With so many great racing games on the Xbox, racing wheel peripherals are becoming more and more popular. Not all wheels are created equal, however, and finding a wheel that has the right balance of value and performance can be tricky. Unless you try each and every wheel out there you cant really be sure that a given wheel is right for you, but I can say that the Mad Catz MC2 wheel is among the best and is definitely worth checking out.
Steering Wheels - Generally Speaking
The first thing you have to realize when you are buying a wheel is that it isnt really going to make you a better videogame driver. In fact, unless you really practice and practice with a game the wheel is likely going to make you perform worse. Some games work better than others and youll see results more quickly, but dont expect to plug in a wheel and have your lap times go down. It simply isnt going to happen. At least, not at first.
So what is the attraction of steering wheel peripherals if they dont make you a better driver? The answer is clear: Satisfaction. You might not be tearing around the track as fast, but you are definitely having more fun when you use a wheel. It is a great feeling to press your foot down on the accelerator or turn the wheel and get results. It takes the game out of your TV and gives you something that you can touch and feel and experience and it makes racing games overall a whole lot more fun. If you are a big racing game fan, definitely look into getting a wheel because I guarantee youll enjoy yourself a lot more.
Features and Setup
The Mad Catz MC2 Universal wheel is a full-featured unit that includes a steering wheel with both paddle shifters and a stick shift and also a set of foot pedals. The best part about it is that it is universal, which means that you can use it for the Xbox as well as the PS2 and GameCube. It works perfect for Xbox right out of the box, but for PS2 and GameCube games you have to reassign buttons and do a few minutes of extra work, but it works equally great for all three systems once you get it set up. For all three systems you also have the option of adjusting the dead zone in the middle of the wheel. What this means is that when the wheel is perfectly centered, there is a minimum distance it must travel before it registers as a right or left turn. For some games, such as RalliSport Challenge 2, you want a bigger dead zone because the controls are very touchy and it is hard to stay on the track when even the slightest movement sends your car sliding. For other games such as Need for Speed Underground 2 where the cars are a little tighter, you need a smaller dead zone so that you can make faster, more precise movements. Each game needs different settings, but it is pretty easy to figure out.
From a construction aspect, the MC2 Universal wheel is very well made. The wheel and gearshift have rubber grips which keep them firmly in your grasp. There are also retractable leg supports that do a good job of keeping the wheel on your lap. Suction cups to attach the wheel to a table are also available, but I recommend using the leg supports and your lap instead. The pedal unit attaches to the steering wheel with a 9-pin connection and two screws and once you hook it up it is very solid. What is most impressive about the entire set is just how solid it all is. You cant be too rough, obviously, but you also dont have to baby it. This set is extremely well put together and will stand up to hundreds of hours of abuse.
Once you have everything set up the way you like and are out on the track, the MC2 Universal wheel performs like a dream. Every single aspect of the wheel works flawlessly. The pedals provide very smooth acceleration and braking and the wheel gives you very precise control. To be honest, I dont have any problems at all with the performance of the wheel. It delivers a great racing experience with tight, accurate controls, so what more could you want.
I have used the MC2 Universal wheel with Need for Speed Underground 2, Burnout 3, NASCAR 2005, Project Gotham Racing 2, RalliSport Challenge 2, Gran Turismo 3, and a number of other racing games and it worked great with all of them. It takes a lot of practice to get really comfortable with using the wheel, but even when you are slamming into walls when you first start out the whole experience is significantly more fun than it is with a standard controller. Racing fans owe it to themselves to play games with a steering wheel because it is absolutely worth it.
Overall, the Mad Catz MC2 Universal wheel is highly recommended. It also comes in console specific versions for a little less money, but most gamers these days have at least two consoles so you might as well kill two (or three) birds with one stone and get the universal wheel. It performs like a champ on the track and is very solidly constructed so you dont have to worry about it too much. To put it simply, this is a great value. You get a good racing wheel that performs very well and it is also compatible with all three current generation systems. For under $50, that sounds like a good deal to me.