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Friday, 14 June 2013 00:00

Rush Bros. (Mac/PC)

rush bros review

If you would like to play a fun, energetic, competitive  type video game, then you may want to play Rush Bros. In the multiplayer mode, you play against your friends and find out just who is the better player.  Rush Bros. is essentially a platform racing game, where your video game character travels and avoids or conquers several obstacles before reaching the finish.  The gameplay consists of about 40 levels, with you as the video game player choosing the specific level you want to play. You do not have to traverse each level in sequence -- you have the freedom to choose whichever level you prefer to play.  There is also a survival and fast forward mode where the gameplay is basically the same; however, your character will move more quickly.

 

Rush Bros. Gameplay Before I get into the specific gameplay, lets talk about some preliminaries.  Rush Bros. is a PC/Mac game, so it is playable on either the PC or the Mac.  I played this video game on my Mac, and did not experience any problems having the game added to my Steam library for gameplay.  So it goes without saying that before you play this game, you must already have a Steam account or be prepared to set one up.  I'm thinking that if you are an avid video game player, whether you play games on your favorite consoles, PC or Mac -- that you more than likely already have a Steam account.  If not, why not set one up so you can play Rush Bros. with your friends?

 

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 A big part of video games in addition to gameplay is the graphics.  This game did not disappoint in this area.  I believe you will enjoy the bright graphics as well as the colorful backgrounds as you play the different levels of this game.  Even though Rush Bros is a racing game -- the race to the finish may not be as simple as you may think.  On your way, hopefully to victory, you will encounter spikes and other obtacles that you have to avoid if you want to clinch the win.  

 

Need help in getting to that next higher structure while you are racing?  Simply, use the springs to propel your character to the next higher height.  If the springs do not do the trick, then you may have to scale the side of the structure before jumping over the spikes to continue your journey for the win. My points here are there are a multitude of ways to move your character along the platform.

 

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 You may say to me -- "Well, that's all good, Ms. H, but were there any negatives about this game?"  My response would be the positives of this game outweigh the negatives -- but there were some.  When I loaded the game and saw the graphics on the main page, I thought this would be basically a music game.  I saw two figures wearing sunglasses who appeared  to be DJs.  And what do DJs do?  Among other things, they play music.  So I was getting excited about playing some sort of music game.  However, that was not to be the case.  Music is a big part of this game -- in fact, you can change the music to listen to different tracks as you play the game.  However, music is more of a by-product of the game -- instead of being intricately woven into the gameplay -- at least on the parts of this game that I played.  Once the gameplay started, the music was more of a backdrop to the game itself.

 

I'm not sure if this was a glitch in the game; however, while trying to get my character through a maze of blocks, I got him actually stuck in a block -- and he could not get out.  Try as I may -- the little figure stayed in the confines of the block until the challenger, of course, obviously won the race, since I could not get my character out of the block.

 

Another possible glitch is at one time during gameplay, I stopped pushing buttons during the game; however, the figure continued to run back and forth across the screen. Mind you, this was a character that should have been following my directional commands -- but that was not the case. He kept moving along, without me pushing nary a button.

 

There was also what I would call a "tedious" part of the game. The gameplay involved the character needing a key to open certain doors.  In order to get the key, the character had to backtrack over areas that had already been covered to retrieve the key -- and then go back to the door with the key to open it.  I found this part of the game to be tedious, because I felt that I made progress in getting to the door that required a key -- only to find out that I had to sometimes retrace my steps to get the key and return back to the door to open it.  Some may see this as a way to win the race, especially if your challenger is not fast at locating and using the key; however, I found it tedious to go back and forth in this game.  My suggestion would be to position the key at a checkpoint that is very close to the door to be opened instead of having the player to retrace his or her steps.  

 

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From a PC/Mac playing standpoint, versus the video game consoles, i.e. the current Xbox 360, and the PS3, I had to get accustomed to using either the directional arrows or the specific alphabet keys to move the character. In my opinion, this game would be more enjoyable to play using a controller instead of the keyboard.  In fact, I believe it is recommended that a controller be used along with your PC or Mac.  Unfortunately, during the game, in my zeal to win, my fingers would sometimes become overly taxed, as I pounded the keys to move the character.  Thankfully, my fingers returned back to normal after I stopped playing the game. Of course, you may or may not experience this discomfort while playing the game.

 

Now back to the positives. I liked  getting co-op help on certain parts of the game via challenger on Skype. I also liked the upbeat music that played during the gameplay, as well as the different environments that changed with each level. 

 

Sounds like a video game you would like to play? If so, you can play Rush Bros. now since it is available on Steam for the PC and Mac. 

 

Rush Bros. was released on May 24, 2013 by Xyla Entertainment.

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Published in PC

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Published in All Games Blog
Wednesday, 26 June 2013 00:00

Dungeons & Dragons Neverwinter (PC)

Most epic fantasy has a lot of thanks to give not only to Tolkien, but to his inspirations: mythos and lore. In this same way, much of modern fantasy that occupies tabletops and gaming consoles can tip a hat to Forgotten Realms for the depth of their universes. It's hard to escape the influence in most games set in medieval or high fantasy. Expecting Perfect World and Cryptic to bring something new to the table when presenting their free-to-play MMO, Neverwinter, is a bit much considering this framework defined the genre. Yet they still brought innovation to the table, just with focus on MMORPG functionality.

This isn't to say Perfect World changed how they monetize FTPMMOs. They have a solid structure that has worked with their many other titles, and they know better than to mess with that. For those new to the program, however, things can be a little daunting. I get that the urge to rush into the gameplay is strong, and you probably feel you have a pretty good grasp on MMOs in general, (at least I did), but it's important to pay attention in the beginning of the game. Not everything you need to know is spelled out for you, but the game offers access in game to wikis and provides tips in load screens. You can also do a quick search and find plenty of fanmade wikis to aid you, as well. Learning as much as you can as early as you can will benefit you, because there are a lot of things going on here.

First, there is normal gameplay. The controls here are decent once you get used to a targeting system that is a little unorthodox for third-person RPGs. (I did, however, much prefer the controls here to the ones found in D&D Online, but maybe I just didn't give those enough time.) My biggest gripe with a targeting system where you aim instead of click on targets is how often line of sight is easily broken. (This is especially a headache if you try to heal an individual in a full on battle.) When targeting enemies, however, there is a bit of an auto-aim that adjusts your character's focus while you are in attack mode. The controls are fluid and responsive. I have always been a double-click the mouse runner, but learning to use WASD full time was not difficult, especially since it's pretty standard. The rest of the key-mapping is intuitive and easy to remember, and also entirely customizable.

Speaking of customization, the character selection screen is pretty darn good. Players can choose between some of the most prominent races in Forgotten Realms, such as halflings, half-orcs, dwarfs, and even the drow eventually, with more races to come. Tieflings are also an option, creating some of the most impressive looking wizards you'll see running around in game. Individual tweaking of character appearance is detailed (though not quite as much as in PWI or other Cryptic titles) and impacts both facial structure and body structure. A wide range of tones are available for skin, hair, and other features. There are also three body types available, including a “heavy” preset, which can be altered using individual sliders for each body area.

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Class is not limited to race, though different races have abilities consistent with specific class types. There are also more classes that will be added to the game over time.  Attributes are chosen by rolling, which is a nice touch. One of the best parts of creating a character is choosing their background and deity alignment. You can also add a character history while creating a character, or at any point during gameplay. Just be sure to save this text in another application, because I encountered a glitch that repeatedly erased the character history I wrote for all of my characters. Only two character slots are available per account, with additional slots available for purchase. Some gamers choose to create multiple accounts to get past paying, but keep in mind that purchases made on one account with real money will not transfer to other accounts.

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Speaking of the many forms of currency, how do they work? Well, the Zen currency is used in all of Perfect World's game incarnations. It allows you access to exclusive items, but there is also a variety of game currencies that can be achieved through different means as you progress in the game. Each currency relates to a specific market, granting access to things such as augmentations, profession items, and potions. Astral diamonds are the in game currency that can be acquired and traded for Zen to be spent on exclusive items. The amount of astral diamonds needed for these items is very high, and it takes a lot of work, but there are ways to avoid spending real money to get some of the real money items.

 

Astral diamonds/Zen also help to unlock Nightmare Lockboxes that are found in the game. While most of the drops in the game at lower to mid level are good, they all lack a certain legendary quality. The character will have many chances to collect these dropped lockboxes. They contain very rare items at random, but require a large about of astral diamonds or the purchase of Zen to open. At this point, there are aspects of the game that resemble a pay-to-win structure. I personally prefer when games stick to purely aesthetic purchases for real currency. On the other hand, you are required to pay nothing for a game that will likely provide you weeks upon weeks of enjoyment.

I had no real issue with the currency system because I've always been more of a PvE player, but there is a PvP arena that allows party vs party combat. It can be really invigorating provided you're in a solid team. If you prefer solo or small group play, the game is set up for that, too. I found the rogue and cleric to be very fun in solo play. You can also unlock the ability to use a computer controlled companion that you train and summon to help you. Keeping up with the timing of their training, on top of timed profession building, means your character has a lot to focus on while they strive for the current level cap of 60. Professions work like time-based quests found in social gaming apps, so they can be performed in the background at all times. There are dungeons and skirmishes available, each performed with a full party of five players. Queue up for these events while you work on other parts of the game.

All of the things I'm describing are achieved at level ten and higher, but you can only realize how fun these things are if you make it past the beginning of the game. Granted leveling is quick, and the beginning is relatively short, but the story here is drab, dry, and a sorry follow-up to the awe-inspiring opening cinematic. The story and fighting abilities vastly improve as the player levels, and my personal favorite feature of the entire game is introduced at level 15- The Foundry. The Foundry allows players to create their own quests and campaigns within the game. Some of the stories you can play, created by individuals from all over the world, are varied, creative, and an excellent way to level outside of the main quests. You can create your own campaigns, but this varies from the tabletop version. Even with a vastly adaptable tool kit and a cornucopia of base content to configure, there are limits simply by using the visual representation required in game. That's not to say the limits prevent any worth- the Foundry is an amazing addition to this gameplay format, and does a fantastic job at resembling the creative nature of tabletop itself.

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The truth is, as a lifelong fan of the Forgotten Realms and nearly every game released from this universe, I had high expectations. In some ways, I was disappointed. I maybe expected too much from the story given my nostalgia for other games set within Neverwinter or Baldur's Gate. Neverwinter is a game that takes a little time to ease into, but it's worth the investment. I'd even say that in-game purchases with real money are warranted, provided you like the game enough to keep playing as it grows better and better. Beware of glitches that can cause things like character histories to be erased, or even prevent you from using an ability or potion here or there during battle. (I encountered the latter infrequently, and I'm sure the game is constantly patching and fixing these things.) One of the most compelling features of Neverwinter is the constant attention to improving the game and adding more features, including endgame PvE and PvP opportunities. This, along with character created Foundry campaigns and a seeming desire to incorporate the essence of tabletop magic, lead me to highly recommend at the very least trying this game if you are a fan of Forgotten Realms and MMOs.

Published in PC
Friday, 23 August 2013 00:00

Beatbuddy Review (PC)

beatbuddyYou probably haven’t heard of THREAKS before. It’s more than likely because they’ve never released a game before, so here’s their first game ever, Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians. Just because it’s the first game for the developer doesn’t mean there aren’t some industry veterans behind it, including Austin Wintory, composer of Journey, who has contributed songs for the game and Rhianna Pratchett, who is the writer for such games as Tomb Raider and Mirror’s Edge. So despite THREAKS being relatively new, there’s plenty of experience behind the team of Beatbuddy. Beatbuddy is a puzzle adventure game where your character, who just so happens to be called Beatbuddy, has been awakened from a deep slumber and then finds out his musically driven world is being the threatened with ultimate destruction. It’s up to you to puzzle solve your way through the game and find out why.

Beatbuddy is a rather simple game, your character Beatbuddy is a floating ghost-like character who moves around with 8 directions of freedom. It plays like you were a spaceship in a 2D world. You go through from section to section where you run into different obstacles that stop you from advancing. For example, one the most common puzzles elements are bounce pads which send you flying backwards and you have to orientate various mirrors to send you in a different directions from where you bounced from. The point is to send yourself flinging at top speed at clearly marked destructible walls which you hit and destroy after successfully orientating the mirrors correctly. You then move on and advance to the next section of level from there. Honestly it’s usually rather obvious what direction you’re supposed to line the mirrors up and so you spend an excruciating amount of time trying to line up mirrors correctly rather than solving actual puzzles.beatbuddy

Another central mechanic found within the game is that it’s supposed to be all about the beat where the music drives the environments and the environments drive the music. Honestly on this score, the game doesn’t quite live up to it’s hype. While there are definitely reasons that the music matters, like when the music is affected by touching items in the environment and even some enemies that have to be killed to the rhythm of the music playing, however there is no compelling use of the beat mechanics for the most part. It’s really just a gimmick that never gets used to its full potential.

Rhianna Pratchett is flaunted as the star writer, however the story really isn’t all that central to the game. You do have a reason to go from point A to point B but you’ll never get all that involved in the plot. The game’s story is mostly told through boring text bubbles that can be kinda funny sometimes but usually aren’t.

I’ve spent plenty of time bagging on the game but I feel I should highlight its positives as it’s not a bad game. While not innovative, you do have on your hands a solid puzzle adventure game that is not very difficult but is still fun. The primary mechanics are compelling enough to make you want to play through the game despite the few annoyances I mentioned earlier. There are constant checkpoints making it easy to jump in and out of the game between sessions. The game has plenty of options for controls (Keyboard, Gamepad, Mouse) and all of them play well. The musical score for the game is great. There was much attention paid to making a great electronic orchestral for the levels so I’d definitely recommend picking up the soundtrack once it’s available. I did notice the volume options can’t mute the game and only goes from somewhat low to high volumes, so keep that in mind. The “hand-painted” characters and environments look awesome and much kudos goes to the art director for the unique and beautiful game that they crafted.

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Beatbuddy is a fun little game that warrants it’s budget price. You’ll get a solid 5 hours out of playing it which could be seen as short to some but it was enough for me. You won’t have your socks blown off playing the game but it’s got a unique vibe and all in all it's worth a look.

Published in PC
Monday, 09 December 2013 00:06

Is A Gaming Laptop For You?

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Now that the next generation video game consoles, the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One,  have launched, maybe you would be interested to know about another medium to play your favorite video games.  Did you know there are laptops designed especially for playing video games?  Of the many gaming laptops available, one that caught my eye was the Razer Blade.  Recently, while browsing in an electronics store, the Razer Blade gaming laptop caused me to take a second look.  In additon to the, in my opinion, eye-catching display, the claim that it was the world's thinnest gaming laptop pixed my interest.

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I took the opportunity to actually use and navigate sites on the Razer Blade gaming laptop to get a feel of using this technology.  In addition to being ultra-thin and light-weight, the Razer Blade gaming laptop was, in my opinion relatively expensive, bordering on a $2,000.00 price tag, $1,999.99 to be exact as of this printing.  During my on-hands inspection of this gaming laptop, I looked on the sides of the laptop, searching for the familiar CD rom where discs for PC games and other types CDs/DVDs are inserted -- but there was none.  After talking to the saleperson, I found out that even though this particular gaming laptop did not have a CD rom per se, there really was no need for it, since most of the games that would be played on the laptop would probably be downloaded from the internet.  He informed me there were other gaming laptops that had a place for discs.  We walked to the other side of the store, where more laptops were located.  There, he pointed out to me an Asus gaming laptop that had a CD rom slot.  I immediately noticed how much heavier and bulkier this gaming laptop seemed to be when compared to the Razer Blade.  The Asus laptop was almost half the price of the Razer Blade and I could instinctly tell the Razer Blade gaming laptop appeared to be of a higher quality.  The salesperson confirmed my instincts by stating that the Razer Blade gaming laptop was a much better gaming system than the Asus.

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Razer Blade Gaming Laptop

When I asked the salesperson what was the difference between the Asus gaming laptop and the Razer Blade, his answer was the Razer Blade displayed better gaming graphics and had a "solid state" configuration.  I researched further and found out the Razer Blade is designed especially and primarily for gaming.  It weighs a mere 4.1 lbs and has a 14.0 display with an LED backlight.  Regarding its thinness -- this laptop's depth is usually compared to the size of a dime -- to give you a visual of just how thin this laptop is.  According to the Razer Blade gaming laptop's website, it has an all aluminum chasis, that is seamlessly integrated with gaming grade peripherals that take gaming to a whole new level.

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Razer Blade Gaming Laptop keyboard

You may say that this is all well and good -- but at the end of the day -- a gaming laptop is just that -- a gaming laptop.  Some may also question why the seemingly exhorbitant price tag for this laptop.  There are some people who would disagree with the statement that gaming laptops are similar to PCs.  For starters, gaming laptops are distinguishable from other PCs in that they contain high-end hardware, capable of handling the latest graphics and process intensive computer games.  Additionally, it's been said that gaming laptops can do what a regular PC does; however, PCs are unable to perform some of the functions of a gaming laptop -- which may also be used as a basis to justify its high price tag.

Of course, video game consoles are expected to be around long into the future.  However, if you want to look into another device to play computer and video games, you may want to check out the Razer Blade or even other types of laptops and computers manufacured especially for playing and in some cases developing video games.  Just as the genre of video games has expanded from wide varieties and types of games, so has the technology blossomed and spread to provide more choices upon which video games are played -- including gaming laptops such as the Razer Blade.

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Published in Mom's Minute Blog

 Introduction to Black Desert Online: A Ms. H Video Game Review

I was pleasantly surprised at what awaited me when I downloaded the Massively Multiplayer Online Role Player Game (MMORG) Black Desert Online.  Black Desert Online was different from the video game I imagined it would be.  I've played quite a few MMORGs and was ready to experience the same type video gaming experience as I did before.  However, I quickly realized Black Desert Online wants to be clear that it is not your ordinary, run of the mill MMORG video game.  Here are my thoughts and views of the Black Desert Online video game.

Video Game Customizations in Black Desert Online Video Game

It didn't take me long to find out that one of the many high points of playing Black Desert Online was the customizations.  In fact, I spent an inordinate amount of time first of all on naming my characters -- then customizing them to the Nth degree.  There were numerous choices of how I could customize my video game characters which included not only the facial features and body types, but also the horoscopes and other aspects that were provided to me.

There was a minor downside to my customizations. When I logged back in to play Black Desert Online, I discovered the specific character I customized was tied to a particular server.  Of course I had not made note of the server I chose, so I was unable to retrieve my customized character.  No problem.  All I had to do was to pick another server, customize another video game character and be sure to use the same server to bring her back up.

I believe I customized about two or three characters before I decided that it was time to get into actually playing the video game.  When i concentrated my efforts on playing the video game, instead of using my customized characters, I decided to use the character that was provided in the game with no customizations whatsoever.  That's not to say that I will not maybe later retrieve my customized character and play the game from her vantage point.

Graphics in Black Desert Online Video Game

At first glance, Black Desert Online graphics had the cookie-cutter look of other similar type video games.  However, some of the close-up rendering of the enviornment was quite impressive, and appeared to look realistic.

Choices in Black Desert Online Video Game

The developers, in my opinion, did not economize when it came to giving gamers choices when playing the Black Desert Online video game.  In addition to the wide variety of customization features available for the video game characters, there were numerous choices within the video game itself.  As I completed quests and other adventures, I was given options to interact with other video game characters in the game by simply pushing the "R" key.  There were many other choices as well throughout the video gameplay.

If I was stuck in some way in the video game or needed help, I could summon the assistant called the Black Spirit by simply pressing the comma key on my laptop.  The assistant would appear as a black flowing cloud with red dots for eyes to instruct me on what I could do.  Interesting enough, I found out if I summoned the assistant while I was in combat with enemies, this assistant was not immune and could get temporarily destroyed.

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Violence and Gore in Black Desert Online Video Game

Speaking of enemies, many of the quests in Black Desert Online video game involved fighting or destroying enemies.  Some of the enemies included grass beetles, weasels and other creatures.  I think it was creative how the developers would oftentimes camouflage these enemy creatures in the foilage and other areas where sometimes they were not easily visible.  A negative was the blood splatters in this video game which I am not a fan. I think the video game would be even more enjoyable to play if there were no blood splatters in these battles.

Leveling Up in Black Desert Online Video Game

I think leveling up in Black Desert online was not difficult.   When I reached level 10, I was no longer considered a beginner in the tutorial stage. As I leveled up, I begin to notice other aspects of the video game.  For example, I noticed the attention to detail in the environment as well as other video game players' characters in the game.  There was also the usual dialogue among players appearing and scrolling sometimes on the left side of the screen.

I was leery of being tempted to get loyalty points by logging on to the video game Black Desert Online daily.  For the first two or three days, I gave in to signing in daily, and in turn boosted up my loyalty points.  However, I still limited my video game playing time.  I resisted the urge to log on to Black Desert Online for loyalty points as I did other things instead of playing this video game.   My caution is to not get lured into having this video game take up a lot of your time by playing it for long periods of time, not only because of the temptation of the loyalty points, but also because Black Desert Online is such a fun video game to play.  As I've cautioned you before -- always strike a balance between playing video games and doing other real-life non-video game activities.

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Assessment of Black Desert Online Video Game

In my opinion, Black Desert Online is a video game that is worth your time playing in moderation.  I think you will enjoy the different type environments and the feeling that you are actually a part of this video game world and making video game accomplishments. There are lots of quests you can choose to take as well different adventures you can embark upon.  Black Desert Online video game will keep your interest in part because of the wide variety of characters and the real-world look of the video game backdrop as well as the various missions and quests.   As with most online video games, there is also an online forum you can consult as required if you need help in getting to the next level or getting further into the video game.

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I believe I would have rated Black Desert Online higher if the blood splatters were eliminated, if it was easier to get the video game launched in the first place and if the characters retained their customizations once you got a far-away view of them in action, if profanity in the video game was eliminated and on top of all this if there were no instances where the server timed out during the game play.  When this happened, I had to start playing the video game all over again. That being said, I think the positives of the Desert Online video game far outweigh the negatives.

Rating of Black Desert Online Video Game

On a scale of 1 star to 10 stars, with 1 star being the lowest and 10 stars being the highest, I rate Black Desert Online video game 8 stars.

Availability of Black Desert Online Video Game

Black Desert Online is a buy-to-play video game developed by Pearl Abyss and is playable on the PC.

Published in PC
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
Tuesday, 29 July 2014 00:00

Review - Abyss Odyssey [PC]

“To sleep, perchance to dream,” in Abyss Odyssey therein is the rub. Out now for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC Abyss Odyssey presents a very interesting story wrapped in a brawler, a platformer, and a rouge-like game.

Drop into the darkness.
The story is set in the 17th century Chilean capitol of Santiago. Evil creatures are coming up through a hole in the center of town and threatening to overtake the city. You start out as Katrien, a swordswoman who specializes in short swords. As she arrives at the edge of the mysterious hole, the soldiers guarding it tell her to leave, that this is no place for a lady. She tells them they have no idea what they are facing. That they are fighting creatures that are the result of a Warlock sleeping at the bottom of the abyss. Those creatures are being created from the nightmare he is having. With those bold declarations, she drops into the abyss to begin her journey to the bottom in order to confront the Warlock.

abyss screen3 caverns15

Along the way you will die. Several times in fact. Such is the nature of Abyss Odyssey. The first time Katrien dies she reveals that she too is a part of the Warlock’s nightmare, that she died a long time ago. The dying part isn't as bad as it first seems. When Katrien falls she is replaced by a soldier who promises to revive her at a shrine, provided he makes it. The soldier is less powerful, but not entirely helpless. If he does fall in battle, then you are revived on the surface and have to fight your way through again. There are no save points in the game, but you can have temporary checkpoints. At special shrines you can change it into a checkpoint, provided you have the key for it. A note of caution, these checkpoints have a limited number of times you can be revived. Once used up you start at the surface again. This is not necessarily a bad thing either. As Katrien observes, the abyss, like a dream or nightmare, is never the same. Which means that every time you enter the abyss it is randomly generated, making it something new and different every time. It is a nice touch that provides for a lot of replayability.

abyss screen2 bossfight08

While you start out as Katrien you won't play as her all the time. Besides the soldier you will be able to eventually unlock two other characters, the Ghost Monk and Pincoya. Both, like Katrien, have their basic attacks, but also special attacks and weapons. If that's not enough variety of characters for you, there's a way to acquire more. You can capture souls of enemies you defeat. Once captured, you can turn into them and use their powers and abilities.
Choose your weapon wisely.

The characters have some role playing game characteristics in that you can level them up and tailor their fighting styles. You may be slow and sluggish at the start, but carefully choosing how to level up your characters will result in a lean mean demon killing machine. Weapons can be found in the abyss or bought from merchants. A small problem for me was that you couldn’t sell your old weapon. This necessitates spending your money cautiously and wisely. Found weapons can only be picked up if they match your current character's weapon style. So if you are playing as Katrien, you can't pick up pole arms, only small swords.

abyss screen1 plantworld01
Pretty as a picture.
Graphically Abyss Odyssey is stunning. It looks like someone crossed a storybook with art nouveau prints; it's colorful and beautiful. One of the touches I really liked was when you use the block move to stop a hit, a halo appears around them. The halo's design takes on the look that's almost a trademark of art nouveau prints. This art style is present in everything, from the backgrounds to all the enemies. I would love to see an art book created from this game.

Final word.
Abyss Odyssey is a downright stunning game. The art, music, story, and gameplay come together in a beautiful arrangement. Even when you finally get to the end and finish the story the randomly generated abyss makes the game different every time. On top of that the developers, ACE, have stated that at current count there are about 37 enemies are to be captured and used. ACE has hinted at more enemies and bosses to be added to the game in the future. The game also really challenges you with that rougelike system. Can you make it to the end with no saves and limited checkpoints? It's a game that I really think is a contender for my top 10 of the year. I like it that much. If this sounds like your cup of tea, pick it up now.

Published in PC
Tuesday, 04 February 2014 00:00

Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition Review [PC]

 

Christmas is over. The two super hyped "next generation" consoles have released to massive sales even with very limited libraries. Everyone has finished the launch titles they were interested in and the rest have not come down to the magical preowned pick up price yet. There is nothing new on the horizon with naught but a trickle of ports and indie games to keep gamers going until the tail end of march when the next big system sellers Titanfall and infamous: Second son come out.

Looking at the respective stores for new releases each week is like looking for a snowball in the desert.
So these next gen consoles are relegated to being pretty dust collectors for the time being as gamers look elsewhere for the next gaming fix.

PC & iOS seem to be evergreen sources for games however this January again both are rather sparse on the release front. However there is one shining beacon through the bleak winter: Baldurs Gate 2: Enhanced Edition.

baldursgate screen02Originally released back in 2000 (14 years ago at time of writing) based on Advanced D&D mechanics Baldurs Gate 2 managed to sell over 2 million copies, no mean feat considering how complicated this system is.

Combining the original campaign Shadows of Amn with both add ons Throne Of Baahl and Black Pits 2: Gladiators of Thay, there is a massive amount of content contained within, encompassing hundreds of hours of gameplay.

Baldurs Gate 2 features the traditional Isometric RPG with movement and actions controlled via mouse clicks and hot keys (if you so desire). It's very simple on the surface but as soon as you dig into the menus and all the options available for each character within, things start to get real complex, real fast. This is not a game for the casual gamer.

This is further reinforced by the steep difficulty curve, beginning in a dark dingy dungeon (as is common with many RPGs these days) with a group of up to 4 (depending on conversational choices) facing off against ever growing groups of goblins swiftly becomes tricky if you don't have your wits about you. Upon finally exiting this dank dungeon you are greeted with a diverse interesting world to explore and the adventure can truly begin. I wouldn't like to spoil the story for those reading this review but I will say that it's not exactly Lord Of The Rings in terms of quality but it is a compelling story nonetheless that is well worth playing through and has more than a few twists and turns along the way to keep you guessing.

baldursgate screen01

For this enhanced edition, several new areas have been added into the main game which are all presented organically into the main quest and extend the playtime still further, if you were to attempt to see everything in the game you probably wouldn't need to play anything else till the summer.

Yes there's nothing groundbreaking or particularly new here but this is the best version of one of the greatest RPGs ever and that in itself is to be applauded. The graphical update is noticeable and more than acceptable but can't quite quite match the polish of more recent games of a similar ilk such as Diablo 3. The soundscape is well crafted and everything is as you would expect sword clattering, box opening noises are all present and correct and the score is well realised. The voice acting is fairly good though the characters aren't quite as well realised as they could have been.

Throne of Baahl adds more of the same adventuring contained in the main campaign but here it finishes up the story started in Child of Baahl, which can be found in Baldurs Gate: Enhanced Edition.

Black pits 2: Gladiators of Thay is the weakest part of the package focusing on gladiatorial combat confined within an arena whilst it looks and plays just as well as the rest of Baldurs Gate 2, the lack of freedom holds this section back with it's lack of a sense of scale and without a particularly compelling story it's rather a damp squib when compared to Shadows Of Amn and Throne Of Baahl.

Overall this is a great package and unlike other so called enhanced/definitive/Goty packages it is fairly priced at $24.99.

Baldurs Gate 2:Enhanced Edition is available now on iPad, PC, Steam and Mac.

8/10

Andy Urquhart
42 Level One

http://www.42levelone.com=

 

Published in PC
Friday, 25 July 2014 00:00

Abyss Odyssey Review (PC)

I have no idea what to think of this game. It's really weird, but not in any quantifiable way. Or at least not one that I can easily verbalize. It is so janky with everything it is trying to do that it is infuriating to play, but at the same time I can't just dismiss it as some crap game that no one should play. I'm so confused right now.

Abyss Odyssey is about a wizard. This wizard is so powerful that he fell asleep and created the eponymous Abyss, this huge network of connected rooms filled with monsters, treasures, and weird black and white levels that come right the fuck out of nowhere. He also created Katrien, as well as the Ghost Monk and the Pincoya, who you will play as. You must journey through the Abyss to wake up the wizard and put an end to his nightmare. Along the way you'll find pages from the wizard's journal which will tell more of the story and maybe explain some of things that happen because of the wizard's dream.

This game is very stingy with information on how to play it. One of the biggest aspects of the game is its fighting system. If you've ever played a fighting game then you know that a good training mode can really help you enjoy the game more. At least for me it can. In this game we get a single page with the buttons you use for attacks that you have to navigate to inside of a menu that's in another menu. You're never told that holding the stick forward, up, down, or not at all will change the type of basic attack you do. In a way, this can be very good. Having tutorials out the ass on a game can be really irritating, especially if it's a style of game that you basically know the controls for, and it's something new then it's rewarding to be able to figure out the controls on your own. But this is a fighting game style system, where knowing what the buttons do is crucial to being able to play it.

Even when it does tell you information it can sometimes be misleading. When you die in the game, you're given a chance to come back. You immediately respawn as a soldier, which is a different soldier depending on who you're playing as, and if you can make it back to an altar you will be revived at full health and can continue on. The text box that told me this appeared when I approached what I thought was the first altar. It had a floating stone mask that broke when I got near it, I could set a check point there, and configure my skills. Going through this area I died. I came back as a soldier and made a mad dash for the altar. When I got there, nothing happened. I spent five minutes trying to figure out how to get it to come back but I couldn't. So I moved on. Turns out there's a second kind of altar, and it's this one that lets you respawn. Why the hell would the note about respawning at altars appear at an altar you can't respawn at? With this other altar I also found a merchant who sold me weapons and potions and the like. He also had camp tokens. Camp tokens are what you use to set checkpoints at altars so when you die for realsies you start from there and not the starting town. I had no idea how to get my hands on one of these things and I didn't come across the merchant until my fourth or fifth attempt because I didn't know there even were merchants in this game. It didn't help that he blended into the background, though.

This is a problem that does carry to later in the game. As you go deeper into the Abyss the levels start to change. You start out in standard dark caves, but then you get ice levels and lava levels and plant levels. In the plant levels, stationary enemies that shoot poisonous barbs at you or launch vines out blend in with the environment. I cannot tell you how many times I'd be running down a path to all of a sudden realize one of these things was in front of me. And the poison barb plant thing keeps shooting at you so you could easily get to point where he gets to juggle you a bit by having you getting damaged by the poison, making you unable to dodge the next barb he shoots, which poisons you again.

Speaking of juggling, the combat system in this game is not great. It feels incredibly stiff and slow, to the point where it almost feels unplayable. I mentioned earlier that the direction you're holding the stick affects what kind of attack you do. With Katrien, holding the stick forward makes you do a two hit combo, while not holding the stick in any direction is a three hit combo. But you have to come to a complete stop before it registers that you've let go of the stick. I would be running along and stumble into a random encounter with a group of enemies, which normally I hate because fuck random encounters but here I don't mind it because it doesn't interupt the flow of gameplay, and I would let go of the stick to do the three hit but if my character was still finishing the stop running animation she would do the two hit.

But even when you get the hang of that part of the combat it still feels weird. Any time I've gotten a combo higher than three was total luck and I could never recreate it. Cancelling, which is kind of a core part of fighting games in this day and age, is a special skill that you can deplete and have to wait for it to recharge. And you start out only being able to cancel once, so if you end using your cancel to dodge out of the way of an attack and you get hit anyway because the dodging in this game only works sometimes, you have wasted that cancel and now have to wait for it to recharge before you can cancel out of an attack again. It all feels so clunky and awkward, but at the same time weirdly engaging. Around my ninth tenth attempt I started to get into a rhythm and was actually doing pretty well. It was so bizarre, but I felt like I was starting to understand it. That eventually fell through and it went right back to being bad, but that feeling kept coming back.

I only ever felt that with Katrien, though. The Ghost Monk and the Pincoya I never understood. The characters, while the control the same, have different weapons and attack styles. Katrien uses one-handed swords and is quick than the others (I think). The Ghost Monk uses two-handed swords and is slower but stronger than the others. The Pincoya uses staff weapons which gives her more range than the others. I never felt like I was finally getting the Monk or the Pincoya. I would've needed to play hours and hours of them and I just didn't have the time or the interest.

All the characters also have a magic attack. It's the exact same for each of them and does the exact same thing. Once the mana meter is full they send out a ball of light that deals a lot of damage to anyone caught in it, and when they die their soul falls out. You can then collect one of these souls and turn into that enemy. Aside from bringing you back up to full health when you turn into them, I have no idea why you would want to do this. It's just another new move set you have to figure out.

This game was also sold on the platforming, and it feels as bad as the fighting without the benefit of the clarity I sometimes got. The turning is what really kills it for me. When you change the direction your character is moving or facing, it takes a bizarrely long time. Not that long, but long enough that you can notice it and really feel it. And you can only change direction while you're on foot. Once you're in the air, you have a decent amount of air control but you're always facing the same direction. So if you try to jump up a wall that's behind you, you have to wait for your character to turn around and then jump it. It's a small thing, but it's also a very important part of platforming to have a fluidity of movement. This doesn't feel fluid. It feels like a rusty system of gears.

Finally there are RPG elements. You earn XP to level up your character which unlocks new special attacks and skill points to unlock more cancels and level up your special attacks. It's pretty basic and doesn't add much for me. But with the RPG elements comes random weapon drops or finds, which don't make a whole lot of sense in game. Each of the three characters can only use one type of weapon, and they can't pick up other types. So it doesn't make a lot of sense when I'm playing as Katrien and every weapon I find is a two-handed weapon. If you were able to pick up these weapons and sell them to the merchant for gold that'd be one thing, but since I can't pick them up at all, let alone sell anything to the merchant, it makes no sense as to why they would be there.

Even with all of that bitching I just did, I find the game oddly okay. Yes, the fighting and platforming are very awkward, it's an awkward that you eventually accept. Yes, the game doesn't explain shit to you, but if you keep bashing your head into it over and over you'll figure out what most of it means. Add to that a premise I think is interesting and graphics that look fine, this is a game that I can't say is good but I just barely enjoyed it, too. Take that for what you will.

Published in PC
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