Tag - review

Monster Firecracker Pholite Speaker

I have used several wireless, portable speakers over the years.  One of the first ones I had looked like a really large ice chest and ran off a half dozen “D” batteries. It gave some pretty good sound with a nice connection, the problem was its size and weight. Over the years there have been plenty of companies working on it and, thankfully, Monster (now Monster Cables) was among them and they felt that creating a unit with great sound was key but why not also add a speaker phone and photo fill illumination while they were at it.  With that, they brought us the Monster Firecracker Pholite Speaker.

Light It Up:

I’ll be honest at first I thought the light option was a strange one.  Everything else made total sense, if you are poolside during the summer you want to have a water resistant speaker that can fill the yard with beats and you don’t have to go grab your phone and possibly get it wet if you get a call, hit a button and away you talk (though it would be nice if you tell the person at the other end they have just joined the pool party).  Aiding in preventing water, dust and other environmental damage is a rubber plate that covers a 3.5mm input in case your Bluetooth just isn’t doing the job and a micro mini port located under the same plate to make sure to keep a little sand from stopping the festivities.

It’s small yet looks and feels rugged, it has a solid screw down pack clip so you can clip it on, screw it tight and go hiking letting the group listen to your tunes  while knowing if you take a bit of a slip you will still be fine and if you get a call after hitting a quick button you can continue your ascent hands free of the call.  If you wind up hiking late you have a flashlight on your Firecracker you can fire up and keep safe on the trails which is a surprising recurring accident or death issue in any outdoor environment.

What is even more interesting about the flashlight on the Firecracker is that it isn’t just designed to be a flashlight it is also designed to be a filler light.  Those into photography will usually get this reference immediately and those not into it will probably get it without realizing it.  The name is somewhat straight forward in that it is a light that fills in area where there is too much shadow.  For example if you have a friend you want to take a picture of  in front of a building during a setting sun you would turn on this light and it is the proper kelvins to front light the subject to make them not look all shadowy.  The 5000 degree kelvin light would also be great as a plugged in light for webcasters such as Twitch, YouTube, Facebook, and Periscope that can be adjusted to try to help remove some of the washed out look of the caster by turning down the brightness of the monitor and using the light at wherever fills in best.

Most importantly you have a Monster product which means you can rely on big boom coming from a little box.

Tech Specs:

  • “Baby Blaster” form factor
  • Built in super-bright 7 hour flashlight
    • High-intensity daylight, 5000K
    • 500 Lumens
  • Pure Monster Sound™ wirelessly with NFC
  • Stereo (from 2 Full-Range Drivers) with passive bass radiator
  • High intelligibility mic for calls
  • 25+ Hours of continuous play
  • Splash resistant (IPX-5)
  • Heavy-duty cabinet with color-matched strap and carabiner clip
  • Sealed Port for aux in (3.5mm) and power
  • Black, Gold, Red, Green Camo

Last Call:

Monster Firecracker Pholite is like a multi-army knife of sound, give giving big booms, solid pairing, great chat sound and even great multi-use light source all in one little box.  Right now it is a little hard to find in the U.S. but it can be found on Monster’s website for about $130 dollars.  Make sure to grab it on your way out the door so you will be ready for whatever life asks of you.


Monster Firecracker Pholite Review Score

(5 out of 5 Stars)


 

GameSir G3s Gamepad Review

I game a lot, someone might say I’m always gaming (I have a game running in the background right now).   I started at about 5 years old and the only thing I collected more than game systems is game controllers and setups.  The controller that comes with the system isn’t always what the player will find fits their gaming style best but sometimes, such in the case of the GameSir G3s Gamepad, one controller can be the one to rule more than one system.

Game On:

First off the controller looks like a PlayStation 3 controller and quickly and easily pairs with the systems.  The controller is a little lighter weight than the normal PS controller for a reason we will get up to later and as a result can be far more comfortable for much longer.  This also is nice in case you decide to add adapters or extra padding to your controllers making it become so that some parts like KontrolFreeks FPS stick extender.

One of the best reasons the controller also works with Android phones which attach onto the GameSir G3s’ individual mobile bracket that can be connected around the controller and expanded to fit your Android device in.  Then you simply connect to the two systems,  download a couple games and away you go on a portable system using a full size console controller.  This of course makes the device a bit top heavy but since you can screw down the desired angle of the device onto the top so you will have it as forward, back, or evenly heavy as you find comfortable.  The bracket folds up nicely in your pocket when you aren’t using it so that it is always handy.

Another nice aspect of the GameSir’s versatility is that it goes great with Window’s PC systems using a USB dongle so it is wireless and if you are more used to PlayStation controllers than Windows ones this is a great opportunity to use that style.  The GameSir G3s also works with Smart TV/boxes

Tech Specs:

  • 32-bit high-speed MCU chip, high sensitivity and on time response.
  • Support iCade, X-input, D-input and Android native mode games.
  • Lasts for 18 hours working time, built-in rechargeable battery, double shock vibration.
  • Multi-Platforms: Android/Windows/PS3. Connection: 2.4GHz/Bluetooth 4.0/ Wired connection.
  • Free App “Happy Chick”game emulator brings you more authentic gaming experience, you can scan the QR Code in User Manual to install it.

Game Over!:

GameSir’s G3s is the controller you want around your house and on the go.  Whether it is your Android, Smart TV, PC or gaming console the G3s is the controller you need.  It usually retails for about $80 dollars but, right now, it is priced at 60% off on Amazon so get it while the getting is good!


GameSir G3s Gamepad Review Scored:

(5 out of 5 Stars)


 

Final Fantasy XV Review

I, like many gamers who are a bit older, played all the Final Fantasy games and one-off titles like Final Fantasy Tactics when they came out. When the opening title for Final Fantasy XV comes up and it says “For Fans and First-Timers”, that is a rather bold statement because the groups generally want two different styles of gameplay.  The veterans want a challenge that the years of game progression have provided and the first-timers want to be able to just jump in and play without some massive learning curve.  So how could Final Fantasy XV cater to both? It’s time to find out!

First Strike:

First off, if you are a first-timer to the Final Fantasy, know that the setting of the franchise has become an interesting hybrid of medieval fantasy and modern technology.  For instance, your character might drive a sporty Regalia automobile then climb out and fight a demon using electric swords, daggers, fireballs and finish them off with a couple gunshots.  Then you will make camp and one of your party who has cooking as a skill will make some kind of gastro-creation that might be something like a stuffed bell pepper with a side of potatoes melody to increase strength and health until the next time you camp.  During that time you will look at the pictures you saved to your digital camera from the day and decide which you want to keep and of those any you might want to save on your real life social media to share.

That is just how you get started with the game too, the combat design is flexible, with options both for real-time and turn-based fighting.  In the older games, you might have four characters lined up on the bottom of a screen and a few monsters on the top.  You would decide the attacks and then hit the button to proceed.  In this case, you can figure out which move you will do with your characters against monsters all around on the screen then decide where they will go after that attack.  It takes a bit of getting used to but is a fun type of fighting design, though if you want you can just play like other 3D open world games and just run around selecting your attacks and getting things killed.

As I mentioned it is a 3D open world and it is seeded with tons of side quests and repeatable missions/bounties. You can pick up a bounty, run out and earn your gils (currency) then camp, head back and ask the designated quest/information guy about what next can be fought and where items of interest such as energy sources for spells, food spots for recipes and treasure chests to get new gear and weapons.  Don’t expect the new gear or new weapons to be too exciting at the start, a bronze amulet for example, but if you get some decent food buffs on you and you get an okay weapon upgrade you can start doing some decent damage quick.  As long as you stick to the daytime.  You have to grind pretty hard to be able to fight the demons that come out at night and with all this I am still mostly talking about the starting section.

You start with your bros who are going to be your cabinet when you become King, for now you are a prince in an arranged marriage.  I used that as my excuse for why I was grinding out in the wastelands, it’s like a last road trip with my buddies before getting married.  With that being said it isn’t going all “What Happens In The Wastelands Stays In The Wastelands” because Prince Noctis doesn’t even have eyes for the half dressed mechanic who you want to make tons of nonpolitical correct jokes in real life.

He is all about what next bit of fun and mischief he and his best friends can get into.  That is something that stands out really heavy in the latest game, it is a total bromance story and feels fine with it.  You make jokes with each other as you run around, you cheer each other on during combat, you actually reach down and help a teammate up when they have fallen.  When I was beat to crap and on the ground trying to recover one of my friends would shout to another to cover me and he would stand in front of me long enough to get some health and magic energy back.

Once you take a certain amount of damage the only way to fully recover it is to give it a night camping or potions to juice back up but remember juicing in the the game is scarce so you might want to save them for boss fights.  When fighting you can do special combos like the strongest Gladiolus Amicitia might hold out his weapon and you can jump off it and sink a blade deep from above.  You can also switch between characters and have your buddy Prompto to take some specialty shots at the birds your blade swinging friends have a hard time hitting so you don’t have to hope the AI will think of it.

The AI seems to work really well though making sure your friends are doing their part in the battles when you stumble upon enemies which can spawn up pretty much wherever.  I’ve had bounties to go fight some creature and have some other harder creature pop in my way before getting to them and taken them out before the smaller bounty.  Sometimes you are lucky enough to stumble upon foods, magic elements, minerals or treasures on your own while exploring and the nice thing about the open land is once you get a campsite saved or area uncovered you can usually get back there through auto drive or auto camp.

For reasons I won’t say here this road trip hits some pretty heavy potholes when it reaches its destination and the story comes into heavier play though the game still keeps battle in there to keep things from getting too stagnate.  The story line… well that might be kind of the weakness of the story with at times leaving you scratching your head and saying why am I doing things this way or why wouldn’t I rest up and camp here and the answer is simple, it wasn’t in the script.

There are also mini games to be found in the game which I got just as addicted playing as I did the main game at a couple times because they didn’t skimp on quality making them either.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how amazingly gorgeous everything looks in the game and how clear and beautiful the sound is.  Running around on a Chocobo along cliff sides or walking bazaars and taking in the great giant  majesty of towered towns just…well makes the game a pleasure for fans and first-timers.

Incoming Free Goodies!

If you need more incentive at the time of print for this article it was coming up on the Final Fantasy festive season on December 22, 2016 where all players who own the core game get a New Game+ mode, players who complete the game can start again with gameplay data intact. A new photo frame feature will also be available for photos taken by Prompto.

The Holiday Pack also has the Warrior’s Fanfare, sheet music that provides additional AP when players earn an A+ in offense outside of training, and a Nixperience Band that stops party members earning experience to make things harder.

The pack also gives you an entry to the Moogle Chocobo Carnival in late January 2017, and a Choco-Mog t-shirt to celebrate that event.

Players who own the Season Pass will get all that plus The Tech Turbocharger and Armiger Accelerator for supercharging your tech bar and the Armiger bar, each operating at the cost of freezing the other. Blitzer’s Fanfare provides AP when players earn an A+ grade in Time and Tactician’s Fanfare for Finesse (Finesse is not my strongest feature usually).

Other items included are The Key of Prosperity that increases the rate at which fallen enemies drop useful items and the Stamina Badge that lets Noctis sprint and hang without using up stamina. Season pass holders receive a Festive Ensemble outfit and a set of exclusive photo frames in January of 2017 as well.

Last Slice:

Final Fantasy XV is a game where the more you put into it the more you get out of it, take your time, play is through slowly, then play it through again and enjoy a nicely done addition to the Final Fantasy franchise.  If you find a problem while playing it don’t worry about it too bad, just report it, the staff behind Final Fantasy XV have been listening to players’ concerns and making adjustments and updates because they truly want to stand behind there statement of a game “For Fans And First-Timers.”


Final Fantasy XV Review Score:

(5 out of 5 Stars)


 

Snakebyte Zoopa Q 165 Riot Drone Review

I got my first drone quite a while back before they were really on the commercial market and I could not have been more excited. I had impatiently waited its arrival and as soon as it arrived I tore it from the box and powered it up.  That is when I discovered that, unless you had something built into a drone to keep it self-balancing, I would spend months just trying to get it to hover a couple feet off the ground without just flipping upside down.  After that, I would see dozens of drones, all out of my price range and because apparently even keeping a desktop exec toy one from flip flopping was pricey.

We are now entering the days where drones get whole sections of trade shows and they go from the sizes smaller than a beer coaster to ones that can accommodate take passengers.  So for the first time since all those years ago I am trying out a new drone in the form of the Snakebyte zoopa Q 165 Riot.

First Flight:

The zoopa Q 165 Riot is about the size of a mouse pad and uses 2.4Ghz technology to facilitate communications between itself and the remote control.  The controller is larger and designed to remind you of an old school RC controller but it only uses a small part of the space, most is for comfort.  It has two sticks – one for up and down and the other for directional input. There is a speed button so you can use it at a lower speed indoors and not break anything too much or if you are outdoors in a clear area you can open it wide up and maybe even race a friend who has it.  Then there is the coveted 360 Flip Button.

Out of a lot of drones it really is this particular button that makes all the difference.  If you have a quality drone it should do everything in it’s power to keep you from flipping it over because that is an instant dirt nap for the machine.  But they have built into this one so that all you have to do is be going forward, hit the button and it will do the magic flip that will impress your friends, start conversations with strange women without having a dog or baby (and the poo that comes with them) and be an overall talking matter.  Just don’t hit the said people with the drone, then the conversation will be less fun…

In the manual, it says to give the drone a starting room of about 3×3 feet for fun flying.  Personally I found a much wider area such a park  with minimal trees and dogs around to be a better choice when getting started and learning the controls.  Blades can get damaged or broken upon impacts (which is why it comes with four spare ones that are easily changed out), but softer landing zones will decrease the chance of this happening.  The first thing we want to do is fire them up and try to fly them over the family pet, not only cruel it can damage both.  Outdoors for starts, indoors when mastered.

Don’t get bummed if it takes you a while to learn to fly it, whenever you see someone flying it on TV or convention, know that they have had tons of practice. They didn’t just unbox it and start doing aerial acrobatics.  The zoopa Q 165 Riot has a nice battery life, especially for a starter model, and my suggestion would be to bring a backup battery that has a USB port then you can use the USB charger kit that comes with the system and juice it back up in the field.  The zoopa Q 165 Riot can stay aloft for around 8 minutes. The remote control runs off 6 batteries so it should last you for quite sometime. Acme.com and Snakebyte seem to have thought of most things you would need to get airborne and make repairs to stay airborne.  The blades even have protective plastic rings to try to maintain their longevity.

One of my crash landings did result in a repair that required a piece that was not duplicated in the box so I contacted their service people and I have a fresh part so fast it was almost as though it had never broken.  Getting a company to stand behind a product can sometimes be a battle but they did so terrifically.

Last Landing:

The Snakebyte zoopa Q 165 Riot is a terrific entry level drone with some features you might hope to see on pricier models. The battery life is good, the flight system has a fairly straightforward learning curve, and you get a big boost in fun thanks to the 360 Flip feature.  If you aren’t an expert flier, this is a great drone to go with. If you are an expert, I have heard that removing the chassis can… never mind I have said too much!


zoopa Q 165 Riot Drone Review Score:

(4 out of 5 Stars)


 

Batman – The Telltale Series Season 1 Review

I think I have played every Telltale Games adventure title there is, and with good reason. They way their serialized episodic gameplay is dependent on your decisions is truly exciting in how it changes the story of the game.  So let’s say you are talking to an enemy in the first episode of the game and decide not to answer his question.  That big bad might attack you and you decide you want to show him who is boss and maim his arse.  Then he turns out to just be an overprotective good guy who saves your life over and over through the series… with that arm missing you decided to remove in episode one.  Oops, that was your bad, because Telltale games put you in the character like few other games ever could.  Most recently, that character was Batman, the cowl just about everybody wishes they could don.

There have been a few commercials lately about Batman games getting the VR treatment which has fans who were on the fence jumping down and forking out cash.  Because the old saying goes…

but thanks to Telltale you can be Batman while not having to dine on ramen for months (BTW, you start to sweat that stuff out, trust me I know).

Cowl On:

Most of the Batman games are about driving around in the Batmobile and using and improving those wonderful toys and gadgets.  Many of the games over the years (and some of the comics even) deal with the decisions and actions of Batman without addressing Bruce Wayne more than how he covers up his bruises and cuts and dealing with Selena Kyle when she crashes one of his functions.  Being the most famous billionaire playboy in Gotham would have the paparazzi working overtime to get pictures of him, especially if he is reclusive, and keeping up this Bruce identity and life would be just as challenging if not more so than The Bat, people hang of the every gesture and decision of Bruce whereas most only see the aftermath of Batman.

Telltale games really understood that and made it so you weren’t just playing with toys over Gotham but also dealing with how you handle a mob boss crashing Harvey Dent’s fundraiser and reaching out to shake your hand infront of the Gotham elite.  Do you make an enemy of one of the underground’s biggest bosses right when Bruce is coming out of the shadows to support Dent or do you try to play nice with Bruce in hopes that as the Bat you can get matters fixed?  Don’t worry that was just one minor scenario in the first episode which is loaded with decisions like this.

Just because Bruce gets more attention don’t think there isn’t action in the game for Batman to handle and get them from classic enemies with great backstories and original interactions.  You will feel the weight of juggling the two identities like you never have in a Batman game before and maybe, just maybe, you might want to be Batman a little less than always.  If the weight begins to feel too heavy though there is actually a multiplayer mode where other players vote on the choice to make!

You don’t just make the decisions of Batman and Bruce how you make the decisions will impact the gameplay.  As I mentioned before if you decide to make rougher fighting choices you might have both the bad guys and the public fear you.  How you handle Bruce’s decisions both publically and behind closed doors will decide what of the many betrayals of Batman that have been used over the years.  In this game it is all about Telltale’s traditional animation style which looks like it was lifted right from a graphic novel and set in motion.  I have loved this style since the first time I saw it in Fables: The Wolf Among Us which then got me to go and play The Walking Dead Season One and Game Of Thrones, so by now I am used to the animation and play style that has carried through.  The major key to know is that when it comes to fighting or even dialog choices, everything is timed so that a delay can mean no decision or silence – think fast!

Last Pow!:

Batman: Telltale Series is by far one of my favorite Batman games to play and is in my top 2 when it comes to Telltale games.  The writing, the depth of development that is left to the player and the beautiful stylized animation all helps me know I will be playing it again.  Maybe even on the multiplayer mode from the beginning so that I can see what team Batman would play as.  The only complaint about Batman: Telltale Series is that it had to end, so hopefully they will come out with a season two soon!


Batman: The Telltale Games Series Review Score:

(5 out of 5 Stars)


 

Watch Dogs 2 – A Review (PC)

Watch Dogs by Ubisoft had tons of hype leading up to its release in 2014.  However, what ended up in our hands was something less then perfect.  The main protagonist, Aiden Pierce, was uninteresting, the driving was horrid, and the story takes way to long to kick in.  With all of these negatives, I still finished the game and enjoyed most of my time with what made up Watch Dogs.  When Watch Dogs 2 came my way for this review, I was filled with equal parts excitement and trepidation.  Did Ubisoft learn their lessons from the critiques of Watch Dogs?  Will a change of protagonist and setting help gamers forget the original game?  Or is this just more of the same?  If you want the short answer, it is better and worth your time.  For the long answer, keep reading!

Story

Watch Dogs 2 technically is a sequel to the original, but so much has changed in terms of the plot, setting and character, you do not need to play Watch Dogs before you play Watch Dogs 2.  Watch Dogs 2 shifts the story to the city of San Francisco and the emergence of ctOS 2.0.  Blume has learned the lessons of what made the system faulty in Watch Dogs, and has ramped up the security and the invasiveness in this new version of their city wide operating system.  Along with a shift in city, we also get a new protagonist, Marcus Holloway.  Marcus is, in every way, a better protagonist, then Aiden Pierce ever thought of being.  Marcus is motivated by what he believes in instead of simple revenge, much more likable in character, and doesn’t take himself too seriously when he screws up.

Watch Dogs 2 begins with Marcus’s “interview” with Deadsec, the hacktivist group that was introduced in the first game.  The first mission has Marcus infiltrating a ctOS2.0 server farm to wipe out all traces of his profile in the system.  With Marcus successful in his “interview”, he becomes the catalyst for Deadsec to become much more then just some hackers with a dream, they begin to work towards proving that Blume is invading the privacy of every person living in San Francisco and how Deadsec will be the ones to take them down.  Deadsec in Watch Dogs 2 is represented by a few more characters then the first game was, and these characters will be the ones that you will interact with the most.  The members are Wrench, Horatio, Josh and Sitara, each with their own specialties and character nuisances.  For the most part, the members of Deadsec are interesting, if just a little bit annoying at times.  The members are all young, and are obviously made to resonant with the younger audience out there.  Raymond Kenney, the first person to work against Blume in Watch Dogs, does make a comeback to help out Deadsec in the sequel.  His appearance in Deadsec brings about an older view, which I can identify with, while also making that connection so player who did play the first game feels like this is part of a bigger story.

Overall, the story of Watch Dogs 2 is more engrossing, more interesting, and just more fun then Watch Dogs.  Marcus makes for a far better protagonist then Aiden did, and I cared much more for the development of Marcus’s character then I ever could for Aiden Pierce.  The main story will take you about 13 hours to complete, but with Watch Dogs 2 being more of an open world game, there are plenty of side quests and multi-player quests to keep the story going further.  The side quests keep the story interesting, with quests that range from spreading the Deadsec logo all over the city, to teaching Sitara’s younger sister a lesson on internet safety.  The multi-player quests delve a bit more deeply into the rivalry between Deadsec and another hacker group, Prime Eight, but don’t expect much narration here.

Game Play

Ubisoft also tweaked the game play for Watch Dogs 2 based on the critiques of the original game.  At it’s core, Watch Dogs 2 is an open world game where the player travels all over the city, completing quests.  These missions can be completed in multiple different ways, but stealth and hacking is still the best method to get through with your skin in tact.  I also see this as being in character with Marcus, I never saw Marcus as the type of person who would gleefully gun down a group of security guards, unlike Aiden.  Sticking to the stealth approach, though, has it’s issues as well as it’s rewards.  You are not durable in this game, at all.  Just a few shots and you will go down like the Titanic.  That means, you will have to rely on your tech and stealth to get through some of the hairier missions, and you have plenty of that at your disposal.

In addition to the standard hacks from the original game, Marcus also has a jumper and a drone that can be used to extend his reach, in addition to using the camera system that is all over the city.  You also have access to a tech tree that will grant you more abilities depending on your choice and resources.  Some of my favorites is being able to control cars remotely, flagging individuals for arrest by the police department, or having rival gangs show up to cause trouble.  These all work great as stealth options, as it draws massive amounts of attention away from where  you need to be.

Hacking is still done in the same way as the original Watch Dogs, which uses gates to control the flow of the system until you can unlock all of the areas needed to access the system.  You see these through the use of your “hacker vision”, which highlights important things you can interact with.  Stealing money, information, or energy is done by the click of a button.  Targeting these systems, though, while traveling at high speed is a bit touchy.  You still get some prompts to blow up gas mains while being chased, but hitting the right car with the right hack can be tricky while boosting over the Golden Gate Bridge at 100 mph.

Watch Dogs 2 is great when it is trying to be Watch Dogs 2, it only fails when it tries to be Grand Theft Auto.  Driving has been improved over the original, and shooting while driving has been added to Marcus’s repertoire of skills, but it still pales in comparison to the cleanliness of the mechanics found in GTA.  Overall, Watch Dogs 2 is a vast improvement over the original game, but still ends up feeling not as polished when compared to other open world crime games, like GTA.

Aesthetics

Watch Dogs 2 is a great looking game, as well as a great sounding game.  I was able to play the game at the Ultra settings with everything turned up and found that that everything looked great and only suffered some frame rate drops while in a vehicle, in a denser area.  The city feels as lived in as the last city, which is to say well enough.  I found that the city in Watch Dogs 2 felt more like San Francisco, but that might only be because I am more familiar with the city in the sequel then I am with Chicago from the original.  The aesthetics follow the similiar design to Watch Dogs, even down to the idea that Marcus does wear a bandana as a mask.  Clothes can be purchased to change the looks of the main character, and you will visit different locals during game play.  Overall, good looking game that doesn’t really make a huge impression.

Sound design for Watch Dogs 2 is also well done.  The voice acting was impressive, to me.  I enjoyed the way the characters delivered their lines and interacted with each other.  I especially thought the character, Wrench, was interested and well voiced.  The soundtrack for Watch Dogs 2 uses licensed music, with more songs that can be found in the world through using the song app on your phone.  Artists like the Dead Kennedys, Sublime, Naughty by Nature, N.E.R.D., and Bob Marley all make appearances on different radio stations throughout the game.  Once a song is found, you can create your own playlists on your phone and listen to them while outside of vehicles.  It’s a neat touch that adds an extra layer to the game.

Final Thoughts

Watch Dogs 2 is what the first game should have been.  If Watch Dogs 2 was released instead of the original, the franchise would have been a bigger hit then it is today.  Instead, the reaction to the sequel has been mostly “well, it’s better then the first”.  And that is true, Watch Dogs 2 is better then the first, but then again it absolutely had to be.  If you played through the first game, you will play through this second game, and you will enjoy it much more.  People who didn’t play the first game, should absolutely play the sequel, and don’t worry about getting the original.  You don’t need it to understand what is going on in Watch Dogs 2.  It’s those of you that didn’t finish the first game that need to be convince to try your luck with Watch Dogs 2,  and the best I can tell you is that I truly think you will like this game more.  Watch Dogs 2 is hands down the better game, the more interesting game, and the more polished game.  While still not perfect, it is indeed worth your time.


Watch Dogs 2 Review Score:

(3 out of 5 Stars)


 

Dishonored 2 – A Review (PC)

I am a big fan of Arkane Studio’s 2012 Dishonored, so when the 2016 sequel became available for the PC, I quickly jumped on it.  Dishonored gave me everything I wanted in an assassin style game:  multiple ways to carry out the assignment, multiple paths through the level, and an up-gradable character that changes depending on how you want to play the game.  Dishonored 2 is that much, plus more.  Arkane Studios took the safe route in developing their sequel, and I am fine with that.  Dishonored 2 gives us more of the same, but with some small differences that makes Dishonored 2 better then the original, but not earth shattering.

Story

Set fifteen years after the original story, Dishonored 2 sees the Empire of the Isles being led by an adult Emily Kaldwin.  Emily is still protected by Corvo Attano, who is also training her in the way of the blade and assassination.  However, not all is well within the Empire, as there is an individual who has been dubbed the “Crown Killer” roaming the streets and eliminating Emily’s most outspoken critics.  The population of the Empire have begun to talk and distrust the Empress, fearing that she is using the “Crown Killer” to silence her enemies.

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The game opens with Emily and Corvo preparing to commemorate the fifteenth anniversary of Jessamine Kaldwin’s assassination.  During the ceremony, the Duke of Serkonos, Luca Abele, interrupts the proceedings by offering Emily a gift, the gift of family.  Duke Abele produces Jessamine’s long lost sister, and claims that the sister is the true Empress of the Isle now.  The long lost sister is none other then Delilah Copperspoon, somehow making her way back from the void that Daud had imprisoned her.  This revelation immediately begins the coup in earnest, and you are forced to chose who you will play for the rest of the game; either Corvo or Emily.  The character you do not choose becomes imprisoned and you escape your own fate in order to set out and to take back your throne from Delilah.

Ok, so the story isn’t that much different from the first game, when you really boil it down.  You are forced out of Dunwall, hunted by your former soldiers, and are trying to recover something that was lost to you, this time being the character you didn’t choose in the throne room and leadership of the Empire.  I don’t know where Dunwall finds their soldiers at, but they have the absolute worst idea of what loyalty is.  The story progresses the same no matter who you choose, but the game will change up the small details depending on whether you play as Corvo or Emily.  I do love how Arkane Studios made this choice a thing, that way anyone can play this game as a protagonist that speaks to them.  Each character has different game play mechanics as well, but we will talk about that later.

The story to Dishonored 2 is very well done, but it does make the assumption that you played through both The Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches dlcs of the original game.  This makes the story of Dishonored 2 feel much more a part of a larger story, but you may need to accept a few things on faith story wise if you didn’t finish either of the dlc.  Like the last game, the choices you make affect the story in terms of low or high chaos.  The more you kill, the more chaotic the world becomes and the darker the ending you will get.  While you get to choose how you want to go through the game, there is definitely a lean on the non-killing approach being the “nicer” way of doing things.

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Game Play

Dishonored 2 is more of the same from Dishonored, with some minor changes that makes the sequel feel much more complete then the original.  First, each character is completely upgrade-able to fit your desired play style, just like before.  However, each character has separate abilities and skills that makes each one play just a little differently.  Emily’s Far Reach works in a similar fashion to Corvo’s Blink ability, but Emily’s Domino ability is far more fun to use for me then Corov’s Bend Time ability.  Domino allows you to connect individuals together, so the fate that befalls one will be felt by the others.  This is great in subduing multiple enemies at once, and can be really fun if you chain it’s use with Emily’s clone ability as well.

Dishonored 2 also adds in a non-lethal combat ability that literally saved me hours of time.  I played through Dishonored trying to do the non-lethal pathway, and would constantly have to restart if I became discovered and cornered and was out of sleep darts.  This new ability allows you to block and counter, just like the original, but with a choice of whether you stab your enemy or choke them out.  Discovery and lack of sleep darts no longer meant a restart for me, I could just block and choke then continue on with my journey.

The other big change is the type of plague you are dealing with in Karnaca.  The plague is no longer a threat and the weepers and the rats won’t bother you like before.  However, you now have to deal with the blood flies, which I think I hate more then the rats.  Blood flies gather around hives, and become very aggressive the closer you get to the hive.  You can take these out quickly and easily using explosive bolts, but they become a huge pain if you don’t see them quickly enough, or are out of bolts.

The rest of the game play for Dishonored 2 is pretty much the same from Dishonored.  Sure, the levels are designed differently, especially the Clockwork Mansion mission, but really the point is to move through the level the way you chose how to play, collect bone charms and runes, and finish off the target character.  The game play experience vastly changes depending on your own choices with the stealthy option being the more rewarding, in my own opinion.  I found myself restarting levels or checkpoints, just because the game did not go the way I wanted it, because I got caught sneaking around.  The estimated length of Dishonored 2 is between 12-16 hours in length, but I can see that being extended  by restarts if you are going for the Ghost or Clean Hands achievements.

This game does what it needed to do in terms of game play, which is give me more of what I got in Dishonored but make some improvements in the areas that I felt were lacking in the original.  Dishonored 2 does nothing ground breaking here, but does what it needs to do correctly in order to feel like Dishonored, but still has its own soul.

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Aesthetics

For those of you that have read my PC game reviews in the past know that my system was lackluster at best.  Well, that has all changed now that I was able to purchase a brand new gaming PC, and Dishonored 2 was it’s first test.  Let’s start the conversation by talking about the elephant in the room, the frame rate performance.  I had read about this issue prior to running Dishonored 2 for the first time, and was very worried about it.  However, I can honestly say that my experience in game was absolutely flawless, and that I experienced little to no frame rate drops during my time with the game.  I ran Dishonored 2 on a PC that had a Core i7-6700K Quad Core 4.0 – 4.2GHz, GeForce GTX 1070, and 16GB of Ram and it ran extremely smooth and looked great.  Arkane Studios is fully aware of the performance issue, and have released one patch already trying to fix it for everyone.  If you are worried about performance, my advice is to follow this story and wait until it is confirmed that Arkane has fixed it.

As for the rest of the aesthetics of Dishonored 2, the game is great looking in Ultra thought the textures, while still being above standard, didn’t match up to other games on the market.  The cities feel much more alive to me then they did in the original game, which is fantastic.  The new plague, the blood flies, apparently didn’t scare the residents of Karnaca off like the Weepers did to Dunwall.  The lighting is top notch, giving the city and locals a mood that I felt added to the story telling.  The voice acting works, but can feel stilted in some cases.  I am not sure if this was due to the actor’s performance, or the actor having issues with the chosen dialogue, but it isn’t that big of a deal for me.  The production is top notch, with just a few hitches along the way.

Final Thoughts

Dishonored 2 is a fantastic game that truly allows you to play the game your way.  You get to chose your protagonist, your style of play, and your pathway through the missions.  This is flexible game play at it’s best.  The worst part of Dishonored 2 is that it may not feel different enough from the original to really give you a unique gaming experience.  It ultimately is more of the same, but with a few tweaks and changes to make the game play better.  As a fan of Dishonored, this was enough for me to enjoy my time revisiting the Empire of the Isles.  The game is beautiful on the PC, and the music and voice acting worked great, most of the time.  Your biggest concern should be the performance issues that have hounded Dishonored 2 from the beginning.  While I did not run into these issues personally, they are out there and you should be informed before you buy.  Arkane is working on a fix, but last I heard people are still having issues getting the game to a playable state on their PCs.  Dishonored 2 is available now on PC, PS4 and Xbox One.


Dishonored 2 Review Score:

(4 out of 5)


 

Abattoir Movie Review

I love horror movies – especially those horror movies that make you not only jump, but also think. So, when you give me one that does both it is like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup for my brain.  Abattoir, based on the graphic novel of the same name, starts with a quote from one of the father’s of transcendental thinking, Henry David Thoreau, and has actors like Lin Shaye, Dayton Callie, and Joe Anderson. Putting all this together, I got the feeling that Abattoir was going be an odd and suspenseful ride.

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I sat down in my empty house, all the lights out and just a few feet from the screen with potty breaks taken care of in advance.  And I watched.  Then I shook my head and watched again.  Two days later and some housemates come in and I am there in the dark watching the same movie.  You might want to take this as a point to great acting, great story, great directing and you would be right on these but most of all it would be for understanding.

“Our houses are such unwieldy property that we are often imprisoned rather than housed by them,” Henry David Thoreau quote at the top of the film.  I totally nod in agreement to its relevance and tone for starting the flick and this theme carries on through the whole film. I will keep this review spoiler free giving you little more than you could gleam from a movie description that would accompany it’s rental and scenes that would be seen in a preview.  I’m just going to give you a slight taste here so you might tell if it is to your liking and if you want to make a meal of it for a couple of days that will be up to your palate.

After the brutal and very creepy murder of sister, brother-in-law and nephew, Jules goes back to reminisce at the house only to find it had been sold, escrow and renovations done all in a week after their deaths.  The renovations consisted of tearing out the entire room they were murdered in.  If you don’t know housing you couldn’t really get any of that done in a week even paying cash which the buyer did.

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So Jules makes the journey to find out who did it as well as discover some family secrets along the way.  This is where I stop with the details and tell that the directer and cast tried to keep very true to the source material even when it made performances seem a tad hammy and when shots seem to lack movement inside the camera shot because they are an example of a graphic novel comic frame.  There is an amazing beauty to the lighting and effects that are at the same time somewhat simple but then help tell the tale in a believable fashion.

The film is a heavy one but extremely well told.  I can’t state enough how movie is not light, you really need your thinking cap on.  There are plenty of twists but the more you are thinking the more they feel like progressions of the story instead.

One of the last lines is “It is said that one can never go home again but I wonder do we ever truly leave.” I wonder if Abattoir ever leaves you once you have watched it.

Ninja Loop And Petite Loop Product Review

Anybody who knows me in real life or reads me regularly knows that I am disabled with a combination of degenerative bone disease and nerve damage. Last night I went to a very fancy dinner for a relative and I had a hand spasm that causes food to go flying off the table.  Because these spasms occur frequently, I carry a combination wallet/phone case and I’m always using devices or cases that I can strap to my hand to keep it from flying away.  For the last year, I have been using an As Seen On TV product called The Love Handle which is a 3M adhesive plastic bar attached to a case with a stretchy fabric on it to slide over my fingers.  It works extremely well but has resorted in me using very utilitarian cases because any design would be covered by the bar.  So tonight I am trying out Ninja Loop and Petite Loop to see if they offer me another solution that might give me some case choices while maintaining the phone safety,

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Getting A Grip:

Each of these has a style to meet a slightly different functionality while at the same time getting the job done. First I will start with a Ninja Loop since it seems the closest to my current Love Handle. Instead of anchoring on the outside like the Love Handle the Ninja Loop has a self-adhesive that attaches to the inside of the case, passes through one of the holes at the bottom of the case, up  the back of the case with room for about two fingers to hold between the ribbon and the case, then through the lens cutout and attaching again inside the top of the case using the self-adhesive.  Where you send the Ninja Loop through the bottom decides how you will hold it so this is important to take into consideration and it will also decide how much of the outer part of the case is shown.  If you bought the case for the design on it rather than function then the Ninja Loop might not be for you (don’t rule out the Petite Loop) or you will want to pick one in a color that goes well with the pattern.  If you have a bulky protective case where you have to use and adapter plug to get to the headset and charging jacks or if it is a all weather proof case then this might not be the one for you but for others it’s simple but effective features have some definite pluses.

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For testing I used a plain black case for my iPhone 6Plus by Ballistic. The case is specifically made with acidental dropping in mind, maybe even stopping a mugger’s knife so I felt secure with giving the Ninja Loop a good a proper testing. First off when you start trusting your phone to a ribbon it is a bit disconcerting.  Even knowing the obvious physics behind it I had to train my hand to let the ribbon slide between my fingers and hold by it while using my thumb to hit button all over the place.  The next test was to shake my hand around a lot to simulate someone running but also to simulate a spastic motion of my hand. Even with some heavy spastic moves it still held up. The hardest part has to be training your mind to accept the Ninja Loop as sturdy enough to not send your phone flying away into traffic or falling overboard while taking a picture of a sunset at sea.  Once you attach it it will stay there until you decided to remove it, which might be done to mix up the colors fashion wise or maybe you got a stain on it out for sushi and you don’t want it to look ugly or start to smell like fish.  Cost effectiveness is definitely an important aspect of it.

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The Petite Loop was up next and though it’s design of use is different I could see this one becoming their best seller.  It is a loop of ribbon that self-adhesives to the back of your phone and comes out the charging port of your case.  Since every phone has a charging port and the ribbon isn’t very large then Petite Loop is unobstructive but completely usable. You can any design or style to your case and it will show all of it while at the same time adding a great sense of security.  You just slide it over your wrist then when you swing the phone forward to use it then let it just swing back onto your wrist when you are done with it.  That makes it great for on the go in heavily traffic ed areas where a phone might get jostled from your hand or when you are doing something athletic it can just swing from you wrist until you are ready to use it.  If you are concerned about it maintaining it’s hold then there is a fun video I will post at the end where they use a fish scale and show 33 pounds of pull on the wristband and it still maintaining attached to your phone. Once again the Petite Loop is also so affordable that if you get anything on it you can just replace it or if you change cases and the style conflicts pick up another, you can afford it.

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Letting Go:

The Ninja Loop and Petite Loop were originally a Kickstarter project, but they are off and running and for good reason. The “Loop” family of products are extremely user friendly, come in a variety of styles to fit whatever the user needs.  They could even be used in tandem or with other products and will make me feel much more secure with my disability and handling of my technology.


Ninja Loop And Petite Review Score

(5 out of 5)


Razer Ornata Chroma Keyboard – A Review (PC)

When it comes to my keyboards and mice for my PC, I am a creature of habit. I find a good quality keyboard or mouse that fits my hand, feels good to use, and performs well and I stick with it.  It’s a pretty rare occasion that a review item replaces one of my standard items for daily use.  Well, the Razer Ornata Chroma keyboard is one such item.  From day 1, I fell in love with the way the Ornata Chroma felt in my hand, and just how satisfying it was to use, both in gaming and for daily use.  I loved my Thermaltake Poseidon Z keyboard, but just after a few hours of using the Ornata Chroma, I knew that the Thermaltake was going to go onto the backup PC.  And the Ornata Chroma gets released just in time for the holidays?  I see what you did there, Razer….

Features

The Ornata Chroma is being described as a mecha-membrane keyboard.  The mecha-membrane system combines the best of both mechanical and membrane keyboards, into one hybrid system.  I have always been partial to mechanical keyboards, I never liked the tactile feedback that I received from a membrane keyboard.  One of the worst typing experiences of my life is using the touch keyboard that came with the Surface Pro 2 that I use for book projects.  The Ornata Chroma has all of the tactile feedback of a mechanical keyboard, but without the fatigue that you experience from long hours of typing or gaming.  That’s thanks to the membrane section of the keys, the membrane helps soften the amount of pressure needed for a response, keeping that old mechanical fatigue to a minimum without loosing the tactile feedback. Razer promises an “typing experience unlike anything before” and they deliver.  I have never used a keyboard that felt like this in my hands, and immediately fell in love with the Ornata Chroma.

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Another fantastic feature of the Ornata Chroma is the use of mid-height keys on the keyboard.  The use of a mid-height key is brilliant with this design, it gives the Ornata Chroma a faster response time to the pressing of these keys.  A higher key height will delay that time, even if it’s measured in milliseconds and most people would never feel the difference.  PC gamers do and that’s what’s important here.  I have never liked the feeling of the chiclet style keyboards either, so the mid-height key design is perfect.

There are two more features which make the Ornata Chroma my new “go to” keyboard, customizable lighting effects and the wrist rest.  I’ll speak more about the lighting effects in the Aesthetics section of this review, so let’s look closer into the wrist rest that comes with the Ornata Chroma.  I usually hate wrist rests, I never got used to using them.  They always feel like they get into the way of my typing for some reason.  The Ornata Chroma comes with a detachable wrist rest, so if you feel the same way you can just not use it.  The wrist rest attaches to the main keyboard by what using what feels like low strength magnets.  When attached, the wrist rest does not move or shift, even under some intense gaming.  I never use these things, but I found myself using the wrist rest for the Ornata Chroma and felt that it added to my comfort level when using my PC.  Even if you don’t like using these wrist rests on other keyboards, give this one a shot.  It might be a different experience then you are used to.

Aesthetics

The Ornata Chroma looks like a pretty standard keyboard, design wise.  In comparison to the Black Widow Chroma, the Ornata Chroma does not have the row of keys on the far left side.  The Ornata Chroma is roughly 18 inches long, 6 inches wide and about 1.5 inches tall, so pretty standard in size also.  What makes the Ornata Chroma come alive is the customizable lighting effects, which sets the Chroma line apart for Razer.  When active, the Ornata Chroma can produce over 16 million different types of color combinations and is customizable for personalization.   The standard effects that the keyboard comes with are beautiful in their own right.  These effects include fire, full spectrum cycling, starlight, breathing, static, reactive, wave, and ripple.  Using the Razer software is easy also to program these lighting effects, and these effects can be applied to other Chroma devices you may have.  Chroma will also react differently depending on the game you are playing if the game is on the list for Chroma effects.  For instance, playing Overwatch will cause the WASD keys to glow yellow and your ability keys will glow in different colors depending on the status of those abilities.

Performance

Ok, in case you haven’t figured it out by now, I love the Ornata Chroma.  For this last week or so, I have put it through the ringer to see what it can do.  I played H1Z1, World of Warcraft, Overwatch, and Dishonored 2 (review pending!) and felt that playing on the Ornata Chroma was a vastly superior experience then playing these games on my old Poseidon Z.  The response time felt shorter from key press to on screen action, I felt that I could move faster or use items faster, and I noticed a serious drop of on keyboard fatigue because of the mecha-membrane keys and the wrist rest.  I felt better after hours of playing then I had in a while.  The Ornata Chroma feels good, performs well, and looks great doing it.

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Tech Specifications

  • Razer™ Mecha-Membrane Technology
  • Mid-height keycaps
  • Razer Chroma backlighting
  • Ergonomic wrist rest
  • Razer Synapse enabled
  • Fully programmable keys with on the fly macro recording
  • 10-key roll over
  • Dedicated Gaming Mode
  • Anti-ghosting capability for up to 10 simultaneous key presses

Final Thoughts

The Razer Ornata Chroma is my new keyboard for my main PC.  This is the keyboard that I will be doing all of my gaming and writing on in the future.  I can quote you all the specs and features in the product manual (which I guess I did during the review…) but at the end of the day, the Ornata Chroma feels and performs the way I want a keyboard to feel and perform.  The new mecha-membrane keys feels fantastic and is precisely what I would want in the perfect keyboard.  I feel like I can type faster, play faster, and react faster to changing situations with this Ornata Chroma keyboard, due to the fast response and tactile feedback I get.  Price wise, the Razer Ornata Chroma keyboard is on the higher end, but not as expensive as the Black Widow Chroma.  The Ornata Chroma will set you back about a $100, but I feel you are getting every penny’s worth.  The Razer Ornata Chroma is available now, and it’s fantastic.


Razer Ornata Chroma Review Score:

(5 out of 5)