It was Subutai’s CLANG project that got me interested in motion gaming again, despite the fact that I’ve essentially moved on past the concept. Sure, I’ve dabbled in a bit of the old wiggle-waggle when I’ve seen the peripherals on display in an electronics store, but the constant declarations of “ho-hum” from developers and journalists whose opinions I respect have kept me from committing good money to the trend. It’s unfortunate, as I got excited along with everyone else at the prospect of having a one-to-one sword game when the Wii was first announced.

Red Steel looked awesome, and the thought of Zelda being more action oriented was compelling. I was also enthused at the idea of being able to interact with games in different ways. After a disappointing six years and only a only a handful of games that really take advantage of the interface style though, I had more or less given up on the entire affair and assumed it would be remembered as a clumsy experiment that didn’t receive the attention of gaming’s best designers.

CLANG’s pitch managed to rekindle some of that initial excitement, so I did some research and saw that Razer’s Hydra was currently the most consumer-friendly option for motion gaming on the PC. After requesting a unit and having spent a lot of time with the Hydra, I definitely feel like my excitement for CLANG is justified, and I’ve even shed much of my cynicism for motion gaming.

The Hydra is composed of three parts: two Wii nunchuck-esque controllers that are connected to a magnetic orb by four feet of braided cord. The symmetrical, lightweight controllers have two forward-facing triggers, five buttons arrayed in a semicircle under a joystick in the center, and are made out of a black, matte plastic. They also have a curve that lets them fit easily in the hand and allow for natural wrist alignment when playing. While it’s convenient to not have to buy batteries for the Hydra’s controllers, the long cords laying across my workspace were unappealing and a bit of a hassle at times when moving stuff around.

The base of the orb is made of the same material as the controllers, though the orb itself is a clear plastic with illuminated triangles underneath glowing the color of Razer’s distinct green. It has curved slots where the controllers can be placed when not in use and connects to your PC by way of a USB cord attached to the back of the unit. The construction of the Hydra seems solid, but it’s the software support that makes or breaks PC peripherals.

The Razer Hydra Configurator (downloaded through Razer’s site) is plug-and-play simple. It’s equipped to play around 125 games that they’ve built profiles for and convenient picture diagrams that detail which actions are accomplished by which inputs are available for each of them. While the Hydra Configurator is easy, accessible, and recommended for people who don’t want to mess too much with the device, the software provided by Sixense (the developers behind the technology of the Hydra) really opens up the possibilities, highlighting the open platform mentality of the PC.

Using the laser walkway as a movable shield.

Available for free from the Sixense site, the MotionCreator software allows for users to create their own profiles for games that don’t have support and edit already existing configurations. As the device doesn’t need a game executable to be running to operate, this broad customizability of the device gives it a versatility beyond games.

Now we come to the meat of the review: playing games with the Hydra. Bundled with particular editions of the Hydra is Portal 2 and the Sixense MotionPack DLC. While the former is the Portal 2 we all know and love, the DLC shows off some of the neater possibilities of the peripheral. The game recognizes depth of field, space between the controllers, the twist of the controllers and implements them in enjoyably unique ways. I was able to rotate portals, stretch platforms, and place cubes in different spatial locations just by stretching out my arm. While there was definitely a learning curve, it was mostly due to how amazingly precise the controller was. In my limited experience with motion controlling, I’ve come to expect a lag and unresponsiveness that I didn’t get with the Hydra.

TF2 employs a floating cross-hair with the Hydra

As most FPS games use very few buttons, the translation of those games to the Hydra is a rather easy one. Currently, I’m on a strategy game kick and was curious to see how the device managed to handle the multitude of buttons. The first game I attempted was League of Legends.

The software uses what it calls a grid-system, creating invisible zones on the screen that you point at with the Hydra and activate with a button press, causing whatever action is bound to that zone to happen. Yes, there’s a learning curve to this new system as well, but once I got the hang of it I was able to activate items and spells with a quick flick of the wrist- the speeds of which were comparable to key presses. This was followed by equally successful sessions of Dawn of War 2 and DOTA 2.

I’ll qualify my experiences by saying that I am in no way a professionally competitive gamer, and my gaming proficiency rests happily in the middle of the bell curve. Jumping into public matches on both Team Fortress 2 and LoL with the Hydra didn’t affect my performance and let me enjoy both games leaning back in my chair.

I won’t tell you that the Hydra is a ‘replacement’ for anything, as I don’t think that’s its goal. What I can tell you is that it’s a fun alternative to a lot of games and that if that’s what you’re looking for, this is it. Even as I’m adding the finishing touches to this review I can say the the device is making its way into my gaming. I picked up The Walking Dead season from the Steam Summer Sale, quickly found a configuration for the game on the Sixense forums and am using the Hydra to play through it.

Using depth recognition to place a test cube on a switch

While I have lots of praise for the device and some minor criticisms, what will make the thing worth investing in or not doesn’t depend on the developer or manufacturer. I said at the beginning that I thought that motion gaming would be looked back on as a clumsy experiment that didn’t receive the attention of the best designers; that’s still a risk. While Razer and Sixense have straightened out the ‘clumsy’ part of the experiment by creating great tech that focuses on quality over cutting corners and celebrates the flexibility of PCs, that still hasn’t drawn the developers it needs. Valve has done some really neat integration with their games, and Subutai looks poised to fulfill all of our sword-swinging fantasies, but two interesting projects are not enough; an important caveat to keep in mind when you’re deciding whether or not buy this.

The potential for the Hydra is fantastic, but since I’m writing to consumers and not business investors, I can’t in good faith say that something is worth buying on what it may be used for in the future. If you’re interested in buying a tool that will give you access to some neat gameplay mechanics in a limited amount of games now and will provide you with a different way to interact with your games, then the Razer Hydra is something that you should definitely look into.

 

Here’s the Rundown:

+ Precise motion recognition
+ Ergonomic design and lightweight controllers
+ Available software provides both accessibility and flexibility
- Corded controllers clutter up work space
- Learning curve with each new genre of game
- Little developer support for full-integration

 

 

The Razer Hydra was manufactured by Razer USA in conjunction with Sixense. A unit was provided to RipTen for purposes of review.