A long time ago, all you needed was a keyboard and mouse to shoot people in the face. The trusty numpad was what you relied on to deliver Hadoukens and Bullet Kicks. While the kids on the consoles tapped away at their gamepads, even as the rest of their fingers hung about like vestigial appendages, we used every muscle from the shoulders down as we frantically reached for the number row and function keys for pre-assigned spells and potions. Even when racing, it was either the keyboard for kicking people off motorcycles in Road Rash or a steering wheel and pedals for Richard Burns Rally.
The protective casing and detachable cable make it tournament friendly
Being a PC gamer, you see, gamepads once used to be nothing more than an unwarranted luxury. The trusty keyboard and mouse combo excelled at all kinds of games ranging from FPS to RTS. However, this ceased to be the case once Microsoft introduced the XInput API in 2005 to coincide with the launch of its Xbox 360 console. Soon enough, PC games transformed into glorified console ports optimised for game pads. The support for our beloved keyboard and mouse combo would be thrown in as an afterthought in most games. Forced acceleration, mouse smoothing and massive latency issues now compelled PC gamers to purchase a decent XInput compatible gamepad to cope with a growing breed of console ports that didn't play well with the keyboard and mouse.
Fortunately, Microsoft's Xbox 360 wired controller was well-built and accurate enough to be preferred by professional console gamers. It categorically destroyed third-party alternatives from PC controller experts such as Logitech, Mad Catz and Saitek by offering better performance for less than half the price of its "premium" third-party counterparts. Microsoft's controller was pretty much impossible to beat once you took its inaccurate and downright ghastly D-pad in your stride.
That is, until Razer changed the game with the Onza, which featured high-precision thumbsticks and superior mechanical switches. Although it failed miserably at fixing the X360 controller's D-pad, it still remained the best XInput-compatible controller money could buy until Scuf Gaming released its line-up of custom X360 controllers. The SCUF Controller's unique paddles allowed professional Gears of War and Call of Duty players to access face buttons without taking their thumbs off the analogue sticks (thumbsticks).
Finally, a D-pad that doesn't suck!
Razer's flagship controller Sabertooth sets out to achieve two major goals: to iron out the kinks left behind in the Onza and to incorporate SCUF Controller's favourite party trick—paddles that free your right thumb from the face buttons. This explains why the Sabertooth seems to be a carbon copy of the Onza—right from the exact shape and dimensions to the button placement and the X360 controller's clever reversal of the left thumbstick with the D-pad. This means it's an XInput-compatible clone of the X360 gamepad, just like the Onza. This should delight PC gamers especially because that ensures a hassle-free, plug-and-play affair with all games. Moreover, just like the X360 controller, the Sabertooth's pair of analogue index triggers makes it indispensable for contemporary racing games that call for a minimum of three analogue axes.
Despite their likeness, there's still a world of difference between the Sabertooth and the Onza. For starters, the Sabretooth feels almost imperceptibly heavier than its predecessor, partly due to a chassis that's fashioned out of a softer, more rubberised plastic. That means it's still lighter than both the wired and wireless versions of the X360 gamepad as well as Sony's DualShock 3 controller, which translates into reduced fatigue over marathon gaming sessions.
The Start and Select buttons have been moved back to their rightful position and can now be reached quicker and with ease. The elongated analogue triggers have made way for classic design of the stock X360 gamepad. I personally prefer this change. The extra pair of programmable bumpers (dubbed as MFB or Multi-Function Buttons), which were earlier placed right below the regular bumpers in a confusing manner, have now been shrunken down and moved inwards in a different vertical axis. Doing so makes it impossible to press them inadvertently. The Sabertooth endears itself as a mature sibling of the Onza incorporating a host of common sense design decisions that make it considerably more intuitive and efficient.
The extra pair of programmable bumpers no longer run the risk of inadvertent inputs
The reworked D-pad is a quantum leap over that of the Onza as well as the stock X360 controller. The four discrete, membrane actuated directional buttons are one of the best I have seen and are precise enough to nail difficult combos in fighting games with consummate ease. They are set wide apart enough to prevent inadvertent strikes while being close enough to execute those all-important Forward, Down, Back combos. The actuation pressure is just right, whereas the rebound action is quicker for the benefit of rapid key presses. Quite simply, this is the gamepad to get if you can't afford a proper fight stick for Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat.
Sabertooth's 10ft cable length is 5ft shy of what you get with the Onza. I presume it's shortened to fit inside the slick foam-padded carry case that neatly houses the controller and accessories for easy portability between tournaments. The high quality braided cable is detachable and can be screwed in securely to the gamepad by the means of what seems to be a virtually indestructible and handsome assembly bearing a gunmetal finish.
The controller's fanciest party trick is a sexy green-on-black OLED display that allows you to change profiles, remap buttons, toggle vibration, adjust sensitivity and test settings—all of this without pausing the game to access the Settings screen. Just like the Onza, the Sabertooth doesn't require a driver suite, thereby making it ideal to hop from PC to PC without worrying about settings. The MFB remap process is entirely hardware based, in addition to being an easy and intuitive affair thanks to the OLED display. What's more, you can store these settings in two different profiles that can be switched rapidly on the fly.
Notice how the maximum range of motion diminishes as sensitivity is reduced (from left to right)
However, therein lays a major issue with the controller. Since this is a tournament-grade gamepad targeted at serious gamers, this 20-step sensitivity adjustment business becomes a crucial feature that drives purchase decisions. Unfortunately, I noticed something majorly amiss when I tried to adjust sensitivity in different games across multiple platforms. Instead of affecting the speed of the analogue stick movements, I noticed that reducing the sensitivity simply decreased the range of motion registered.
To cite an example; decreasing the sensitivity by five steps in Need For Speed: Shift reduced the steering travel by a catastrophic 80 percent, thereby making the game unplayable. Just to be sure, I hooked up the Sabertooth to different gaming rigs and analysed the raw input values, only to see the same issue being replicated on all machines. Unless the problem is specific to my review sample, this makes the sensitivity adjustment feature absolutely useless.
The final ace up Sabertooth's sleeve is what it calls as Multi Function Triggers (MFT). These crescent-shaped rockers situated at the bottom of the gamepad are Razer's answer to SCUF Controller's unique paddles. Just like SCUF's paddles, these triggers allow you to access face buttons in cover shooters without taking your thumbs off the analogue sticks. However, unlike its competitor's hardwired paddles, Razer's alternative is fully programmable and can be assigned to any other button on the fly. In simple terms, where one would have to buy separately configured SCUF Controllers for different games, just one Sabertooth suffices for anything in your library. Although these MFTs are pretty much superfluous for any other genres, they make the difference between winning and losing for professional console FPS players.
Unfortunately, since these MFTs essentially are rocker switches, you cannot press both assigned functions at the same time. These triggers offer virtually no resistance, whereas the tactile feedback is quite poor as well. This makes it deceptively easy to press them accidentally and inadvertently TK your squad mates with an inadvertent grenade or two. As someone who builds and services many types of miniaturised R/C suspension systems, it's not hard to notice the fact that the spring-loaded rocker assembly is so poorly built and pointless that I wonder if a real engineer was involved while designing it. There's such laughably chronic level of free play evident in the assembly that it makes you question why a spring was included in the assembly at all. Razer, however, has been smart enough to bundle a screwdriver that allows the MFTs to be removed altogether. Problem solved.
The MFTs can be remapped to the face buttons to free up your thumbs to focus on analogue sticks
On the bright side, the face buttons retain Onza's slick micro-mechanical switch actuated Hyperesponse buttons. Expect the familiar mechanical action seen in Razer mice, which makes the gamepad ultra-fast and effortless to operate. Pulling off elaborate multi-hit combos in Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter is now faster, more accurate and less likely to cause blisters. The mechanical switches employed on the index bumpers have thoughtfully been assigned a harder tactile feedback to prevent accidental actuation.
The thumbsticks fix most of the build quality issues marring the Onza. The click action is tight and positive and isn't soggy and imprecise as its predecessor. Unfortunately, my review sample had quite a bit of free play in the right stick, which forced me to increase the dead zone to prevent inadvertent inputs. On another note, Razer has done away with the rotary dials provided to adjust spring resistance on the analogue thumbsticks found on the Onza. Doing so brings the Sabertooth's thumbsticks down to the height of those found on the stock X360 controller, but I personally prefer the ability to tweak the resistance to my own preference. However, you can't blame Razer because a majority of pro gamers are familiar with the stock X360 controller, which is why it has deliberately designed Sabertooth's triggers and thumbsticks to mimic its familiar touch and feel.
When I analysed the raw input values of the Sabertooth vis-a-vis the X360 controller, it was evident that Razer has used higher quality potentiometers for the analogue sticks. Nevertheles, I still can't tell with a measure of certainty whether their accuracy is actually better than that of my two-year-old Onza, or if that's just on account of age related deterioration. I say this because the thumbsticks' response isn't as smooth as I would have expected, and most certainly not refined enough considering the controller's asking price.
Thankfully, the MFTs can be removed and stowed away
Being an R/C hobbyist, I regularly use high-quality potentiometers in my car and helicopter builds, and those perform considerably much better than the ones on the Sabertooth. Since I buy that calibre of potentiometers at $5 a pop at retail rates, Razer certainly can afford to throw them in a controller costing $80. Having said that, these still remain one of the best analogue sticks money can buy—that is, until Futaba, Spektrum, or KO Propo decide to make a gamepad.
How does all this reflect on the gamepad's performance, you ask? Well, I defer to Slightly Mad Studios' sublime quasi-simulation masterpiece Need For Speed: Shift for this purpose. Developed by a team that had worked on the GTR racing sim series, Shift incorporates a surprisingly accurate physics engine that offers a rather high skill ceiling once you select the Pro Simulation model and turn all driver assists off. Driving the absolutely mental Maserati MC12 Hammer on the narrow, deadly kinks of the Nurburgring can only be achieved with a three-axis steering wheel, or a really good gamepad.
This is such a challenging endeavour that any sort of latency induced by enabling V-Sync or using a wireless controller becomes instantly apparent. NFS: Shift's Nurburgring run is what I essentially used to determine whether the Razer Onza was better than the stock X360 controller two years ago, and I used the same benchmark again this time. What follows is a video recording of my Nurburgring run using the Razer Sabertooth, and that should tell you exactly why I consider it to be the best in the business.
If money is no object, Razer Sabertooth is amongst the finest gamepads at the moment, and by far the best one I have laid my paws on yet. It took two iterations for Razer to perfect its flagship gamepad offering, but at the end of the day, it has figured out the prudence in keeping the best and the most familiar aspects of the stock X360 controller intact while adding some clever new features to improve performance. What you have here is a super-controller with precise thumbsticks, the perfect D-pad and ultra-fast mechanical face buttons that make the Sabertooth ideal for all kinds of games.
As well as it performs, I have a few reservations against the controller. Firstly, the sensitivity adjustment feature simply doesn't work at all. This shouldn't bother the casual ones among us, but that isn't a good precedent for a serious controller meant for serious gamers. Secondly, while MFTs deliver the killing edge to professional FPS gamers, they end up being a major annoyance due to their poor design. However, my biggest grouse with the Sabertooth is its price. Fancy OLED display or not, it's hard to justify its Rs 5,299 asking price when I know for a fact that Razer hasn't opted for the best possible potentiometers for the analogue sticks.
That still doesn't change the fact that, as someone with a job and a passion for gaming, I wouldn't mind putting money down for this little puppy. That's simply because this is still the best controller I have ever used. The only other controllers that could compare are Scuf Gaming's SCUF Controller and Mad Catz's MLG Pro Circuit Controller. The former is unavailable in India and will prove exorbitantly expensive to import. However, a reliable Industry source tells me that Mad Catz is in talks with an Indian distributor to bring the MLG Pro Circuit Controller to the Indian market. When that happens, expect a head-to-head comparison with the Sabertooth. However, until then, you may pick up this controller if money is no object.
Onza's 15 ft fixed has now become a 10 ft detachable cable on the Sabertooth
Published Date: Apr 09, 2013 12:52 pm | Updated Date: Apr 09, 2013 12:52 pm