Where's the rest of the car?
Steering wheel peripherals will always be fighting an uphill battle towards
immersive gameplay. Holding an often lightweight, cumbersome plastic circle
without the rest of the car around you serves as a constant reminder that you're
not really driving. Instead, you're sitting on your Mock
Naugahyde Barcalounger, furtively trying to make-believe that your coffee
table is a sleek, full-featured dashboard complete with brightly colored do-hickeys,
voice-operated something-or-others and shiny metallic red buttons that are subliminally
beckoning the sweaty caress of your fumbling digits (or is that just me?).
Well, the people who have made cheating into a veritable science (a la the
Game Shark) have joined forces with racing great Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Together, ol' Dale and Interact hope to succeed where so many others have failed.
The Blue Thunder Racing Wheel for Playstation/Playstation 2 offers something
by way of immersion, but suffers from a fatally flawed pedal setup.
The most notable (and probably the coolest) feature the Blue Thunder
brings to the table is the dual mounting option. Some wheels attach to the ends
of a table, while others have been known to, sometimes comfortably, slip beneath
your thighs (I know there's a joke there somewhere). Big Blue does it all thanks
to a new scientific, innovative, revolutionary technology known as...Plastic!
Interact has actually designed a little gizmo that easily allows gamers to either
attach the wheel to a table or not-so-comfortably slide the thing under your
thighs. This fit is kind of like having your groin caught in a new-age chastity
belt (see, I knew there was a joke there) or something equally painful.
Weighted, well-designed foot pedals are key for a good driving game experience.
What I don't need is a weightless box with a pair of flimsy plastic flaps that
have as much weight to them as the big red stand to my old Evel
Knievel Stunt Cycle. Too bad the "Separate Analog Foot Pedal Unit" that
comes packaged with the Blue Thunder Racing Wheel is exactly that. These
things are constantly sliding out from under my size 10 Â½'s. Come on, peripheral-people,
weigh these babies down!
One thing that pleases me is the adjustable steering column. Being able to
set the height and tilt of the wheel is a much needed addition to any steering
wheel peripheral. Also, the programmable steering sensitivity rocks. I can't
tell you how many wheels I've sampled that could have used this feature. This
option lets you set the wheel so a little movement produces a severe or sharp
turn, or vice versa. Trust me, it's cool.
Other settings permit you to toggle between analog and digital control and/or
re-map the buttons. The re-mapping buttons are fine but the default setting
is the best for me. Both digital and analog provide some pretty solid control
over your vehicles. Control in both Smuggler's
Run and Midnight Club for
the Playstation 2 took a minute to get used to, but soon enough I felt comfortable
The "Thunder" in the title is not a result of happenstance. It's meant to represent
the awesome power behind Big Blue's Vibration Feedback. While the puny vibration
is forgettable, adds nothing and is very grainy feeling (much like what we found
in the Wingman Formula Force GP),
the name does bring a big ear-to-ear grin across my face. Obviously, Interact
couldn't use other trademarked vibrating descriptor names (Force Feedback, Dual
Shock etc.), but "Vibration Feedback?" Sounds like a company that
reviews ahem…"adult" toys. There had to be a big chuckle around the office when
they pitched that one.
At any rate, I must admit that there is just some psychological pleasure that
comes from playing a driving game with a steering wheel, even if the pedals
are constantly trying to get away from you. Even though racing peripherals have
a long trek before they can truly encapsulate the kinetic feeling of actually
white knuckling the wheel while bending a sharp corner at 60+ MPH, Interact
is doing a better job than most with the Blue Thunder Racing Wheel.