For many gamers, the controller is an adequate substitution for the driving wheel. The trigger buttons provide the same sensitivity as the gas and brake pedals, and the analog sticks steer your expensive automobile to the finish line. Those who prefer manual gears can use a variety of button combinations to shift up or down, and some games even include a clutch for added measure. However, it doesn't feel the same as driving the real thing. After all, no one exactly drives their car with a controller -- they use a wheel.
Logitech has been one of the more well-known racing wheel manufacturers in the market, and with a new generation of consoles comes a new set of wheels. The G29 is the PlayStation 4 variant, but it also works with the PC. It's a beautiful piece of work that delivers as close as anyone can get to an actual racing experience, yet it suffers from a few drawbacks that can turn people away.
Right out of the box, you can tell that the G29 isn't just something made out of plastic. There's considerable quality put into the wheel and pedals. The wheel grip is covered in a sturdy leather coating so your hands don't slip during tight turns, and the spokes are made from aluminum.
The pedal shifters behind the wheel, as well as the pedal faces, are made from brushed stainless steel. The pedals also include a small area for a footrest that includes a gripped surface so your heels don't sleep as you tango between the clutch, gas and brake. These all add some weight to the product, but it also shows that a lot of care was put into manufacturing the device. It might still seem like a toy (technically it is, we suppose), but for the purposes of simulating the driver's seat in a race, these qualities count in making it feel like the real thing.
As for the various buttons from the PlayStation controller, they are placed throughout the center of the wheel. The Shape buttons are on the upper right; the directional pad on the upper left; the L1, L2, R1 and R2 buttons flank both sides of the center, which has the PlayStation logo; and finally the Options, Share and PS buttons are in a line near the bottom of the wheel.
There are also some non-PlayStation features, as well. The wheel includes plus and minus buttons in conjunction with an adjustment dial for players to make quick changes to the car during a race. There's even a line of LED lights that illuminate, starting on both sides of the strip and then working their way to the blinking red light in the center, indicating the best time to shift to a higher gear. It's bright enough so that you can see it in your peripheral vision without taking your eyes off the screen.
Above that is a switch that enables toggling between the wheel being used for the PlayStation 3 or PlayStation 4. It also works with PC games, and you just need to keep it switched to the PlayStation 4 side to make it work with a game on Steam.
To make it all work, there's a series of three wires that all need to be connected to the wheel: one from the pedals; a USB cord for the PS4, PS3 or PC; and an electric plug for the outlet. Connect these all together, and soon your space becomes a web of tangled wires due to their length. Fortunately, Logitech thought of that issue as well, and provided a storage area for all three wires beneath the frame of the wheel to stow any extra slack.
To top it all off, the wheel can be mounted onto a surface with two large clamps that you can tighten with knobs. The clamps come with a removable set of large grips for thin surfaces, but it helps to take it off, especially when it's attached to a thicker table.
Start Your Engines
For testing we used two games: Driveclub for the PlayStation 4 and Project Cars on PC. Naturally, the first thing to do when starting both games is to check the settings for the wheel. Unsurprisingly, Project Cars had a more in-depth setting for the G29 compared to Driveclub.
In the latter, you can change only a few settings, such as the strength of the Force Feedback features, the rotation angle, wheel assist, and vibration strength. There's also a few more levels of customization with button configurations.
For Project Cars, you can adjust all of the above, and then some. Everything from the wheel deadzone to overall sensitivity can be changed with just a few sliders. There's even a calibration setup for the wheel and pedals. Unfortunately, the game or the wheel didn't provide a set of detailed instructions for what each setting actually does in terms of performance, so I only changed a few obvious settings.
Finally, it was time to race. I revved the gas pedal in anticipation, and it felt so realistic to push down on the stainless steel pedals. As the light turned green, each car jostled for first place. Opting for more control, I used manual gears with the paddle shifters. There was a small click from the paddles every time I went up or down a gear. The cold steel was a strange feeling on my fingers, but each press felt authoritative. It didn't matter if I was driving a go-kart or the Mercedes SLS AMG — each shift felt like I was actually sitting in the car and controlling it on some other level that couldn't be matched on a simple gamepad.
Then the bumps and the crashes started.
Force Feedback is a feature that allows the player to feel each bump and turn through the wheel. If the car goes off the track and into the sand, it will shake. Navigate a series of tight turns, and you'll feel the wheels graze the apex boundary, indicating that the car is on the perfect racing line. It's a great feature on paper as well as in practice.
However, the strength of the feedback is bound to vary from player to player. The default setting for Force Feedback is at 50 percent. At that setting, one would expect a balance of feedback that translated every bump and wheel interaction on the road, but not in a way that it's too strong on the vibrations. That's not the case.
Tiny bumps felt like huge potholes, judging by the wheel's feedback. Running the car off the track and into the sand translated to the wheel violently jerking around more than expected. Going head to head with a rival racer was supposed to be intense, but a costly mistake at a turn will send the car flying into oversteer or understeer with the wheel locking into place, making it nearly impossible to regain control. Understandably, some of the violent reactions by the wheel is warranted. However, it's too strong to perfectly simulate certain features of the road. Turning it down to 25 percent strength seemed to do the trick. At that level, I found that it was possible to enjoy the race while determining if the car is performing well on tight turns and following the racing line.
Other changes to the wheel settings included the overall sensitivity. The fact that the wheel can turn 900 degrees is impressive, but it's really not the best way to turn on any race track. With the new configurations, even the tightest turns can be made with a 90-degree spin on the wheel.
As far as the pedals go, they were interesting to say the least. The gas pedal was deep enough to give a full range of speeds, and I was able to easily switch from a constant pace to a fast speeding bullet down the straights. On the other hand, the brake pedal needs some work. It doesn't go down as far as the gas pedal. I pushed my foot down to what I assumed was a 50 percent brake pressure. However, it seemed that I didn't brake hard enough, bringing the contention for the first place to an end with the car smacking into the wall. Even when it's fully pressed down, the brakes aren't at 100 percent. You have to actually slam your feet into the pedal to stop the car. If only it was as deep as the gas pedal, the brakes would feel more natural, especially with the faster cars. Unfortunately, you can only adjust the pedal faces to the left or right with a 2.5mm hex key. Other than that, the depth of each pedal stays the same as when it came out of the box.
The other unfortunate news is that I was unable to use the clutch like I had the paddle shifters. In order to use the clutch, you'll need an additional peripheral, Logitech's Driving Force Shifter, which is an additional $59.99. However, it wasn't really necessary, as the paddles were a comfortable substitute. It allowed me to keep both hands on the wheel at all times and not worry about having to look down to find the right gear.
The Finish Line
Most of the issues mentioned above were quickly remedied through the settings, but with so many granular settings to play with, it will take time to tinker with them all before you can really understand how it truly affects the way you drive in Project Cars and Driveclub. Still, it's comforting to know that there is an in-depth configuration for the wheel. A device that is made for simulation games as well as arcade-style gameplay needs to be readily accessible for the beginner as well as in-depth and customizable for the enthusiast.
However, price might be an issue. At $399.99, the G29 is way out of the price range of some consumers. With the optional Driving Force Shifter, you're spending close to $500, so if price is an issue, there are definitely other options available on the market.
Nevertheless, the quality and offerings from the G29 are hard to pass up. From the leather grip to the steel pedals, combined with Force Feedback, LED lighting to determine the perfect gear change, and the paddle shifters, it's quite an experience that's hard to duplicate without actually sitting in a racing car. A professional racing career is an expensive endeavor and takes years until the winnings pile up. Thanks to racing games, and more importantly, racing wheels like the Logitech G29, you can have that same experience at home for a fraction of the cost.