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Monday, 13 October 2014 00:00

Asus GL551j Laptop Review [PC]

When I was younger, I put a pair of house speakers in my used 1979 Mustang . I did that because I was a kid and kids like loud cars. Plus I liked telling people that I have house speakers in the back of my car. A couple of years later, I spent way more money than I should have installing a full blown audio system in my Audi 5000. I did this even though there was a flashing red light on the dash telling me the brakes didn’t actually work. I did that because I was a kid and kid like loud cars. The other night I was riding down the road in my Crown Vic listening to some radio station that claimed to be ‘Hot’ through the stock speakers and I kinda missed having a trunk full of bass. But not really. Because I’m an adult.

It may sound like I’m lamenting the path to adulthood, but I’m actually not. I can fondly look back on the days when it was important to let everyone I drove by know what type of music I was enjoying. These days though, it’s more important to me that I enjoy the music. Because I’m an adult.

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A few weeks ago, a package was left at my door containing a shiny new ASUS gaming laptop. A GL551J to be exact. Since it was a ‘gaming laptop’ I had certain expectations when I opened the box. I expected a firebreathing, neon clad, vent covered, wildly shaped beast of a machine ready to rip the throat out of anything I could throw at it. The GL551J did not live up to those expectations. And that made me happy. It seemed to have been built for a group of people that are often overlooked when it comes to high end gaming hardware. Adults. I have no aspirations to lug around a 10 pound machine whose first purpose is to let everyone around me how extreme it is. There’s a demographic of people who like to set up shop in Starbucks, flip open their PC and make sure that anyone within earshot knows that they’re in the middle of an intense firefight on ARMA at 60 frames per second. But I’m an adult, so I don’t go to Starbucks to pimp by computer to strangers. Hell, I don’t even go to Starbucks. I have a Keurig which makes a great cup of coffee in under a minute right in the comfort of my own home. The GL551j is a powerful gaming laptop that does it’s best not to call attention to the fact that it’s a powerful gaming laptop.

The Asus doesn’t fly completely under the radar though. It’s still sports a Republic of Gamers logo on the case along with a keyboard backlit in red. But it’s a far cry from the boy racer looks of offerings from other vendors. You could easily get away with sitting down in the office breakroom and finishing off a few levels of Defense Grid 2 while your co-workers think you’re catching up on some late reports. At 6 pounds the laptop isn’t svelte, but it’s still a good traveling companion. Sitting on a plane while exploring the realms of Dragon Age won’t leave you with a scorched crotch, since the single side exhaust vent does a good job of shooting the heat over to the traveller in seat 15B. As far as power goes, it’s a gaming laptop. So you can play games on it. But if you’re into running benchmarks trying to reach 120fps at 4k resolution, then this isn’t the machine for you. The Intel i7 cpu and Nvidia 860m GPU do a great job at getting you up and running at 1080p all day long (or about 3-4 hours on battery), but you won’t be bragging to all of your friends about your incredible 3DMark numbers at 4k resolution. But adults know that 1: 3DMark isnt a game, and 2: You didn’t just drop $1,099 on a laptop to look at statistics.

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At a little over a thousand dollars, the GL551J won’t force you to sit down with your kids and explain to them why they won’t be going to Disney World this year. Asus has managed to pack a lot of performance into the unassuming satin black finish for a price that won’t force you to put in overtime at the office. It’s difficult to find which, if any, corners were cut. Although the 15.6 inch display has a slightly washed out look to it that kept me angling it away from the light. My time with the Asus did have one hiccup. I don’t know if was because I had a well used review unit or because of some other reason, but every so often the screen would go black when I set it down. And it would only come back when I pressed the latch on the battery case. At first it was an annoyance, and then it became frustrating. I’m an adult. I don’t have time to be fiddling with battery latches.

The Asus made me wonder how the kid version of me would have liked it. The version of myself leaning against a mechanically dangerous Audi with a sound system that cost more than the car. Wondering if I should spend my latest paycheck adding another amp or chrome exhaust tips (spoiler, I did both). That kid would not have looked twice at the GL551j. He’d be asking ‘where’s the neon?‘ and ‘why aren’t there more vents all over it?’ The kid me would not have liked it. The adult me however, likes it a lot.

It’s been a long time since I’ve gone through a neighborhood revving my engine while blasting the radio in a car with no brakes. Now my car has more power under the hood, and can stop on a dime and my ears don’t ring when I turn the radio off. Being an adult doesn’t mean you give up all the fun stuff kids have, it just means you don’t spend time and money trying to impress everyone else around you. I don’t have time for that. Because I’m an adult, and I have games to play. And the Asus GL551j is just the machine to play them on.

Take a look at our unboxing of the GL551J
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Published in PC
Thursday, 17 April 2014 00:00

Forza Motorsport 5 Review (Xbox One)

Forza-Motorsport-5 review

 

A long time ago in Art Class, I had a specialty. Whenever we were given a project, I’d draw, paint or sketch pretty much the same thing every time. It was an image of a house with a tree in front with a mountain in the background with the sun peeking through. I got pretty good at creating this vista. Each iteration was slightly different from the one before. Sometimes there would be smoke pouring out of the chimney. Or the sun would illuminate the tree and cast a shadow in a different direction. When we studied Monet I even did a pointillist version of the image using nothing but dots. That house/tree/mountain was my touchstone.

Turn 10 Studios have become masters at delivering a solid racing experience. For years they've sculpted Forza Motorsport into showcase of beautiful cars and race courses. Forza 5 looks great and drives even better. Turn 10 Studios have become masters a delivering a solid racing experienceTwo hundred gorgeously rendered vehicles and a driving model that has been top notch for years is all that's needed to make it one of the best games on the Xbox One. Each car has a stunning interior view and even the guys from the famous TV show Top Gear lend their voices and test track to the game.

Near the end of the school year, the Art Class final exam included the assignment of creating whatever image you wanted using the techniques we had learned. So of course I dug into the well worn well of the house/tree/mountain. While I was going through the motions of creating the house, I glanced around the room to see what my fellow students were up to. The guy to the left of me was trying to sketch a barely decipherable animal, either a cat or a horse. The girl in front of me was working with seemingly random blotches of paint that might as well have been finger painting. I was clearly at the head of the class, secure in the knowledge that I was leaving with an easy ‘A’.

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For the first time, multiplayer in Forza allows 16 players to race against each other at once. When racing against the AI, you are actually going up against ‘drivatars’ that have been built using traits from other online drivers and people from your friends list. Turn 10 has even added a multitude of gaming modes for drivers to compete against one another. Standard events like drag racing, and circuit racing are joined with less common affairs like cat and mouse and tag virus. The Rivals section has returned from Forza 4 that matches you up against a single person’s drivatar to compete against.

The next week, I returned to the classroom to receive my test score. I was stunned when I opened my portfolio. ‘C’. A big post-it note with a ‘C’ was stuck on my painting. It had to be a mistake. I quickly surveyed everyone around me. ‘Do you see anything wrong with mine? Be honest, is this painting just average?’ Each person agreed with me that I had been grossly wronged and that my house/tree/mountain was definitely worthy of an ‘A’. As soon as the class was over, I went to the teacher’s desk to rectify the situation.

The balding old man with black rimmed glasses was buried deep in his gradebook. I stood there for a while waiting to be acknowledged. He glanced up slightly and I saw that as my cue.
‘Yeah, Professor, I got a ‘C’ on this, and come on, it’s not a ‘C’ painting.’
Before he could respond I started pleading my case.
‘I mean, compared to that cat thing that Ronald did, it’s way better. And the splotches of paint that Marie turned in, she even said she had no idea what she was doing and she got a B. You can’t tell me that this is a C. I have shadows, l added smoke. Check it out.’ I laid the painting in front of him, cementing my point.

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He stared at me for a beat before fixing his gaze on the painting I had placed on his desk and speaking.
‘I’m not grading you compared to the work of others. I’m grading you compared to you. You’ve been doing that scene all year long. And yes, you use light well, and yes the composition is fairly balanced. And so was the one before that, and the one before that. It’s a good scene. I was hoping that you would challenge yourself this time. Take a hard look at the work you've done and ask yourself, is it the best you can do?’

That question hit like a brick. He had called me out on something that I didn’t even realize I was doing. I was coasting. I knew what was needed to be considered a success and thats what I did. Nothing more, nothing less. I figured the work was good enough to get by and so why do more? Thats why I got the grade I did. Not because the work wasn’t good. Not even because it wasn’t good enough. But was it the best I could do? No, it wasnt.


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Forza 5 knows what it needs to do to get a passing grade, and thats exactly what it does. And that's all it does. The 200 cars included look and sound fantastic. Even though for a series that has spanned 3 consoles, the low car count raises some eyebrows. As dozens of DLC cars were quickly released over the past few months, you realize that the low car count was a thinly disguised money grab, nearly doubling the price of the game if you want to get close to the levels of previous iterations. It’s even more telling when you hear the detailed descriptions that once accompanied each car have more often than not, devolved into a lukewarm overview of the car manufacturer instead of a history of each individual vehicle.

The race courses included with Forza 5 look incredible, although it seems odd that it’s always the same time of day and weather is non-existent. Especially considering some of the tracks included are well known for their night races. Lemans, Sebring, and Yas Marina all go hand in hand with night racing. With this being the fifth version of Forza running on one of the most powerful consoles available, the omission of night racing or any type of weather is very noticeable.


With so much emphasis placed on the multiplayer side of Forza 5, it falls short on closer inspection. You aren’t allowed to create a public room or even search for a specific race type. If you want to find a race with a certain number of laps on a specific track to join, it simply isnt possible. Instead you’re restricted to pre-created hoppers or private matches which you have to fill yourself. And since the ‘Car Club’ feature from previous Forzas isn’t included, finding and staying in touch with a group of like minded racers is difficult at best. 

Somewhere along the way the franchise has started coastingForza has been doing what it does extremely well for years. But somewhere along the way the franchise has started coasting and has done just enough to get by. It’s good. It’s even good enough to be the best racing game on the XBox One. But it's lost many of the features that made it exceptional. The game has relied on higher resolutions and framerates instead of expanding on the features and capabilities that would make it great. It's almost like the game got to a certain point and just stopped evolving.  Forza Motorsport 5 needs to take a step back, look at what it’s done and ask the question, “Is this the best you can do?”

forza5 boxScore 7/10

 

Published in Xbox One
Thursday, 05 November 2009 00:00

Forza Motorsport 3 (X360)

The Nurburgring is a 13-mile-long race track in located Nurburg, Germany. Nicknamed the "Green Hell", it was built in 1927, has 72 corners, constant elevation changes and is considered one of the most dangerous race tracks ever constructed. And for about $15, anyone can drive on it.

A lot of games have included the Nurburgring on their list of locales to simulate. The latest is "Forza Motorsport 3," which claims to be the most "realistic racing experience ever." "Forza 3" gives Xbox 360 owners the option of taking on the Nurburgring and dozens of other tracks in a collection of SUVs, exotic sportscars and purpose-built racers.

My brother and I had flown to Germany for the express purpose of driving on the legendary track. And we'd do it in a rented Mercedes C230 sedan.

Once you arrive at the public section of the Nurburgring, also called the Nordscliefe, there's an unassuming booth that stands between you and the track. I walked up and handed the attendant 75 euros and received a license that allowed me four laps on the track.

That was it. No lengthy safety lecture. No car inspection. It would have been harder to get on a roller coaster at Universal Studios.

Safety lessons weren't needed, though. On the drive up to the track, we crossed paths with a tow truck carrying the remains of a Porsche 911. The front end was nonexistant, and the roof was crushed from an obvious rollover. While Turn 10 Studios has improved the collision model in "Forza 3" over the previous installments, even on the highest setting, a rollover won't result in the carnage featured on the back of that tow truck. That's the sort of damage Forza 3 doesn't simulate.

I drove to the entrance of the Green Hell and waited for the yellow-clad track worker to give the "go" signal. The gate lifted and I headed down the first straight. This was it. I was on the 'Ring. My brother sat in the passenger seat as we sped by the series of cones that guide the cars down the first part of the track. After I left the coned area, I was tentative about speeding up. Part of me didn't believe I was actually driving on my dream course, and another part kept picturing the metal carcass or the Porsche.

When I got to the top of the first incline and headed into the initial collection of twists and turns, I began to feel at home. I knew the corners well. Games like "Forza 3" take pride in how closely they can recreate real-world tracks. A long downhill straight opened up in front of me and I pressed the accelerator to the floor. The 2.3 liter engine of the Mercedes pulled the car up the hill, gaining speed. The curve at the top looks a lot less severe than it actually is, a lesson learned from "Forza." I lifted off the throttle and eased the car into the corner. It hugged the road perfectly, the body rolling to the outside while the tires stayed planted on the tarmac.

"Nice," my brother said. I agreed. That gave me the confidence to launch into the next corner, a sweeping right-hand 90-degree curve, at full speed.

I aimed for the inside of the turn. What happened next was a sharp reminder of the difference between a game and real life. "Forza 3" gives you the option of putting a colored line on the road, telling you when to hit the brakes. There's even an option to let the game apply the brakes for you, making it accessible to just about anyone who can hold a gamepad.

I didn't have those helpful lines here. Nothing was going to step on the brake pedal for me as I hurtled towards the trees that bordered the turn. I heard the screeching of the rear tires as they struggled for grip. I heard the sound fade away as they lost that struggle and began to slide toward the outside of the corner. The sensation of unexpectantly facing one direction while your body travels in another is eye-opening. Thankfully, the C230 regained its composure quickly. While it doesn't have all the driving assists of "Forza 3," it does have traction control, and that stepped in to cut power to the rear tires, ending the slide.

The sequence only lasted a split second. But for a split second I was drifting on the Nurburgring. For a split second I was out of control on the Nurburging. For a split second -- I was terrified on the Nurburgring.

I maintained my speed down the decline and back up into a set of 'S' turns that I looked forward to tossing the car into. A motorcycle was ahead of me, and I had to rethink attacking the corners. I was right up on his tail as we entered the turn and there was little room to manuever around him. Instead of risking an incident, I decided to just follow his slow lead into the section. When we exited, I pulled out beside him and passed. At anytime, there can be dozens of other vehicles on the Ring. Even though "Forza 3" excels in allowing diversity in its multiplayer offerings, the fact that a maximum of eight racers can share the road is disapointing. Add to that the fact that unless you have enough people to create a private match, your multiplayer experience will be limited to the scant few modes available in the game's matchmaking system.

I sped around the cyclist and headed into the next set of curves. I glanced to the left and was greeted by a bright blue sky. It was a beautiful scene. "Forza 3" has some of the best graphics ever seen on the Xbox 360, but even they wouldn't have compared to the vista that spread out from the edge of the mountain. Then it dawned on me that I wasn't just driving on a road or a track. Beside me was a cliff. A cliff elevated a few hundred feet into the air. And there wasn't a lot to stop me from going over the side of that cliff.

I checked the rental car's rear-view mirror and saw an A-Class Mercedes storming up behind me. I figured I'd just need to stay in front of the minuscule vehicle for the next few turns, and once we hit the upcoming straight, I'd easily pull away. I was wrong. The nimble car was on my bumper before I reached the final turn entering the next straight. My ego tried to convince me that the tiny A-Class had more than the standard 100hp that it's born with. Maybe the owner had taken a page from the "Forza 3" book and modified the engine with a large turbo, added racing tires, and tuned suspension parts, transforming what was once a normal automobile into a fire-breathing racing machine. But it was more likely that the Mercedes A160 was simply being driven by a better, more experienced driver. I clicked on my right turn signal and moved over to let him pass.

Up next was the Karussell, a banked section of the track that almost begs you dip into it. It's a turn that can do one of two thinggs: Help you traverse it's hairpin radius at an insane speed aided by centrifugal force, or launch you up and over the guardrail like a ramp.

I knew this turn was coming, and I knew how dangerous it was. I told myself earlier that if I didn't feel comfortable, I could always stay on the outer, non-banked section of the turn. I didn't feel comfortable. Still, I dove into the banked section of the Karussell. I could feel the suspension compressing and pushing the car into the road as it was cradled around the curve. My brother and I both let out a scream of joy. "That was awesome!"

Again I checked the rearview mirror. In the distance, I was able to make out the distinctive white silhouette of the "Ring Taxi." The Ring Taxi is a service run by BMW, where for 200 euros, you can be a passenger in a 500hp V10 BMW M5 driven by a professional race driver. Currently, the Taxi was far behind me, but the race-prepped M5 would be on top of my borrowed C-Class grocery hauler soon. I concentrated on the sharp corners ahead, hitting the apexes and accelerating out of each one. The motions were smooth and fast. I checked the position of the Ring Taxi again, expecting him to be a few corners behind me. Instead, the shark-like grill of the BMW loomed impossibly large in the mirror. It was right behind me. How fast was that car? I knew I had to get out of the way as soon as possible.

The next turn was a narrow left-hander and afterwards was a fairly straight section that would make it easy for the Taxi to get around me. I planned on taking the corner as fast as I dared, staying wide, setting myself up to end the turn on the outside edge and thus, giving the fierce BMW a lot of room to pass. But halfway through the maneuver, I looked to my left. There, I was surprised to see the white and blue markings of the BMW M5, taking the inside of turn at twice my speed. I didn't see the driver, or the passengers. I was looking at the rear of the M5.

It was going through the corner sideways.

I can't explain the feeling that went through me. What I can do is describe how my brother and I both yelled as we saw the BMW beside us. I can explain how the instant rush of adrenaline felt and how my accelerated heart rate made time seem to slow to a crawl. But the feeling itself? I was in Germany, on the Nurburging, in a Mercedes, on the edge of traction, and less than 3 feet beside me was a roaring BMW M5 with the combined power of 500 horses harnessed by a professional driver going double my speed, sideways.

It felt ... incredible.

And we still had 5 miles left to go in the lap.

"Forza 3" has a lot to offer driving enthusiasts. It's as close to a simulation that you can find on the Xbox 360. It goes to great lengths to welcome players in with numerous assists and customization options. Theres still something missing that I don't believe any game will be able to capture -- the visceral look and sounds of driving on the edge. I doesn't convey the fear of knowing that you cant lose concentration for a second. For many people, that's probably a good thing. But I remember the feeling of losing control for a moment while heading toward a tree, glancing over the side of a cliff and knowing only a quarter-inch thick guardrail was protecting me, and seeing that BMW sliding past me close enough to touch. You can't simulate that.

We drove a total of four laps during the trip. We had flown 4000 miles, and driven another 150 miles on the autobahn, just to go around a 90-year-old stretch of road four times.

I would do it again.

Score 8/10

Published in Xbox 360
Saturday, 18 April 2009 00:00

Gridrunner Revolution Review (PC)

What's the one thing that will get you shunned? Gay, Straight, Black, White, Male, Female, Fat, Thin? No. You can be any of those and somewhere, there's a group that will accept you. The only crime that is truly considered a sin is being different. No one wants to be different. That's a lesson ingrained into you from childhood. Sometimes beaten into you. You can be a lot of things, but different isn't one of them. It's confusing at first, because we're lied to with claims of "celebrating our differences", "be yourself!", etc etc. You're allowed to be different as long as you're the same as those around you.


It's confusing and frustrating. Each and every one of us is different from the other. The uniqueness of our existence is burned into our genes. But as soon as we gather, we begin to mark our similarities. No matter how much a group preaches acceptance, they all preach conformity even louder. Dress like us. Listen to the same music as we do. Play the same games. Drive the same car. Use the same drugs. Follow the same teams. Whenever a group starts, the first thing they do is decide how to identify those that are different.
That part is human nature. What I hate is how people change so that they will be accepted. How they give up a part of themselves so that others will smile when they arrive. They quickly discard something they love because it would mark them as different. Oh, you'll tell yourself, "My friends are different, we all accept each other as we are," or "I'm completely honest about who I am." That's simply not true. You know that there is something you hold back. Something you keep secret. You lie to make sure you stay in the group's good graces. It might be something small, like declaring that you hate Pepsi, all the while having a six pack waiting for you in the fridge. Maybe its something bigger, like when you join on in the gay jokes your buddies toss out during sessions of Halo. There's always something.


The fear of being different follows us into every aspect of our lives; from our acquaintances, to the cars we drive, to even the games we play. Vehicles from the major car manufacturers are nearly indistinguishable from one another. Now that computers have the power to display millions of colors and create untold abstract worlds, we push to see how closely they can mimic reality. When someone or something breaks the mold and ventures out of the norm, its a crap shoot whether praise or ridicule will follow. Too often we're too afraid to even attempt something that's not the same as what has come before.


More often than not, I find myself longing for the simplicity of acceptance. There's something enticing about conforming, even it it costs you a piece of yourself. But even a small piece is too high a price. Maybe thats why I like Gridrunner Revolution as much as I do. It doesn't make any concessions for the sake of conformity. It's not a perfect game. In fact, it revels in what other games would call flaws. Its pace starts out so slow that you wonder if it's supposed to be a game at all or just a rainbow-tinged light show. While other games painstakingly render the player in minute detail, here, your character is crudely drawn with such large pixels that you may think your screen resolution is set to double digits. The sound effects are so mismatched that the only similarity they share is that they are all equally out of place. Its lack of a network leader board is baffling for a game that puts so much emphasis on points. Everything about it says, "I'm different!" Screams it. It's unabashed in its lack of similarity to everything else
I wish I could be as uncompromisingly confident in my differences as Gridrunner Revolution is. I wish we all could.
Score 8/10

Published in PC
Saturday, 16 October 2010 00:00

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Review (PS3)

 

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The best part about video game conventions aren’t the games on the show floor, it’s the parties afterward where a bunch of geeks can hang out and be themselves. Its not like going to the neighborhood bar where the smell of cigarettes and alcohol is outmatched by the cheap cologne of men talking to women with cheaper perfume.

An industry party is different. Mostly you’re just standing around with a drink in your hand talking to someone about how the big name actors like Patrick Stewart are showing up more and more in games. There’s not a lot of cheesy lines or male bravado because to be honest, there’s not a lot of reason for it. The women at a gamer party don’t have a lot to fear from guys who spend a good chunk of time retracing levels to find that one last health gem.

This party was no different. I had come with my friend who just happened to  fit the role of a stunningly attractive woman. She may not have officially been my date, but that didn’t stop me from feeling just a little bit good about the approving nod I got from the bouncer at the door. As the night progressed we slowly drifted to opposite sides of the room. Every so often I’d see her out of the cornier of my eye hanging out by a Mrs Pacman machine. Even though I’m deep into a discussion about whether the migration from 2D to 3D in classic remakes is a natural evolution or a just money grab, I can still pick out her laugh across the room amongst the background noise. I looked past the blogger blocking my view and see  that she’s talking to a guy we had interviewed  earlier that day on the show floor .I also notice that he had ditched the lanyard and controller based accessories he was sporting at the show and swapped them  for a shiny dress shirt and jacket topped by a gold chain that would be more at home on an MTV reality show than a bar filled with podcasters. I knew the look on his face from experience. He was on the prowl.

Published in Playstation 3
Thursday, 24 April 2014 00:00

Titanfall Review (Xbox One)

 Leave it to Beaver was one of my favorite shows when I was a kid. Everyday I’d sit and stare at black and white reruns of a show that had been off the air for decades yet still managed to spark a laugh and speak the truth. My favorite character wasn’t it’s namesake, Beaver Cleaver, and it wasn't his stoic older brother, Wally. My favorite was Eddie Haskell, Wally’s near delinquent friend. Eddie Haskell was the catalyst for a lot of the problems that the Cleaver boys would get into. Cheat on a test? It was Eddie’s idea. Cut school and go fishing? Eddie was behind it.My favorite was Eddie Haskell, Wally’s near delinquent friend Go to a party instead of the library to study? All Eddie. It wasn’t his bad deeds that drew me to the miscreant Eddie Haskell. I was fascinated by the fact that he never got into trouble. Whenever the boys would do something wrong, they would, of course, inevitably get caught. Back then, parents were always right and were never outsmarted by kids. But still, Eddie would slide away unscathed and slither back into the house the next week, none the worse for wear.

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The mom on the show, June Cleaver, must have known this kid was doing his best to put her sons on a short path to jail or a long life filled with bad choices. The patriarch, Ward Cleaver, had to have known that every word from Eddie Haskell’s mouth was at best a bold face lie. But still they welcomed him into their home. Why? The answer was simple. Because Eddie Haskell was charming.

He never missed a chance to remind Mrs Cleaver how lovely she looked in her pearls. He would be polite to a fault, something that must have been sorely lacking in her day to day interactions with the male-centric world of the 50’s. He made her feel beautiful, respected, and appreciated. He would make a point to congratulate Mr. Cleaver on raising 2 fine boys. And at a time where there was no higher goal than to provide for and build a strong family, Ward Cleaver had to have enjoyed the recognition given to him. Both Ward and June Cleaver were more than willing to overlook the shortcomings of Eddie Haskell, as long as he stroked their egos and made them feel good about themselves.

Titanfall is the Eddie Haskell of next gen games.

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Titanfall is pretty straightforward, taking the well worn genre of futuristic first person shooters and adding giant robots to the mix. You can fight on the ground with assault rifles and grenades, using parkour skills and jetpacks to run up walls and perch on buildings or you can call in a Titan mech to stomp grunts, let missiles fly, and even self destruct in an atomic mushroom cloud. Titanfall is mostly a multiplayer affair with the campaign seemingly only there to tick off a box on the back of the case. The core of the title is made up of 6 vs 6 online game modes. While 12 players may seem like it would make for a sparse battle in a world where 64 player skirmishes aren’t out of the norm, don’t worry because space on the field is taken up by AI grunts who do their best to get shot instead of you.

Titanfall looks great on the Xbox One. The levels are filled with detail and the Titans inspire the appropriate amount of awe when they drop into the fray. While the levels look fantastic, they quickly reveal how lifeless and static they are.Titanfall looks great on the Xbox One. You would expect that a huge battle taking place within a few city blocks would leave some type of impression on the environment, especially with giant robots lobbing missiles at one another. But after a battle, you would be hard pressed to point out any evidence that a war was going on, much less one involving 30 foot tall robots. Trees survive megaton explosions without losing a leaf. Structures that look like they’re barely holding themselves upright manage to survive multiple rocket impacts without the paint getting chipped. For all the power you wield on the field, you have surprising little effect on it. The titans are epic and the transition from scurrying along the ground to being placed inside of one is seamless. It would be nice to have more variety in the types of mech you can pilot. Aside from the 3 main body types, your customization options consist mostly of switching out the types of guns they carry. If you had dreams of dropping into battle with a customized battlebot, then you will need to scale back your expectations.

The 6 vs 6 player limit is frustratingly low, especially when you realize that MechAssault on the original Xbox was 4 v 4, and that was one of the first Xbox Live games ever. All of the advancements over the past decade have led to just 2 more players per team.Titanfall is the best last gen game you can play on a next gen system The upside to the low number of players is that you’re almost always in the middle of the action, mainly because the levels themselves are so small. Each map is roughly the size of just a few city blocks. These are limitations that you would have expected to be a thing of the past on a next gen system as powerful as the Xbox One. Instead of plowing through an entire metropolitan area, you will be battling over a small patch of land that quickly becomes repetitive. These limitations are ones that I expected to be a thing of the past. And being so early in the life of the Xbox One, maybe it’s understandable that Titanfall feels like it would be just as much at home on the Xbox 360. The more time you spend with it, the more obvious it is that Titanfall is the best last gen game you can play on a next gen system.

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Titanfall may have it’s shortcomings, but still, it’s fun. Charming. When you’re running past the near brain dead AI, you don’t care because they yell encouraging phrases to inflate your ego as you dash by.Titanfall may have it’s shortcomings, but still, it’s fun. You won’t get frustrated after being blown up repeatedly by another player because you can always go mow down a few squads of enemy AI, replenishing any feeling of power you may have lost. Eject from your doomed Titan and look in awe at the magnificent landscape below you. The leveling system is so forgiving and generous that your rank will soar up faster than you can say ‘Prestige’. Despite everything else, the bottom line is that playing Titanfall makes you feel good. Good enough to make you overlook it’s faults. Eddie Haskell would have been proud.

Titanfall-Xbox-One-Box

Score 8/10

Published in Xbox One
Thursday, 22 January 2015 00:00

Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions Review [Xbox One]

geometry wars 3 dimensions title

The naked body is one of the most beautiful objects in the world. There’s a reason why the Greeks used it as an analog for the gods in their sculpture and why art students around the world study each muscle and intonation of nude models. It’s because the simple lines and curves that shape the human body conspire together to create the perfect melding of form and function.

Here’s an exercise. Imagine the most attractive person you can. It doesnt matter if it’s a man or woman, take your pick. Imagine that person standing there, void of clothes, makeup, or tattoos. Visualize only their body, proud and confident. Beautiful isn’t it? Hell, it’s downright stunning. Now, keep imagining that person, but add the usual adornments people require. Shoes, a simple shirt or dress, etc. Maybe that person looks slightly better to you now, or maybe a little less. Now, continue adding the accessories that we’re used to seeing draped on the human form. Imagine them with a complicated, in vogue hairstyle, pile on the makeup and gold jewelry. Keep going. Picture them wearing a hat, gloves, designer sunglasses. And just like that, the beautiful work of art that was once there no longer has the simple perfection that they were born into the world with. Instead, this new creation is a gaudy substitute. Hidden somewhere under all of those unneeded additions is the true beauty. Somewhere.
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That’s the path that a lot of modern games have taken. At the core of Call of Duty’s dozens of weapons and myriad of controls may be a solid first person shooter. Deep down beneath The Crew’s needless storyline and layers of special effects could be a decent racer. But like many games today, you’ll be hard pressed to find the beauty of the game underneath all of the extraneous makeup and jewelry that are masquerading as ‘innovations’.

Geometry Wars 3 takes a different route. The simple, straightforward gameplay that dates back to one of the first twin stick shooters, Robotron 2084, is stripped of any pretense. You aren’t inundated with a story that was shoehorned in. The graphics are made up of basic geometric shapes that somehow seem at home even on a powerhouse like the Xbox One. It’s the opposite of the runway model who can barely stand under the weight of the latest in fashion.

The idea of the naked form has become transformed by society. It’s been co-opted by everything from advertising to porn. Sure, there’s a juvenile part of us that wants to laugh and point, mock and ridicule, or reduce it to a base sexual stimulant. But once you look past that, what you’ll see is beauty. Pure, simple beauty without the need to cover it up and over adorn it with needless trinkets and toys.

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The developers at Lucid recognize this. The gameplay modes of Geometry Wars 3 are basic, yet still satisfying. They range from the straightforward ‘Deadline’ where you shoot everything that moves in a set time limit, all the way to Pacifism, where the object is just to survive as long as possible without firing a shot.The adventure mode is a simple progression of level and game types, getting progressively more difficult as your ship equally gains in power via A.I.drones. These power ups are the only really unnecessary piece of bling on the title. Most of them equate to either increasing your firepower, or helping to protect your ship. But with the hectic gameplay, they could have easily been left out without much impact on the experience. Lucid has managed to hone the controls to near perfection, with movement becoming almost instinctive. Your eyes and hands work together in harmony with no middleman to slow them down. 


Some people say that it’s our insecurities that cause us to hide behind layers of makeup or strut around with expensive watches and designer clothes. The theory is that there’s some inherent flaw underneath, real or perceived, that can be covered up. Like an over compensating student at prom wearing too much cologne. Game developers have a tendency to fall into the same trap. It’s as if they know that if you were to strip away the fancy graphics and dense controls from most AAA titles, you’d be left with uninspired, tiresome gameplay thats been repeated for years. Geometry Wars 3 stands defiant and proud, unashamed of the absence of baubles and trinkets. It has grown since it was born as minigame in an Xbox racer. It’s a bit bolder, a bit wilder. The primitives based visuals have matured into a melding of shapes, color and sound that complement the gameplay instead of overpowering it. It doesn’t need nor want to be hidden under a thick blanket of excess. Geometry Wars 3 revels in it’s nakedness. And that’s a beautiful sight to behold.

Score. 9 out of 10

Published in Xbox One
Saturday, 19 November 2011 00:00

NASCAR 2011: The Game - Review

 

nascar-2011-the-game

I’ve driven on two NASCAR tracks in my life. And by driven, I mean  I’ve sat in a car, pressed my foot to the ground, and went around those ovals as fast as my nerves would let me. The first time was at Richmond Raceway, a high banked oval designed for the fastest race cars in the world,  and I was driving a high powered AMG Mercedes coupe capable of 155 mph, courtesy of the local dealership. The second NASCAR track I drove on was Langley Speedway. A small quarter-mile oval that looks like it was paved in someones backyard. And I was driving my own car, a bone stock Crown Victoria LX Sport. Guess which time was more fun.


To call Langley Speedway a ‘Speedway’ is kind of like calling Snookie an ‘actress’. That’s being a little unfair to Langley, but not by much. Unlike it’s heyday in the 70’s and 80’s, where the track was a haven for short track racers on their way to the ‘big leagues’, now it’s mostly used for Late Model and ‘Legends’ races. The term ‘stepping stone’ would be a fitting caption for most of the divisions that run at Langley now. A few times during the summer though, they open the track to anyone with a license and a helmet for what’s called ‘Wacky Wednsday’. That’s where me and the Crown Vic come in. 

Published in Playstation 3
Thursday, 27 March 2014 00:00

Retro Shouldn't Mean Pixelated

A few weeks ago, while playing through yet another batch of indie games, I realized that I had finally been elevated into ‘grumpy old man’ territory. Because I was looking at all of these great, imaginative, fun to play games and I found myself annoyed. Instead of enjoying the bounty of independent game development in front of me, I could only think, 'What are these idiot kids thinking?'

There are a lot of games today that have embraced ‘pixel art’ as the style of choice. Low color, blocky, detail-less objects on the screen that are often described as ‘retro’. The thing is, it’s not retro, not at all. Back in the good old days of 8bit gaming, game developers worked with what they had, and admittedly, it wasn’t a lot. 4 color sprites built in a 32x32 grid was as good as it got. They did some great work. But gamers and developers both wanted more. Thats why we went from 8bit to 16bit to 32bit and on. Thats why each year consoles got more powerful. Retro shouldn’t mean ‘blocky graphics with good gameplay’ Retro shouldn’t mean ‘blocky graphics with good gameplay’ Retro should mean good gameplay with the best graphics you can squeeze from the machine.

Two Tigers - 1984 - Bally MidwayLuftrausers-300x200

 

 

 


Every game doesn’t need to reach Infamous 2 or Titanfall levels of 3D open world grandeuer. But if you’re going to make a title, it should look as good as you can make it, whatever the genre. If you have a 2D platformer that has less frames of animation than Mickey’s Castle of Illusion on the Sega Genesis, then why? If you have a WW2 dogfighting game that is less graphically impressive than Two Tigers from 1984, then why? I no longer believe that it’s a style choice. And even if it is, it’s a style I’m not willing to pay for.  I lived through that time, and I waited patiently for games to claw their way out of the era of eye scorching, gaudy, 8 bit graphics. I have no desire to go back. And it also upsets me to have gameplay used as a scapegoat for poor visuals in a game. It’s not an either/or situation. There isnt a gameplay->graphics slider in a console. Hearing the words ‘we focused on gameplay’ makes me cringe because too often it means ‘It looks pretty bad, but if you can get past that it’s kinda fun’.

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And don’t think I haven’t noticed the odd double standard the industry has when it comes to graphics. If you walk into one room and proclaim, ‘Graphics don’t matter! It’s all about Gameplay!’ You’ll get a round of applause. Walk into that same room an hour later and say ‘720p is good enough, we dont need 1080p graphics’ you’ll get booed into submission. There are sites that have spent pages on zooming in on screenshots to see if the anti-aliasing for Ground Zeroes is better on the Xbox One or the PS4. And then those same sites will explain how endearing and detailed the squares are in SuperMeatBoy.It’s enough to make your head spin.

say ‘720p is good enough, we dont need 1080p graphics’ you’ll get booed into submission

I’ve had this conversation a lot with people and I’m usually told at this point that games like Titanfall and Luftrausers are completely different and have different goals and budgets when it comes to graphics. I know this. My point is that there’s no reason for any game released on hardware as powerful as 99% of the consoles and PC’s available today, not to at least be on the same graphical level as games released 30 years ago on hardware 1000 times less powerful. Thats not an exaggeration. A modern console is exponentially more powerful and easier to develop on than systems of the past. So why am I looking at something that would have been rejected from a Tecmo board meeting? The indie community is filled with talented artists The indie community is filled with talented artists that could use your screen as a virtual canvas if given the chance. Instead their work is reduced to the lowest common denominator and then reduced even more.

Not all indie games fall into this bracket. There are legitimately beautiful titles available that fulfill the goal of ‘retro style’ gameplay while not insulting the player with poor graphics just to make sure you know you’re playing a ‘retro indie’ game. You can find them everywhere from the PC, Ouya, Phones, and even on next gen consoles.

 

 

Published in All Games Blog

In a classic AllGames moment from March 2013, the guys on the Dead Pixel Live podcast engaged in the sort of 'locker room talk' that is all over the news these days. The outcome may be different from what you might expect. Take a listen to the to shocking revelations of how men really talk about women and consent in private. If features a spirited discussion on just what constitutes a crime, construction workers, Emmanual Lewis, and the Audi S8.

Click to Listen to the classic clip:

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Here's the Audi SuperBowl Commercial referenced in the clip

Published in Dead Pixel Live Blog
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