Fanatec Speedster 3 Force Shock Wheel Review

This is hands down the best wheel you can buy for the original Xbox. Solid construction, great design, amazingly realistic force feedback, and outstanding performance with each and every game we tried with it make the Speedster 3 wheel from Fanatec very easy to recommend. It carries a $150 price tag, which seems high considering that the Xbox itself is only $150, but if you are a big racing game fan it is money well spent because this wheel is awesome.

Steering Wheels = More Fun

I started my review of the Mad Catz MC2 Universal Wheel a few months ago with a warning that using a steering wheel peripheral probably won’t make you a better videogame driver. I still stand by that statement, but I will say that you’ll learn things and improve much more quickly with the Speedster 3 wheel than other wheels because this is simply a higher quality wheel.

Using a wheel is one of the most satisfying ways to play games because you not only get the thrill of building your car in games such as Forza Motorsport and NFSU2, but you also get the enjoyment of taking your creation out on the road and getting a reasonably realistic feel for how it performs. How else are you going to ever drive a Dodge Viper or tricked out Nissan Skyline at 200+MPH other than in a videogame? With a wheel, particularly the Speedster 3, you get many of the same thrills without all of the expense or the danger and I think that is a pretty fair trade.

It isn’t exactly the same as a real car and for most people it isn’t going to improve your lap times, but it is considerably more fun and that is what counts.

Features

The Speedster 3 comes with a steering wheel unit with paddle shifters, a foot pedal unit, a clamp to mount the steering wheel to a table (you can also sit it on your lap, of course), and a power source.

There are twelve buttons on the steering wheel which cover the A,B,X,Y, White, Black, and left and right thumbstick buttons along with Back and Start buttons. The two F1-style paddle shifters can be programmed to perform any function you want, which is very handy for games where an emergency brake or nitrous button are important. A d-pad sits in the center of the wheel and a second racecar-style start button is located on the dash to the left of the wheel.

That is all pretty standard stuff, though. The features that make the Speedster 3 stand at the head of the class are the tuning options and force feedback. There is a motor inside the wheel which reacts to what is happening on the race track and provides resistance when you turn just like a real car. You can also tune dead zone, sensitivity, resistance, force feedback, and more to make the wheel perform exactly how you want it to. Another nice feature is there are memory card slots on the wheel unit so you can easily use a headset with Xbox Live.

Setup

In the box you’ll find a steering wheel unit, pedal unit, mounting clamp, and power source. All you have to do is plug the pedals and power source into the steering wheel and the steering wheel into your Xbox and you are good to go.

It is a bit annoying, I have to admit, to have a separate power source for the wheel (because I have too darn many things plugged in already) but it really lets you know just how much power is behind the force feedback motor. When you turn on your Xbox, the wheel will automatically calibrate itself and it is pretty cool to see it moving by itself. There are preset configurations for Forza Motorsport, Need for Speed Underground, and TOCA Race Driver 2 and I actually found these settings worked just fine for all of the other games I tried with the wheel. There is also an open configuration slot that you can set up however you want, but for most people it won’t be necessary.

If you do want to tweak the settings, you can adjust dead zone, sensitivity, steering resistance, force feedback filter, and vibration to create a perfect setup for whatever game you are playing. Like I said, though, the presets do a fine job on their own.

Performance

Once you get everything set up and get to racing, the Speedster 3 is unrivaled. The feel of the wheel when you are driving is absolutely spectacular because it really does feel like a real car. When you try to turn at high speeds you are met with resistance and when you slam into the wall the wheel will shake back and forth and really let you know you are in trouble. Something else I really, really like (and this might sound dumb) is that you can actually drive straight with this wheel. Other wheels are so sensitive that you have to constantly make adjustments to drive down the road and oftentimes the wheels are so sensitive that your small adjustments end up bigger than you intended. With the Speedster 3, thanks in large part to the steering resistance, it is easy to make smooth, controlled turns and corrections and it is almost as if the wheel won’t let you make big dumb mistakes. You have precise control over everything your car does and it just feels great.

Arcade Gamer? Sim Gamer? No Problem!

I used the Speedster 3 wheel with several racing games and it performed well with all of them with little to no tuning required. The wheel was designed in cooperation with Microsoft and the Forza Motorsport team, so you know it is absolutely perfect for that game, but every other game works just as well. I played it with Need for Speed Underground 2, Project Gotham Racing 2, RalliSport Challenge 2, Burnout 3, Midnight Club 3, NASCAR 2005, and even Crazy Taxi 3 and it worked beautifully with all of them. No matter what type of racing games you like, whether it is arcade or simulation, the Speedster 3 is great with all of them so don’t be turned away from the wheel just because you aren’t a big fan of Forza.

Design and Construction

The look and feel of the wheel and pedal units themselves also deserves to be praised. The wheel is made of hard plastic but has rubberized grips where you’ll be holding onto it and it feels great. The pedal assembly is longer than most wheels I have used but the extra space where your heels go is covered in soft rubber that makes driving very comfortable. The pedals themselves are designed in such a way that the brake pedal is a little stiffer than the accelerator which is realistic and feels just right. I’m also very pleased with the look of the unit. From the dash mounted start button to the LED tuning display to the brushed aluminum looking (they’re really plastic) foot pedals to the design of the wheel itself (complete with 6 allen bolt mounting system) everything about this wheel looks like it came straight out of a race car. It all looks and feels gorgeous and it is very strong as well. The construction is very beefy and solid so you definitely don’t have to baby it.

Bottom Line

All in all, the Fanatec Speedster 3 Force Shock Wheel is the absolute best wheel you can get for the Xbox. It is nearly perfect in both its design and performance and I think you definitely get your money’s worth for the $150 price tag. The Speedster 3 actually presents an interesting situation because it is priced at a point where only hardcore racing fans are really going to be interested in it, but it performs so well and is so easy to use that it is the sort of wheel that casual fans really should be using instead of cheaper wheels because you will enjoy the experience that much more. I don’t expect too many casual race fans to invest in a wheel that is this expensive, but I promise that if you do you won’t regret it. Hardcore racing fans will absolutely love the Speedster 3 because it is far and away the best wheel you can buy for the Xbox. If you are serious about playing Forza or Midnight Club 3 or any of the other great racing games on Xbox, you owe it to yourself to get the Speedster 3 because it really does make a difference. The Fanatec Speedster 3 Force Shock is solid in every way and I highly recommend it.

Buy Fanatec Speedster 3 at Amazon.com