Author - Jerry Paxton

FastMac TruePower iV Review

FastMac has a whole slew of products for Mac and Apple electronics. From iPhones to MacBooks, their product range is truly epic. For the iPhone user looking to increase their time between charges, they have the TruePower iV extended battery and portable charger.

In simplest terms, the iV is a 3100mAh external battery that attaches to your iPhone in order to provide a ready source of juice when necessary. in contrast, the internal iPhone 3G battery is rated at 1150mAh so at least from the numbers it would appear as though the iV gas roughly 2.7 times the amount of juice. We shall see if the power lasts 2.7 times longer in a moment, but first let’s talk about the design of the iV.

The iV features all-black, rubberized plastic construction and includes some inherent abilities not seen with many other packs out there. First, in addition to the standard iPhone docking collar on the bottom of the iV, it also includes a standard USB port which allows you to charge USB devices from it. Also, the iV features a VERY bright LED designed to illuminate those photos, which most iPhone users know need a lot of light to properly expose. These are extremely useful features and are enough to add sufficient counter-balance to the iV’s biggest flaw: its large size.

Unlike some other models out there, the iV is big (the size needed to accommodate its high-capacity battery) and adds about an inch to the height of the iPhone and an inch to the depth. This makes it difficult to tote around and iV would be smart to figure out a way to add a belt-catch to the unit. The other design flaw in the iV is the method in which it attaches to your iPhone. With the iV, the iPhone slides into the top of it as if it were a cradle you would see on many portable speaker systems on the market. This means that the iV does not offer much in the way of protection and does not lock your iPhone into place the way a sliding case would. For me, being an extremely clumsy individual, I require a case which will protect my phone during its inevitable falls from my buttery fingers.

So if you can withstand the increased size of your iPhone and the fact it is not as protected as with other cases and battery packs, you will find that the iV pleasantly will increase your usage by about three times its normal amount. I can get about a day of use from my iPhone 3G with a moderate amount of talking. Of course, this amount decreases dramatically when using the iPhone for its 3G connection and gaming capabilities, but I digress. I slid my fully-charged iPhone 3G into the iV and began to go about my day. The beauty of this system is that once plugged into the iV (and with the iV being turned on) it allows the iPhone to siphon power not from its internal battery, but from the iV’s. When the iV finally runs out of juice, the iPhone will still have its full-charge left to go about its business. At the end of the work day, I cuddled up to my PC for some Brother’s in Arms: Hell’s Highway and checked the LED battery indicator on the iV. The cool-looking lights lit up in sequence from left to right, illuminating three of the four LEDs. So, I left everything as it was and went to bed. The next morning I got up and checked the indicator: two LEDs illuminated. Thus, I went about another work day with an average amount of phone usage.

At the end of this, the second, day the iV displayed only a single LED illuminated and I figured it was not long for this world. Apparently, sometime during the night the unit powered down and the iPhone 3G’s internal battery took over as when I awoke the next morning the iPhone 3G displayed nearly a full battery. After disconnecting the two devices I brought my phone to work for a third day in a row without charging it via USB cable or AC adapter. Finally, near the end of this third work day the iPhone battery was so low I knew it was soon to die at any moment.

After three continuous days of normal usage, without recharging, I am sufficiently sold on the iV’s iPhone battery life-extending capabilities and can recommend it hand’s down as a solid performer. It definitely has some work to be done in the way of its form factor but if you are looking for battery life first and form second, the iV is for you at $99.95 dollars for the iPhone 3G/iPod Touch designs and $79.95 for the original iPhone form-factor.

WWE Legends of Wrestlemania Review

Remembering the pure awesomeness of Hulk Hogan being pitted against Sgt. Slaughter in Wrestlemania VII. I was just a kid when I saw this but I vividly remember the genuine fear I felt as I watched the Hulkster take a chair to the head, which lead to a very bloody wound. When Hogan finally took Slaughter down I rose up and cheered along with my buddies (one of who’s Mom ordered it from pay per view). Since that time, as I grew up, I never really watched WWFE. Sure I know of the more famous wrestlers of our age such as Steve Austin, Dwayne Johnson, etc but it never really captivated me as it did in my youth.

This is why I found myself an odd choice to review THQ’s WWE Legends of Wrestlemania. Why am I reviewing a WWE title? Well, as it turns out, the timing just did not work out for me to get the game to its rightful reviewer so here we are. It was with a pensive heart that I loaded the game up on my Xbox 360.

This pensiveness faded as I was treated to the familiar Hogan anthem (‘I am a real American’) at the menu screen and was quickly replaced by a warm feeling of nostalgia. Maybe this game would be good? I decided to start off with a simple exhibition match and selected myself as Hulk Hogan (of course) and as my opponent, that jabroni, Andre the Giant.

Enter the introductions. THQ has painstakingly recreated the exact introductions which the wrestlers were given in their matches. Hogan comes out to ‘I am a real American’ and saunters into the ring then up the turnbuckle placing his hand to his ears. Most awesome of the introductions is when you set your wrestler to be The Undertaker and his manager, of course, Paul Bearer. This intro sequence is simply uncanny. Why did we find a guy wearing purple gloves so scary anyway? But I digress, it is extremely cool and worth the watch. I forgot just how long the introductions ran. You can even select a manager for your wrestler who will help out at opportune moments by sometimes restoring your stamina or even grabbing your opponent giving you a few seconds to recover and/or attack.

Enter the match. THQ has replaced the control schemes found in past wrestling titles with a much more streamlined interface consisting of the left analog stick and the four main buttons of the Xbox 360 controller. The bumpers and triggers and not used in WWE Legends of Wrestlemania. In addition, when locked up with your opponent you are often witness to quicktime events (QEs), whomever hits the QE first succeeds in the move being presented. These are usually seen in very complex grapples and maneuvers which would just be too complicated for the average user to pull off with the controller. There is definite challenge in the QEs as they are only presented for a limited time before the grapple progresses. You will be treated to three of these QEs per complicated grapple. This way, in case you fail the first one you have a chance to recover on the second, etc. The reversals are executed very fluidly in these sequences and it is a real treat to watch.

Unfortunately the animations of the extremely detailed, if not a bit exaggerated, characters are often choppy. There is never a real smooth transition should your character be stopped in mid punch, etc. This does not detract too much and actually worked for me as more of a retro style of gameplay. Most others I know would just call it plain sloppy, so I have included it as one of the game’s negative points.

The main gameplay modes of WWE Legends of Wrestlemania center around the annual titular event. You can choose between ‘Relive’, ‘Redefine’, and ‘Rewrite’ modes. Relive allows you to play a famous Wrestlemania match as the victor, redefine allows you to select a different wrestler in the match, and the rewrite allows you to play the loser in the match in an attempt to change the outcome. You hardcore WWE fans will just eat this up. Personally, I found my best joy to come from the exhibition matches. More so, I enjoyed being able to create a wrestler with my height and weight, then watch him body slam Andre the Giant. As it turns out, my 6′ height and 205 lbs is minuscule compared to all of the wrestlers featured in the title.

As I mentioned before, the wrestlers are detailed but definitely a bit exaggerated in proportions. The crowd is of average detail, their polygons being much more apparent than the wrestlers. Many sport 80’s T-shirts donning various wrestler’s motto’s, logos, etc and there is no shortage of mullets. Sound design during the matches is generally fine and does an adequate job of helping bring the match to life. However the sound design is best in the introduction sequences.

Multiple gameplay modes are available to the multiplayer gamer including Royal Rumbles, Ladder Matches, and a ton more which will certainly appease not only the WWE fan but also the casual player looking for a quick match.

Then comes the anachronistic match-ups. Being that you can pit wrestlers against each other from all of WWE history, you can create a ton of matches that just could never happen. Hogan vs The Rock? Go for it! Care to see ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper take on Steve Austin? Done. THQ has done a great job in bringing the nostalgia I felt as a kid back every time I start the game up.

THQ’s WWE Legends of Wrestlemania is a fun wrestler that even a casual gamer can pick up relatively quickly thanks to its streamlined control system. Hardcore fans of WWE games might be put off by this, but the chance to pit so many wrestlers from WWE history against each other should quell their dissension on that point. WWE Legends of Wrestlemania is well worth a place in your game library. So go pick the game up and show Hulk you are not a jabroni, brother.

Novint Falcon and Pistol Grip Review

When looking at the Novint Falcon, the first thing I thought of was some sort of new computer-aided design peripheral. Little did I know that Novint Falcon was specifically-designed to be used with virtual game environments (those pesky ‘video games’ as the kids say). So it was with great, geeky enjoyment that I hurriedly un-boxed the Novint Falcon as it sat on my desk. Pulling out the pod-like peripheral, I could not help but think about the artificial life-forms known as ‘Exocomps’ from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Our Novint Falcon’s main pod is white with silver accents (there is also a black-accented offering) and it sits on two bowed, silver legs. The Falcon actually has a wider overall footprint than I had expected but, at 9”x9”x9”, it still fits in the space usually taken up by my mouse pad. Installing and setting up the unit is straight forward. Simply install the drivers via included CD and then plug the Novint Falcon into the included AC adapter. After, plug in the USB cable and you are all set.

While the included mini-games do a fine job of introducing the user to the full Falcon experience, we were more interested in how the peripheral works while doing some hardcore gaming. So we downloaded the demos for the HaptX (Novint’s Falcon Reachin’s SDK Engine) enabled Penumbra: Requiem, Penumbra: Black Plague, as well as the HaptX mod for Crysis. Having been a fan of Frictional Games’ Penumbra series, I figured it would be a good place to start.

For those of you who do not know, the Penumbra titles are really Portal-style puzzlers wrapped up in a survival-horror skin. The dank and dark atmosphere of Penumbra: Requiem’s opening room washed over me. It is some kind of cell and you awaken there with no idea where you have been taken or who brought you there. This is creepy enough without the Falcon, but I was about to find a whole new level of immersion awaited me. Walking over to the table, there are several drawers which can be explored. So I moved the Falcon’s control orb inwards and to the right. That’s right, ‘inwards’. The Falcon is capable of the movement in three dimensions at the same time which allows for inwards and outwards motion. So as I move the Falcon control orb inwards and to the right, hoping to match up the reticule on the screen with the door I am met with a sudden and jarring stop. I did not control the reticule correctly and, instead of gracefully moving to the drawer, I collided with the table. I was completely impressed with the force the motors inside the Falcon are able to produce. I could not budge the thing with any normal amount of force. Sure, I could have really tweaked on it, but that would have undoubtedly broke the Falcon which is not your intended goal. I pulled the orb out a little bit to retry my approach at the drawer. Upon successfully mating reticule to handle, I depressed the grab button on the orb and pulled outwards, opening the drawer. The experience which the Falcon provides in puzzle titles is comparable, albeit with realistic forces and control limiters, to the experience of using the Nintendo Wii’s wireless Wiimote in a game like, say, Elebits. For 3d puzzle titles, the Falcon is a huge leap forward in PC peripherals and we were soon blown away with the other Penumbra demo we downloaded as well.

Puzzle games are all well and good but sometimes a gamer needs to do a little bit of ‘wet work’ and fire off some rounds from his or her battle rifle at enemy troops, am I right? So we switched over to the HaptX enabled mod for Crytek’s visually-breathtaking Crysis. Crysis places you in the role of a special operative working within a team of soldiers selected to employ a new power-suit in the field. The field, in this case, being an island near the Philippines. Again, the Falcon blew me away with its delivery of in-game forces to my hand. Driving around in vehicles actually provides you with acceleration and inertial forces while switching suit modes to the ‘armor’ setting will lessen the amount of knock-about force you feel when getting shot, which hopefully doesn’t happen for you as much as it does me… But I digress.

The standard orb-grip does a fine job of allowing the player to navigate 3d space, but for a shooter title we felt that we needed to step up our game and, thankfully, Novint was way ahead of us. Enter the Novint Falcon Pistol Grip. For a very reasonable $19.99, you can swap out the standard orb grip with the handle and trigger of a semi-automatic pistol. This allows for a much more realistic control of in-game weaponry and even makes recoil effects feel that much more authentic. The beauty of this switchable grip system is that any number of grips could be created for the unit for all manner of applications and we are excited to see what they will come up with next.

Gamers should be warned about taking the Novint Falcon into a death match tournament environment unless other players in the game were using the peripheral as well. Due to some of the movement restrictions presents in navigating 3d worlds as well as force feedback effects, this can actually make you slower to respond than other gamers who don’t have to contend with them at all. For heightened single player and co-op multiplayer experiences however, the Novint Falcon just brings it to a whole new level. Just be ready to relearn how to ‘play’ your favorite games while you get used to the peripheral. There are different muscles used in controlling the Falcon than your standard mouse and you will need a bit of time to adjust.

On the whole, the Falcon may seem expensive during this troubled economic time at $190 dollars. However, hardcore gamers looking for the best gaming experience possible would be remiss to pass up on the chance to use the Novint Falcon, especially with the pistol grip! It has added a whole new dimension of immersion into some of my favorite titles and looks to be adding support for more at a rapid rate. The beta version of a HaptX-enabled Left 4 Dead was absolutely incredible, with the controller even getting all sluggish when splashed by a ‘boomer’. There is also a good message board community on Novint’s official site to help with technical issues and the developers seem to patrol it frequently, taking consumer questions and opinions when not finding out where the demand for the next HaptX-enabled titled lies. If you can afford it, the Novint Falcon is not to be missed!

The Novint Falcon’s Official Product Page

Creative Labs Gigaworks T3 Speaker System Review

Multi-channel speaker systems were all the rage for quite some time in PC gaming. In the upswing of the economy, we saw PC sound cards attempt to add as many channels as possible into their designs, sometimes way before speaker systems were out to utilize them! Well, now we have an economy in downturn. More and more gamers are moving into smaller domiciles, most often without enough space for a 7.1 channel system. What is a gamer to do? Well, thankfully, there are a slew of 2.1 channel desktop systems out right now to help you out. Creative Labs’ latest offering, the Gigaworks T3, offers exceptional quality for its $249.99 price point.

I must admit that, at first, it was quite deceiving with the Gigaworks T3. Unboxing the small, 3.7”x3.0”, satellite speakers I thought to myself that there was just no way these could be any ‘good’. They are diminutive, albeit classy, little things in appearance, being all-black except for the inner driver components which are silver and gleam through the black filter covering them. The subwoofer is definitely more impressive in appearance, measuring 11.3”x9.3”, and comes in a black, semi-gloss frame. With this relatively small form factor, though, both satellites and subwoofer fit nicely into my already-cramped desk space.

The satellites simply plug, along with the volume control pod (we’ll get to this later), into the back of the subwoofer which houses most of the system’s inputs and outputs. Aside from the satellite and control pod jacks, the back of the subwoofer also features the bass knob as well as a set of stereo audio inputs.

The subwoofer uses a new technology from Creative called SLAM: Symmetrically Loaded Acoustic Module. This system can be a bit hard to understand at first in that the big drivers you see on the subwoofer are actually not drivers you think of in most speaker systems. The powered driver is a small, unseen model within the subwoofer. The outer drivers are called ‘pressure drivers’ and simply help move the bass out of the case. It is like taking a small speaker and putting it at the smaller end of a megaphone. The pressure drivers help carry the bass out from the subwoofer in three directions, creating very rich and ambient bass. Basically, this allows you to get a ton more performance out of this 80W system than would normally be possible.

The volume control pod is a stylish remote which mainly controls the volume. However, it also houses an auxiliary-in and headset jack. This makes switching over to headsets for some stealthy rounds of Call of Duty 4 a breeze. Just plug them in and you are good to go. The auxiliary input is perfect for quickly hooking up your MP3 player to. A small blue light on the control pod indicates that the Gigaworks T3 is activated. By rotating the volume knob all the way to the minimum position, the light will simply turn off. There is no detente on the rotary control.

We played many games with the Gigaworks T3. I tried it with everything from Combat Mission Shock Force to Call of Duty: World at War. I found no instances of poor sound reproduction and as one of my US Marine’s M1A1 main battle tanks rolled past my camera view, the rich bass actually rumbled my feet – a very nice effect. While just kicking back to the songs on my iPhone or on my PC’s MP3 library, the Gigaworks T3 performed exceptionally, and you can definitely hear the quality put into its construction and design. I actually had to turn the bass knob down quite a bit during regular music listening to get a more realistic response. The subwoofer packs quite the punch!

My previously mentioned preconceived notion about the satellites being under-powered was severely mistaken. I am reminded of Jedi Master Yoda’s wisdom: ‘Size matters not’. Indeed this is true in the case of the Gigaworks T3. The speaker system truly has it where it counts. It is just a shame that they are priced at $249.99 on the official Creative website right now. Well worth every penny, in this economy it is a tough sell for any pricey electronic item. You can take refuge in the fact, however, that you can see this as an investment into your listening future. Their small form factor and big performance makes the 2.1 channel Creative Labs’ Gigaworks T3 speaker system an A+ device for gamers and music lovers alike.

Gigaworks T3 Official Product Page

Logitech G19 Gaming Keyboard Review

Logitech has been creating PC peripherals since 1981. In fact, one of the first gaming peripherals I ever owned was a Logitech T-CM14 trackball, with which I owned the skies in Sierra/Dynamix’ Tribes. Of course, there have been other peripherals in my gaming history, but Logitech has always been there in some capacity. They have had their fingers on the gaming populace’s pulse for some time now and their latest flagship product offering, the G19 Gaming Keyboard, shows they still have it where it counts.

The G19 is the continuation of the LCD-equipped gaming keyboard line started with the G15. The G19 has a much sleeker design, with a ‘sexy’ black plastic exterior and silver Logitech logo plate on the wrist rest. The aforementioned screen on the keyboard is a 320×240 LCD and is really the centerpiece of the keyboard. The ‘GamePanel’ screen allows players to see critical information from the game(s) they are playing so long as the game has been set up to use the LCD. If you are playing something that does not make use of the screen, fear not, as Logitech includes a bunch of GamePanel applications such as an RSS reader, CPU/Memory monitor, and even YouTube player. That’s right, you can actually play YouTube video on your keyboard! At the time of this writing, being that the G19 is not technically out yet, Logitech is being pretty mum on what games will support the GamePanel LCD. The only one so far confirmed to us is World of Warcraft, which will allow you to do cool things like look at your wait queue status, battleground info, etc.

Logitech has also added a Windows/Gaming mode slider key that disables the Windows button should you be of the type of gamer who accidentally presses it during play sessions, costing precious lives and potentially endangering the whole planet. I won’t mention any names…

The G19 is different also in that it comes with its own AC adapter. The adapter plugs into a cable that is tethered with the USB cable. The power provided by the adapter not only powers the screen but also allows the G19 to use devices in its two USB ports that requre additional power. This is an exceptional feature to have an can eliminate the need to have an extra USB hub lying about, freeing up much-needed desktop space.

For fans of creating your own keyboard macros, the G19 has 12 macro keys layed out in three groups of four. You can also program three different, selectable profiles allowing up to 36 different combinations to choose from. Logitech’s included software allows for easy editing of the macros in a very user friendly interface.

Under the standard media keys on the upper right quadrant of the keyboard you will find the mute key and volume roller. Logitech’s volume control on the G19 is an actual roller. The volume roller takes a bit of getting used to and seems to be meant almost for small adjustments. This is partly due to the fact that Logitech did not want you blowing your eardrums out by accidentally swiping the roller with your hand. So, rest easy my little ear drums… The inner ear is safe tonight, thanks to the gaming peripheral power of Logitech!

To the right of the Windows/Gaming mode slider you will find the controls for the GamePanel screen. The directional keys control the current app you are using as well as switching between available apps. One nice thing about the GamePanel system is the cross communication between the keyboard and PC. If you see a story you like on your RSS reader and want to visit the source, simply hit the ‘ok’ center button in the directional controls. Your PC will open up a browser window with the source site in the address bar. The same thing applies to the GamePanel YouTube browser, if you want to see the vid on your PC, just hit ‘ok’. Of course, this could cause some problems if you are in the middle of a game which does not use the GamePanel LCD, but I digress: Watch what you are touching!

Being a huge Fallout 3 fan and known that I would be reviewing the new DLC pack, ‘The Pitt’, I figured that would be a good place to start using the G19. The keyboard performs very well in first-person shooters with smooth key action that is neither too hard nor too soft. I have had the displeasure of using some heavy-duty metal keyboards and such material makes your fingertips numb after a while. Not the case here, I am thankful for. As the day slid into night, I switched on the keyboard’s power button and the GamePanel LCD came to life as did the white backlighting of the keys. I have to applaud Logitech for just using soft white lights as opposed to some gimmicky red or blue like you find in most other gaming keyboards. Not to say that red or blue is necessarily ‘bad’. It is just nice to see something fresh and different.

The biggest hurdle for the G19 to overcome is its $199 dollar price point. The keyboard is definitely targeted towards hardcore gamers, but every hardcore gamer I know is having money issues at the moment so I do not know how the product will do. The G11 is going for $69.99 while the mid-level G15 is going for $99. Perhaps another jump of thirty dollars would be sufficient? The G19 at $129 or $139 would be far more palatable to consumers.

Price point aside, we would highly recommend the Logitech G19 Gaming Keyboard for the hardcore gamer out there. It has a great action, good amount of macro keys, powered USB ports, Windows/Gaming mode slider, and a whole lot more. Average users will probably not find as much use for all of its gamer-centric features and would be better off with the G11 or one of Logitech’s ‘standard’ keyboards. However, if you are a hardcore gamer looking for an exceptional gaming keyboard, start saving your pennies now and get yourself a G19.

Official Logitech G19 Product Page

TN Games 3rd Space Gaming Vest Review

We got the chance to check out the 3rd Space Gaming Best and HTX Helmet at the 2008 CES event in Las Vegas. Originally developed as a medical examination technology the company turned to gaming applications as the system is still under review by several medical bodies. During my brief encounter with the vest, at the show, I was surprised at how startling the hit effect could be (as demonstrated in the afore-linked video). However I could not, at that point, see it as a practical, effective home system. Now that we actually have a 3rd Space Gaming Vest here to play with, I am happily changing my tune…

The gaming vest comes nicely packed in an environmentally-conscious box. There is no unnecessary space and it all fits just right. In the box you will find the air compressor, ac adapter, gaming vest, USB cable, Gaming Vest driver disk, and a special version of Call of Duty 2 modified to use the 3rd Space Gaming Vest.

Installing the software is a breeze. Simply put the driver disk in and use the setup feature. The process will install the driver utility, a C++ runtime library, and TN Games’ proprietary FPS, Incursion. After installing everything, I began setting up the actual vest itself. We got the ‘S/M’ sized vest, which is what TN Games recommends for most people. Accommodating people who would normally wear up to an extra-large t-shirt, it has plenty of room for expansion. Donning the vest just makes you feel cool. It was modeled after a generic modular tactical vest used by various special operators around the country and comes in black, camo, and pink. There are two horizontal straps and two vertical shoulder straps which should all be snugly fastened before play. The more snug the fit, the better the hit effects will be felt.

The air compressor unit simply plugs into AC power using the adapter and switches on with a slider. Unfortunately, the biggest issue we see with this unit is the noise. There is no logic between the compressor and the vest telling it when to turn on and off. The compressor always stays on blowing air into the vest. A better system would be a slightly more expensive compressor that could sense when air capacity was reached, and then turned on when appropriate to refill a temporary air reservoir, but I digress. While the compressor is not the loudest one I have ever heard it is definitely noticeable and makes the system ill-advised for quiet gaming sessions. For normal play however, noise be damned, lets turn this thing on and see how it works.

The vest works by sending blasts of compressed air into one (or more) of the eight ‘impact cells’ which are housed within. There are four of these impact cells in the front of the unit and four on the back of the vest. By sending blasts of air in a coordinated manner, the vest is capable of producing tactile feedback which mirror’s what is happening to your character in a given game. Getting shot feels different in both intensity and duration as, say, being stabbed. Grenades can activate the entire front of the vest as opposed to single impact cells going off by way of small arms.

I first tried the vest using TN Games’ Incursion. This is not a review for Incursion. Suffice it to say the app is definitely a great place to test out the vest before moving on to more mainstream games. The test runs we made in Incursion were amazing. The hit effects create a much-heightened sense of tension than usual. At one point, I ended up being pelted by a barrage of enemy fire. The vest acted accordingly, sending a shot of adrenaline through my body as I tried running away…and failing.

We are so used to hearing the direction of our enemies using 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound systems, bringing actual tactile cues into play jacks up the immersion to a whole new level. After playing around in Incursion I fired up Combat Arms, a free to play FPS title from Nexon. Unfortunately, no matter what I tried I could not get the vest working in the game. Even though the newly-updated drivers claim it works with the title there was no vest response at all.

Unfortunately, the version of Call of Duty 2 provided with the vest, which was specifically altered to natively use it, was not compatible with Windows Vista. So, after Combat Arms we started up Call of Duty: World at War to check out how the vest would help us dispose of Nazis, of course the most important function there is! With this title however, the vest performed as promised and was a blast. ‘Feeling’ where your enemy is shooting at you from is actually more efficient than hearing it first or seeing come sort of visual cue signaling your impending doom. The initial shock of the impact is enough to startle you and that quick reaction could mean the difference between avoiding the next flurry of shots and getting mowed down.

The biggest problem TN Games has had to face (and still does to a degree) is title support. Currently, there are three options to use the 3rd Space Gaming Vest inside a game. The first is to have the game be developed and coded to use the peripheral. The second is to add the game’s ‘signature’ and all the rest of the tech stuff to the vest driver utility which will then listen in on the game process for hit detection. The third option is for game communities or developers to release after-launch mod’s which enable support. Unfortunately, there are only 30 titles supported by the vest at the time of this writing. In this economy, a $139 dollar feedback vest is a tough sell but, once experienced, you will understand how useful and effective it is. It will, without a doubt, increase your gaming skills. If not by the increased hit effects, then by the frosty state of mind that ‘suiting up’ in the tactical vest gives you. Thankfully, TN Games has been working its tail off garnering more mainstream support, and we hope they get it. This technology is way too cool to lose like we did with Force Feedback.

Aside from the noisy compressor and small stable of twenty supported titles (at the moment), I would highly recommend TN Games’ 3rd Space Gaming Vest to anyone looking for the next step in immersion. It engages one of your senses that usually does not get involved in gaming much and, in doing so, is sure to make you a more efficient killer in no time. The 3rd Space Gaming Best is sold in $139 dollar bundles at TN Games’ official site. Also, their HTX helmet is due out sometime before the end of this year.

Official Product Page

Men of War Review

The sequel to Soldiers: Heroes of World War II, Men of War is a tactical, real-time strategy game which takes place in North Africa. It allows you to control three different sides of the conflict in three separate campaigns consisting of 19 single-player missions total. You will take command of Russian, British, and American forces while able to access Japanese units in multi-player games only.

Visually, the actual game is pleasing enough. It won’t break any records in the looks department, but the presentation works for the type of game it is. Typically, hardcore strategy fans can overlook lackluster graphics if the gameplay is good enough. The environments in Men of War are some of the most destructible I have ever seen in an RTS. Pretty much anything can be blown to smithereens. This makes cover precarious as today’s sand bag barricade is tomorrow’s scattered pile of sand. Also, camera system is generally well-designed and fully 3d by way of the middle mouse button. Unfortunately, the cut scenes are sub-par at best.

Sound design is decent, giving you a good amount of queues as to what is happening in the battle at hand. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the voice over work and writing of the game’s dialogue. Perhaps it is because the developers, Digital Mind Soft and Best Way Games, are located in Germany and the Ukraine, respectively. Actors are wooden and obviously do not understand the nuances of North American English. Also, the writing they were provided also lacks the language’s natural flow a native speaker is accustomed to.

Controlling your units can be very tricky as well as confusing, especially if you are a long-time PC RTS gamer. Instead of freely being able to select units with the left mouse button, Men of War requires you to right-click in order to clear your selected units first. Clicking the left mouse button while having troops selected will issue a move order. This seemingly simple system is sure to give you more than a few headaches, especially when the action starts heating up. I found myself, on more than one occasion, left-clicking a tank in order to select it while already having infantry selected. Instead of switching over to the tank, this just made my infantry huddle around the vehicle, using it for cover.

Speaking of cover, something that Men of War does very well is implement a VITAL cover system. Utilizing this cover system effectively is the only sure way to win the game’s difficult missions. After selecting unit(s), hovering your mouse cursor over coverable-items will illuminate various positions your troops can take. If there is no cover available, left clicking will simply order your troops to move to the location. Double-clicking will order them to perform the action ‘on the run’.

Your units are capable of a number of actions not normally seen in RTS titles. You can select their stance (e.g. prone or standing), weapons, fire modes… The list goes on. You can even loot boxes and other items to better equip your units. Sometimes, all of these possibilities can be overwhelming, especially when controlling a ton of units on the field and having. Usually, the unit AI is forgiving enough to take cover, etc. Pathfinding, however, is a totally different story. I have seen tanks attempt to plow through whole buildings to reach a destination. This is one area where the game needs some serious work. If I have to micro-manage how exactly a unit reaches a location, I will never get anything else done!

Battles are frenetic and sometimes leave you in a wreck of adrenaline as to the number of actions you were required to pull off in order to achieve your goals. Mission difficulty is spotty regardless of difficulty level selected, and will require all of your experience, reflexes, and tactical planning to complete them. Many missions are multi-stage, scripted event-based and provide plenty of the aforementioned challenge and excitement.

Provided out of the box are both LAN and Internet-based multi-player gaming options with all manner of game types including co-operative missions. Something I would have liked to have seen is a random mission generator for the single-player gamer as it would seriously increase the replayability (look at Battlefront’s Combat Mission Shock Force as an example).

Overall, Men of War is worth you time only if you are looking for an in-depth, tactical game of combat on a large scale. At times it will be frustrating from a technical standpoint and, at others, it will provide you with exceptional joy at completing what looked to be an insurmountable mission. Men of War is a very in-depth RTS game that should definitely be given a look, especially at the Direct2Drive purchase price of $29.99

Direct2Drive Product Page

Razer Mako THX 2.1 Desktop Sound System Review

Razer was kind enough to let us take a look at their Mako 2.1 channel desktop audio system. Co-designed by THX using some very special methods of aural trickery to create the best sound possible.

First up Razer and THX’s creative sleeves is what they call the THX Ground Plane and Slot Speaker technology. THX explains that this delivery system is used to eliminate the ‘desk effect’, in which audio in standard speakers not only moves directly from the driver to the listen but also ricochets off the desk below and into the sound stream. This disrupts the sound waves, muddling them down slightly. With the Mako, the drivers are actually downward-facing inside the tweeters. This forces sound to move downward out of them, bouncing off of your desk or equivalent surface and directly into your eager ears.

The second patented technology THX is using inside the Mako is their ‘Class HD’ audio processing method which actively scans the audio output for the most optimal method of eliminating background noise. Most audio systems eliminate a static range of highs and lows to get rid of background noise. The problem with this method is that in some cases, it still allows ambient noise in and in others it cuts off important audio pieces. With Class HD, the Mako scans the output and constantly adjusts to maximize the elimination of background noise while minimizing the loss of important audio information.

The control pad included with the Mako is definitely one of those ‘whiz-bang’ devices, utilizing a touch-pad interface. One arc of the cylindrical pad is the volume indicator. Brilliant blue hash lines turn to red the higher you push the levels. Changing levels is as simple as rubbing your finger on the front of the pad in the direction you wish the level to go. It doesn’t take much to change and was surprisingly responsive. Also on the control are touch-pad buttons to change the volume indicator to a bass indicator and back. This will allow you to change the amount coming from the sub woofer. Another cool feature of the Mako is that it accepts a second input line from another audio source. Switching between the two inputs is accomplished through a touch-pad button on the controls as well. The final topping on the scrumptious cake which is the Mako’s control pad is the headphone jack. This makes going into stealth mode much easier as the Mako has a tendancy to get away from you in terms of volume. The sound is so crisp you just have to pump it up to the next volume hash mark to see if it distorts. Thankfully, getting the Mako to distort is VERY difficult to accomplish.

Some reviewers claim the Mako’s bass levels are not ‘thumping’ as much as they like. To this, we respond that true music lovers know that producers often load down a band’s audio tracks with bass to cover-up other ‘chinks’ in the band’s performance-armor. Also, speaker-developers will sometimes increase the bass response in their units as a cover-up to the higher-end shortcomings. The Mako reproduces music as faithfully to the original performance as possible. While not appropriate to rattle your neighbor’s windows the Mako could make them think there was a live band playing in your living room or office.

The Mako has been designed with Razer’s sense of style in mind. The sub woofer is a black dome-like structure with a flat top harboring the Razor logo while on the front is the THX name. The back of the sub woofer features all of the units inputs and outputs. There you will find the power input, satellite speaker outputs, control pad input, audio input and power switch. To make the Mako even more flexible, white and red stereo audio inputs are also available in this area of the sub. The two satellite speakers are attached using what appears to be Cat 5 network cable, although not quite as standard Cat 5 cable will not work, and look like the smaller offspring of the sub woofer in design and style.

The Mako’s greatest shortcoming is its price point. At an MSRP of $399 dollars, they are just too expensive for the average PC gamer these days. Once you can save up for them though, we can’t recommend them enough. It is the kind of thing like how standard-definition commercials were trying to demo high-definition signal – it is just not possible. The best way to get a feel for them is to hear them, either at a trade show or your friend which has them or perhaps even a commercial retailer if possible. Once you do hear them, you will begin the process of saving your pennies. They are really that good.

Gamestop Resident Evil 5 Launch Event – Irvine CA

Gamestop had been advertising its Resident Evil 5 pre-launch events at numerous locations around the country. Being local to the Irvine area, Gamestop was kind enough to let me in to the happening to take some photos and whatnot. I would like to thank Laura Mustard, Gamestop PR, as well as the staff of the Barranca street store for their cooperation and hospitality.

Arriving at 10pm sharp, I was amazed that more people had not begun lining up yet. With only a few people having shown up at that point, I figured it would be a good time to go on in and fully-pay for my copy of the game. Gamestop had a system setup in which everyone would have to go inside before midnight, finish their transaction, and obtain a voucher letting staff know you did in fact pay for the game. This would allow staff later on after midnight to not worry about exchanging cash. Their only concern would be checking the validity of a person’s voucher and handing them a copy of the game…

Check out the full story after the jump!

were generally high throughout the two hours with gamers geeking out
over topics such as the whether or not the upcoming Fallout 3 DLC pack,
‘The Pitt’, will be better or worse than their first offering and even
some breaking out into trading card games.

One gamer I spoke to
who referred to himself only as ‘Shinragod’  told me that he was their
to make sure he got ‘all the goodies that came with the game’. For
instance, Gamestop was giving out limited edition lithographs with
every collector’s edition sold. He did not want to take the chance they
would have run out by time he could get in the next day. There were
even some people at the event who did not plan on getting the game.
They just seemed content in hanging out with their friends that did. By
the time 11pm rolled around, there was much more of a crowd in place.
Also, at about this time Gamestop employees brought in three extremely
ginormous pizzas. Originally planned to be green and ‘fleshy’ these
were just normal as the pizza-artist tasked with this chore was not
available for some reason. Fleshy or not, many of the crowd partook of
the sacred pies and satiated their hunger.

a number of people in attendance had opinions on the new direction the
series has taken starting with Resident Evil 4, becoming more of an
action-shooter than its predecessors’ survival-horror gameplay.
‘Shinragod’ appreciated the ‘less puzzles, more gameplay’ style while
gamer ‘Sephiroth11’ hoped that the series would return to its roots at
some point in the future. Regardless of what type of Resident Evil game
they liked better, it was clear that everyone there had a lot of love
for the series and was looking forward to this latest offering.

before midnight, Gamestop staff solidified the ragged semblance of a
line into a much more organized single-file. At 12:01am, they began
letting groups of five at a time into the store, beginning with our
HUNK friend, who only referred to himself as ‘Rohan’.

The only
one in attendance donning costume, he entertained the crowd at one
point during the two-hour wait with various Resident Evil trivia
questions. Now, with everyone having games in-hand (including yours
truly), it was time to go. While many were rushing off to start their
journey into Kijuju, I would be writing this up and then getting as
much sleep as possible.

FEAR 2: Project Origin Review

I fondly remember playing the original FEAR in a darkened room on my PC several years ago. Gripping my gaming mouse tightly, shoulders firmly tensed, I would creep down hallways and jump consistently at every in-game scare. I was also taken with the game’s presentation which was considered to be, at the time, very well-done. Enter the sequel, which after skirting the harrowing shoals of developmental hell, has finally been released. Good news is, most sources seem to echo sentiments that the game is comparable no matter what platform you play it on (Windows PC, Xbox 360, or PlayStation 3). So let’s take a deeper look at FEAR 2: Project Origin and see if the sequel is true to the original scare fest. Just to be clear, we are taking a look at the PC version.

In FEAR 2: Project Origin, you play as a member of a Delta Force team which gets caught up in a gigantic corporate conspiracy/supernatural hell-fest where you will encounter a good variety of enemies of all types, human and…other… Thankfully you are not the standard, mk1 human as you will obtain psychic powers such as the ‘reflex’ ability which allows you to slow down time (think bullet-time).

One of the key features which really pushed FEAR over the top were its scary moments, and there were plenty. Bizarre scenes and encounters which seemed to jump straight out of the gigantic, mutated minds of Clive Barker, Dario Argento, and Hideo Nakata. I am VERY happy to report that FEAR 2: Project Origin does not disappoint in this department. The supernatural encounters are genuinely scary and are sure to make even the most die-hard PC gamer jump at times. The best part about these sequences is that they fit within the framework of the story given. I never felt that they were added into the game ‘just because’. These scares are also very well-spaced out in the game so that they do not become routine.

Visually, the game is very pleasing when in most of the indoor environments. The game does dark and foreboding well. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the outdoor levels which don’t come out looking nearly as nice. In fact, when compared to the original game, this one does not push the graphical envelope nearly as much. Again, not say it doesn’t look nice, it just doesn’t require a super high-end machine to run it. Perhaps this is the console influence, but I digress.

Monolith has done a bang-up job on the sound effects in this game. From the ambient noises to minor details like shell casings hitting the floor, you are barraged with realistic audio. These ambient effects are critical, as the audio is at least half of the scare during the supernatural sequences. The score also plays a big part in creating the proper mood and I can safely say that they succeed in spades. From eerie childlike ‘toy box’ melodies to military marches, it is all good in the FEAR 2 music department. The voice actors do wonderful jobs in their various roles and never sound wooden or unbelievable. It is really nice to see the amount of quality WB Games and Monolith have put into the title.

Combat is one area of the game we found to be lacking in contrast to the more supernatural sequences. Controlling the character feels very linear in that there is not a lot of animation or movement to the camera to give a sense of motion. The cover system works well enough, being able to interact with various objects such as tables and flip them over to crouch behind. You will not find a Gears of War style cover system here. The combat in FEAR 2: Project Origin hearkens back to earlier days in PC first-person shooters when, in order to take cover, you hit the ‘crouch’ key and did you best to pop up from and down behind whatever you could find. This is also trye for the health system, in which your character does not suddenly ‘recharge’ his health and armor after taking cover for a while. You actually have to acquire and use health kits and body armor which is scattered throught the game’s levels. Overall, the game’s combat could have been a bit more challenging. Once you obtain the ‘reflex ability’, most enemies don’t stand much of a chance against you. There are not many different types of weapons in the game, but enough to cover most categories of weapon types. You can pick them up and drop them at will over the course of a mission. Obviously, this is very convenient when you find yourself out of ammo in your assault rifle. Just grab the nearest dead guy’s weapon and get back into the fight.

Overall, we found FEAR 2: Project Origin to be a very fun playthrough which is definitely going to make you jump at least a few times. Games like this are like great scary movies: enjoy it in a darkened room with either good surround sound speakers or a headset. The more intimate you can make the playing experience, the better. Just don’t be surprised if you find yourself reaching for the light switch after a while to break the tension. Also, the good people at WB Games and Monolith have not skimped and taken the easy, politically-correct road here. Enemies explode into giblets on numerous occasions and well, without spoiling anything (you really should play it through but YouTube can also show you what I am about to mention) the ending is one of the most messed-up (in a good way) endings in the entire history of PC gaming. Seriously…

If you are looking for a ride like this, you would be remiss to pass up FEAR 2: Project Origin.

Official Product Page