10 & 2 and hand over hand...
Ahh...the satisfaction of hugging that perfect curve at 160mph, pushing your limits (and your luck) against the wall. The exhilaration of sliding into first place sideways for a photo finish. The challenge of adjusting your driving style as the course shifts from pavement to dirt.
Yeah, racing games are becoming more and more engrossing, not to mention challenging. Faster cars, varying track conditions and blazing framerates really add to the realism. Arrow keys or even analog joypads do no justice to today's breed of racer. To truly experience these pinnacles of modern technology, you need something more tactile.
Wingman Formula Force GP
The new Wingman Formula Force GP from Logitech gives gamers the necessary boost to really push the racing experience to a new level. Its finely tuned force feedback brings you right into the game, letting you experience the rough Idle of a 1957 Porsche 356.
Right out of the box you'll notice the sleek design of this thing. The 10" wheel is big, yet not cumbersome. The base is small enough that you only need to slide your keyboard back a few inches to make room, and it clamps easily and securely to the edge of your desk. No squatting or crawling under your desk to mount this thing, either. Just tighten the two big bolts that stick out of the top and race away. And the compact size means that there's room enough under your desk to store it while not gaming.
With a design echoing the MOMO Racing Team, the black wheel with red rubber grips looks racy and feels great - I only wish the wheel in my car was as comfortable. The shift paddles are conveniently placed, and, being digital buttons, are quite responsive. However, the four buttons on the face of the wheel aren't quite as accessible as they could be, and I still find myself fumbling to change weapons in intense moments of Breakneck Racing.
The pedals also help with the balance of functionality vs. space conservation, fitting comfortably under my crowded desk (alongside a full-sized tower and subwoofer). The pedals are at a good angle, making those marathon races that seem to go on for hours and hours nice and comfortable, and the spring loaded resistance offers tight, accurate acceleration for you racing sim fans out there. I experienced very little sliding around on my carpet, as that seems to be a big problem with many of the pedal sets out there. Overall, the pedals have a solid feel that is surprising, since they are relatively light and entirely made of plastic.
But the proof is in the pudding, and the main selling feature of the wheel is the force feedback, which is well executed. Most of the games I played with the Formula Force GP respond well to the environments, lending a firm feel to smooth roads and tight curves, then suddenly loose when traction was lost, which appropriately results in a feeling of panic. Although the impact of crashing never seemed to be very strong in any game, I was definitely reminded as to why I pay so much for insurance every month.
The downside to the force feedback is that when it's not supported or when you have it turned off (by unplugging the power for the wheel), you are left with a very grainy, rough feeling that just feels like a cheap wheel full of sand, so you are forced (sorry) to "use the force" (sorry again). My other big complaint is that the wheel is loud. When you turn rapidly, it sounds much like a zip-tie being pulled, which is just darn annoying. It gives a low-quality feel to a wheel that otherwise passes all other standards for a force feedback peripheral.
On the the upside, USB support makes installation a breeze. In fact, my two-year old son "helped" me install the wheel (not that I had much say in the matter), and all it took was connecting a couple of cables, inserting a CD, clicking "next" a few times, and viola, I was up and racing. Since USB can be plugged in "hot," there was no need to even restart my computer for it to be recognized. I think installation took about five minutes, tops.
There's a simple interface that makes creating custom profiles for all of your racers as easy as locating the game on your hard-drive and setting the controls to your liking. In fact, after installation, the games that were already installed in my computer showed up in the list of current profiles, with my favorite configurations intact. I didn't even have to lift a finger.
Bundled inside is Sports Car GT, a basic racer from EA. Not on the top of my list for racing games, but it's not bad and supports the force feedback well. So you don't even have to run out and buy a racing game if you don't already own one.
The Formula Force GP is a pretty good wheel at a pretty good price (around $100). It feels good and plays great. If you were going to ask Santa for gaming gear this Christmas, put the Wingman Formula Force GP on your list.