While much of what makes a video game great is in the code, having a good controller is vital, too. The basic factory controllers from Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo are quite good, but sometimes you need a little more customization, or in the case of our favorite racing games, something more like a real car. So we’ve gathered some solid choices to help you control your virtual rides a little better.
As great as an electronic steering wheel is, it’s not always practical to have a big piece of gaming equipment taking up space. But fear not; there are some more conventional controllers that provide some customization or at least more comfort and precision for gameplay. We’ve highlighted controllers for the Nintendo Switch and Xbox One. We're not suggesting a controller for the PlayStation 4 since there isn’t an official upgrade from the company, which means the default controller is still probably your best bet for handheld inputs.
Though a bit pricey, the Xbox One Elite Wireless controller delivers an impressive amount of customization to make sure you have the most comfortable gaming experience. There are 4 separate analog stick designs and two types of directional pads to select from. It also has a set of paddles that can be fitted to the underside of the controller. These can perform the same functions as the face buttons but in a potentially more accessible position. An in-system app allows you to adjust the sensitivity of analog inputs. The controller is compatible with both the Xbox One and Windows 10 PCs. There’s even a special Porsche and Forza licensed version of the controller floating around on the internet, but at this point it's basically a collector's item. If you have one, consider us jealous!
The Nintendo Switch’s Joy-Con controllers are clever bits of technology, but they aren’t the most comfortable for long periods of time, and the buttons and switches don’t offer the best feel. The Nintendo Switch Pro Controller improves both of these issues. It’s shaped very much like the Xbox One Controller with analog sticks and directional pad in the same locations. It’s far more comfortable for those with larger hands. The large trigger buttons are handy, too. It’s a great upgrade from the basic Joy-Cons, and at $69.99 it's no more expensive than a normal Xbox One or PlayStation 4 controller.
If you have the space, one of the most immersive ways to play a racing game is with a steering wheel controller. They’ve become better over the years, adding more degrees of turning and gaining clutch pedals and shift levers. The cost and quality range significantly, so we’ve highlighted a couple of options: a mid-level wheel and a high-end model that represent solid starting points.
Logitech has been making racing wheels for many years. Our staff has owned several of them, and Autoblog currently uses a Logitech G920 wheel for our livestreams. It and its PlayStation 4-compatible G29 twin are all-around solid choices. They come with a nice leather-wrapped steering wheel, a pedal set with gas, brake and clutch, and 900 degrees of steering rotation from lock-to-lock for a more realistic feel. They also feature force feedback to help you feel bumps, curbs and the odd, unfortunate wall. Both wheels are compatible with PC and Mac, too, so you can migrate them from console to computer. If you’re a fan of Gran Turismo, the G29 has additional buttons for making on-the-fly car adjustments in the game, and it’s compatible with the wheel’s LED rev indicator. The brake pedal has a fairly firm feel that’s closer to a real car than some past examples. You can also add an H-Pattern shifter for $59.99 for an even more realistic experience.
Fanatec offers high-quality racing wheels that carry stiff price tags. We’ve put together the basics for a PC, PS4 or Xbox One setup. If you want to go fancier, you can pick and choose parts to upgrade in the future. This basic set of CSL Elite parts includes the actual wheel base that records your inputs and has the force feedback motors, the wheel with all the buttons, and a set of pedals.
The wheel base features an extra 180 degrees of rotation over the Logitech, getting closer to a real wheel. You can adjust how much of that you actually use, too, in case you’re simulating a car with much faster steering. The pedals have a large range of adjustment, so you can space them out if you have large feet. There’s plenty of room to add a third pedal for a clutch, too. The steering wheel is wrapped in Alcantara, and features shift lights and a digital tachometer in the rim.
Fanatec’s upgrades are extensive. As we mentioned, you can add a clutch pedal, and there’s a “load-cell” upgrade for the brake that measures pedal pressure for your brake inputs rather than travel, giving you very realistic braking modulation. You can add either an H-pattern or sequential shift lever, and there’s even support for a handbrake lever.
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