Have you ever booted up your favorite racing game and sighed at the thought of bringing out your racing wheel to really enjoy the game at its fullest? If you’re lucky enough to have one it can sometimes be a real chore each time you wish to enjoy a racing game with a wheel. This monotonous task has you dragging your wheel out from a spare room, attic or cubbyhole, blowing the dust off it that has gathered since its last gaming session, untangling the power and data cables and plugging them all in. If you’re lucky enough you’ll have your wheel already clamped onto a racing table, such as the SpeedBlack Table I reviewed sometime ago. Otherwise the hunt continues in finding a suitable table and chair combo – It can be a lengthy task if you don’t have a dedicated setup.
If your racing wheel is wireless it is still a peripheral that takes up space and needs time setting up, so unless you are a keen Stig your wheel will only see daylight just a handful of times within the year. So, let me put this to you, how would a racing wheel in a pad sound? I am sure if you have shared the motions that I’ve mentioned above then you too will be curious at the thought of how this can be done. Thankfully Eagle3 has created such a device in an easy stowaway PlayStation 3 pad. Let me introduce you to the HKS Racing Controller…
The HKS Racing Controller for PlayStation 3 – RRP $44.99 / £44.99
Looking at the picture above, as a PlayStation gamer I am sure you’ll understand the differences between the HKS Racing Controller and a standard PS3 pad. If not, let me take you through the obvious changes and additions on the HKS Racing Controller.
One of the most obvious changes is the top left area where a rocker wheel is situated diagonally across what is usually the D-Pad area. Rather than a horizontal left to right position, this jog wheel follows where your thumb rests across the pad. This may look and feel a little odd at first, but as it is placed at a more natural angle to your left thumb it puts less strain and pressure on your thumb during gameplay. The wheel doesn’t constantly rotate like a middle wheel on a mouse does, instead it rocks side-to-side in either direction until your thumb reaches each end. Letting go of the wheel auto centres it back to its original position. If you prefer to use a stick for the left and right movement of your vehicle, then the option is here also, with the left analogue stick taking up its usual spot on the left side of the pad.
On the right side we have the second major addition of the HKS Racing Controller – the analogue pedal buttons. Instead of the four standard digital face buttons, two have been replaced with analogue trigger-like pedals. These triggers act in a similar fashion to the pedals that sit under your dusty racing wheel. As default the nearest trigger is the brake and the other is, of course, the accelerator. Depending on the game you use this pad in, these pedals can be assigned to the original triggers too by flicking a switch under the pad. Just like the wheel portion of the controller, the pedal buttons are positioned and angled in a way where your right thumb can naturally rest on them.
Both buttons are fairly close to each other, which allows you to easily come off the gas and get on the brakes, and vice versa; however probably not as quick as using the L2 R2 triggers or face buttons. Also due to the pedal’s close proximity to each other you can also rock your thumb across both pedals to mimic the heel-toe racing technique in drift and rally games. The remaining Triangle and Circle buttons are positioned close by on the far side so that they can be easily reached for such things like camera views or your vehicle’s handbrake.
Moving down the pad the right analogue stick has been replaced with a D-Pad. Having a D-Pad here allows you to navigate through game menus or additional features in the game, but this can also prove to be a burden in particular games such as Need for Speed, where you have to come off the accelerator to drop a spike strip. The remaining shoulder buttons and triggers are all present and correct, with the L2 and R2 triggers having much less travel in them, giving them a more digital feel, ideal for gear shifting.
There are two new additions that finish off this controller’s features. Underneath there are two switches that control the behavior of the pad’s pedal buttons and the single analogue stick. One switch toggles between mapping the L2 and R2 triggers to the pedal buttons (for NFSHP) or to replace the X and Square buttons (for Gran Turismo 5). The other switch toggles whether the single analogue stick uses the game’s left or right stick assigned controls. The second addition is a real-time digital pressure display that sits in the middle of the pad. This LED readout displays how much pressure you apply to the accelerator and brake pedal buttons, displaying a value of 0 to 100 in the centre of the pad. This may look all fancy, but I honestly don’t see any advantage of knowing how much pressure you are applying whilst racing in-game. At the time of where this information is worth knowing, such as corner speeds and grid starts, you will most likely be focusing on the corner you’re taking or timing your launch off the starting grid. So I see this readout more of a showcase of the pad’ pedals than being an important source of racing information in the game you are playing. The LED does display other uses from this pad, such as the status of the Macro buttons, which is another addition to this pad’s line-up of features.
As you can see, this pad has everything at your fingertips whilst racing around the track, but more importantly you’ll want to know how the HKS Racing Controller handles. Let me first say that having used wheels and analogue sticks as the main control method in driving games it took me a little while to get used to this controller at first. Getting used to the wheel on the pad took a short while, but in time the pad soon became surprisingly intuitive. Even with the standard sticks I tend to apply D-Pad-like twitches when racing, rather than easing into corners gracefully. With the HKS wheel you are more inclined to ease in and out of corners, which will result in a smoother ride, and most likely faster lap times when there is no ‘twitching’ to slow your car down.
With the combination of the wheel and the intuitive pedals there is certainly enough here to master and probably have more control over a standard joypad and its sticks – however this controller will not replace the more accurate racing wheel. I found it odd that in both of the supported games (Gran Turismo 5 and Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit) the pedals we not that sensitive to the touch. It wasn’t until I applied around 50% of pressure that the game’s car would respond, and at that point in NFSHP your wheels would start spinning as if you have pushed the pedal down all the way! With that said, you can still get by fairly well, and having all this control in a small stowaway joypad is what makes having this controller in easy reach a great incentive for racing fans who maybe looking for an alternative controller for their driving games.
Another gripe I have is that this pad is wired, which seems odd in this day and age where everything is becoming wireless and rechargeable. I am sure its makers will argue that by being wired it will have better precision, reliability and a fast response rate over a wireless pad, but still, wireless has proven to be fast enough, and I think being wired keeps the cost of this pad down. It also reduces the need for batteries or charging, and most likely it allows people that are curious to take a punt at trying this controller out. For me though, being a wired pad means it will be less likely to be plugged in, and it will join my racing wheel at being tucked away out of sight until it is needed, which makes it much less convenient than using the exiting pad that is already connected to the PS3, wirelessly. I also found that even when the controller connected I was unable to power up the PS3 by pressing the PS button.
Having used this controller on a few games now I have to say that I still prefer to use the standard PS3 controller and its sticks over the HSK. Its control system may seem whacky at first, but it can be mastered, if you really hate using a standard pad. My main issue is more to do with the convenience of using a standard controller; being able to dip in and out of any genre without the need of plugging in a bespoke wired pad. I guess you could say the same thing about racing wheels vs a pad, but we’ve already gone through the woes of that. If you fancy an alternative to a racing wheel, or perhaps you don’t have the space for a racing wheel setup, yet you want the precision of what a racing wheel offers, then maybe the HKS Racing Controller is what you are looking for. But sadly for me the HSK will be joining my dusty racing wheel and pedals, waiting for its occasional outing on the track.