So, last night I received my Fanatec Porsche Turbo S beta test wheel. I can’t begin to tell you how excited I was to receive this wheel, especially since my Microsoft literally went up in smoke just a few days before the Forza 3 demo came out and there seems to be more delays in getting my retail Clubsport wheel from Fanatec.
So, you’ve all by now seen the clever packaging on the box from Fanatec, each panel has wording that lends toward building up your excitement for the wheel. The top tells you to “Take a deep breath”. I did when I saw this, but didn’t hold it for long as I fumbled with the three little flaps you have to slide out in order to open the top panel. The next panel tells you to “Relax”. Nope, sorry, not happening. The next panel is a tease, with it telling you “Not yet!”. Finally you’re down to the fourth panel, and it screams at you to “Go go go!”. Go I did, and here are the details.
Pulling out all of the components, you immediately get a feel for the quality of the wheel and accessories. What first shocked me was actually how small the wheel was. For some reason it looks bigger in pictures. Also, if you’re used to the Microsoft wheel, you’ll be surprised at how small the body of the wheel casing is. The Microsoft wheel is probably more than a foot wide, and the Fanatec body is maybe 7 inches wide, tops. (I’ll measure it later). With the difference in size, I was a little skeptical at just how strong the force-feedback could possibly be. I’d heard that it’s brutally strong, so I was anticipating a fairly large body to hide this brutal FFB motor.
After unpacking the parts, I started looking at how it mounts to my Rennsport wheel stand. I bought this stand specifically for the purpose of mounting my Fanatec wheel. The mount is pretty simple, four bolts from underneath the plate on the stand right into the body of the wheel. Bang, easy. What wasn’t the easiest was trying to mount my Fanatec shifter adapter that I ordered separately and the wheel. The shifter adaptor adds another ¼” to the thickness of the plate the wheel mounts to, and that made two of the four bolts that came with the stand too short to go through the shifter adapter, through the plate and up into the wheel. (A quick trip to the hardware store later on solved this problem.)
Hooking everything up to the wheel is pretty simple. I’ve you’ve ever plugged an older keyboard or mouse (non-USB type) then you already have the “skills”. LOL, it’s easy. Everything is color-coded and hooks up in a snap. The cord for mounting the shifter is maybe 6 to 8 inches long. This is just long enough to reach, but not too long that you have excess slack to try to find a place for. The cord for the pedals is very, very long. I wrapped it all over the stand just to keep it tight and out of the way. This should be good for people with different racing cockpits.
Last thing to hook up is the power cord, and again its simple and a lot like a power cord for a laptop computer.
After the cords were connected, I started hooking up the rods for the shifters (I hadn’t made it to the hardware store yet and I was dying to try the wheel). The shifter mounts on two long aluminum rods. These rods pass through the body of the wheel and stick out one side or the other in order to mount the shifter, which can be mounted on either side of the wheel to accommodate the people who have the shifter on the “wrong” side of the wheel. They are a bit difficult to push in, but I figured this was a good thing because you don’t want a lot of slop when shifting gears. Once you get the rods in place, there are large screws on each side of the shifter that you can turn to tighten up the rods. After this, it’s “just” a matter of sliding the shifter onto the protruding rods. This is just as difficult as getting the rods into the wheel body, but with a significant amount of elbow grease I got it on and ready to go.
I powered on the wheel and it immediately started turning while it calibrated itself. It turns completely to the right and then back to center. Well, almost center. It was cocked a bit to the left. I was initially worried. My Microsoft wheel was crooked right out of the box, like an older car that needs to have the wheel re-centered the next time it’s taken in for an alignment. Driving straight with my Microsoft wheel always meant that it was turned a bit to the left of center and I initially feared that this wheel would be that way too. I immediately moved the wheel so it was straight and it stayed that way, though, and continued to be straight while playing later, so all was well. It just returns to slightly off center each time it goes through its power on sequence. Never has it been misaligned while playing.
Once you have the wheel powered on and it goes through its test cycle it goes into standby mode. The wheel can be used on the Xbox 360, the Playstation 3 or the PC, so you have to “tell” it what mode to go into every time you power it on. This is a pretty simple operation though. To put it in Xbox mode you just hold the Guide Button down like you are powering on a controller and bingo, you’re done. To go into PC mode you just hold the “BACK” button for one second. PS3 mode is just one extra step once you’re in PC mode: press the “SYNC” button and the “BACK” button at the same time. Each mode has to be gone into from standby, so if you were playing some Forza and then decided to play some Gran Turismo, you would have to cycle the power to the wheel, put the wheel into PC mode, and then press the “SYNC” and “BACK” buttons. Each of the modes for a particular console causes the appropriate buttons to illuminate on the wheel. This is pretty neat, because until they are lit up, you can’t see them at all.
So, first things first, time to play some of the Forza 3 demo. Navigating the menus is pretty easy, although I was used to using a Microsoft wheel so was used to having the directional pad on the left spoke of the wheel. The directional pad on this wheel is very cleverly disguised and is located on the bottom spoke, just above the START/BACK button. It has a decent feel to it and I was able to easily navigate all the menus and things, but I wouldn’t try playing Dead or Alive with it or anything (not that you could). The directional pad on the Microsoft wheel is definitely easier.
Once you start playing, the controls and buttons are laid out like this: On the left spoke, you find two buttons that light up saying “LSB” and “RSB”, meaning Left Shoulder Button and Right Shoulder Button, respectively. Pressing “LSB” will make you look 90 degrees to the left while driving, and the “RBS” will, you guessed it, make you look 90 degrees to the right. There are two other buttons on this spoke, but they don’t light up in Xbox mode. The right spoke of the wheel contains the “A, B, Y and X” buttons. The “X” button with cycle through the different driving views. The “Y” button looks directly behind you. The “B” button is the emergency brake, and the “A” button didn’t do a thing. The directional button on the bottom spoke controls the telemetry display, the damage display and changing to and from Drift scoring, just like on the controller. Just below the directional button you’ll find the “BACK” and “START” buttons.
I was anxious to try out the clutch. I own a vehicle with a manual transmission, so the concept of using a clutch isn’t something I’m unfamiliar with and I was anxious to see how the game replicated the feel of it. I started up a game with the Ferrari California in hotlap mode, turned off the annoying music, got my HUD settings taken care of and started the race. The game went through its shaking animation, and then gave me my 1 second to prepare for launch. I gave it about half throttle, the lights went green, and I went nowhere while the car sputtered and shook. You have to have your foot on the clutch to start the race and once it goes green, pop that sucker to take off or it will have a bit of a spasm and you won’t go anywhere for a second. LOL. Once I got going, I started slamming through the gears. The clutch pedal has pretty good feel to it, stiff at first and then less resistance the farther you push it in. The clutch is also variable, not just off and on like using the clutch on the controller. You can slip the clutch. To test this, I parked in the middle of a hill and gave it lots of gas. I slowly let the clutch out until I stopped rolling backward and held it there. When I fully let the pedal up the car spun the tires and took off. The only thing missing from this was the smell of burning the clutch up. The gear selector is decent. Each gear engages with a solid feel and an audible click. While it does feel and look nice, it’s plastic and doesn’t exactly feel like a real car. Don’t get me wrong though, it’s very cool to actually shift gears in this game, but don’t think that it’s going to feel exactly like it does when you shift the gears of the Porsche you have out in the driveway. ;)
So now that I’m past the starting line and banging through the gears, I notice just how solid the wheel feels. It’s more difficult to turn than the Microsoft wheel as a result of the crazy-strong FFB motors, and there are constant small vibrations as I run over rumble strips or put a tire in the grass. The wheel provides EXCELLENT feedback and feels so solid that you forget that you are in fact playing a game with a little toy wheel on a stand. Also, one thing I was used to was the slop in the Microsoft wheel. That thing had quite a bit of play at the center of it, like a car with some pretty worn out ball joints or something. The whole wheel also moved up and down a lot (unless you did the aftermarket bearing mod). This Fanatec wheel has NONE of that. None. There is zero play at the center of the wheel, and it doesn’t move up and down like its cheaper counterpart. Its rock solid. The force feedback is always there, without slop, providing you with accurate and detailed information about the way the car is handling.
So, rocketing down the hill and being blown away by the feel of the wheel and the “cool factor” of using the clutch and banging through the gears in the Ferrari I notice that the first major corner of the track is coming up. It’s time to test out the brake pedal, which ended up posing a problem for me. See, when I used my Microsoft wheel, I used my right foot for the gas and my left foot for the brake. I was so used to this that when I pressed the clutch down to start downshifting, my brain must have thought that I was on the brake because I slammed into the wall at the bottom of the hill. I realized my mistake and re-started the race (I still forget that rewind function. Man that’s handy in instances like this). This time, I told myself that I need to brake with my right foot when approaching the turn. For some reason, this seemed harder to do than I thought it was. I don’t brake with my left foot in my real vehicles most of the time, so it’s weird that I was having such a hard time doing it in the demo. Anyway, this corner was a bit better and I kept going. What I also had to get used to was just how stiff the brake pedal is. The Microsoft pedals had little to no resistance to them at all. You really do have to push hard on this pedal to get it to move. It’s great, but I found myself not pushing hard enough at all my first few laps. Once I got used to the fact that you could really cram this thing down all was good.
After I got used to using the clutch and the feel of the brake pedal I started to notice that while slowing down for a corner, when you downshift your tires tend to bark a bit when you let the clutch out. I believe this is where the heel-toe shifting comes into play. The idea is to reach over and blip the throttle with your right foot while it’s still applying the brakes. It sounds a little tricky, and is even trickier to actually do. If you can’t learn to do it (and I’m determined to learn) then you will need to change the way you drive with the clutch. When coming into a corner, that bark in the tires when you let out the clutch will cause your back end to hop out on you more often than not. You’ve got to be careful.
I love the wheel, and will never use a controller or the Microsoft wheel (if it even worked anymore) again. The wheel is solid and provides excellent feel for your car. The force feedback will make your forearms sore at 100%; at least until you build up some Popeye muscles in them. The pedal feel of the standard pedals is exceptional; I can’t wait to get my clubsport ones. By the end of the evening I switched over to the mini cooper so I could get used to using all of the new components together. By the time I shut the Xbox off, I was within half a second of my best lap time, which is at about 732nd place on the mini cooper leaderboards.
Also, I did try out the two different ways to shift sequentially. The sequential stick has a good feel to it, and you don’t have to move it much to go to the next gear. In fact, I found that if I grabbed the thing and held on, I tended to move it without meaning to which resulted in the car shifting up or down in the wrong place.
Also, the paddle shifters: I don’t like them. They are very small, and are rather angular. Given the smoothness and refinement that the rest of the wheel and components have, they seem out of place. They have sharp edges and corners, and just don’t seem to fit well with the rest of the wheel’s design. I mean, it’s not like you’re going to cut yourself on them or anything, they just seem out of place. I don’t plan on using them much anyway, so no big deal. On the plus side of them, they don’t feel like they would break under heavy use. They are made of metal and are very stiff.
So, that is my review. In the immortal words of Ferris Bueller, “It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.”
This evening I will be taking many photos and shooting a few videos. I will also be linking photos I took last night to this write-up as the day progresses. Have patience, I’m at work. ;)
For you drifters out there, I hope I can answer any questions you have, but I’m not very good at it. One of the questions I’ve seen drifters ask about is clutch-kicking. Now, I know nothing about this technique, and can only guess what it means from the name. Last night, while approaching a corner, I gave the car some go-pedal, slammed the clutch in and out really fast, and got the car to initiate a slide into the corner. If this is what clutch-kicking is then yes, you can do it. If not, well then I just sound silly and I apologize for my ignorance.
Please post your questions here, if they haven’t been answered in the other couple of threads from UKOG jonboy 1066 or TK CSB
Video link. More gameplay footage to come.
Video 2 some gameplay footage
Video 3 More Gameplay footage
Video 4 GT5P footage
Video 5 More gameplay footage and some questions answered
What would Rossi do?