Razer brings its B-game to Blizzard’s legendary RTS
It’s recently become popular for major PC game releases to be accompanied by their own line of branded peripherals, custom designed by big-name peripheral makers like Razer and SteelSeries. Frequently, these products are no more than a reskinning of a popular model, as is the case with the Call of Duty: Black Ops Stealth Mouse, which is essentially a rebranded Cyborg R.A.T. Other times, the tie-in is more substantial, as with the SteelSeries WoW mice, which feature unique, game-inspired designs as well as features and software intended to help you play the game better.
So, when we got the complete set of StarCraft II custom peripherals in for testing from Razer, we were curious to see whether they would be more like the former or the latter scenario. What we found out was surprising.
The first product from the line that we tested, the Spectre, almost immediately raised some red flags. From a design standpoint, the Spectre is a big departure for Razer. It forgoes the company’s trademark ergonomic, curved construction for a flatter and smaller-than-usual design. With hard, angled edges and a low profile, it’s surprisingly uncomfortable for a product from a company with a lot of experience making mice that feel good to hold.
The Spectre: The least ergonomic mouse Razer has ever produced.
The Spectre (along with the rest of the set) is built of a silvery plastic that’s meant to look like metal, but instead just comes across as sort of cheap. Razer is billing this mouse as “lightweight” but we’d rather just call it “flimsy.” In short, the Spectre does not feel like an $80 gaming mouse.
Feature-wise, the Spectre is a mixed bag. It’s got two side buttons, but only on one side—meaning that although this mouse is very nearly symmetrical, it’s not functionally ambidextrous. It’s equipped with a 5,600dpi laser sensor, and has a 1ms response time, which should be more than enough for any of your gaming needs, RTS or otherwise.
Two features unique to the Spectre are a hardware switch on the bottom that controls the force required to push the main mouse buttons, and a set of multicolor LEDs, which change shade based on your in-game actions per minute (or APM), a vital statistic for StarCraft players. The LEDs can be configured in the well-executed software suite, which can control all three StarCraft II peripherals from a single control panel.
Controllable resistance on main buttons, good software support.
Too small, feels cheap, uncomfortable straight edges.
Any decent StarCraft player can tell you the difference between a Diamond League pro and Bronze League scrub: It’s all in the keyboard. Although StarCraft can be played entirely with the mouse, a good player is going to be hammering away at the keyboard nonstop throughout the match—issuing attack orders, queuing units and buildings, and jumping around the map.
Razer must understand this, because the Marauder is the high point of its SCII lineup. Not amazing, mind you, but solid enough.
From a design standpoint, the Marauder does a good job of matching the StarCraft II visual style, though it still features some of the ugly wannabe-steel plastic seen on the Spectre. The keys themselves are nicer, with a satiny rubber finish. They’re your standard dome-switch keys, but with a little more resistance than usual, and a satisfyingly long travel.
In an interesting twist, Razer has gone for a shortened design with the Marauder—not by removing the number pad, as is most common, but by removing the arrow keys and the keys traditionally above them, such as Delete, Home, and Page Up. These keys have been mapped onto the number pad, and are accessed by hitting a new “Num Mode” key. We appreciate that the Marauder takes up less desk space than usual, but anyone who ever uses the keyboard for camera control or in any custom gametypes may find themselves at a disadvantage.
On the bright side, the Marauder is decked out with color-changing LEDs, with separate controls for the key lights, the Razer logo, and the underlights, which shine from underneath the keyboard. Like the whole lineup, these lights can be customized to change based on APM, or when certain events happen in-game—like when an enemy attacks your base, or when a unit is produced.
Nice-feeling rubberized keys, good software support.
Lack of arrow keys limit your play options, no USB passthrough.
Remember that ugly plastic we keep mentioning? With the Banshee, it seems Razer ended up with some sort of surplus of the stuff, and just decided to see how much it could possibly slap onto a single headset. The individual ear cups are simply enormous—bigger than any gaming headset we’ve used. That’s OK though, as bigger cans theoretically means room for bigger drivers, and that’s a good thing. We also know that with this set, Razer has opted to store the external soundcard hardware in the set itself, rather than in a dongle on the cord, as is more popular, which would account for some of the additional bulk.
The Banshee’s design would leave us scratching our heads, if all this plastic weren’t in the way.
What’s hard to explain is the vast expanse of headband connecting the two earpieces, which is about 2.5 inches wide the whole way, and manages to be simultaneously bulky, heavy, and hideous.
All that plastic doesn’t sit very well on the head. To make matters worse, the foam around the ear cups doesn’t form a good seal, the ear cups themselves don’t swivel much, which easily compromises the sound isolation. The boom microphone detaches to make the headset a bit more svelte, but the little rubber cap that covers the microphone port when the boom is detached isn’t tethered to the headset in any way—all but guaranteeing that you’ll lose it immediately.
The sound itself is pretty good, with good bass response and clarity comparable to other headsets in the Banshee’s ~$100 price range. All the same, we expected better from such an enormous set, and the sound quality is marred by the set’s poor fit.
Respectable sound quality, color-change lighting looks good in the dark.
Looks terrible with the lights on, ear cups fit badly for poor sound isolation.
So, in summary, the StarCraft II line of peripherals is a surprisingly low-quality offering from a well-regarded peripheral maker gifted with a major game license. There are a few bright spots—in particular the software controlling the three products is nicely done, and the color-changing LEDs make all three pieces look great in the dark, and provide an interesting channel for additional feedback from the game. However, the general low-quality feel of the parts, their unappealing visual design, and surprisingly high price points (the whole set will run you more than $300) makes Razer’s StarCraft II line a hard sell.
Razer Spectre, Marauder, and Banshee
Solid software, all peripherals managed from a single control panel, color changing LEDs convey game information
Poor construction quality, ugly design, overweight headset and underweight mouse, feature set isn’t worth the high price tag