Racing games and steering wheels go together like a glove and a hand, so playing a racing game with a steering wheel should be a match made in heaven. Those who use steering wheels on a regular basis know how much trouble it is setting the thing up, fine tuning it until it works for you, getting the pedals in the right place and finding the room to place the steering wheel. Some people will be happy to struggle with a wheel on their lap, while others will attach the wheel to desks or tables.
So, it’s really good to see the Gioteck FR-1 Freedom taking a different stance and offering the full steering wheel experience in the shape of a hand held controller that works with motion control. No need to make room and set up the device, simply plug in the receiver into your PS3 and press the PS button on the wheel and away you go. However can a small steering wheel device that works by motion control really take the place of a full-blown steering wheel setup?
Gioteck’s FR-1 Freedom steering wheel would not work correctly if it was not good to handle, and the first thing you notice about the device is that it sits perfectly comfortably in the hand. It feels like you are holding a steering wheel, and because of the way it is weighted, it naturally centers when you relax your arms. Before a game is started it’s best to set the sensitivity; this can be a little bit of hit or miss when you first use the controller, however once you get used to the sensitivity control it all becomes very intuitive.
Playing a game such as Gran Turismo 5, the FR-1 is very responsive. Each slightest turn of the controller turns the wheel of the vehicles in the game and there seems to be no lag between the device turning and the reaction to the game. The FR-1 supports rumble too, so hitting the rumble-strips or sliding onto the grass verge’s will produce a sizable rumble which really adds to the tactile feel when you are racing.
At the other end of the spectrum, playing the new Sonic All-Stars Racing Transformed was huge fun in a totally different way. Because of the game’s over-the-top physics, it was great to over-exaggerate your steering and fly through the levels. When the sensitivity is set correct, games really work well.
All games work with the wheel, and you do not have to set any different settings on the PS3. Some games support Sixaxis, and you can set up this feature on the wheel easily enough. Games that do support Sixaxis react in exactly the same way as they do with a Sixaxis controller, the only difference is of course you are holding a wheel instead of a joy-pad.
Be warned though, as not all games can be fine-tuned enough to have a truly brilliant experience. Dirt 3 in particular seemed to have trouble finding a sweet spot for the sensitivity, meaning that either when you turned the wheel nothing much happened, or with the finest-tuned of controls it went to the other extreme. It is a case of trial and error, and the addition of numbers on the sensitivity control could have made a huge difference.
Acceleration is performed by the triggers on the front of the wheel. These are in a perfect position, and it feels very natural when racing and breaking using these buttons. It’s because of the perfect combination of steering wheel and joy-pad that everything feels so intuitive to the gamer.
The first thing you notice about the controller when you pick it up is the quality of the build. It’s a solid controller, quite weighty without being overly heavy, and feels solid and very tactile in the hand. There are a huge array of buttons on the pad, everything from a standard D-Pad, game buttons, triggers and Start, Select and PS buttons.
Depending on your preference, you can easily reassign certain buttons by holding down two buttons simultaneously. One quick look at the manual will give you all the help you need, and the process is very easy. The quality of the various buttons is very good, with buttons feeling firm and responsive, there’s none of that wobbling that you may get from cheaper controllers.
As with all the Gioteck products I have reviewed, the build quality considering the price is really second-to-none. Gioteck seem to be a company which really care about its products, and as such the final result is something that belies its price.
The Gioteck FR-1 Freedom steering wheel is a low cost replacement for a standard gaming steering wheel. Its shape and size are perfect for holding onto for long periods of time and because of its weight your arms never seem to tire while playing your favourite racing game. It’s simple to set up, and the controller is recognised quickly by the PS3. One thing to remember is that some games will only work if the controller is set to port one, so ensure that the FR-1 is turned on first before the game starts.
The test wheel was used approximately 10 feet away from the television, and no lag was experienced, with everything being responsive in real time compared to the controls that were appearing on screen. The FR-1 is powered by two standard AA batteries, which are not included in the box. After approximately six hours use the batteries are still going strong in the test unit even with the vibration feature turned up to full.
If you’re a fan of racing games, and perhaps short on space, then Gioteck’s FR-1 Freedom wheel is a great device which works well with a selection of games. Of course, everyone plays racing games in a different way, and likes sensitivity to be different in each game; thankfully it’s easy to change on this wheel.
Thanks to Gioteck for supplying the unit for evaluation.