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Force Feedback
The Hot Gaming Technology ...of When?

Friday, January 8, 1999

I remember just a few short years ago I was raving about force feedback technology and how it added so much realism to the gaming experience; well, I don't know if I just got cynical, developed higher standards or if mass production has ruined the quality of the products, but force feedback has not lived up to my lofty ideals. So far at this CES we have seen the V4 Force Feedback Racing Wheel (and pedals) by Interact and the R4 Force Wheel (and pedals) by Saitek and neither has truly captured my attention.

The Interact wheel is supposed to list for under $130 which is unheard of in this arena, but I don't think I'd pay that for it. In all fairness to Interact, I did only use the wheel for about 2 minutes, and only tested it with one game. It is entirely possible that the force definitions in Need For Speed III just suck and the wheel is just fine, but you'd think Interact would pick the software that shows off their product best and not just a big title. The V4 is (rather obviously) based on the V3 wheel which can now be had for about $50 and is a good value. Interact is touting that they have cured all of the shortcomings of the V3 in the V4, which is probably true. The construction of the wheel feels more sturdy and they have kept the design which allows it to be a lap wheel or a table wheel--good for the late night pizza and Jolt racing parties in the living room! In its table based mode, the wheel clamps down and has enough tilt to look and feel like a wheel from an F1 car which is a big improvement over the V3 which didn't have as much tilt ability.

In the same vein, the Saitek set is designed to sell for about $200 and was also demoed with Need for Speed III. The feel of the Saitek wheel is sturdier than the V4 and more ergonomically designed despite its squared-off appearance. The forces were possibly more precise than the V4, but not enough that I can really say for sure. One of the Saitek representatives was bragging that they use the same engine as Microsoft, but I rember the Microsoft wheel from E3 '97 had more precise forces. Once again, maybe it is just sloppy programming in NFS III, but I don't have any way of testing that theory at the show.

The bottom line is that if you are considering buying a Force Feedback wheel set, do yourself a favor and try before you buy, or buy somewhere with a good return policy. I found the V4 to have sloppy and imprecise feedback while the R4 was only slightly better. The Interact model can clamp to a table or sit between your legs, offering the best solution for people with limited desk space. Saitek's wheel only clamps down but has a preferrable feel in the grip. In any case, there isn't anything I have seen yet that can live up to the feel of the arcade games--even the older ones like San Francisco Rush.

Happy (?) driving.

Staff Writer -- Game Zero Magazine

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