From its wide array of well-made and placed inputs, to its beautiful control, this is an incredible wheel for PC racing fans, and for a competitive price ($119.99 retail).  While the program it was designed for is an awesome simulator, it’s targeting a very small audience.  My advice: if you’ve got some real-world driving experience, then this is the perfect game and wheel to jump right into.  If you’re looking to get into the simulated racing world I still recommend the wheel, you just might want to play a different game.

Final Score: 4.5 / 5.0 and a first place trophy covered in a Champaign explosion.

Our Rating
out of 5.0

About This Post

April 20, 2012 - 8:13 am