We’re closing out the year with a little bit of advice, some utility, and maybe even some mirth. In this line of work, we try out a ton of products, some of which you read about on this very site. Not all of them, though. Sometimes, the things that make the biggest impact on our lives are items that don’t get an official review, or things that we never quite find the time to write about. Or maybe we did write about it, and we want to take this opportunity to reiterate just how rad that thing really is, outside all the initial hype and after all the dust has settled.
These are our favorite products that we bought or otherwise acquired in 2021. The only rule we agreed on going in is that the items we pick can’t be major consoles or software. Otherwise, anything goes!
2 / 10
PS5 Pulse 3D Wireless Headset
PS5 Pulse 3D Wireless Headset
If nothing else, life during the pandemic has crystalized the need for a good set of gaming headphones. On one hand, you don’t wanna be the housemate who’s constantly blaring laser gun sound effects from your TV. On the other, sometimes you just need to drown everyone else out. In both regards, Sony’s Pulse headset for PS5, is a game-changer. Not only is it essentially soundproof, but audio comes through crisp and clear, even at high volumes. Some blockbusters—Returnal, in particular—make use of its 3D audio bona fides to impressive effect. It’s one thing to see rainfall on the screen and feel its pitter-patter in your hands. But to hear rain drop with precise echolocation on your eardrums is transportive to a whole new level—almost like you’re no longer stuck on a planet governed by leaders who seem determined to keep this damn pandemic going until the PS6 comes out. – Ari Notis
3 / 10
MiSTer Retro Gaming Device
MiSTer Retro Gaming Device
Let me tell you about a magical gaming device that’s forever changed the way I play retro games. Well, let me tell you about the MiSTer again, since I already told you all once. Utilizing the power of an FPGA, or field-programmable gate array circuit, the MiSTer essentially transforms into any number of old school gaming devices, computers, and arcade machines. This is all done at a hardware level, so games play the same way they do on actual equipment, without any of the flaws you tend to encounter with software emulation. Since I purchased my MiSTer earlier this year, I’ve been able to put most of my older consoles into storage, from my old Odyssey 2 on up to my Neo Geo. Best of all, the MiSTer project is completely open-source, so coders with much more technical knowledge than I will ever have are hard-at-work expanding its capabilities, with great strides being made to emulate the original PlayStation as I type this. It’s an outstanding piece of retro gaming hardware that’s been a huge boon to the video game preservation cause. – Mike Fahey
A PS5 SSD
The PS5 is a powerful and impressive console, but it shipped with a 825GB SSD which really isnt enough if you plan on having a few AAA game installed. But earlier this year Sony finally patched the console to allow owners to install bigger SSD drives. I did this, and it’s made using my PS5 less frustrating as I don’t have to spend time uninstalling stuff to play new PS5 games. Sadly, SSDs are still expensive, but if you can swing for one, I’d recommend it. – Zack Zwiezen
It may sound obvious, but it’s the truth: Few peripherals have changed how I game—or, yes, saved me more money—than investing in a solid pair of rechargeable AA batteries. You have to understand, I spent the bulk of last generation playing games on PlayStation 4 and Switch, which conditioned me to believe that, when you need to charge a controller, you…plug in a cable. And yet, over the past year, like my colleague Zack Zwiezen, I’ve found myself gravitating more toward my Xbox Series X over my PS5. The proliferation of Game Pass throughout 2021 is no doubt a direct catalyst. An impressive fall slate—dozens of hours spent in games like Forza Horizon 5 and Halo Infinite—has also ensured my Xbox is frequently on. Since the console’s standard-issue controller runs on AAs, picking up a set of rechargeable batteries has saved me (based on the rate AAs are going for in NYC these days) something like, oh, I don’t know, probably $1.5 million dollars? That seems correct. -AN
A mechanical keyboard
This is a simplification, but Karl Marx argues that factory workers are alienated from the machine upon which they work because they do not own it. The mass produced tool will alienate you from your craft, too. That is what it is designed to do. It—like you—is meant to generate the maximum amount of profit until it breaks, at which point it is readily disposable. I do not want to use, or be, a disposable thing anymore, which led me to build my first mechanical keyboard. I wanted to feel the work more intimately through my hands. Even if the words I write generate profit for shareholders and CEOs, even if the realities of the ad-based model drive me to pursue stories I would rather leave by the wayside, at the very least I can connect with the feeling of familiar pressure from my keyboard’s hand-lubed switches. I can take solace in the connection to my tools—even on my worst days. It’s an E-White NK65 with Silent Clears, and Astrolokeys Keycaps.
This is not revolutionary praxis, or a statement about how other people should approach their work. This is how I get through some of my bad days. By reminding my hands that we can imagine something better than this.
Also, my keyboard is very pretty. – Renata Price
A Titty Mousepad
A month ago, I bought a Genshin Impact titty mouse pad for the novelty. Now, I can’t imagine gaming without it. I’m half convinced that if I tried to use a normal mouse pad, my fragile gamer wrists would collapse immediately. Readers, please do yourself a huge favor and get some sort of ergonomic mouse pad. It doesn’t even need to be sexy–there are SFW variants out there. As long as you’re spending extended amounts of time on your computer, you should ensure that your wrists are being properly supported. Repetitive Strain Injury is no joke.
We all know mobile gaming is huge, especially with services like Apple Arcade and xCloud, but playing mobile games is the fucking worst! The touchscreen you’re relegated to is often too small, forcing you to claw-grip your phone, which both covers up the display and makes hitting the on-screen buttons cumbersome. The Backbone One won’t solve the issue of screen real estate, per se, but it will give you a more console-like experience on account of it being a premium-feeling gamepad similar to an Xbox controller. What you get is a retractable gamepad, available for both Android and iOS devices of varying sizes, replete with offset thumbsticks, four face buttons, and a D-Pad. It’s hella nice, especially if you’re big into battle royales like Final Fantasy VII: The First Soldier and MOBAs such as Pokémon Unite. There’s also a companion app which functions like an operating system reminiscent of tvOS, where you can not only check out new controller-supported games, but also view and share the photos and videos you’ve taken. The Backbone One is a cool, feature-complete addition to any gamer’s gear catalog, hardcore mobile player or not. – Jeremy Winslow
Elite 2 Controller
This thing is a goddamn design marvel. Each individual piece, from the thumbsticks to the d-pads, can be pulled out with zero resistance and replaced with accompanying options of varying weight, design, and appeal. The sheer ease in which you can do this almost makes the whole thing seem flimsy, but the heft and metal finish are a good reminder that no, this is a luxe product and these are intentional design choices. Perhaps, in the same way you might suspend one game and pop into another on the Xbox, you might decide you need a totally different set of tools for the rest of your gaming night. Two sets of paddles on the back, combined with multiple programmable button configurations, also mean that you can go full esports if you want. Pro-tip, you wanna make it so you can aim, shoot, reload, jump, and switch weapons without actually lifting any of your fingers. Also, I hear a warranty is a good idea. – Patricia Hernandez