Reviewing the Unreviewable

Impressions on products that didn’t make the cut

Screenshot captured on an Xbox Series S by the author.

I take no pleasure in writing reviews of bad products, but sometimes a thing just isn’t that good. Whether it’s a pair of headphones that doesn’t fit right on my head, a gaming headset that ships with a metal screw lodged inside of it magnetically, or a port of a game that just can’t maintain a framerate, bad things are out there.

However, there’s a difference between something being bad and something being broken. I like to review things that feel like they’re finished enough to actually release, and that are free of manufacturing defects. If they don’t meet this simple criteria, no matter how good or bad they are…I don’t write about them.

I’ve cancelled a couple dozen articles for products that fit this unfortunate category. But this week, it happened twice. I received two gaming headsets in a row that had unfortunate technical defects, but I still want to talk about them.

Also Cyberpunk.

Photo taken by the author.

Xiberia G01 Wireless Gaming Headset

I’ve scrolled past this best-selling headset a comical number of times while browsing Amazon, and last week I finally took the plunge. This comes from a long range of headsets, sometimes branded as “Xiberia” and sometimes branded as “Jeecoo,” but most of them use the same basic shell that looks like it was liberally copied from the HyperX Cloud Flight.

Indeed, on paper, the G01 is a remarkable thing. It has 2.4ghz wireless support for PC and PlayStation consoles. It has a wired backup connection. And it looks like it has enough padding to not instantly crush your ears. All for just over fifty dollars.

On taking mine out of the box, the problems began. It doesn’t feel terrible in the hands, and in fact the rotation hinges are much sturdier than those on the HyperX model it’s so obviously copying. However, my headband pad was coming unstuck at both ends of the frame.

Photo taken by the author.

It’s a simple pad that’s glued awkwardly into the housing, and using the headset a couple of times only made the problem worse. No amount of careful pushing to try and get it to go back into place worked, and from how obvious this problem was, it seems like quality control is this headset’s weak spot.

Further, while the microphone sounded shockingly good, the actual sound from the drivers was a miserable experience. I thought that the Razer BlackShark V3 X overdid its bass response…but the Xiberia kicks it up to such comical levels that I have a new appreciation for Razer’s latest budget offering in comparison. The G01 is just boom, mud, and thickness, with next to no treble to speak of save for a stabbing peak up near the top of the response that feels like it was added in a desperate attempt to save these.

I can see why these are a best-seller on Amazon from their product description, but I don’t understand why they have such a relatively high four star product rating. At the $55ish price point they go for, the Mpow Air is a better wireless experience, and countless other companies offer solid wired headsets with better sound, build, and comfort.

Photo taken by the author.

Corsair VOID Elite Surround

I was excited to revisit Corsair’s Void. I reviewed the “Pro” version four years ago, and at the end of 2019 Corsair refreshed it yet again and changed the name to “Elite.” It took me this long to get to because of…everything that has happened.

The Void is an interesting headset in large part due to its unorthodox design, famously co-created by BMW’s internal industrial design team. It looks unlike just about any other gaming headset on the market. And it still has a stupid large permanently-attached microphone.

This new edition changed out the drivers and the mic capsule, and made some tweaks to the density of its large foam ear pads. The plastic material also feels a tiny bit cheaper to me than on the Void Pro, but I didn’t send it off to a lab to have it analyzed so it might just be that the matte coating is different.

Unfortunately, after a couple of hours of listening, a huge problem came into focus. My pair has a dramatic channel imbalance issue across the midrange, with many frequencies tilting to the right side. That’s not at all good for any audio product, let alone a gaming product that’s supposed to help players better locate enemies in games.

Photo taken by the author.

From some clicking around online, I noticed that the much-more-scientific folks at Rtings had the same issue with their wireless version, suggesting that this might be a quality control problem across the range. It’s also a little humorous because Corsair touts perfectly-matched drivers as a feature of their Virtuoso headset lineup. Perhaps achieving that “lofty” goal (that all headsets should aspire to by default) required cutting costs on the Void.

Or perhaps it’s just bad luck. The drivers and mic are both indeed noticeably improved on the Void Elite, which I refuse to spell entirely with capital letters in spite of their branding. The sound is much more natural with just a hint of roll-off in the bass and a midrange that’s more flat and accurate than on the Pro model. It’s a shame that much of it was panned to the right on my unit.

Screenshot captured on Xbox Series S by the author.

Cyberpunk 2077

I cleared out my entire schedule at the end of last year thinking that I would play through multiple versions of Cyberpunk and be in gaming heaven for a few weeks.

As we all know, it didn’t turn out that way. While there are numerous good things about Cyberpunk, from its acting to its sense of scope to its random loot system…the game is so far from being finished that it seemed wrong to even evaluate. I thought it would be a top contender for Game of the Year but in its release state I think it only barely struggles to not be one of the worst games of 2020.

After many trials and tribulations, including an awful security breach of the entire server infrastructure at CD Projekt Red by frustrated fans, Cyberpunk’s first “big patch” came out this past week. While it does fix countless issues, and it does now feel like the game is less likely to shake itself apart and crash at any moment, it’s still so far from a finished release that it doesn’t seem right to evaluate it as anything other than a disappointment.

Cyberpunk had everything going for it. It had a celebrated developer at the helm. It had a sincere desire to reinvigorate the single player open world game, the same way that Rockstar’s games usually do. And it had a setting and voice cast that were more than up to the task of the promises made. Unfortunately, the game has numerous design issues at a deep systemic level.

Screenshot captured on Xbox Series S by the author.

I wish that Cyberpunk had been better managed from the start. Mismanagement without oversight runs rampant in the tech industry, and feature creep is an ever-present problem in game development. Cyberpunk needed a clear design vision from the start for its massive scope. When the E3 2018 gameplay video came out, it felt like the game had that. The final version, even with this new patch included, feels like a chopped up echo of that vision that was kicked out the door for a holiday season by people who may not understand good game design.

I’ve seen the argument made online that the Witcher 3 had similar problems at launch and…no. Not even close. Sure, it had some technical wonkiness, but that game also has such a careful design and scope from top to bottom. Cyberpunk took the engine from that game and grafted in a bunch of systems it was never designed to power. With enough time and the right leadership, it could have been something special. Instead, even after all the patches both released and upcoming, I still think it’s likely to go down as one of the most infamous gaming disappointments of all time.

I mean, Sony won’t even sell it digitally yet as of this writing. And they sell numerous far more broken games on their store, and other high profile disappointments like Avengers. And of course, don’t forget the $20 wallpaper theme packs of anime girls. But they still won’t sell Cyberpunk.

It’s bad, but it’s not worse than charging $20 for a collection of illustrated girl icons, right? What happened here?

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