Category: Reviews

My first laptop was a Dell XPS M1530. It was a monster of a thing that stood up to a lot of hardcore gaming, university and an month-long overseas trip. Ultimately, it was the overseas trip that killed my precious laptop, but it served me well. It’s the gaming laptop that I hold all laptops up to as my standard – despite its age, and the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 gaming laptop held a pretty good candle to my ol’ faithful.

Unpacking the Inspiron 15, the first thing that struck me was the matte black finish on the laptop, with the red Dell logo standing proudly in the centre. The edge of the keyboard has a red metallic pattern which brings just enough colour into the picture without being overpowering. As I’ve mentioned in earlier reviews, I like the look of more understated laptops with a minimalist feel. The other option you’ve got for the lid cover is matte red with a black logo – so at least you’ve got some choice in the design.

Since gaming laptops are made for gaming on the go, I carried this thing around with and sat down where ever my legs decided – it feels deceptively light. I stuck it in a backpack and carried it around in my arms, and it wasn’t ever uncomfortable, even while carrying around extra weight with the charging pack, a mouse and a few other bits and bobs. While it’s one of the bigger laptops I’ve reviewed, it carries the weight well.

But like all these laptops, it’s about how good they are to game on. The Inspiron 15 holds a Nvidia GTX 1050 Ti as standard – you know it’s going to take everything you throw at it in stride. The only time I had an issue was with State of Decay where the whole operation thing crashed – although, I think that had more to do with the optimisation of the game, more than the laptop itself. Other than that minor trip up, everything I played ran beautifully – and can be played up to a 4K resolution. Like I’ve said in earlier reviews, 4K Gaming isn’t really my bag but if you’re into that, you’re going to be very happy. However, the screen can take some getting used to and can sometimes look a little lacklustre when you’re looking for real exuberance – especially in 4K.

Big exhaust vents on the rear of the laptop make sure that you’re not going to see spikes and dips because of the hardware shutting down. The only time I really noticed any uncomfortable heat was while I was working in bed and had the laptop sitting on my lap against the quilt – but even this was a minor issue.

I also loved the fact that I could get a good few hours out of the Inspiron 15 while I was working. Not having to rely on the power pack and an available plug means that you could easily take it to university or to your favourite spot and work without a worry. I can’t say the same for a hardcore gaming session, but when you’re running your resources at full speed, battery life is the trade off.

Since I’m a writer, that was another big test. I was working on a few other commissions on Inspiron 15 and the keyboard was comfortable and easy to use. The touch pad gave me the most issues – it’s very touchy. Although, since I’m used to typing on standalone keyboards and spend half the time adjusting my cursor on my everyday laptop because I’ve accidentally knocked the touch pad with my palm, I’m not sure if that’s an issue with the pad or me. Probably me.

The thing that urks me the most is the lack of an optical drive. Call me old-fashioned, but I like having the option – especially if I was to run older programs that aren’t easily downloaded. Although, there are 3x 3.0 USB ports, 1x HDMI and a media card reader to keep you happy if you need to load something on the laptop – If you’ve got the space.

Dell are big on being able to customise your laptop with various options available through their range. Their base laptop only has a 256GB solid state drive which isn’t huge in the grand scheme of things. Game downloads are getting bigger and bigger (60GB+ downloads are a regular thing), you would have to be very selective about what games you install on your hard drive if you end up purchasing the entry-level laptop. Spending the extra $400AUD to move to the middle-tier doubles your RAM and gives you an extra 1TB of space – although the compromise is downsizing your SSD to 128GB.

Overall, it’s a good-looking quality laptop for a decent price if you’re looking to get into the gaming laptop market. Some of the faults (HDD space and screen) can be frustrating but don’t make the Inspiron 15 unusable. It’s compact, pretty and packs enough power to get you through whatever you need to do without breaking the bank – although it’s probably worth throwing a few extra bucks towards the second tier laptop if you’re looking to load your entire Steam list.

Laptop provided by Dell for consideration.

Pre-built computers for gaming weren’t always a viable option for your hardcore gamer – they just didn’t have the power to run your favourite games. And if you weren’t confident enough to build your own PC, you probably didn’t want to sink some of your hard-earned cash into a puzzle that can go wrong.

Happily, pre-built gaming PC’s are now becoming reliable for gamers who want a “set it and forget it” option. ASUS’s ROG G20CB is a great looking computer, with the power to back it up – and it’s VR Compatible.

I don’t know what I was expecting when it arrived at my house. Was it going to be a huge tower like my gaming rig? Would it be a tiny case, filled to the brim with processing power? Despite the enormous packing box, it was actually somewhere in between.

While the ROG G20CB 9.5L tower matches the aesthetics that the previous ASUS ROG items I’ve reviewed, it’s definitely something special. It looks aerodynamic, masculine and stealthy – which isn’t my jam. But the front panel has twin colour-changing LEDs hidden behind an alien ruins-esque design when the PC is running. It was an odd match to the rather angular edges on the case, but it was a nice thing to catch your eye mid-gaming session.

Around the back you’ve a variety of 2.0 and 3.0 USB ports to ensure the quickest data transfer and enough room for all your peripherals. Alongside a HDMI-out port (more on this later), LAN port, a Kensington Lock (so people don’t run off with your computer at a LAN) and 7.1 audio.

Under the hood, the ROG G20CB I got to play with has an Intel i7 Processor, NVIDIA GeForce GTX1080 8GB, 8GB DDR4 RAM with room to expand up to 32GB RAM and two hard drives (1TB SATA 7200RPM and 512GB SSD). All this hardware makes for a really nice computer.

All of that works together to bring one of the more impressive features for the G20CB. My review computer came with an Oculus Rift headset for some VR gaming goodness.

I’ve played with VR in the past at PAX and it wasn’t the best experience. The Oculus dev kits were awful in hindsight and didn’t sit well with my migraine-prone brain. Luckily, the retail kits are a marked improvement. To really test out the playability of the Oculus, I invited around a few friends to enjoy some games and drinks, and it was definitely a great night. The selection of games I had to pick from wasn’t huge (early access games aren’t my jam), but I’d managed to pick a few winners and the ROG G20CB handled them perfectly. “Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes” was great fun in VR, when you’ve got four people sharing one set of instructions and screaming conflicting things at you.

@kristyyleighh’s boyfriend is being mindfucked by Oculus

A video posted by Rade (@gamer_rade) on

But one game “Emily Wants to Play”, was the most fun to play with the Oculus headset. The horror survival game is based around creepy dolls and jump scares. I’d show you the footage of my boyfriend noping the hell on out of there but the footage seems to have disappeared…

Creepy, right?

This computer isn’t without its faults however. In larger computers, you either have a small, external power supply (think laptop size) or it’s contained within the computer itself. Because the ASUS ROG G20CB case is quite slim and small, the power supply is external and it’s huge. The G20CB power supply unit actually has two separate power supplies to power this beast (180W + 230W). If it was my regular computer, I’d be concerned about it getting quite warm under my desk.

Another issue I had was setting up the Oculus. The computer has 2 HDMI ports; one on the motherboard and one on the GPU – but the one on the GPU comes disabled. This isn’t a huge issue if you only need one HDMI port, or know how to reenable the port on your GPU, but if you’re a “set it and forget it” kind of person (no shame in your game) and you did buy this to use a VR headset, it could become a bit of a pain. This isn’t necessarily an issue with the computer, but I hate finding these things out after the fact and having to waste time fixing a problem that shouldn’t be an issue in the first place.

Consumers may have trouble with the investment needed with the ROG G20CB. The computer I got to test will set you back a cool AUD$3999 – that’s no small amount of cash to part with. The ROG G20CB has been designed to age well and not need as frequent hardware upgrades as your homebrew computer, thus the larger than usual price tag. Again, you’re paying for the “set it and forget it” PC option. If you can get past the price hurdle, this computer would be an investment that I think would make the most hardcore gamers happy.

The last issue I had was a total user fault: It took me 20 minutes, some adult supervision, and a Google search to figure out how I turn it on. As I mentioned above, the front panel of the computer has an intricate design which disguises the power button quite well. I was worried I’d have to email my friends at Asus and tell them I couldn’t review the computer they’d sent me because I couldn’t figure out how it worked! It’s actually quite embarrassing for someone who does this for a living…

The Asus ROG G20CB is a big investment for any gamer, but with a variety of specifications available through the website, you’re able to get the best bang for your buck. While the issues I had were minor (and mostly my fault),it’s still a great computer if you’re just looking for a computer that’s going to stand up to the best games for the next few years without showing its age. It’s sleek, small, and portable. It made a great PC to have attached to our TV in our loungeroom, and would make a great PC for any study or gaming den.

Listen @asusau, my cat has claimed the G20CB as her own. I can’t send it back without her.

A photo posted by Rade (@gamer_rade) on

Screenshot_2016-07-09-23-17-42

Such a wee baby

The term “smash-hit” gets thrown around a lot when it comes to video games. However, when your game surpasses Tinder downloads and active Twitter users in a week, the title is more than justified.

In early July, Pokémon Go was released by the former Google start-up Niantic, to instant and almost overwhelming success from fans. The game, available on iOS and Android mobile devices, received fairly average reviews from outlets. Pocket Gamer sums it up best with, “Despite its problems, Pokémon GO is an immensely enjoyable experience.” I tend to agree.

Starting Pokémon Go is as easy as downloading the app from your app store and opening it up. It requires a Google or “Pokémon Trainers” account to log in, as opposed to being able to sign up with a general email, or other social media account. This has been marred with controversy, as it was revealed that Pokémon Go had full access to your Google account. While the news circulated quickly through the community, it was just as quickly dealt with, with permissions being changed in the latest update. You then create a male or female avatar with a few choices as far as hair and clothing are concerned and you set off on your journey.

Pokémon Go is an incredibly physical game. While it might be set on your mobile phone, the game uses GPS tracking and Augmented Reality to give the player a greater sense of depth. To catch Pokémon, or find gyms and Pokéstops, you have to travel physical distances to find them. This has had an unprecedented effect on Pokémon trainer’s physical and emotional health. Stories are emerging of people who struggled to leave the house (like this war vet) able to go out into the world and social again without anxiety. Twitter and Facebook is flooded with similar stories of people going out and meeting like-minded trainers who are happy to talk tactics. Along with the improved mental health, it’s getting people up off the couch and into the world. J and I spent all of the Friday following release walking around our local suburb all afternoon catching Pokémon. We walked more on that Friday than we do normally. While the world is in the grasp of an obesity crisis, it’s ironic that a video game is getting everyone out and about.

Welcome to (Zu)Bat Country.

Pokémon Go is F2P (Free-2-Play). The game does have microtransactions, but if you don’t want to spend money on in-game items, you can hit up any number of Pokéstops; which are at local and popular landmarks and parks. Again, this is somewhat controversial. Pokémon Go uses Google Maps to generate Pokéstops. This means that places with historical importance like Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, a memorial dedicated to the victims of Nazi concentration camps during WW2, and a restored Church which was now a liveable home, were automatically turned into Pokéstops in the virtual world. In the craze Pokémon Go is generating, it appears that people are forgetting about the social courtesies that a lot of these places afford. With a lack of support from Niantic as far as reporting bugs and other issues, the places that want to be removed from the game may struggle to get answers.

The lack of support from the developers is grinding a lot of people the wrong way. While the game is incredibly fun and capable of great things, it’s buggy as hell. During the first release version of the game, the servers could barely keep up with the load. People were locked out of the game, unable to sign in, for hours. When you could access the game, you would have to manage multiple game freezes while trying to catch Pokémon which meant you needed to close the game and reopen it to see if you’d caught that Eevee you just spent 10 Pokéballs trying to catch. It also means that people have been forced to do their own research and figure out the intricate details of the game.

 

It’s conflicting. Technically speaking, the game isn’t nearly finished and isn’t what Niantic has promised gamers. If this game was released by another developer, people would be up in arms over the server issues and privacy concerns. However, nostalgia is giving people rose-tinted glasses which is giving Niantic more slack than they deserve.

However, Pokémon Go is doing some great things in society. Discounting the achievements made by people who suffer from depression, anxiety, PTSD and other mental illnesses along with the new burst of enthusiasm for fitness and walking would be an insult. The encouraging steps that these people (including myself) take to find something that brings them relief should be celebrated and rewarded.

With the potential updates of trading and trainer battling that Niantic has rumoured, I don’t see the enthusiasm around Pokémon Go dying down anytime soon. In fact, with more and more people hearing about it and downloading it, it’ll only get bigger and hopefully better.

When you think of gaming laptops, a lot of people automatically think about Razer or the previous champion, Alienware. What not a lot of people understand is that ASUS also create some of the most powerful gear for gamers today. A few years ago, I was lucky enough to review the ASUS ROG G550J laptop and this year I’ve been able to get my hands on the ASUS ROG GL552; an equally impressive beast.

“Look, I know you’re trying to work but…” – My cat, Ivy.

ASUS sent this laptop for review purposes. All of the opinions in this review are true at the time of publishing.

With the formalities out of the way, let’s get into the fun.

ASUS Republic of Gamers laptops are designed for your most hardcore LAN sessions and to look like you’ll beat the opposition. Before you even open the laptop, you’re faced with a lid that’s inspired by a F-22 Stealth Fighter Jet and I can definitely it in the sharp edges and brushed steel detailing on the front. The ASUS ROG “guitar pick”, as I like to call it, sits proudly among the simple design.

Once you open the laptop up, you’re greeted with a black and red full-sized alphanumeric keyboard and intricate detailing above the function keys. The keyboard is also backlit with red LEDs and the WASD keys are highlighted red, too. It’s also fantastic to use. Laptop keyboards can be a little funny when it comes to using them on a regular basis. While I’m used to typing on laptop keyboards and free-standing keyboards, using the keyboard on the GL552 wasn’t like using a new keyboard; everything feeling like it’s one inch to the left. While the very two-tone palette might be a little much for me, the keyboard makes up for it. Most of this review was written using the laptop, so I’ve got a good handle on how it goes with long sessions of writing.

The ROG “Guitar Pick”

When you strip the GL552 down, it’s clear this is a laptop meant for some serious gaming sessions. Armed with a Intel® Core™ i7 6700HQ Processor, NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 960M with GDDR5 VRAM graphics card and 8GB of DDR4 RAM (with the option to expand up to a whopping 32GB), ASUS have given this laptop everything it needs to be functional for years to come. And with easy access to the HDD and RAM stations, becoming obsolete isn’t an issue with the device since you’re able to pull it apart and install more memory or space with ease. Although with a 1TB HDD and a 256GB SSD as standard, you’re pretty good with space straight out of the box.

While playing a variety of games on the laptop (Borderlands 2, The Witcher 2, Portal 2, The Sims 4), it handled what I threw at it in its stride. The games auto-detected all settings and the laptop was happy to play then in high or ultra-high spec. I had some minor framerate issues in Borderlands 2 and The Witcher 2, but with some minor tweaking in the settings, it was  pretty easily fixed. What was a little unimpressive was the on-board GPU crashing. This happened two or three times while I was using the laptop as an everyday carry. The GL552 recovered well from the crashes, but it was a little worrying while I was writing or browsing the internet.

Sexy, sexy keyboard

Like I mentioned, I used this laptop like an everyday carry. During the day, it replaced my standard laptop so that I could get an idea of how the GL552 handled. It’s bigger than what I’m used to, boasting a 15.6” screen (I use a 13” laptop normally.) The screen makes watching Netflix or YouTube great; but since it’s an LCD screen, you do need to adjust it a little to make sure that you don’t get the weird viewing angle. It also did a funny thing where it shifted into a blue tint when viewing certain parts of a website. It wasn’t every website and it seemed to only happen when I was viewing a GIF or small video, but it was weird.

The sound while watching video or gaming is where I was disappointed. It wasn’t necessarily bad, it was just… underwhelming. It sounded a little tinny in places and while I was playing high-action games like Borderlands, it didn’t quite have the kick to it like I was hoping. It was easier to plug my headphones in and keep going.

When it comes down to it, this laptop is actually quite decent. A lot of PC gamers discount gaming laptops as expensive and limiting. ASUS have tried to address some of those complaints with the ability for users to upgrade their HDDs and RAM in the future. The ASUS ROG GL552 is stylish (but maybe not to everyone’s tastes) and carries a lot of potential under the hood. While I have some minor complaints about the sound and on-board GPU, overall, this laptop was a joy to use. It’s not so large that you couldn’t use it daily or take it anywhere, but it’s not so small that you lose details in games or videos to size.

The ASUS ROG GL552 is now available at Harvey Norman, Dick Smith and JB Hi-Fi, starting from $2,099 – $2,199 depending on your specifications.

20150727-UntilDawn-Header-700

My friends and I have these nights that have become a bit of a tradition in our friend circle. We organise scary movie nights where we’ll binge on the best horror movies we can find until we can’t handle any more, then we binge on Disney movies until we feel better. We’re legendary at the pizza shop near my friend’s house, but that’s a story for another time.

It’s a weird, sadistic pleasure we all enjoy. That explains why I enjoyed every scream-inducing jump scare that Until Dawn has to offer.

Until Dawn is the story of eight high school friends who go back to the cabin they were staying at, when two of their friends (sisters) mysteriously go missing after a prank goes wrong.

Visually, the game looks amazing. Using motion capture with some well-known names (Hayden Panettiere and Peter Storm, just to name a few), the sense of Uncanny Valley isn’t nearly as off-putting as the motion capture in say… LA Noire.

Not only do the characters look realistic, the environments you explore look great, too. Eerie and unsettling, areas in the game only add to the suspense and anxiety you’ll feel during the game.

Sadly, the camera work lets the fantastic environments down. The camera in Until Dawn jumps to give you the best vantage point in the classic horror movie style. When you’re trying to navigate through 3D environments, this type of camera movement can break the immersion and really detract from the tense scene.

The biggest mechanic in Until Dawn uses to push you through the story is called “The Butterfly Effect”. This mechanic relies on the player making split-second decisions to situations and decides the fates of your fellow co-eds. It makes you think “What if I didn’t check his phone?” or “What if I didn’t try to wake up my brother?” Some of these decisions won’t affect your outcome, others will change it dramatically. It works really well with the quick-time events, where a stumble could seal the fate of someone else. Until Dawn combines the use of quick-time events and a brilliant inclusion of PlayStation’s Sixth-Axis motion control with a fantastic score and sound effects. Making a quick-time decision is hard enough when you’re trying to escape a tense situation, but when the controller is ticking loudly and violins are screeching, everything comes together in one anxiety-causing moment.

In the tense circumstances, every action feels like it’s life-or-death, and that’s the point. When you trigger a Butterfly Effect action, white butterflies will appear in the corner of the screen and you can see how this matches up with the story. These decisions also affect your relationship and personality stats. You can go back and review your decisions, along with clues or totems you gather along the way so you can modify your behaviour when you inevitably replay Until Dawn.

Until Dawn is also a massive, dirty cheater. During the game, you’ll be interviewed by Dr. Hill, who becomes increasingly more disturbing as you go through the story. He asks you what you’re more afraid of and the game uses this against you. Essentially, you have yourself to the game on a silver platter. During my interview, I said that I was scared of clowns, more scared of dogs over rats (big bitey vs little jumpy), and needles. The major scare it used was clowns, which made me scream (actual, blood curdling screams) on more than one occasion; much to the amusement of my jerk-ass boyfriend.

Dr. Hill reminds me a lot of the Games Master from the 90’s VHS horror game Nightmare, with most of his NPC interaction happening in changing environments and getting right up in your face. It feels like he’s actually going to crawl out of the TV and berate you in person. He’s a great way to break up the gameplay, but still keep terrified.

This game isn’t without flaws. Until Dawn started to lose me half way through the game when things took a weird turn after the plot twist, when the pacing changed and one plot device being used a little too much for my liking. The device makes sense in the greater scheme of the story, but it jumps from one bad guy to another without much explanation as to why. It also seems to focus on certain characters more than others. I felt myself wondering where one character was after huge repeating scenes with other characters.

The story also lacks in any kind of originality. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but Until Dawn relies on several horror movie tropes like The Jock, The Bitchy Girl, and The Quiet Nerdy Guy. Any of these characters could be easily found in a remake of The Breakfast Club, if it happened to be set in a Canadian cabin during a blizzard. I did find myself rooting for one particular character, and then I accidentally killed her because I was playing to her personality.

My bad…

Until Dawn managed to scare the pants off me and make me want more. Despite some poor camera movements and a slightly disappointing story, if this game was a movie, I’d pay to see it in cinemas and spill my popcorn all over myself. Definitely something I’ll be replaying again and still screaming like a terrified little child.

Seriously though, fuck. This. Game.

(Review also available on Player Attack)

Swoop

Swoop

My first encounter with LittleBigPlanet was a few years ago when my then-boyfriend and his friends bought it on a whim. I walked into our lounge room after work to find four grown men laughing like school children. “What are you playing?” I asked. “LittleBigPlanet. It’s great fun! What’s the time?” My boyfriend asked. I told him it was just after 6 o’clock.

“Oh, we’ve been playing this for about 5 hours. We should probably eat something.”

LittleBigPlanet is one of those games you can get lost in so easily, especially when you’ve got company but sadly, I don’t think that LittleBigPlanet 3 (LBP 3) is a game I’ll spend much time in.

After you’re convinced (by the wonderful voice of Hugh Laurie) to release three evil Titans (based loosely around Greek mythology) into the Sackworld of Bunkum, your Sackboy navigates the land enlisting new characters to undo the trouble you’ve caused. The new characters, named Toggle, Swoop and Oddsock add an interesting new element to the puzzle-solving side of the game with new weight and height challenges.

Introducing our new Sackfriends:

OddSock: A sackdog who can wall jump and run faster than your average Sackboy.

Toggle: Toggle can transform himself into Big Toggle (who can weigh down platforms or switches) or Little Toggle (who can run across water or fit into tight spaces.)

Swoop: A sackbird who can fly and pick up light objects and other characters (except for Big Toggle.)

Toggle

Toggle

Gameplay hasn’t changed too much with the inclusion of the new characters or items. Although things like the hook hat present a fun challenge when you’re racing along a zipline then fling yourself into some fire, which I did numerous times and generally while playing the game in front of my mum. Then she proceeded to mock me.

Get from point A to point B and collect all the things! (All of them.) Along with stickers, random point bubbles and outfits (the best part of LittleBigPlanet, let’s face it.), you’ll also collect bells to pay for things. The only things I’ve bought with these bells are more outfits, so I’m not sure what else they’re actually used for. It’s much of a muchness.

A lot of the game feels like a grind. Oddsock, Toggle and Swoop aren’t automatically unlocked, and you need to find three marbles to unlock each character. The levels are varied enough to keep you interested for a while, but it doesn’t feel like there’s enough of a pay-off to continue to unlock the other characters. Whether it’s because the game focuses on a multiplayer experience (areas in levels are only unlocked by playing with two or more people), or just a lack of pacing in the levels, the repetitive nature of unlocking your new Sackfriends makes them feel a little more like Sackenemies.

Oddsock

Oddsock

This isn’t my biggest issue with the game, though. LittleBigPlanet 3 has repeatedly failed to load or crashed my console. During initial installation, the first level after the tutorial failed to load three times and required me to reboot my PlayStation 4. The other games that I’ve played on my PS4 (Dragon Age, Grand Theft Auto, Sleeping Dogs) don’t cause this kind of malfunction with my console, nor do they freeze during gameplay. Too many times have I given up and either stopped playing LittleBigPlanet or just stopped gaming for a few hours because of the crashes.

The Stephen Fry-narrated game, with its gorgeous art-style has changed a little too much for my liking. While Oddsock, Toggle and Swoop offer an interesting new take on the puzzles, the game stops me in my tracks when it comes to enjoying it. It’ll be one of those games that I keep around when I have friends over and we wanna screw each other over. If the game doesn’t wanna screw us first.

PC gamers have a love/hate relationship with gaming laptops. Some can see the use for them (it’s how I started PC gaming), especially when it comes to portability, but others see them as an expensive and underpowered. The Asus ROG G550J has some decent grunt to keep the most hardcore gamers happy, but still lightweight enough to take to LANs for those all-nighters.

Straight out of the box, the Asus G550J is pretty to look at. The Asus Republic of Gamers logo stands proudly among the brushed aluminium front. Under the lid, it’s all matte black and red. The keyboard is printed with red keys and has a matching red black light, which you can dim or brighten with function keys. The base is even lined with red. Since red is my favourite colour, I’m pleased with the colour scheme, but I can imagine it’s not for everyone.

The keyboard took a little getting used to, like all new keyboards do. But once I knew the positioning of all the keys, writing on the Asus G550J was a comfortable experience. I decided to re-write a couple of old reviews to get a real feel for how the keyboard would work in an everyday environment. The keys press nicely and are a nice size. One of the problems with 15.6” laptops with a full alphanumeric keyboard is the small size of the keys. Luckily, that’s not an issue with this keyboard.

The G550J also boasts enough ports to keep even the most intense user happy. With three 3.0 USB ports (two on the left side, one on the right), you can still plug a mouse in to the laptop, charge your phone and still have a port left over. There’s also a HDMI port (right side), an optical Blu-ray drive, a mini display port, an SD card slot (always handy) and a headphone jack. Something you won’t see on all laptops’ is the small yellow port near the charger, which is where you plug in the sub, which comes with the laptop. The sub looks like a small can and certainly boosts the low-end sounds of games, movies, and music.

I picked two games to test the limits of the Asus G550J with the help of a friend of mine. We took into consideration the graphical strain and how resource heavy the games would be and decided on The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, and The Witcher 2.

Both games can be played on their highest settings and look beautiful on the 15.6” LCD screen with the help of the Nvidia 850M 4GB graphics card.

During the initial set up, The Witcher 2 auto-detected what settings can be best played on. The surprising (or not so surprising)        result was to play in Ultra Spec. In Ultra Spec, everything is cranked to the max. Shadow details, character details and graphical details are all set to ultra.

When I started to play The Witcher, I had a few issues in the beginning with the touchpad getting in the way and trigging some menu options (an issue I have with all laptops), but once I switched the touchpad off and got back into gameplay, it was all smooth sailing.

The same can be said about The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. While I don’t run Skyrim with too many mods (just an inventory mod and a “realistic” skin mod), it can still be a difficult game for some computers to handle. The G550J automatically ran Skyrim on Ultra where all details are played in high (or ultra, where applicable.) With the battery in high powered mode, there’s plenty of power to play both The Witcher 2 and The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim in their wonderful glory.

The good thing is that I didn’t notice the laptop getting too hot during sessions of long gameplay. Having it sit straight on my desk, there was enough room for proper ventilation to keep the laptop comfortably cool.

The Asus G550J does make a lot of noise. The fan can be distractingly loud at times, even in balanced mode. While I had the laptop idling in balanced mode, it sounded as if it was playing a game in high powered mode. While it’s not a huge deal, with the noise being easily drowned out by background noise or headphones, it could be distracting while using the laptop in a quieter environment.

I could get 2-3 hours out of the battery with some general use (Wi-Fi on, brightness at max, battery on balanced). However, when playing games, I changed the battery into high power mode and made sure the laptop was plugged in. While a good habit to be in when it comes to gaming, not necessarily a great habit for reviewing.

Overall

The Asus ROG G550J could easily satisfy any PC gaming enthusiast with its looks and power. However, with the hefty price tag of AU$2,699, many gamers could find themselves resorting to cheaper options. Paying the extra isn’t without its benefits. The LCD screen performs wonderfully in all angles and all the power under the red and black colour scheme can easily play the most resource heavy games without becoming outdated too quickly.

The SSD drive size (256GB) leaves something to be desired for a gaming laptop, but it boots quickly and quietly, which could be enough for some users to load their favourite games and still have room left over for whatever else they needed to store on the drive.

If I had to pick a new laptop for gaming, the G550J would definitely catch my eye. It’s stylish, easy-to-use and powerful enough to do whatever I need it to.

tl;dr

Specifications:
• 15.6” LCD screen (1920 x 1080 resolution)
• 256GB SATA3 SSD
• 16GB DDR3 RAM (2x 8GB sticks)
• i7-4700 CPU @ 2.40GHz
• GeForce GTX 850m (4GB)
• Optical Blu-Ray drive
• 1 x HDMI ports
• 3 x USB 3.0 ports
• SD Card reader

Great for gaming, SSD is a little small, very stylish.

 

 

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a massive handheld or mobile gamer. After being spoiled for choice with my PC and consoles, it feels like a bit of a downgrade playing stuff on my Nintendo 3DS or my phone. When Chris from MobileZap emailed me last week saying that he had a nifty toy for my phone that I could play with, it definitely grabbed my interest.IMG_0036[1]

What crossed my desk is called the Gamehook. It looks like a phone cradle you’d find in any car, but you can attach a PS3 controller into the bottom and play Android (Sorry iOS users) games wired, or wirelessly.

(Entirely off-topic: While downloading a game to demo for this review, I spent several giddy minutes controlling my phone with the PS3 controller. The integration between the controller and the Android software is seamless. Whether this is because my phone is ALSO a Sony product is unknown, but it’s done rather well.)

IMG_0037[1]The Gamehook is designed to work with any Android device under 5.5 inches. The part of the Gamehook that holds your phone expands with the push of a button to hold phones on the higher end of that 5.5 inch scale. With my being just under 5.5 inches (5.47 inches to be exact), my Xperia needed all the room it could get! The phone dock should still hold a phone with a case and there’s enough room for bulker phones to sit comfortably in the dock.

The cradle isn’t anything special to look at from the front. “Gamehook™” is displayed on the bottom of the phone cradle and the whole product is black. The back has a nice carbon fibre pattern on the back, which is a nice style touch, but when you’re working with something so simple, there isn’t much you can do with the looks. I wouldn’t mind seeing it in other colours like red, purple or green but again, these are just small style choices.

Putting the PS3 controller was a little confusing to start with, but once I played around with it for a while, getting the controller in and out of the cradle is pretty easy.

The only problem I had with the entire time I review the product was trying to find mobile games that had gamepad support without resorting to a Google search. Most of the popular game choices aren’t compatible with gamepads and the couple of games I tried weren’t either, which was surprising with games like Sonic Racing Transformed and other racing-themed games.IMG_0038[1]

The Gamehook is definitely something I didn’t think I’d use, but with the right games, it’s the perfect way to introduce a PC or console gamer into the world of mobile gaming. The device can be a little top heavy, but that’s par for the course when you’re using a whole phone just for the screen. It’s going to sit happily with the rest of my gaming peripherals and I’m happy to add it to the collection.

Thanks to MobileZap for sending me out this genius little product for me to play with.

The Elder Scrolls Online has had a few closed beta weekends for the lucky people who were selected to participate. If you weren’t selected, you possibly knew someone who was. I remember talking to my friend about how the closed beta. About an hour later, she got an email with a beta key.

Dunmer elf 'Radey'

Dunmer elf ‘Radey’

Just my luck.

Thankfully, I got an invitation to the open beta Bethesda was running this weekend and if you were the lucky winner of my beta key give away, you did too!

Let’s talk about the download and the drama that came with that.

The download size is ENORMOUS. It’s between 15-20GB big and it took several hours to download; an overnight download for me. My DC: Universe Online file size tops out at 25GB and that’s a full game. I’m somewhat worried about how big the final game will be.

After the download and install phase FINALLY finished, you log in, watch a quick opening video and go into character creation. You start by choosing your faction and race. Races are restricted to factions, but you’ve got

3 different races for each faction to choose from, so there’s a nice amount of variety. The sliders have a nifty locking feature (like layers in Photoshop) so you can play around with certain elements of the body sliders without accidentally screwing up another part of your character.

The factions and races are:

The Ebonheart Pact: Argonian, Dunmer and Nord.

The Aldmeri Dominion: Altmer, Bosmer and Khajiit. (Kitty!)

The Daggerfall Covenant: Breton, Orc and Reguard.

You can also be an imperial who are free to join any faction.

My character is a Dunmer (Dark Elf) so she’s a part of the Ebonheart Pact.

 

After character creation, you enter the game play. That’s where my problems started. First bug that I encountered was a UI error. Which is fair enough, it’s still in beta, bugs are going to happen. But when I went to close this error, it error’d out. After having to update a secondary program that you install with the beta, it fixed it. However, it wasn’t until some Googling and asking around that I figured that out.

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2014-03-01_00002A few other graphical bugs and some pretty interesting ping issues, the experience has been pretty polished. The graphics are better looking than those in Skyrim, although some people think they look cheap.

The final debate for users is going to be whether the game is worth $15 a month (€12.99 / £8.99). Hardcore Elder Scrolls fans will willing pay as much as Bethesda charge. Others are going to be more difficult to convince. It’s a pretty standard MMO. You’re the chosen one to do something or other and save the world. With all the talk hyping this game up, it shouldn’t take long for the initial game release to make money hand over fist, but I’m yet to find something that will set it apart from other successful MMO games like WoW or Final Fantasy 14. Still fun to play, but it’s not anything special.

 

Kingdom_Hearts_Crash_Course_part_1

I have a friend who is obsessed with Kingdom Hearts. I think the only thing he’s more obsessed with is Lady Gaga. So, with his obsession in mind and the gift cards I received at Christmas in hand, I thought I’d dive into the world of the Disney-RPG and bought Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix. This review will be about the first Kingdom Hearts games and if that ends positively, I’ll play through the other games and write about them too.

I should probably note that I never really played the PS2 version of Kingdom Hearts. I mean, I played bits and pieces with my friend, but I never sat down and invested hundreds of hours into it, so this won’t be a comparison of the old and the new. This review is more of a review of the game and not the updated game and ways that the developers have improved graphics, gameplay, controls, etc.

The lynching may now proceed…

Sora, Riku and Kairi live on a tropical island in some non-descript ocean with dreams of sailing away on a home-made raft and visiting other worlds. The plan is suddenly ruined when dark creatures known as The Heartless appear on the island and separate the three friends across the Disney universe. Sora eventually teams up with Goofy and Donald Duck who are trying to find King Mickey, who has suddenly vanished from his castle. The three try to find their friends by visiting the previously unconnected Disney worlds; visiting places like Wonderland (Alice in Wonderland), Halloween Town (The Nightmare before Christmas) and Hundred Acre Wood (Winnie the Pooh). There’s a nice mix of places to visit for every Disney fan.

The first thing you notice about Kingdom Hearts is the musical score since it’s the first thing you hear when you start the game. Composed by Yoko Shimomura, the game features melodies from the Disney movies each world is based on and some wonderful original content. Hikaru Utada lends her voice to “Simple and Clean”. The original compositions for Kingdom Hearts are beautiful and soothing while the recomposed melodies from the Disney movies for the relevant worlds are a nice touch. I found myself singing “Under the Sea” while swimming around the oceans with Ariel.

The animation style and art suits the style of game well. It’s still “gravity-defying hair” enough for Final Fantasy fans to keep them satisfied but the cartoonish art style will keep Disney fans feeling nostalgic. All the different Disney worlds are created to pack the essence of whatever movie they’re inspired by into a few different levels. While the individual worlds themselves are huge, the universe is pretty massive. There are 8 Disney inspired worlds plus the rest of the universe which includes Traverse Town (your “base” for the game), Destiny Islands (where Sora, Riku and Kairi are from) and the two last worlds. With enough gameplay to keep fans of both series’ entertained, the game is incredibly long with just story missions alone. Side quests involving missing 99 Dalmatian puppies, lost pages for Merlin and finding every trinity mark keeps the game going for hours.

Villains come in two flavours: Heartless and classic Disney villains. Maleficent is the brains behind the operation, manipulating the rest of the villains like Jafar, Oogey Boogey, Ursula and the gang. And, of course, she plays the part perfectly.

The creatures you’ll encounter during the levels are The Heartless. Devoid of a heart (no, really!?), they’re drawn to Sora, his Keyblade and his pure heart. They range from small shadows to giant monsters and all want to steal the hearts of those around them and their difficulty varies along with them. Since you can’t change the difficulty setting during the game (something that I’m actually pretty happy about), it’s good to see that the enemies grow stronger when you do. Boss battles are challenging, sometimes infuriatingly so. There’s never a dull moment with The Heartless.

Travelling between the worlds becomes a lot easier once you’ve finished the first few worlds with the addition of a warp gummi to your gummi ship! To travel to new worlds, you still need to blast your way through space-bound enemies, but once you’ve arrived at the new world, you can travel to and from previously seen worlds with ease.

My main issue with the game is the camera. In automatic mode, it’ll do its own thing which can work against you in a battle. I’ve died several times because I haven’t seen an attack coming because the camera is looking at something else. In manual mode, the camera doesn’t feel responsive to the player’s input. It’s easier to use than automatic mode, but that isn’t saying much. From people I’ve asked, the camera has improved since the PS2 version but I’ve really got nothing to compare it too. With the battles being intense and generally involving multiple enemies, a dodgy camera can be the undoing of a good game.

I never really saw the appeal of Kingdom Hearts when it first came out. Mostly because it came out after my PS2 died and I’d bought an Xbox so I didn’t really have a way to play it on my own but with the wonders of technology, I’m able to play, and enjoy this gem of a game. Camera problems aside, being able to fly around the universe with Goofy and Donald and team up with some of my favourite Disney characters is a lot of fun. With some Final Fantasy characters making appearances too, it’s a good introduction to the Final Fantasy world. Once I’ve finished with Kingdom Hearts, I might make a run for some of those games too. What number are they up to these days?