MadCatz F.P.S. Pro Xbox 360 controller Review

September 7, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews, Xbox 360

It’s not every day you hear about MLG working in collaboration with a peripheral manufacturing company to develop a high precision controller with expanded functionality and one that looks cool, without breaking the wallet. And so it was, that I took over the job of reviewing the MadCatz F.P.S. Pro controller with great interest.

I know MadCatz has received a lot of flak over the years for making “cheap” controllers, but they have certainly upped their game with the recent Tournament Edition fighting sticks that have been globally praised for high quality. The same quality now filters down to this new controller that was co-developed between MadCatz and MLG, promising easy availability in all major retailers of a controller designed specifically for premiere competitive gaming.

 

While the F.P.S. Pro is available in three colors (Stealth Black, Army Green and SWAT Blue) I was quite happy with the green review unit. It reminded me a lot of the original Xbox that came out in a limited edition green see-through console back in 2004. Nostalgia aside, the F.P.S. Pro has a smooth rubberized feel on the entire surface area. On either side you’ll find proper rubber grips as well. The D-pad feels chunky, but I felt confident using it, unlike the D-pad on the official Xbox 360 controller. The Start and Back buttons are in the same position as the standard controller, with the Left and Right sticks having a nice click to them. The face buttons are completely flat, unlike the standard controller where the buttons are bulging out. The shoulder buttons felt similar to the standard controller in terms of pressure applied and how they click.

 

Now the underside of the F.P.S. Pro is where things get really interesting. There are two ‘Combat’ buttons which are easily accessed by your middle fingers at the bottom. People with smaller hands or longer fingers may have trouble accessing these buttons though, so try before you buy. Each of these two buttons can be selected to map the face buttons, the Left or Right stick presses or to change the LED colors.

The LED colors under the Left and Right stick can be switched to Green, Red or Yellow. While playing Deus Ex I obviously changed the color to yellow, keep in line with the visual themes of the game. The face buttons sadly don’t light up.

Hunters: Episode One Review

September 6, 2011 by  
Filed under iPhone, Reviews

I’ve always been a fan of real time strategy games since playing the first Command & Conquer way back when, but having played chess regularly in my childhood I’ve always had a special place for turn based strategy games in my heart. Sadly, this is a genre for which games come out very few and far between; many not good at all. Today I’m very happy to look at Hunters: Episode One, a surprisingly deep, fun and good looking turn based strategy game for iOS devices.

The basic premise of Hunters: EO is standard sci-fi future. At the end of the 23rd century, humanity has spread throughout the known galaxy and planets are controlled by giant corporations; there are no governments. You have an awesome looking ship, and are building a team of merry mercenaries to complete various objectives against other corporations, earn loot and XP, level up your characters and equip them with even more firepower.

The first thing you’ll notice about Hunters: EO is how gorgeous the game looks. This is one of those titles that take full advantage of the iPhone 4 hardware; production values are through the roof.  The way the menus are laid out, the tutorials and info screens, the particle effects and artwork, everything seems top notch. The good impressions keep on rolling even when you start playing the game. It’s a turn based strategy game, so you place your mercs on a battlefield (tiled map), set them up, let the AI run its turns and then fight your way through to victory.  There are various mission types, ranging from defending a position, to attacking an enemy base, to killing the enemy leader, to finding some artifacts, etc.

Every 24 hours, there are three new missions that come through to your main mission selection screen. This keeps the game content fresh every day, and is enough for the admission price of $2.99 alone. Then there are weapon upgrades, which you can buy through in-game credit you have looted and been awarded during missions, or you can buy credits in-app to customize your team of mercs.

All the little things that make a good game great are present here. Great graphics, decent sound effects, deep (yet quick) gameplay, new content in the form of missions and equipment available all the time, leveling up and customization for your entire team. The only complaint I can think of is that there’s no solid storyline, and given that this is ‘Episode One’ there will, undoubtedly, be an ‘Episode Two’ which means further investment down the line. But that’s the nature of this business, and at such a low price point, especially with the 75% off sale going on, I can easily recommend Hunters: Episode One to anybody who likes strategy games.

Razer Imperator 4G Review

August 27, 2011 by  
Filed under PC, Reviews

Razer made a very smart move with their new dual 4G sensor system by releasing the tech on two existing and very popular models instead of releasing a completely new mouse. Today I’ll be looking at the updated, 2012 model Imperator mouse with the new 4G dual sensors system.

The new Imperator has a mild redesign from the old version, in that it has beautiful matt grey top with the Razer logo near the center of the palm-rest. This new top surface is smooth to hold, but you won’t lose your grip with swift movements. The sides have a nice black rubber grip, with the thumb area extending out ever so slightly. The side buttons are adjustable, in that you can slide them back or forward depending on how you grip the mouse.

Both the scroll wheel and the Razer logo glow a cool blue color, with the logo pulsating slowly. Both of these lights can be turned off from the drivers, although you can’t change the colors, or change the speed of pulsation of the Razer logo. Still, the matt grey and sharp blue hues complement each other nicely.

The 7 buttons are laid out in a standard format, with the DPI switches laid right below the scroll wheel. While those buttons are inaccessible during fast encounters, I personally didn’t use them much as I usually don’t map extra buttons in games if they’re not easily accessible. Then again, the macro recording function negates this issue to some extent.

I tested the Imperator on my 3 year old, but still gorgeous Destructor mouse pad, whose surface color looked identical to the Imperator. The ‘ultraslick’ feet at the bottom literally glided on the Destructor’s surface and not once did I feel any resistance while moving the Imperator around.

Sennheiser CXC 700 Noise Cancelling Earbuds Review

August 23, 2011 by  
Filed under PC


Noise cancellation headphones have always seemed like a tacky technology to me, most of the time they don’t work, and when they do, it’s only because they throw in another layer of hiss to “cancel” out the background noise. Sennheiser being the audiophile masters that they are, I was curious to see how well their newly launched CXC 700 noise cancelling earphones would be.

The CXC 700 is designed from the get go for frequent business travelers and regular commuters on trains. And because Sennheiser seems to understand the different scenarios in which their customers will be travelling, the CXC 700 comes with three different levels of noise cancellation to choose from. The noise cancellation tech obviously requires an additional source of power, which is why you’ll need an AAA sized battery for whenever you’re travelling. If the battery dies though, no need to worry as the CXC 700 will just perform as a pair of decent earphones, sans all the noise cancellation.

One of the other cool features of the CXC 700 is the “Talk Through” mode which basically mutes the audio and deactivates the noise cancellation effect so you can hear anyone and everyone without having to take off your earphones. There seems to be some additional external voice amplification going on during this mode because even with the intraaural (ear canal) design of the CXC 700, you can still hear a whole lot more than you should.

The in-line remote control has a small volume slider along with the button to activate the NoiseGard noise cancelling function. Additionally the remote also houses the “Talk Through” button as well as the “Mode” selection button to cycle through the three noise cancelling modes. Sadly there are no audio control buttons on the remote, which would have made life much easier for iPhone/iPod users. Still, given its wide compatibility with a variety of audio sources, I can’t really blame Sennheiser for not including audio control buttons.

Phoenix HD for iPhone Review

August 22, 2011 by  
Filed under iPhone, Mobile, Reviews

The iPhone 4, and well, the majority of iOS devices, seem perfect devices for vertical scrolling shooters, or shoot’em ups as many like to call this genre. I mean, these games are best played in short bursts, yet always have the quality of making you go for ‘one more round’. Surprisingly though, there’s not a lot of these types of games on the App Store, and even fewer (just a handful actually) that are decent enough to play. Today I’ll be looking at Phoenix HD, which, after a whole lot of searching on the App Store, promises to deliver an exquisite gameplay experience for shoot’em up fans.

It’s a simple process of your ship going to the top, enemy ships coming down the screen and you blowing everything up for as long as your health lasts. Throughout the game, you’ll be getting various power-ups and health packs from destroyed enemies. After starting up the game the first thing I noticed was how fast and smooth the gameplay was. Even with a hundred bullets flying in a all directions, the game never slowed down on my iPhone 4. The color schemes of the ships, bullets, lazers and bomb patters create an extremely vivid experience on the retina display where sometimes I was just blown away by how beautiful the onscreen action was looking; soon followed by my ship blowing away because I wasn’t paying enough attention to avoid enemy bullets.

Based on my personal experience, the responsiveness was fast enough that I never felt that my thumb movements weren’t recognized in-game. The only thing that I can complaint about, gameplay wise, is the fact that you only get one life. Sure, you get various power-ups and healthpacks throughout the game to kill off enemies, but if your ship gets blown, that’s it: Game Over. However, given the procedurally generated content of the game and the dynamic AI, which changes in-game difficulty depending on your performance, I never felt like not having extra lives made the game frustrating because there was no “start the game from the first level.” That’s because there are no ‘levels’ so to speak. Every time I restarted the game, apart from the first two ships, every other enemy ship was different. Sometimes the flower patterns would be familiar to me, but even within them certain turrets will throw random bullets which always kept me on my toes.

One the best things about Phoenix HD is it’s online global and localized leaderboards. You can see your current and high score ranked in your city, country, continent and ultimately the whole world. Sadly, to access the leaderboards, you have to pay $0.99; herein lies the biggest weakness of the game. While Phoenix HD is free, you scores will not be saved (or go on the leaderboards) if you don’t pay the $0.99 to open it up. I don’t mind paying that much, it’s truly  worth it, but getting a pop-up to buy the access to leaderboards every time you finish a game just gets on my nerves.

Your's truly is quite bad, but not that bad.

While the basic ship called the “Phoenix” is free, the bombardier and the lazer equipped ships need to be purchased for $0.99 each. Again, people may think that this is the developer nickle & dimeing their customers, but I think of it as a basic experience which is for free, and the full version costing $1 to $3.  The best part about these additional ships is that they auto-target the enemy ship’s turrets, and blowing those up will get you bonus power-ups. In essence these ships prolong your life and extend gameplay experience, but it’s still interesting to note that the person with the highest score in the world got it with the basic Phoenix ship.

All in all, if you want a quick, and extremely satisfying fix of gorgeous looking shoot’em up, it doesn’t get better than Phoenix HD.

Zombie Gunship for iPhone Review

August 15, 2011 by  
Filed under iPhone, Reviews

There’s no shortage of zombie games on the market, with titles like the Left 4 Dead, Resident Evil and Dead Rising series giving us all our annual zombie fixation. Over the years though, little else has revitalized the genre much, even with zombie add-ons for games like Call of Duty and Red Dead Redemption, there’s nothing “new”.  So today I’ll be looking at a small iOS game called Zombie Gunship that breathes some much needed life in zombie games (hurr hurr!).

Like any great iPhone game, Zombie Gunship has a simple premise on the surface, but also has an easy way to dig deeper and deeper with customizations to make you achieve your objective with more efficiency and style.

Anybody who has played Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (1 & 2) will be familiar with the gameplay style as it seems to be lifted up straight from Inifinty Ward’s shooter. Basically you’re a gunship operator in control of, well, guns. You’re flying up high in the plane trying to defend a bunker where human survivors need to reach. Your job is to take out zombies while protecting the humans as they reach for the safety of the bunker. The more zombies you kill, the more money you make, the more you can spend on weapon upgrades. Eventually, of course, the scenarios also become tougher and tougher, always giving you a challenge to get the maximum score possible. Comparisons with your friends list (linked via Game Centre) is always a huge motivational factor as well.

Starting off, you’ll be given a 25mm Gatling gun, to which you make upgrades such as wider area of spread, or more bullet velocity, etc. Then you can open up the 40mm Bofor auto-cannon, and ultimately the 105mm Howitzer cannon. The idea is that while the bigger guns give you an easy and quick way to get rid of the zombie horde, you’ll also risk killing human survivors as collateral damage. Kill too many humans (usually 4 to 6) and it’s game over; alternatively if the zombies reach the bunker it’s game over as well. But that doesn’t mean you lose, simply that the stage is over and you get to make more upgrades with your loot.

At any given time, you’ll be zooming in and out of the area map, trying to take out as many zombies as possible, while also carefully picking out specific zombies that are too close to human survivors, or the bunker’s gate. It makes for a very intense 2 to 3 minutes while you’re constantly juggling between the type of gun to use and choosing between letting a human survivor die from the zombies or risk letting one get in the crossfire.

Graphically the game is quite impressive as the blur effects and the black and white distinction of zombies and humans respectively, gives it a very realistic edge. That and when the zombies’ limbs tear out when you’re mowing them down or blowing them up is very sadistic. The smoke effects for when bigger shells hit the ground or when the bomb in front of the bunker goes off is also very impressive. The main gameplay is black & white, but with the mindset that you’re a gunship operator using infrared vision during nighttime will make you instantly settle into this color scheme.

In-game you can also buy packs of money to easily upgrade your weapons with real world money (in the iTunes store), but honestly, the only reason you’ll want to do this is to get a high score on the global leaderboards. For the rest of us, just playing the game in the simple fun way is enough. And at $0.99 (AED 3.75) Zombie Gunship is most definitely our iPhone App of the week. Interestingly this one time purchase will enable you to get the full retina display versions of the iPod Touch and iPad version as well.

Hercules XPS Diamond 2.0 USB Speakers Review

August 13, 2011 by  
Filed under PC

I’ll be honest, the last time I’d heard of Hercules was back when they were still making kick-ass ATI Radeon “3D Prophet” graphics cards back in the early 2000s, so I was pleasantly surprised, and a tad bit disappointed, to see a pair of portable speakers from them up for review.  The first thing anybody will notice is the diamond design of the speakers, hence the name. Even the official product description goes on to say “an outstanding design, honed to appeal to female audiences.” While there’s no mistaking who the product is intended for, I decided to review it anyways because sound (in music, movies and games!) knows no boundaries.

One of the first things you’ll notice about the XPS Diamond are “controlled” number of wires. Being a portable set of desktop speakers meant that there was one wire going from the left speaker to the right one, and around the middle there’s another pass-through cable that ends up in a USB and thus plugs into your computer. And then there’s the other wire that extends from the USB wire, which is for the remote control. The remote control itself just has 3 buttons (volume up/ down/ mute), they’re big and very easy to reach. Some would argue that portable speakers aren’t exactly one’s that need a remote control, but when it comes to playing games, and your keyboard doesn’t have the volume shortcut keys, the remote comes in mighty handy. In hindsight, I would’ve preferred an in-line remote control which was lying within the USB wire, just to save some space.

Being based on the USB 2.0 standard, the XPS Diamond were a simple plug & play affair.  Soon after that I decided to go and play some Team Fortress 2. Before I could do that, however, I noticed that there are no orientation marks on the speakers themselves, so I had no way of knowing which side was left and which was right. In the end I just decided to play the game and fix the speakers once I heard which the direction the gun fire would be coming from. Two minutes into my first match (and after 2 deaths) I knew left from right.

SteelSeries Xai Medal of Honor Edition Mouse Review

August 12, 2011 by  
Filed under PC

The SteelSeries products have a big name when it comes to professional gaming, but unlike Razer, they haven’t delved into merchandising products so much. Today though, I’ll be looking at the Xai “Medal of Honor Edition” mouse.

For all intents and purposes, the MoH mouse is a standard Xai mouse, but with Medal of Honor printed on the palm rest. Furthermore the MoH Xai mouse comes with a MoH branded QcK  mouse surface as well. The surface is simply the cover of the MoH game boxart, with logos of SteelSeries and EA on the bottom left and right respectively.

While many people may find this a little off-putting, I found the extreme simplicity of this branded product quite refreshing. The mouse itself is grey and black, with the MoH name printed in a very obvious place to look at, but without being obtrusive. The MoH mouse surface is nice and large, and again looks good without being distracting in any way.

Before I go on the mouse itself, I’ll just talk a little about the surface. I was pleasantly surprised when I found out that price included the Xai mouse as well as the QcK surface. So the MoH QcK surface itself is like any of the SteelSeries QcK mouse surface, which is to say pretty damn good. Measuring in at 10.5 by 12.5 inches (32 x 37 cm), the MoH QcK surface is large enough for any type of usage. The cloth material used for the surface top is smooth and allows the Teflon feet of the Xai mouse to move freely.

The rubberized base is good, and given the large surface area, it will almost never move from place. Since the QcK surface is cloth and rubber, you can easily fold it and take it with you wherever. My concern is that over time the edging of the cloth surface will start to deteriorate and come off, but the main central area should be fine. But after 2 plus years, you may as well wouldn’t mind getting a new surface even if this one does wear off.

LG Cinema 3D TV 42LW5700 Review

August 4, 2011 by  
Filed under PC, Playstation 3, Xbox 360

I’m one of those guys who was always excited about the prospect of 3D videos. And while the effect has been less than spectacular in movies, especially cheap 3D effects in movies like Final Destinations and Clash of the Titans, when Avatar finally came out it showed the world what 3D movies can be. Visually speaking.

Now IMAX and even the recent slew of digital projectors in traditional cinemas have had quite a pleasant effect thanks to good quality 3D images without causing headaches. This is thanks to polarized glasses where all the 3D image processing magic happens in the projectors and on the screen; the glasses are simply used to filter out the lights to interpret the 3D image for the user. This is watching a movie in the cinemas is such a pleasant experience, whereas recent HDTVs and even Nvidia’s 3D Vision technology in computers leaves me with a headache usually 40 to 60 minutes in. So any of you who’ve actually been on the fence about 3D TVs, LG has answered with the new Cinema 3D TVs that promise flicker-free 3D images.

The model I received for reviewing was the LG 42LW5700 Cinema 3D LED TV. First impressions were pretty good as the 42″ TV measured a mere 2cm to 3cm from top to bottom. That’s just as thick as 2 DVD cases. While the bezel is as thin as the recent Samsung Smart TV we have reviewed, it was certainly classy with the brushed dark-brown metal frame adorning the top and the bottom of the screen.

I must say that I was disappointed by the fact that the TV didn’t come with the Magic Motion remote control. Not because I wan’t a TV remote control that looks a lot like the Wii Mote, but because the usability of the TV would have actually improved. Most of the menus and icons are presented in large icons that could’ve been easily clickable with a cursor that would’ve come with the Magic Motion r/c. Instead what I got was the typical, over complicated, looking remote control. This, however, was rather smartly designed remote with contextual buttons on the face (e.g. the Quick Menu, 3D menu, etc.)

AKG Q460 Quincy Jones Signature Headphones Review

July 14, 2011 by  
Filed under PC

I often approach celebrity endorsed products very cautiously since they’re usually overpriced and not always of the best quality. When I received the AKG (by Harman Kardon) Q460 Quincy Jones Signature Line headphones, I was skeptical as to the worth of these headphones.

On-ear headphones, or supra-aural headphones, aren’t exactly my preferred type of headphones because as someone who wears glasses, long usage of such headphones inadvertently results in paining  my ears as the headphones push against my glasses on the ears. However these being AKG headphones, I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, and not write it off completely. Secondly, there’s Quincy Jones; I wouldn’t be surprised if some of our younger readers haven’t heard of him, he is 78 after all. However, being someone who has been nominated for 79 Grammys and won 27 of them, who also happens to be the producer of one the biggest selling albums of all time – Michael Jackson’s Thriller, the man clearly has an ear for music.

The Q460 are designed as portable headphones, which means the headpieces fold in, which is a simple enough procedure. The supplied pouch is also big enough to fit the headphones comfortably. Also provided with the Q460 are two detachable cables to attach to your smartphone or mp3 player; I preferred the smaller cable as it was good enough from my head to my iPhone 4 in the pocket. The single-sided cable that attaches to the left earpiece also has an in-line remote control (and built-in mic) which works perfectly with my iPhone 4.

The earpieces and the underside of the headband have padded leather for increased comfort. The fit on the Q460 is neither too tight, nor too loose, making for a remarkably comfortable wear for all the hours I wore them.  The padded cushions on the earpieces provide a surprisingly effective sound isolation effect, which further helps in delivering the brilliant sound.

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