Friday, 29 May 2015

Review: Buzz Bee Range Master

The Range Master is the largest blaster in Buzz Bee's Air Max line, although it has been around for several years in a grey colour scheme instead of the new blue. Nerf has released several sniper-style blasters and none of them have really lived up to expectation, so how does the Range Master stack up?

As usual for Buzz Bee, an open style box even for one of their biggest blasters. It shows everything the RM comes with, as well as standard 60 feet range claim and "3 feet long!" (much like Nerf's snipers) to really emphasise the sniper part.
Back of the box, as standard for Buzz Bee.
All the bits you get out of the package.
The base blaster, barrel extension, scope, bipod and 10 Extreme darts.

Let's look at the base blaster, as usual.

Immediately obvious, as with most other Buzz Bee blasters, the RM lacks the intricate shell details and prints that most Nerf blasters have. Note that outside of the stickers and orange parts, the RM has no colour besides blue, as with so many other Buzz Bee blasters.
Where Nerf blasters often have their instructions in raised plastic, the RM just has a sticker.
Besides also lacking much shell detail, the RM is also quite thin.
The underside. Note the small hole in the grip like area, and the large section further forward. These both contribute to the bipod's functionality, which we'll look at next.

The bipod is nothing special, it just has two legs on angled swivels, and two clips to slot into place on the RM. Here it is with the legs folded.
And here with the legs deployed.
Here it is on the RM, deployed. The legs are tapered so that when placed on the ground the feet of the bipod are flat, and the stock of the RM rests on the ground.
Attaching it is simple, simply line up the clips with the slots and push in. Removing is just a matter of pressing down both clip release buttons and pulling down.
Here's the bipod folded up. Note that the small nubs on the bipod legs pop into the small slot in the RM's body that was shown earlier.
The grooves in the bipod are meant to for a grip pattern, however I personally found that particular grip position to be rather awkward, and the grip pattern isn't very comfortable for me.
I personally prefer to grip the RM around the bipod mount, but personal preferences so that won't affect ratings.
Also note that the bipod can be attached backwards, but the legs don't click into place, and when deployed the RM doesn't mount a flat surface properly.

The Range Master wouldn't really be a sniper blaster without a pointless long barrel. Let's take a quick look at it.
As immediately obvious, the RM's barrel is a screw-on attachment, removeable at will. It's extremely wide, and also fairly long.
Unlike Nerf's faux barrels, the RM's faux barrel is smoothbore, and is extremely wide.
Here's the barrel next to a dart. The barrel is possibly 3 times wider than the dart, making the barrel's effects on dart flight minimal, though that's purely anecdotal evidence, I haven't actually measured muzzle velocity and accuracy with and without the barrel.
Here's a close up of the thread on the barrel and inside the RM's muzzle. They screw together quite well, being tight enough to not slip off but loose enough to remove will minimal effort

Naturally, no sniper blaster would be complete without a scope.
It's pretty standard toy scope fare, pure plastic, nothing precisely machined or calibrated.
It attaches to the RM using a system similar to Nerf's tac rail system. It's a friction based system like Nerf's, so it's easily removed and attached but for light use probably won't fall off.
Through the scope, it has a fairly basic but neat crosshair design. No magnification of course.
The scope mounts pretty easily on the small tac rail on top of the RM. It's a small, specially designed tac rail that I haven't seen on any other Buzz Bee blasters.
Note the width difference between the RM's tac rail (left) and a Nerf tac rail (right), on a Stryfe.
Nerf attachments do fit on the tac rail, but not particularly well. It's quite tight, though can be brute forced off easily.
The RM scope is too loose to stay on Nerf tac rails.

Let's assemble the RM together and look at its firing mechanism, which is a very unusual one.
The RM is close to 1m long, much like Nerf's Longshot and Longstrike. It doesn't have the same modern styling that the Longshot and Longstrike have that make them so great for aesthetic mods. Instead like many of Buzz Bee's other products the RM has a much more distinct toy look and feel to it.

If you play first person shooters with bolt action rifles, you'll probably be at least somewhat familiar with their cycling action, but let's run through it anyway.
Here's the bolt handle in its resting position.
Firstly you pull the bolt handle up to horizontal.
Then pull the bolt handle all the way back. This exposes the breech and the chamber...
...into which you insert the dart.
Closing the bolt is as simple as just pushing the bolt handle forward, and flipping the handle down to lock the bolt in place. You could fire it with the handle up, but you risk the bolt opening slightly during firing, which will cause the dart tooth (like that of Nerf's clip [mag] system blasters) to come up slightly, blocking the dart.

Now if this were a normal springer blaster, you would just close the bolt and fire. If you do that with the RM, you'll just get maybe a weak puff and no result. The Range Master is an air powered blaster, requiring you to pull the bolt back and forth a further 4-5 times to fill up the air tank. Less pumps will fire, but naturally at the cost of some power.

From my casual use I'd say the RM is fairly easy to load and pump up, though under pressure (ie in Nerf games) you might end up accidentally dropping out a few darts, or having the stock slip off your shoulder, as it is smooth and insufficiently concave. Even without pressure I've had the stock slip off my shoulder from pumping up.
Much like the Hammershot/Sweet Revenge and the Slingfire, the Range Master is just extremely fun to prime. Only one other blaster I can think of has this style of bolt action, and that's another Buzz Bee blaster (the Hunter) that's a springer, and is horribly undersized.
When folded up, the bipod covers a grip area and acts as a grip. When deployed, you get access to the built in grip just under the bolt handle. Due to the RM being quite a thin blaster, and also due to the grip being very close to the handle and trigger, I personally find it quite uncomfortable to hold in this position.
Holding it in this position also potentially causes your pinky to hit the bolt handle, though only if you're right handed (which most people are).
I personally find it more comfortable and more natural to hold the RM just in front of the bipod mount. Though not designed to be a grip, it's main advantage is that it's further away from the handle.
I personally would have preferred if the grip was further forward, with the bipod  also further forward just under the barrel.
Beyond the lack of a well placed front grip, the Range Master has a few more ergonomic issues. One thing that will vary between people is that I personally find the shoulder stock quite short, and so a little uncomfortable. For younger persons (especially children/young teenagers) the shoulder stock is probably a reasonable length.
Besides that though, the RM has a bit of a handle issue relating to the trigger guard. As you can see in the above picture the trigger guard is quite large. This makes the handle a little uncomfortable to hold, as to reach and use the trigger comfortably you often have to push your fingers right up to the trigger guard, which I find extremely uncomfortable, and even slightly painful over long periods of time. This could have been solved with a smaller trigger guard, or possibly no trigger guard at all.

All these ergonomic issues force me to dock a few points from the usability rating.
Now performance. Most of Nerf's sniper-style blasters don't perform like they look (which is a shame), so how about the Range Master?
Range is quite good at full power, getting to 14-15m quite easily with the Extreme darts. The Range Master is very, very consistent, with range variance being a metre at most. Naturally pumping it up less than maximum results in lower ranges.
Accuracy is very impressive. Using the included scope and aiming at a target around 9m I can nail a 30cmx30cm square with Extreme darts every single time ignoring duds. Hitting a (stationary) human sized target at 14-15m would be fairly easy, especially compared to most Nerf blasters.
Rate of fire is horrible, naturally. Besides being a single shot, you also have to pump the Range Master 5-6 times for maximum range. One shot every five seconds is probably optimistic.

As far as I'm aware the Range Master does not have a general Aussie release. In the US, it appears to retail for around 20USD, the same price as a full price Stryfe, and 10USD cheaper than the retail price of the Longshot and Longstrike when they were still available. Buzz Bee blasters are typically cheaper than Nerf counterparts, and the Range Master is yet another example of that.
For a funsies or target practice blaster, the Range Master is a pretty solid choice. It's very fun to use with its relatively unique bolt action mechanism, and has the range and accuracy to make it a great target practice blaster. For actual Nerf war usage though, I'd recommend against using the RM at all. While its range is competitive with Elite blasters and its accuracy is impressive, the accuracy is entirely dependent on the Extreme darts (which are rather uncommon), and the very slow reload process means you'd probably be better off firing multiple less accurate shots, probably using one of Nerf's clip (mag) system blasters.

I've personally enjoyed using the Range Master just for target blasting and actuating the bolt, but if you're a Nerf practicalist you'll probably want to give it a miss.

Power: 6.5/7
Accuracy: 5/5
Value for Money: 4/5
Usability: 3/5
Rate of Fire: 0.5/5
Overall: 3.53/5

Personal Rating: 4/5 - the accuracy and power is pretty good, so it's really fun to fire at targets. The bolt action is also really fun since none of Nerf's blasters have this style of bolt.

As with the other Buzz Bee Extreme Air Max blasters, the Range Master was sent to me by Buzz Bee for review. I thank them for the kind gesture, however as with all other reviews their contribution does not affect the review in any way.