Steer On! Microsoft Xbox 360 Wireless Speed Wheel Review
You wait at the starting line, gripping the wheel of your Lexus LF-A in anticipation. The red light shines, you rev your engine. The light turns yellow, you grip tighter. The moment seems to hold forever before… Green! You slam on the accelerator, leaving the starting line. Skillfully, you shift gears as you weave between competing cars, passing one at a time. Here comes the first turn. You hit the brake, down shift, and glide through the turn gracefully with your mastery of the steering wheel. Post-turn, you look to your rear-view-mirrors and smile as you see one of your rivals slide into the dirt….
This is what many racing fans wish to emulate. The rush and challenge of driving a real super-powered car in a real high-speed race, but without the danger of bodily harm, wrecking that beautiful sports/exotic car, or worst yet: public humiliation. However, a lot of racing simulation gear is very expensive and many of us are on a budget. Enter the Microsoft Xbox 360 Wireless Speed Wheel, offering a cheaper yet still hearty (and cordless) experience.
When I first laid eyes on the device, I found it hard to believe it was actually a wheel, as it looked more akin to a flight yoke, with a circular center that expanded into arms of sort, giving a kind of W or V shape. For the most part, its shell uses the same high-gloss finish that the 360 Slim has, with the exception of the upper parts of the arms which has a more matte finish. This is where your hands rest – feeling similar to a standard controller. At the front end of the arms are the directional pad on the left and the A-B-X-Y buttons on the right, with two triggers on the back directly behind them. Although both the D-pad and the A-B-X-Y buttons have been downsized to fit onto the wheel, they are still large enough that users will be able to avoid accidently pressing the wrong button. At the very tip of each arm is a white ring which lights up green when various actions are completed from game to game. In the center circle is the guide button, with Back and Start on the left and right of it. Both the Back and Start buttons are on the same piece of plastic though, and only one can be pressed at a time (I personally can’t think of a reason why someone would need to use both simultaneously anyway). Once you get over the slightly deceptive look, the wheel is very sleek, shiny, and pleasing to the eye.
It’s not just for show though, as it performs incredibly well. My testing platform for the wheel was Forza Motorsport 4. After booting the game up, I jumped into a random race with all controls on default (RT for gas, LT for brake, steer to turn) and all simulation settings set to easy. What followed were smooth, easy to use controls, and impressive handling. The wheel is surprisingly accurate for a wireless device and has a dead zone small enough for tiny, precise movements, yet large enough to help players avoid veering off on straight-a-ways. Each turn is very exact, with absolutely zero instances of jumpy or inaccurate control even after maximizing the difficulty settings. Since it’s wireless, it can only be turned just shy of 180 degrees, but you’ll never need more than that for a hard turn. However, if you’re finding that you do need or want more turning flexibility, a simple tweek to sensitivity should solve the problem. The wheel can even be held at several angles, from completely vertical and up-in-your-face like an old grandmother, to horizontally flat and low for those who prefer to drive their cars like a city bus. This allows players to sit wherever and however they wish, and it’s thankfully also very light, so extended races won’t tire players out.
Even though the device can perform well and is greatly accurate, it’s still not quite a simulation wheel. Since it’s wireless, there is no force-feedback to mimic the real-world difficulty of steering. A brake/gas pedal system and independent gear-shifting system are also absent, making gameplay even less realistic. The aforementioned lights on the top of the wheel, however, are used in Forza 4 as a shift indicator, starting out dull or off and then increasing in brightness until being fully lit, signaling a required gear change. This brings a small degree of simulation to the device, as long as the game supports it. Although this low-level simulation isn’t exactly an issue with the wireless wheel per se, it’s just something to keep in mind when shopping for a racing wheel, as die-hard racing fans may find it makes the gameplay a little too simple. Those looking for just a wheel however, will be greatly pleased.
There are a few slight snags with the wireless wheel. The LB and RB buttons are absent from the wheel, and, while it’s not a big deal in-game, it brings a brick wall to menus. Most menu systems that feature multiple categories use the LB or RB buttons to shift between them. In the case of Forza 4, this renders certain menus inaccessible. If one desires to tune their car, they must first turn on a second controller to be able to access all menus. The inclusion of these buttons, possibly as paddle shifters for gear changes, could have made the wheel a truly awesome tool. Another frustrating aspect of the wheel is that it runs off of two AA batteries (which are conveniently included) hidden in the bottom of it, instead of using the standard battery pack that most controllers use. While players with rechargeable batteries may not care, it would have been nice to interchange currently used battery packs between controllers and the wheel.
Some people out there may be thinking: well that looks good for Xbox owners but what about us PC players? Well, to quote Professor Farnsworth: “Good news everyone!” If you have an Xbox 360 Wireless Gaming Receiver, you simply sync the wheel to your PC like you would for a controller and voila, computer-racing fun identical to that of the Xbox! As long as the program supports a controller input, the wheel should work.
At the end of the day, the Microsoft Xbox 360 Wireless Speed Wheel finished the race very strong. It may not place first, due to the fact it’s not a full simulation wheel, but it’s still a solid contender. If you’re a player looking for a full and in-depth simulation experience this may not be what you’re looking for. However, if you’re on a budget or just looking to dip your toes into the simulation pool, then this is definitely the wheel for you. Buckle up, start your engines, and get your race on!
Final score: 4.5 / 5.0
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