Audio-Technica ATH-AG1X Review

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The ATH-AG1X by Audio-Technica is a gaming headset that is tailored towards enthusiasts. With its quality built-in microphone, comfortable frame and closed-back design, this headset is primed to help gamers of all types conquer their foes with precision. But, at a price point of $299 is it worth it? After one week with the headset I’m saying it is. There are a couple of issues with the headset’s design but they’re overwhelmingly outshined by the overall quality of the product as a whole.

The headset couldn’t be any easier to setup, it’s essentially plug-and-play. It comes with a 1.2m attached cable and a 2.0m extension cable that splits the inputs into headset and microphone. The standard 1.2m cable length leaves something to be desired, but with the extension cable attached it ends up being an acceptable length.

The over-the-ear headphones are beyond efficient in terms of blocking outside noise. The closed-back design swallows the user’s ears, muffling unwanted nuisances and immersing the user in sound. Considering it’s only two channels, audio sounds fluid, especially during gaming but you’ll probably want to use some additional software or an external card to initiate virtual surround sound. It’s not perfect for all circumstances (listening to music, especially classical and jazz, left something to be desired) but the tones that are best-suited for gaming are well-emphasized.


"There are a couple of issues with the headset’s design but they’re overwhelmingly outshined by the overall quality of the product as a whole."

The biggest issue I found in terms of sound quality is the way this headset handles bass. Audio-Technica uses a newly implemented feature called a Double Air Damping System (D.A.D.S.). As advertised this system delivers “deep, resonating bass.” It certainly does but as a result there are sacrifices made in the mids and highs.

The microphone on the ATH-AG1X is very good. It sits at a perfect distance away from the mouth and its gooseneck mount has just enough flexibility for it to be adjusted for extra comfort. Unfortunately it’s not detachable, which I feel should be relatively standard at a $300 price point, but the build is sturdy and seems to be a high quality.

Tests and recordings I made with the microphone were above average. They were surprisingly efficient at blocking out unwanted noise and when used with Skype, Discord, and in game lobbies my voice rang through even loud noises crystal clear. It was certainly better than the microphone offered with the SteelSeries H or the Astro A40s. It doesn’t offer the levels of control that dedicated microphones do but it remains a great option for those that are looking for an easy-to-use built-in tool for their everyday gaming needs.


"Comfort is king, and with some additional accessories the sound can be elevated to new heights, it’s just a shame that it didn’t come with a tad more built in."

The comfort of this headset is unparalleled if you have a larger head. Up until this point I had never found any headset more cozy than my Astro A40s simply because their design fit the contours of my cranium so perfectly. But after multiple extended gaming sessions -- we’re talking 4-5 hour periods with no breaks -- I found myself forgetting I was even wearing the ATH-AG1X. There was no cramping, pinching, or unwanted pressure; I didn’t even sweat. All that being said, I have a large head and as a result these fit me perfectly. That will definitely not be the case for everyone, they will be loose for those with smaller frames.

Overall the Audio-Technica ATH-AG1X is a quality headset. It may not be the most suitable option for audiophiles, but gamers can choose this product with confidence knowing they’re getting a well-built piece of hardware for their money. The microphone is perfect for those that want a convenient built-in option, even if it’s a bit lacking in features. Comfort is king, and with some additional accessories the sound can be elevated to new heights, it’s just a shame that it didn’t come with a tad more built in.

Review by: Palmer Sturman

B+

Sound BlasterX Weapons Crate Review

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The Creative Labs Sound Blaster family of products is traditionally known for sound cards and gamer-related audio hardware. This year, however, Creative Labs is sidestepping tradition and expanding their reach to other gaming peripherals. Today, we’re taking a look at the their first entry into gaming keyboards and mice. The company’s decision to tap into such an oversaturated market is a strange one, but considering their history of excellence, there’s plenty of reasons to get excited.

The Sound BlasterX Weapons Crate, a limited edition bundle, ships with two key items and an accessory: the Vanguard K08 keyboard, the Siege M04 mouse and a high performance gaming mouse pad. You’re also getting a fancy carrying case that’s practical for taking your gaming gear on the road. The bundle retails for $299.99, but the main two items are also sold separately: $139.99 for the keyboard and $64.99 for the mouse. If you own any of the recent Sound BlasterX devices, the Vanguard K08 and the Siege M04 will make an excellent addition to your gaming setup.


Sound BlasterX Vanguard K08
Creative Labs has a long history of designing hardware that not only impresses audibly, but visually, and the Sound BlasterX Vanguard K08 reaffirms the company's eye for detail. The Vanguard K08 is a stylish-looking keyboard that oozes with elegance. Its cut/angled corners give the body a modern look, and the matte material on the keys provides a unique, shine-free aesthetic. The keyboard comes packaged with a detachable wrist rest, and while I’m typically not a fan of having a giant piece of plastic dangling while I type, Vanguard’s wrist rest isn’t intrusive and it’s far more visually appealing that what’s normally expected from these types of accessories.

Spec Overview:
• Product Color: Black
• Dimension (HxWxD): 215mm x 465mm x 37.6mm
• Dimension Without Wrist Rest (HxWxD): 149mm x 465mm x 37.6mm
• Lifespan: 70 million actuations
• Mechanical
• Actuation force: 45g
• Actuation distance: 1.5mm
• Total travel distance: 3.5mm

For the last few months, I’ve been using the HyperX Alloy FPS Mechanical Gaming Keyboard for both gaming and office work. The HyperX keyboard has a distinct clickiness when typing, and switching to the softer Vanguard K08 took some getting used to. Both are mechanical keyboards, but the Vanguard’s softer clicks boast a more temperate typing/gaming experience.


"Since I spend just as much time typing, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoy the softer switches. I found myself hitting the keys with less force, which resulted in significantly less strain on my wrists."

Despite the adjustment period, I ended up falling in love with Creative Labs’ uniquely engineered OMRON switches, and I had a hard time switching back to the HyperX model. Creative Labs claims the OMRON switches provide 25% faster response and 12.5% faster actions per minute, and after testing the Vanguard side-by-side with other keyboard models, I can confirm that the K08 is one hell of a snappy beast. The keys are more responsive without being oversensitive. To most people this may seem like a small or insignificant improvement, but when you’re playing something like an MMO, the added responsiveness can mean the difference between life and death.

The Aurora Reactive lighting system is Creative Labs’ new signature feature that’s included across most of their 2017 Sound BlasterX lineup. Personally, this is the first lighting system that I’m genuinely excited about due to its versatility. I’m somewhat picky when it comes to my gaming/entertainment setup, so it’s nice to be able to choose a very specific color arrangement without being limited by software (cough, cough...Cougar Gaming).

All adjustments/settings are accessed via Creative Labs’ free Sound Blaster Connect software. Here you’re presented with a vast array of customization options, including settings for repeat delay, repeat rate, polling rate, macros assignments and of course countless tweaks for the lighting feature. I left most performance settings on default as they provided an excellent balance for gaming and typing, but it’s nice to know that I have the freedom to change anything I want should my preferences change in the future.


"My personal favorite feature, however, would have to be the stupendously useful volume dial. What may seem like an unimposing addition turns out to be this keyboard’s most unexpected perk."

The Sound BlasterX Vanguard K08 delivers phenomenal gaming performance. I’ve spent the last two weeks jumping between numerous game genres, and regardless of the title, I’ve felt a notable increase in reaction time and fluidity. Having the macros keys located on the far left is an excellent call as I normally dislike reaching upward for special macro commands.

Since I spend just as much time typing, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoy the softer switches. I found myself hitting the keys with less force, which resulted in significantly less strain on my wrists. In general, typing feels more effortless. Vanguard’s engineers have done a remarkable job maintaining the benefits of mechanical switches while imbuing a sense of lightness seen in traditional membrane keyboards.

My personal favorite feature, however, would have to be the stupendously useful volume dial. What may seem like an unimposing addition turns out to be this keyboard’s most unexpected perk. As someone who’s constantly connected to a headset while working and gaming, having a volume dial right next to my fingertips is a godsend. Even though I can access all of my volume controls via my external amp on the desktop, there’s just something incredibly practical about having immediate access within the keyboard. Also, having a dial instead of buttons provides greater control over the volume levels.  

Sound BlasterX Siege M04
The Siege M04 reflects the Vanguard’s excellence with an equally stylish aesthetic and superb gaming performance. Both peripherals were designed with consistency in mind, and the Siege and Vanguard fit harmoniously together. The Siege M04 is a beautiful piece of tech, and the Aurora accents combined with the sleek curves give the body a modern and sleek form.

Spec Overview:   
•  Length: 135.6mm
•  Width: 67.65mm
•  Height: 43mm
•  Weight without Cable: 110g
•  With Cable: 143g
•  Product Color: Black
•  Lifespan: 50 million clicks
•  Optical Sensor
•  PixArt PMW 3360
•  12,000 DPI
•  12,000 FPS
•  50G Acceleration
•  250 IPS Tracking Speed
•  2mm LOD

The Sound BlasterX Siege M04 features a gaming grade PMW3360 IR LED sensor with 32-bit high speed MCU with low lift-off distance, 3 level DPI cycle button for on-the-fly DPI switching, 7 fully programmable buttons with internal memory, ergonomic right-handed design optimized for palm & grip, fully customizable Aurora Reactive Lighting System supporting 16.8 million colors with 6 different lighting presets and a fingerprint resistant surface with rubber textured grip region.


"If you’ve used something like the SteelSeries Rival 700, you can expect very similar performance results without the extra weight and a more attractive price tag."

Weighing it at only 143g, the Siege is light and speedy. I was initially concerned that the low weight may not provide enough resistance when aiming in FPS games, but my worries have been put to rest the moment I jumped into a Titanfall 2 multiplayer match. The Siege feels elegant and smooth. My accuracy didn't necessarily skyrocket, but I walked away with less wrist strain after longer gaming sessions.

I normally have a tendency to grip my mouse with a little too much force, but thanks to Siege’s ergonomic design, my hand is now in a state of rest, instead of constant tension. If you’ve used something like the SteelSeries Rival 700, you can expect very similar performance results without the extra weight and a more attractive price tag.

Like the Vanguard K08, the Sound BlasterX Siege M04 can be customized using the Sound Blaster Connect software. You’re given very similar tweaking options, but the Siege tab offers additional settings, like acceleration/deceleration dials, angle snapping and lift-off distance.

Unlike with the Vanguard, there was no adjustment period when switching to the Siege. The mouse has an immediate sense of comfort, and it took me mere minutes before I was able to effortlessly dive back into competitive online matches. As a whole, the Sound BlasterX Siege M04 is an excellent mouse, and an impressive first entry for Creative Labs. If you’re lucky enough to get your hands on the limited edition crate bundle, you’re also treated to a stellar high performance gaming mouse pad.


"The Vanguard K08 and Siege M04 are an attractive addition to the new 2017 Sound BlasterX line, and they illustrate an even brighter and more versatile future for a company that never stops innovating."

Conclusion: The Sound BlasterX Weapons Crate is a unique offer from a team of craftsmen that never fails to impress. The market may be brimming with gaming keyboards and mice choices from every corner of the industry, but Creative Labs once again manages to stand out from the crowd. The Vanguard K08 and Siege M04 are an attractive addition to the new 2017 Sound BlasterX line, and they illustrate an even brighter and more versatile future for a company that never stops innovating.

A

Berserk and the Band of the Hawk Review

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Koei Tecmo’s brawlers have thrived through three console generations—well, technically four if you count the original Dynasty Warriors on the PS1, a more traditional one-on-one fighter. This is a remarkable feat, and I commend the publisher for sticking with their fanbase for so many years. Dynasty Warriors 2 on Playstation 2 was a turning point for Koei Tecmo’s Omega Force developer, and it was the first title that made me fall in love with the franchise and its spinoffs.

As a veteran fan, I’ve witnessed Koei Tecmo fluctuate through numerous ups and downs, and while most releases have reached notable success (especially within the genre) there’s no shortage of hits and misses among the publisher’s vast library. Such is the case with the latest Berserk and the Band of the Hawk. It’s one of Omega Force’s weakest entries in years, and it’s difficult to recommend even to diehard Berserk and Dynasty Warriors fans. From the incredibly disappointing visuals and repetitive gameplay to a surprising lack of content, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk feels more like a haphazard mod than a complete game.


"From the incredibly disappointing visuals and repetitive gameplay to a surprising lack of content, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk feels more like a haphazard mod than a complete game."

After the successful Hyrule Warriors, Dragon Quest Heroes and Attack on Titan releases, I was excited when Koei Tecmo announced their plan to explore the extremely popular Berserk anime. Berserk’s over-the-top violence and unique aesthetic would have been a perfect fit for Omega Force’s brawler-style action, but unfortunately, the end result strays far from pretty much everything that makes the source material so exceptional.

The first major disappointment unfolds as soon as the game launches. Beside the authentic anime cutscenes, the game’s art direction does not complement the anime or manga whatsoever. Berserk and the Band of the Hawk shares graphical similarities with older Dynasty Warriors releases on the Playstation 3, but it’s been stripped of color and detail—let me rephrase that, it’s been entirely stripped of everything that gave Dynasty Warriors visual charm and personality. You won’t find exciting historical costumes here, nor will you find all the cool and varied weapons. Instead, the game tries to force a more linear, story-driven path that restricts players to mostly Guts (the game’s protagonist), who isn’t particularly fun to control.


"Personally, I think Tecmo Koei should’ve handled this title like Platinum’s MadWorld on Nintendo’s Wii. Taking some creative risks would have done wonders for Berserk."

This brings me to the second issue, and most likely the game’s biggest detriment. Story missions are terribly paced and lack variety. SInce you’re forced to play Guts during the majority of the campaign, you’ll find yourself rotating between a handful of moves for the entirety of the game. Even after expanding the character’s combos and skills, Guts (and this applies to every other playable character) plays no differently towards the end of the game than he did in the beginning.  Sadly, the other characters fare no differently.

During certain missions, you can choose other playable characters, but frankly, they’re equally static and lack variety. Cacsa, the female key protagonist, is actually the most enjoyable character due to her agility and fast-paced combos. Sadly, she’s only playable for a few missions, and even though all characters become playable in Free Play mode after campaign completion, there’s little reason to revisit the drab scenery just to play the same levels as another character.

If you’re expecting deviation from the Dynasty Warriors formula, you’re not going to find it here. Berserk and the Band of the Hawk is mostly a carbon copy of every past Koei Tecmo brawler. The controls are identical, the map layouts are fundamentally no different, skill progression works in the same linear fashion, and weapon upgrades seem to have minimal effect when in actual combat. In a way, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk feels like a massive step back for the developer, and it’s especially disappointing after so many recent spin off successes. Personally, I think Tecmo Koei should’ve handled this title like Platinum’s MadWorld on Nintendo’s Wii. Taking some creative risks would have done wonders for Berserk. Even as someone who absolutely adores Dynasty Warriors, I feel somewhat betrayed as a longtime fan and customer.


"Maybe I’ve set my expectations too high after enjoying so many hours with Hyrule Warriors and Dragon Quest Heroes, but Berserk and the Band of the Hawk is a major disappointment."

Despite its setbacks, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk is still very enjoyable in small bursts, and some of the special attacks make an exciting first impression. Slicing down hordes of enemies with buckets of blood gushing across the screen is both comical and entertaining when you’re having a bad day at work, just don’t expect much beyond that.

Conclusion: Maybe I’ve set my expectations too high after enjoying so many hours with Hyrule Warriors and Dragon Quest Heroes, but Berserk and the Band of the Hawk is a major disappointment. For a company that normally offers excellent value in their games, Berserks comes off as a severely watered down cash grab. If this had been a budget release, we would be having a very different conversation, but at a full sixty bucks, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk just doesn’t cut it.

6

AKRacing Arctica Gaming Chair Review

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As someone who spends most of the workday in front of a computer screen, I’ve developed a deep appreciation for chairs that provide superior back support and comfort. I’ve cycled through endless seating arrangements over the years, and personally, I always return to gaming chairs that take inspiration from race car seats. Their particular shape provides excellent spinal support that complements varied body sizes, and the added padding boasts a notable benefit over traditional office chairs.

AKRacing, a popular eSports gaming chair brand from Europe, and their excellent library of top-notch products are finally available to gamers in the United States. A lot of our readers expressed curiosity regarding the Arctica and Nitro models, and today we get an opportunity to analyze the former. The AKRacing Arctica Gaming Chair is a luxuriously crafted piece of furniture that stuns with its elegance and masterful engineering. The Arctica is relatively pricey, and it’ll set you back a whopping $499.99—but as with any premium product, quality doesn’t come cheap.


"The AKRacing Arctica Gaming Chair is a luxuriously crafted piece of furniture that stuns with its elegance and masterful engineering."

I’ve been using DXRacer’s OH/FE11/NW model for the past few years, and structurally, the Arctica foundation follows a similar design language. This is good news, because anyone familiar with gaming chairs will have an easy time assembling the Arctica. The chair is composed with durability in mind, and a lot of emphasis is placed on establishing a powerful core. The durable steel frame that hides within the cushiony, high-density mould and the Class-4 gas lift support up to 330lbs. The Arctica is also notably larger than your average gaming chair, making it a much better fit for individuals on the heavier side.

Assembly is easy, although the provided manual borders on the confusing. The manual contains photos of a darker AKRacing model, and I’m not sure who thought it’d be a good idea to choose a black chair and poor lighting for instructional images. You’re better off relying on common sense and ditching the instructions altogether. Having said that, it took me a mere twenty minutes to prep the Arctica for testing.


"The Arctica raises the aesthetics bar pretty high, and I can’t think of another comparable product that meets similar standards."

The AKRacing Arctica comes in a gargantuan box. Individual items are carefully wrapped to prevent the steel parts from cutting into the leathery material. Unfortunately, our unit came with a tiny defect where the adjustment lever connects with the exterior cover. A small piece of plastic snapped off during shipping, and I was required to use a drop of superglue to keep the plastic cover in place. To be fair, this is likely due to horrid shipping conditions in our area.

After unwrapping the seat and cover, you’re treated to one of the most elegant gaming chair designs on the market. The Arctica raises the aesthetics bar pretty high, and I can’t think of another comparable product that meets similar standards. The Arctica looks gorgeous, and the predominantly white color palette works unusually well, especially if you have light-colored furniture to match. If you are concerned that having a white chair may attract unwanted schmutz, I have good news. The Arctica doesn’t stain easily, and if you do accidentally smudge the white surface, it cleans effortlessly with soap and warm water. The material is sturdy and durable, and it’s going to take a seriously messy person to compromise the Arctica’s immaculate appearance.


"Unfortunately, our unit came with a tiny defect where the adjustment lever connects with the exterior cover. A small piece of plastic snapped off during shipping, and I was required to use a drop of superglue to keep the plastic cover in place."

I’ve been using the Arctica for about two weeks now. Both my writing and gaming are conducted in the same office, so I’ve spent a substantial amount of time analyzing the chair’s comfort and durability. The seating area feels great. Think of the surface as memory foam with high resistance. Much like a real car racing seat, the chair is meant to cup your body to ensure proper posture, and unless your physical body width expands beyond the seat wings, the Arctica serves as a wonderful, therapeutic solution for folks who need improved support. Furthermore, the provided cushions for the neck and lower back are a godsend for someone like me who struggles with chronic back problems.

The back seat is adjustable 90-180 degrees and can be lowered to a bed-like position. The armrests can also be rotated inward and outward, which is a nice touch that adds to Arctica’s excellent flexibility. AKRacing has successfully blended style with comfort, although there are some minor annoyances that keep the Arctica from perfection. While the steel framing and high density mould are made using premium materials, the same can’t be said for the smaller parts made out of plastic. The wheels and cover casing on both sides are made of cheap plastic, and the poor quality is immediately apparent. It’s likely that the cover defect could’ve been avoided if better materials had been used for the smaller pieces. Fortunately, the plastic parts are limited and don’t interfere with daily usage.


"The Arctica serves as a wonderful, therapeutic solution for folks who need improved supportthe provided cushions for the neck and lower back are a godsend for someone like me who struggles with chronic back problems."

Conclusion: The AKRacing Arctica Gaming Chair is a phenomenal product that’s designed for gamers seeking both luxury and comfort. Its niche aesthetic has no equal, and it’s nice to see a manufacturer going above and beyond what’s typically expected from a gaming chair. The asking price may be too high for some, but this is the kind of product that’s designed to last for years. The initial investment is absolutely worth the asking price if you're looking to expand/improve your entertainment and/or work area.

A-

Are Classic Games More Addictive Than Modern Video Games?

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According to a state of the industry report by Spil Games, more than 1.2 billion people are playing games worldwide and about 700 million of those play online games. When looking into the effects of video games, it’s safe to say that they can be extremely addictive for some people; especially the new, modern games. Symptoms of video game addiction may include compulsive gaming, mood swings, social isolation, diminished imagination and even exclusion of other events in life, which are all of course the negative effects. The idea of escaping the real world and being transported into a whole other imaginary world just by using an electronic devise is something that appeals to a huge majority of people.  However, not everyone who enjoys playing video games becomes addicted to them; it can be more of a hobby or something people enjoy doing in their free time.

Before the development of technology, people either had to meet up with friends in order to play the same game together or go to social events where they would all play the game as a group. For example, the only way of playing the classic game, Bingo, would be by going to halls where the game would be held and run by a caller who would call the numbers out to everyone. As people actually had to leave their house in order to enjoy a game of bingo, it’s unlikely that it’s something that they did every day. However, If you compare this to modern video games such as Call of Duty, it’s clear to see that there are massive differences. Firstly, mostly all new games are available to play on devices now meaning that you can sit and play them from the comfort of your own home without having to move anywhere. Added onto that, modern video games have incredible graphics and effects which make them much more interesting and appealing to play.


Although people still do go out and meet up with other people to play bingo, chess, or take part in fun quizzes, due to the development of websites and apps, we can now play our favorite classic games wherever we are. By being able to play these games on our phones and other devices, it’s easy to become obsessed and addicted to them which makes is very hard to answer the question as to whether they’re more addictive than modern video games.

If you look at the bigger picture, any type of game that is easy accessible and quick to load can become addictive. Whether it be old classic games that have been remade and updated with the help of technology, or the latest modern game that has just been released, anyone can become addicted to a game if they’re interested in it enough. I guess the obvious answer to the questions is that new, modern video games are the most addictive due to the quality of technology and being easily accessible, but it’s important not to rule out the concept of classic games being re-made and updated in order to be available to play on devices.

Sniper Elite 4 Review

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The Sniper Elite franchise has gone through a remarkable transformation since it originally released in 2005. The unique mix of tactical gameplay and over-the-top violence has matured and evolved with each entry, and the Sniper Elite we have today is a rather different beast from its earlier iterations. Sniper Elite 3 marked a significant turning point for the series by further emphasizing stealth and vaster level designs, and the newly released Sniper Elite 4 takes that direction to unforeseen places. Developer Rebellion has crafted something truly extraordinary here, dare I say a masterpiece within the stealth genre.

Sniper Elite 4 boasts diverse, challenging and stupendously enjoyable playgrounds that inspire experimentation. It’s a sandbox in its purest form. Primary and secondary objectives are expertly intertwined across each map and they present endless strategic choices for tackling targets. The game hands you the tools and opportunities, and it’s entirely up to you how they’re used. The sense of freedom and lack of handholding is refreshing.


"Developer Rebellion has crafted something truly extraordinary here, dare I say a masterpiece within the stealth genre."

The narrative has always played a small part in Sniper Elite games, and while the latest entry strives to give characters more depth and personality, it remains the least memorable aspect of the experience. Sniper Elite 4 continues precisely where its predecessor left off. It’s 1943 Italy, and players once again take control of Karl Fairburne who sets out to fight fascists in World War II by teaming up with the Italian resistance. Important plot developments are still told through monochromatic illustration stills, and to be frank, they’re neither impressively drawn nor effective.

However, I appreciate the ability to chat with characters before missions, giving you a chance to gather extra intel and acquire side missions. Once you get past the mundane history lessons, Sniper Elite 4 opens up and let’s loose. No time is wasted with pointless tutorials. You’re immediately presented with an objective-filled map and a plethora of toys, ehm I mean tools, to wreak havoc or go completely ninja on your foes.

Sniper Elite 4 doesn’t have a singular map, and is instead divided into hub levels similarly to Dishonored. These maps may be individually smaller than your typical open-world game, but they’re impressively designed and varied. Every map offers a unique layout that requires strategy and wit. The environments are gorgeous, and the level designs are some of the best I’ve ever seen. Every new area has its own personality and set of challenges.


"The environments are gorgeous, and the level designs are some of the best I’ve ever seen. Every new area has its own personality and set of challenges."

Side missions are genuinely exciting and interweave cleverly with primary goals. When I say side missions, I’m not referring to the derivative junk found in Ubisoft’s OCD-laden landscapes. The side missions in Sniper Elite 4 carry as much weight and importance as the main tasks. Some examples include sabotaging enemy artillery, disabling lights to free the airways for ally airplanes, setting up traps for convoys, destroying/gathering evidence...and so on. Everything feels organic and meaningfully placed, and you never get the sense that you’re simply checking off a laundry list of chores.

Sniper Elite 4 runs at 60fps, and the engine remains stable throughout. There are minor fps dips here and there, but it never interferes with gameplay. Developer Rebellion has gone out of their way to fully utilize the Playstation 4 Pro hardware, and the differences from the base version are noteworthy. Framerate is more stable on the Pro, shadows are crisper and there’s better draw distance and greater detail. Playstation 4 base users aren’t going to be disappointed either as the game runs wonderfully even without the enhancements.


"Everything feels organic and meaningfully placed, and you never get the sense that you’re simply checking off a laundry list of chores."

If you haven’t played any Sniper Elite games before, or you’re only familiar with the last generation releases, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. Sniper Elite 4 is a haven for stealth genre fans. Maps have extremely high replay value, and with each new playthrough, I found myself discovering new ways to overcome obstacles. Karl’s arsenal consists of deadly traps that can be employed in numerous creative ways. You can plant explosives underneath assassinated corpses, you can set up trip wires to surprise patrolling enemies, you can set TNT explosives and ignite them with your sniper rifle from miles away...the possibilities just keep piling up.

Upgrades work in a conventional RPG fashion. You’re awarded skill points based on your performance, and you can improve specific traits that complement your playstyle. It’s also worth pointing out that even though the sniper rifle remains Karl’s primary weapon for eliminating baddies, other weapons and accessories are given equal importance. On more than one occasion, I found myself solely relying on the silenced pistol and close quarter combat, which was a refreshing deviation from the more common long-distance approach.


"Karl Fairburne puts Sam Fisher and Solid Snake to shame, and I haven’t felt this sense of freedom since venturing through the phenomenal Hitman: Blood Money."

To further embellish the brilliant campaign, Rebellion has added customizable difficulty options for an even more personalized experience. If you want a truly hardcore challenge, Sniper Elite 4 lets you turn off all assists if you’re confident enough with reading wind direction and judging how gravity impacts bullet traversal.  

Beyond the excellent single player campaign, Sniper Elite 4 has both competitive and cooperative multiplayer modes. The co-op mode allows gamers to team up with up to four players, and if you’re lucky enough to play with competent teammates, the sandbox becomes an even richer playground for destructive possibilities. When it comes to competitive multiplayer, I only had the opportunity to play a few team death-match rounds due to slow matchmaking. The overall experience will vary depending on the type of people you’re playing. This may seem like an obvious statement, but in the case of Sniper Elite 4, issues with trolling are even more prevalent. When you have a bunch of snipers facing off and everyone decides to go prone and wait until someone makes a move, the matches can quickly turn sour. On the other hand, if you’re competing with a serious team, the match dynamics suddenly become more compelling.

Conclusion: Sniper Elite 4 is not only the best entry in the series, it’s one of the finest stealth games in years. Karl Fairburne puts Sam Fisher and Solid Snake to shame, and I haven’t felt this sense of freedom since venturing through the phenomenal Hitman: Blood Money. Sniper Elite 4 is especially thrilling considering how well it stacks up against all the amazing shooters that have come out in recent months. Even as a die hard Sniper Elite fan, I’m completely blown away by how much effort Rebellion has put into this sequel. Sniper Elite 4 is simply exceptional!      

Reviewed on: Playstation 4 Pro

9.5

Wacom Intuos Pro Review

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I’ve worked as an illustrator and designer for twelve years now, and during that time, I’ve only upgraded my drawing tablet twice. As you can imagine, my tablet gets used excessively on a daily basis, and I can’t think of a single workday when this cherished tool isn’t needed. This longevity speaks volumes of Wacom’s product quality and durability. Thanks to the company’s ongoing support, older models have remained compatible across numerous operating system changes, and it wasn’t until recently that I finally felt compelled to seek better performance and updated features. Today, I’m taking a look at the Intuos Pro—courtesy of the kind folks at Wacom.

I’m still a big Intuos line fan and haven’t found much reason to transition to the Cintiq. Spending over $800 for a 13 inch screen (the smallest offer) doesn’t appeal to me when considering the comparable pressure levels across both models. As someone who primarily works in a linear fashion, the Intuos is more practical due to its smaller size and lighter weight. I’m not saying the Cintiq lacks substantial benefits, but for my particular usage, I find the Intuos the most logical option.


"Their commitment to elegance and proficiency extends beyond product engineering, and is reflected in the way Wacom chooses to package their brand."

Wacom, originally founded in Japan in 1983, has a long tradition of crafting premium products for professionals and students alike. Their commitment to elegance and proficiency extends beyond product engineering, and is reflected in the way Wacom chooses to package their brand. As an artist, I appreciate Wacom’s passion for the industry. The Intuos Pro comes in a gorgeously designed box that can easily serve as an art piece on its own. The snowy white container boasts a large illustration on the top cover, which acts a teaser for the tool’s capabilities—an absolutely brilliant marketing decision.

I’m reviewing the M model which currently retails for $349.95 and includes the following: the Intuos tablet itself, a Wacom grip pen, a pen stand with ten replacement nibs and a nib removal tool, a 2 meter (6.6 ft) USB cable and color identification rings for a personalized touch. To further modify your new Intuos Pro, Wacom offers several additional accessories (sold separately), such as the airbrush, the art pen, a “classic” pen version, a grip pen, the pro accessory kit, Intuos soft case, standard black pen nibs (5 pack), stroke nibs (5 pack), hard felt nibs (5 pack), flex nibs (5 pack), nib set for the art pen, a standard pen grip and a thick bodied pen grip for the grip pen.

"Upgrading from an Intuos4 to the new Intuos Pro feels refreshing, and the improvements are immediately noticeable. The pen is significantly lighter, and I find myself clenching the grip less when drawing."

The Intuos Pro price point is extremely affordable whether you’re a student or professional since this kind of tech is designed to last for years. However, the accessories are overpriced, and you’re better off going through Amazon or a second-hand shop if you really want the specialized items. Who would want to pay $79.95 for a simple carrying case when the entire art pen, for example, costs $99.95?

The M Intuos Pro measures at 338 x 219 x 8 mm / 13.2 x 8.5 x 0.3 in and weighs a mere 700 g (1.54 lbs). It packs 8192 pressure levels for both the pen tip and eraser with a tilt recognition of ±60 levels. The Intuos Pro also boasts Bluetooth 4.2 connectivity, which is a godsend for people like me who struggle with a fully occupied workspace.


"Button and feature assignments have remained largely the same, so veteran users should feel right at home. If you’re new to drawing tablets, you’ll find that Wacom’s UI is robust and easy to use."

Upgrading from an Intuos4 (I used the small model for the last six years) to the new Intuos Pro feels refreshing, and the improvements are immediately noticeable.The fully matte body means you no longer have to worry about fingerprints and schmutz covering the entire left panel. Every part of the Intuos Pro is enveloped by a smooth, matte material that allows the tablet to remain clean through rigorous working session.

The pen is significantly lighter, and I find myself clenching the grip less when drawing. If you’ve worked with older Wacom tablet models until recently, you’ll be happy to find that installation and overall tablet management is now handled via a consolidated HUB that controls everything from driver updates to button assignments. Installation takes minutes, and there should be only three small driver updates that need your immediate attention before the tablet is ready for action.

Button and feature assignments have remained largely the same, so veteran users should feel right at home. If you’re new to drawing tablets, you’ll find that Wacom’s UI is robust and easy to use. Everything from pressure settings and tip feel adjustments to tilt sensitivity and button modifiers can be accessed via the practical Wacom Tablet Properties tab. The Intuos Pro also comes with touch options that can be enabled with a click of a button, located on the side of the tablet’s body. Personally, I find little use for the touch feature. Unless you’re trying to mimic finger painting or are using the tablet for web browsing instead of a mouse, I recommend keeping it off to avoid interference when working.


"Creating broad, long brush strokes results in cleaner and crisper lines. I no longer have to maniacally spam ctrl+z until I can get the perfect stroke, and I’m able to achieve the desired line quality more efficiently."

The tablet has its own set of button commands. The wheel is used to zoom in and out of pages, cycle between layers, control brush sizes and rotate the canvas. The other buttons serve as shortcut keys and can be independently customized to better suit your workflow.

For my particular setup, I’ve disabled everything but one of the pen buttons that I’ve appointed as the Alt key modifier. I only use this function to zoom in and out of my work canvas. Keep in mind that this is just my personal configuration, and not a recommendation. I’ve mapped the most used shortcuts to my keyboard since I prefer utilizing my free left hand for quick-commands, while drawing with my right. I started using Wacom products when they were much simpler and lacked most of the contemporary features, so I’ve been accustomed to a hybrid setup between the drawing tablet and keyboard. I guess old habits die hard.


"The Intuos Pro is a worthy successor to the Intuos line, and the best price/performance model in the entire Wacom lineup."

Drawing with the Intuos Pro is effortless, and I commend Wacom for addressing nearly every issue I had with the Intuos4. Creating broad, long brush strokes results in cleaner and crisper lines. I no longer have to maniacally spam ctrl+z until I can get the perfect stroke, and I’m able to achieve the desired line quality more efficiently.

The Intuos Pro is far from perfect, however, and continues to suffer from some the same technical bugs as its predecessor. If you are a Windows 10 user, you’ll face power state issues with the tablet after waking your PC from sleep. Eight out of ten times, I’m forced to plug the USB cord in and out of the device in order to get the pen working again. The old trick of restarting the Wacom service from the services.exe menu no longer works, and the only options are re-plugging the tablet or restarting the PC. It’s a minor annoyance, and most users aren’t going to be bothered by it.

Conclusion: The Intuos Pro is a worthy successor to the Intuos line, and the best price/performance model in the entire Wacom lineup. Unless you absolutely need to draw directly on a screen, the Intuos Pro remains the best choice for both professionals and hobbyists.

Review by: Tin Salamunic

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