Physically, the experience can feel a bit like playing Mario Kart or F1 2010 with a plastic speed wheel on the Wii, but the Wireless Speed Wheel is unquestionably more accurate and responsive. The bottom line is that you can move from a conventional controller to the wheel without seeing your performance or your lap times suffer, and it definitely makes the racing feel more fun and more natural.
The Wireless Speed Wheel is a brilliant match for Forza 4, but it also works well with other race games we tried it with. There’s a slight twitchiness to the handling in the criminally under-rated Shift 2: Unleashed, but it’s something you soon adjust to, and the wheel is smooth and sensitive enough to deal with the rapid cornering of F1 2010. Play any of these games in the cockpit view, and it’s quite impressive how accurately changes in the position of the Wireless Speed Wheel are reflected on the in-car wheel. We’re a long way from Kinect territory here.
That said, there are some issues. Play games on harder or more realistic difficulty modes, and you will start to struggle. It gets harder to make perfect corners or counter spin, and you’ll definitely miss the force feedback and physical interaction of a more expensive wired wheel.
The wheel can also get tiring with use. It weighs around 300g with batteries, and while the weight is concentrated at the bottom and the wheel is quite well balanced, holding it out in front of you for the duration of a longer race can be a drag. If you like to get stuck into a two or three hour session of Forza, you can expect a little muscle fatigue to start creeping in.
Most seriously, there are no left and right bumpers, so if you want to play with manual gear changes or there are features that need left and right bumpers to control, you’ll either have to map them to the d-pad (if that option is even available) or switch back to a standard controller.
Even in Forza, where some of the menus and customisation screens need the bumper buttons, it’s an irritation, and one that Microsoft should really have considered when designing the wheel. The same applies to the lack of any socket for a wired headset; not a problem if you have a wireless or Bluetooth model, but an annoyance if you’re stuck with the one that shipped with the console.
These are problems, but then you need to balance them against the intended market – the average gamer, not serious racing enthusiasts, and the fact is that you have a wheel you can stash away in a drawer at the end of a session. The Wireless Speed Wheel isn’t perfect, but it’s still the first thing we reach for when we boot up Forza 4.
The Wireless Speed Wheel is marred by a couple of bad design decisions, and the effort of holding it in racing position can make longer racing sessions tiring. Yet it’s accurate and responsive, and it does make playing Forza 4 – and other racers – a more exciting and immersive experience. What’s more, it’s an awful lot more convenient to pick up, play and put away than a proper racing wheel setup.