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Getting in the Driver's Seat
Racing games, like flight simulators, are a genre of gaming in which control is everything. The interface between the player and the virtual vehicle is arguably the entire point of the game. There is a reason that no one has ever tried to make a road car that operates with a keyboard and mouse, and while playing a racing game with such an obtuse interface is certainly possible, it isn't enjoyable.
That's where a racing wheel comes in. A racing wheel giving the player an interface that allows a far higher level of communication with the virtual car the player is driving, bringing the player closing to the action. Anyone who spends time playing a racing game, such as Need For Speed: Shift, should seriously consider purchasing one. They're not cheap, but they're incredible to use, and the three listed here are among the best.
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Xbox 360 Wireless Wheel W/ Wireless Receiver
You might be thinking, wait - isn't the Xbox 360 Wheel just for the Xbox 360? Actually, no. The Xbox 360 wheel will work with a PC by using the Xbox 360 Wireless Gaming Receiver, a little white pod that allows wireless Xbox 360 accessories to work the the PC.
With that out of the way, let's get to the wheel. Dressed in the gray-and-white typical of Xbox 360 peripherals, the Xbox 360 Wireless Wheel isn't a bad looking piece of kit. The wheel is covered with a textured black grip with the exception of the bottom, which is bare faux-metallic plastic. The widespread use of plastics instantly convey the fact that the Xbox 360 Wireless Wheel is something of a budget buy, but the unit feels solid enough. It is contoured to stay in place if left on a lap, but it works best when attached to a desk or table.
In games, the Xbox 360 Wireless Wheel performs extremely wheel. Purists will not like the wheel's limited 270 degrees of rotation, and it is only available with paddle shifters, but it does come with a decent pair of foot pedals for the throttle and brakes. The force feedback works just as well on more expensive wheels, however, and that is high praise considering the wheel's $100 dollar price tag. There are certainly better wheels available, including the next two wheels on this list, but for those on a budget the Xbox 360 Wireless Wheel can't be beat.
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Logitech G25 Wheel
Logitech's G25 wheel is likely the most well known racing wheel on the market today. Logitech's brand carries a lot of weight, thanks to their solid selection of gaming mice and joysticks, and Logitech has backed up that reputation by delivering an extremely solid produce with the G25 wheel.
Solid is the first word that comes to mind when laying hands on the G25. The wheel of the G25 is wrapped in leather, offering a great deal of grip and giving the player the tactile feel of driving a real car. Significant parts of the wheel are made from metal, and the same is true for the included pedals and shifter. And indeed, the six-speed shifter offered by the G25 is likely the best shifter available on any racing wheel. If feels snappy and realistic, as if it actually lead to a mechanical drive shaft rather than a circuit board.
During a race, the whole unit comes together beautifully. The shifter, as mentioned, is the high point of the entire experience and gives the unit an edge over competitors. The wheel's realistic 900 degrees of rotation also helps suspend disbelief. There are only two downsides to the unit. The first is setup. Getting the wheel, shifter, and pedals in the right places can be a time-consuming task. The second is price. At $249, it isn't what one could call affordable. That said, the G25 is at least $150 dollars better than the 360 Wireless Wheel - so if you have the cash, spend it.
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Fanatec Porsche 911 GT3 RS Wheel
When it comes to racing wheels, Fanatec means business. Simulation genres like racing tend to spawn companies which cater to enthusiasts, and Fanatec's wheels are meant for the hardest of the hardcore. Those who don't have a dedicated race simulation rig need not apply.
The name of this wheel - the Porsche 911 GT3 RS Wheel - could make the casual observer think that Fanatec has paid Porsche a few dollars to slap a label on its wheels. That couldn't be further from the truth. This wheel is actually a replica of the real wheel found in the car it is named after - in this case, their top of the line 911 GT3 RS. Needless to say, the quality of the unit is intense, as is the visual appeal of it. The G25 is nice, but the Fanatec is even nicer.
The 911 GT3 RS wheel also comes with Fanatec's Clubsport Pedals, which are made almost entirely of aluminum and feature force feedback capability. On the downside, the 911 GT3 RS wheel does not come with the shifter, although paddle shifters are included. That does seem odd considering the price tag of $299, and the shifter unit sold by Fanatec costs another $50 bucks. That said, the quality of the wheel and pedals is absolutely top-notch, allowing for the most realistic racing experience one can enjoy in the living room.