PC gamers now have their own version of the Nintendo Wii's motion-sensitive Wiimote in the form of the Razer Hydra motion-sensing controller (*Est. $140). The Razer Hydra comes bundled with a copy of Valve Software's "Portal 2" and consists of two nunchuk-like controllers and a small, orb-like base station that glows a gentle green color and connects to your PC via a USB cable. Each controller sports an analog thumb stick, five face buttons, and both a bumper button and a trigger button on the rear. The base station uses a magnetic field to keep track of the controllers' positions, as long as they're within two or three feet of the central unit. The downside? While the Hydra is compatible with over 100 games, Portal 2 is the only game that fully supports motion control.
Razer claims that the Hydra is capable of tracking the nunchuk controllers to within 1 mm and 1 degree of accuracy, and reviewers happily report that claim is accurate. Marco Pasqua, writing for AbleGamers.com -- a site focused on reviewing games from a disabled individual's point of view -- says the lightweight controllers "are quite comfortable and fit snugly in my hands." Other critics similarly praise the Hydra's ergonomics, as well as its non-slip surface. Reviewers warn that you can't purchase nunchuks or the base station individually, however.
Critics warn that before you start playing, you'll need to tweak the controller sensitivity settings and configuration options for the style of game you'll be playing. The controller comes with three sensitivity settings out of the box: FPS, mouse and gesture. Changing the button configurations is more of a headache, Michael Aulia says over at CravingTech.com; the only way to do so is by digging into the Razer's configuration files with a text editor and changing the values manually, which may be too complicated for the average gamer. He says Razer plans on releasing a more user-friendly graphical configuration interface soon, however.
Experts say that playing "Portal 2" with the Hydra makes the award-winning game feel even more natural and fun, thanks to the ability to manipulate objects in three dimensions. That game is the only one to currently feature full support for the controller, however. The Hydra supports 125 games in total, but that means it simply includes preset configuration settings for those titles. Testers say that the controller is not as precise when playing games other than Portal 2. Playing non-supported titles is more complex -- you have to edit configuration files yourself, and performance results are hit-and-miss in many titles. The Hydra can be used as a traditional controller too.
Reviewers report that even as precise as the Hydra is, it loses a bit of accuracy compared to traditional mouse-based control. The Hydra's precise enough to function well in most single-player games, critics say, but you'll want to stick to a keyboard-and-mouse combo when you're playing a title that requires exacting accuracy, such as real-time strategy games and competitive online shooters. Additionally, Alex Castle at Maximum PC says that the buttons are too close together to be used as a full-time gamepad replacement.
In conclusion, most reviewers say the Razer Hydra finally brings big-league motion control to the PC, but they don't recommend running out and buying it right away. Even though the Hydra can be used for all sorts of games, it loses a bit of its luster with games other than the optimized Portal 2 game and when it's used as a standard controller substitute rather than a motion control. The general consensus seems to be that if you're a gamer who owns a lot of titles that support motion-control, the Hydra is the best controller you can buy for them; however, most gamers may want to hold off on purchasing the expensive peripheral until more mainstream titles offer drivers and software support for the Hydra (Valve is already planning a "Left 4 Dead 2" Hydra update).
If you already have a Nintendo Wiimote, you may be able to connect it to your PC via Bluetooth, but it's not easy. See our useful links section for more details.
Flight sim fans might consider picking up the NaturalPoint TrackIR 4 Pro (*Est. $100), which allows you to control motion in a game simply by moving your head. Place the small sensor atop your monitor and connect the infrared clip to your hat or earpiece, and reviewers say you will be entering a whole new world of game immersion. HubPages.com calls it the "biggest single innovation in simulation technology this decade," and HardwareHeaven.net gives it a rare Editors' Choice award. FileFactory Games and SimHQ.com give it similarly glowing and even more in-depth reviews.
The NaturalPoint TrackIR 4 Pro really does only one thing, but it does it well. By detecting the motion of your head, the sensor can manipulate your viewpoints in TrackIR-enabled games on up to six axes. In other words, if you turn your head slightly to the right, your on-screen view will pan right; if you tilt your head forward, you'll zoom in, depending upon the game settings. This simple enhancement leads to a variety of advantages. All reviewers rave about the increased immersion they experienced while using the controller during their tests, concluding that it is a "must have" for truly hardcore gamers. Using the sensor for motion control also frees up additional controls on joysticks and gamepads for other uses, like precision targeting or weapon configuration. A few reviewers commented on the simplicity of installation and set-up.
The only real competition for the NaturalPoint TrackIR is itself. The NaturalPoint TrackIR 5 (*Est. $150) increases the horizontal field of view and greatly enhances the resolution of the sensor, sub-pixels and reporting. SimHQ.com had three users test out the controller -- one playing racing sims, another playing shooting games, and a third with flight simulators -- and all three are impressed with the device. They say that TrackIR 5's software makes configuration a breeze, and that the new software works as promised, delivering a wider range of motion and more viewing angles. A few drawbacks are mentioned; outside light sources can occasionally confuse the device and two out of three critics say that the TrackClipPro reflective sensor seems overly flimsy. One reviewer also wishes the USB cable connecting the tracking unit to the monitor was longer and felt more secure.