Back in 2008, Denmark based computer peripheral company Steelseries acquired American computer peripheral company Ideazon; and with it, most of their products. One of those products was the Stealth Merc keyboard. The Stealth Merc was released in 2007, but it is still considered one of the best gaming keyboards on the market today, and after a few weeks of intense gaming with it, I can see why.
Steelseries has an almost neurotic attention to detail in all of their gear, and the Merc is no exception. From the moment you pick up the box you realize how much this thing weighs, at least five pounds. It’s also on the large side, 21 inches across to be exact, so you will want to make sure it fits on your computer desk.
What makes the Merc Stealth stand out from the competition is the integrated “gaming terrain” located on the left side of the keyboard. There are 34 keys which represent all the keys on the left side of the keyboard (the ones most commonly used for gaming). They even tilted the keys at an 11 degree angle which was found to be the natural position for gaming. It was extremely easy to get used to, and after playing Tribes: Ascend for about 10 minutes I couldn’t imagine going back to the old way. Also, the W,S,A,D, Shift, Ctrl, and Jump buttons, are rubberized; a nice touch! The keyboard is backlit with three color choices (Blue, Red, and Purple), with brightness settings. You can also opt to have no illumination, but, you won’t.
To keep the size of the keyboard down, they have integrated the arrow keys, along with other keys normally located in the center of the board, to the number pad. If you want to use the delete key, for example, you have to turn off num lock. That being said, if you are someone who uses their computer for data entry, you won’t be buying this product anyways.
The keyboard is meant to be used hand and hand with their “Z engine” software. Z engine is a program that has preloaded gaming profiles that take advantage of the gaming terrain. There are about 180 profiles spread across three categories; FPS, RTS, and Shooter. I found it very easy to use, and it runs in the background taking up virtually no resources. That being said, even with the new updates, I found the preloaded profiles to be very dated. Looking over the list, I believe Far Cry 2 was the newest title, and that was released in 2008. This really is not a big deal, though, since the default profile makes all the keys on the gaming terrain a copy of what is on the normal qwerty side of the board. Also, it is very easy to make your own profile for any game you choose. It would be nice to see Steelseries update their software with newer game profiles though.
At first glance, I will admit the gaming terrain layout appeared like a bit of a gimmick and that I would probably go back to using the tried and true WSAD keys after only a few gaming sessions. I am pleased to say that I was wrong. I never knew how comfortable computer gaming can be! Aside from some outdated software, and pretty hefty size, I cannot find a single flaw with the Stealth Merc. It looks great, and it feels great. I only wish I had this keyboard back in the days of the non-stop 48 hour LAN party. Consider this writer, officially spoiled!
You can pick up out the Merc Stealth Illuminated Gaming Keyboard for $89.99 on the Steelseries website.