I haven't given up on my quest to find the best Elite-like alternative for the PS4. The latest challenger: Razer's Raiju controller, another pad designed for esports and gamers who like more back buttons than they have fingers.
What Is It?
A combination of the PS4's layout mixed with a shell the size of the Xbox One controller, Razer's Raiju is designed to be a controller for the hardcore console player, the one with an eye at climbing the leaderboards or a Call of Duty tournament to practice for.
All of the basics are there. The Raiju comes with a carrying case, little screwdriver, rubber grips for each of the analog sticks, and a detachable braided micro-USB cable that is "not intended to be used with other devices" - but we'll get back to that later.
As for the controller itself, it comes with the usual bells and whistles. Apart from what you'd expect on a PS4 pad, there's four buttons between the left and right grips that lets you remap the back bumpers and triggers, cycle between profiles, a microphone mute and a volume button. There's a D-pad as well, a 3.5mm headphone jack, "mechanical action" buttons and optional hair-trigger modes and stop switches.
The reverse of the controller has four multi-function triggers, plus two multi-function bumpers. The multi-function bumpers are bound to the regular bumpers by default, helpful for those who use that odd claw grip. If the triggers are in the way, however, you can remove them entirely with the screwdriver supplied.
What's It Good At?
Unlike almost all of Razer's peripherals, you don't need to interact with Razer Synapse at any point. Rebinding keys is done by holding the remap button until the profile LED blinks, then pressing the special bumper or trigger, and then pressing the button you want to assign. It's quick, simple, and can be done in the middle of a game without too much fuss.
The controller's fairly comfortable to hold, with rubberised grips on the reverse and a width fairly similar to the standard Xbox One controller. It's a fraction more weighty than the Xbox One pad, although not as much as the Elite when it's stocked with batteries. It's almost twice as heavy as the DualShock 4: the Raiju weighs in at 350 grams, with the cable connected, compared to the DS4 at approximately 210 grams.
The Raiju is a wired only controller, but you can't fault the length of the cable. It's three metres long, enough to reach across most rooms (or from the TV to the bed, if that's your preference). The regular buttons take a fraction getting used to; it doesn't quite feel like a mechanical keyboard, but the sound they make is fairly satisfying. They're a little more rounded than a regular PS4 controller, but not as protruding as the buttons on the standard Xbox One controllers.
The stop switches on the back are easy enough to turn on and off as well, and the hair trigger mode is a nice bonus for those who frequent shooters like Destiny and Call of Duty.
What's It Not Good At?
I can understand the appeal of wanting a wired-only controller. You don't see top Counter-Strike or League of Legends sporting wireless mice for much the same reason: nobody wants to tolerate additional lag or have to deal with the potential of interference.
But the problem with the Raiju is that it's specifically designed for the cable that comes with it, and no others. Rather than being compatible with any micro-USB cable, as other controllers often are, the Raiju's connector is recessed into the chassis with two indents that prevent you from using a standard cable that might be laying around.
It's completely unnecessary. It wouldn't be such of an annoyance, but the braided cable provided - at least with my Raiju - began to fray after days of use. Perhaps it was simply bad luck, but my cable twisted badly, and despite repeated attempts to get it to a more normal state, this is what it looked like after a few solid weeks of daily use:
It's just a cable, so normally this wouldn't be a concern. But the Raiju can only be used with one cable out of the box, save for some DIY treatment, which makes it a problem.
The directional pad is pretty weak as well, and after regular use I found I would only use about half of the modifiable back buttons. They're not placed, or shaped, in the most ergonomic locations, but in my experience I've found I never use more than two back buttons on a regular basis. I ended up replacing the supplied rubber domes for the analog sticks as well: the dots in the centre began to lose grip after a couple of weeks, and I had more grip using a rubber dome without the bumps in the centre.
Should You Buy It?
If you want to pick up the Raiju, it'll set you back $229 from JB Hi-Fi. Don't get me wrong: it's a nice controller, possibly the best out of the third-party options that become available at retail in Australia over the last year.
But that's an awful lot of money for something that just falls short. It wouldn't be the first time Razer has designed a peripheral with so much promise, only for outstanding issues to be resolved in a future iteration. And that's what the Raiju feels like: a great template, a solid draft that's just missing a few touches.