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Prototype is an open world action adventure game released way back in ’09. In it you play Alex Mercer, an ordinary man who wakes up one day on a morgue table with no knowledge as to who he is and how he got there. He also discovers that he has some truly incredible superpowers. Wanted dead by the military he flees for answers. All of this is happening while a deadly plague sweeps over New York City, turning humans into monsters. Honestly, the story isn’t that great (or original).
The original Syndicate is considered a classic in the turn-based strategy genre. Released way back in ’93, I never had the honor of playing it (turn-based action is not exactly my “thang”). Back then I was high on first-person-shooters like Doom and Quake. How ironic is it then that the reboot of Syndicate (released in early 2012) just so happens to be an FPS? I picked up the PC version recently on sale and gave it a spin.
REDWOOD CITY, CA – EA Games, publisher of some of the greatest games on this planet such as Need for Speed: Undercover, has announced its entry into the highly competitive console market with the Origin Box!
“Lara Croft is back!”
There is no better way to introduce one of gaming’s most iconic heroines in a brand new adventure than to shout out from the mountains, “Lara Croft is back!”
Genius, maker of PC products and accessories, recently sent me a pair of their latest speakers – the SP-U115 Colorful USB Powered Stereo Speakers. At first glance, these aren’t exactly the type of accessories you think of in high end gaming. But then again, there’s more to life than gaming.
My SP-U115 speakers arrived in a small 5”x6” box (these aren’t exactly large speakers). Opening the box I was greeted to 2 very cute bubble-wrapped speakers and 1 quickstart user manual. The first thing I noticed while holding these little noisemakers is that their appearance is rather pleasing, or as I put it earlier – cute.
Another thing I noticed is their construction. I’ve used a fair bit of cheap speakers in my time and one common theme I’ve noticed over time is cheap construction. The SP-U115 look fairly sturdy and don’t rattle when I shake them (not that you would want to be doing that anyway, but you get the point).
With everything unboxed, it’s time to run some tests.
TEST 1: DESKTOP PC – QUIET ROOM
Sitting at a computer it only makes sense that my first trial of the Genius SP-U115 speakers come out of my office. Hooking these puppies up is a snap. I simply swap out the green audio cable on my PC and plug in the USB plug for power. Now to load up Steam!
First up, I load up P.A.M. Post Apocalyptic Mayhem, a racing game with lots of explosions and crashing. This game relies heavily on bass in its sound mix and the SP-U115 just don’t do it justice. The bass sounds muddy and flat. Mids and highs sound fine however.
Next, I load up Torchlight II, a game with more ambient music and atmosphere. This game seems to have more within the mids and so sound output is better balanced through the SP-U115. Not bad.
Now, on to some music. I put on the latest from The Killers – Battle Born – and crank it up! Overall, sound is pretty decent even at higher volumes. The highs are a little flat and the bass isn’t as prominent so everything seems to get squeezed into the middle. It’s not as annoying as I expected it to be (and definitely better than my old beat box from the 80’s). Turning the volume down to a more reasonable level, the sound quality became much better.
TEST 2: GARAGE PLAYER – ECHO ROOM
Next, I moved the speakers over to the garage where I have my Zune (yes, I said, “my ZUNE”) hooked up to a pair of no name cheap speakers. The SP-U115 speakers require a USB power source to operate. If you don’t have one available you can buy a USB to Power adapter plug for less than $10.
I play a few choice selections from Van Halen, U2, and AC/DC. Because the garage is more echo-y the highs are emphasized much more. Every clash of the cymbals sound louder than they should be. Bass is largely non-existent in the garage as well. Mids and vocals sound fine. I suppose a bass/treble control on the side would have remedied some of this. Alas, you only get volume control.
With a low price tag, Genius’ SP-U115 speakers do more then hold their own against similarly priced speakers. As an audiophillie, they won’t hold a candle to my Creative GigaWorks T20 (which are now beginning to show their age), but that’s ok. If you’re looking for a cheap and fast (yet decent) audio solution, or merely want monitor speakers, you can’t go wrong with the SP-U115. Their compact size and design lets you place them anywhere without cluttering your desktop, and they’re definitely NOT an eyesore. Pick up a set from Amazon today!
Total RMS output: 1.5 watts
Total peak power: 3 watts
Power supplied by USB port from desktop/notebook
Selected 50x50 mm speakers for clear sound
Glossy front panel
Works great with any computer system using a standard 3.5mm audio plug
Compatible with Win7, Vista, XP, Mac 10.0 or above
Genius, maker of PC peripherals and accessories, announced today the newest member of their GX Gaming series family – the Gila MMO/RTS Approved Gaming Mouse!
I recently played through last year’s most talked about game for the first time – The Walking Dead (you can thank Steam’s incredible sale for that). I always intended to purchase it someday as I enjoy a good adventure game every once and a while, but a quick browse of my Steam catalogue shows that it would have been lost in my “pile of shame” of untouched games. The game was released in April 2012; the first of 5 episodes. Soon afterwards it would generate a lot of buzz. With each consecutive episode release (about a month apart) the buzz would increase (and so would my interest). Next, the phrase “Game of the Year” was tossed out by more than a few publications. How could an “adventure” game, a genre long thought dead, receive so much positive attention? I had to play this!
“Indie Spotlight” is a series that focuses on lesser known games. In each article, Mark Del Rio takes a game (usually from his Steam library) and gives it a spin for an hour or two then writes up his thoughts. The goal is to “spotlight” hidden gems that may have flown under your radar. Sometimes, however, Mark turns up a turkey. What will he find today?
I’ve been playing Jak II HD on my PS3 for the first time; I missed the Jak and Daxter saga when it was originally released 10 years ago on the PS2. If you have never played it then you’re in for a stern warning (and a really good read). If you have played it then you’ll know what I’m talking about – how could such “dreck” have come from the studio that brought us “Crash Bandicoot” and “Uncharted”? Jak II is an exercise in bad game design from top to bottom. Whereas “Jak and Daxter” was a great (though mostly) linear action platformer Jak II completely changed its structure to that of an “open world” format. This was due, of course, to the success of Grand Theft Auto III; suddenly everyone wanted to do “open world.” Did the Jak and Daxter series really need to go in this direction? I don’t think so. This is only the start of its failure. Want to know how to make a bad game? Read on!
1. Get rid of the bright, pretty graphics and replace them with boring, repetitive ones.
Whereas the first game took place in bright colorful jungles, Jak II (mostly) takes place in an urban environment. Once you are allowed to explore the city it becomes clear that there isn’t much worth looking at. The game has several different zones (slums, waterfront, industrial, etc…) that all look different from one another, however, once you’re in any one zone every building looks exactly the same as the one right next to it. It’s like the whole neighborhood all went to the same paint store and bought the exact same shade of “gray” to paint their house.
2. Make it extremely difficult to drive a vehicle.
Jak II features hover-cars with various levels of flying height. “Awesome!” You think at first however, once you actually get behind the wheel you’ll discover it’s better just “hoofing it.” The traffic from other hover-cars is so dense it’s actually difficult to drive with them. Also, the AI controlled cars fly really slow so you’ll want to try to avoid them. You have two options (1) pass them by steering in oncoming traffic or (2) fly under them at ground level.
Attempting to pass them often leads you to crashing into oncoming traffic as there is ALWAYS another car coming in the opposite lane. What makes it worse is that crashing almost always brings you to a dead stop even if it’s just a clipped wing. If you happen to be flying a single-seat vehicle it may even explode causing you to eject and fall to the ground. “Why don’t you just avoid the traffic lanes altogether?” you may ask. That might work in other “open-world” games, however, Jak II features very little extra driving space. No matter how far you try to get away from other cars, you’re always forced to rejoin the traffic.
Flying under the traffic has its own set of problems. First off, you’re at ground level, which is full of pedestrians. The ones that you need to worry about however are the guards (of which there is no shortage of). Hit one and you become a wanted man. Another issue with driving at ground level is that the ground is not always level and your car tends to bounce around annoyingly. In order to drive successfully, you must master using both flying heights. Well, at least you have a reliable GPS, right?
3. GPS? You don’t need no stinkin’ GPS.
Jak II features a mini-map on the bottom of your screen to help you navigate the city. During a mission, an icon appears on said map indicating the general direction you should head to (unfortunately there are no bright green arrows on the actual road). What makes this difficult is that this icon is not placed in the spot where the actual mission objective is. Instead, it is placed on the nearest exit TO said objective. Once you reach that spot on the mini-map, the icon swings around wildly to the next exit. Along with the map rotating as you turn it almost makes it impossible to read. As if that wasn’t bad enough already there is no icon on your mini-map pointing NORTH so you never know which way you’re headed at any time. And forget about using the “scenery” to judge where you are and where you need to go. It all looks the same, remember?
4. Let them fight the camera!
Good camera control seems to be less of an issue today than in days gone by. In Jak II the camera is pure torture. The camera itself seems to function as an “object” in the game and as such it tends to get stuck a lot. If you’re facing one way and want to turn around to look behind you forget it if you’re standing next to a wall. The camera refuses to move. You can push a button that takes you into first-person mode and resets the camera behind you but that’s too much work to do especially if you’re in a fight.
Another offence the camera seems to suffer from is just letting you see what’s going on. If you’re standing too close to a door and that door closes behind you chances are your entire screen is going to go blank. You have to take a few steps forward so that the camera can move past the door. This also happens with other objects in the game. This is just plain “dumbery.”
5. Make them die a lot! Then make them suffer for it!
Most missions in the game are short and thus feature only 1 checkpoint at the start. If you happen to die at the start of a mission it’s no big deal. In Jak II you’ll end up dying a lot. And at the end of a mission too! I’ve broken down the difficulty of each mission into (a) an easier, but longer to complete, first half and a (b) shorter but more difficult to complete second half. It doesn’t matter where you die you always respawn back at the beginning of the mission! More missions than I care to admit took me 5-10 attempts because of a missed jump or a strategically placed enemy at the end of the level. Each time I had to replay that 10-15 minute chunk before I got to the part that felled me only to get killed again! What a waste of time!
10 years ago Jak II was released to critical acclaim receiving a Metacritic score of 87. If the game was released today I have no doubt it would receive much less. This game is truly an exercise in frustration and playing it feels like a drag. The storyline and cutscenes are fine, however just the mere thought of “playing it” makes me want to run away and I suggest you do the same. I’m currently at about 40% completion and in the long run I’ll probably end up playing the entire game (says the trophy whore in me) but it won’t be fun and I’ll probably have to put it down for a while to play something else.
If you’re a nerd like me you probably ran out and bought Windows 8 last weekend. After using Microsoft’s new OS for the past few days I’ve come to see the Windows experience in a whole new light. Instead of thinking of my computer as a blank canvas upon which to create, Windows 8 throws you a ton of content at you to help get you started. It’s great for people who don’t know what to do with their computer. It’s also great for people who do know how to use a computer and just want something fresh and new to look at every time they turn it on. As a gamer, how will that new experience affect me?
I think back to Valve/Steam founder Gabe Newell’s comment about Windows 8 being a “catastrophe.” He goes on to elude that Steam will cease compatibility if Microsoft continues down this direction with its OS. As a matter of fact, Steam is now entering into beta status on Linux! Why the sudden turn around on Windows -- Steam’s largest user base? After finally getting my mitts on Windows 8 (I did not participate during the Release Candidate period), I’ve come to some conclusions as to why Newell feels so harshly about the new OS.
If you’ve used Windows 8 then you’ll instantly notice that it looks and feels much more like that of a tablet. The OS also supports touch screen monitors as well (something I’m surprised Apple hasn’t jumped on already). If you have an XBOX 360 or a windows phone, then you’ll notice that they all look and function almost exactly alike. This is all part of Microsoft’s plan (much like Apple) to unify and unite its products across multiple platforms.
The old fashioned Desktop and Start menu that has been a staple of Windows is now gone (though a version of it can be turned on if you need to use a legacy program). Instead, your screen is filled with apps, which can be downloaded, installed, and run in an instant. It also surprises me how fast Windows 8 is at switching between them. This is clearly the direction Microsoft intends on taking the Windows experience and I believe that it can be a healthy one if done right.
The root of Newell’s main criticism of Windows 8 is that this new direction seems to close off the open ended architecture of Windows in general. All apps and programs must go through some sort of an approval process before they can appear on the OS (much like Apple). Microsoft can also reject any apps. I suppose the less open nature of Windows 8 is a valid argument on Newell’s part but I believe he’s over dramatizing it. The legacy Desktop app allows you to access all of your older programs in a formant similar to Windows 7. You can even access the good ole’ Command Prompt (now that’s old school). Trust me, Windows will still remain open. Instead, let’s look at the real motive behind Newell’s comments.
About three months ago Steam released a new feature called Big Picture. Big Picture (currently in open beta) throws the entire Steam experience into an easy to navigate user interface that can be entirely controlled by an XBOX 360 controller. It’s intended for gamers, like me, who have their PCs hooked up to their fancy widescreen televisions and prefer to game from the couch rather than a desk. Newell and company have put a lot of time and money into making Big Picture work and the results are wondrous. Once you’ve used Big Picture, there’s no going back; it’s awesome! I love it and I think it is a step in the right direction for Steam.
The problem arises once you’ve put Big Picture and Windows 8 together. At this time Steam doesn’t work natively within Windows 8. Whenever you run it, it switches back to legacy Desktop mode. With Big Picture and Windows 8 being developed separately, simultaneously, and by different companies, it’s no surprise they are the technology equivalent of water and oil. Steam and Big Picture was never intended to run as an app. It is a program that runs apps of its own -- games. As a matter of fact, Microsoft indirectly places itself as a competitor to Steam in that it too runs a service and app store within Windows 8. The first reason that Newell hates the new OS is because he sees it as an instant (1) COMPETITION BUILT INTO EVERY COPY OF WINDOWS 8 SOLD.
Getting back to the topic of Steam and Big Picture mode not working natively within Windows 8, it doesn’t really seem that difficult for Steam to create a working app that launches within the OS. We all know that Steam rakes in a lot of money (just look at the number of games in my account) and also has some of the most talented people in the business. Steam has proven itself to be the leader in online game purchasing. Why don’t they just create that app instead of busting their heads over Windows 8’s architecture? The answer is they did! It’s called Big Picture! The problem is that it was made for Windows 7! They just didn’t know what Microsoft had down the Windows pipeline when they were creating it! So now Steam just (2) WASTED TIME AND MONEY CREATING A MAJOR FEATURE FOR AN OBSOLETE OS.
With Microsoft taking Windows into new territory, Newell and company wonders where to take Steam next as well. Mac and Linux seem like a natural expansion of Steam but with such a small install base compared to its Windows audience it’s going to be hard to generate as many sales. The tablet and phone market are also biting a chunk in the traditional gaming pie. Other online services such as Origin, Green Man Gaming, and Amazon Downloads are also cutting into Steam’s profits. I believe that steam is (3) FEELING THAT ITS PLACE IN THE GAMING MARKET IS BECOMING THREATENED. It’s amazing Newell can even manage to keep it together at this point!
Steam is at a turning point in its life. It can either accept to roll with the changes or die with the past. I believe these criticisms from Newell are part of its growth. I, for one, love Steam and hope to see it continue, and run natively in Windows 8 one day (and soon too). Come on Gabe, stop with the criticisms and get working on that app!