If there’s one genre that sees an even higher degree of justified peripheral elitism than fighting games, it is the racing sim. Find the right Gran Turismo or Forza Motorsport enthusiast, and you’ll inevitably find an equipment setup that makes a Mad Catz TE2 fightstick look like an impulse buy. Price ranges notwithstanding, there are actually several parallels between the fightstick and racing wheel markets. Not only are they historically the right tool for their respective jobs in most cases, yet still rather cost-prohibitive if you’re looking for a good one, but there’s also a low end that is best left avoided, as the lower quality has a tendency to manifest itself as problems that completely defeat the purpose of the device.
One thing that racing wheels in particular benefit from, however, is ample space in the market for “middle of the road” devices that serve their intended purpose effectively while still keeping costs down by carefully managing both features and scale. Where “good” and “cheap” are mutually-exclusive concepts in the realm of fightsticks, there’s plenty such space to explore when it comes to racing wheels. Enter the PS4’s Thrustmaster T150.
What Is It?
The Thrustmaster T150 is a PlayStation 4 racing wheel, primarily built toward Project CARS, but compatible with other racing games as well, and even backward-compatible with the PlayStation 3. The T150 is built to satisfy consumers who may have been disenchanted by their experiences with past “entry level” racing wheels, like the Xbox 360 Wireless Racing Wheel and the PlayStation 3’s Logitech Driving Force GT. Those wheels, while servicable, suffered from some pretty major issues inherent to reaching a mass market pricepoint. Most notably, the force feedback itself was fairly weak, causing the wheel to “slip” when a player steered against the force feedback, hurting the simulation feel of the device and producing a sickening clicking noise. This makes the player feel like they were beating the hell out of the wheel’s internals in the effort to hold their vehicle steady.
Why Should I Care?
Indeed, the most important thing that can be said for the T150 is that it doesn’t suffer from that problem despite sliding in at an altogether reasonable $199.99 price point. The belt-and-pulley force feedback mechanism employed by the T150 is the same tried-and-true, built-to-last approach taken by many arcade manufacturers over the years, and thus won’t feel like it’s about to break the moment you find yourself having to outmuscle it. This is also good for its immersive quality, as there’s no wheel slip taking you out of the driving experience. This, along with the long-confirmed Project CARS VR implementation, means that the T150 and the PlayStation VR headset should easily be a match made in heaven when the latter launches this October.
With the overall build quality being as high it is, the T150 did have to make some compromises to come in under $200. The scale is roughly that of its lower-end counterparts, and it doesn’t include any of the extras that usually accompany the higher end. For manual transmission, you’re stuck using the flappy-paddle shifters. To be fair, they are remarkably well-made on the T150, as no stick shift is included. Therefore, the pedal layout, while also very well-made, is the simpler just-brake-and-gas featured on cheaper racing rig options. As a plus, should you feel like investing further in your racing experience, you can easily augment your T150 later on with Thrustmaster’s array of add-on parts, which include a proper stick shift and full pedal layout.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
If you’re looking for an affordable PS4/PS3 racing wheel that keeps you engaged and doesn’t feel like it’s about to disintegrate when you take your first hard turn, the T150 is far and away your best option (and realistically, your only option). Thrustmaster successfully found a way to scale down their more hardcore racing products into a mass-market package.
Going back to the arcade stick comparison at the start of this review, Thrustmaster has just done for racing wheels what Mad Catz did for fightsticks in 2009, offering up a product that genuinely introduces precision controls to a mass market that hasn’t really had very good access to them before. On its own, it’s an ideal product for gamepad racers looking to explore the world of racing wheels. The cherry on top is that it can be expanded upon, rather than having to be replaced outright, should you want something more fully-featured later on.