This is what I've learned during a week of playing with the Thrustmaster T300RS: People who use powerful force feedback wheels and pedals for their racing games are kind of nuts.
This is a $400 product, so it cost as much as the console itself, and you're going to need to dedicate a fair amount of space and even construction to use the thing properly.
I'm not joking about the construction aspect of the wheel, either. The wheel itself uses a built-in clamp to attach to the edge of a table or any other load-bearing structure — as an Ikea fan I had just the thing already — but trying to keep the pedals in place as I learned how to brake into and accelerate out of the corners proved to be a frustrating mess.
I took to Twitter to ask racing fans as they fixed this apparently common problem in racing wheels, and the answers that came back involved building a custom racing rig, which seems excessive, or straight-up sinking anchors into my floor to lock it in place, which made the custom cockpit suggestion seem reasonable.
People who drop bank on racing peripherals get crazy with their use, and as a beginner I took the middle ground and simply taped the wheels to my floor with layer upon layer of clear packing tape. You can see the resulting mess, but hey. It worked!
Connect the hardware itself was easy: You have the power cable, a USB connection that runs to the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3 or your PC and a cable that runs from the wheel to the pedals. My setup and installation jobs looks a bit janky, granted, and even that took me about an hour to get running. If you're a true fan I'm guessing you're going to set up something a bit more permanent and likely pleasing to the eye. But enough of this, how does it feel?
This is the way to do it
The T300RS has all the expected bells and whistles of a serious racing wheel, from the surprisingly strong force feedback to the ability to turn 1080 degrees. It feels powerful in your hands, and the paddles on either side of the wheel that you use to shift likewise have a great heft to them. The wheel is well-constructed and gives the sense of something that means business, which is what you're looking for when you're dropping this much money on equipment.
I tested the wheel with DriveClub and, while I expected to have a finer level of control over my car using the pedals and wheel instead of the more abstract gamepad controls, I wasn't ready for the intimacy you get from the effective use of force feedback.
You can feel when your tires have traction on the road
When you crash, and I crashed often while getting used to driving in this manner, I was half scared of the wheel jumping out of my hands and taking the table with it. The force feedback is strong, and eerily quiet. It feels and sounds like something reacting to the car and the road, not the internal mechanism used to fake your brain into believing you're actually behind the wheel.
It's neat to feel the shudder and shake of a big wreck, or to deal with the sudden jerking pressure of a car slamming into you from the side, the real draw is the fact the force feedback gives you information about how well or poorly you're driving.
You can feel when your tires have traction on the road, and using that feeling to time your brakes and acceleration is amazing.
On the other hand, the sense of fear when you lose that traction and the wheel goes limp in your hands as you dovetail around the track adds an extra layer of brute panic to near-crashes, and it feels wonderful when you learn how to carefully navigate each turn using all the information from the game and the wheel itself.
It didn't take long for me to understand why people spend this much on racing peripherals. It didn't feel like a better way to play, exactly. It felt like an entirely different game. While the pedals themselves don't offer any feedback, it's easier to be precise in your braking, and the peripheral gives you plenty of tension when you push down.
There is a list of games that take advantage of the force feedback functions, so make sure it's fully compatible with your favorite games before taking the plunge. That being said, this is the most fun I've had with a racing game in some time, even it took a while to set everything up correctly.
As racing wheels go this is a big investment, and you'll need to figure out some way to keep those pedals stable, but it's worth the time and effort.
Disclosure: Thrustmaster sent us this product for review, and if you have any idea what we can do with it now, let us know. Ben doesn't have the space for it, that's for sure.