Tt eSports Black Element Laser Gaming Mouse Review

November 24, 2011 by  
Filed under PC, Reviews

Thermaltake has been making huge inroads into the eSports industry with their Tt eSports brand in recent months. They have targeted their PC peripherals with other high-end brands such as Razer and SteelSeries, and with good reason too. Their MEKA G-Unit keyboard received a 4 star rating from us, and their Black Element mouse is set out to do the same.

The Black Element is being targeted as a mouse designed with RTS and MMO games in mind, but I can tell you that it performs exceptionally well in FPS games as well. More on that later, though, for now let’s just look at it. Taking some cues from the MEKA G-Unit, the Black Element has some sharp edges incorporated in the overall design, but there are quite a lot of curves that make it look really unique too.

Of all the mice that I have seen over the years, the Razer Naga was the only one that stood out from the standard shape, and that too because of its 12 button keypad on the left side. As far as regular gaming mice are concerned, they all sort of look the same. I guess the Cyborg RAT, Logitech G9x and Roccat Kone [+] stand out a little, but none of them looks nearly as stylish as the Black Element, so kudos to Thermaltake for designing a high-end mouse that looks just as well as it performs.

The Black Element looks like an ambidextrous mouse, but it has three functional keys on the left side, and only one on the right, making it great for regular folks and a tad bit limited for southpaws. Apart from the 9 buttons on the top, there’s a profile button at the bottom which switches between 5 profiles. There’s also a weight system where the user can plug-in 5 metal buttons weighing 4.5 grams each. Finishing off the looks are the transparent panels on either side of the palm rest, the “Tt” logo itself and the transparent scroll wheel. The “Tt” logo is the only part that pulsates; the other areas have a constant glow.

SteelSeries Sensei Pro Gaming Mouse Review

November 9, 2011 by  
Filed under Hardware, PC, Reviews, Spotlight

The SteelSeries Sensei Pro Grade Laser mouse comes from a long heritage of high-end, precision mice which are used by professional gamers around the world. Today I’ll be looking at this flagship product which adds a host of new features and customization options and comes packed to the brim with the latest in mice technology.

The first thing you’ll notice about the Sensei is the shiny silver back, with a hint of metallic coffee under certain light conditions. The second thing you’ll notice is that the Sensei looks pretty much the exact same as the XAI. So what the Sensei represents is a natural upgrade for users of the XAI mouse. What that also means is that Southpaws now have access to one of the most powerful gaming mice in the market, and don’t have to settle for “second best” as is often the case with other mice manufacturers.

The Sensei also marks SteelSeries’ entrance into the world of fully customizable lights for mice. The back logo, which looks like a gorgeous 8-bit rendition of the SteelSeries logo, can be customized with the full 16.8 million color gamut, with the mouse wheel, CPI light and back logo all capable of showing different colors. The most impressive thing about the colors is that the LEDs that SteelSeries uses is strong enough to define between some of the most obscure colors as well. It’s not just dark and light shades of a specific color, but the entire spectrum from each extreme can be easily seen on the Sensei. So I have Cyan as the logo and Teal on the Scroll wheel, both looking sublime indeed. Obviously changing the CPI button colors also helps me easily distinguish between the sensitivity settings; a very helpful feature when jumping straight into a game.

One of the things I found odd was that the Sensei doesn’t allow for weight customization. This is something that I’m completely fine with, as the weight distribution of the Sensei is nicely centered for all the 102 grams that it weighs, but I know some people mark it as a strike against this pro gaming mouse.

Battlefield 3 Review

October 30, 2011 by  
Filed under PC, Reviews, Spotlight

The PC community, let’s be frank, doesn’t get as many AAA titles as consoles do. And I’m not talking about genres such as MMOs and RTS games that wouldn’t be “fluid” on a console controller, but games that actually take advantage of the true power of PCs. So when you have a developer like DICE, who’ve built their pedigree on PCs, come back with a title that’s developed with much love for the PC gaming community, that’s something that should be celebrated.

Like many of you, I too was rolling my eyes at EA for trying so hard to compete with the Call of Duty series. All those adverts and not so subtle hints about dropping CoD and coming to Battlefield really was getting on my nerves, to the point where I was losing faith in DICE’s abilities to meet my sky high expectations for Battlefield 3. But DICE delivered, not in the entirety I was expecting, but they delivered just where it mattered.

Now Battlefield, as the series veterans will know, is not about a meaningful singleplayer campaign, but the brilliance of large scale multiplayer battles. So trying to compete with Call of Duty, a series that has historically had strong footing in the singleplayer campaign, seemed overly ambitious. And while DICE did manage to create a scenario that has plausible highlights and some really insane moments of overpowered glee, the whole campaign just comes off as little more than a few plot points hastily thrown together on a lazy afternoon by a team of people who’ve read one too many Tom Clancy novels and have just seen all of Michael Bay’s movies. So pretty much like Call of Duty then, except it’s less crazy, consequently it’s also a humdrum affair for the most part.

Being a AAA title means living up to the objectionable industry FPS standards of today, where a singleplayer campaign with multiple multiplayer modes just isn’t enough anymore, you also have to have co-op missions. Well, there are currently six maps that you can play with another friend, where the entire scenario plays like a mix between some of the most awesome moments of the singleplayer campaign and some extremely intense firefights you experience in multiplayer. I won’t deny, it’s a lot of fun when you’re playing with a friend of yours, but after you go through all the scenarios once, there’s little else to come back for. Sure, I would like to beat my friends’ scores, but I’d rather spend all that time playing multiplayer and getting better stats there.

So now we come to the one part where Battlefield 3 exceeds all expectations, easily making up for the lackluster singleplayer campaign and restrictive co-op missions. There’s a host of modes here, starting from the basics like Rush (32 players), Squad Rush (8 players), Squad Deathmatch (16 players) and returning after a long absence, Team Deathmatch (24 players). In TDM, there’s an “Infantry Only” option that removes all combat vehicles within the game, resulting in a good old fashioned, ground focused, gameplay. I wonder, though, how many people will be playing the other modes, outside of Rush, when the biggest mode that made Battlefield what it is will dominate everyone’s playtime.

Forza 4 Review

October 22, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews, Spotlight, Xbox 360

Forza 3 was one of my all-time favourite racing games, and that’s saying a lot considering I’m not a really huge fan of racing simulators. Yes, the Gran Turismo series was always eye candy to me, nothing I could, or would, dabble in. Yet Forza 3, with its ease of use and rich community features, pulled me right in. And when I heard of all the new features of Forza 4, I started wondering whether Turn 10 can make me as grateful for a racing sim as they did with Forza 3.

Let’s start right off with one of the most interesting features of Forza 4: how flashy it is. From top to bottom, Forza 4 is an extremely polished product with production values through the roof. The game feels like a true car lover’s experience, not in the number of cars and tracks it has or even how photo-realistic it may look, but just the presentation of it all. From the menu design to the Autovista to the community features of Car Clubs and the Storefront, everything is designed for players to appreciate cars and racing.

Autovista in particular is a very exquisite addition to the game, where the focus is on one of 24 (for now) legendary dream cars where each and every minute detail is captured for you to appreciate. Not only that, but moving in and around the car you can get various types of information on different aspects of the car, from the engine to the exterior styling to the interior design and everything in between. Also, Jeremy Clarkson. The Top Gear legend lends his quirky views about the car as well, and both lauds and defames the car as he sees fit.

In terms of community features, Forza 4 expands on a lot of features of Forza 3. You have the basic multiplayer (now with up to 16 cars on track) as well as community trading and auctions of cars, graphics & vinyls and tuning setups on the Storefront. One of the new notable features implemented in Forza 4 is the new Car Club where you can create a clan of sorts. Think of it as a personalized lobby where you can get together with friends to go race online, or even trade cars amongst yourselves. Since I don’t have the luxury to choose every car available to me, I usually, and shamefully, depend on my friends to give me the cars I don’t have.

Speaking of friends, the new Rivals mode is great, in that I don’t need to have my friends online to challenge them. Just their ghosts are enough. Upon beating them, I can earn credits as well as bragging rights; the latter not lasting for long. Still, it’s good to know that with every race in Forza 4, I’m always progressing my driver and career levels forward.

GITEX ’11: Hands-On MSI GT 780 Laptop

October 10, 2011 by  
Filed under Features, News, PC

MSI’s booth this year was full of different laptops and all-in-one desktops and motherboards and graphics cards. Now we’ve covered and reviewed a lot of their products in the past, including various motherboards and graphics cards, but what really struck our fancy was their flagship gaming laptop.

MSI motherboards on display at GITEX '11

The GT 780 is a huge, but equally powerful laptop, and quite intimidating in person. The SteelSeries keyboard complimented with a full color palette, plus the GTX 560M GPU with 1.5GB ram and the 120GB SSD & 720GB HDD combo had us salivating.

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GITEX ’11: Thrustmaster F1 Racing Wheel Hands-on

October 10, 2011 by  
Filed under Features, News, PC, Playstation 3, Xbox 360

Thrustmaster is a name synonymous with high quality console and PC racing wheels, and while we’ve been impressed with their offerings in the past, the new F1 wheel really takes the cake.

The new F1 wheel is a full replica of an actual F1 wheel, sans the LED display, but with all the buttons and functinoality. This is as close an experience as you can get to a real F1; the wheel mating perfectly with the new F1 2011 game.

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Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked Review

October 2, 2011 by  
Filed under 3DS, Format, Reviews, Spotlight

Back in June 2009, Atlus released one of the best tactical RPGs on the DS; one of the most awaited Shin Megami Tensei games of the time: Devil Survivor. Two years later, the lackluster library of 3DS games gets a major boost with a remastered release of the game with Devil Survivor Overclocked.

For those who haven’t had the pleasure of playing the original, SMT: Devil Survivor is a tactical RPG, but unlike a typical game of this genre, Devil Survivor also combined non-linear story progression with equal emphasis on traditional RPG elements as well.

The basic premise of Devil Survivor is that a group of friends is caught in the middle of an incident where demons are entering modern day Tokyo and threaten to destroy the city, or at least a specific part of it. These teenagers are then given the ability to capture and then summon demons to fend off against other demons. This isn’t Pokémon, so bear with me. Everybody inside that sealed off area in the middle of Tokyo has a Death Clock on their heads (that only demon summoners can see) which says that within 6 days everybody is dead. Our heroes, and those who accompany them have even less time, but as you defeat more monsters, you change your fate, thereby delaying your death; hopefully avoiding the whole debacle altogether.

The sense of immediacy is scaled very naturally, with people getting scared and angry and confused as more and more missing elements are found out, either by meeting new people, or getting more info out of central characters we already know. The sense of foreboding never stops, as everyday you’ll receive emails telling you what bad incidents will occur throughout the day, most of these being a clue as to when you’ll be having boss fights.

The game adds further depth to the whole demon collection by adding the Demon Auction House feature, where you have the ability to bid, or buy out new demons. Most of the time you’ll have collected enough money after one or two battles to simply buy out powerful demons without having to bid on them. And then, there’s the whole Demon Fusion system, whereby you can combine demons in order to create new and more powerful demons. Of course, you can preview what demons (and their abilities) you can create before accepting the changes. This level of transparency comes in really handy when deciding how to grow your team over the course of the game. And between these two, you should be able to own all of the 150 demons in Devil Survivor Overclocked, compared to 130 in the original.

So let’s go over some of the major changes that have been introduced in Devil Survivor Overclocked compared to the original DS release. Apart from the 20 new demons, we have higher-resolution artwork, which goes hand in hand with the full voice overs for all the characters in the game (excluding the main character, i.e. you) and even grunts and howls and roars for the demons. Clearly the increased storage capacity of the 3DS cartridge is showing its benefits here. Arguably the most important change is the addition of an 8th day after the end of the 7 days of the original game. I’m not going to spoil how they have managed to shoehorn in another day into the main architecture of the original game, but the 2 years of development time has given the developers enough time to expand the story nicely.

Now the original Devil Survivor gave me hell near the end of the game as it got way too hard, but with Devil Survivor Overclocked, we’re given the ‘Easy’ difficulty option in addition to ‘Normal’ from the original game. And unless DSO is the only game you’re going to be playing on your 3DS for months, I strongly suggest you go the Easy difficulty route to avoid some frustrating grinding. Outside of battles, you can save at any point in the game. However, some battles take so long, that if you screw up near the final few steps, restarting will be a painful thing to go through. Even with the Easy difficulty, though, Devil Survivor Overclocked is no easy game to beat, but the experience is ultimately very rewarding.

And that’s what makes Devil Survivor Overclocked such an amazing game, that even without the new additions it’s an extremely engaging and deep tactical RPG, with multiple ways to progress through the story and different endings. You’ll care about the characters because of how realistic, if annoying at times, their behavior is. The demon auctions and fusion system adds another layer of depth to the tactical experience, outside of the battles. And the plot itself is decent on its own. Top this up with better artwork, full voice overs and additional game content, and you’ve got yourself one of the best games on the 3DS that is a must play for everyone.

Interview with Robert Fisser, general manager for MENA at Sony Playstation

September 28, 2011 by  
Filed under News, Playstation 3

We had the opportunity to chat with Robert Fisser, general manager for MENA, Sony Playstation at GAMES11, who now replaces Tim Stokes as he makes for his flight back to the UK. Speaking about his plans for the region, Fisser now hopes to grow from strength to strength and would like to see a ‘bigger and better’ GAMES15 or GAMES16.

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Gears of War 3 Review

September 23, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews, Spotlight, Xbox 360

The impact Gears of War has had on the video games industry is undeniable; from creating a system seller game that defied all expectations of how good a game can look on a console, to selling an engine that set the industry standard of a generation of consoles, Epic’s Gears of War series has been a huge success story. And today, I’ll be looking at the final chapter in this truly epic (pun not intended) series.

As with any franchise, the developers always seek to improve upon the mistakes of the previous iteration, and Gears 3 is no exception. One of the biggest complaints many Gears’ fans have had is that the single player story, intriguing as it is, is laughable at best in terms of narration, with character development pretty much non-existent.  With Gears 3, though, Epic has hired Karen Traviss as the lead writer for the single player campaign; a New York Times bestselling author who’s also penned all four of the Gears of War novels.

While that in itself was enough to inspire confidence in me that Gears 3 will finally get the story treatment that it deserves, the benefits of hiring Traviss can be seen as soon as the game starts. Marcus is in jail (again?!) and recalling his final moments with his father, Adam Fenix; thinking aloud how he always wanted to do right by him, but even in the end he was unable to save his dad. And throughout this bleak scenario the world is breaking apart, enemies come and go, but the crux of this situation shows a depressing moment between father and son.

The rest of the game’s story unfolds in a similar situation, with proper narration; whether it’s through radio communication, or the back and forth banter between squad members, or the obvious cutscene; the story has been given proper treatment this time around. So much so, that I fear many players who just want straight up action from the single player campaign will be irritated by many of the unskippable scenarios where the story is unfolding.  Still, anyone who has read the books will truly enjoy all the different characters that come and go, not to mention various places which will have significant meaning for readers because we know its historical relevance (within that universe), whereas the average player will just see these places as another pretty new map.

In all honesty I wasn’t completely satisfied with how the story was played out, but at this point I’m getting overly critical of the “proper” treatment of a story in an action videogame where one of the most satisfying moves is to chainsaw an ugly alien in half, starting from its ass.

So that’s the single player campaign, but I’m not done with it yet. Apart from experiencing the story from Marcus Fenix and Dom’s point of view, you’ll also see things from a slightly different perspective as Baird and Cole form a completely different team, with their parts of the story unfolding simultaneously with Marcus and Dom. That’s not to say that you’ll be doing the same things as Marcus and Dom, while playing Cole and Baird, but you’ll ultimately know where things are headed.  Semantics aside, the fun comes in the form of four player co-op as you can play the entire campaign with up to three other buddies.

Crimson: Steam Pirates Review

September 13, 2011 by  
Filed under iPhone, Reviews

The first time I heard of Bungie Aerospace, Bungie Studios’ publishing arm for indie developers on mobile platforms, I was surprised to hear the direction they were headed in. Today I’ll be looking at one such game, developed by Harebrained Schemes and published by Bungie Aerospace Corporation, called Crimson: Steam Pirates.

If you have played Flight Control at any point in the past year or two, on any iOS device, then you’ll know how the basic gameplay of Crimson: Steam Pirates is. However, the rest of the gameplay is much deeper than just aligning ships in a strategic path.

Crimson: Steam Pirates is set in the same time period of swashbuckling and treasure hunting as Pirates of the Caribbean, the music is certainly inspired straight from that series. You’re Captain Thomas Blood, who’s building up a fleet of stolen ships and a crazy crew who’re every bit as valuable as any newly “acquired” ship. You basically move your ships along and bring them in range of enemy ships to loot, destroy or outrun them as you’re doing various missions.

Now the alignment is where the game gets really strategic, because you have to make sure your ships are within range of shooting the enemy, or creating a path where they line up for your ships to destroy the enemy. The game is turn based, so you can take your time to work out how things will proceed. Also, there are not just ships to deal with; in air, zeppelins can rain death from above, and submarines can stalk their prey for torpedo attacks.

For each turn, you’re not just deciding how to maneuver your ship, but also whether repairs need to be made, or if more firepower required to extend the range of your guns, or whether you simply want to bail out of a sticky situation. All the time you’ll also have to guess how and where the AI will behave, lest you lose a ship.

You can recruit new crewmates who provide varying skill abilities, essential for certain types of ship, and also expanding the functionality of others. In between missions the story is told in old fashioned, sepia toned pages where the crew’s story and mission objectives are detailed. I would have preferred animated pictures of the crew rather than real actors in costumes, just to keep in line with the somewhat cartoony graphics of the game. But maybe that’s just me.

The basic game is free, starting you off with 8 missions; additional mission packs can be bought with in-app purchases. There’s also a “Pass & Play” two player multiplayer mode. An online multiplayer mode would have been better, but for a free game with this much polish in UI and engaging gameplay, I really can’t complaint. At 142mb Crimson: Steam Pirates is a great turn-based strategy game, with great gameplay in the variety of units and crewmates. The graphics are neat, the background music engaging, and the sound effects brilliant. The Bungie leaderboards and stats also provide an in-depth analysis of your performance.

Honestly there’s nothing to complaint about Crimson: Steam Pirates; there is certainly some room for improvement, but overall the experience is very enjoyable. Also, it’s free.

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