This is the second in our series of Razer product reviews. All products were loaned to us by Razer.
The Xbox 360 controller was the result of decades of refinement. From the awkward rectangles of the NES through the bizarre trident of the N64 controller up to the dual-sticks of the Gamecube and Dualshock controllers, engineers have been working to refine the ergonomics of controllers to make them accessible, precise and comfortable. For those of us with larger hands it seems like Microsoft came close to perfecting it with the 360 controller. It fits perfectly, has an incredible twelve buttons (not including the D-pad) and is robust enough to take a beating. It’s a beautiful thing.
As with all third-party controllers that means that the manufacturer, in this case Razer, has to think of a different way to appeal to an audience. In the past they often did it with price, creating cheaper knock-offs as you can see with the plethora of third-party wiimotes. Razer have decided to do something different and go after the more hardcore market in a few different ways. Has it paid off? Not entirely, but that might be more down to us.
The most obvious difference between the vanilla controller and the Sabertooth is the extra buttons. There are now six extra buttons which are fully programmable. There’s an OLED screen at the bottom that lets you program these easily to fire off a single button or even a combination. The buttons are reasonably creative in terms of placement. Two are extra shoulder buttons located closer to the center, four are on two cradle-shaped protrusions on the back. They look incredibly weird but in your hand they’re surprisingly natural and easy to hold. Clearly 360 games aren’t going to make us of any new commands but being able to remap buttons (like jump in the Halo games or Killstreak buttons in COD) to more accessible places is really useful. Similarly games that use complex combinations of buttons (the Batman Arkham games or fighting titles) can now have those attacks remapped to a single button. It’s elegant and it works, although it’s clearly something you wouldn’t know you need until you try it. The morality of programmable buttons is always up in the air and since you can play online with this, maybe it gives you an unfair advantage. We’d say if there is any bonus to using it, it’s pretty slim and this feature is more about comfort than anything. One nice touch is the ability to set up profiles so you can switch between two for the different kinds of games you play on the fly.
The OLED screen is pretty neat. It only displays a few characters but it is bright and high quality and makes setting up the pad much, much easier. You can also do things like turning rumble off or switching off the lights on the controller if you want, although we can’t think why you’d really want to.
The other big changes on the controller are to do with fighting games. The D-pad has been replaced with four discrete direction buttons, favouring precision over looks or comfort. Diagonal movements are slightly more awkward with them but for fighting game inputs it’s a massive improvement over the 360 controller’s weakest part. The face buttons (AXYB) have been overhauled as well and are now ridiculously shallow and sensitive. Both of these changes allow for precise, quick and careful fighting game controls, but they feel markedly worse for everything else. The 360 controller had a satisfying depth to the buttons and they looked and felt expensive. These little switches feel cheaper and less robust, although they are completely functional.
Other than those changes, it’s almost exactly a 360 controller. It’s a little lighter and smaller, the edges are slightly more angled, but your hands will feel perfectly at home, even with all the new buttons. It’s wired so works just as well with the PC and the cable has two breakaway points that top you from pulling your console/ PC off a shelf if you yank it to hard as you pick it up. The controller also comes with a new carrying case that is entirely superfluous but makes the package feel a little more substantial.
Overall the Sabertooth feels very solid for a third party controller, but it’s clearly not for us. If you play a lot of fighting games or you’re sick of horrible button placement in your favourite game, it’s a worthy competitor to the official version, but if you’re neither of those it’s probably best to stick to the official pads.