If you have ever used an actual gaming mouse and / or keyboard, then you know the difference that a product designed to give you an advantage in gaming can make. Gamers don’t normally think that the same options are available on the console side of things, but they are. One such product is Razer’s Onza line of controllers for the Xbox 360 and PC. I have been able to spend a lengthy amount of time with Razer’s Tournament Edition version of the controller and have to admit, it can really help out in the long run.
At first glance, the Razer Onza looks pretty muck like a standard 360 controller, not counting the matte black finish and cool Battlefield 3 art designs emblazed on the side of the Tournament Edition. All of the expected features are present, including force feedback and the inclusion of a 2.5mm microphone port on the bottom, which means that you can use your standard headset options. It is when you look deeper, at the rich feature set of the controller’s components, that the differences begin to show. Physically speaking, although the layout is similar to the standard offering, the finish in particular is drastically different.
Rather than being made of a traditional hard plastic, the Onza is covered with a soft, rubber coating that is meant to make it more comfortable for extended gameplay sessions and reduce slipping in sweaty hands. It is easily the most comfortable controller I have ever held in my hands; combining the ergonomic finish with the light weight makes for a more pleasant and enjoyable gameplay experience in the long run.
The controller is corded rather than wireless in order to ensure the most reliable connection possible. Distance from your console shouldn’t be an issue though as the cord is 15 feet long, which gives you plenty of freedom to move about your playing area. Considering that the official wired controller for the 360 has a length of around 9 feet, this provides quite a bit more length than Microsoft’s offering. The cord itself is also of a higher quality than the standard offering as well, utilizing a thick, braided style. It’s tough and durable and likely to stand the test of time. The cord also has the detachable, quick release connector which should help eliminate unwanted tripping and pulling that may occur from people walking by.
Sure, it looks pretty and has a solid design, but the important aspects are the actual interface tools and their performance. The Onza excels in those areas as well. First off, the analog sticks of the controller are extremely firm, which is a major plus. If you don’t like their settings, they can be either tightened or loosened by simply spinning a located near the top of each stick. Each one can be adjusted on its own to a tension of your liking. For example, I prefer my movement to feel loose while the stick that controls aiming is stiff. You can do just that with the Onza. It is important to note though that this only effects the physical movement of the stick and has zero effect on the actual reticule speed in the game. You will still need to make adjustments within your various games’ settings if you want a variation in the on-screen responsiveness.
The directional pad of the controller is drastically different than nearly every other controller on the market. Since the Onza was built for serious, professional gamers with a focus on the FPS and shooter genres, the directional pad has been tailored to better suit a role for item and equipment selection. This d-pad consists of 4 distinct buttons and is designed for ease of access to each one individually. You won’t have much lucks with the d-pad for any other purpose, so don’t even consider using it for fighting games or platformers that rely on it over the analog sticks. It does a great job of serving its purpose of a specialized button for equipment selection in games such as Gears of War 3 or for launching packages in Modern Warfare 3, but appears to be useless for practically any other function.
Each of the face buttons is constructed using an actual mechanical switch which triggers button presses at a much shorter distance than the standard membrane switch used in most controllers. This both increases the responsiveness of the buttons and reduces the amount of time they take to reset to their stationary position. The buttons themselves aren’t the most comfortable in the world though as they are made from a very hard plastic. It isn’t the end of the world, but they feel like the polar opposites of the controller’s body. Where the one is super comfortable and pleasant to the touch, the others are stiff and solid. Fortunately, the reduced distance required to register a press drastically lowers the amount of pressure that you have to place on them to trigger an action. It is also worth noting that the 4 face buttons are backlit, which adds a very sharp visual style to the controller, especially in low light areas.
Checking out the top of the controller reveals something exclusive to the Onza: two additional, programmable buttons. Instead of featuring 2 traditional bumper buttons, this controller has 4. Two of them serve as the standard left and right bumpers while the other two act as programmable buttons which you can program as needed. Mapping each of the programmable buttons to a new function is an extremely simple process. There are two small buttons on each side of a tiny LCD screen on the back of the controller. Gamers simply need to press the button that corresponds with each programmable button and then press the button they wish to map to that key. For example, perhaps you want to have one of the bumpers trigger the ability to sprint in MW3 or BF3 rather than clicking in the thumbstick. It can be done with a simple press of the button. Your settings are saved to the actual controller so you don’t have to worry about things changing between gameplay sessions.
The inclusion of these can be as annoying as it is beneficial when you first pick up the controller. I find myself constantly hitting each of the new buttons when I intend to trigger the standard bumpers. Because of this, I find myself mapping each one as secondary versions of my real bumpers, just so that I don’t run into any problems during gameplay. The new buttons are placed behind the regular bumpers, though I believe it would have been more beneficial to put them in front of them. The natural thing to do when playing an FPS is to slide your fingers from the triggers to the bumpers; now you have to skip over the new buttons to get to them. Putting the new ones in front could have eliminated this problem as a whole and still provided the benefit of having programmable buttons. Speaking of the triggers of the controller, the ones included on the Onza are phenomenal. They provide a nice resistance and are designed to stick out a little further from the controller than the normal offerings. This allows you to rest your trigger fingers on them in a position that is very natural and comfortable.
The most drastic change in the controller’s design is the movement of both the Back and Start buttons to the lower part of the controller face. Rather than surrounding the guide button as you would expect, the two have been set beside each other and moved to a position directly above the microphone jack. This change definitely takes some getting used to. Granted, players don’t use these buttons a ton during the heat of battle but even after spending weeks with the controller I still find myself reach for the area next to the guide button to check the scoreboard in game. There really doesn’t seem to be any reasoning behind the move either, as nothing takes their place in or around the original position. This seems like a very strange design decision and will likely confuse gamers. They would have been better of leaving them in their original location.
When it comes to the actual performance of the Onza, I couldn’t ask for a better, more responsive controller. It’s quick, responsive, and uber-comfortable. I usually have problems with sore hands after extended sessions online but don’t find that to be as much of an issue any more. Players who prefer super tight analog sticks may run into problems on occasion though as their seems to be an issue registering thumbstick clicks while pressing the analog sticks in a given direction on their highest tension settings. You options to get around this are either loosen the tension a bit or remap the function(s) to one of the programmable buttons.
The only real issue with the controller is that it serves a distinct, target market. If you aren’t playing a shooter or FPS, the benefits that the Onza offers will be lost on you. This is especially true when it comes to fighting games. The d-pad on this controller serves a distinct purpose and won’t serve you well when used for anything other than what was intended. If you are looking for a controller to help you in those long-haul, late night sessions of Modern Warfare 3, Gears of War 3, or Battlefield 3, then the Onza is definitely the controller for you.