Tech News on G4
Fanatec keeps it wheel
Jan 24, 2012
By Daniel Barron - G4 Canada
Few gamers will argue that the number of plastic peripherals available right now sits somewhere between "way too many" and "you have to be kidding me".
Whether it's a fake guitar that lets you rock out, a microphone with which to belt out a karaoke number, or a gun-like shell that tries to make your first person shooter experience that much more realistic, just about every gamer owns an add-on that's probably collecting dust right now in a closet.
This isn't the case with Fanatec, a German company that makes high quality accessories for racing games. Its latest set of products is the CSR Wheel, Elite Pedal Set and Shifter Set for the Xbox 360-exclusive Forza Motorsport 4. Keep in mind, these aren't just made for Forza 4 - they're products that are officially licensed by Microsoft and Forza developer Turn 10 Studios.
If you're looking for a round piece of plastic to control a 100 cc virtual kart, you've raced to the wrong place. The CSR Wheel, Pedal Set and Shifter Set are all meant for the gamer who wants a much more realistic racing experience available in his or her home.
My biggest worry after unpacking everything was the actual setup, and while there's a little more involved than syncing a wireless controller to a console, it's actually not too painful.
Everything centres around the wheel - the shifter and pedal set need to be plugged into ports located on the right side of the wheel. The wires are long enough that you won't be struggling to have them reach the proper outlets, but short enough that they won't get in the way of your racing experience once you are all set up.
The shifter (either a 6-speed manual or clutchless sequential automatic) links up to the wheel via two bars that are inserted into holes near where the steering column would be, below the wheel itself.
I had a serious issue with this aspect of the wheel setup, as the bars don't seem solid enough to keep the shifter in place while actually shifting. When changing gears with the manual, it never feels like it's held in place, somewhat taking away from the whole "authentic race car" experience. It also affects things negatively when you want to pull off a quick up or downshift, as it's all too possible to miss a gear.
Not only that, but it's also very difficult physically taking one shifter off and replacing it with another. I had to remove the wheel from the table it was attached to, set it on its side, and yank as hard as I could to remove the shifter on more than one occasion. This isn't really convenient at all, though if you use only one type of shifter exclusively, you should be okay.
The wheel itself attaches easily enough thanks to a clamp that can be easily adjusted via a knob below the wheel. Two latches provide additional support so everything stays where it's supposed to (and for me, it does).
The wheel is absolutely wonderful. It's completely made up of lightweight aluminum and has Alcantara grips that not only help with steering, but genuinely give it a more upscale, luxury look and feel. It has a great shape and it's easy to grip, though I'm a little surprised it doesn't have a flat bottom like the wheels found in many race cars.
Large paddle shifters sit behind, and move with, the wheel, making manual shifts possible even if you don't have the shifter set. There are several buttons included on the front of the wheel itself, but they're all set deeper into the middle, so they won't be getting in the way when you're focused on making that tight turn or passing that troublesome car in front of you.
The wheel has a motor to take care of force feedback, along with two other force feedback actuators to simulate motor and antilock brake vibrations. The feedback certainly does feel realistic, and it won't be long before you know you're going into a slide that will be difficult to get out of, or when you were just rear-ended by an aggressive driver vehicle behind you.
Turning ratios can be adjusted for different sensitivities, but I found the default to be pretty bang-on and accurate.
The pedals, meanwhile, are fantastic and can be adjusted with a little more elbow grease, though they suffer from a problem inherent with gaming pedals as a whole. Like the wheel, the pedals are made up completely of aluminum, and they can be set up in an inverted fashion (one, two, or all of them) depending on the player's preference.
Although the pedals can be adjusted horizontally and vertically, and the spring tension and angle can be changed as well, the default setting was fine for me, as I could just move the entire set further back on my carpet without it sliding around.
My only issue is that you don't have any feedback from the clutch when letting it out. In a real vehicle, putting in the clutch and then letting it out (mostly during downshifting) will result in a "braking" feel that's quite noticeable, but this was nowhere to be found on the CSR Elite Pedal Set, taking a lot of the realism out of the experience. I've driven plenty of high-end vehicles in my other job so I know just what to expect, but this may be much less of an issue for the average gamer.
Not only that, but the clutchless shifting is still fantastic using the sequential shifter or the paddles on the wheel. You could still let the game do all the shifting for you and focus just on braking, accelerating, and turning - which is still a ton of fun.
The 6-speed manual transmission needs to be calibrated before its first use, but it's a quick, simple process, and once you're done, you're done. The wheel also does its own two second calibration itself every time it's powered up.
The buttons and directional pad found on the wheel make navigating through the Xbox 360 and Forza 4 menus dead simple, so you won't have to worry about powering up a regular controller to do all the pre-racing work. And speaking of powering up, while the wheel isn't wireless, it uses one cord - that conveniently has a long reach - that plugs into a standard wall outlet.
So although these pieces of hardware are much pricier than what you're probably used to in terms of video game add-ons, they're worth it for the gamer who puts a lot of time into a game like Forza 4. Best of all, the weakest link of the three - the shifter set - is by no means required.
The wheel itself is fantastic, and the pedals are not only wonderful straight out of the box, but can be adjusted numerous ways depending on the person using them.
Fanatec CSR Wheel, Elite Pedal Set and Shifter Set
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