There are lots of things you might think when considering a new Xbox 360 controller. You might just think about getting the official one, and sticking with what you know. Or perhaps you might consider a third-party solution, to get a bit more out of your controller.
Razer certainly hopes you'll chose the latter option, and and opt for its new Sabertooth controller -designed to replace the ageing cream thing that came with your first-gen console, or just to give you an upgraded version in the hope you'll finally stop sucking at Far Cry 3 and kill that stupid mask thing in that dream you have.
What's so cunning about the Razer Sabertooth is that it's exactly the same as the Xbox controller in all the important ways, and totally different in all the ways the original sucked.
That's not to say we think the Xbox controller sucks, because it's very nearly perfect. The size fits us beautifully - remember the jokes about how big the original Xbox controller was, well the second generation is, for us, ideal - and the weight is excellent. Just right for holding on those long gaming sessions.
Here you get some anti-sweat coating too. It's a nasty thing to admit, but in a long gaming session we do a healthy amount - it's really not healthy - of sweating. This isn't a problem here, we didn't find gripping the controller to be a problem at all.
On the lower edge of the unit, there's a tiny OLED screen. It's green, and most of the time just shows the Razer logo. We like it, it's funky, and would be even if it didn't do anything. But if you're going to tweak the controller to meet your needs, this is the method through which you do it. It's bright, but it can be turned off if needed.
What you get on the surface is the usual Xbox controller layout. The Xbox logo is a little less impressive than on the proper controllers, but the LEDs that surround it and tell you how many controllers are in use is the same. You have two analogue sticks too, and a much improved d-pad - something the 360 has always cried out for.
Over the standard controls, there are two bottom triggers. These have two functions each, with controls assignable to pulling each toward you, or pushing away. That's an extra four buttons, along with two additional shoulder buttons. While hardcore gamers will love these, the people who plod along with the default settings will be nonplussed. They don't get in the way at all, but they do leave you wondering who could ever remember that many button combinations. Then, of course, we remember that 16-year-old us would easily be able to, and we shut up and go back to playing Sim City 2000.
The Sabertooth has two profiles, into which you can store your own personal set-up. It seemed to make sense to us that you'd have one standard profile, with the default controls left alone, and one set up to take advantage of the controllers extra features.
There are other features which are accessed through the menu, viewed on the petite OLED screen. You can turn the backlight off, kill rumble, or program the extra buttons. To do this is a little fiddly, but once you know how, no bother at all. Having slogged through games like Far Cry, we can see the benefit of assigning some of the "letter" buttons to the underside triggers. Those for reloading and switching guns feel more natural underneath, although there's a little more risk of accidentally switching guns using these controls.
To program, you just hold one of the six available "extra" buttons, and press the button you'd like to assign to it. Simple. The other menus are tweaked through the d-pad, and the "a" key. It's all quite simple, and there's not masses to remember.
Wired, not tired
Having the cable is a mixed bag. Overall though, it's mostly positive. Gamers will like the lag-free experience, and no risk of sudden connection loss or batteries running out is a good thing.
On the downsides, the cable is a bit ridgid, which makes keeping it out of the way a that much harder. We noticed this when playing on the PC, as we had to have the lead plugged into our on-case USB port, which meant a cable trailing around our chair. Honestly, less lazy people would probably just plug it in the back, and avoid this problem. When playing on a console, which will generally be by the TV, and ahead of you, the cable just comes out neatly, and does its job.
The connection from the cable to the controller is great though, a nice positive screw fit, and one that feels sturdy. The USB end is a little less secure, and the cable is converted in a way that could, in theory, become disconnected if you make the wrong move. The chances are so tiny though, we're not going to panic about it.
Xbox or PC
We've spent a lot of time playing games on the Sabertooth, but not all of that time has been on the Xbox, because these days in Windows, you can hook up any 360 controller and use it as if it was designed for the computer. This is actually really great, and with the new Steam fullscreen mode, it actually brings the PC back as a gaming platform. Not that PC gamers would ever abandon their rigs, but the power and convenience of consoles has pulled people in slightly.
As you'd expect, the experience here is no different from that of an Xbox. Of course, the game you're playing will need to support the controller, but that's unlikely to be a big problem. PC gamers, used to a mouse, might find the controller a bit too sluggish, after all, the battle cry from most PC gamers is that you can spin 180 degrees with the flick of a wrist on a mouse; that's a longer procedure on a game controller.
Still despite the inevitable arguments about which system people prefer, we loved playing Far Cry 3 on the controllers. There were times when we ended up looking down while we got the bells kicked out of us, but that's more down to our gaming ineptitude than anything else. We also had a play of Batman: Arkham City and if anything, that game suits the controller even more.
We are certainly sold on the benefits.
It's a lot of money, on the one hand, to spend on a games console controller, but it's a very good one. A regular, wired, Microsoft Xbox controller is about £20, so you're making a big jump up to get this one. But, what it adds, such as extra controls, better buttons and a d-pad that isn't horrible all make for a compelling argument.
The package is good, the controller is well designed, the carry case is a nice touch, and you'll save a fortune in batteries over the life of the controller.
We loved it for PC gaming too. So if you consider that it could replace the need to buy a gaming mouse and keyboard - PC gamers will no doubt curse our suggestion that anyone move away from the keyboard/mouse combo - and just works when you plug it in to a Windows 7 or 8 PC, then you've another solid reason to spend some Christmas money on this thing.
Frankly, it's changed our opinion about using controllers with PCs, and it's a terrific Xbox controller. So for that reason, it gets a great score. It's up to you to decide if you think it's worth spending this much money.