I like to think I have a broad and varied interest in various computer game genres. There are very few I won’t play, perhaps the most obvious being fighting games as I haven’t played anything since Tekken Tag Tournament back in the Playstation 2 days. One genre I do enjoy on a casual basis is vehicle simulation (something which Alan berates me over whenever the subject is mentioned), ever since I first played a game called Aviator on the BBC Micro computer in the late 1980’s – you can see it was primitive, but I loved it. From there followed space simulators and eventually came Microsoft Train Simulator in the late 1990’s, and Flight Simulator at around the same time.
I adored them all, and in today’s market where simulators’ popularity is still enjoyed but somewhat over-saturated with crap like Street Cleaning Simulator available there are still a few gems out there, most of all perhaps is Euro Truck Simulator 2. This is a game I can’t describe to anyone who doesn’t already have at least a passing interest in the genre, but for me it’s a relaxing way to unwind and just get lost behind the wheel of a truck, selling goods and making money for my fledgling haulage company. I can picture a few people reading this with one eyebrow raised but that’s how it is for a lot of people who play these games, and as someone who doesn’t drive in the real world it’s as close as I’m going to get to doing that too.
Speaking of driving, that’s another genre I’ve always enjoyed to an extent, particularly arcade racers like GRID, the Burnout series and the Need For Speed franchise. I’ve never truly appreciated the simulation racers like Gran Turismo, Forza and Project Cars, and until this week I couldn’t quite work out why. Aside from being utterly useless at them.
I can’t quite remember why, but a few weeks back I developed a burning desire to own a steering wheel for the PC. I think it was while reading a review for Project Cars, as it looked like a game I’d enjoy – great graphics, a progressive career mode… Oh but wait, it’s a simulation racer, I’m terrible at those, never mind. I couldn’t shake the thought that I’d probably otherwise enjoy the game as you can tinker with the cars themselves and race in true-to-life events at real circuits, but I’d spend more time bouncing off safety barriers and rear-ending my opponents than screaming down back straights at 200mph in something vaguely considered to be a straight line. I decided to read up on some player opinions rather than those of professional reviewers, and one verdict was pretty much unanimous – to get the most out of Project Cars it’s damn near essential to own a steering wheel.
So I bought one. I did some research and while something called a Logitech G27 wheel is effectively the standard bearer it was considerably above what I was willing to pay, seeing as I was new to this and wasn’t sure if I’d even enjoy using a steering wheel. I quickly learned that buying a cheap wheel was a definite no-no, so something mid-range was what I really needed to get me started. I settled on a Ferrari Italia from Thrustmaster (which I have on good authority is also a pet name Alan’s girlfriend has for him) which has reasonable reviews and a decent price at £80, certainly compared the the £250+ the G27 commands. I also bought Project Cars at around the £20 mark, and admittedly I was nervous when downloading the game onto Steam and setting up my latest peripheral as it could have been £100 down the toilet on something I wouldn’t get on with.
Thankfully I was wrong, eventually. I fired up the game and decided to try out a simple time trial in a kart, which proved too twitchy and I was constantly spinning the wretched thing on every turn, so I upgraded to a Renault Clio and had an absolute blast in that. I wasn’t putting in perfect laps by any stretch of the imagination but more importantly I was having fun. Ridiculous amounts of fun in fact. I even had a race in a Mitsubishi Evo X and finished second, in what was the most exhilarating racing game experience I’ve ever had. I dare not try anything in the more powerful super car range just yet, that’ll be a pants-browning moment for sure.
What I did do was go back to the relaxing aura of Euro Truck Simulator 2, and before I knew it I’d traveled from Southampton to Calais and then over to Cardiff in one sitting and loving every second of it. Owning a steering wheel is incredible and makes the simulator genre ten times better than using a mouse and keyboard setup or even a console controller, so if you have even a vague interest in the genre a wheel is an essential purchase, as is Project Cars while you’re at it.
I might even use it on Farming Simulator next.