Act Labs Force RS Review
When I opened the box, I immediately noticed the weight of this wheel--it is very heavy. The next obvious surprise was the wheel itself. Rather than being made of plastic or covered in rubber, the Force RS wheel is covered in a very believable simulated leather--a great touch, as it doesn't get slick no matter how much your palms sweat. There are two paddles mounted behind the wheel, a hat switch in the center, and seven buttons--three on each of the upper spokes, and one at the bottom. Unfortunately, the Force RS isn't programmable, but most games today allow for custom control setups, so that really isn't a problem.
The clamping system isn't the easiest to use, utilizing a thumbwheel on each side to secure the unit to the desktop, but it is extremely effective, as I've yet to have it move while in use. There was no problem with the small lip under the front of my desk, but anything larger than an inch and a half or so may pose a problem. In my case, though, the Force RS stayed tightly connected throughout the test.
The pedal unit is absolutely superb, consisting of a large base which doesn't move around or threaten to tip over, topped by pedals which are shaped like a real gas and brake. Under use, I'd like to have a little more pedal travel, and adjustable tension would be nice, but overall this part of the Force RS is the best I've seen anywhere.
The connection process is a little odd at first, but after a long look it is very convenient. The wheel and pedal units are connected by a cable plugged into the back of the wheel housing, and the cable is of adequate length. The wheel unit is then connected to the PC via a plug-in cartridge called the RS Engine, which also connects to the power supply. This architecture allows using the same control unit with the PC, Playstation, Nintendo 64, and Sega Saturn--quite the ingenious solution, in my opinion. The Engines are available for purchase from ACT Labs, and for someone who owns multiple gaming systems, this feature is fantastic.
Now for the big question--how does the Force RS perform? In a nutshell, very well. Force feedback effects are strong and provide good feedback, especially in Viper Racing and Sports Car GT. The included I-Force studio allows the effects to be customized for I-Force compliant titles, though I didn't experiment with it much. Control is very precise, and centering is excellent--a complaint I've heard from many FF wheel owners is the lack of self-centering, but that isn't an issue with this product. With the updated drivers from ACT Labs' web site, the centering works in non-FF titles as well--a big plus for most sim racers, since many of the best simulations don't support FF. I tried the Force RS with Grand Prix Legends and NASCAR Racing 1999 Edition, neither of which have FF, and it was outstanding in both cases. The only titles it won't work with are those which run under DOS, as the Force RS is strictly a Win95/98 controller.
The only complaints I have with this wheel are minor--the fairly short pedal travel takes some getting used to, as it causes some abrupt power changes, and I did a lot of spinning in GPL until I learned how to modulate it. I think the brake pedal spring should be stiffer, or adjustable as on the Saitek pedals. I noticed a very slight bit of "notchiness" just off center, but not a distracting amount. And, lastly, I wish the Force RS worked under DOS. Maybe I'm a throwback to earlier times, but I'd love to use the RS with Grand Prix 2, or online with the NROS.
All that aside, the Force RS is an excellent wheel for both FF and non-FF racing titles. It's solidly constructed, precise, and comfortable. Add to that the strong yet transparent force feedback effects, and there's no question ACT Labs has a podium finish coming with this one.
With most PCs nowdays containing a couple USB ports, it was only a matter of time before game controllers started taking advantage of this new technology, and lately there have been several USB racing wheels introduced to the marketplace. ACT Labs sent a USB cartridge for us to take a look at, and here are some impressions of the unit.
One of the best features of the Force RS is the cartridge-based connection--when USB became available, there was no need to get a new wheel. Just take the cartridge out of the packaging, replace the old serial unit, and you're off to the races. Installation was simple--I removed the wheel from the Game Controllers applet and Device Manager, rebooted, and plugged the new unit into the USB port. It was immediately recognized by Win 98, and things went off without a hitch. I already had the newest drivers for the Force RS downloaded, and I highly recommend this for any RS owner.
There isn't any real change in functionality with the USB version of the wheel, other than the easy autodetection and the fact that there is no need to shut down and reboot when swapping controllers. If you switch controllers from a wheel to a gamepad or joystick often, that alone is worth the purchase price. The biggest improvement over the serial version is in terms of framerate--in most titles using the serial connection, there was a framerate hit when using force feedback. In the USB version, that hit has all but disappeared. With FF enabled in Grand Prix Legends, my rate dropped by an average of 1-2 fps, as opposed to 3-4 before getting the USB unit. NASCAR 3 responds in much the same way, as did every racing title I tested this with.
The Force RS with a serial connection is a terrific controller. With USB it's just a little better, and a lot easier on the CPU--and with framerate being as important as it is to the serious PC racer, the new USB unit is the only way to go for RS owners. Highly recommended.