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OMG! Level 15! - Level 15
Thirteen months after my initial preview of this controller, it's finally ready for the public. Over a years worth of anticipation and high hopes all came rushing to the surface when the box arrived at my doorstep last week... all ceremony and fanaticism aside, the big question is - does it deliver? The short answer is yes, so if you have been waiting for this one just go and get it - but there are many fine details to discuss - and major implications to the release of such a competent alternative. Read on for my in-depth reviewing of each future that sets this unit apart from the competition.
Anyone familiar with the brand name knows Razer has built a name for themselves over the years through the quality of their products. For over a decade they have been engineering high quality, purpose-built computer mice and keyboards that have been the envy of many PC enthusiast. Those who have been fortunate enough to enjoy their - at their desks have been crying out for the company to bring their expertise to the world of consoles since early in the PS2 era to no avail. However, with the rise in popularity of games like Halo 3, big-money competitive gaming within the console space has since exploded, though centered mostly around Xbox 360. And thus the planets aligned...the company that produced some of the first peripherals ever targeted specifically to the competitive gamer has set their sights on what is now my primary gaming platform.
The Razer Onza: Then and Now
And months later, they unveiled exactly what I had envisioned. The final product is surprisingly close to the prototype. Two cosmetic changes were made; the choice to remove the backlighting for the D-pad as well as the glowing seam seen running along the outer edge of the controller. Finally, the redesigned triggers - you'll see a photo below showcasing the extreme shape and length used on the production unit. The controller ships in two different formats: the definitive Tournament Edition which includes all options and premium features for $49.99 and the Standard Edition which comes sans tension adjustable joysticks and backlit face buttons, as well as sporting a lesser quality cord (non-braided) and economy textured finish shell for just 10 dollars less, at $39.99.
The Razer Onza Tournament Edition
Let's go over the features on this beauty, shall we? Each sectional will be wrapped up with a letter grade. My apologies on the mediocre quality of these photos, they were taken from my phone (Any photographers in the house? Finally in the market to replace my stolen camera, looking for suggestions)
Fit and Finish: First impression? Impressed. The matte rubberized finish looks and feels great - additionally it seems to have a magical property to keep the unit in pristine condition. I have never had the problem of profuse hand sweat while gaming, but what little there used to be while using a stock controller is no longer an element, presumably because of the ergonomics and finish. One feature I imagine most users will be taken aback by is the seemingly archaic hardwired input to your console. This can make for an awkward initial setup if you're used to setting your powered off controllers on a table far off from the console itself, but once you're plugged in and sitting down to play you should completely forget it's there. The plus side to being hardlined, besides not having to worry about replacing batteries or swapping packs, is a considerably lighter unit in lieu of said batteries. This lightweight build lends itself nicely to the previously mentioned plush amenities of ergonomics
The layout of this controller is familiar with the exception of the Back and Start buttons, which have been moved below joysticks. You'll likely find yourself tapping the region where these buttons are located on a stock controller for the first few hours... but now that I'm used to the Onza, I have been hitting the area below the sticks when I use a stock controller, heh. Specifics about the differences in actuating the different inputs will be delved into below.
Fit and Finish Judgment: The harsh lines on the far left and right of the face of the controller make you wonder how it's going to feel in your hands, but rest assured this thing was engineered for ergonomics. Smooth finish and easy actuation of (most) buttons, triggers and sticks means this unit passes the fit and finish check with flying colors. A
MFB (Multi-Function Buttons): The main selling point of this controller for most, this convenience feature performs exactly as you would expect it to. Either MFB can be remapped to almost every single action on the controller (excluding only the d-pad and guide button), this includes L3, R3, Back and Start. Although you will likely jump into a game thinking with such a familiar position that the new shortcuts will come as second nature, expect to have to retrain your brain for a few hours. The bumpers actuate quickly similar to a standard Xbox controller, with just a slight bit more resistance - this applies to the LB and RB as well. This extra force needed to press does take away from the comfort level after extended use... I wonder if it will be redesigned and loosened up a bit, or if it was kept this way for longevity sake perhaps.
MFB Judgment: Although many have already complained that this feature is hard to get used to, the fault lies only in the user. Razer took the right path placing these buttons where they did, instead of going for some tiny button on the rear of the unit to tap with your ring finger or something like several competitors have. These buttons opens the door for easier "rapid fire" in shooters among other things that could tilt the playing field unfairly against anyone without it... however I think most players who have the inclination to do so have already modded their old controllers or picked up a purpose built turbo-functionality unit. Another easy passing grade. B+
Triggers: In all honesty, I did not expect anything different in the way of triggers, but I was pleasantly surprised! Not only were the triggers redesigned late in the process to have a much longer profile, but a quicker actuation as well. Silky smooth when pressed, and only require a fraction of the travel to be actuated compared to a stock controller - less travel means quicker repeated presses, making semi-automatic weapon fire a breeze. I wonder what this would mean for any title that demands control of the pressure exuded on the triggers however, racing games for example... the majority of games use triggers only as a static button without pressure sensitivity though.
Trigger Judgment: A completely unexpected bonus, and one of the features I have grown to appreciate the most. The best kind of surprise. A
Joysticks: Before jumping into the adjustable tension factor, it should be known that these sticks are a bit taller than those of a stock controller. Longer sticks means more travel distance which equates directly to more precision and control to begin with, even before setting a higher level of tension, awesome. The tension adjustment has been a feature I have dreamed of for years, but here in the end I find myself conflicted. The function works as advertised, you can turn it up or down at a moments notice but if I'm honest I have barely made use of it. I haven't counted how many settings or clicks there are from lowest to highest setting, I would estimate somewhere around 20, and I am generally only 3-5 clicks away from the zero tension setting. I suppose this isn't a bad thing, I found my comfortable level... just much lower than anticipated.
Joystick Judgment: Breaking away from my own expectations, the adjustable tension feature is exceptional. Easy to use, with expected levels of progression - and that's an important word actually, progression - when set to the extreme levels of tension there is a progressive amount you'll be fighting against. Meaning that the first 70% of the radius from the deadzone will move at a uniform rate, but to get to the far edges you will start to feel it become more and more rigid as you move outward. I wasn't expecting that, but it's perfect when you think about it. Say you play shooters on super high sensitivity and you find yourself accidentally moving too far to the left or right and end up overshooting your intended stop point - this makes that mistake much tougher to repeat. Very very awesome feature. Outside of that, the L3 and R3 joystick clicks are far too stiff and this is the only factor in the sticks being marked down at all. B+
D-Pad: Most everyone likes to complain about the stock controller directional pad, understandably, so you can imagine this particular feature had some very vocal supporters even early on. Sadly this is the one area in which the Onza has failed to reach it's own benchmarks. The separated buttons do make for less mistakes in the heat of battle - in a game where you might have each direction on the pad mapped to different abilities that must be used carefully - however the actuation of these individual arrows is about as stiff and cumbersome as one could have dreaded. So you can look at it this way... if you wanted this redesigned d-pad to be the tool that could help you type out a text message quicker, or move with more purpose in your favorite 2D brawler, I am sorry to inform you that it could't be worse for that. However, if you stick to action titles that save the d-pad only for things that should be deployed with care, it works quite nicely.
D-Pad Judgment: The clunky actuation is just too much to try and look past, that con alone outweighs any pros you might weigh against it. C+
Face buttons (Y,B,A,X): Razer touts their Hypersponse technology on this controller, but I believe the only area in which this is actually implemented is on the face buttons, and let me tell you it is awesome. These buttons are extremely shallow, and require almost NO travel distance to be pressed. It sounds strange, and it even feels strange at first... especially after becoming so used to the Microsoft pads squishy buttons. After you get into your first grapple in Dead Space 2 that requires a button mash, and you realize you can push these buttons probably 3 times as quickly as before... you'll get it. These buttons are also backlit, making for a very slick overall presentation of the entire package - and it's not too bright, so don't worry about being distracted by it in low light settings.
Face Button Judgment: Much like the triggers, I was surprised by how much I liked this change from the stock controllers. The backlight is fancy and functional without being obnoxious. This gets a bold A+
Final Judgment: A
This controller is everything I hoped it would be, and is indisputably a masterfully crafted piece of tech. Slicker, quicker, more comfortable and more precise than any other offering on the market... the choice is simple. Go Onza, or get Onza'd.
15' Cord is a bit excessive... I could have lived with 8 or 10, but it's all good. The cord also sports a quick-disconnect a few inchs away from the USB connector incase of accidental trips on the cord... I'm glad I'll never have to worry about that.
Lightweight unit will not startle even the most easily startled kittens from sleep. And yes, it includes rumble.