As console-based racing games arguably make gigantic inroads into a genre traditionally dominated by the PC, at least with regards to realism in the physics model if not in graphics representation, the weak link of the console is becoming increasingly apparent. That weak link is, of course, the controller. Those little thumb sticks are ok for Madden football and the like, but they are woefully insufficient for controlling high powered race cars. Before online racing, that didn't make a whole lot of difference. Once competition against other humans became more prevalent, it was just a matter of time before every tenth of a second became critical, and as always with racing, caused a gold rush for every possible advantage.
Anyone that has tried one will tell you that even a low-budget wheel is likely to shave a notable amount of time off of every lap. It thus became just a matter of time until the market became attractive enough for the big players to make their presence known, and in the case of wheel controllers, the big dog in the yard is clearly Logitech. With Gran Turismo 5 on the way, and the Prologue edition already release, Logitech has delivered a new GT-badged force feedback wheel tagged as the Driving Force GT, available for the Sony Playstation 2 and Playstation 3.
If the only innovation was the light-up GT logo in the hub of the wheel, there wouldn't be much to differentiate it from the other wheels already out there. Fortunately, that does not seem to be the way of Logitech. In addition to the afore mentioned logo, the Driving Force GT includes a couple of other improvements. First, the new wheel follows the lead of the top-of-the-line G25 model by allowing a full 900-degree rotation. Given the introduction and release being timed with the release of Gran Turismo 5, the more realistic range of motion will dovetail nicely with the types of cars that are the bread and butter of the Gran Turismo stable. After all, there aren't many street cars that have a steering range of the more typical 270-degree range.
The second innovation is quite interesting, and this is the first that I've seen of it (although I sure wish my G-25 had it!). At the bottom of the right side spoke of the wheel, right where it will fall easily under your right thumb, is a 24-position adjustment dial. I'm not convinced that this adjustment will make a great deal of difference in the majority of Gram Turismo cars, but if you consider the plethora of real-time, driver-controllable adjustments available on something like a Formula One car, you will see the long-term implications of this assignable control. Brake bias, traction control (well, it would have to be pre-2008 F1, admittedly), spring rates, etc. would be adjustable to follow changing track surface conditions, fuel loads, or tire wear. That's pretty slick!
The wheel itself is well constructed, but not surprisingly feels plastic-y compared to a more substantial wheel like the G25. That lighter feeling carries all the way through the driving experience: the pedal resistance is lighter and the force feedback (particularly in the center, where it matters the most) is very light. The light pedal forces are only a problem if you insist on wearing shoes while you drive. Take your shoes off and you will have better control feel. Still, I wouldn't be at all surprised too see some enterprising hobbyist post instructions for beefing up the spring resistance on the pedals very soon.
The lack of resistance in the center zone will be a bigger problem. That said, it is very, very important to note that I tested the wheel with Formula One Championship Edition, which may or may not be communicating the optimal force feedback directions to the brand new wheel. The wheel may feel very different for games specifically designed to support it. If not, you will probably have the same problem I did, which is that a large 'null zone' makes it difficult to hold a straight line with a twitchy car like a Formula One racer. Which, by the way, Fernando Alonso will just have to man-up and get over it. I said I was sorry!
It will be interesting to see how well future PS3 racing games will take advantage of the new features offered by the Driving Force GT. The formerly stark line between console-based and PC-based racing games gets blurrier and blurrier as more attention is paid to increasing the realism and controllability of the console variants. The Driving Force GT is another step in the right direction.
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