Being a practical kind of guy, the first thing that strikes me whenever I'm faced with a console steering wheel is, "how the hell will this work in the lounge?" But we're in hardcore driving gamer territory here, so practicality be damned. Logistics and living arrangements temporarily go out of the window and absolute commitment to sexy gadgetry takes over. You've got lap times to improve. What do you mean I can't put the table there? No you can't watch Relocation Relocation.
Yes, this is serious business, albeit on a budget. Some of you might reason that spending GBP 90 on a gaming peripheral to shave 0.1 second off your best lap time is going a bit far, and you'd be right. As much as I love these things, experience suggests it'll spend most of its life hogging cupboard space and the rest of it annoying your housemates. But for the time you spend playing the average driving game, your inner geek wins the argument, because you're worth it. In the case of the recently released Driving Force GT, this is Logitech's attempt at budget luxury, in that it's roughly half the price of the flagship G25 but retains most of its features. Win.
As you'd expect, the construction isn't as lavish as The Daddy. Instead of a lavish leather wheel, we have to be content with high-quality moulded plastic 11-incher with a slightly rubbery feel. Instead of a three-pedal unit with a clutch, you get the usual two pedals. Instead of a proper, realistic press-down-and-pull separate gearshift unit, it's integrated. Compromises, yes, but fortunately not too many to detract from what is an excellent unit. For the price difference, you won't mind - and if you do, save up and get the full banana.
Set-up is straightforward, requiring little more than connecting the wheel to the pedal unit, plugging the USB connector into the PS3, powering it up and looking on curiously while it makes a series of fretful whirring self-check noises. With no driver disks or set-up procedures required, it's hassle-free, and booting up Gran Turismo 5 Prologue demonstrates that the game instantly knows the device is attached. Further worried whirring occurs on boot-up, and you're in.
The wheel itself houses all the functionality of a joypad - and a little bit more - so you never have to reach for a DualShock. There's a d-pad on the left side, the face buttons on the right, the PS button and GT 'horn' in the middle, and select and start buttons, along with L3/R3 buttons at the top, with L2/R2 on the inner frame and discreet paddles on the back of the wheel. The gearshift is a basic forward/back type, and the integrated clamp unit makes it not only easy to fit, but ensures you'll never lose any of the parts.
One rather cool new addition is the 24-position adjustment dial. Located within easy reach of your right thumb, true racing sim aficionados can make real-time tweaks on the fly to traction control, spring rates, damper settings, brake bias and the like. Configurable to control whatever you decide, it's certainly a sign of just who this wheel is aimed at. It's a long way from Pole Position.
As has been the case for a long time now, the actual in-game feel of the Logitech wheel is unsurpassed. Every subtle change of surface transmits itself brilliantly, and the feeling of resistance transforms even the dullest practice session into something exciting. You'll find yourself driving the race with a great deal more care than usual, and the ability to make much finer adjustments than on a joypad is immediately apparent.
Over time, there's no doubting that, in the right hands, using a wheel would make you a much more proficient driver - and possibly make the game more fun in the process. Feedback levels can be varied accordingly to taste, from mild to almost pneumatic drill levels. The strange noises of the motors inside the unit are a little off-putting, but it's a small negative on an otherwise-impressive driving experience.
Elsewhere, Logitech's fond of mentioning the addition of full 900-degree rotation, so we will too for the benefit of those who like spinning the wheel around two and a half times before they hit lock in either direction. Apparently there are a fair few cars in Gran Turismo 5 Prologue that take full advantage of this feature, although for the purposes of an everyday spin in the game it's probably overkill.
On the downside, the lack of feedback in the pedal base feels like an oversight these days. In some respects, it feels like you're only getting a portion of the driving experience, and it's arguable that full hand and feet feedback would go a long way to delivering a much more complete feeling of being behind the wheel. That said, the cost would undoubtedly shoot up, so it's easy to see why they don't bother. Big tick, though, for including a retractable carpet-gripper on the base. For once you can rely on it not slipping at a crucial moment.
Overall I enjoyed going for a spin with the Logitech Driving Force GT, and with GT5 Prologue already demonstrating its prowess, there's a good reason to go and get it already. With the full GT5 to follow, as well as obvious candidates like Codemasters' new Formula 1 title in the pipeline, this is definitely worth checking out.