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Xbox Wireless Speed Wheel: almost perfect, close to failure

The Xbox Wireless Speed Wheel is a great racing wheel for the not-so-serious race game fan. Just be prepared to put up with one deeply annoying exclusion.

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Do you like racing games? But not quite so much you'd buy a serious racing wheel system? The Xbox Wireless Speed Wheel might be exactly what you're looking for. Just be prepared to put up with one deeply annoying exclusion.

I put myself into the "loves a good racing game, not hardcore about it" category. Overall, I find the bog-standard Xbox 360 controller to be fine for enjoying a game now and then, but something a little more immersive would be great. With the recent release of the Xbox 360 Wireless Speed Wheel at an entirely reasonable AU$59.95, this seems like a golden ticket.

The controller has a U-shaped design that gives a good steering wheel feel in the hands, and tilting the control left and right gives you a fast, confident steering response in-game. Perfectionists will be able to find a few niggles to complain about compared to cockpit options on the market, but for those playing for general entertainment this is a real pleasure to work with.

The speed wheel also has rumble feedback just like you'd expect from any other controller, and the triggers have a nice deep range so you can be very precise in how you use the throttle and brake.

There have been some complaints about discomfort during extended sessions of play. If you choose to hold the controller out in the air in front of you at a steering wheel height, your arms will inevitably grow tired and you'll be looking for a break after just a few races. But by holding the controller lower and resting lightly in your lap you can quickly find a comfort zone where you get all the benefits without treating it like an upper body workout.

So far it all points to a "must-have" controller for many. But there's a "but". A bizarre "but". A "but" so strange you wonder how the designers got away with it. Like someone who drives to work only to discover they forgot to put their pants on, the Xbox 360 Wireless Speed Wheel has no shoulder buttons.

Nice controller, shame about the buttons. (Credit: CNET)

This is an astonishing exclusion. It makes no sense at all. There has to be some silly reason someone decided this controller didn't need them, or didn't have room for them, but it means there are parts of most racing games you cannot use.

Take Forza 4, for example. A game available as a bundle pack with the Xbox Wireless Speed Wheel. For starters, the game lets you use shoulder buttons to change gears like a flappy paddle gearbox (the alternative is to use the D-pad). It also has message and community features that can only be accessed via the shoulder buttons. It really seems like three different teams designed different parts of the Speed Wheel and everyone assumed someone else was doing the shoulder buttons.

If you can live with that one, gross imperfection this is still a great racing controller. Gear shifting and the occasional controller swap to get in and out of some menus could be deal breakers for some, but the price makes it forgivable if you really are just in it for the fun of a good race experience.