Over many years of sim racing I have used a variety of set ups including pads, joysticks and motion control remotes and find myself always with a feeling that something is missing when I am not using a wheel.
So, what are the benefits of using a sim racing wheel? A wheel not only enhances your immersion in the activity, but it provides a better, more accurate range of motion that feels more authentic to the experience. Your hands are in total control as opposed to singular fingers or thumbs.
Maybe you’ve been thinking of upgrading your current set up and have been wondering what is it exactly that makes racing with a wheel so immersive and enjoyable? Read on to find out!
More Control With A Racing Wheel
As mentioned previously, a wheel offers players more control over their game. There are some obvious reasons for this, such as having hands free to only steer and not have to worry about any acceleration and breaking. As well as the point mentioned earlier about thumbs often turning on you in crucial moments, what else does the wheel offer that a pad may not?
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The market nowadays contains a huge range of wheels for all players at various price points. One key feature is force feedback. When driving, the steering column in a car is constantly reacting to the surface we are on and the way we are driving, and this effect is amplified in most racing cars.
Getting the feedback through your hands allows you to react more intuitively, and is far less distracting than using the rumble pads on a controller. Be careful when you are looking for a wheel with this feature though, as some wheels offer things like ‘’force vibration’’ which acts more like a controller rumble pad than actual force feedback.
The way wheels turn is also very important. Gamepads often have a very narrow degree of turning, meaning that players will often over or under turn because of a small change in where the joy pad is pointing. With wheels however, there is a greater amount of rotation available.
Some of the basic models come with around 270 degrees ‘’lock-to-lock’’ whereas the more expensive wheel can have up to 1080 degrees of range. Having more flexibility in your turning means that players can be more accurate, and drive in a way that suits the style of game or race.
For example, drifting, street circuits, fuel saving, and rallying are all much easier having a more flexible degree of turning rotation.
There are also other features like flappy paddle gears, on wheel buttons and controls, and heads-up displays that players can purchase on their wheel, so that the wheel can better fit your game or driving style.
Feel As Well As Looks
As well as the actual aesthetics of these wheels, they also of course offer a much more immersive and player friendly experience.
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Control wheels try to copy the look and feel of the ones found in cars but of course some do this better than others, and some sim wheel manufacturers even licence wheels from popular car marques such as Ferrari or Tesla. These branded wheels however, often aren’t practical and would be expensive to buy so keep in mind what size might suit you when you are looking to buy one.
The look and feel of these wheels is great though, and there is nothing like feeling as though you are behind the wheel of your favourite car, at your favourite track.
The immersion from wheels in general of course is second to none. No car has ever been controlled by a joy stick, so being able to use a wheel allows players to get lost in a race and start to feel like they’re racing the car for real.
Game authenticity is important; in any genre, a game can be ruined by bad physics or an unrealistic feel, and anything that a player can do to help themselves feel more a part of the game is an investment well worth making.
Things To Think About
Since the release of the first gaming wheel for home systems back in the 90’s, there has been an explosion in the hardware. An array of companies has taken on the task of designing the perfect wheel, however there are some things to think about when you are buying your own.
These wheels can range in price from a hundred to a few thousand dollars, all of which offer different and unique features.
Think about what you want on your wheel and what other things you may need to buy with it. A lot of wheels will be sold bundled with pedals but if they don’t, you will want to think about buying them, as one without the other is almost pointless and often useless. Keep in mind as well that you will often have to buy pedals from the same manufacturer as the wheel.
This is becoming much less of an issue now, but it can still occur, so always check whether the wheel will work on your PC or console. I have lost count of the amount of people I have spoken to, or threads I have read where someone has bought a wheel only to find that it doesn’t work with the rest of their sim racing setup.
Although we like to think so, not all of us can be great at something straight away, and this of course applies to using a wheel. If you have just come over from using a pad or joystick, it may take some time to get used to your new equipment. Don’t be disheartened, as in no time you’ll start driving like you want, and then not long after you will start to see improvements.
Although I have spoken a lot about the things you can buy and some of the more premium features of wheels in this article, it is important to figure out what is right for you. I’d say bundled pedals, force feedback and a good amount of rotation are 3 things any consumer should be looking for when looking to buy a wheel.
All this can be bought for less than $200 and for those that want that immersive experience, there is no better investment to make.
As most of us will never be able to get behind the cars of our dreams for real, video games are the closest experience. Short of a lottery win or an inheritance from a long lost relative then, buying a wheel will be as near as it gets for most of us who aspire to race our favourite cars or on our dream tracks.
However, with the rate at which technology is developing and games are moving forward, it is now easier than ever to (almost) really sit behind the wheel and speed around your dream track, from the comfort of your own home. No race experience is complete without a wheel, and once you try it for the first time you will wonder how you ever managed without one.