The arcade revolution may have been little more than a hit-and-run case in India, but playing on those over-sized and under-powered gaming machines definitely had its own charm. Now with gaming arcades being reduced to little more than a distraction for kids at malls, serious gamers are always looking at bringing the arcade experience home. The first obvious option for that would be a steering wheel controller.

Steering wheels have been available in the Indian market for over a decade and a half, through some big players like Logitech and Microsoft, and also some relatively unknown brands from your local gray market. Recently, Italian gaming peripheral manufacturers, Nitho launched a whole range of videogame accessories in the Indian market, covering just about every home-entertainment console available today. One of the peripherals that got our attention was the Drive Pro Steering Wheel Controller for PC, PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3.

The Drive pro is relatively small sized with a 9-inch wheel diameter. The steering is well coated with a high-friction rubber grip, which feels great and is also easy to hold for long durations. The front rims of the steering has all the required buttons with the horn-space acting as a d-pad. The buttons are well marked in PlayStation symbols, but I noticed that the L2 and R2 buttons were placed around the horn area, which was a bit odd considering that all PS3 racing games use the L2 and R2 buttons for Brake and acceleration respectively, by default. It's not a big deal though, since every racing game gives you multiple controller layout options.

Right behind the wheel are the two paddle gear shifts, which is a pretty convenient option, especially for smaller wheels. The base of the steering controller unit had suction cups, meant for attaching to a table in front of you. I don't know how practical that would be, since unlike PC gaming, console gaming setups may not necessarily have a readily available table.

Lastly the unit comes with 2 pedals for brake and acceleration, which is completely optional since you can control that from the wheel itself. In fact I personally found the pedal base a bit too small for my feet, so after a while I moved completely to the controls on the wheel.

Here's the weird part. The paddle shifts give the same signal as brake and acceleration, which means that there's no way you can use them for shifting gears unless you change the control scheme, which in turn would render your pedals useless. It's a complete deal breaker for enthusiasts who play racing games with manual transmission, but if you're the type who doesn't bother beyond auto transmission, then it's actually convenient to use paddles when you're too lazy to use the peddle extension.

I first gave it a run on the PC with Need for Speed Shift. Sure enough, it got instantly recognized on Windows 7, with all the buttons and steering motion accurately configured. Playing NFS Shift was quite different with the wheel at first, but after a while of running into walls (and using the reverse time function), I did eventually get the hang of the controls. Controlling the cars was simple and required minimal but calculated movements on the wheel at high speeds, just like what you'd do in real life.

Though I don't think that the controller gave me an edge in controlling the cars in the game, it definitely made the experience more immersive.

I tried the controller with Colin McRae Dirt 2 on the PS3 as well, and that's when I discovered that the steering wheel also features a vibration function. Unfortunately I could experience the force feedback only on the consoles, as the vibration refused to work on the PC.

Just like any other racing wheel controller, the Nitho Drive Pro won't improve your racing skills, and that shouldn't really be your intent behind your buying decision. It will just give you a new way to play your racing games, or bring back the arcade feel to your home consoles (or PC). It does have a good number a flaws, which make it a strict no-no for racing enthusiasts. But for casual racers, this would give you a new reason to wipe the dust off your library of racing games.

Available for Rs. 2,399.

Thanks to Excel Interactive for supplying the copy of Need for Speed Shift for reviewing the steering wheel.

Tags: , , , , , ,