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Review - SteelSeries SRW-S1

In this article Connell takes a look at the SRW-S1 USB racing / simulation wheel from SteelSeries

SteelSeries - Professional Gaming GearSteelSeries - Professional Gaming Gear

Steelseries need no introduction, they are very well known for high quality gaming peripherals with their portfolio including everything from keyboards and mice to headsets, to name their largest and best known. Hoping to cater for racing fans they have released the SRW-S1 steering wheel. It is, however, not a traditional steering wheel such as the Logitech G27, instead following what people have more commonly seen in the Nintendo Wii and with Microsoft's Wireless Speed Wheel. This is in that it uses accelerometers to sense your movement rather than the degree of rotation from a fixed point and thanks to this isn't attached to anything. With the great number of racing games available to fans and enthusiasts, there has never been a better time for a product like this with the aim that it bridges the gap between control methods without requiring the space and cost of a full blown set up. That's all good and well but it's down to how it performs so, let's give it a spin and see shall we?

Starting with the build quality and general layout, there's nothing to fault here at all. With a soft and grippy rubber feel, it's not something you're going to be uncomfortable holding or that will slip from your hands should they get warm and sweaty. The general construction is solid with no flex, give or worries as to the durability of the wheel. The buttons are clearly set out with labels to let you know their function in Simraceway. Three knobs are also present to allow you to change the wheel's sensitivity and alter the levels of assistance that Simraceway gives you. The paddles on the back are large and comfortable to use with the gear shifts, clicking to signify that they have been pressed. The throttle and brake ones however allow you to be gentle and press partially/progressively or go full on. The final control we have is the d-pad which will be no problem at all for navigating menus and the like when the time calls for it. Also of note are the 15 LEDs at the top of the wheel which in Simraceway will natively show the rev counter. For those playing other games capable of external RPM indication on steering wheels Steeleries provide an application to allow it to work with the SRW-S1.

SteelSeries - SRW-S1 Racing WheelSteelSeries - SRW-S1 Racing Wheel

To give this wheel a good testing I tried multiple racing games covering various subgenres of the racing genre. These included simulation and rally with the three games being Simraceway, Dirt 3 and NFS: Shift 2 Unleashed. Simraceway is the game the wheel is designed for so this is where it should shine and really come into its own but did it?

Putting it as honestly as possible, I can't really say it did. It was great to be able to hop straight in with the game recognising the wheel and every button properly but that was about it. The sensitivity is probably the biggest part of it all and although it's great that it's easy to adjust it means that you have to spend time in a somewhat trial and error fashion tuning it to what suits you. Even after all of that, as I found out, it may not be enough with the problem I suffered wanting a hybrid of two settings. Eventually I had to either settle for one or the other with one option being that it was too sensitive and I'd turn a corner, try to straighten back up then go to turning the other way with this being a continued cycle of weaving down the track. The other compromise was it not being sensitive enough that on the sharp corners I just couldn't turn quickly enough but long sweeping corners were no problem. This is absolutely ground breaking when you're trying to be accurate and precise - what else would you expect in a simulation game? - but with the combination of sensitivity and the wheel not being attached to anything this is awkward. Making other changes was great, the wheel having the buttons already on there was handy though it takes some time to get used to where the buttons are otherwise you're driving into walls thanks to looking at the wheel to check the label next to each button. Moving away from the wheel for a moment, Simraceway does leave you longing for something better with its old of date graphics and occurrences of dodgy mechanics. Although it's a free to play, if you want the game to be more interesting and more involving then you need to fork out for other cars and so on - though the SRW-S1 does come with a $10 card to offset this and its high price slightly.

Sadly, Dirt 3 and Shift 2 told similar stories to the above handling issues although just taking longer to get to this stage. Because neither of these games recognise the wheel natively it has to be setup as a generic steering wheel in the settings. While Steelseries help you out with some recommended settings for a couple of games (Need for Speed and F1 2011) to get you going it's down to you to configure these and, if need be, tailor them to your style. This can be time consuming and off putting initially but it's all down to how the product performs and your experience afterwards that makes this worthwhile. Unfortunately, like I said before, due to the sensitivity of relying on accelerometers and the wheel not being attached to anything, you just end up with aching arms from having to work ever so hard to correct yourself or having to go so slowly to allow you the time to react carefully that you're not competitive.

Bringing this to something of a conclusion then, I must admit to not being the most keen on this but also being a touch confused too. For a product aimed at the simulation games and fans, it lacks in the ability to convey precise movements and finesse - exactly what you're after in the sort of games it's targeted at! I'd personally much rather use a wired Xbox 360 controller for games such as Dirt 3 or Shift 2 or, if looking to spend a bit more, then buy a proper steering wheel. I understand that not everyone has the space or desire for one but compared to the outlay of the SRW-S1 and how it performs it's not much of an alternative.