Thrustmaster T128 racing wheel review - Solid bang for your racing buck

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Thrustmaster's T128 racing wheel.

I’m heading into Brands Hatch’s famous first corner, Paddock Hill bend. Given that it plunges downhill and lies at the end of a pretty long straight, this sweeping curve can be pretty challenging no matter what you’re driving. It’s especially so in a colossal racing truck. The ideal driver to guide this mammoth vessel safely towards the hairpin at Druids would be someone with a smooth and careful driving style. Unfortunately, I’m the one tasked with doing so, and I’ve clipped the inside kerb far too hard.

The truck is pitched up onto two wheels and eventually lands flat on its side in the gravel trap. Thankfully, this only happened in a video game, so the man behind the wheel is completely unharmed. His pedals even managed to stay in the same place.

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The racing wheel I was fruitlessly wrenching away at while my lorry went on an unstoppable pilgrimage towards the barriers was Thrustmaster’s T128, the newest addition to the French manufacturer’s range of sim racing hardware, aimed squarely at those taking to the track for the first time.

Heading to the grid

Unboxing and setting up the T128 proved pretty much just as straightforward as I’d hoped, with the wheel mounting to a desk or table via a bracket with a bolt and the pedals, Thrustmaster’s petite and lightweight T2PM set, sliding straight underneath it. While I did find mounting the wheel using the bracket a little more difficult and fiddly than the simple clamps used by my usual racing setup, a Logitech G29, which is a bit more expensive than the T128, once I’d figured it out, the wheel stayed secure in place for all of my adventures, making this more of a matter of personal preference.

One area that the T128 does have my usual setup beat is cable management, with a couple of velcro ties helping to group the three cables you’ll be plugging into the wheel (power supply, pedal connector and USB cable to your console or PC) together at ideal intervals. Given that the three wires are going to three different places, there’s only so much these ties can do to keep the chaos at bay, but I definitely think they helped a little. That said, I did find the cable that attaches

The Thustmaster T128 wheel.

With all of the physical stuff set up, you’ll be good to go if you’re using a console, but for PC players like me, there’s the extra step of downloading the drivers required for the wheel’s force feedback. Thankfully, this is as simple as heading to the web address listed on the instructions, setting away a quick download and then running a setup program that’ll sort everything else for you.

Art of rally

Having set everything up, I thought that the best way to put the T128 through its paces was to try as wide a range of racing games from my Steam library as possible. To kick things off, I chose Dirt Rally 2.0, thinking that its variety of stages and array of classic and modern rally cars would be ideal for testing out how different road surfaces and setups felt.

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I quickly found that the T128 performed admirably across all of these, with its force feedback offering exactly the right frequency of bumps and jumps on gravel stages, making clipping the grass at the edge of tarmac stages treacherous and even replicating the losses of grip caused by rain or icy patches.

Outside of this, certain cars felt just as hard to control as they should, with punchy rear-wheel drive beasts like Lancia’s Stratos and 037 being just as volatile as they are with my usual rig and requiring plenty of throttle management to avoid spinning out on corner exit. A Group B monster like the MG Metro 6R4 was equally terrifying, even if I did spend half the stage I did with it trying to nurse home a punctured tyre, something the T128 was happy to point out whenever I turned into a bend.

Getting back on track

Having had my fill of mud, I next fired up Assetto Corsa Competizione next, in order to see how the T128 would perform in a GT3 circuit race. While its gear change lights hadn’t worked in Dirt Rally 2.0 and I’d had to bind all of the wheel’s controls manually, ACC picked up the wheel straight away, automatically bound everything for me and lit up the row of LEDs on its central hub.

Deciding to take on a couple of pitstop-punctuated sprint races around Watkins Glen in a Porsche 911, I found its twists and turns to be just as fun as it should be, with the T128’s magnetic paddle shifters being pleasant to grip and facilitating smooth changes. However, its light display did seem to lure me into short shifting slightly more often than would be ideal, even if this was only by a couple of milliseconds each time.

Another problem began to arise as I got further into the first race, with the pedals gradually beginning to slide away from my feet with every sharp burst of braking, meaning that I had to pause the action a couple of times to slide them back to where they should be. This is an issue that only really crops up in longer racing sessions, but it’s still worth sorting, especially given that other pedals like my usual Logitech set already feature a retractable strip of plastic spikes on the underside to secure them in place during play. Ironically, this problem also kept happening despite the cable connecting the pedals to the wheel being a little shorter than I, as I 6’2’’ bloke with fairly long legs, would ideally have liked.

Thrustmaster's T2PM pedal set.
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With the pedals restored to their ideal place, I made it to my pitstop and was able to execute it pretty perfectly, with the wheel’s default binding spots for the pit limiter and menu toggle both being well-placed to avoid any accidental speeding penalties. Once these first couple of races were over, I tried some in wet conditions and found that the T128 did a great job of recreating the sensation of aquaplaning, while its gear change lights proved more useful than they had in the dry, providing a good picture of when to change despite wheelspin making the level of torque being put down go all over the shop.

I also did a couple of touring car races in a different sim-style game, RaceRoom Racing Experience, and discovered that the T128 really excels when used to throw a front-wheel drive Honda Civic around a classic, undulating track like Brands Hatch. You might end up sending it a little too hard up the inside of a few rivals and end up having to recover from a trip through the gravel, but you’ll have a bunch of fun doing so.

The same applies when behind the wheel of the racing trucks I mentioned earlier, which have just been added to RaceRoom via an update and showcased the T128’s ability to handle vehicles with a very wide steering range, despite my yobbish driving.

Pulling out onto real roads and having some fun

After having proved why I don’t belong on a real race track, I jumped into something less realism-focused, taking the T128 to the streets and dirt tracks of Mexico with Forza Horizon 5. It handled these just as well as it had everything else, with road cars spinning out whenever they slid off the edge of the tarmac and offroad machines suffering from body roll in tight bends.

For those who spent their childhoods getting far too invested in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, I regrettably inform you that I struggled to perform well in Horizon’s drift zones while using the T128. I had no trouble getting a slide going, I simply found them petering out into a spin more rapidly than I would have liked, though this probably speaks more to the fact I’ve historically preferred using a controller to channel my inner Ken Block or Nobushige Kumakubo.

The gear changing lights on Thrustmaster's T128
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Having utterly embarrassed my younger self in this rather childish form of racing, I decided to try my hand at another, mainly because I was curious to see how the wheel would handle it. Monster Jam Steel Titans 2 is a game that’s in my Steam library because I never quite stopped being seven years old and I can happily report that the T128 performed much better in it than I’d anticipated.

As I’d expected, the wheel did struggle to cope with making the four-wheel steering these trucks are famous for effective enough for me to win head-to-head races against the AI, but when I switched to freestyle runs, in which pulling off tricks are the key to success, it kind of came into its own. From getting massive air off of jumps, to doing doughnuts, and even nailing backflips and wheelies, it offered me all of the control I needed to rack up a 10/10 score with the time limit on multiple occasions.

Given that Steel Titans is the kind of game I’d half expect a sim racing wheel to shrug its shoulders at me when asked to work with, this speaks to the sheer variety of titles the T128 will cooperate with, making it a more attractive potential investment for those who aren’t solely focused on playing ultra-realistic racing games.

Crossing the finish line

Overall, Thrustmaster’s T128 is a pretty good racing wheel to go for if you’re a beginner looking to casually dip your toes into sim racing or just spice up your adventures in an arcade-style racer like Forza. At £169.99, you’ll be paying a decent chunk less than you would for the T128 slightly bigger brother, the T248, and most of the other options currently on the market.

While it does have some drawbacks compared to these more expensive options, most notably the issues surrounding the pedals I outlined, you’d definitely be getting a wheel that’ll likely work with whichever racing games you own. Just make sure you don’t cut Paddock Hill bend too tightly.

Thrustmaster T128
Thrustmaster’s T128 is a solid entry-level wheel for those looking to casually dip their toes into the world of sim racing or just switch up their Forza experience, even if it does have a couple of minor issues.