While the standard controllers issued with consoles and PCs are more than sufficient to run just about any game available, hardcore gamers have long turned to special devices to enhance their abilities and take their play to the next level. Elite FPS players often spring for a specialized mouse and keyboard so they can frag more effectively, while fighting game fans tend to opt for arcade sticks so they can easily string together combos and consistently land special attacks. It's a commonly held belief among gamers that if you want to be the best, then you have to spend a little extra for the nicest equipment.
Racing games also fall under this purview, with die-hard gearheads shelling out a pretty penny for a nice racing wheel that will shave tenths of a second off their lap times. The major issue is that many racing wheels cost hundreds of dollars, and that's an expensive investment for a piece of tech that may not elevate your game much. Yes, most elite racers who constantly sit atop the leaderboards are likely using the latest Logitech racing wheel, but what about mid-level players who want to be a little better but aren't interested in dropping tons of cash on a fancy racing rig? For those individuals, HKS introduces its own special racing controller, the device offers a decent middle ground between a standard controller and a wheel.
The most distinguishing feature of the HKS Racing Controller is that the traditional X and Square buttons have been replaced with pressure-sensitive pedals. These revamped buttons work in a manner similar to the gas and brake pedals one would find in a car, allowing players to accelerate gradually and gently feather the throttle to better control speed and acceleration in turns or other highly technical locations on the course. Also, a switch on the back of the controller lets you easily remap the buttons for the gas and brake, so they're just as effective if the game uses the face or shoulder buttons for throttle control.
While the "pedals" may offer a greater degree of precision when compared to traditional controllers, they still fall well short of the performance offered with a racing wheel. The accelerator is fairly responsive, but there's a bit of play at the top end of the range. Therefore, you may be going pedal to the metal a bit before you actually push the button all the way down, making it harder to regulate at high speed. It's a bit nit-picky, but in a game like Gran Turismo 5, it's important to know the exact position of your throttle at all times, so while the HKS controller is a nice alternative to just mashing down the X button, it's still somewhat lacking.
The bigger offender of the two pedals is the brake, which seems to react as though it's always slammed to the ground no matter what amount of pressure you apply. Precision braking is all but impossible, but it's not any better with a standard controller, so it can't really be held against HKS for marginally improving on something that is pretty terrible by default. Any little improvement is welcome, but the improvement you get here is very tiny indeed.
Another feature of the controller that fares considerably better is the wheel, which occupies the space traditionally taken by the d-pad. The wheel manages to strike the perfect balance between resistance and flexibility, allowing you to pull off all the turns and movements you could realistically expect to achieve in a racing game. The sensation it provides is hard to describe in words, but the simple truth is that the wheel makes it much easier to hold your driving line all the way around the track. Again, it's not as genuine a feeling as with a racing wheel, but at a considerably cheaper price tag, it's a very nice alternative.
The controller's design is, much like its performance, a mixed bag, with some cool features marred by some glaring shortcomings. First up, the controller looks and feels amazing, with a slick paint job and a nicely textured back that make the device both attractive and comfortable. It also comes with some nice bells and whistles, like switches on the back to control various functions as well as the ability to program macros. You get all the standard options, and all of them work well.
On the other hand, the controller is wired, which is somewhat irritating, and for some reason, it's impossible to turn on your PS3 using the controller. Instead, whenever you want to boot up the machine, you have to walk up to it and push the button. It's a minor inconvenience to be sure, but considering the fact that every other controller out there turns on its respective console with the push of a button, the omission of such a feature on this controller is odd. Perhaps the strangest and most useless aspect of the controller is a digital speed pressure readout in the middle of the controller meant to show players, on a scale of 0-100, how hard they're pushing down on the gas. At first this sounds like kind of a neat addition, but consider this: How often are you looking down at the controller when playing a racing game? There's really no purpose for this display, and the real estate it takes up could probably have been used for other, more worthwhile features.
Though the HKS Racing Controller isn't going to knock off racing wheels as the best way to experience driving titles, it's a fairly decent option for somewhat skilled players who want to take the next step in improving their prowess. Players probably won't see marked improvement with the HKS controller, but it might help you grab those pesky gold trophies in GT5 that you keep missing by .01 seconds. The HKS Racing Controller is a lot like your first new car: It's probably not a fancy Lamborghini with lots of amazing features that you don't fully understand, but it's better than that '95 Taurus you've been driving around for the past several years. This controller won't get you noticed, but it might make your gaming experience somewhat more enjoyable.
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