The Thrustmaster T128 is the latest ‘entry level’ steering wheel and pedal set from a company steeped in video game simulation history. Founded all the way back in 1990 in Hillsboro, Oregon. Thrustmaster got their start developing expensive, but high quality, specialised joysticks for the flight simulators of the day. So it makes sense then that by 1999 they broadened their horizons beyond flight controls and got into high quality racing wheels.
Despite having a profound love of racing games, I may as well fess up now. The truth is that outside of the arcade, the last console steering wheel I had a go with was probably one I rented circa 1997 for my SEGA Saturn and shock horror, there were no pedals. That said though, I’ve now had the opportunity to give the Thrustmaster T128 a test drive and despite over 20 years being quick using a gamepad I felt it was time to trade up.
In the Thrustmaster T128 box you get the racing wheel (obviously) weighing in at about 4kg, the T2PM Magnetic Pedal Set (no clutch), your power supply, clamping system and screw (to attach the wheel to your desk) plus the USB cable to attach to your console or PC. You can choose an Xbox or PlayStation branded version of the wheel but either work just fine on a PC, the only difference is the symbols on the buttons. I reckon if you wanted to you could buy a stick shifter on the side and connect it as well, or upgrade to a pedal set with a clutch, but the wheel has paddle shifters so unless you are that hardcore – what you get in the box is all you need.
Having played all sorts of racing games for decades, by myself and also competitively online with a game pad, I have a feel for what a car is doing through the feedback from the controller. But when I knew the wheel was on it’s way I decided to get into proper sim racing – iRacing on the PC, the ultimate challenge. I had a weekend racing with a controller beforehand, and I did pretty well for myself, but then when the wheel actually arrived – my world changed.
The Thrustmaster T128 is easy to set up – if you have the right desk. You know those ‘lips’ that most desks have? That piece of wood beneath the front of the desk, well if you have one of those It’s not gonna work because of the design of the stabiliser and the length of the screw. Fortunately mine had a top drawer I could remove and I was able to MacGuyver it into a working setup and get myself into a comfortable driving position. If you have a flat desk though never mind. It’s easy to pack back down into the box as well with all the cables plugged in. So set up and pack down get a tick from me – but how does it drive?
I was actually pretty nervous the first time taking this thing out on the track after all my years on gamepads. In fact initially I was certain I would go back to a gamepad once my review was done. I couldn’t tell you the difference between this and a seriously expensive wheel, as I understand you can spend as much as you can afford on these sorts of setups. The Thrustmaster T128 has a gear and belt setup (whatever that means) and 900 degrees of rotation, which means that on those road course hair pin turns you can hand-over-hand if you really need too.
Once I had the feedback strength dialed in I could feel the difference between the various cars and different surfaces on a track. It didn’t take me long to get to the point where I fell in love and genuinely trusted this equipment. Just a few laps to go in a long online NASCAR race, tires gone, I felt safe throwing my car into the corners and running top five because the Thrustmaster T128 was giving me all the information I needed to know where my cars limit now was. I drove my fastest laps in the entire race when it mattered and I was probably competing with racers with far more expensive equipment as well.
As far as drawbacks go, the steering wheel is hard plastic, I assume you can get fancy-pants carbon fibre replica wheels and whatnot, but I raced for a full day more than once and it was fine for me, no blisters. Regarding the pedals, my only complaint is that on carpet they will move over the length of a race unless you brace them against something. In long races I did find myself having to lift off the gas on straights to try bring them back a little closer with my feet (because I was also trying to steer and not crash) which isn’t ideal. But I am unsure what exactly they could have done to fix that without destroying your carpet in the process.
Overall, I adore the Thrustmaster T128 and I recommend it to anyone interested in sim racing and looking for a first wheel. Now that I have the sim racing bug I may trade up at some point but honestly I think this one will do me fine for a long time. Price wise it comes in at between $299 and $399 depending on whether they are on special and/or whether you choose the Xbox or PlayStation version. Either work on PC and I promise you that this wheel gives you all you need to be competitive regardless of who you are racing and what equipment you are racing against.