In an uncharacteristic move, I’m going to do something of a current gaming news type blogpost to lament the movement of staple game hardware manufacturer ‘Mad Catz’ from “Woooh! we’re a company” status, to “Urgh! We’ve filed for bankruptcy” as reported late last week. As a company they were dubiously renowned for producing opinion dividing products, specifically in their console market given some of the rants that I’ve just found on various forums, but it’s equally valid to say that anytime a company drops out of the market (particularly the less populated 3rd party gaming hardware market) we lose diversity & choice when it comes to how we bridge the gap between fingertips and machine. As gamers, when we’re wrapped up in that world, most of us would likely say that whatever control interface is forgotten… and that should be the goal of controller manufacturers… to make us forget that bridge from our hand to the game. I think this is why I struggle to write hardware reviews (as I discovered previously), the best compliment you can give many pieces of gaming hardware is that when it works, you forget about it.
So, in memory of fallen ‘Mad Catz’ (I’m avoiding making the 9 lives joke that so many gaming news sites have made) I’m going to give it the old college try and attempt to elucidate my thoughts on the R.A.T. 5 gaming mouse that has been a permanent fixture on my desk for the past few years.
Given the number of hours I spend PC gaming, it’s a testament to the quality of the R.A.T. that my list of niggles and complaints is short. By comparison, my previous mouse (which I also liked) was basically form of torture with two main problems; firstly it was slightly too small for my hand, and secondly it would ‘dispense’ the glue that held the side panels in place all over my hand during extended play sessions. Needless to say this wasn’t a feature that I enjoyed.
Visually the R.A.T. is attractive; its angular body and panelled structure gives it a faux cyberpunk vibe. The LED indicators give it just enough ‘Ooooohh‘ without it feeling like there might be a bass tube and wide exhaust fitted to it… or to put it another way I think it says “gamer” without saying “behold to PC master race in all its glory*“. The surface is made of that pleasant slightly rubberised plastic which I prefer to anything in vanilla ‘shiny’ or ‘matt’, and it is heavy duty enough that it avoids feeling cheap. In short, the shop display appeal is high,
I can’t imagine many grip styles that couldn’t be accommodated here. The flat, wide, buttons don’t dictate finger position, and the palm support can be adjusted forward or backward (pictured fully forward) by just over an inch (For those of you not familiar with inches; there are 7920 of them in a furlong… which is just over 1000 links). I also think that the ‘Thumb-shelf” on the left hand side is also really comfortable; my only complaint from a comfort point of view is that after prolonged use, my little & ring fingers tend to ache from gripping the side of the mouse, but it’s likely that I should just relax more. The solid metal base and glide pads that you can see on the underside picture allow it to slide easy around my beaten up mouse mat. It also features removable weights so it can be tweaked to suit personal preference, although I’ve found that fully weighted tends to make it more stable and less jittery onscreen at high sensitivity.
The buttons on gaming mice can be off-putting to those not familiar with them; I think the R.A.T. 5 is right at the limit of being socially acceptable. The three main clickers all function well, and the scroll wheel has a pleasant stepped action that allows for neat weapon changes. The thumb wheel is where this begins to look a bit gimmicky; I’ve mapped it to ‘throwables’ or ‘inventory items’ on occasion, but it is rarely used. The ‘forward’ & ‘backward’ thumb buttons I tend to map to ‘push-to-talk’. Finally the red ‘precision aim’ button is little more than a curiousity as, in its default state, it drops the mouse sensitivity allowing for more precise aiming… allegedly.
On the technical side, it operates at a respectable 5600DPI resolution; there’s a little button which allows the player to drop this (indicated by the illuminated segments), but generally it’s better to leave it at the maximum and adjust ingame (setting up a gaming mouse can be daunting; this is the best guide I found, as long as you ignore the *shudders* 1337 style). My one complaint from a setup point of view would be that the configuration tool lacks the ability to set a default button mapping profile, but once you have selected a profile, a quick tap on the small selector next to the left button will cycle through the different preset mappings and change the colour scheme.
Best of all, it works, and I don’t need to think about it when I’m playing, which I guess brings me back around to my opening paragraph. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’m devastated by the passing of Mad Catz, but it is a slightly flat thought that when this mouse finally gives up, I might not be able to upgrade to the next generation of R.A.T.
Does anyone else have Mad Catz memories that they’d like to share? … Or any other favourite controllers? Feel free to jump in to the comments!
* I hope that nobody … ever… has said this phrase in serious discussion…