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Steelseries Sentry

Steelseries Sentry review - eyes on with Tobii's Eye-X tech and Assassin's Creed Rogue

Katharine Byrne
15 May 2015
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
145
(€200)

Page 1 of 2Steelseries Sentry review - eyes on with Tobii's Eye-X tech and Assassin's Creed Rogue

Tobii's Eye-X tech offers an intriguing glimpse into the future of game controls, but it's expensive and only a few games support it

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Specifications

Gamers are no stranger to motion tracking: Nintendo put Wii remotes in your hand to play virtual tennis and Microsoft's Kinect camera can put you in music videos alongside pop stars while you learn the dance steps, but until now the technology was mostly focused on body movement. Steelseries is looking to change that with the Sentry, an eye-tracking system for the PC that can give you (and your Twitch stream followers) an insight into how you play and what you can do to improve.

Eye tracking has other benefits too. Playing certain games on a PC can be a real pain, particularly if they are shoddy console ports with duff controls. The Sentry can employ your own eyeballs as part of your control scheme in supported games.

Steelseries hasn't developed the eye-tracking tech itself; it comes from Tobii, a company that had previously only created eye trackers for medical equipment and analytical research projects, but it's hoping the Sentry will be its big break into gaming. It uses three infrared microprojectors to scan the position of your pupils 50 times a second, which can then be used to calculate where you're looking onscreen. The raw data is smoothed out to appear less jerky onscreen and avoid saccadic movements. You don't need to actively focus on a particular point either, as the Sentry will follow your eyes wherever they go. 

The Sentry attaches to your monitor with a sticky magnetic bracket, letting you pop it on and off whenever you like. You'll need a USB3 port on your PC to use it, however, as it won't work over USB2, and it's only compatible with displays up to 27in, so you can forget about using it on your TV. Once it's properly aligned on your screen, you just need to perform a quick eye calibration using Tobii's bundled Eye-X software and you're ready to play. While most people will want it to track both eyes, you can also choose to track just one pupil if you happen to have a lazy or wandering eye, and it can also account for glasses and contact lenses.

CAMERA CONTROL

Only a few games support the Steelseries Sentry as an input device at the moment, but its primary advocate, Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed Rogue, is just one title that shows off its potential. Here, it's used to control the camera. You can still move the camera with your mouse or a second analogue stick, but controlling it with your eyes is surprisingly natural when you're running up trees and leaping around the icy reaches of North America.

It's pretty responsive, too. If you look to the edge of the screen, you'll turn faster than if you look slightly off-centre, allowing you to quickly turn around if you need to find cover. Surveying your surroundings from the top of a snowy mountain feels incredibly immersive.

Assassin's Creed Rogue screenshot with Steelseries Sentry visualization

^ Wherever you look on the screen, such as the Gaze Point illustrated above, the camera will follow

However, there's an inherent flaw in using your eyes to control the camera in this particular title, as it completely diminishes your peripheral vision. This means you can't really have the camera steady at any one time, as every glance will move the camera to your next point of focus. This is fine if you're constantly on the move, but it's during those quieter moments of stealth and reconnaissance that it becomes a real issue.

When you're sneaking into an enemy base, for instance, you want the camera to help you see round corners in order to clock patrolling guards and obstacles, but this is near impossible when the camera's jumping back and forth in time with each eye movement. As a result, we constantly felt like we had to wrestle the camera into focusing where we wanted it to go, which was both a hassle and an incredibly unnatural way to play the game.

The same was true of theHunter: Primal, a first-person open-world survival game that throws you onto an alien planet populated with deadly dinosaurs. Controlling the camera felt instinctive while running across the open plains, but the game's first-person perspective meant it became almost as lethal as a wandering T-Rex when scouting for dinos on the horizon. Because the camera is tied directly to the direction you're moving, we weren't able to look around our surroundings naturally while carrying on on a different path. We wouldn't recommend using it for aiming your weapon either as we found it to be quite imprecise, which is fatal when ammo is so scarce in the first place.

Ironically, indie game Son of Nor addresses this directional problem very elegantly. Here, your eyes act as a cursor, allowing you to pick up, levitate and throw huge rocks at your enemies while facing a different direction. It helps that the game plays out in third person, but it effectively prevents the game from falling into the dreaded tank control scheme that often afflicts so many third and first person games alike (we're looking at you, Resident Evil).

Son of Nor

^ When using the Sentry with Son of Nor, you can pick up rocks and shoot them with your eyes without turning to face your enemy

It certainly lends Son of Nor a more natural and realistic set of inputs, and we only wish theHunter: Primal worked in the same way. Primal does give you the ability to lock the camera in place, allowing you to move your mouse to glance at the horizon without deviating from your chosen route, but this also disables the eye-tracking, as the camera remained stationary when we tried to move it with our eyes.

It's a shame the Sentry has such a limited selection of games with support for camera control at the moment, as we could see it could be a massive boon for disabled gamers. Specialist eye trackers already exist, but these are typically so expensive to be out of reach of many players, but the Sentry could be a genuinely affordable alternative for anyone that can't play using a standard controller.

Page 1 of 2Steelseries Sentry review - eyes on with Tobii's Eye-X tech and Assassin's Creed Rogue

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Reviews
  • Steelseries Sentry review

    145
    (€200)

    Tobii's Eye-X tech offers an intriguing glimpse into the future of game controls, but it's expensive and only a few games support it

    15 May 2015