Mad Catz Andretti Racing Wheel Review
Bundled software: Installation disk, Interstate '76 Nitro Pack, Andretti Racing, Need For Speed III
Mad Catz is a relative newcomer to the PC Racing controller arena. After scoring some hits with other types of controllers in the recent past, the Andretti Racing Wheel (ARW) is aimed straight at the serious sim racer- despite a software bundle that is definitely on the arcade side of the house. The ARW features 4 buttons (2 are duplicated--assigned to both the gear lever and the fingertip-type shift buttons behind the wheel spokes), an 8-way hat switch, and a full-size set of pedals. The connecting cable has both USB and gameport connectors, to fit almost any system, a trend I certainly like. It's packaged with the software mentioned above, plus a small but adequate installation manual.
Once the ARW was unboxed, my first thought was that it bears a strong resemblance to the Thrustmaster NASCAR Pro--as a matter of fact, the overall concept is almost identical. From the wraparound dash appearance to the shift lever, it's apparent that Mad Catz took inspiration from the venerable TM product, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. The ARW clamps easily to almost any desktop with a lever-type clamping system like the TM, and stayed secure throughout my testing. The pedal unit is mid-sized, and stays where you put it (at least on a carpeted surface). The overall build quality seems to be high, and I have encountered no problems during my time using the ARW.
Connecting and setting up the wheel is a straightforward affair--connect the wheel and let Plug and Pray do the work. With the supplied drivers, I had a problem with the wheel disappearing from the game controllers applet every now and then, but a download of the new ARW software seems to have fixed the problem. As always, I recommend using the freshest drivers available.
In actual use, the ARW is fairly comfortable. The wheel is a bit small for my tastes, but the shape is nice and easy to hold, with the rim guiding your hands to the 10 and 2 o'clock positions--right where they should be. The buttons are well placed, within easy reach, and the gear lever works quite well. The only real gripes I have about the wheel unit are the small size of the wheel (it's about 9 inches in diameter), and the fact that it's way too close to the housing. I've smacked my knuckles several times during a heated race, and my hands are fairly small--I would think someone with big mitts would have a real problem. Despite these issues, the control is precise (as befits a digital controller), with smooth motion and good centering tension. After using a Force Feedback unit for awhile, the centering feels a little weak, but not drastically so. I tried the ARW with a variety of racing titles--NASCAR 3, Grand Prix Legends, TOCA 2, and a few others--and after a short familiarization period, the ARW worked well enough with all of them (the hat switch is great for looking left and right in GPL, and it's much easier to reach than the hat on my Force RS). Anyone who uses a Thrustmaster product would be instantly comfortable with the ARW, since the design and feel are so similar.
While the wheel unit was mildly surprising to me, I do have a few problems with the pedals. A set of pedals can't fit everyone, and these definitely do not fit me. The height and angle put my feet at an uncomfortable angle--almost to the point of causing circulation problems after long races. It just seems that, for me at least, the pedals are mounted way too high above the base unit, something that probably wouldn't bother someone who sits farther back than I do. I can't hit Mad Catz too hard on this, since comfort is subjective--others may like these pedals, I just know they don't fit me. Between the odd angle and the very soft springs, I have a tough time being precise with this pedal unit--a shame, because I love the shape and look of the pedals themselves. Another nice thing is that the pedals have a nice long travel, making throttle and brake modulation a lot easier than shorter-throw pedals would.
The included software bundle is showing a few years, and I can't recommend that anyone install Andretti Racing (it's not among my favorites, to put it mildly), but NFS3 and Interstate '76 are good for some laughs, and overall the bundle is a decent one.
I think what we have here is a good, solid entry into the wheel wars. You can certainly buy a better wheel, but the ARW is definitely on a par with most of the sub-$100 units I've tried, and that means that Mad Catz should get a foot in the sim racing door with this release.
Reviewed by: Scott Moore : 3/10/00