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Andretti Racing Wheel

USB or Port

System Req:
IBM PC or Compatible, Win 95, 98, NT 5.0 or higher, Gameport or USB, 2X CD-Rom

Madcatz' Andretti Racing Wheel

Steering Wheel

Background and Setup
To the sim racing community, racing wheels are not only a welcomed addition to anyone's gaming platform to increase the overall realism of a real racing experience, but it also a must if you want to improve lap times are Daytona or beat the Monte Carlo Circuit in Need for Speed to name a few. Nowadays there are a ton of steering wheel developers that are trying to oust their wide competition. Thrustmaster, Madcatz, and Interact are just a few of the peripheral companies. Just recently we got a chance to fool around with Madcatz' popular Andretti Racing Wheel. After putting it through the rigors of an average racing game player on the PC, I have to say that it provides an overall enjoyable experience but a few nagging problems cause it to slip ridiculously in the score.

The second fault with the wheel that made me so mad I felt like tossing the whole damn unit in the trash was the clamp system. Never before have I had to set up a more awkward system! There are two clamps on either side of the steering wheel. To assemble them I had to place a plastic rod through a hole on the bottom of each clamp. After that was complete I had to screw the rod into the base of the wheel. After twenty minutes the rod finally began to screw into the base. I have no idea why the screw didn't catch earlier but it was at a weird angle. Then after I screwed two in, it took another ten to fifteen minutes to tighten the clamps so that they were at my desk's width. Having a large range for the clamps to be able to hold to is good but who has a five inch thick desk?

After completely hooking it up with the USB port, the steering wheel installed with complete and utter simplicity. The booklet that was provide gave me the exact thing that happened on the screen. Good job with that part, Madcatz.

The Pedals
After carrying home the bulky box which contained my new wheel, I noticed how heavy it was. After removing it from the packaging I realized that it was the pedals that lay on the floor that took up most of the weight. That is always a plus on a racing wheel considering not many people can have stationary pedals on the floor that do not move around. With the added weight the pedals are better able to stay in one place after continuous feet motions. The first downside is the pedal movement. Instead of having a range of motion that moves up and down, the Madcatz Andretti Wheel's movement is more front to back. In order to put the pedal to the metal, you have to lift your foot up slightly to get the pedal depressed completely. Because of this the pedals end up in the back of your playing area and a pause every now and then to re-adjust the unit occurs often. Something that helps is a kind of immovable object that fits in between the pedals and the wall if you have a desk against a wall.

The pedals have a bumpy texture, where your heels rest, which helps keep your feet in place. Plus there is a wavy plastic mold that helps 'cup' your heels so they do not slide off the front. As for the pedal size, they are nice and big, large enough for my feet which are size 13. The distance between the accelerator and the brake is a little too much so it is hard to race with one foot like real driving but for those more talented than others, you could pull it off.

The Wheel
As for the wheel, there are a total of 8 customizable buttons including the shifter. There is a POV on the left side of the wheel that rotates in all directions (left, right, up, down, and diagonally) and each direction can be programmed. On the right side are two large, red buttons that are in great distance for the thumb to reach with ease. On the back on both sides are two large buttons that unfortunately work the same way as whatever you program the shifter or vise-versa. Basically, if you program the shifter to downshift and upshift, the buttons on the back will do the same thing. This really sucks when they could just as well been two different sets of buttons that could be individually programmed which would bring the number of unique buttons to 10.

During a race, both the racing wheel and the pedals provide and adequate ammount of resistance which provides a more precise and accurate racing experience. The wheel is always fighting to return to the center position and has not lost a single bit of it's ability to resist even after hours of play. Also, the wheel does not make your arms ache after the 30th lap at Bristol! It is angled at a nice degree to help the old limbs out. Finally, as for stability, the clamps provide plenty of support even though they require a TON of twisting and turning to meld them to you desk.

So far this wheel has not been received well but don't worry there are some redeming features. For one, I love the grip found around the wheel and shifter. There is not to much and it helps when you get sweaty palms when it is down to the wire at Talledega and the intensity starts to show itself in your palms. No slipping occured throughout the entire time I used it.

Last fault that I could find was a clumbsy screw on the bottom of the wheel holding it to the unit that sits on the desk. One time when playing NASCAR Heat this screw feel out onto my lap. After figuring out where in the hell it came from it has become a complete pest. Now, everytime I begin a race I have to tighten the beast. Even during the middle of a race, I am sometimes forced to pause and re-tighten because the wheel starts to wiggle slightly during play. It may be just some small screw but it makes a big difference.

Gameplay Ability
There were a few games that I mainly played with this wheel to get a fell for each type of racer. One type I was not able to try was the Formula 1 series. Sorry, I do not, as of yet, own a Formula 1 racer except for F1 Pole Position for Atari 800. Anyway, the games that I tested were NASCAR Heat, Need for Speed: Porsche Unleashed, and Midtown Madness 2.

NASCAR Heat is the latest NASCAR racer to hit the shelves and I attempted to play it with the keyboard. Boy was I missing out! After receiving the new wheel I immediately set it up and took a few laps around both short and long courses as well as Sears Point. Almost as soon as I installed it I started BLOWING my lap times away! In fact it was more or less around 2 to 3 seconds each. There was definately an improvement. With the nice, fluent motion of the wheel, turns at high speeds or low were accomplished with ease as well as nice, quick manuevers to pass.

Need for Speed: Porsche Unleased was reviewed a few weeks ago and I brought it back out to test. This game I did not fare as well as I did with NASCAR Heat. For one, the wheel did not turn sharp enough but that can be set. Also, I found it really difficult to use the brake when going around a lot of the turns on particular tracks. After a little time I was able to straighten out and perform better. As for the shifter in Porsche Unleased, I absolutely loved it. I would step into a Porsche 911 Turbo and gun the gas in the start and peel out then begin the shifting process. It was scary how much fun manuel now if in Porsche Unleashed. Before I was using the keyboard and shifting was dull.

Midtown Madness 2 is going to be released later this year and the beta is in our hands. With a wheel the game goes from good to fantastic. The quick, arcadey feel is easily accomplished with the Andretti Racing Wheel. The fast return to the center that the wheel has makes turning or avoiding a real quick manuever with little difficulty.

After playing for a while I have come to two conclusions. First of which is that the wheel could have been damn good. The second is that the creators missed a few important factors. If the little screw would stay in, the score would have been really high. The clamps were a little disappointing but I could deal with it because it was a passive problem. Now that it is set up I do not have to worry about it anymore. As for the pedals, a little adjustment is needed but you can learn to deal with it. As for the screw problem, it will ALWAYS be here. There is no way around it. If it would stay in this steering wheel could have scored a really great score. As for the redeeming features that the wheel itself has, the score is saved but not completely.

Racing Game Database Score: