People have always told me, “You get what you pay for.” Assuming this advice wasn’t somehow exclusive to the cultural traditions of New Jersey, you’ve probably heard that one too. It’s not always the most prudent guidance, but I’ll let you decide for yourself.
Today, though, I’m here to assert that all those idiom-coining old folks were on to something. When it comes to Genius’ latest Speed Wheel 6 MT, you most certainly get what you pay for. In this case, that’s not a bad thing.
Meet the racing genre’s newest budget peripheral. Most hard-working Americans (myself included) don’t have the capital to afford an Audi R8. Some hard-working Americans (still included) don’t even have the cashflow to thrown down a couple hundred for a plastic steering wheel. Luckily, there’s a solution. Genius, esteemed makers of quality and low-quality tech stuff, are pleased to announce that their latest peripheral is cheap. $89.99, pedals included, ramen included, college-cheap. But does this particular piece of plastic live up to all that cost-cutting hype? The short answer is yes.
First off, this an incredible price for literally anything that hooks up to a PlayStation 3. When you take into account how expensive the hobby of simulated racing is, you’ll finally have the full perspective. Both in theory and practice, you’re getting a good deal. The package comes with the wheel itself, pedals, suction cups, clamps, and a whole handful of useless papers. You’re gonna need probably four of those five items, and for ninety bucks, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better compilation.
Here’s the catch. To get the pricing all the way down to that gorgeous double-digit number, the developers had to make a few sacrifices. The shifter feels pretty twiggy, the clamps don’t cling, the manual is useless, the pedals are shoddier than first generation Rock Band, and the force feedback is weaker than a tummy rumble. It’s not all bad, though. If you’re looking for the best possible wheel under $100, this is almost definitely it.
Let’s start with the set-up. Right out of the box, you’ll notice that the wheel feels substantial. It’s solid, it’s textured, and I don’t even mind looking at it. As far as accessories go, it’s not too high-tech, but you’ll survive. It doesn’t have any indicator lights, nor is it wireless, nor does it have any fancy button-mapping tools. As they say, you get what you pay for. This is a working-class wheel, one that comes with practically everything you’ll need to burn some pixelated rubber.
Here’s the thing: At least initially, getting the set to work is a bit of a challenge. That probably sounds a lot worse than it is, so I’ll break it down. The box doesn’t really come with any kind of valuable instruction manual. You’re on your own. For me at least, this wasn’t much an issue. I ran into a few roadblocks, but at least some of them should be blamed on my own incompetence rather than the decisions of the dev team. It took me awhile, for example, to realize that the Ethernet-shaped plug on the pedals wasn’t supposed to hook up to either of the corresponding ports on my PC or PS3. Even when I managed the correct setup, there was no indication of whether or not the console had actually recognized my device.
After playing with the wheel for a few minutes, I was blessed with a couple of epiphanies: The Ethernet-looking plug actually connects to a hidden slot on the wheel itself, the default control settings have the gas pedal mapped to ‘X,’ and when plugged into a PC, the device will show up as an Xbox controller. What?
So none of that makes much sense, or at the very least, it could’ve been better explained. In the long term, though, it doesn’t really matter. I’m sitting down with Gran Turismo, I’ve got a steering wheel between my palms, and the clock is ticking. Barring some minor unboxing issues, the wheel’s perfect.
I slam down on the gas, give the wheel a little nudge—everything’s going great. As usual, I hug the middle of the pack leading into the first turn. Clearly, though, I’ve picked the wrong route for a test drive. The first turn is sharp, awkwardly so. I slide across the lane. Milliseconds later, I’ve skidded my way into the guardrail. That’s when I notice the wheel’s no longer sealed to the desk.
The suction cups don’t really cut it. Within ten minutes I’ve installed the included clamps. They’re plastic, very conspicuously plastic, and it feels like they came with a Playmobile set rather than a driving peripheral. Unfortunately, neither mechanism is particularly effective at keeping the controller in place. Even with both the clamps and the cups, a quick jerk always manages to swing the wheel a couple inches to the left or right. When you’re trying to simulate an actual driving experience, that pretty much sucks.
After a few tries, I finally got the buttons mapped, the plugs perfected, and the wheel rooted. The pedals still slide across the floor at their personal leisure, but for $89.99? I’m not complaining.
Regrettably, there’s also the issue of the force feedback. When you’re literally out driving your car on the road, you experience all sorts of bumps, potholes, and strange weather conditions. It affects your steering. More specifically, the resistance caused by tire grip impacts your steering. With a standard controller or keyboard, you’ll feel absolutely all-caps, italicized NONE of that. So, of course, having your own dedicated gaming wheel helps make for a more realistic driving experience. It makes a block of color on the screen feel like it has actual weight.
Genius’ Speed Wheel 6 MT goes a little limp in this particular department. Despite having been manufactured with a dual motor set-up, the device just doesn’t deliver enough resistance to make for a believable experience. Turning the wheel is almost too leisurely an act, like steering a bicycle. Reality notwithstanding, navigation feels overly simulated. In turn, this makes the cars themselves feel a bit too light. If I wasn’t fully aware of the device’s construction, I’d guess there were a few strong rubber bands holding the thing together. That’s weak.
When I’m actually on the road, I drive a Prius. Essentially, that means that I don’t have high standards for racing peripherals. I’m not the kind of guy who’s out there spinning kitties on the cul-de-sac every night. That being said, I’d wholeheartedly recommend the Speed Wheel 6 MT to anyone without the bank balance to afford a more robust model.
The development team had to make plenty of sacrifices to ship a ninety-dollar set, and some of those blemishes are hard to overlook. All the same, if you’re saving two hundred dollars, that’s probably a lot easier than you think.
Reasonably sleek design, durable construction, and some wonderfully affordable pricing.
Instruction-less set-up, weak clamps, shoddy pedals, and lackluster force feedback.
Boston-based writer, artist, designer, critic, loser & storyteller. Focused on the intersection of games, culture, narrative, and art. KillerStrokes on XBL, Steam, PSN. @Wherbit on Twitter. http://willpowerarts.com/