The haptic feedback system for sim racing can add immersion, no question, but the software experience and inconsistent performance leave us feeling a little subdued.
Picture the scene. You’re not exactly new to sim racing. You’ve picked up a solid cockpit, beefed up your PC with some powerful hardware, picked out a wheel and pedal combo, perhaps splashed out on a high refresh rate HDR display with all the trimmings to make things look spectacular – and yet you’ve still got some money burning a hole in your pocket.
Much like any other hobby that involves throwing money down a hole, there’s always the urge to throw more money down that hole.
Where exactly do you go next? A motion rig? Upgrade to triple monitors? How about something that gives you a little more feedback?
Enter the ButtKicker Gamer Plus, a product that almost does what it says on the tin.
To put it bluntly, a ButtKicker is a haptic feedback device that you mount to either the underside of your desk chair or cockpit in order to deliver haptics through, well, your butt. Engine vibrations, running over kerbs, feeling the revs hit the limiter, or changing gears – it’s quite something, one that can make your sim racing experience both more immersive and informative.
In the box for the Gamer Plus unit you find the transducer itself with mounting hardware, the amplifier unit and remote, RCA connectors, and both USB and power leads.
Setting things up is rather straightforward, and mounting ours to the underside of the Next Level Racing F-GT Elite in our video studio was a breeze. Next Level Racing does include ButtKicker mounting support from new too, which made things even easier.
Other manufacturers may have accessories available to accommodate a haptic unit like this, whereas in other circumstances you might need to improvise.
By default, you’ll be looking to use the Gamer Plus unit with a PC, as it works natively out of the box. If you’re wanting to use it with a console, however, you’ll have to look for a third-party HDMI audio extractor to make things work – and that limits you to only one option of haptic delivery, which I’ll get to.
This is where, unusually, before digging much deeper, we’ll look at the price of the Gamer Plus from ButtKicker. There are no two ways to say this, it costs $279.95.
That’s not a cheap bit of kit, but it is well made and excelently packaged. Why so soon on discussing the price, I hear you ask?
To make things work, you’ll need the HaptiConnect software from ButtKicker, which is available in three tiers, Base, Standard, and Ultimate, priced at Free, $29.99, and $59.99 respectively. This took us by surprise, as I expected after (hypothetically) dropping almost $300 on the hardware, not to have to pay extra for the software. But why three tiers also, then?
The easiest way to elaborate is to expand upon how the ButtKicker actually works. On PC, you have two means of generating haptics from the games you are playing.
One is to use audio from the game you’re playing, using the ‘lows’ of the game sounds to generate a rumbling sensation. Or, you can use Plugins that feed off telemetry from the game you are playing to deliver much more refined haptics.
The free (or ‘Base’) tier of the HaptiConnect software gives you access to the audio side of feedback generation, while the upper tiers give you more immediate access to plugins.
‘Standard’ provides you with six plugins to play with from the off, specifically for iRacing, Assetto Corsa, Assetto Corsa Competizione, DiRT Rally 2.0, F1 2021 and F1 22, while ‘Ultimate’ gives you access to all currently available and future plugins.
If you’re only on the ‘Base’ or ‘Standard’ tiers, you’ll be forking out anywhere between $2.99 and $9.99 for more plugins such as the recently supported Automobilista 2, Project CARS 2, RaceRoom Racing Experience and rFactor 2.
Adding more purchase options after purchasing the hardware didn’t really sit well with us here. Forking out $300-odd then having to pay more to get the advertised functionality is bordering on misleading if you haven’t done your research.
To add insult to injury, I don’t the ‘Base’ tier audio-only haptic generation isn’t worth your time.
It quite simply adds noise to your gameplay session. If you’re wanting a more genuine, refined experience, the audio splitting option is not the way to go. Since that’s the only thing you can do when connecting a console to the ButtKicker, it’s probably not worth the price tag if you only have a PlayStation or Xbox.
As for using the plugin ‘Game Connect’ method, the haptics definitely improve. The software gives you vague options to change the gain on various feedback-inducing things, but you do receive immediate feedback when mounting kerbs, changing gears and locking up the wheels. In our testing, iRacing‘s inclusion felt fantastic.
But it wasn’t the same for everything else available. I’ve had the Gamer Plus for a while now, and there have been a few more plugin releases since. That, in itself, also threw a spanner in the works, as updating the software definitely doesn’t work as you’d expect.
Instead of checking for updates on launch and sorting itself out, ButtKicker sends you an email to say a new version is available, where you download a new .exe and reinstall HaptiConnect. You cannot log-in to the website and download a fresh version from there.
I think HaptiConnect’s whole experience from post-purchase purchase to general use and updating definitely needs a lot of re-working and TLC from ButtKicker.
As for the other compatible titles, the feeling quite literally fluctuates across the board. In titles such as Assetto Corsa, Assetto Corsa Competizione, and rFactor 2, their integration with HaptiConnect appears spotty, as if not all of the telemetry information is outputting correctly.
AC and ACC don’t appear to deliver haptics when running over kerbs and/or colliding with a wall, but almost overdeliver on tyre slips and the road service. rF2 delivered RPM vibrations and perhaps a clunk or two when changing gear, but not much else. It wasn’t an entirely convincing experience.
While you can change the saturation of present effects on the fly within the HaptiConnect software by simply tabbing in and out of the game, the base volume of the amplifier unit can make a huge difference and will have to be used between games.
Back to Assetto Corsa, the amplifier volume at 25 was adequate, while rFactor 2 needed to bump the volume up to 35 to get any substantial feeling. Apart from playing with individual settings within individual games, there’s no way of averaging everything easily within HaptiConnect.
So that begs the question, do you need a ButtKicker for your sim racing setup?
It’s not the cheapest addition to your large, overly expensive toy (especially when taking the software and plugin pricing into consideration), and our experience with it has been wholly inconsistent.
From an immersion perspective, I can definitely understand picking something like this up. I have been to sim racing centres that utilise a haptic transducer, and it makes things a lot of fun. The integration with iRacing is fantastic.
However, dropping hundreds of dollars on the ButtKicker ecosystem in hopes of improving your feedback (and consequently your lap times) isn’t a guarantee.
There very much are glimmers of potential here, but the overall experience is much less refined than I anticipated. HaptiConnect can support up to four devices, with the intention of having one mounted on each corner of your sim. Based on my experience with one unit, I’m not exactly sure how much better having three more would be.
I’m definitely keen to see the plugins become more refined, and the HaptiConnect user experience reworked in (hopefully) its entirety. There’s fun to be had here, but I wouldn’t drop a few hundred bucks on it right now.
Reviewed using the Next Level Racing F-GT Elite sim racing cockpit.
Full disclosure: the ButtKicker Gamer Plus was provided by the manufacturer for review purposes. Here is our review policy.