The Thrustmaster T128 wheel and pedal set is pitched to beginners as a first step into the world of sim driving. That is, people who love driving or racing games and want to ditch the pad, but who don’t want to spend Proper Money just yet. And that’s certainly one type of consumer who will benefit from this package: the type of person for whom it will be a placeholder. A toe in the water before a full-on plunge. But I think the greatest value of the T128 is in its suitability as a daily driver for those of us who simply don’t have room in their lives for anything more substantial: making the full-fat sim experience accessible to those of us who can’t commit to a full-fat setup.
The extent to which driving games are enriched by a proper interface can’t be overstated. There’s nothing wrong with using a pad, of course. It’s a perfectly decent way to control a pretend car. But having a sim wheel which mimics the way you would control a real vehicle connects you to a driving sim in a profound way that makes the game world come to life. All of a sudden, cockpit view becomes your default, and you come to find simple joy in the way your wheel turns in sync with its on-screen counterpart. The force-feedback allowing the road surface to fight against you. The car itself being able to communicate with you via sensation rather than just by the sound of revving and instrument readouts.
It turns something like Euro Truck Simulator 2, a dry game about transporting wooden pallets to Aberdeen, into a deeply captivating experience where the dull intricacies of controlling the vehicle and obeying local traffic laws become magical and, if you’ll forgive the pun, transportive. A pad just doesn’t translate mirror, signal, manoeuvre into an engaging game loop. It’s too much of an abstraction. With a good sim wheel, your connection to the world inside the silicon is much more direct, much less dulled by the extra steps taken by your brain and nervous system to map twiddles to turns.
In short, sim wheels are great. But they’re also generally quite big, bulky, a pain in the rear to rig up, and pretty much require mounting to a dedicated stand or racing seat to use properly. What Thrustmaster have done with the T128 is build a compact sim wheel which can, without any deal-breaking compromises, sit neatly in a cupboard (or a deep desk drawer at a push) when it isn’t in use. And it’s also fairly cheap as these things go: a feature set like this (900 degree range of motion, force-feedback, pedals included) would usually set you back a bit more than £170.
That said, now that the stalwart Logitech G29 set is getting long in the tooth it can be picked up for less than £250, so the T128’s pricing isn’t quite as competitive as Thrustmaster would like it to be for wheels of this class. But again, the consideration here is as much about convenience as it is about budget: the T128 doesn’t need a costly seat or stand, or any kind of permanent mounting to get the best out of it. It just needs half a square foot of desk space. The simple moving of a keyboard to one side.
The fact that the T128 doesn’t even come with hard-points for seat mounting is a testament to this dogged commitment to convenience over, well, basically any other consideration. And yet, it’s an extremely capable peripheral: the force-feedback isn’t going to throw you around the room, but it’s beefy enough to tire you out after ten minutes of Snowrunner, and delicate enough that you can feel the road surface in something as comparatively benign as Forza Horizon 5. The controls themselves are superbly accurate and feel reliable in the hands: the magnetic paddle shifters give a satisfying clunk when activated, the ample controller buttons are very nicely placed to always be within reach of your thumbs no matter how extreme your turn is, and there’s plenty of them for mapping to turn signals, radio fiddlage, and other gubbins.
Where it lets itself down is the pedal set: there’s only two of them, so the upgrade path to a stick shift add-on is somewhat hampered by the lack of a clutch pedal (not a concern for me, but if you’re the first type of consumer mentioned in the opening paragraph, expandability is going to be a concern). More crucially than that, though, is the size of the thing: it’s just barely big enough to accommodate covering both the brake and accelerator with one foot, which is fine, but the pedals themselves are steep and don’t have a great deal of travel in them, so it’s not very conducive to subtle throttling or riding the brake.
That said, it’s perfectly adequate for general use, and sturdy enough to just be rammed up against the skirting board under the desk, its natural habitat. In truth, ‘perfectly adequate’ sums up the T128’s functionality overall. It’s good enough. If it was a haulage worker, it would be considered reliable enough to get the job done to an acceptable standard, but it won’t win any driver of the month awards.
But that’s absolutely fine, because the compromises here are perfectly acceptable in terms of what it achieves: access to the next level of driving sim experience, the dimension beyond the pad, for those of us unwilling or unable to commit to permanent set-up in the home. A specialist controller for general use, which will instantly enhance and enrich any driving sim you care to throw at it.
In short: a sim wheel for the rest of us.
If you, like me, don’t have the space (or frankly, the cash) for a full-on racing set up, you can pick up the Thrustmaster T128 from Amazon:
Thrustmaster T128 Amazon UK
Thrustmaster T128 Amazon US
Disclaimer: This racing wheel was provided by Thrustmaster for review.