A few weeks ago, I posted a preview for the long anticipated motion controller “Hydra” by Razer. Since then, I’ve been anxiously waiting to get my hands on a review unit so that I could share with the gaming community an “AbleGamers point of view”, when it comes to reviewing a PC gaming peripheral such as this one. Let me start off by saying, I’m not a huge PC gamer, but with that in mind, I’ve always been intrigued by motion controlled technology and the potential benefits it could have for some gamers with a disability. The Nintendo Wii is a perfect example of putting this kind of technology to good use. It has found a higher purpose, not only being used for gaming but also in physical therapy, rehab and with senior citizens to increase physicality and cognitive awareness. Until now, the Wii, Kinect and Playstation Move were the only devices on the market that utilized this technology, leaving PC users out in the cold. The question is would there ever be a PC peripheral that could cater to both the casual and hardcore gaming market while also displaying some of the same therapeutic benefits of the Wii? The Razer Hydra may be the answer. Out of box, the Hydra is made up of a Base Station and two controllers, both of which attach to the Base Station via a connection cable, so there is no need for batteries. Each controller has a total of five face buttons, an analog stick, a bumper and trigger button.
I find that both of the controllers are quite comfortable and fit snugly in my hands. I will say though that because that the user is expected to user both controllers, sometimes simultaneously, this does not leave much room for error. For me personally, this can particularly cause issues because my Cerebral Palsy affects some of the finer motor skills of my right hand, so in my case and the case of gamers with precision issues, the use of only one arm or other motor impairments, it may be difficult to use these controllers as intended.
The Base Station plugs into the PC via USB, and consumes very little power. Once plugged in, it emits low-power magnetic field that, as I mentioned in my preview, is said to detect the orientation of the handheld controllers within millimetres of their actual location, creating a true one-to-one motion. Because of this, it does not require a line of sight to operate and has an optimum detection range of a 2-3 foot radius around the base station...simply put, the actions you perform with the controllers while sitting in front of your computer, will be emulated on screen.
How the Hydra feels In-Game
Now that you’ve had a chance to read about the basics behind the Hydra, it’s time to get down to what’s really important...how does it actually feel in game. To test this, I used Portal 2 which came bundled with my Hydra Unit and also included the “Sixense MotionPack DLC”. By default the Razer Hydra driver software includes 3 sensitivity settings: FPS Sensitivity, Pointer Sensitivity, and Gesture Sensitivity. These settings accommodate games of various different genres so please adjust these settings based on the game you are playing. Portal 2 takes this a step further and allows the user to adjust the Sensitivity Preset, Jump and Crouch Sensitivity, Hold Multipliers and even what your dominant hand is. Being Left Handed myself, this was a plus. In the Advanced Options, you are able to also adjust the “Controller Mode” from Freeaim to Dual Analog. The Dual Analog setting is good for users who want to use the analog stick in their non-dominant hand to control where the in-game POV camera is positioned. With Freeaim, moving the controller in a specific direction with your hand will control the in-game camera.
Once you’ve got the settings adjusted to your liking, I suggest you go through the “Motionpack Tutorial”. Here, you will be shown the basics behind using the Hydra with Portal 2 and it also allows you a little time to get used to the controls as well. At the beginning of the tutorial, you will be asked to point the controllers to certain spots on the screen, this also acts as a calibration system because once you’ve finished these actions, the game auto-adjusts the sensitivity based on your reaction time to the previous exercise. With the settings I have, the Left Controller acts as my POV camera (we’ll call it the “POV controller”) and the Right controls the movement of my character. At first, I was apprehensive about this because of my right hand not having great motor skills. I found that to compensate for the lack of mobility in my right hand, I moved it to a higher position on the controller so that my thumb would have an easier time controlling the analog stick, and this seemed to give me more control as far as moving in game. Once I got the hang of moving around, controlling the other elements of the game got easier. The Left and Right Triggers control the creation of portals and tilting the “POV controller” up causes the player to jump, and down causes the player to crouch. You’re also able to use the  and  button on the same controller to jump, if you prefer, instead of tilting. Using the  button on the POV controller allows users to pick up objects, this also initiates one-to-one motion, so moving your arm forward brings the object forward, and vice-versa. Overall, I find the controls to be fairly fluid, even though they may take some getting used to.
Take a look at my Demo Video:
In the end, the Razer Hydra may not have all the therapeutic benefits of the Wii, but there is something to be said for the fact that it got me working the muscles in my right hand that are affected by my disability and has seemed to get easier with practice. It’s also a great piece of technology, but it might not be for everyone as it requires a fair bit of precision. For the price tag of US$139.99 / EU€139.99, you may want to demo the unit at a friend’s place or local computer store to see if its right for you before purchasing it. One thing is evident for sure, Razer is a trusted name when it comes to gaming peripherals and with over 122 titles being supported at the launch of the Hydra their reputation speaks for itself.
Shortened Notes of this Review: