I need to confess something to you guys.
- Can you become a skilled sim racer while sticking to a controller?
- Why is a steering wheel the better choice?
- Can you achieve good lap times with a controller?
- Why even skilled sim racers should try a controller?
- Best Simracing Games to play on Controller
- What is the best controller for sim racing games?
I've got the whole setup with a steering wheel and all, but I still absolutely love playing sim racing games with a controller. It's just convenient, as I don't have to set up the entire equipment just to play for half an hour (since I don't own a dedicated rig).
I'm actually pretty decent at it, and my lap times aren't more than half a second behind those with a steering wheel.
So yeah, you definitely can play sim racing games on a controller. In this post, you'll find some pro tips and the best sim racing games to play with a gamepad.
Can you become a skilled sim racer while sticking to a controller?
While some games might allow you to be quick with a controller, you should keep in mind that maintaining consistency and making rapid adjustments can be challenging.
Precision is key in racing, and achieving it with a controller isn't as straightforward as it is with a steering wheel. Moreover, due to the more aggressive input, playing with a controller can lead to faster tire wear.
I know a few sim racers who are decent with a controller, and I'm definitely one of them, but reaching a professional level, especially in racing, is undeniably tough.
However, it's doable.
Just look at Jacques Villeneuve's performance here. Pretty impressive!
Why is a steering wheel the better choice?
Ever heard of Force Feedback? This feature lets you experience the car's behavior and react swiftly, like when your car starts to oversteer. While controllers do offer vibrations, they're not quite the same.
Ease of Control.
Have you ever wonder why competitive FPS players opt for low mouse sensitivities? Through sim racing, I finally grasped the concept. While it might feel slower to turn or maneuver, lower sensitivities grant greater precision and control. This can translate into better lap times and race strategies.
Professional sim racing leagues often prohibit controller use, probably because controller players tend to induce more chaos due to the greater difficulty.
Test it out yourself: Try correcting an oversteer with pedals and then with a controller. I bet the steering wheel felt much more manageable.
Sim racing isn't solely about competition. Some of us revel in:
- Experiencing the limits of driving.
- Flowing through a race, tackling turns at high speed – a blend of satisfaction and relaxation.
- The adrenaline rush that comes with serious sim racing.
While I enjoy both controllers and steering wheels on a daily basis, trust me – in terms of immersion, gamepads are not even close to steering wheels.
The actual wheel in your hands, combined with force feedback, offers an unparalleled experience. Sometimes, it's easy to forget you're only playing a game.
If you haven't tried a steering wheel in a sim racing game, I strongly suggest giving it a shot. Before purchasing, ask someone who owns one to avoid wasting money. If none of your friends have a steering wheel, look online or check for professional simulators in your area.
Can you achieve good lap times with a controller?
With stock and easy setups, my controller lap times were about 0.1 to 0.2 seconds slower compared to using a steering wheel – still a solid performance. However, specific tracks and cars can present challenges.
Controlling oversteering cars with a controller is tough, and mistakes are easy to make. For instance, despite my experience with a gamepad, I remember when I wasn't able to consistently go full throttle through Eau Rouge with the aggressive setup, which was relatively easy with a steering wheel.
A steering wheel shines in such situations.
Force feedback enhances your awareness of the car, allowing subtle adjustments to steering and throttle inputs.
Why even skilled sim racers should try a controller?
Although I own a steering wheel, I primarily use a controller. Crazy? Maybe, but hear me out:
- Suitable for Limited Space: I lack the room space for a dedicated sim racing setup in my current apartment. Setting up and connecting everything on my wheel stand each time feels like a hassle, especially on busy weekdays. However, the controller is a convenient solution. Just plug it in, and I'm instantly driving without the setup ordeal. It's also great if you wish to play while laying on bed.
- Relaxed and Extended Play: Real racing drivers, especially endurance racers, impress me. After 1-2 hours of virtual racing, I'm often too fatigued to continue. The controller tires me less, making it my choice for longer and more casual sessions. It's also perfect for laid-back gaming in bed, accompanied by music or a podcast.
Best Simracing Games to play on Controller
1. Assetto Corsa Competizione
My personal favorite. The game I to play every day with a controller, after I tested pretty of them.
GT3 class cars are perfect for this, partly because they utilize ABS and Traction Control, and they aren't as fast as hypercars or top single-seaters. As a result, they don't demand as much precision to achieve good lap times. Just look at this guy's skill, wow!
Hats off to the developers, because playing with a gamepad is outstanding. I might sound like a fanboy, but the experience is even better than I could have expected to have with a controller.
I don't know how they did it, but the car feeling with the gamepad is absolutely spot-on for this type of controller, and thanks to the vibrations, you can quickly sense impending oversteer and prevent it (which is rare, even in games considered controller-friendly). The vibrations resemble the force feedback you get from top-tier steering wheels.
Of course, it's not as immersive an experience, and a gamepad will never provide the same level of precision as a steering wheel and pedals, but if you want to play with a controller, have fun, and be competitive, in my opinion, this is currently the best title by far.
2. Games from F1 series
While some may not categorize F1 games as true sim racing, they come incredibly close. Adapted for a wider audience, they shine on a gamepad.
Even without assists, I managed decent lap times after just two hours of gameplay. This game is ideal if you're into single-seaters.
However, pay attention to which of these games you choose.
It's quite a subjective feeling, but not every game offers a controller-friendly driving model. For instance, F1 22 was known for significant oversteers, making it difficult to play without traction control on a gamepad, whereas F1 2020 provided a truly enjoyable experience.
Fortunately, it seems that the situation is looking up with F1 23, and developers are striving to ensure that controller players can compete at a higher level and have even more fun with the game. That's fantastic – keep it up!
3. Project Cars 2
Though no longer available on Steam, Project Cars 2 is a gem that deserves a mention.
Exceptional graphics and abundant content make it one of the finest sim racing experiences on a controller.
Despite debates about its authenticity as a sim racer, it's an absolute blast. If you have this game, or you’re able to buy it, it’s one of the best sim racing titles for controller players out there.
What is the best controller for sim racing games?
Honestly? There's no such thing as the universally best controller for playing sim racing games.
Go for a gamepad that's officially supported by your favorite game and works with your operating system. The key is to have an analog stick for steering (not static left and right buttons) and what's known as triggers for progressive accelerate and brake inputs. It would also be good if the controller has vibration feedback.
Based on my experience, I highly recommend PC-compatible controllers dedicated to Xbox and PlayStation with a wired connection to your computer. They are very popular, so compatibility issues are rare, and they work well in most sim racing games. Personally, I use the Xbox One Controller and wouldn't trade it for any other.
Why a wired controller?
Call me old-fashioned, but when playing something competitive, I want to ensure there are no delays or sudden disconnections.
For several years, I participated in racing tournaments in MTA:SA on a team with a friend who used a wireless gamepad. At least five times during tournaments, his controller suddenly ran out of battery, causing him to crash into a wall and finish last or not finish at all.
Okay, I know it's more convenient and looks nicer, but if practicality matters to you, I believe a wired gamepad is a better choice.
Alternatively, if you have the option, get a wireless controller that can also be connected via a cable. You can use it wired only for important tournaments or endurance races.