A long time ago, all you needed was a keyboard and mouse to shoot people in the face. The trusty numpad was what you relied on to deliver Hadoukens and Bullet Kicks. While the kids on the consoles tapped away at their gamepads, even as the rest of their fingers hung about like vestigial appendages, we used every muscle from the shoulders down as we frantically reached for the number row and function keys for pre-assigned spells and potions. Even when racing, it was either the keyboard for kicking people off motorcycles in Road Rash or a steering wheel and pedals for Richard Burns Rally.
The protective casing and detachable cable make it tournament friendly
Being a PC gamer, you see, gamepads once used to be nothing more than an unwarranted luxury. The trusty keyboard and mouse combo excelled at all kinds of games ranging from FPS to RTS. However, this ceased to be the case once Microsoft introduced the XInput API in 2005 to coincide with the launch of its Xbox 360 console. Soon enough, PC games transformed into glorified console ports optimised for game pads. The support for our beloved keyboard and mouse combo would be thrown in as an afterthought in most games. Forced acceleration, mouse smoothing and massive latency issues now compelled PC gamers to purchase a decent XInput compatible gamepad to cope with a growing breed of console ports that didn't play well with the keyboard and mouse.
Fortunately, Microsoft's Xbox 360 wired controller was well-built and accurate enough to be preferred by professional console gamers. It categorically destroyed third-party alternatives from PC controller experts such as Logitech, Mad Catz and Saitek by offering better performance for less than half the price of its "premium" third-party counterparts. Microsoft's controller was pretty much impossible to beat once you took its inaccurate and downright ghastly D-pad in your stride.
That is, until Razer changed the game with the Onza, which featured high-precision thumbsticks and superior mechanical switches. Although it failed miserably at fixing the X360 controller's D-pad, it still remained the best XInput-compatible controller money could buy until Scuf Gaming released its line-up of custom X360 controllers. The SCUF Controller's unique paddles allowed professional Gears of War and Call of Duty players to access face buttons without taking their thumbs off the analogue sticks (thumbsticks).
Finally, a D-pad that doesn't suck!
Razer's flagship controller Sabertooth sets out to achieve two major goals: to iron out the kinks left behind in the Onza and to incorporate SCUF Controller's favourite party trick—paddles that free your right thumb from the face buttons. This explains why the Sabertooth seems to be a carbon copy of the Onza—right from the exact shape and dimensions to the button placement and the X360 controller's clever reversal of the left thumbstick with the D-pad. This means it's an XInput-compatible clone of the X360 gamepad, just like the Onza. This should delight PC gamers especially because that ensures a hassle-free, plug-and-play affair with all games. Moreover, just like the X360 controller, the Sabertooth's pair of analogue index triggers makes it indispensable for contemporary racing games that call for a minimum of three analogue axes.
Despite their likeness, there's still a world of difference between the Sabertooth and the Onza. For starters, the Sabretooth feels almost imperceptibly heavier than its predecessor, partly due to a chassis that's fashioned out of a softer, more rubberised plastic. That means it's still lighter than both the wired and wireless versions of the X360 gamepad as well as Sony's DualShock 3 controller, which translates into reduced fatigue over marathon gaming sessions.
The Start and Select buttons have been moved back to their rightful position and can now be reached quicker and with ease. The elongated analogue triggers have made way for classic design of the stock X360 gamepad. I personally prefer this change. The extra pair of programmable bumpers (dubbed as MFB or Multi-Function Buttons), which were earlier placed right below the regular bumpers in a confusing manner, have now been shrunken down and moved inwards in a different vertical axis. Doing so makes it impossible to press them inadvertently. The Sabertooth endears itself as a mature sibling of the Onza incorporating a host of common sense design decisions that make it considerably more intuitive and efficient.
The extra pair of programmable bumpers no longer run the risk of inadvertent inputs
The reworked D-pad is a quantum leap over that of the Onza as well as the stock X360 controller. The four discrete, membrane actuated directional buttons are one of the best I have seen and are precise enough to nail difficult combos in fighting games with consummate ease. They are set wide apart enough to prevent inadvertent strikes while being close enough to execute those all-important Forward, Down, Back combos. The actuation pressure is just right, whereas the rebound action is quicker for the benefit of rapid key presses. Quite simply, this is the gamepad to get if you can't afford a proper fight stick for Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat.
Sabertooth's 10ft cable length is 5ft shy of what you get with the Onza. I presume it's shortened to fit inside the slick foam-padded carry case that neatly houses the controller and accessories for easy portability between tournaments. The high quality braided cable is detachable and can be screwed in securely to the gamepad by the means of what seems to be a virtually indestructible and handsome assembly bearing a gunmetal finish.
The controller's fanciest party trick is a sexy green-on-black OLED display that allows you to change profiles, remap buttons, toggle vibration, adjust sensitivity and test settings—all of this without pausing the game to access the Settings screen. Just like the Onza, the Sabertooth doesn't require a driver suite, thereby making it ideal to hop from PC to PC without worrying about settings. The MFB remap process is entirely hardware based, in addition to being an easy and intuitive affair thanks to the OLED display. What's more, you can store these settings in two different profiles that can be switched rapidly on the fly.
Notice how the maximum range of motion diminishes as sensitivity is reduced (from left to right)
However, therein lays a major issue with the controller. Since this is a tournament-grade gamepad targeted at serious gamers, this 20-step sensitivity adjustment business becomes a crucial feature that drives purchase decisions. Unfortunately, I noticed something majorly amiss when I tried to adjust sensitivity in different games across multiple platforms. Instead of affecting the speed of the analogue stick movements, I noticed that reducing the sensitivity simply decreased the range of motion registered.
To cite an example; decreasing the sensitivity by five steps in Need For Speed: Shift reduced the steering travel by a catastrophic 80 percent, thereby making the game unplayable. Just to be sure, I hooked up the Sabertooth to different gaming rigs and analysed the raw input values, only to see the same issue being replicated on all machines. Unless the problem is specific to my review sample, this makes the sensitivity adjustment feature absolutely useless.