Taking Racing Games a Step Further

Thrustmaster’s TX series of wheels aim for pro features at midrange prices

I remember very distinctly the first racing game I had ever played and where.  It was in the basement of a hotel in Billings, MT where I first put a couple of quarters through the ATARI Night Driver arcade machine.  It was a very basic simulator with white dots coming at you as if they were reflectors on poles.  The game had a wheel and four gears available through a shifter.  It had an accelerator and no brake.  It was the simplest racing game a person could play.  I was pretty young, so it was not as fun to me because I did not do well actually playing it.  Like most kids that age, fun is in the anticipation of playing and putting the quarter in rather than learning the intricacies of a game.

Throughout the years there were distinct improvements.  I played Pole Position and Enduro on the ATARI 2600, I had my first PC racer with Test Drive (the Ferrari Testarossa was my favorite vehicle) using only the keyboard.  I took a break for a few years and did not get back into racing games until I attended the 3dfx T-buffer demo when I saw the latest NFS 4 (High Stakes) played at 1024×768 with AA enabled.  Sure, it looked like the cars were covered in baby oil, but that was not a bad thing at the time.

One of the real breakthrough titles for me was NFS: Porsche Unleashed.  EA worked with Porsche to create a game that was much closer to a simulation than the previous arcade racers.  It was not perfect, but it was one of the first titles to support Force Feedback in racing.  I purchased a Microsoft Sidewinder Force Feedback 2 joystick.  The addition of FFB was a tremendous improvement in the game as I could feel the tires start to slip and experience the increased resistance to turns.  This was my first real attempt at a racing game and actually completing it.  I still have fond memories and it would be great to get a remastered version with better graphics and physics, while still retaining the simulation roots.

After PU I again stopped playing racers.  The release of Project Gotham racing for the XBox rekindled that a bit, but I soon tired of the feel of the controller and the rumble rather than real FFB effects.  Fast forward to Quakecon 2009 when I saw the first gameplay videos of the upcoming DiRT 2.  This title was one of the first to adopt DX11 that would push the HD 5800 and GTX 480 video cards for all they were worth.  This re-ignited my desire to race.  I purchased DiRT 2 as soon as it was available for the PC and played with the aging (but still solid) Sidewinder FFB P2.

The box was a little beat up when it got to me, but everything was intact.

Something was missing though.  I really wanted more out of my racing game.  The last time I had used a wheel on a racing game was probably an Outrun arcade machine in the late 80s.  I did some shopping around and decided on the Thrustmaster F430 Ferrari FFB wheel.  It was on sale at the time for a low, low price of $76.  It had a 270 degree rotation which is more apt for arcade racers than sims, but it was a solid wheel for not a whole lot of money.  It was a fantastic buy for the time and helped turn me into a racing enthusiast.

During this time I purchased my kids a couple of low end wheels that use the bungee cord centering mechanism.  These of course lack any FFB features, but the Genius one I acquired was supposed to have some basic feedback and rumble effects: it never worked as such.  So, my experience to this point has been joysticks, bungee wheels, and a 270 degree F430 wheel.  This does not make me an expert, but it does provide an interesting background for the jump to a higher level of product.

The TX F458 Ferrari Italia Edition

This particular wheel is the lowest priced option of their upper end TX series of wheels and bases.  The older F430 I had used before had a non-detachable wheel and the base was powered by a single motor attached to a mixed belt and helical gear system.  The TX series uses a full dual belt and pulley system with what they term as “an industrial-class brushless motor”.

The very first thing we see is the warning to read the directions first and update the firmware on the wheel!

The base unit is used across a couple of products in the Thrustmaster lineup, but this one is meant for the PC and XBox One.  This is a slightly older and less expensive base than what is found on higher end parts with a corresponding higher price.  The base has up to 900 degrees of rotation as compared to other bases that have up to 1080 degrees.  This is obviously a massive improvement over the 270 degrees of the F430.

The wheel itself is a replica of that found in the Ferrari F458, but 7/10 the size of the real.  The wheel itself is detachable with the (somewhat) quick release attachment found on Thrustmaster products.  This quick release is a screw-on sleeve that is locked by a smaller screw once it is tightly attached.  This takes a minute or so to put on or take off, so do not expect a fast release like what we see on professional race cars.  The wheel features 10 buttons plus a D-pad disguised as the starter button.  The paddle shifters are large metal units attached to the back of the wheel and not the base unit.

It does not have a huge amount of packaging, but it again arrived undamaged and intact.

The TX F458 comes with a two pedal unit rather than the 3 pedal unit the higher end models show up with.  Considering that the setup does not include the 8 speed shifter, a clutch is not necessarily needed.  If a user does in fact purchase the 8 speed shifter they can upgrade the pedals to the lower end T3PA unit, or the top end T3PA-Pro.  The acceleration pedal has a long travel throw while the brake features progressive resistance.

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