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What a difference a few years can make. Razer launched its premium Wildcat game pad in 2015, and it was a serviceable but ultimately forgettable competitor to Microsoft's $149 Xbox One Elite wireless controller. But with its new $159 Wolverine Ultimate, Razer has crafted a high-end PC and Xbox One controller that can not only hold its own with the Elite, but also one-up the Microsoft product in a few areas.
Sporting customizable Chroma lighting, swappable components and some truly innovative sensitivity controls, the Wolverine Ultimate is one of the best options out there for competitive gamers willing to splurge to get an edge. It's not quite as slick or cohesive as Microsoft's offering, but it fills a unique niche for first-person-shooter fans or simply anyone who lives for colorful Razer products.
Talk about an improvement! The Razer Wolverine Ultimate tackles nearly every criticism I had of the company's premium Wildcat game pad, ditching that controller's garish green highlights in favor of a cohesive black-and-silver look. The new game pad takes more than a few cues from Microsoft's Elite wireless controller, but that's not such a bad thing.
The Wolverine features textured grips on both of its handles, ditching the awkward, optional adhesive grips on the Wildcat. While I still prefer the overall ergonomics of the Xbox pad (and yearn for the Elite controller's soft-touch finish), the Wolverine is very comfortable to hold, with a 9-ounce frame that's notably lighter than the 12-ounce Elite while still feeling substantial.
The controller's thumb sticks and D-pad are now completely swappable and attach magnetically, making it extremely easy to pop them off. The Wolverine includes two extra thumbsticks — one that's extra tall and one that's convex — as well as an additional, smoother D-pad that's better for fighting games.
Razer's high-end controller sports six extra buttons: two extra shoulder buttons up top and four paddles in the rear. While you can no longer remove the paddles (a process that required a screwdriver on the Wildcat), I never found that these parts got in my way while I was playing. As with the Wildcat and Elite controller, there are hair-trigger switches that lower the travel on each trigger button and allow you to fire faster.
Rounding out the Wolverine's design is a control panel at the bottom, which features buttons for muting your mic, balancing game and chat volume, switching profiles, and remapping buttons on the fly. The controller's 10-foot detachable cable provides plenty of slack, and while I wish there were an option for connecting wirelessly, a wired connection is probably better for competitive gamers who don't want to worry about a draining battery.
When you first plug in the Wolverine, you'll notice something nearly no other game pad has: a small strip of colorful LED lighting. The controller features Razer's signature Chroma effects, meaning that you can customize it to glow in all kinds of cool colors and patterns.
You customize the Wolverine using the Razer Synapse app on Xbox One (PC customization is coming soon), which offers many of the same lighting options you'll find on Razer's mice and keyboards. You can have the controller cycle through the whole rainbow in various directions or simply set it to glow a single, static color. You can also toggle a "reactive" mode, which has the controller light up every time you press a button, or an "immersive" mode, which has it light up whenever the game pad vibrates.
While these lighting effects are neat, they're also superfluous. You're probably not staring down at your controller when trying to survive a heated Call of Duty death match, meaning some of the Wolverine's coolest effects will probably go unnoticed while you're in-game. Still, I keep catching myself staring at my Wolverine's soothing rainbow patterns as I write this review, and if your setup already consists of a bunch of glowy Razer peripherals, this controller will certainly complement them well.
Of course, colors aren't the only thing you can customize on the Wolverine. The controller's six extra "M" keys are fully remappable, though you can't remap the standard face buttons or triggers like you can on the Xbox Elite controller. You can also fine-tune how much vibration comes from both the triggers and handles.
Thanks to its comfy grip and responsive controls, the Wolverine played well with a variety of genres and, in some cases, allowed me to do things that simply wouldn't be possible with a standard game pad.
Thanks to the Wolverine's extra buttons, I was able to jump and take cover in games like Gears of War 4 and Wolfenstein 2 without having to take my thumbs off the sticks. But what really set the Wolverine apart for me are the controller's Agile and Focus features, which are mapped to the rear paddles by default and allow you to increase or decrease your thumbstick sensitivity on the fly.
This is a game-changer for shooters — with a quick squeeze of the left paddle, I was able to lower my sensitivity and land precise sniper shots with ease. This sort of functionality is fairly common on FPS-minded gaming mice, but I've never seen it implemented well on a controller until I picked up the Wolverine.
The Wolverine's fast, clicky face buttons and optional, smooth D-pad make it a solid fighting-game controller. After spending a few minutes getting acclimated with the new pad, I was able to perform my usual Injustice 2 combos with ease. Considering that the Wildcat's segmented D-pad made playing fighters nearly impossible, I was very pleased with how well the Wolverine handled them.
With the Wolverine, Razer has delivered the first worthy competitor to Microsoft's Xbox One Elite wireless controller while improving tremendously on previous Razer game pads. It's comfortable, sleek and highly customizable, and it stands out thanks to its Chroma lighting and innovative sensitivity controls.
However, if those two features aren't game changers for you, you're still probably better off with an Elite controller. Microsoft's high-end pad is $10 cheaper, has more swappable parts, works wirelessly, and simply has a more-premium look and feel. But if you're a Razer junkie or just want the biggest edge possible for first-person shooters, the Wolverine is well worth looking into.
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Mike Andronico is Senior Writer at CNNUnderscored. He was formerly Managing Editor at Tom's Guide, where he wrote extensively on gaming, as well as running the show on the news front. When not at work, you can usually catch him playing Street Fighter, devouring Twitch streams and trying to convince people that Hawkeye is the best Avenger.