Gamepads are standard on gaming consoles. The buttons are all in easy-to-reach places, and it allows you to quickly navigate your game controls in a relatively small device. Keyboards, in contrast, are much larger. While this increased size means you can map a ton more controls to the various buttons that adorn most of the devices these days, it also takes more time to get from one button to another. Originally conceived for PC first-person shooter gamers, the Razer Nostromo aims to give gamers that gamepad-like experience with the customization potential of a keyboard.
While the original series of Nostromo devices were marketed by Belkin, this is the first of the series to be primarily under the Razer brand, with a nod to co-developer Belkin on the packaging.
From a design standpoint, the Nostromo is a very pretty gaming peripheral. It features an all-black plastic design with a sleek shape and layout. The black, plastic body has a shine to it and the 16 buttons which adorn the control area are a rubberized plastic for comfort. The device uses a USB 2.0 interface to connect with your Windows PC, with a nice braided cable to avoid tearing or tangling. The unit is weighted enough at half a pound so that it is not effortless to move and has good ‘feet’ on it to prevent sliding around on most desktop surfaces.
The Nostromo also features a nice back lighting system with an icy-blue light. The back lighting brightness level can be adjusted within the configurator software. Those of you looking to customize your lighting color will not find that option here.
Installation of the Nostromo is not going to be any trouble for an average user. Simply install the CD and software then plug the unit into an available USB 2.0 port. From the Nostromo Configurator software, you can program all the buttons you like, or just use the out-of-the box presets, which work very well for most shooters and should be familiar to PC gamers. There is a 3-LED system to denote which of the 8 control profiles you are currently using, which can be a bit problematic if you forget which light pattern means what. I would have rather seen an LCD display with a profile’s name on it. Still, having 8 key maps and up to 20 game profiles available is a great thing and will serve you well, especially if you have a ton of macros to program into the unit.
After configuring the Nostromo, it was time we took it for a spin with Call of Duty: Black Ops. Using the Nostromo took some getting used to, but after feeling it out a while I was sufficiently impressed with its (and my own) performance to try it in a game not really meant for the device: 2K Game’s Civilization V. Civ V is a turn-based, empire-building title where game sessions can last for weeks depending on any number of factors. This means the Nostromo would have to be comfortable enough to use in such a situation – where it was not meant to be used. After many hours of play, I was still impressed with the Nostromo and its functionality on such a slowly-progressing game. Now, some of you may argue that you do not play with the keyboard a lot in Civ V. I would say to you, dear gamers, that you really should to be as efficient as possible (there are a ton of helpful keyboard shortcuts to know). As I have been beta testing DC Universe Online, an upcoming MMO from Sony Online Entertainment, I decided to give it a test in that environment next. Again, the biggest ‘trouble’ I had in using the device was deciding where to assign keyboard shortcuts on the control pad. After that, things went very smoothly and I had my fiery villain character decimating the city before I knew it.
The controls are all very responsive, and I did not have trouble reaching any of them. The one button which I felt needed to be a little more ‘springy’ in its design was the thumb button. It replicates the function of a space bar in games, but did not have a strong enough return spring. I prefer ‘clicky’, quick-to-bounceback buttons as opposed to ‘squishy’ keys, so I digress. I would have also liked to have seen the thumb button be a bit larger in dimension. While reachable, it is not entirely effortless to access, being slightly off from where my thumb usually sits. This point will largely depend on your hand, of course, and its size in comparison to the Nostromo.
Also, the 8-way directional ‘nubbin’ was a mixed-bag. On one hand, you could use it for moving around the screen by assigning it WASD functionality. Essentially, this makes the Nostromo a fully independent controller. However, doing so proved a very odd experience, not really all that precise in comparison to a standard keyboard setup.
Overall – the Razer Nostromo’s performance, both in fast and slow-paced games, is very admirable and I would recommend it to any PC gamer looking to pare down the keyboard to a more focused gaming solution.