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Sony PlayStation Move Racing Wheel review: Sony simplifies racing-wheel setup

The new Sony PlayStation Move Racing wheel makes for easy setup and offers precise control over cars in PS3 racing games, but comes out a year later than Microsoft's wheel for the Xbox 360.

Wayne_Cunningham.jpg
Wayne Cunningham
Wayne_Cunningham.jpg
Wayne Cunningham Managing Editor / Roadshow

Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.

5 min read

When I want to immerse myself in a racing game, I drag my Logitech Driving Force GT wheel out, clamp it to a makeshift bench, and set the pedals on the floor. The lengthy setup means I don't use it all that much. With the wireless Move Racing Wheel, Sony sets out to remove the inconvenience of a big, fixed racing wheel, but ends up sacrificing some of the immersion.

Sony Playstation Move Racing Wheel,
8.0

Sony PlayStation Move Racing Wheel

The Good

Easy to set up, the <b>Sony PlayStation Move Racing Wheel</b> delivers precision steering in racing games. The handles fold out, turning the wheel into motorcycle handlebars.

The Bad

You must have the Move motion controller system to use the Move Racing Wheel. You can't charge the Move baton without removing it from the wheel.

The Bottom Line

Despite a couple of limitations, the Sony Move Racing Wheel performs well, delivering a good sense of steering a car in racing games, and is much easier to set up than a full racing wheel.

An accessory for the PlayStation Move motion controller system, the Move Racing Wheel adds a relatively cheap, versatile means of making it feel like you are steering the cars in racing games. Instead of an actual wheel, you grip two vertical handles sticking down from the plastic Move Racing Wheel. Turning the entire apparatus on an imaginary pivot point at its center causes the motion control accessory to turn a vehicle's wheels in a PlayStation 3 game.

The X, square, circle, and triangle buttons sit above the right handle, while the directional buttons sit above the left. Triggers at the back of the handles work for actions such as accelerating or braking. A clever feature is that the handles can be opened out, making the Move Racing Wheel resemble motorcycle handlebars. The right handle turns like a motorcycle accelerator, as well.

The big caveat with the Move Racing Wheel is that it works only with the Move motion controller system. You have to insert one of the Move batons through the center of the wheel, plugging it into an accessory port in the base of the baton. Slipping the baton into place requires maneuvering the wrist strap through the hole and around the port.

One flaw I find is that, with the baton plugged into the Move Racing Wheel, the baton's charging port is covered. To recharge the baton, you need to unplug it from the wheel, as there is no pass-through charging port.

Kart and car
Testing the Move Racing Wheel with LittleBigPlanet Karting, Burnout Paradise, and Gran Turismo 5 led to some arm-twisting antics and a few lessons in ergonomics. For each game, trying to hold the wheel in front of my chest like a real steering wheel made it difficult to control the cars, throwing off the motion controller. It also quickly became uncomfortable, although the wheel isn't very heavy. Propping my elbows on my knees reduced the strain and, more importantly, kept the wheel steadier. Of course, you wouldn't drive a real car in this position, hence reducing the immersion afforded by a fixed racing wheel. There are no pedals.

Sony PlayStation Move Racing Wheel
The standard PS3 control buttons sit above the right handle, and are easy to tap while driving. James Martin/CNET

In LittleBigPlanet Karting, the lack of a realistic car feel from the controller was offset by the whimsical and imaginary nature of the game. The wheel was well-suited for the game's controls: the drift and weapon buttons were easily tapped while steering the karts. The precision of the controller was truly impressive, as I was able to turn heavily or lightly, affecting the onscreen kart's turn appropriately. However, I still felt the lack of a fixed pivot compromised precision.

The Move Racing Wheel remains useful when deciding which of the LittleBigPlanet Karting worlds to visit, and works for selecting new costumes and kart decorations with the directional buttons. But it doesn't work very well for the creation aspect of the game, where the standard PS3 controller is the better choice.

In Burnout Paradise, the Move Racing Wheel steers the cars available in the game, with the right trigger serving as the accelerator. The left trigger conveniently puts the car in reverse. As with the standard PS3 controller, the square button hits the brakes and the X activates boost. With this game in particular, it helps to support elbows on knees or another surface, as it quickly gets out of control trying to hold the wheel aloft while steering.

For the motorcycles in Burnout Paradise, I opened out the handles to better simulate handlebars. Instead of turning the wheel, the game supported me holding it flat and angling it down to either side, resulting in my virtual rider leaning to right or left into a turn. However, keeping a steady line with the motorcycle proved very difficult due to the loose nature of the wheel.

Sony PlayStation Move Racing Wheel
With the handles folded out, the Move Racing Wheel simulated motorcycle handle bars. James Martin/CNET

The controls went a little haywire when I tried to select different vehicles from the junkyard. Any minor tilt of the Move Racing Wheel caused the cars in the selection strip to zip by. Similarly, once I had chosen a vehicle, accidentally tilting the wheel shot through all the different paint options. On this screen, it worked best to set the wheel down and just use the directional buttons to choose a car.

The simulator
The precision of the Move Racing Wheel really stood out in Gran Turismo 5. The game's strong simulation supports delicate steering adjustments, which I was able to enact with slight movements of the wheel. That precision made the game very enjoyable and gave the experience a somewhat immersive quality, especially when using the in-cabin view for the cars.

The default button mapping, similar to that of the standard PS3 controller, doesn't work very well, as the X button is the accelerator. That means acceleration is either on or off, with nothing in between, and the same with the braking. Using manual shifting, it is even more of a mess, as you shift using the triggers.

I remapped the buttons to use the right trigger for acceleration and the left for braking, which also let me take advantage of the paddles built onto the sides of the wheel's inner circle. With the paddles mapped as the shifters, manual shifting became almost usable. The paddles are positioned a little low, and I had to stretch my fingers away from the handles to hit them. Ultimately, my manual dexterity became stretched to its limits, when trying to use fingers on the triggers for braking and acceleration, and other fingers on the paddles for shifts, all while trying to hold the handles to steer the car. Maybe an F1 driver could do it smoothly, but not me.

The Move Racing Wheel itself had no built-in force feedback, although I could feel it vibrating a bit as I went over rumble strips on the track apexes. That vibration was coming from the Move baton inserted into the wheel, the feedback from which was imperfectly transmitted through the wheel to my hands.

Microsoft released its Wireless Speed Wheel for the Xbox 360 last year, lapping Sony's Move Racing Wheel release. Microsoft's wheel has the advantage of not requiring an additional controller bundle, and includes a built-in rumble function. However, there is little point in comparing the two, since they are wedded to different gaming systems.

Sony's Move Racing Wheel is a big step up from the standard PS3 controller for racing games, as it does a better job of modulating steering. I was impressed with how well it worked in the games with which I tested it. If you already have a Move motion controller system and enjoy racing games, I would recommend it. However, it is no substitute for a fixed-wheel system when it comes to hard-core racing simulation.