While we were spending too many late nights playing our review copy of Forza Motorsport 4, Microsoft sent us its Wireless Speed Wheel. The black Xbox 360 controller is designed to be used for driving games and is meant to bridge the gap between a regular control pad and a full steering wheel rig.
Getting started with the wheel is straightforward. To drive, you use the trigger buttons located on either end of the controller to accelerate and brake, and turn the Speed Wheel to steer. The steering feeling is initially unnatural and takes some time to get used to. However, once you adapt to holding the U-shaped controller, it quickly becomes more enjoyable than simply using a standard gamepad.
Forza 4 has built-in calibrations for the Speed Wheel, allowing you to command gear changes by pushing up or down on the directional pad with your thumb. Two green rings at the ends of the controller glow brighter as engine revs increase, serving as rudimentary shift lights, and also flash during collisions or gear changes.
In other games you might have to adjust the controller settings to work properly with the Speed Wheel. The controller doesn’t have the “shoulder” buttons found on a normal Xbox controller, which are sometimes used to shift or change views in racing games. It also lacks the left analog stick of a normal controller, which in Forza is necessary for viewing cars in Autovista mode, tuning tire pressures, or even applying car decals.
The Speed Wheel is quite responsive, and light enough that holding it in our hands for hours at a time wasn’t too tiring. However, we wish the Speed Wheel could be rotated through a larger range of motion for a more realistic feel. Full lock occurs with the wheel rotated about 70 degrees to the left or right, whereas pricier steering wheel controllers allow as much as 900 degrees of input.
Ultimately, real enthusiasts are probably better off shelling out more for a true steering wheel and pedal setup. Although they are pricier and require a solid mounting point, such controllers provide a more realistic replication of sitting in a car’s cockpit. For gamers on a budget, though, the Wireless Speed Wheel adds a lot of fun to the digital racing experience.
The Xbox 360 Wireless Speed Wheel is on sale now for $59.99.