THRUSTMASTER T128 REVIEW || A challenge to the entry hurdle

THRUSTMASTER T128 REVIEW


 Steering wheels with force feedback are generally an expensive purchase. The purchase is rarely worthwhile for players who only get into a racing car virtually every blue sky. The fact that a decent control device can also increase the fun in racing games is usually neglected. But maybe Thrustmaster will win people over with the new t128 model, available in two versions: one for the PlayStation family, one for the Xbox. Both also work with the PC.


With an attractive purchase price of 199 euros for the bundle consisting of the motor including the permanently installed steering wheel rim and a set of simple pedals, the new t128 from Thrustmaster undercuts all its competitors. Well, at least in the class of devices with a force feedback motor. Actually, force feedback is not a luxury, because without the motorized countersteering of the steering wheel, important information is lost. How much does the car resist? When does it threaten to drift away? Am I already driving on the curb? The effect of the force feedback is limited in cheap models due to a lack of strength, but it's definitely better than without it, and so the t128 can guarantee a certain level even in demanding racing games.

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Since the design of the t128 goes back to the related model t248, apart from a few simplifications, it is not surprising that many of the properties are the same. In fact, it is intended to replace the t150 as a low-end device, which is reflected in the size. The steering wheel rim is quite compact at 28 centimeters but doesn't feel too small. Two easily accessible, pleasantly quick-reacting magnetic shift paddles are behind it.


In terms of force feedback, the new variant moves between the two models mentioned above. Unfortunately, we were not able to take precise measurements because an unusual hybrid solution of gear and belt transmission makes it difficult to measure an average value - which is simply due to the fact that the stiff gear part of the motor causes the steering wheel to turn sluggishly. Even when no force is acting on the steering wheel. Based on the comparison with a t150, we assume a torque of 2.2 to 2.5-newton meters. That's decent for a device in this price range. After all, there are more expensive competitors that don't have quite as much talent - see Logitech's G29, for example.


In order to keep the price that low, Thrustmaster skimped on many other conveniences. The steering wheel rim has no reference that could increase grip. The hands lie on bare plastic. Also, the t128 cannot be screwed to a rig. A supplied clamp serves as the only usable, albeit reliable, fixation on the desk or frame. Finally, the ports for USB-C connectivity, pedals, and power are on the underside so far back that it's uncomfortable to plug in the appropriate cables.


The concept behind the 128's design not only sounds terribly bare bones, it's also as economical as it gets. Does that affect driving pleasure? Surprisingly not. At least not when it comes to the steering wheel as such. It's different with the pedals. We'll get to them in a moment.


Don't expect too much from a steering wheel in this price range. Those who have already gained experience with mid-range devices will miss many nuances in the resistance, and those who have experienced a torque of more than 10 Newton meters almost have the feeling that the t128 does not react at all in curves. This is actually nonsense, but you quickly get used to the high bar of hard force feedback.


Total beginners - and Thrustmaster is targeting them with the t128 - can get used to the concept of a steering wheel without being immediately overwhelmed by the high impact of force. From this point of view, the t128 does its job well. Good times were achieved in test drives with Assetto Corsa Competizione and Formula 1 2022, albeit only with a few activated driving aids.


If you want to switch off traction or play with tire pressure for durability, you could quickly run into problems because the difference between full tire grip and slipping cannot be differentiated. It is also not so well suited for targeted drifting, which unfortunately is to be blamed on the sluggish gear portion of the transmission. It's stiff, so it doesn't allow lightning-fast countersteering actions. Still, thanks to the maximum rotation of 900 degrees, which can be shortened to 270 degrees, it's flexible enough to cater to both sim beginners and arcade racers alike.


We can report less positive things about the pedals. Long story short, they're damn small. On a plate measuring 27 x 21 centimeters there is one pedal for the accelerator and one for the brake. The footrest is a measly 9.7 x 6.4 cm for the brake and 9.7 x 5 cm for the gas pedal.


Dimensions that are probably more intended for children. That kids have the sensitivity to work with four centimeters of pedal travel is an open question. After all: Pleasant resistance and amazingly precise analog evaluation speak for a technically mature solution. Only the form factor is unfortunately very economical, especially since every pressure on one of the pedals causes the entire plate to tip over if you don't fix it somewhere using two screw holes. Alternatively, there would still be fixing the pedal plate with the heels, which is also quite uncomfortable for a long time. Fortunately, other connection options remain open. In other words, you can connect better pedals from other Thrustmaster steering wheel models if required.


CONCLUSION

A cheap entry into real racing - but the pedals are terrible

You shouldn't expect too much from a 200-euro steering wheel. Certainly not luxury like pleasantly non-slip surfaces. However, for its price range, the t128 does quite well and would have deserved a recommendation for beginners if it weren't for the tiny pedals. Their 12-bit query is precise, but given their pedal surfaces the size of children's shoes and the light material, they can hardly be kept on the ground without screwing. Also, they are close together. If you wear thick shoes, you can only use them with the inside of your foot.


Too bad, because everything else about this wheel is good enough to give those interested a cheap entry into the real world of virtual racing, where joypads are just too crude and give too little information about the track. The t128's force feedback may not be particularly sensitive, but it is sufficient for a first approach to the basic rules. If you can get hold of a better pedal set from Thrustmaster on the cheap, then you can definitely consider buying the t128 before you buy an expensive steering wheel and possibly realize that it's not really your cup of tea.



PROS

  • compact but neat design
  • fast magnetic shift paddles
  • Handbrake buttons on the steering wheel
  • Compatible with various Thrustmaster pedals
  • good FF torque for its price range
  • all buttons easily accessible
  • set up and dismantled quickly
  • Pedals work precisely
  • attractive entry-level price

CONS

  • tiny pedals
  • heavy steering movement
  • noticeable gear friction
  • few nuances noticeable in the force feedback
  • Cable ports difficult to access

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