I’ve used a few products in my time that were geared towards first person games that were hit and miss. Some of the configurations were great to use while others fall flat. Ideazon, makers of the transforming ZBoards, has come out with another keyboard that takes their popular large WASD configuration and attached it to a regular keyboard. Dubbed the MERC, we’re taking a look at this new product to see if it really does help you in FPS gameplay.
As you can see from the pictures, the MERC there’s a 34 key gaming pad titled at 11 degrees on the left side of the product. The setup is similar to the ZBoard from Ideazon but there are some placement differences. For example, the number keys are more clustered above the movement keys than on the ZBoard keyset. Another example of a small change from the keyset is that there’s another button to the left of the jump key.
If you haven’t seen the ZBoard FPS keyset, the keys are sized and placed to be idea for those types of games. The movement keys are enlarged so they are easily reached while the placement of the number keys in two rows will make it easy for you to change weapons without moving your hand away from the WASD keys. The more widely used keys such as use, reload, and voice are also placed closely to the movement setup.
Another nice feature of the gaming side is that the various buttons have different shapes and feel to them so you can easily tell what you are pressing without looking. For example, the reload and use key are situated on top of each other but the reload key is concave while the use key is convex. While minor, this did help me quickly identify the correct key to press in hectic situations.
Great placement is also exemplified by the location of the jump button. With the hand in the WASD position, my thumb rested naturally on the jump button. I was easily able to jump around and move even though the jump button is smaller than the traditional space bar. Overall, I was easily able to reach all the buttons without any problems with my left hand.
A major difference between the MERC and a ZBoard keyset is that you do get a full keyboard along with the specialized gaming keys. This can be great for some folks as you don’t have to switch keysets when you want to do some regular typing but still have access to the gaming side of things in one easy setup.
Unlike the G15 keyboard from Logitech, you can’t program profiles currently. Word is that that’s going to change with a software update but as of right now there’s no way to create a custom profile. The only way to get a customized keyboard setup is to use the default setting and map the keys in the game. Installing the software and plugging the keyboard in an available USB slot are the two steps to setup the peripheral. After you install the software, a Zboard icon is placed in your system tray. From here you can access your profiles and there a great deal number of profiles. You’ll see a nice colored display of keys and what they are used for in the game you select.
I took the MERC keyboard out for a spin on Call of Duty 2 and Unreal Tournament 2004. I chose the two because I wanted two contrasting styles of games with Call of Duty 2 being a little slower paced FPS while Unreal Tournament 2004 offers a more twitch and reflex based gameplay. It did take me a few sessions to get used to the buttons and where they are situated. After a day or two of playing the two FPS games, I was able to use the setup instinctively. Playing the games for long sessions, my hand was pretty comfortable and I really enjoyed the oversized movement keys. Response time seemed pretty good and I didn’t notice any key pressing anomolies when using the gaming pad portion of the MERC.
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