Mad Catz Universal MC2
When it comes to driving in video games, it all boils down to the feel of the game. If you can't properly sync that mental connection between you, your car, and your controller, the race is over. To that end, a wheel-and-pedal setup provide more intuitive control than conventional controllers. Playing with a regular controller gives you a relatively finite level of precision and feedback in comparison to a wheel. Unfortunately, this doesn't guarantee that any wheel will automatically be better. The Mad Catz Universal MC2 racing wheel offers a number of benefits to the racing enthusiast, but we found it lacking in a few crucial areas.
The Universal MC2 is exceedingly versatile in terms of console support and very easy to set up. It has hookups for all the major consoles: Xbox, PS2, and GameCube. Hooking it up to a console and rolling into a game couldn't be easier. Unlike a number of other wheels, you can actually plug this one in while the game is already on. Most other wheels need to be plugged in prior to turning on the console.
Setup involved nothing more than plugging one wire into the wheel and one into the console and placing the unit on a table. The underside of the Universal MC2 has three giant suction cups to keep it in place. Unless you really jerk the wheel around, it isn't likely to move very much. Three small rubber tabs on the suction cups make it easier to detach the wheel after you're finished.
You also have the option of playing with the wheel on your lap, which, in all likelihood, will be easiest for most folks, as living-room coffee tables don't exactly make the best driving platforms. In order to make laptop playing easier, the underside of the Universal MC2 has curves molded to match the shape of your legs. Once the wheel is on your lap, you can pull out the extractable leg supports that allow you to essentially wrap the wheel around your thighs. The thigh-hugging design combination makes for the most comfortable nontable driving option we've ever used. Of course, depending on the size of your frame, the wheel will have varying levels of comfort.
Mad Catz designed the pedal housing and structure with the same attention to detail as the wheel section. With eight separate rubberized grips, the pedals proved quite difficult to shove around on a carpeted surface. If you aren't a two-footed driver (one who assigns each foot to a pedal), you can use the extra foot area on the left side of the pedal structure for additional stability.
Unfortunately, for all the physical design elements that went into the Universal MC2 racing wheel, our experiences with the controls were less than stellar. Loose and uncontrollable are two words that accurately describe the Universal MC2. Actions such as driving along a curve or executing a lane change aren't particularly easy to master while using this wheel. With other wheels, we grew accustomed to the different levels of sensitivity and control within minutes. Even after playing with the Universal MC2 for prolonged periods, we truly weren't much better off. When rounding corners in Gran Turismo, we rarely had any concept of how far to turn the wheel, forcing numerous course corrections. We switched over to the arcade racer Need for Speed Underground 2, and found that the cartoonlike physics of this game were equally unpredictable.
In all but the most sensitive of modes, the Universal MC2 has vast regions of dead range. Even with the sensitivity cranked up, the wheel doesn't feel very tight or responsive. At the slightest turns or course corrections, we were left to second-guess ourselves, forcing us to countersteer on numerous occasions. Simply put, we never felt comfortable driving with the wheel.