Platform: Nintendo Wii
Release Date: October 2008
Serious racer fans may not immediately think of Wii as their primary gaming venue, but now serious racer fans who do have Wii consoles have a more suitable driving controller option. The Logitech Speed Force Wireless is essentially the fairer sibling of the PS2/PS3 Driving Force Wireless; except for platform-specific controller buttons, they're the same model of the lower-end Logitech force feedback wheel. Keep in mind that Logitech's lower end in gaming isn't all that low, neither in price nor build quality, nor performance.
Coming in at $100 MSRP and about $90 on sale or purchased through online discounters, the Speed Force is only a good deal if you don't own another current-gen console. If you do have a PS3 or X360, you're better off spending another $50 on Logitech's next step up in their racing line. Emphasizing this advice is the fact the sole game officially supported by the Speed Force at this time, Need For Speed: Undercover, is far, far more an arcade/casual experience than a proper simulation, and the title has its share of problems, too.
Advance cautions aside, the Speed Force is easily the best racing controller solution for the one Wii game that it does support. The new Need For Speed title supports a dizzying array of controller options, including legacy GameCube controller support, but the Speed Force handily beats all comers. Angling the Wiimote for steering motions is at best an awkward racing solution, and the numerous wheel controller shells available — most of which work better than you'd think — still don't measure up to Logitech's dedicated device.
As Wii is well known as the sexy box for casual gamers, Speed Force is clearly designed with for those particular Wii-owning families. The whole unit is smaller, lighter and less complex than Logitech's other wheels, better for a child's little hands and suited for fast setup and teardown. The Speed Force comes with neither a stick shift nor a foot pedal box. These functions are accomplished with the usual Wii face buttons along with a pair of paddle levers, one to either side of the wheel. Permanently assigned to brake/reverse and accelerate in Need For Speed, the paddles are quite convenient. Save for racing purists, most Wii owners will appreciate a wheel controller all in one piece compared to wiring together numerous gizmos and gadgets.
Speaking of wires, the Speed Force is only wireless in the connectivity department. The unit links to the Wii over 2.4GHz via a USB dongle the size of a small thumb drive. The unit connects to the mains for power. A lightweight, reasonably compact AC adapter is included for the purpose. This means the "wireless" designation in the controller's name is something of a conceit, but a conceit I can live with. The force feedback feature of the Speed Force no doubt requires enough juice that I'd much rather contend with one small wire — provided in ample length — than spend time and money swapping out all those disposable batteries, or enduring short play times with a rechargeable battery pack. The wirelessly connected wheel works with no hitches that I could uncover. Not once during my time with the review unit did I drop connection from the Wii to the wheel. Logitech claims up to 30 feet of range for the Speed Force. As per the technology, the range will vary depending on numerous factors in your own gaming environment. Of course, you won't operate the wheel 30 feet from your Wii, but in my reasonably large living room, with the Speed Force fighting for 2.4GHz channel space with a cordless phone and a Wi-Fi access point, not to mention a dozen other nearby neighborhood access points, I had no problems using the wheel from anywhere I could still see the TV.
Fitting its trimmed-down form, the Speed Force doesn't come with table clamps, only a base with retractable pedestal arms meant for stabilizing the wheel on a range of lap sizes. The unit does, however, sit on a tabletop and stay put. The lap brackets don't really grip the outside of your thighs like most racing wheel lap ,arms but the wheel is light enough that it's not an awkward proposition to operate the wheel from your lap.
This wheel's force feedback is a mixed bag from the crazy thrills perspective. Logitech describes its performance as "jaw-dropping realism." I'd describe the superior, pricier Driving Force GT and its big brothers as pretty close to jaw-dropping, at least on your first turn with them, but the Speed Force is just not jaw-dropping. The unit's feedback technology is best appreciated not as a shuddering, sliding gimmick but as a function of what it adds to the gameplay. In the sole compatible game, the Speed Force clearly improves the gameplay, transforming a mediocre experience into something that is at least fun.
I have no problem giving the Logitech Speed Force Wireless a high rating. The wheel is nicely designed and well-built. What the force feedback lacks in pure oomph, it makes up for in a more realistic driving experience. The buttons are responsive, the paddle levers are strong and springy, and the case plastic is durable. This is a solid product. The price is high, but in good specialty (luxury?) console peripherals, the prices are always high.
What I do have a problem with, at least right now, is recommending this fun peripheral with only EA's Need For Speed: Undercover to play. Need For Speed: Undercover is just an all-around poor outing on the Wii, unless you're exceptionally tolerant of significantly flawed graphics and game design.
Today, you're gambling by investing in the Speed Force Wireless and hoping that initial interest in the Speed Force will justify Logitech staying behind it. You're gambling that more Wii developers will bother to support this wheel with future titles while the market remains submerged in a pile of much less expensive Wiimote racing controller shells. It's probably going to be a bad bet, but I can't hold Logitech responsible for EA's shortcomings with their franchise this time around.
It is a good wheel. It just needs a good game.