The world of eSports is big business, as is evident by the ridiculous prize funds and millions of viewers. Whether you consider video games as sports or not, you can’t deny the growth of the medium in the professional competitive arena. This has lead to more of a focus on positioning some games as eSports contenders, like the more recent Overwatch, and the term has found its way into our homes.
The thing is, for most of us, the world of eSports is a long way off. Few have the kind of rattlesnake reactions required to make it to the big leagues, and even when you’re fighting names like xXPr0G4m1nG_K1llaXx in Call of Duty whilst sat on your couch in your grunides, you’re often left in a dying heap on the floor. A lot of us love games, but when it comes to the competitive side, a relative few really push it to the next level.
Still, there are ways to get better, even if you may never reach the heady heights of eSports arenas. You could become the scum of the gaming world and cheat, but that’s obviously not a good decision. Instead, how about getting an edge with your hardware, specifically, your controller?
There are many controllers on the market that offer additional functionality. Since the very early days of gaming we’ve had autofire controllers and models that can slow down gameplay by pausing the action rapidly, but today the gaming hardware market is a little more specialised. Enter the Razer Raiju for PS4, one of the latest premium controllers to hit the shelves. It’s a controller that wears its eSports stylings on its sleeve, and it packs in some very interesting features.
Looking much more like an Xbox controller, the Raiju is larger and bulkier than the standard DualShock, but at the same time, it also boasts a far better build quality. Whereas the DualShock is a quality controller, no doubt about it, few would argue that it’s also not the most durable in the world. The Raiju, as soon as you take it out of its impressive packaging, instantly feels much more solid and well made. The plastic used is heavier and feels more durable, and the controls all feel just that bit more expensive, and so they should as the Raiju is far from cheap.
For the pleasure of using this premium controller you’re looking at a price tag of around $230 depending on retailer. Whichever way you look at it, that’s a lot of money for a controller, but is it worth it?
As soon as you start to use the Raiju you appreciate just where the extra money has gone. The overall feel here is one of pure response and quality. The analogue sticks, with their custom grips are superb, with a much more sensitive and fluid feel to them than the DualShock 4’s sticks, and the face buttons, although they take a while to get used to with their mechanical feel. The triggers have a definite fluid range of motion to them, and the d-pad isn’t a single, rocking button, and is instead four separate buttons. Basically, it’s a joy to use the controller, and the weight, extra grip on the underside, and the size is just right. Those with smaller hands may find it a bit difficult to use, as it’s certainly larger than the PS4’s default pad.
The extra features the Raiju boasts are headed up by the extra programmable buttons. These consist of two extra triggers on the underside of the unit (which can be removed using the supplied screwdriver if you wish), and two more bumpers alongside the standard bumpers.
Each of these buttons can easily be mapped to the input of any of the standard buttons. This may not sound all that useful at first glance, but for some games, it can be a real game changer. For example, Razer demonstrates this in the documentation using Overwatch. The guide explains that you can map the X button (jump) to one of the custom buttons, meaning you can then jump, aim, and fire all without taking your hands off the analog sticks. The same can be done for ultimate attacks, and you can do much the same in any other game, such as Call of Duty, Battlefield and so on. Anyone who has played the likes of Overwatch and Call of Duty will know that the growth of boost-jumping has created an elite group of players who can effortlessly jump, aim and shoot, and the Raiju lets anyone do this. It’s a superb feature, and setting up the buttons is easy to do.
To facilitate this, the pad has three profiles. Default is the locked, normal mode, and there are two custom profiles you can use to program the buttons. These are switched between using one of the buttons on the control panel on the bottom of the unit between the analog sticks. This unit also features the program button, used for setting up the custom inputs, as well as a mic volume and mute. The latter of these means you an adjust volume or mute your mic without having to go into the PS4’s onsreen menus. It’s a nice touch.
The final major feature of the Raiju is the hair trigger mode. Using two slide-locks on the back of the pad you can reduce the travel of the two main triggers so you have to press them less in order to input your action. So, all you need to do is pull slightly to fire a weapon. This has obvious benefits for games that feature semi-auto weapons, and can increase your shot times drastically, giving you an edge. It’s another great feature, and one that any online shooter fan will appreciate.
All of this goodness does bring me to the inevitable downsides, though, the first of which is the actual role of the Raiu. You see, the design of the pad and it’s features aren’t really for everyone. It’s a perfect pad for shooters and similar games that utilise likewise control schemes, but for some genres the Raiju just isn’t suitable.
The d-pad, for example, doesn’t work well with fighters as its four button layout doesn’t work for special inputs all that well. Games that require diagonal inputs are equally left in the cold as separate buttons just don’t work as well for this kind of input as a single, rocking pad.
The custom buttons are going to be of much more use to FPS fans, and although I have no doubt players of other genres, from sports to RTS will find ways to use the pad to give them a boost, for most there’s nothing here that betters the PS4’s DualShock pad. In fact, there are a couple of things the pad does worse.
The most glaring of these is connectivity. The Raiju is a wired-only pad. Despite the removable USB cable, there’s no wireless functionality here, or internal battery. You need to be wired to your console at all times. This isn’t a problem, really, as the provided USB cable (which is custom made, and a normal USB won’t fit into the Raiju’s USB port) is very long, but in 2017 we’re just all too used to wireless controllers now, so it sticks out somewhat.
Why would the Raiju only have wired controls? The answer is simple – input lag. Many find wireless controllers have some input lag, especially pro players who find themselves in situations where a fractions of a second can make the difference between life and death. Wired controllers eliminate this. The standard PS4 pad can be connected via the charging cable, sure, but the cable only charges the pad. The actual input is still wireless. This is where the Raiju improves matters at the cost of wireless capabilities. However, new versions of the DualShock for the PS4 Pro fix this, giving Sony’s own pad the ability to use the USB cable to input signals too, so the Raiju loses out on this battle. An option between the two modes would have been very welcome.
The final problem, and one I’ve skirted over, is the cost. The Raiju is damn expensive for a game pad, and although Sony’s own DualShock is hardly cheap, the Raiju costs over twice that. You could feasibly buy a second-hand PS4 for the same price, which is just insane. No matter how good a controller is, over $200 is a crazy amount to pay. If you’re an eSports pro, though, the tools of your trade are important, so the cost could be a moot point. For most of us, it’s a major extravagance. This is made worse by the lack of the basic wireless capability and it’s lack of suitability for some genres. Basically, it’s not the all-rounder the DualShock 4 is, and as such, this is a pad only for the serious hardcore players, and those who have the spare cash to burn.