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Razer Hydra PC Gaming Motion Sensing Controller w/ Portal 2

 

History has seen its fair share of attempts at revolutionizing the way players interact with their games. Numerous names like the Namco SuperScope, the DDR dance pad, and most recently Nintendo’s DS’s touchscreen and Wii-mote come to mind as some of the most successful attempts at changing the way we play our games. Though most of these innovations never did reach the PC gaming scene, much interest has grew from them.

Today we bring you the Razer Hydra. Razer, a pioneer and innovator in the PC gaming scene, unleashes the world’s first PC gaming motion controller in the form of the Hydra. With being the first of its kind, the Hydra has much to prove with this venture into the unknown so let’s get this crackin’, make it showy and see if the Hydra delivers.

The Hydra is Razer’s attempt to providing PC gamers with a fully immersive experience in-game. Working with Sixense, Razer is trying to deliver to the PC world a whole new dimension of gameplay for players and whole new challenge for game-makers during gameplay development. Here’s a quick-spec of the Hydra:

(Per controller)

  • Thumb-ergonomic analog stick for fluid control
  • 4 Hyperesponse action buttons – Razer’s classic buttons which are supahresponsive as we’ve seen in the Onza
  • Rapid-fire trigger and bumper for faster in-game response – Rapid-fire not autofire
  • Non-slip satin grip surface – oooohhh silkeh
  • True six degree-of-freedom magnetic motion tracking – that’s like more than 3D
  • Lightweight, anti-tangle braided cable – can I say that the braided cables feels like rat tails? Oh, I just did.

(Base station)

  • Low-power magnetic field, low power consumption – ugh, cancer awareness groups will go apeshit if the magnetic field goes high
  • Ultra precise sensor for 1mm and 1 degree tracking – the Hydra knows where you are… where you go… and where you hid that donut
  • No line of sight to controllers required
  • Low latency feedback – that’s like real-time brah

PHOTOSHOOT

First thing you’ll notice upfront on the Hydra is that ribbon with the Portal 2 Limited Edition stuff on it. Yes the Hydra includes a copy of Portal 2 with a special DLC called the Sixense MotionPack. More on that later. The front of the box is all clear showcasing the base station and controllers. I’ve come to appreciate the neon green inner color of Razer’s packaging but in this case, the Hydra’s all-black color scheme, though contrasting, is obscured. Something akin to the glorious Mamba would’ve been a more suitable option, considering the price.

The back of the box highlights the Hydra’s features.

The sides sport an introduction on the Hydra and a closer look at its other features. Unique to this packaging is the bilingual approach. Also missing is a message from Razerguy.

More shots of the top and bottom of the Hydra’s packaging.

Opening up the packaging we have the main unit itself and the standard paperworks INCLUDING a code for Portal 2. A US$50 value, yours absolutely free when you buy the Razer Hydra… BUT WAIT, there’s more! If you buy the Hydra right now, you also get the Portal 2 Sixense MotionPack DLC as a bonus. (grins)

CLOSER LOOK

MALL OF ASIA!!! Now that I have your attention, yes that is the Hydra’s base station. The main sphere is fully glossy black whilst the entire body is in matte black coated with a nice rubber surface. It’s a like-it-or-hate-it design, the fat base and glossy sphere will look most weird on an aggressive desktop. Still, live with it. The other picture display the Hydra’s ports where you connect the controllers and USB plug.

The base station circular base has indents in it to dock the controllers when not in use.

The controllers look like badass version of the Wii-chucks but are significantly larger. They have a nice feel to them when gripped and the coating a nice touch.

The controller cords are braided whilst the USB cable is vanilla rubber. Understandable since the base station won’t be seeing much movement unlike the controllers. The plugs on the Hydra, similar to the Onza are also vanilla. No gold-plating here.

The USB and controller connector feature unique connector ends. Not sure if these are microUSB though.

The base of the Hydra has significant weight to it to prevent movement and and has a rubber ring to minimize slippage even when tugged.

Plugging in the Hydra, we get to see its lighting sphere. The photo doesn’t really do the glow justice. Not too bright and not too dim, just right, is the Hydra’s emerald pulsating glow.

PERFORMANCE, COMFORT, FUNCTIONALITY

With a fairly good number of games in its support list (found here), we still find it a bit too early to really justify what the Hydra can bring. For this testing, we have decided to focus on what the Hydra promises to do and that’s provide a different feel and control to our games. Focusing on this premise, we graded our performance on how enjoyable the overall experience is.

For performance, I deem this a bit restricted. Not by the fact that the Hydra is wired, but by like what I said earlier, support. The Hydra has superb positional-awareness and precision, though it requires quite some getting used to. Games like Portal 2 benefit the player by letting them learn the Hydra at their pace not putting pressure on the player by having them buzzed by gunfire unlike some games notably Crysis 2 and/or COD:MW2. The Hydra experience is a defining one for the PC motion sensing genre so its hard to compare to anything but all in all it has significantly left a nice performance benchmark for anything wishing to follow its footsteps. The Hydra’s tracking is highly responsive and for some might feel super-sensitive, this however can be tailored via the Hydra’s software settings.

Here’s a video of the Portal 2 in play:

Comfort-wise, right off the bat the controllers feel good to grip. The nice, hefty shaft complements the triggers and the placement of the thumb controls are well laid-out for ease of access. The thumbsticks are quite nice and soft and are particularly responsive. Same can be said about the Hyperesponse buttons which we’ve come to love since the Onza. Raising the issue of wireless capabilities, Razer does not rule out the possibility of it in the future. For now, we have a wired Hydra though. The length of the cable from the base is sufficient enough but one thing that jerks my chain is the position of the wire. Connected to the base via the rear, the wire snake their way either via the side or the middle of the base unless you’re using some ingenious wiring management. The wire tend to rub on any surface making them get caught in stuff sometimes when you have stuff lying in the desktop. Playing at maximum range, the length of the wire affect motion by limiting movement to a few degrees. That said, the Hydra restricts gameplay sort of by putting the player in a constrained position and range from the base. Understandable since the base uses low-power magnetic field for tracking, which has limited range by nature. It would’ve been a better idea if the controller port was placed on the front of the base station.

As for features, the Hydra offers a totally new way of interacting with your game and this is its one strongest selling feature. The ability to physically interact with PC games has been a dream for quite some time and the Hydra realizes that. Though innovative, it still requires major tweaks and changes to fully achieve its maximum potential. Nintendo has pretty much set the bar in motion-controlled gaming and the Wii-mote’s superior performance will put the Hydra to shame. This is not entirely the Hydra’s fault. Again, this is a young technology and the reception it receives right now would be key to how much effort the dev-teams will put into it.

CONCLUSION

The Razer Hydra manages to deliver on its promise of enabling a whole new feel to gaming. It promised to immerse the player by enabling physical interaction and it has successfully accomplished this. Being a first of its kind, it has left a significant mark on what to expect and would be the standard for future attempts in creating such controllers for the PC. Right now, the titles supporting the Hydra may look sparse (not everyone wants or has those games in the Hydra’s support list) but as interest grow and support gradually increases, we may probably see an increase in the Hydra’s (or a future variant’s) feature-sets. As for right now all we can do is give the Hydra much love for what it can offer. It may be handicapped by the amount of games you can play with it but that does not take away the fact that the Hydra is a wonderful piece of hardware that brings back that interactivity that PC games were much lauded for in the past.

For those looking to engross in a bit of something or those adventurous to try something new, and can afford it, you are encouraged to try the Hydra. It may not be for competitive use, but the amount of fun it may well bring to those that seek a bit of change from the keyboard and mouse gaming we usually do, it is a welcome change. Coming in at US$139.99, the Razer Hydra is a somewhat hefty investment but considering the pricing of past attempts of motion control, its fair to say its well-priced. The Hydra comes bundled with a fully functional version of Valve’s Portal 2 with the MotionPack DLC. The DLC features 6 new levels that utilizes the Hydra to a good extent proving how much more power the Hydra has. Portal 2 comes at around US$50 so taking that off the whole price would put the Hydra at a much more reasonable price-range. But putting into perspective the goal to market the Hydra, not including Portal 2 w/ MotionPack DLC would leave some buyers discontent as they may not be able to fully experience the Hydra’s offering. Those who do own the game may give the code as a gift to their friends. That said, we understand Razer’s decision to bundle the game with their unit. As some might put it, the Hydra is an expensive toy. But its a very enjoyable one.

In closing, the Razer Hydra brings a glimpse on the possible future of PC gaming. And as Razer heavily implies, this is a first-generation peripheral and with lots of love, it has a bright future. Though it takes a bit of investing, both in time and money, the Hydra will deliver a new experience. This is not for everyone and though we find it very appealing, not everyone will feel the same about the Hydra so if you’re willing to shell out for it just so you’ll find out first-hand, ask yourself this first: DO I REALLY WANNA SPEND THAT MONEY ON SOMETHING THAT WILL PROBABLY TIRE MY WRISTS OUT AND MAKE ME LESS COMPETITIVE BUT MAKE ME EXPERIENCE A WHOLE NEW DIMENSION TO MY GAMES?

If you can say yes to that with your fist clenched in front of you, then by all means get it.


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