About six months ago, I picked up a Microcon MC2 Steering wheel from Argos, because - as you may have noticed - I am a fan of motorsport, and that extends to the videogame world as well. So, y'know, after having half a year to get used to the nuances of my favourite gaming accessory, I've decided to give a bit of a product review on how its turned out.
Now, there are quite a few people on sites like F1 Fanatic and The hardcore motorsport gaming sites insist that the only gaming wheels anyone should ever use are the likes of the £295 Logitech G27 and should only play a "proper racing simulator" like Rfactor.
Those are the same people who don't get that games like F1 2010 have to appear to a wider audience than the hardcore simulation crowd, and in fact have to work to appeal to the widest fanbase of F1 to recoup the money spent on the game in the first place.
I play games because I want to enjoy them. And that's precisely what I've been doing with the MC2. So, Thinking about it recently, I've subjected the MC2 to what I'm calling the "Five Game Test."
In order to see how best the wheel works, I've needed to use it on a variety of games. This being me, I have a pretty decent selection of racing games, so the ones I've chosen are:
Firstly though, a bit about the wheel itself. "But Ben," I hear you say "It's a steering wheel. It goes round and a car turns. what more do I need to know?"
Well, it's never quite that simple. The Minicon wheel, as the name suggests, is built to be smaller and a bit more portable than a wheel the size of a logitech - which is generally 1:1 scale with an actual car steering wheel. it works very well for this reason: the wheel fits very easilly on your lap, and comfortably as well. The base of the MC2 has a pair of fold out struts that can wrap either side of your legs, but to be honest I've never had any use of them - they push your knees together very tightly if your sitting on a chair, and the moulded base means you don't really need them to prevent the wheel slipping. The pedals that come with have an accelerator and a brake, but no clutch as there isn't a gear handle. It also has three suction cups on the base for if you want it to stick to a table.
Now, the wheel is wired, and has about 2 metres of cable, but it wouldn't be ideal for someone who has their lounge and xbox set up for Kinect usage as you'd probably have to sit on the floor in front of the TV. The pedals have about 4 feet of cable, so have a decent amount of space for taller people - unless your planning on driving standing up, which would be silly.
The wheel itself has a good solid feel to it, with a decent amount of tension on it's steering column, with both lightness of movement and enough resistance to make action an actual physical effort. The back of the wheel has two paddles within easy reach, and these are primarily there if you're into manual shifting. for the purposes of this review, I'll be doing just that.
Onto the games!
Car: Mclaren MP4-25
Track: Istanbul Park.
Lap Time: 1:26.733
It took a me a good while to get back into the swing of F1 2010 when I plugged the wheel in I haven't played it in quite a while and I'd completely forgotten that driving an F1 car around the track is completely different to any other kind of racing game. For a while I found myself pretty much missing every single apex on the track, and given it was my first time using a manual shift I hate to think just how many times I would have blown up a £100,000 F1 engine. When I did finally hook together a lap though, I felt absolutely brilliant. Using the wheel was intuitive and fun. Flat out through Istanbul's infamous Turn 8, I had no problem holding the wheel to the racing line and shifting up at the same time. One worry I did have was that, given the options like wing angle and engine setting are selected from the D-Pad in the centre of the wheel, it would be difficult to do all those things at once, but once I'd gotten into the habit, I selected a higher engine setting without any great difficulty. While I doubt I'm ever going to be a great threat to Seb Vettel (lets face it, who is these days), I was able to bring home a pretty decent lap time in the end.
---Need For Speed: Shift---
Car: BMW M3 GT2
Track: Brands Hatch GP
Lap Time: 1:39.099
Now, this one was certainly a bit more... Interesting. Given that it's intended as a more arcadey game anyways, NFS:Shift's cars come with a handfull of oversteer that it takes a while to get used to. I know the Brands Hatch Circuit pretty well, but it took me quite a while to hook up a half-decent lap, as I was too busy trying not to bin it into the gravel. I started with a Nissan GT-R, but it was so slidey that I decided to try with the M3 instead, and found it much better. to be honest, I've always struggled to find Grip in shift, and using the wheel didn't help much as the inherent nature of the game meant the wheel felt very sensitive. Once I'd adapted to that, however, it was pretty good - I was nailing the corners pretty well, if a little bit driftily. The earlier twitchiness did mean that out of habit I found myself shifting down a gear too far on the high speed corners, which probably accounts for my fairly slow lap time. The once fault I had with the wheel is that the Brake pedal seemed to switch suddenly between very light and very heavy with no inbetween, but again, this might just have been my heavy left foot. Once I'd gotten used to the game mechenics, it was decent fun. thank god for the runoff areas though!
---Race Driver: GRID---
Car: Chevrolet Lacetti Touring Car
Track: Donington Park National
Lap Time: None Set
Oh Dear. Oh Very Dear. The game and wheel both fell down very hard on this one. I've enjoyed GRID a lot over the year since I got it (I've only had the Xbox about 14 months) and both offline and occasionally online its been a good, punchy Arcade racer. But not with this wheel. If NFS:Shift came with a handfull of Oversteer, GRID came with both hands, legs and it's mouth full of it. I tried playing with the settings for the wheel in the games menu, I tried being less sharp with the wheel, but a typical corner went "slight turn, slight turn, slight turn, MASSIVE OVERSTEER, Spin." No matter what I did, the car simply wouldn't turn in properly to a corner, as even on front wheel drive cars like the Lacetti, the rear would step out and I'd spin the bastard. I didn't even get around a full lap of Donington before I gave up and Rage Quit. Very dissapointing.
---Forza Motorsport 3---
Car: Ford Focus ST
Track: New York Circuit
Lap Time: 1:33.771
The wheel definitely took a round back with Forza. I picked the Focus as a baseline car, and it worked pretty well, although since it wasn't race tuned, the steering felt very heavy at times, and I ran out of pedal lift before being able to brake at some of the sharper turns. The steering was still quite responsive and the gearshifts felt realistic without being clunky, and I was able to access the telemetry screen using the D-pad without any major dramas. I do have to say though, for anything like livery design and storefront on Forza, stick to the joypad - the wheel is not suited to it.
---Sega Rally Online Arcade---
Car: Skoda Fabia RS
Track: Alpine Circuit
Lap Time: 1:12:38
The wheel works, to be frank, pretty damn awesomely with this game, but to be fair, it is a very forgiving game - except when you clip a wall. Manual shifting worked as close to perfectly as you can ask, and the steering had just the right balance of sensitivity and rallying-oversteer to allow me to flick the car into the corners. I had the accelerator buried to the floor most of the time, and the brake pedal barely needed more than a dab, but I've been using the wheel both offline and online and it's won me victories in and of itself by giving me the chance to be smoother through the corners and sharper on the gearshifts. One weird bug though is that the force feedback locked on after the race and turned the wheel into a constantly vibrating presence in my lap, and I had to exit the game before it stopped.
4/5 games. A good score, but given that one of the games it's said to be ideal for on the box is one of the ones that let it down, make sure that you're not buying the MC2 specifically for one game, becuase if it turns out not to suit it, you're going to have a large £35 paperweight. I'd still have it over a £295 logitech paperweight any day though!