PC cases are something you don’t change very often. Usually once in awhile when you buy a new motherboard and CPU, but in my case(!) I wanted to just upgrade. My previous case was purchased due to what was available at my local Fry’s Electronics at the time and I wasn’t impressed with the Thermaltake View 31 much. It didn’t have a PSU shroud so all the ugly cables were just visible and all the rear cable management was displayed behind glass…which was odd. It also had flimsy thumb screws and the panels were a pain to put back on. My front USB ports were going out and it didn’t support USB 3.1 Thunderbolt. I was just tired of looking at the thing despite the space it had.
So, while switching to all Corsair RGB components, I decided to switch to a Corsair case. The only “smart” thing about the case is that it includes three LL120 fans and a Commander Pro which was not in the description anywhere! I had no idea it included this and it was a huge surprise. Corsair RGB fans are a pain to cable manage. Each fan has a PWM cable and an RGB cable. You then have to connect it to a Lighting Node Pro which controls the fans. Then you have to connect the LED hub to the Node Pro. The lighting hub then connects to the internal USB and the Node Pro connects to the internal SATA power. It’s a huge pain, but the fan hub eliminates needing that LED hub.
The case itself was easy to build in. The case comes with pre-installed stand-offs and the motherboard went in with no issue. The side glass panel is magnetically held closed and then a single screw allows you to lift it off its hinge. The back panel is a solid sheet of aluminum with a filter for the PSU. The top glass is raised on rubber stand-offs and you can insert an optional filter if you have a 240mm radiator you are installing on top. The rear has a slide out filter panel and so does the front. I love how the PSU is side mounted in the back and I had plenty of room for all the cables and there were plenty of tie offs and rubber slots in the back. The case also has a 3.5″ and 2.5″ drive cage. I chose to remove the 3.5″ cage and the 2.5″ cage has four toolless slots that can be snapped apart. I then just screwed this back in to free up some room.
The case has an option to side mount your GPU, but it’s pretty close to the glass and these mounts are typically not recommended for high-end cards that get hot. My RTX 2080 barely fit in here as the GPU clearance is only 330mm and my card was 327mm, but MSI cards are usually on the larger side. The pointy end of the GPU shroud is mere millimeters away from a fan so it was a tight fit. You could do a SLI setup in here, but it would be super tight. The case comes with four thermal sensor cables which I chose not to use, at least not for now. It also came with four PWM fan cable extensions. The usual front panel cables were present, but I never plug in the front audio as most of these cables aren’t shielded properly and you get interference and I just never use it. What is nice is that the front USB is 3.0 only, but there are only two which is limiting, but most PCs have plenty of USB parts on the rear. I only use it for my mouse dongle and a USB stick or phone.
When it comes to aesthetics the case is gorgeous. The soft aluminum accompanied by glass and that top raised panel is beautiful. It’s not the best when it comes to fan noise or even temps, probably mid-tier, but it’s good enough for most gamers. I wouldn’t recommend a SLI 3090 setup in here, but with a single card and a liquid cooled CPU you’re going to be able to drop your fan fairly low. At idle my RTX 2080 stays at a cool 32c and at heavy load it hovers around the mid to high 50’s which is better than my previous case. It might be due to my bottom intake fans blowing that cool air on to the GPU at a closer proximity. My AIO cooled Intel i7-8700 idles around 38c and at full load the cores never go past the mid to high 60’s. That could be cooler if I had a 240mm rad instead of a 120mm, but it will do.
Overall, the Corsair 680X is pricey, but worth the money. A lot of that cost is the three LL120 fans which normally costs $130 alone and the Commander Pro which is another $80. It’s a premium case for those who love Corsair’s suite of RGB components, but if you aren’t an RGB person than this case isn’t for you and you should get a non glass case.
Smart phones have hit a plateau in the last five or six years if you haven’t noticed. We went from huge leaps and bounds in software and hardware to arguing over megapixels, keyholes, and camera bumps. Phones have gotten to a point where even lower end phones are no longer slow and can pretty much do whatever you need. The gap between a premium phone and a low -end phone is shrinking and it’s getting harder to justify the huge price hike in premium flagship phones because of this. Samsung is one of the largest perpetrators of this issue. The Note series was their bread and butter and was easily miles ahead of the iPhone and many other popular phones and continued to innovate with every iteration. Once the Note 8 released I was pretty much over it all. I switched to OnePlus and never really looked back as it offered most of what Samsung could for over half the price.
What made me go back? Especially since Note phones run over $1,200 these days. The Note series has evolved enough since the Note 8 to catch my eye. The phone may not be super special to anyone who upgrades yearly, but for a jump from three generations back it’s a beautiful piece of hardware. The evolution of the Note is still subtle, but in many ways. From the pretty much edgeless display to the return of an aluminum back and expandable storage. The series feels like it went back to its roots compared to older generations. Outside of lightning fast response times and fantastic game performance, those are a given. I came back for the little things.
The unboxing is rather humble and minimal. Just a plain box with the S-Pen on front and a big N20. It’s screams, “Yeah, we don’t need to say much.” Just a charger and a phone without all those crazy adapters that the Note phones started getting since the Note7. When you pick up the phone the first thing you notice is humongous camera bump. Like holy hell this thing has a growth! These things are getting so big and silly, but it doesn’t detract from the phone’s looks. The series finally feels premium again. Glass doesn’t make a phone feel premium – it makes it feel delicate and fragile. I never liked glass backed phones and I’m glad aluminum is back in. The brushed bronze color is gorgeous and it continues on the top and bottom with only the front being glass like it used to be since the Note4. There’s also a lack of a headphone jack, but loo, it’s over. Headphone jacks are bulky and you’re fighting for room inside the phones. You also can’t make a phone thinner than 3.5mm if you keep this.
The software is a rather familiar experience, but I jumped off the Samsung train before the Galaxy One UI ecosystem was created. It feels familiar, but very much evolved and there are subtle things I like. The Note20 has some of the most in depth options for a phone I’ve ever seen and it’s incredibly customizable down to theming. The S-Pen is pretty much the same, but has minor changes, but the biggest one being an internal battery and being able to use it for air gestures away from the phone. The phone also has lost it’s weird quirkiness of slowing down over time and being sluggish which was the main problem I always had with Samsung phones, but it seems the 12GB for much faster processing has helped that.
Gaming on the phone is amazing and it will run any game out there with no issues. Using various controllers and clips of your favorite configuration as well as emulating systems like the GameCube worked really well with not many issues outside of just typical emulator compatibility issues. The phone does get hot, but Samsung’s Game Launcher has evolved to allowed performance plugins to monitor framerate, temps, and CPU and GPU utilization. It’s great that Samsung has embraced the hardware demographic as these are the phones power users reach for.
I do have to talk about the S-Pen and it’s functionality. This is a gimmick still to anyone who doesn’t need to write notes or do art. My previous job found this phone useful as I was always needing to take notes on the fly, but the various software added feels more and more like there’s less of a reason to use the pen. AR Gestures, Live Messages, and various other apps like these are pure fun and gimmicky and there’s no reason why Samsung hasn’t really advanced the Pen’s software suite much in almost a decade. The air gestures are great for presentations or something, but unless you actually need a pen on your phone you probably will never use it outside of satisfyingly clicking the pen in and out. I love the S-Pen and there’s no other phone like it on the market that has something like this.
Overall, Samsung has created the most premium Android ecosystem on the market and the Note20 reigns supreme. With a 108MP camera, themes, always-on display, tons of battery saving measures and options, the best OLED phone display on the market, Dolby Atmos speakers, 120hz refresh rate, true edge-to-edge display, and the return of the aluminum back, the Note20 feels like the Note has returned from a long run of being a copycat instead of staying true to form.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was a huge part of my childhood. It made me want to go out and skate which I actually did. Between the ages of 9-13, I skated almost daily. I wanted to become a professional skateboarder, and well, that never happened, but the countless hours sitting in front of my Nintendo 64 or PlayStation (depending on what time period we’re talking about) was memorable. I still remember how to complete every level in the first two games like it was yesterday. The countless lines I’d find, replays I’d save, and learning every real-life trick all thanks to THPS. It was a huge part of my generation’s childhood and was influential and rang loud throughout the gaming industry. Activision had a juggernaut on their hands, and while the series last great entry was Tony Hawk’s Underground 2, I wanted the series to come back. It took 20 years, but we finally got some reprieve and the series is back better than ever.
Let’s talk about the core of the game’s menus as they are used in both games. The entire main menu has been redesigned, but still familiar. You can pick your skater, either a real-world one with all returning skaters plus new ones or create your own. Creating a skater has quite a bit of an option, but I felt the amount inside each option was limited. This really could have been expanded upon, but there’s a good amount of gear as you can customize your board, wheels, trucks, grip tape, deck, and all of your clothes to your heart’s content. Everything is of course skateboarding branded, so no Disney or video game-related stuff here. Once you pick your skater you can head off to either of the two games, but there’s a bit more here than you think. There are new challenges that unlock cash that can be used in the Skate Shop which is nice as there’s some incentive to complete each level 100%.
Once inside THPS1 I didn’t need a single tutorial. I literally landed a 100,000 point combo without breaking a sweat thanks to the perfect controls that I remember to this day. It’s like riding a bike to be honest. Newcomers will be treated to one of the best control schemes ever created that countless action sports games ripped off for years. Grind, grab, and flip are all assigned to a button as well as ollie. You can press a direction with a button to do a trick and the skill is all up to you. THPS is 100% skill-based. If you don’t master the controls and get quick with your fingers you won’t have fun. My fingers flew across the controller going from a grind to a manual to a flip trick just before hitting a rail, back to a manual, hitting a pipe, manualing out, and so on until my stamina ran out. It’s a blast and the game feels just as good as it did 20 years ago.
Nearly every skating trick in the book is here, but what makes THPS fun are the special moves. Do some tricks without falling and you will get your meter up almost all the time. Each skater has assigned special that is pulled off with a button combo and then a special sound plays and your trick is in yellow in your trick combo text. This racks up massive points and looks really cool. Each level is incredibly iconic and shows some of the best level design of the era, but somehow doesn’t feel dated or stale. The new updated visuals breathe new life into these levels and add details as I could never imagine. The game looks amazing with great lighting, detailed textures, and current generation flair.
There are four levels that are objective-based and three competition levels. The objective-based levels get tougher as you go on with some requiring precise movement and accurate tricking to nail. These later levels can be very frustrating even for seasoned players like myself. The rooftop gaps in the Downtown level? Forget it. While I eventually did it, I took an entire night to actually complete this level. It was the bane of my existence when I was a kid and I finally completed this entire game 100% in just a few days. Once you do land these insanely hard stunts it feels so satisfying. I stood up and shook my fist at the screen and felt relief. It’s a style of game that you just don’t get anymore these days. It’s just you, the controller, the levels and objectives, and you just need to focus on completing them and honing your skill. No hand-holding at all here.
I honestly can’t find many flaws with the first game. The levels are varied, they look and feel amazing, and veterans will feel right at home. I like the newly added V logos which adds an extra challenge. Collect them all to unlock special gear. I also love the sound design which is also iconic. The sound effects like the camera flash when you complete a gap, the sound for the special move, the grinds, flips, crashes, the record scratches, it’s all here and updated with current technology. Even the majority of the original licensed soundtrack made it back with some great new additions. THPS had one of the greatest licensed soundtracks of all time. It was iconic, and many other games just couldn’t top it. From hip-hop to rock to punk there are so many great songs on here that I could listen to all day. While I wish there were more songs at least, we get most of the classics.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 offers more of the same as the first game just with new levels. While back in the day it was more tricks, skaters, better controls, etc. with the remake they took the best of both worlds so each game is essentially level packs. Once you complete both games 100% there’s nothing left to do outside of Create-a-Park mode which was a big deal back in the day and was introduced in the second game. It’s a ton of fun and this is where most people will spend their time after finishing the main games. I wish there was a way to share parks as skating people’s creations would add tons of hours of longevity to the game, but what’s here is fine.
Overall, THPS 1+2 is a fantastic remake for fans of old and for newcomers. This game defined sports games and helped push skateboarding to kids. While it may not do that these days, what we get is an amazing package of memorable levels, fun goals to accomplish, and a good amount of new to spice things up. While the main games are rather short, and nothing new was added to them, they are beautifully remastered and are a blast to play through. The create-a-skater and park modes are rather robust and the new challenges will keep you going back for more long after 100% completion. The visuals are not groundbreaking but true to the originals and there’s lots of love and detail everywhere.
Every PC gamer has envied the perfect build whether it’s on a desktop or laptop. While I have finally achieved my ultimate high-end gaming PC build, I’m always one to strive for more or want the latest and greatest tech. Most of us have sat upon a PC manufacturer’s site-building our dream build and watching the dollar amount rack up fast or sitting there waiting for the perfect deal. For me, since I was 15 years old, I have done this on Alienware computers and still do to this day. They are gorgeous machines and you can love them or hate them for various stigmas like being a Dell, having terrible customer service, questionable build quality in the past, and charging more for a name brand, but it doesn’t change the fact that these machines are amazing feats of engineering. Alienware has always strived for the best gaming technology in their PCs and usually land mostly dead-on.
For me though, it’s always been their laptops that fascinate me the most. I’ve had two previous laptops from them, and they were great for their time, but laptop technology has come a long way in two years. We can now get desktop hardware inside these things, and that was a distant dream ten years ago. Alienware has evolved their laptops so much since I last had one, which I donated to a thrift store about 2 years ago, and it’s clear how much. So much of the latest tech is now available in mobile form and not to mention Alienware’s unique striking visual design. These laptops are just dead sexy and stunning to look at. There’s literally nothing else like them out there. The Area-51m R2 is Alienware’s latest flagship high-end gaming laptop with better cooling, desktop CPUs, latest GPU tech, USB-C Thunderbolt ports, Tobii Eye-tracking, and two, yes two!, power supplies bricks.
Enough back story and on to the hardware. Let’s first talk about the unboxing experience. Again, this is a once in a 5-10 year thing for me so it doesn’t happen very often. The box is a lot slimmer this time around and opening it up unveils the laptop, a slip of paper explaining the history and goal behind Alienware, a quick start guide, and a compartment with both power bricks. Not very exciting. Where are the goodies and extras? Despite all that, the laptop’s design drew my eyes immediately and it is the single most beautiful piece of engineering I have seen go into a laptop period. The sharp lines, the large vent that comes out of the rear with the oval RGB ring, the honeycomb vents, the color is also amazing and the feeling of the system too. It’s heavy, but not as heavy as it looks. My model came in at just under 9lbs and it requires two hands for sure. The material is also a nice matte finish that doesn’t attract fingerprints. It feels slightly rough but also smooth.
Once you plug in both bricks and lift the lid the keyboard lights up along with the touchpad and you start the typical Windows 10 startup experience. I spent several hours installing my favorite programs, optimizing Windows 10 and disabling most everything that runs in the background, and downloading games of course. The system felt as snappy and fast as my desktop and the screen is gorgeous with the 300hz display really shining here. Typing on the keyboard is better than most laptop keyboards thanks to the Cherry switches and the 1.7mm actuation. The keys are a bit higher than most keyboards and I could feel them as my fingers flew across the keys like a desktop keyboard. They are a bit clicky and the material is the same matte finish as the rest of the laptop so there was no slick shiny nonsense that most laptops are subject too. The spacebar in particular clicks loud and is very satisfying. This is probably the best laptop keyboard I have ever used. The F1 keys have functions attached such as screen brightness, volume, touchpad, AlienFX lighting, and the graphics amplifier if you have one attached. One thing I wish this keyboard had was multimedia controls for music, but the FN+an arrow key works just fine.
The touchpad is also a huge improvement over any laptop I have used including my old Alienware. It has a nice rubbery feel to it and I can hear my finger slide and scrape along with the pad which is satisfying. The right and left click buttons have a nice deep actuation (seems like 2mm or more) and don’t rock left or right like my old laptop did which drove me nuts. I actually hated the old Alienware touchpad. This touchpad uses Microsoft’s touch drivers so you can use multiple fingers to swipe around which is so nice. The touchpad has a decent amount of adjustments for acceleration, sensitivity, among others. It’s actually a great touchpad and the backlighting just makes it that much more enjoyable to use, but a mouse is still always preferred.
Let’s jump into some of the technical aspects of the laptop. The BIOS is sadly very limited. There was no option for XMP profiles as I believe you have to use Dell branded 3200mhz RAM to use the XMP profile. I also can’t say anything about CPU overclocking as I had a non K CPU installed (not really necessary for gaming in my opinion), but there was a lot to control compared to previous Alienware laptops and just most in general. Don’t get too excited about advanced BIOS features like on desktops which is quite a shame for the price you’re paying. That was my first major ding for this laptop, but not a crippling one.
Most of the overclocking will happen in Alienware Command Center and it works well enough. ACC is very limited in terms of lighting control and overclocking, but it works and the results were fine to me. ACC allows you to change lighting effects from pre-installed presets or limited change of colors. Previous versions of ACC allowed actual timelines of colors and morphing and pulsing, but somewhere in the last 10 years that vanished. What is here is fine, and thankfully the Area-51m R2 has multiple lighting zones on the keyboard for WASD, the Numpad, the F keys, and various others, or you can do one unified profile. You can control the light on the power button, rear alien head, RGB ring on the exhaust, and the touchpad. It’s a decent amount of lighting and the RGB ring is the most eye-catching and striking of them all. That’s what will turn heads and bring people over.
ACC also allows you to manage your power settings in a limited fashion. Mostly just screen timeouts and sleeping. The macro feature is also a tad limited as I couldn’t map Windows functions to make the four macro buttons multimedia keys, but it works and you can do quite a bit with them like record keypresses and add program shortcuts. The Fusion section also allows auto or manual fan control. There are 5 profiles that I find are just fine and keep the laptop cool. Even overclocked my GPU never really gets above 70c and the CPU does stay below 80c on the Performance option which kicks the fans to 80%. Balanced drops them to 35% which is rather quiet. I don’t really hear these things unless the fans are above 60% and they are not annoying to listen to. Overclocking was a little limited as all I could do was bring the thermal limit up and then push the core clock and memory clock up to 300+ which the 1660ti easily did in the memory. I started noticing crashes and artifacts on the core clock above 190+ which is pretty good. I wish I could increase the power limit, but I still get a 10% boost in power with this OC. To use the fan profiles you can add games to the library (which is an ugly mess of stretched out icons) and is sad won’t detect Windows Library games so for those you have to manually set the fan speed each time, however, the OC profile has to manually set no matter what. ACC is limited, but some quality of life improvements could make this software pretty robust. At least it works right?
Once overclocked I got a 3DMark TimeSpy score of 6017 which is pretty amazing for a laptop. The 1660ti is no pushover either. Actually gaming on this thing surprised me as I could run every game maxed-out settings above 60FPS, with most being above 100 or just around there. Shadow of the Tomb Raider, The Witcher 3, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Borderlands 3, Forza Motorsport 7, Mortal Kombat 11, Wasteland 3, The Outer Worlds and many more all ran without an issue at maxed-out graphics settings. Now I will say this, the laptop does get hot on the right side where your hand is as that’s where the CPU is. It didn’t get uncomfortable, but your hand does heat up and that’s kind of expected. You have a 10700 desktop CPU mere inches below your hand. The 1660ti never really got too hot, but I’m sure the RTX GPUs do.
The upgrade ability is questionable though as you can put an i9 CPU in here straight off the shelf, and getting into the laptop is rather simple and easy compared to most laptops. You can add 4 M.2 drives if you wanted with one 2.5″ drive. There’s also an option for 64GB of RAM which is more than anyone would ever need on a PC these days. My question is the GPU. These are slotted, but Dell isn’t selling upgrades and you have to rely on the Alienware Graphics Amplifier instead right now. I would love to later on just plop a 3070 into this thing as Dell is using their own proprietary socket for these GPUs.
After over a week of using this laptop as a daily driver, I have to say I love it. It’s the best laptop I’ve ever used and I can’t really find any faults. The laptop stays really cool and the fans aren’t all that loud, and if you have headphones on, you won’t even hear it. If I were to nitpick I would say the ACC software suite is lacking. There’s not a lot of customization with the lighting and the BIOS is mostly locked away. These aren’t major problems, but enough to knock it down half a point. The laptop also gets very warm on the left side where the CPU is, but that’s probably expected with a machine like this. I also don’t particularly care for hauling around two power bricks, but this is a portable desktop.
On a side note, I would not recommend buying an Alienware computer or any new electronic like a computer or tablet right now. As of this writing, and due to COVID, it was a nightmare getting my laptop to me. With $80 expedited shipping it still took a week to receive my laptop, and it made numerous stops along the way, and they are all being shipped right off the assembly line in China. When I got my tracking number for UPS and saw it left China, I knew there were going to be some issues right away. UPS and FedEx pilots are currently refusing to fly into China, so the shipments are stopping in Japan or South Korea first, then Alaska, then the major distribution hubs in the US for customs release. I’m not sure if it’s due to the new tariff laws or just the sheer amount of orders being made, but my computer was held in Ontario, CA by customs for 2 days with no reason as to why. It just said it was held in a warehouse until a transaction agreement could be made. I’m not sure if the volume is causing paperwork errors in China or Dell just didn’t pay the correct fees. It then took 12-24 hours at each stop to depart and then another 12-24 hours to arrive. It was a prolonged and painful shipping process, one of the worst I have ever had.
I have used a lot of high-end gaming mice in the years and most are decent, but what sets them apart from one another are the ergonomics, software, looks, and sensor quality. I have never used an Alienware mouse before, and I know in the past they were always on the bottom of most gamers list unless they had an Alienware computer. To match my new Alienware Area-51m R2 laptop I picked this up which is an updated version of their previous wireless mouse.
Right off the bat the mouse is striking to look at and matches the aesthetics of their current lineup of computers. The angular edges, white (or black) on black with the alien head logo and three thin strips of light. It’s subtle, sleek, and I absolutely love the way this mouse looks. Now that’s find and all, but how does it perform and what is the software like?
Well the hand feel is nice and light with a bit of weight in the center. It’s lighter than most wireless mice, but the weight is evenly distributed. The back portion of the mouse flares out and supports your palm a bit to reduce drag which I have never seen a mouse do before. I’ve seen pinky and thumb rests, but not an extended one for the palm. There is a receiver dongle that pops out of the bottom as well as a USB charging cable. There are two thumb buttons on the left, a scroll wheel adjustment button, and a DPI button. While it doesn’t have a lot of buttons like Razer’s MMO mice, it works for people like me who don’t have a use for macros.
The mouse glides nicely on soft and hard mats and is incredibly responsive thanks to the 16,000 DPI, but surprisingly, I liked the presets out of the box they were perfect for me. There are 5 slots for DPI settings in the Alienware Command Center, as well as the ability to change the RGB lights. You can set the two thumb buttons as macros, but that’s about it. The mouse itself is more back to basics than featuring a bunch of buttons. I enjoy the feel of this mouse more than having to use buttons and macros which is fine for me personally and it matches my laptop which is also important. The battery life is also really decent with two days of 12 hours of use each and it only used 20% battery.
Overall, the 610M is a fantastic mouse, and due to the branding and use of Alienware Command Center it’s probably geared more towards Alienware computer owners. I wouldn’t expect anyone else to own one of these unless you just like the aesthetics. It feels good in the hand, has a responsive sensor, and has enough features to meet my needs.
Another open-world game. Yawn. A Sucker Punch open-world game. Okay, I’ll at least listen. An open-world game set in Feudal Japan against the Mongols. Okay, I’ll pay attention now. An open-world game that fixes so many quality of life issues that other games have not changed like Far Cry, Assassin’s Creed, Watch Dogs, Crackdown, Saint’s Row, and even GTA? Okay, fine, I’ll try it out.
This was my attitude going into Ghost of Tsushima. As the game opened up and introduced all the mechanics to me I quickly got sucked in and was comparing the game to every recent open-world game released in the last decade, and how can you not? There are so many things you just expect from this type of game and when it doesn’t happen, or it’s done better, you actually notice. Let’s start with the combat. The game is easy to learn but hard to master and requires skill and timing. Button mashing or parry spamming won’t work here. There are light and heavy attacks, dodge, parry, and block. Yes, three different ways to keep yourself from getting hit and that’s where most of the challenge comes in. You also get four fighting styles that must be changed on the fly based on enemy types and there’s also archery?!
Archery is a blast and also requires skill as you have to account for arrow drop over distance. Light arrows can be knocked faster but don’t do as much damage and heavy arrows take longer but you get less of them. You also get fire arrows and explosive arrows. These are key to the fight system and especially stealth combat. The game starts out hard and gets easier as you acquire new abilities and upgrade your weapons and armor via looting for materials throughout the game.
There’s so much to this game yet it makes so much sense and doesn’t feel like fatty filler content. This includes combat. While you can wale on enemies and beat them up, there is also stealth in the game. Combat is incredibly fun, fluid, and intuitive and the controller just melts in your hands. It feels natural like it should and not shoehorned in. Jin’s animations are amazing and life-like and the game is satisfying to play. Each hit felt good and then when you unleash a special move to swoop in and slice an arm off it feels good from the first time to the 500th. That’s how you make good combat. Jin also has resolve which he can use to heal himself or use for special moves. It’s a balancing act and you don’t get everything handed to you which actually makes this game challenging. Resolve is a precious resource and it doesn’t just auto-generate after the battle. You must kill enemies to regen or go to one of the various onsen baths. Combat is incredibly balanced, and stealth is just as satisfying.
Jin can sneak around use a sense to let him see through walls, but this isn’t really cheating as stealth combat is all about lining up the perfect shots. As you level up and acquire skills you can stealth assassinate up to three enemies, shoot them with a light or heavy bow, use chimes to distract guards, smoke bombs, firecrackers, etc. There’s a lot at your disposal and both frontal and stealth combat were not cut short for one or the other. The game favors frontal combat by allowing you to “challenge” enemies when you approach a camp or group. This goes into stand-off mode where you must release triangle before and enemy strikes allowing you to gain some resolve. The other option is to sneak around and kill everyone without being seen. There’s no penalty really for either one which is so nice.
Another combat element is one-on-one boss fights and these are hard duels. These require you to choose the correct stance. There are four stances for spears, swords, shields, and heavies. You can’t use any extra firepower here. This is down to pure skills and you need to either decide to block, parry, or dodge and you get a split second to choose. Red flashes are dodge, blue can be parried or blocked, but you must learn to time all of these to wind these duels. This is where your skills of fighting hundreds of Mongols will come into play. Switching stances on the fly and learning how to parry and dodge and block are key to winning any battle.
When you explore the game on foot or Jin’s horse you are mostly on flat land and this helps drive the game away from so much climbing seen in open-world games. You can climb certain cliffs and towers, but that’s it and it’s refreshing. When you explore the majority of it is spent finding things like Hiku poems for attire, bamboo strikes which is a button pressing mini-game, onsen baths for health, and duals for resolve. There are side missions along with your main ones. I found it was a blast to explore as I spent most of the game doing that. I enjoyed exploring the Tsushima and finding all the cool attire I could wear. Hats, headbands, sheaths, and some armor is unlocked in side quests. I also found crickets for new songs that you can play on a flute to change the weather, Mongol artifacts for reading, banners to unlock horse armor, and so much more. This game is packed with content, but it never felt overwhelming. It was so addictive to constantly run around finding a new area and this is thanks to the wind gameplay mechanic. Swiping up on the touchpad makes the wind blow in the direction of side quests or pin on the map. You can also use the wind guide to bring you to every single side item in the game which is fun.
The game also has a great story that shouldn’t be dismissed. The Japanese voice acting is incredible (turn off the horrible English dubs) and there’s tons of emotion and character in this game. Jin is a wonderful protagonist who is trying to win the love of his Uncle (also a Samurai) while battling between doing the right thing for the country or keeping his honor. The characters are great and Jin makes many friends along the way I got attached to. While the entire story is only through cut scenes in main and side missions, there’s still quite a bit and there’s plenty to love in this regard.
The visuals are also quite striking. There’s a gorgeous art style here that blends nicely with a realistic look. Plenty of grays and browns contrasted on bright vivid fields of flowers and gorgeous vistas. This is about as good as it gets on PS4 Pro with a nice framerate to boot. I just loved exploring Tsushima and its varied locales and each one was strikingly different. That’s another thing that I compared with this game, the actual world is fun and different to explore and doesn’t all look the same and blend together. Bamboo forests, dead burned down forests, beautiful fields of various flowers, swamps, icy mountains. There’s about every possible terrain you can imagine in this game.
With all that said, Ghost of Tsushima is a brilliant game and a once in a generation type of game. I finished the game to about 97% completion with about 60 hours clocked and I loved every second of it. It was the only game I played for 3 weeks straight.
A Switch console that can’t be switched. Preposterous right? Well, not exactly. When the controversy stirred up about the Lite not being able to be docked came about I wasn’t on board with that. The Switch is a portable system as well and that’s its main appeal. Nintendo’s data also shows that a good majority of Switch owners use it exclusively in handheld mode. The Switch itself isn’t the best handheld device. It’s very large, a little heavier than a large iPad and the Joy-Cons aren’t that great (sorry they aren’t). When I can I always use the Switch in tabletop mode with a Pro Controller, or I just keep it docked. When I saw that there was a slightly more powerful smaller version I was excited actually.
When holding the Switch you notice everything right away. The console is about a third of the weight of the original console thanks to attached Joy Cons. Yes, people complained about the Joy-Cons not being detachable, but at that point just buy the regular Switch, yeah? The buttons actually feel better than the Joy Cons themselves. We get an actual D-pad and not chiclet buttons, tighter joysticks, and better feeling shoulder buttons. The screen is slightly smaller, but in the format, you won’t notice. It just looks slick and like it was always meant to be played this way.
Outside of the slick form factor (it’s just a joy to hold and use), the system boasts better battery life than the original Switch, but an hour or two less than the revised model. The original Switch’s battery life was pretty bad with most games only lasting 3-4 hours. The system still has 5Ghz internet speed, an SD card slot, and a game card slot. This isn’t a digital-only Switch which they could have easily done and didn’t. Outside of all of this, physically the system is rock solid and is only missing the ability to dock. If you can only afford, or only wish to have one Switch, think about how much you will use the system in handheld mode. If the answer is most of the time I would pick this guy up instead honestly. The system isn’t more powerful than the original model, but has a more efficient processor allowing for better battery life. My only main complaint is the system doesn’t have HD rumble, so you would need to connect Joy Cons or a Pro Controller to have that feature. It really sucks, and I miss it, but with all the other pros it outweighs this major con.
I do have to mention that the system only comes with 32GB of onboard memory which is a shame, but large micro SD cards are under $30 these days so it’s not an issue. The $100 price tag difference is great, so with a 128GB SD card, the system still costs less than the original model. I don’t have much else to say about the system except that the new colors and overall sleekness of the system just looks better than the original. That flat black tablet against brighter colors didn’t look too hot, but this new portable system with a universal color scheme just looks sharp. I haven’t seen a better-looking handheld since the PSP was released 14 years ago. While the 2DS XL looks super sharp as well, this is clearly Nintendo’s replacement for the 3DS, they just haven’t officially announced it yet.
If you do own two Switch systems I highly recommend having a Nintendo Online account as cloud saves can be transferred between the two systems easily so you don’t have to manually transfer the saves every time. As far as I know, the only game as of this writing that can’t do that is Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Sadly, the game data can’t be transferred so you’re stuck downloading all the software again. Overall, the system has a slightly smaller screen, but it doesn’t feel smaller due to the overall lighter form factor, and the speakers are surprisingly really good as well.
Syphon Filter is one of my favorite gaming franchises of all time and top five PS1 series. It was my very first serious “adult” game I ever played and got into. Just the concept of how shooters work was totally alien to me before Syphon Filter. It was a game that I also spent a lot of time with my late father with and we aced each game learning every enemy spawn point, hidden cache, and level design. We rented this game frequently and spent dozens of hours mastering each game. We probably spent more time on Syphon Filter 2 than any other game in the series and for good measure as it’s the best game out of the three.
Syphon Filter 2 isn’t just an expansion, despite playing and looking exactly like the first game, as there is a greater and more expanded story, more weapons, new levels, and it’s also a couple of hours longer than the first game coming on two discs. You play as both Gabriel Logan and Lian Xing as you are fugitives of the US government and are still fighting The Agency so get back the data discs that store the Syphon Filter data. The game picks up right where the last game left off when with Gabe crash landing in the Colorado Rockies. In the first level the game introduces new weapons and gameplay elements such as being able to leap gaps. New weapons include the unsilenced 9mm, H-11 sub-machine gun, silenced HK-5, UA12 auto-shotgun, hand taser, flashlight, teargas launcher, and more. These weapons are just as memorable and awesome as the first game’s. There’s so many new weapons here it nearly doubles the arsenal.
On top of this there are other gameplay elements added such as enemies being able to get a headshot on you. The HUD will flash red and a headshot text will appear on screen. You have mere seconds to get out of the way or you instantly die. New enemies are introduced such as full armored ones that only die with explosions in one level towards the end of the game. There is also a better balance of action and stealth with Lian’s levels in the air force base are perfect examples. Agents can be killed but military MPs can not. You must sneak around an tase the MPs with your hand taser, but the agents are fair game with silenced weapons. Another level has you sneaking around vents and nightvision automatically kicks in when the area is too dark which is awesome.
The level design is on point just like the first game. Each level is memorable and fun and takes you around the globe. From the Colorado Rockies that the first disc mostly takes place in to the Moscow night clubs, Agency bio-labs and New York sewers. The levels are incredibly designed with the perfect balance of stealth and action. The train ride is a fun linear shooting gallery while the bridge level requires quick thinking and stealth and mastering enemy movement patterns. You can tell Eidetic mastered this genre with the second game and even the voice acting greatly improved. This is a AAA PS1 game at its finest and you will be hard pressed to find better on the system.
The visuals didn’t really improve any, but they already pushed the system to its limits and still have plenty of detail and the game looks great. There is some issue with slowdown here and there, but what PS1 game didn’t have that? There’s also a shoehorned multiplayer mode that I didn’t ever care for. 1v1 on maps from both Syphon Filter games just isn’t very fun. If the game allowed 2v2 via a multi-tap that would have been awesome, but what we have here is something just not very fun, and not to mention half the maps need to be unlocked by finding secrets in the game.
Overall, Syphon Filter 2 shows what the PS1 era of games would do and helped push the third-person shooter genre into what it is today. While it came out very late at the end of the systems life cycle — a mere week before the launch of the PS2, it still sold incredibly well and showed that the PS1 had staying power even after its successor launched. The story, voice acting, visuals, and overall feeling of the game is fantastic and there’s nothing else like it on the system. It’s a must own for any PlayStation fan.
Life is Strange is one of my favorite games of all time. Dontnod are masterminds at storytelling and character development. They can somehow create a world that you can either relate and get sucked into or both, and yet add an element of fantasy in there. Life is Strange’s title is fitting for these games as you play as characters living and ordinary life and then all of a sudden one of those strange twists of fate change their entire lives.
Life is Strange 2 cranks this to the max with a story that had me hooked until the very end and is on par with the first game. You play as Sean and Daniel Diaz who get ripped from their home in Seattle, Washington and must escape the US and find their way to the Mexico border. I do have to warn that there will be some spoilers in here as I couldn’t properly review the game without talking about certain points in the story as this is the main part of the entire game.
What I love so much about this game is how average it starts out. Just a little boy and a teenager trying to live their regular lives with their father when suddenly life turns for the worst. This telekinetic power that Daniel discovers comes out when he gets into a fight with the next-door neighbor and when Sean intervenes it all turns for the worse. A cop dies, their father dies, and Sean panics and runs. Now pause right there. Most people would just hide or wait through the trail and tribulations of being proven innocent. That’s part of what makes this series so great is the opposite of what should happen happens and turns it into a strange twist of your own beliefs and choices and what the characters are doing.
As the Diaz brothers set off down towards Mt. Rainier in the first episode they encounter a kidnapper and cope with Daniel’s powers, but this is where you will start getting into a gameplay loop if you can call it that. You get plopped into a large starting area that allows you to look around at a bunch of objects and listen to Sean’s inner dialogue comment on it all to learn more about what’s around you and some times discover hidden objects. You can also push on to the main objectives and during these long cut scenes you will get dialog options that don’t seem to mean much at first, but the entire game is a balancing act of influencing your younger brother on how he ends up. Is he destructive and careless, is he too careful and caring, does he hate Sean or love him in the end? A lot of options slightly sway this and then there are larger game changers that allow two options and each one will sway the story in another direction.
Some of these options consequences are usually seen right away and some are seen in the next episode. Once you get through a tense scene that makes you choose something big it settles back down to more minor plot development and this is where the game falters some. For example, episodes 2 and three 3 are very slow and feature too much slice of life stuff such as the brothers living in a homeless camp in the redwood forest in California, and living with their grandparents and doing daily life stuff. You do day to day stuff like chores and talk to everyone, but the integration of these brand new people feel like a slog as you must endure tons of dialog to get to know them, and in the end, it doesn’t really matter as they are unique to this episode. Episode 4 is much shorter and features all of the above but in shorter integrals and I felt was the best-paced episode. Episode 5 feels like a lot of filler in the beginning and takes to long to get to the end as the only “action” is maybe the last 30 minutes when the brothers are finally at the border.
Despite these complaints about pacing and story, it’s still fantastic and memorable. There are a few minor gameplay elements tossed in like quick-time events and aiming to throw a knife or something, but there is very little gameplay. The majority consists of Sean walking around looking at stuff. I honestly could see this as just a mini-series TV show rather than a game. Many times I set the controller down and only picked it up for dozens of minutes at a time to pick a dialog option. I personally love deep stories in games, but I don’t want to sacrifice gameplay. There are literally zero other elements besides walking around, examining, and dialog choices.
With all that said, the story is just amazing and very emotional. I related a lot of the first game as I personally grew up in a small town, but I also relate to this game as I live in the Seattle area have also lived in California a good part of my life. I grew up in small towns and had crazy events that change my life growing up in the blink of an eye. While I wasn’t a fugitive running from the law there is always a strange thing that happens in our lives that changes it forever and can happen so fast we never saw it coming and that’s what makes Life is Strange 2 so incredibly rich and realistic. The events are happening right now and could really happen in real life, but there’s that element of fantasy that makes it a great game rather than a life simulator.
I also have to comment on the visuals, the switch to Unreal Engine 4 makes the game look much better, but far from not looking dated. There are muddy textures, some wonky animations, and low poly models. This is just something most adventure games suffer from. The voice acting is pretty good though, while not amazing, it does the job to deliver emotion and you really feel it. Overall, Life is Strange 2 is for the story lovers out there and less the gamers.
There have been many Star Wars games over the last three decades. While some have been fan favorites, there has probably been a Star Wars game in every single genre imaginable. Even with the successful games, there has been one thing lacking from every game that hasn’t been done correctly until now: Jedi battles and light saber gameplay. Some of the other Star Wars games may have done it decently, but never as flashy or well done as Fallen Order, but that’s not the only quality this game has.
Fallen Order takes place during the timeline of the original movies when Darth Vader was still alive. You play as Cal Kestis, a fallen Jedi who is on a mission to retrieve a Holocron containing the location of every single Jedi child left. Like every Star Wars story there is a Sith lord after you and in this case the Second Sister of the Inquisitor Order is after you. Cal rides around with his Jedi pal Cere and pilot Greez. They use Greez’s ship as a hub area in which you can customize your lightsaber (more on that later) and travel around the four planets that the game offers. Each planet is a large open area that you are free to explore, and while you explore these planets you acquire Jedi abilities and new tech for your Droid, BD-1.
The main focus of Fallen Order is the fantastic combat system put into place. The game is incredibly responsive, has beautiful animations, and you really feel like an actual Jedi for the first time ever. You can light attacks which are used the most, and heavy attacks use up your Force meter. As time goes on your acquire the double lightsaber and then eventually the dual lightsaber becomes a powerful force ability. Parrying and dodging are key to staying alive because you can’t just wail on enemies and spam attacks. Each enemy is unique with their own attack powers. From regular Stormtrooper rifleman and shocktroopers to powerful Purge Troopers that have heavy plasma swords, rocket launchers, and flame throwers. You can knock back energy blasts with your lightsaber and throw back projectiles which is awesome. There are even a few occasions where you get to take down AT-ATs.
Once you acquire more force abilities they can be used in combat such as Force Push, Pull, and Slow. These are key to clearing rooms or knocking enemies off of cliffs, but also used in puzzle solving. There are only a few large puzzles in the whole game, but they are fun and require a bit of thinking and mastering the Force abilities. As you progress you can use these new abilities to access new areas such as pulling down ropes, blowing down weakened walls, slowing down fan blades, and more. You can access new areas to open chests that have customization items such as lightsaber parts, ponchos for Cal, and skins for BD-1 and your ship, the Mantis. You can also find Force Echo spots to add to your XP to level up.
So while exploring is completely optional if you just want to enjoy the story sections, there are several bombastic scripted events throughout the game that are incredibly enjoyable. Fighting a giant bird on Kashyyyk, or even running from Tie Fighters on another planet. The scripted events are worth playing alone and I was highly entertained. This also leads to some amazing boss fights that put your skills to test in which you need to time parrys and dodges perfectly while learning their attack patterns. While you travel through planets you can unlock shortcuts, but I found it annoying that you couldn’t fast travel between meditation spots.
As you gain XP and skill points you can acquire new combat moves and increase your health and force meter. These are also increased by finding parts of three throughout the game. This is where Fallen Order takes a page out of Dark Souls’ book as when you meditate it saves your game there, but if you restore your health all enemies in the world respawn. This can be quiet annoying when you’re backtracking through an entire level to get back to your ship or something since there is no fast travel feature. I also found that you must master the combat system in order to get through this game, especially at higher difficulties, as you can’t fast travel or move around easily throughout the game besides running away.
There is lightsaber customization in which you can choose the blade color, and the design of the switch, hilt, and various other parts. Sadly, you don’t get more colors until towards the end of the game, but all those chests you spend hours finding contain mostly lightsaber parts. Is it worth spending hours for? Not really, but at least the chests are completely optional and won’t make you feel guilty for skipping them. Likewise, customization is cosmetic only and there aren’t any ways to add abilities this way or change the actual shape of the lightsaber or anything, but it’s the most detailed customization we’ve ever had in a game.
With that said, Fallen Order scratches every Star Wars itch I have. The story is great and feels like it could fit into a Star Wars film. The characters are memorable, likable, and the satisfying conclusion at the end of the game makes the short play time worthwhile. The usual plot twists and turns in a Star Wars film are present here and it’s just good enough to make you surprised when a new event unfolds. I did feel the game was a bit slow in the beginning especially if you’re fully exploring the planets and may spend an hour or two trying to find all the paths on the map and the chests. Speaking of the map, this is by far one of the best video game maps ever made. If you aren’t sure where to go a yellow wall will appear on the map showing you need to go in that direction still. Shortcuts are green, red objects mean you need to acquire that ability to advance past it and it just feels so useful and I constantly referred to it.
The game also looks gorgeous with some amazing vistas, especially in the beginning of the game on Brakka, and this just feels like a high-budget Star Wars movie. Amazing lighting effects, fantastically done motion-capture and voice acting, it has it all. I loved exploring the few planets in the Star Wars universe up close and personal, and the game is definitely memorable for that. I don’t have too many complains about Fallen Order outside of the tedious backtracking and the combat can be very difficult to master due to perfectly needing to time everything, but it’s challenging and just satisfying enough. I also wish the story were longer and there were more planets to explore, but that’s only because I enjoyed the game so much I wanted more.