Tagged: Review

Dell has an “If it’s not broken, just make minor improvements and don’t break it” approach to their gaming laptop series. While there are still some improvements that could be made, the Dell G7 15″ laptop is a good example of this ethos at a decent pricepoint.

I’ve previously mentioned that the one thing I’ve really gotten tired of in gaming laptops is the standard black/red colour scheme – it’s interchangeable with a lot of other gaming laptops on the market. But not this time. Unpacking the Dell G7 15” was a delightful change. It was blue! Well, it was black with gorgeous metallic blue accents.

And this wasn’t the only colour option available. Dell also has the G7 15″ available in “Arctic White” with the blue accents, which sounds like a nightmare to keep clean but it’s a refreshing change from the usual colour options.

Yes, I am that excited about a colour change shut up.

Performance-wise, it handled perfectly. Since I work with a limited internet usage cap each month (thanks, Australia!), I network transferred games across to the G7 laptop and installed them easily. Games like Borderlands 2, Fallout 4, and Civilisation 4 were easily played at their highest settings.

The 15″ anti-glare screen works as intended, but like the last Dell laptop I reviewed, the bezel around the screen is obnoxiously large and doesn’t sit flush with the screen. My current laptop (a Dell XPS 13″ from 2013) has a larger bezel around with screen, but it’s glass-fronted, meaning it doesn’t distract from the experience. The FHD screen is nice, but there’s so much more screen potential hidden behind a large border.

My biggest issues with gaming laptops are always space – especially with games like big triple-A titles, I’ve got vanilla games that hit 100GB and that won’t get smaller over time. Dell has attempted to remedy this with a variety of storage options ranging from a straight 1TB drive to SSD and mechanical drives, or a 512GB PCIe SSD. Dell’s big draw is their customisation abilities, so you’ll be able to find something to work with what you want.

Another issue with gaming laptops and where they’re going is the battery life. The G7 has a 4-cell integrated battery, which won’t support long-term gaming and I understand that it isn’t meant to, but superusers, or even just heavy users, will find that the battery will drain sooner than they like. Everyday users will find the battery life to be perfect for their usage, but if you’re looking to run something a little more resource heavy, you’re going to find that the 4-cell battery doesn’t quite cut it. It sounds obvious, but if you’re someone like me who likes listening to Netflix in the background and runs a few programs at a time, you might need to adjust the power settings to find that sweet spot between energy saving and power mode. It’s not a huge issue, but just something worth noting.

If you’re using the G7 as your dedicated gaming machine and you’re going to be plugged in directly to the wall, run this baby in performance mode because you’ll want to get the best out of the Nvidia GeForce GTX 10 series. They’re standard through a lot of laptops now, but there’s a good reason for it – they just work. The highest end of the spectrum will see you get a GTX 1060 with 6GB GDDR5 video memory which should handle everything you throw at it and you should find it enduring through several years worth of games. Even the lower end GTX 1050 and GTX 1050Ti will faithfully see you through for at least the next 4-5 years.

Reviewing laptops has become kind of a second nature at this point. I’ve had the opportunity to play around with a lot of different models from a lot of different manufacturers and Dell seem to make the ones I like. While there are elements I come back to that I don’t like, they’re always overshadowed by the things I do like. Their customisation options mean you’re getting to make it a bit more of your machine, instead of fitting your needs within a rigid mould. There are sacrifices you’ll have to make, but they can be made up for in other areas. If you’re considering a tidy machine for your gaming needs, which can double as your everyday carry – consider Dell and definitely consider the G7.

Editor’s note: this review will be a little different to the regular format. I’ll be discussing key changes between the Inspiron 15 7000 (7567) 2016 model and the Inspiron 15 7000 (7577) 2017 model. If you missed the original review, catch up here and follow along.

Earlier in the year, I reviewed the Dell XPS 15” Inspiron gaming laptop and apart from some minor complaints (storage mostly), I thought it was a pretty solid laptop. Recently, an improved version of this laptop was released, and while there are some changes under the hood – overall it’s still a great gaming laptop for your on-the-go gamer.

At first glance, the aesthetic changes between the 2016 and 2017 models are minor – if there were any at all. Sleek, black laptops with pops of colour to accent logos and WASD keys are fairly standard through gaming laptops and it’s nothing that needs to be changed for the sake of updating.

The thing I did notice about the 2017 model was the bezel around the screen. Maybe I wasn’t paying close enough attention to the 2016 model to notice the size, but the 2017 model seemed to have the screen surrounded by a thick, black border. I showed this to a friend of mine and he noticed as well, noting that it seemed to take away from the actual display – which I completely agree with. The screen on the Inspiron 15 7000 series of devices is beautiful, and capable of playing video and games in 4k. The border around the screen seemed to be less of a edge to define the screen, and more like an eyesore to distract the user.

The major change that Dell incorporated into their latest iteration are the options available for your GPU. The 2016 model wasn’t underpowered by any means, but the 2017 model includes the ability to upgrade your NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 1050 to 1050Ti with 4GB GDDR5 to a NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 1060 with 6GB GDDR5. While the changes may seem minor on the outside, greater processing power means an overall better experience while gaming. Along with more dedicated RAM to help improve textures and frame rate.

It also means your games won’t become obsolete as quickly – It’s only a series apart, but the 1060 seems to be the goto requirement for a lot new games.

What’s disappointing about the upgrade in graphical prowess is the downgrade to actual power. Moving away from an integrated 74 WHr, 6-Cell Battery to a integrated Quick-charge 56 WHr, 4-Cell Battery means your battery won’t last quite as long away from the wall. The quick-charge is a nice addition, meaning you’ll be on the move to your latest LAN in shorter time, but as someone who likes to move around with her device and not always to somewhere with a plug, the smaller battery is a disheartening. However, the change in battery may have been more to do with actual space than anything else.

The last major change is the addition of a Thunderbolt™ 3 port. This ties into the quick-charging battery, but also allows for lightning fast data transfer and a move into the new normal. USB 3 / Thunderbolt™ is quickly becoming the universal adaptor for phones and computers. The problem is that it only includes one because of the traditional USB ports – but that’s more of a general consumer dependence on traditional USB products.

Dell have taken a lot of consideration in how they update the Inspiron 15 series of computers. While sacrifices to battery were made, they were to improve space and power and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Happily, the updates mean that you’re getting better value and a better experience from your Inspiron 15 laptop. It’s still a sleek device that’ll keep up with a mid-level gaming rig, with the bonus feature of portability – so you’ll always be able to game with your friends at home, or at a LAN.

Laptop provided by Dell for consideration.

I’m starting to become a seasoned pro when it comes to reviewing laptops – and I’m starting to notice the things I really like and dislike about the humble gaming laptop, as I’ve used more and more of them. Since I’ve only ever actually owned two laptops in my life (and one was a gaming laptop), getting my hands on other kinds of tech is fun.

ASUS were kind enough to send me a ROG GL502 laptop to play around with and I’m pretty sure this is my favourite one out of the bunch – with one caveat.

To really give the GL502 a run for its money, I essentially replaced my gaming rig/work PC with it since I had a bunch of work to do while reviewing. Two birds, one stone.

The GL502 laptop is a lightweight, compact laptop, designed for the more mobile gamer. It weighs in at just 2.2kgs (4.8lbs) which means that being able pack it up and take it with you won’t break your back. It’s also incredibly slim for what you’re getting. It packs a 15” screen that can display games in either Full HD or UHD, meaning that 4K gaming isn’t out of your reach. Although, my opinion on 4K gaming is similar to 4K TVs – just because it’s there doesn’t mean it’s necessary. I don’t really have any wish to play games in 4K because I don’t think it’s really worth it. However, if you’re one of those people who likes to crank everything to 60+ FPS and see every miniscule details, the option is there.

ASUS continue their red and black colour scheme across the GL502 laptop, but it’s far less overbearing than in their other laptops, and that’s something that makes me endlessly happy. The GL502 detailing is scaled back and more subtle, which makes it more pleasing to look at in my mind. It’s not as “Cockpit of a fighter jet” as the other laptops I’ve reviewed, it’s far more sleek and refined which makes me think I’d be happier to show it off on a desk. The red has changed slightly to a more orange undertone which is a little off-putting on the black background, but the accent colour doesn’t dominate the entire laptop, making it easier on the eyes.

Let’s talk about my favourite and least part of this laptop – the keyboard. The keyboard is amazing to type on. I wrote several articles for my freelance gig, plus a few for myself and a bunch of other work stuff I’ve had going on in the background and it handled like a dream. The laptop keys only travel 1.6mm each keystroke so you can be quicker in-game and in real life. The WASD keys are highlighted in the orangey-red tone to give you the impression that this is a gaming laptop and your hands sit nicely atop them.

The thing I hated, and this is no-fault with the series – but the review laptop I got, was that my keyboard was French. If you’ve never used a French keyboard before, it’s in AZERTY format and not QWERTY – however, the GL502 was in English mode so everything was where it should be. This made writing on the laptop a nightmare. While it felt amazing to type on, if I concentrated too hard on what I was doing and didn’t let the muscle memory of touch-typing take over, my brain would confuse my hands and everything was a mess. But that’s a problem for the editors – it doesn’t take away how the GL502 laptop feels in a general sense.

Gaming on this laptop was really nice. Everything I threw at this game from Prison Architect, to Borderlands 2 and everything in between was handled without a fault. The Full HD screen displayed games without missing a beat and it was easy enough to adjust in low light and sunlight without struggling to see what I was doing.

The downside to hardcore gaming sessions on this laptop is the battery life leaves a little to be desired. While the GL502 worked well as an everyday laptop for my freelancing work, any long gaming sessions I wanted to do required a closeby powerpoint so that the battery wouldn’t drain after a few hours. However, if you’re planning on taking it to a LAN, you’re not going to be up and wandering around with it, are you?

The ASUS ROG Strix GL502 is definitely an investment with the RRP sitting above the $2000AUD mark, but you’re paying for portability and style which isn’t something you can get with a standard PC rig or some other gaming laptops on the market. The particular review model I was sent had 32GB DDR4 RAM installed, along with a NVIDIA GeForce 1070 and a 1TB hard drive. And as I mentioned before, it’s incredibly light for a gaming laptop.

The ASUS ROG Strix GL502 is probably my favourite ASUS laptop that I’ve been able to review (minus the French keyboard). It’s compact and light, which is perfect for taking it on the go, but it packs enough power and hardware to be able to stand up to anything you can throw at it. It’ll age well, which is something a lot of computers don’t do in the current era of gaming, it’s great for your everyday projects, and it’s not exactly bad to look at. This is the laptop you want to consider if you’re looking to upgrade.

Laptop provided by ASUS for consideration.

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)

sodState of Decay is one of those games I’d heard great things about but already felt burnt out on. The zombie genre is a favourite with developers and the market is flooded with hoards (puns!) of them. But when my lovely friend gifted me the base game and the DLC, I decided to have a go at it.

At the time of writing, I’d played almost 10 hours straight without realising it. Thank GOD for days off, right?

State of Decay is a third-person zombie shooter with elements of stealth, resource management and base building thrown in. These gameplay elements help add extra depth to the immersion for the player. You need to make sure that all your characters are at full health, that there’s ammo available and you have an escape plan to get out of any sticky situations. My problem with a lot of zombie/survival games is that it’s run and gun; there’s no strategy. But State of Decay almost encourages you to have a strategy.

As you gather up more survivors to play as, they have mood swings and rely on other members of your group to help them through. The characters have enough personality to give you someone to pick as a favourite, but are plain enough so that you can put yourself in their shoes. Although, the way I’m playing, it’s a bit like an episode of Game of Thrones; I get attached to one particular character and then BAM! Eaten by a zombie. It’s a little tragic.

Gameplay and mission can lull from time to time, making things feel a little boring and repetitive. There’s a lot of potential for a variety of missions, but it’s mostly: go here, clear out this, come back.  I’ve currently found myself going around trying to find resources, waiting for missions to spawn because I’ve completed all the available missions. The missions I have completed have a good learning curve. You can do them on your own comfortably, or take along a fellow survivor to watch your back. Although, the AI can be a little… backwards when it comes to watching out for zombies; either super helpful or a major hindrance. The more you use a particular character, the better their stats get and the more helpful they can be.

My major problem with the game are a few rather annoying bugs I’ve come across when it comes to starting or closing the game. I found the game would crash when the music was muted, and I’m not sure what’s causing my game to bug out and crash when I’m trying to close the game from the main menu. The developer forums are helpful for finding work-around solutions for these bugs, but patching them hasn’t worked as of yet. From some Googling, my problems seem to be fairly common, so I’m hoping the developers are working to patch these out.

The music and graphics aren’t astounding, but it’s not a major drawback. In a world where everyone focuses on lifelike graphics and Oscar-worthy music, it’s kind of refreshing to have something that’s “not up to scratch”. The animation is a little buggy when zombies look like they’re outside, but are actually just clipping through a wall. I’ve wasted many a bullet hitting a wall where I thought I was aiming perfectly at a zombie’s face.

For a fairly generic zombie survival game, I’m sinking a disgusting amount of time into it. It’s got its claws right in and doesn’t really want to let go. The Lifeline and Breakdown DLC have great reviews online and the friend who gifted these to me raved about them when he bought them originally on Xbox Live. If you’re looking for a time sink, some good old fashion violence and nothing too complicated, State of Decay is perfect.

 

Before I start, this post contains spoilers. If you haven’t finished the game, click here and be redirected.

Spoilers

South Park: The Stick of Truth (TSoT) had a development story akin to that of Duke Nukem Forever; developer issues, bankrupt companies and constant setbacks. However, with the help of Ubisoft, TSoT was finally released this March and to my surprise, it’s hilariously good. And this comes from someone who isn’t a South Park fan (there are dozens of us! DOZENS!)

Set in a Dungeons and Dragons style adventure game, the turn based RPG sees you, The New Kid (Sir Douchebag) go roaming around the neighbourhoods of South Park in search of The Stick of Truth after it was stolen by the Elves from the humans at Kupa Keep.

It is said whoever possesses the Stick controls the universe.

The create-a-character screen is fairly easy to use. You get a basic character and have a limited range of hair and clothes to deck your little adventurer out with. This isn’t a massive issue because along the way, you’ll look new customisation items or buy them from places around town. You also find dyes to make your costumes individual.

The game looks like an episode of South Park, which is what you’d expect. Your characters hop around when they’re walking and everyone looks like they’re made out of pieces of coloured paper. The writing is what you’d expect from a South Park game, too. The magic you’re taught from Cartman is one giant fart joke; Kenny is a princess who “charms” her (?) opponents by flashing some tits (which isn’t even the most disturbing thing in the game) and even the Aliens make an appearance. There are pop culture references a plenty and most of them refer to A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) which was spoofed in Season 17 (an episode that even I laughed in.)

Sadly, because I’m playing the Australian version, my game is censored but even that has a South Park flair. Because of the Australian Rating System, R18+ games still have strict guidelines to abide too. We’re not the only country to receive a censored version of the game, but our friends across the creek in New Zealand aren’t censored. Whether this raises discussion about adult content is yet to be seen, but Trey Parker and Matt Stone have made the censorship hilarious and a little easier to deal with.

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Like most RPG’s, TSoT gives you the option to choose a class: Fighter, Mage, Thief or Jew. (Or paladin class for those of us who aren’t Cartman.) The “Jew” class is a tricky one to master but can have massive payouts for a skilled player as you become more powerful the closer you are to death. Combat works well and requires the player to generally press a button at the right time to have the full effect of an attack. You can summon characters you’ve helped through quests to come into combat and fight on your behalf with some hilarious results. The turn-based combat works nicely and gives you time to think up a strategy to defeat harder enemies.

Controls and UI are where I start to feel like the game was ignored. From footage I’ve seen of the PC version, you’re unable to rebind keys; possibly because the game was directly ported from console, but a simple feature like that can turn people off. I know that I like to have a specific key-bind for a lot of games to make it work easier for me. Even on the console, the use of the bumper buttons doesn’t feel natural and some of the magic combinations can be difficult to master because of joystick fiddliness. The controller really doesn’t feel like it was properly utilised for anything other than combat.

The options menu, “Facebook” and inventory tabs looks completely out of place with the rest of the game, too. I’m not sure if it’s some inside joke with hardcore South Park fans, but the almost generic tabs visual is off-putting and can be annoying to use. The game uses at least seven tabs to scroll through for various uses in the game, but trying to figure out where something might be is frustrating.

It’s racist, sexist, silly and painfully self-aware. It pokes fun at Australia, the games industry and fans of the series itself but it doesn’t feel forced or ironic for irony’s sake. A lot of the time you’ll find yourself laughing until you’re crying or in a state of mortified shock that realistically only something related to South Park could get away with. The game is enough of an RPG for fans of that style of game to enjoy and so South Park that it hurts. I almost hate myself a little bit for enjoying it as much as I do. With the few complaints about controls and UI, it’s obviously not a perfect game but it’s better than a lot of games based on a TV or movie franchise. Really, it’s just like playing a very long, unedited episode of South Park and that’s the best thing about it.

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?

preview-first-look-at-the-joker-in-batman-arkham-origins-and-moreI really want to like you, Batman: Arkham Origins. We’ve had such a wonderful relationship and your Collector’s Edition had me weak at the knees. But you’ve changed. I think it’s time we just go our separate ways.

It’s not me; it’s you. (more…)

Have you heard the rumour? If you have a dream where you’re falling and you don’t wake up before you hit the ground, you die in real life… (more…)