SteelSeries APEX Keyboard Review

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Switching keyboards is like getting a new car. There’s an adjustment period, and everything feels foreign for a while. Using SteelSeries’ APEX Gaming Keyboard for the first time reminded me of shifting from my old Sentra to a new Mustang. It’s bigger, it has more features than I can wrap my head around and it takes a few days before driving becomes second nature. Much like the Mustang, the APEX is a gorgeous monstrosity. Its intimidating size, measuring 2.05 (H) by 22.05 (W) by 8.66 (D) inches, exhibits a sense of grandeur and supremacy without sacrificing elegance. This is the kind of peripheral that completely dominates its surroundings with its colorful illumination zones and stylish design. 

But what about performance? For gamers, the APEX offers countless customization options and long-lasting comfort. For typing, not so much. Its gamer-centric construction makes typing sluggish and imprecise. Then again, the APEX is geared towards users who spend more time with games than Microsoft Word. As far as membrane keyboards go, SteelSeries’ APEX is a superb piece of technology that’s only rivaled by its mechanical counterparts. 


"As far as membrane keyboards go, SteelSeries’ APEX is a superb piece of technology that’s only rivaled by its mechanical counterparts."

The SteelSeries APEX is beautiful. It may very well be the sleekest, most tastefully crafted gaming keyboard on the market. Its expansive frame covers 140 buttons, including dedicated media controls and 22 independent macro keys. Despite its size, the APEX looks classy with its low-profile keys and intuitive design. The keyboard comes with a sturdy braided cable with 2 USB connectors, one powering the keyboard, the other powering two USB 2.0 ports in the back of the base. This makes connecting headphones or USB flash drives a breeze. For added comfort, the APEX comes with extra rubber legs that increase the keyboard tilt for easier typing. The rubber material also prevents sliding, something that’s very common and irritating with most flippable keyboard feet.  

Installation is effortless and only requires the dedicated SteelSeries Engine Software download. The software is feature-rich and provides on-the-fly color and key customizations with switchable profiles. The keyboard consists of five adjustable zones, each capable of 16.8 million colors. The intuitive layout makes finding customized macros groups particularly easy. 

The color choices are practically limitless, although certain colors don’t translate accurately from how they’re displayed on screen. Orange, for example, looks golden yellow on the keyboard, no matter how much red is added. The same problem persists with specific hues of blue. When transferring hex codes from our SteelSeries Rival Gaming Mouse profile to match the APEX, the blues displayed different tonal variations across each zone.


"With up to 88 possible macros, the APEX is sure to satisfy the most hardcore gamers, even if it is overkill for the average user."

Aside from nitpicky color inaccuracies, the gaming performance is exceptional. Buttons are positioned closer to each other, making the macros and Shift/Ctrl keys easier to reach. The W key protrudes a tactile bump, which helps with quick hand repositioning during intense gaming sessions. For a membrane keyboard, the keys have a nice clickiness to them and snap back into place instantly. The macros above the F-keys are raised, allowing smooth downward key-combo strokes without raising the hand. 

With up to 88 possible macros, the APEX is sure to satisfy the most hardcore gamers, even if it is overkill for the average user. In fact, most of the keyboard is programmable, with an absurd 504 possible button combinations. The jumbo space bar is especially useful. Because of its larger size and quick response time, the hand gets more rest while gaming and typing. The diagonal arrow buttons are a nice touch too, although I can’t see many gamers shifting away from traditional WASD controls. 


"It’s beautifully designed, has a stupendous amount of programmable keys and provides comfort during extended gaming periods."

While the tighter key placement is great for gaming, it can be a nightmare for typing. It takes a long time to get used to the layout and typing simple things, like browsing the web, is troublesome. It’s very easy to hit multiple keys at once, regardless of how small a user’s hands are. After all, this is still a keyboard and typing remains one of its primary functions, whether it’s designed for gaming or not. 

Typing difficulties aside, the SteelSeries Apex is phenomenal for gamers looking for a high-end membrane keyboard. It’s beautifully designed, has a stupendous amount of programmable keys and provides comfort during extended gaming periods. SteelSeries delivers yet another fantastic peripheral that combines luxury and value. While the Razer BlackWidow Ultimate Elite still remains one of this year’s best gaming keyboards, the APEX may be the best alternative money can buy.   

Review by: Tin Salamunic 

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MX vs. ATV: Supercross Review

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No flashy intros, no cutscenes, no announcers, just the thrill of the chase for pole position. MX vs. ATV Supercross doesn’t try to pretend that it’s something more grandiose. It’s a low-budget title and it shows right away. From its barren menus to the archaic visuals, Rainbow Studios’ racer makes little effort in awing gamers with its presentation. But who cares about aesthetic fluff if the gameplay shines. MX vs. ATV may not be the most attractive racer on the market, but its fun and rhythmical supercross gameplay, which is surprisingly hypnotizing at times, justifies the bargain asking price. The developers have done a solid job of keeping THQ’s franchise alive, even if it feels behind times. It’s an entertaining little distraction until a more polished next-gen entry becomes available.

MX vs. ATV Supercross throws players straight into the action. Career Mode could have just as well been labeled Arcade Mode. There’s a serious lack of depth and sense of progression, with only simple rider/bike customization options tossed in for variety. Players pick from several racing disciplines and race track after track until moving onto the next event. The races focus around gaining momentum and establishing rhythm to overcome the tracks’ diverse dirt hills. In a way, MX vs. ATV Supercross benefits from its simplicity. It’s great for quick gameplay sessions without having to worry about complex upgrades or vehicle tuning, but the lack of variety and initiative to keep progressing hurts the overall experience.   


"The developers have done a solid job of keeping THQ’s franchise alive, even if it feels behind times."

Gamers unfamiliar with supercross are likely to detest the first few laps. The bikes slide across the track and understanding the handling requires some trial and error. The only guidance is a gamepad snapshot during loading screens that displays controller functions. Riders can do tricks as well, but performing them feels clunky and doesn't add anything to the end-race performance. 

Mastering the right analog stick is the catalyst for success. Leaning in and out of turns, prepping for a jump and adjusting the vehicle nose is all managed via the right stick. It’s difficult to say how realistic or arcadey the controls feel due to my unfamiliarity with the sport, but MX vs. ATV Supercross offers enough challenge to satisfy fans of either playstyles. Both the MX bikes and ATVs control surprisingly well, although the ATVs seem too bouncy. This becomes particularly frustrating when several ATVs are clustered around a sharp turn. MX vs. ATV Supercross also offers 12-player multiplayer and 2-player co-op modes. Playing with other more experienced racers is thrilling and adds some needed personality to the game’s otherwise lifeless world.    


"Despite its borderline inexcusable technical shortcomings and lack of depth, MX vs. ATV Supercross has an undeniable nostalgic charm."

MX vs. ATV Supercross has solid gameplay, but its outdated graphics make a terrible first impression. The menus are ugly, both the riders and vehicle are outlined by terrible jaggies and the derivative tracks are impossible to tell apart. Animations are a joke too. Riders sit stiffly on their vehicles and the ragdoll crash animations are laughable. MX vs. ATV may be a low-budget title, but we live in a time when a one-person indie developer can deliver better aesthetics than this. At least the frame rate stays steady regardless of how hectic the action gets.   

Despite its borderline inexcusable technical shortcomings and lack of depth, MX vs. ATV Supercross has an undeniable nostalgic charm. The gameplay is addictive and there are a good amount of tracks and disciplines. While the supercross genre has waned over the years and fans of the sport still have a long wait until a true next-gen offering, they could do a lot worse than MX vs. ATV Supercross. 

Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: Xbox 360

6.5
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Sailor Moon Combo Available in November

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Sailor Moon is here in time for the holidays. VIZ Media is releasing Sailor Moon Season 1, Part 1 in a limited edition Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack and standard DVD. The combo set comes with the first 23 episodes spanning three Blu-Rays and three DVDs. These limited edition set also includes an 88-page, full-color collectible book that comes in a holofoil box. The episodes can be viewed in their original Japanese or enjoyed accompanied with a brand new English dub.

If you or someone you know is a fan of the 14-year-old heroine, guardian of love and justice, then this might make the perfect holiday gift. This special edition set goes on sale on November 11th, so be sure to check out VIZ Media for more info and check out their other great series while you’re there.

News by: Mike Ackerman
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The Evil Within Review

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There I stood, corridor stretching out before my very eyes as my character, Sebastian Castellanos, slowly lost his sanity, grasping his head and collapsing to the ground as his field of vision gave way to utter chaos. Behind me I could hear muffled angry shouting as unease washed over me: I wasn’t alone. I didn’t know what was behind me, and I definitely didn’t want to find out. I grasped firmly upon my controller and forced Sebastian up onto his feet, immediately running down the endless corridor, sprinting as fast as I could. “Damn,” I thought as I watched what was left tiny white bar in the top left corner of my screen dwindle away. “No more stamina.” Sebastian’s breathing got heavy and his movement became impeded just in time to see an unknown force dressed entirely in white materialize in front of him and end his life with a sickening squelch. 

Does this section sound like a game to you, or is it more of a nightmare? Scenes like this capture the essence of The Evil Within, the new game by Resident Evil veteran Shinji Mikami, and go to show how this deranged title is a bit of both. Frustration, tension, and insecurity overwhelm the mood, and though it can be a struggle to summon up the courage to check behind every corner, you’re going to have to trust me when I tell you that’s a good thing. In fact, The Evil Within is at its most successful when it causes you to jump out of your seat, and let me tell you, it did that more than its fair share of times.


"The Evil Within is at its most successful when it causes you to jump out of your seat, and let me tell you, it did that more than its fair share of times."

Agonizing. That’s the best way to describe the 30 or so hours I spent with my first play through of The Evil Within. Shinji Mikami knows what he’s doing and spares no time immediately plunging the player into a grotesque mixture of sadistic violence, macabre enemies, and unrelenting tension that feels like a true horror experience, one I haven’t had the pleasure of going through since I was a kid playing Resident Evil 2 for the first time. Unlike the modern nods to survival horror, think titles like Outlast and Alien: Isolation, The Evil Within gives you the illusion of safety. It arms you with a variety of weapons, gives you a way out, and makes you feel like you just might survive, then it goes out of its way to rip any comfort you’ve found away from you, leaving you stripped and clinging to life. It reminded me at points of games like Dark Souls, what with its unbelievably brutal enemies that require pinpoint accuracy or extreme creativity to bring down. Fighting down to your last bullet is commonplace, and making every last shot count becomes more than just a mantra, it becomes a way of life. 


"Fighting down to your last bullet is commonplace, and making every last shot count becomes more than just a mantra, it becomes a way of life."

Though the story does get absolutely ridiculous as the game goes on, I found myself enjoying every moment of it, smiling about the fact that Mikami went with a bit of absurdity to break up the tension. Then again, I’m a B-movie horror fan, and some may be put off by its over-the-top presentation. I’ll put it to you this way: if you love kitschy flicks like Re-Animator, Hellraiser, or pretty much anything directed by David Cronenburg, then The Evil Within will be more than up your alley.

I spent all my time with the PS4 version of the game, though I did get an opportunity to play it for a little while PS3 as well. Aside from enhanced textures, faster load times, and the inclusion of a few ambient lighting effects, I didn’t notice much of a difference in graphics between the last-gen and current-gen versions of the game which was a tad disappointing, especially with so many titles being released lately that boast their eye-candy. The Evil Within definitely could have benefitted from more of a next generation realization, but even as it stands it sets a foundation for what can only hope will continue on to be thriving series. Hopefully this one will remain rooted firmly in its survival horror elements.


"Aside from enhanced textures, faster load times, and the inclusion of a few ambient lighting effects, I didn’t notice much of a difference in graphics between the last-gen and current-gen versions of the game which was a tad disappointing."

The Evil Within is not a forgiving game, though. Expect more than a few frustrating moments that start off genuinely terrifying, but quickly become tedious. Instant death sequences are scattered throughout the game, and the checkpoint system is far from forgiving. Nothing is worse than spending 45 minutes slowly stealth killing each and every enemy, saving your ammo and precious health pickups, only to find a trap or enemy lying in wait for you around the corner, ending your life and forcing you to start all over at the beginning of the chapter. My advice? Take a deep breath, set down your controller, and come back to the game understanding that this is supposed to be an unforgiving experience. It’s going to happen a lot. 


"Though the game is unforgiving, the graphics look a bit dated, and the story takes a straight to the madhouse, I loved my time with The Evil Within."

Weapons and ammo are fun to use. They offer a lot of possibility as well, especially for those that think out of the box. Matches and the use of fire also play a big part of this game. If anything looks remotely burnable, take note of it and use it to your advantage, because in this game fire is your best friend. Controls feel good and inventory management is relatively smooth, but are still prone to panic-ridden mistakes, which there will be plenty of. Upgrades are smartly implemented, and offer up a chilling list of options that all feel necessary. You’ll definitely find yourself questioning your next move and ultimately decided whether or not your choices were worth it. It makes everything feel valuable, which is essential, especially in a title such as this. 

Though the game is unforgiving, the graphics look a bit dated, and the story takes a straight to the madhouse, I loved my time with The Evil Within. Sure, the game needs some improvements, but it’s a true nod to the survival horror genre. It’s one with immense replay value (new game plus modes) and it’s the perfect title for the Halloween season. Play it with the lights off and headphones on for the best experience and let yourself be completely engulfed in barbed-wire-laden terror… if you dare.

Review by: Palmer Sturman | Reviewed on: Playstation 4

9
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Thrustmaster TX Racing Wheel Review

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Thrustmaster creates some of the most revered high-end gaming peripherals. Offering some of the finest joysticks, gamepads, steering wheels and gaming headsets on the market, it’s hard not to get excited about the company’s new line of next-gen products. Their racing wheels have defined simulation racing for decades, and their newest entry, the Thrustmaster TX Racing Wheel Ferrari 458 Italia Edition for PC and Xbox One, is no exception. With a powerful industrial motor, a 7/10 scale replica of the Ferrari 458 steering wheel and an authentic Ferrari-style pedal set, the Thrustmaster TX is a dream come true for car enthusiasts.

The Thrustmaster TX is designed for players who want to experience genuine driving controls when playing their favorite sim racers. The Xbox One gamepad’s subtle vibrations can’t compete with Thrustmaster TX’s impressive force feedback. The wheel transforms games like Forza 5, completely changing the track dynamic, making every turn and overtake a challenge. Even the most seasoned racers have to re-evaluate their technique when using the steering wheel for the first time. Much like the Ferrari 458 its been inspired by, the Thrustmaster TX racing wheel is a monstrous beauty that blends elegance and power, albeit at a hefty price tag. 


"With a powerful industrial motor, a 7/10 scale replica of the Ferrari 458 steering wheel and an authentic Ferrari-style pedal set, the Thrustmaster TX is a dream come true for car enthusiasts."

A wheel-stand is a must when setting up the Thrustmaster TX. Attaching the steering wheel to a desk, no matter how stable or sturdy, doesn’t provide the same comfort and adjustability. A wheel-stand allows various height alterations, as well as pedal support. It may cost an extra hundred bucks, but gamers seeking realism should consider the entire setup. It’s certainly possible to assemble everything without investing in extra attachments, but then again, this is aimed at gamers who crave the definitive racing experience.

The asking price makes sense considering the build quality of each piece. The box weighs over twenty pounds, and the wheel itself feels like it actually came from a disassembled Ferrari. The wheel’s textured rubber surface ensures long lasting grip even after hours of playing, although the grey-painted plastic surrounding the buttons seems like an afterthought. The pedals are considerably weighty and feature progressive resistance that gives acceleration and braking unparalleled precision. The easily accessible gear shifts behind the steering wheel have a satisfying clickiness to them and are made of sturdy metal. This makes playing games that require rapid gear shifting, like Formula 1, more accurate. 


"The pedals are considerably weighty and feature progressive resistance that gives acceleration and braking unparalleled precision."

This is no plug-and-play peripheral, and the assembly takes some time and patience. The steering wheel neck that connects to the body is somewhat unconventional. Instead of the connectors snapping into place, the Quick Release device’s ring needs to be rotated counterclockwise while both the base and steering wheel are held in position. It’s a two man job. Since the wheel is swappable, gamers are likely going to be able to attach upcoming Thrustmaster steering wheels to the same base. 

The Thrustmaster TX is compatible with both PC and Xbox One, but must be connected to a computer first for firmware updates (otherwise it’s not recognized by the console). In order to correctly detect the wheel via Xbox One, the base contains a Binder ID on the upper section of the base, communicating with the KINECT sensor for the most accurate calibration. For gamers with a KINECTless system...no worries, the wheel works just fine without it. There are three cables coming out of the base: one connecting the pedal set, a USB cable that connects to either the console or PC and one that goes to the power outlet. For anyone who purchases a Gearbox, there’s a fourth cable going out the back. Things can get somewhat clustered if the wheel sits on a table...so yeah, a wheel-stand is once again a godsend for cable management. Once everything is in place, the wheel briefly self-calibrates and is ready for action. 


"Playing Forza 5 with the Thrustmaster TX transforms it into an entirely different game, making it impossible to go back to the gamepad."

Cars have a greater sense of weight and taking turns at high speeds is only achievable with precise downshifting and careful breaking. The difference is immediately apparent. The learning curve is steep, especially for gamers unaccustomed to playing with simulation settings. Playing Forza 5 with the Thrustmaster TX transforms it into an entirely different game, making it impossible to go back to the gamepad. For anyone having trouble with the default setting, the steering deadzone, acceleration/deceleration and wheel rotation angle can be tweaked via Forza’s driver profile menu. 

Playing arcade racers works equally well. Games like Forza Horizon and Need For Speed: Rivals handle like a dream. Since arcade driving emphasizes quick reflexes, the wheel turns easier and has significantly less force feedback. The wheel defaults rotation settings to 900 degrees each time it powers up, but can be easily changed by pressing the left D-pad and mode buttons at the same time. Each flash corresponds to a different wheel rotation angle (DOR), but the default seems the most fitting for Forza. 


"The Thrustmaster TX is one of the most impressive steering wheels on the market. For anyone who’s ever dreamt of driving a real race car, the TX is as close as it gets."

Surprisingly, the base remains whisper quiet. Because of its hard-working motor, the base tends to get warm and releases a slight rubbery odor. It’s probably due to the fast spinning dual-belt mechanism inside (it’s also new and needs a break-in period). Considering the strong kickback when spinning out or hitting other cars, one would expect subtle grinding. Aside from the strong vibration, the entire set gives off little to no sound.

The Thrustmaster TX is one of the most impressive steering wheels on the market. For anyone who’s ever dreamt of driving a real race car, the TX is as close as it gets. It’s an extraordinary piece of technology that transforms racing games into completely new experiences. The wheel is a hefty investment (it costs nearly as much as a new console), but its build quality and performance justify the asking price. Thrustmaster continues its long lasting tradition of delivering incomparable gaming peripherals, and the TX racing wheel may be one of the their most remarkable products to date. 

Review by: Tin Salamunic

A
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Dragon Ball Xenoverse Launches in Feb.

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If you’re a fan of both video games and Dragon Ball then we have some good news for you. The North America release date for Dragon Ball Xenoverse has finally been announced for February 17th, 2015. It will be available for Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3 and PC. Not only will players get to choose from some of their favorite Dragon Ball characters, but the game also allows them to create fully customized avatars to throw into the fray.

Fans who wish the purchase the “Day 1 Edition" of the game will get some extra content. This will allow gamers to play as Super Saiyan 4 Vegeta and will also unlock both the Gold and Crystal Frieza Soldier’s Battle Suits. The game will also include character from the series Dragon Ball GT and includes a new game mode where players can unlock special rewards. If your a Dragon Ball fan or just enjoy a good fighting game, then Dragon Ball Xenoverse is gearing up to make itself you favorite game for early next year.

News by: Mike Ackerman
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F1 2014 Review

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Codemasters have done wonders to Formula 1 racing since taking over the licence in 2008. They’ve given fans the most authentic Formula experience on consoles and PCs in years when they released F1 2010. The 2011 season even made its way to Nintendo’s 3DS and Sony’s Playstation Vita. Last year’s F1 2013 was the series’ pinnacle, offering superb visuals, punishing difficulty and realism. Despite favorable reviews and fan feedback, Codemasters decided to reach outside their niche fanbase by emphasizing accessibility. 

To die-hard fans, “accessibility” may be a dirty word, but newcomers are likely to appreciate the new changes. F1 2014 is technically two games in one. When played with a gamepad, it’s more akin to an arcade racer, but attaching a steering wheel transforms it into an entirely different beast. While lacking innovation and content (compared to its predecessor), F1 2014 is still a solid entry until a true next-gen sequel debuts in 2015.


"While lacking innovation and content, F1 2014 is still a solid entry until a true next-gen sequel debuts in 2015."

F1 enthusiasts hoping for a vast leap in graphics and gameplay are going to be disappointed. On the surface, F1 2014 differs little from its precursor. The overall presentation remains unchanged with small graphical improvements only observable when playing on a PC with max settings. Aside from season-specific liveries and tightened gamepad controls, F1 2014 plays and looks almost the same. Veterans aren’t going to be happy with Codemasters’ lack of commitment this season, but the fundamental driving mechanics are undeniably fantastic. The sensation of speed is unparalleled, and the AI still offers a commendable challenge.

The cars are snappier and more grounded because of this season’s new set of constraints, which probably lends to the more arcadey controls. Also, with manual KERS now gone due to new rule changes, DRS is the only tool players can use for a brief boost. Cars handle easier on wet surfaces and when taking corners, but it seems Codemasters has tweaked gamepad controls a bit too much. Even after removing all assists, the cars feel like they’re glued to the track. 


"The cars are snappier and more grounded because of this season’s new set of constraints, which probably lends to the more arcadey controls."

Luckily, playing with a proper steering wheel adds back much of the series’ landmark realism, accentuating the sensation of sitting inside a real F1 car. It’s ironic then, that despite Codemasters’ attempt to appeal to a wider audience, the difficulty remains high. The smallest mistake can result in losing a race and the overall learning curve is geared towards patient and persistent gamers. The “Flashback” feature returns, allowing players to rewind a few seconds if they make a mistake, but it doesn’t make the racing any easier (just a little less frustrating). F1 2014 is a strangely polarizing experience.

F1 2014’s biggest crime is its omission of last year’s classic cars and tracks. They’re gone. 2013’s thorough tutorial that taught players driving basics has also been removed. Instead, players are tossed into a single Monza lap before embarking on their career. It’s baffling that the little things that made 2013 so immersive have been entirely stripped from this year’s entry. This streamlined approach extends further to the cutscenes. Victory clips repeat the same animations with the only difference being drivers’ uniforms. This makes the career mode stagnant, giving players little initiative to get excited about progressing. 


"Formula 1 veterans should probably stick with F1 2013 until Codemasters releases a true successor, but gamers unfamiliar with the sport may find the revamped controls easier to master."

Visually, F1 2014 is a beautiful game on PC. On max settings, the cars and tracks look sharp with superb lighting and crisp textures. It’s not a drastic improvement over F1 2013, but there’s a general sense of refinement. Racing through rainy weather is particularly impressive, with raindrops obscuring vision when driving via the cockpit cam. Unfortunately, the rearview mirror displays everything in low resolution. Playing F1 2014 on a 1440p monitor makes the rearview mirror reflections look like a 16-bit mess. It would have been also nice to see further enhancements to the menu designs aside from just color changes. 

F1 2014 looks great and plays great, but is ultimately a step back from last year’s fantastic entry. Realism has been sacrificed for the sake of accessibility (unless playing with a steering wheel) and the removal of classic cars and tracks, as well as the general copy and paste presentation, makes F1 2014 feel rushed and rehashed. But despite its problems and lack of innovation, F1 2014 is still a great racer. Formula 1 veterans should probably stick with F1 2013 until Codemasters releases a true successor, but gamers unfamiliar with the sport may find the revamped controls easier to master. 

Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: PC

7
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The Interactive Adventures of Dog Mendonça & Pizza Boy

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Indie developers will always have a special place in gamers’ hearts. They’re the underdogs and often unsung heroes of the industry – studios that rise to compete with already well-established franchises and developers. Indie developers also tend to be stellar examples of the hard work and dedication it takes to succeed in a world that is constantly evolving, and among an audience that never shies away from voicing their opinions. One such developer is OKAM Studio.

In Buenos Aires, Argentina, indie developer OKAM Studio has been hard at work finishing a game based on the critically acclaimed comic book, The Incredible Adventures of Dog Mendonça & Pizzaboy, published by Dark Horse Comics. The three geniuses behind this noir fest of satire, spunk, and good ole fashioned occult mystery – Filipe Melo, Juan Cavia, and Santiago R. Villa – have teamed up with OKAM to develop an adventure that promises to expand on the world they created in comic form: The Interactive Adventures of Dog Mendonça & Pizzaboy. Fans will get to play as Eurico, Dog Mendonça’s unpaid-ex-pizza-delivery-guy apprentice in this point n’ click adventure game. And did I mention he’s working for a Portuguese werewolf, alongside a seven-year-old girl who’s really a six-thousand-year-old demon? Yeah, it’s that kind of game. 


OKAM Studio is a great example of an indie developer that found its passion and is following through with it, but you don’t have to take my word for it. Head on over to their Kickstarter page where you can get a serious crash-course in all things Dog Mendonça and Pizza Boy. They’ve got blurbs about the published comic volumes, info on the setting and characters, and just an excellent smattering of content to introduce you to their game and the wizards behind it, OKAM Studio. One of the coolest features of their Kickstarter campaign is the inclusion of a downloadable demo. If none of the above has convinced you to start throwing money at your computer, maybe this will loosen your purse strings: I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to ask Santiago, Lucas, and Oscar of OKAM Studio a couple of choice questions about this project and the journey so far. 

Q: What was the deciding factor in choosing to turn The Adventures of Dog Mendoca and Pizzy Boy into a video game? It's been said that this was the project that brought you together as a team - so what was it about the comics that OKAM Studio fell in love with?

Santiago: When we started to talk about the next step of Dog Mendonça and Pizzaboy, the idea of making a video game came out very organically.  We found a lot of inspiration in old adventure games when we worked on the comic books so it´s a big part of the spirit of the project since the beginning. Somehow we always knew that there was no other video game genre that could translate the same mood of the comic book as an adventure game.


Lucas: From the beginning we felt that the project chose us. All the pieces were fitting one after another: the opportunity to work with the authors, the freedom to exploit the characters in another medium, the joy to assemble the team for the first time, and of course the adventure genre that made us traveled back in time, to the 80s and 90s.  Therefore we could not pass up the opportunity to capture the essence of Dog Mendonça in a video game. 

Oscar: I was called to participate in writing the game, based on the comic book. When I read the comic book, I loved the mixture between adventure and irreverent humor. It seemed like something I wanted to do. The characters were also so vivid that I wanted to see them interact with each other in new adventures.


Q: How closely are the comic's creators and OKAM Studio working with one another on the game? Is the game going to be something like an untold story in the adventures of Dog Mendoca and Pizza Boy comics, or will it be telling its own story, unique to the project? 

Lucas: As the idea behind the game was always to expand the universe of comic, we tried to find different ways to overcome limitations; therefore we discarded the possibility to rely on an overall story arc for the episodes. Instead, we believe that doing isolated cases gives us the opportunity to change the experience from one episode to another, in terms of locations, characters, and situations you could come across. 

Santiago: As close as we can get. Filipe is in Lisbon, and Juan and I are in Buenos Aires. I´m the Art Director and one of the partners of the studio, and Juan will be working with us too, sharing the position of Art Director with me for the project. So we will always be close to all aspects of development.

Oscar: The game will be an untold story within the universe of Dog Mendonca, and a standalone adventure, ready to introduce new readers into its world. We worked with Filipe – the original writer – in finding the right story to tell, something that was not told but would be fun to see within the boundaries of a new medium.


Q: Any thoughts on what this game could mean for OKAM Studio, or for the creators of the comic books? 

Santiago: For me, and I guess for Juan and Filipe as well, it means a new way to expand the universe and tell new adventures of the characters. It´s also a challenge to develop aspects of the characters and world that the comic book medium didn´t allow us to work on. 

Lucas: For me, it´s the childhood dream of designing an adventure game. 

Oscar: For me, writing the game means letting my imagination run loose. I hope that the creative rush that ran the prototype takes me over again for a larger project.

Q: What's been your biggest accomplishment to date in the development of The Adventures of Dog Mendonça and Pizza Boy?

Oscar: I guess this is something that everyone is saying, but for me developing the game has been an opportunity to know the team and, afterwards, joining them. It was our first collaboration, and I hope the first of many to come!

Santiago: I agree with Oscar. 

Lucas: Coming together as a team.


There’s still plenty of time left to familiarize yourself with the project and pledge to their cause, and for a game that looks as good as this one does – and one that’s so close to completion – you’d seriously be screwing the werewolf occult detective by not giving the demo a try. OKAM Studio’s dedication, hard work, and passion shines through every aspect of their Kickstarter page; and if we have any hope of a bright future in the world of gaming, we owe it to ourselves to invest in the indie developers who just might be running things one day.

Article by: Robert Ortiz
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3D Realms Anthology Review

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The gaming industry suffered a big loss with 3D Realm's unofficial closing in 2009. Seeing such a prestigious company fade due to a pesky lawsuit and lack of funding was tragic. But a developer responsible for defining 3D gaming doesn’t go down so easily. Nearly five years later, the team makes an epic comeback by offering gamers a 32-game collection of their greatest achievements for only $39.99. 3D Realms Anthology is a glorious reminder of just how much the developer contributed to the gaming world. 

All titles, many of which have added gamepad support, are repackaged into a custom-made launcher built to run on Windows. Additionally, they’ve included a soundtrack with nine remade tracks from classics like Duke Nukem and Shadow Warrior. The best part is...everything is DRM-free. The games have aged surprisingly well, some controlling and running better than when they originally released. The 3D Realms Anthology proves that great gameplay is timeless.


"3D Realms Anthology is a glorious reminder of just how much the developer contributed to the gaming world."

Booting up a favorite like Bio Menace for the first time in over two decades is immensely gratifying. Even the classic DOS boot-up screens are kept intact. Added gamepad support makes platforming in many of the side-scrollers significantly easier, although trying to perfect jumps in Commander Keen is still infuriating. Considering that many of today’s indie games are revitalizing the pixel-art aesthetic, the games’ visuals don’t feel as archaic as some might expect. Titles like Bio Menace or Alien Carnage might be easily mistaken for a contemporary indie release. Even rougher looking 3D titles like Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold carry a nostalgic allure that’s impossible to dislike. 

Replaying many of the platformers with an Xbox 360 gamepad feels fantastic, but the same can’t be said for the FPS titles. Games like Shadow Warrior and Duke Nukem 3D require the use of directional arrow keys for movement and can’t be remapped to WASD keys. Since 3D Realms went through the trouble of modernizing most controls, it’s surprising they haven’t added simple key reconfiguration options for 3D shooters. 


"The tunes alone are worth the asking price, and 3D Realms even included the option to purchase the album individually."

In a way, the old-fashioned scheme preserves the games’ integrity, but the awkward mapping may turn off younger gamers. The lack of VSync is also disappointing. So much work went into rejuvenating the package for modern computers, yet a simple VSync option isn't present? Trying to force VSync via the GPU’s control panel doesn’t work either, so players are stuck with flickering images. Nonetheless, these are just small hiccups that honestly don’t take away from the Anthology’s overall quality and value.

The included soundtrack further highlights the company’s triumphant return. Interceptor Entertainment’s Andrew Hulshult lends his talent to reviving nine tracks across eight revered games. The soundtrack comes packaged in various playable formats, including mp3, wav and uncompressed flac. The tunes alone are worth the asking price, and 3D Realms even included the option to purchase the album individually.


"The 3D Realms Anthology is one of the finest classic game compilations since the Sonic Ultimate Genesis Collection."

It’s amazing how well some of these oldies still play. Games like Terminal Velocity, an arcade-style flight combat simulator, controls as fluidly as its contemporaries. Arctic Adventure’s sadistic level designs are reminiscent of the recent Super Meat Boy, and Raptor: Call of the Shadows has undoubtedly inspired many of today’s Shoot em’ Ups. These games are a testament to 3D Realms’ unprecedented creativity and innovation.

The 3D Realms Anthology is one of the finest classic game compilations since the Sonic Ultimate Genesis Collection. Younger gamers raised on fancy graphics and complex gameplay mechanics may not fully appreciate what this collection has to offer, but those feeling nostalgic for some of the finest PC titles of the late 80’s and 90’s should pick this up in a heartbeat. 3D Realms is back! The industry is in desperate need of new ideas, and who better to bring something new to the table than the guys responsible for taking gaming into the third dimension. 

Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: PC

9
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Samurai Warriors 4 Review

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There’s never been a better time for Warriors fans. From last year’s fantastic Dynasty Warriors 8 to the recent Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate and the brilliant Hyrule Warriors, developer Omega Force has tackled the new console generation with great enthusiasm and creative vigor. Dynasty Warriors’ Three Kingdoms premise attracted a vast following after DW2 refined its predecessor’s mechanics back in 2000, and only a handful of Tecmo’s many spin-offs reached similar success. While Dynasty Warriors lingered in the spotlight over the years, their sister series, Samurai Warriors, struggled to attain equal recognition and gameplay finesse. But much like the recently revamped Orochi franchise, Samurai Warriors is finally stepping out of the shadows. With drastically improved visuals and tighter combat, Samurai Warriors 4 has earned the title as Tecmo’s best hack n’ slash to date.


"With drastically improved visuals and tighter combat, Samurai Warriors 4 has earned the title as Tecmo’s best hack n’ slash to date."

Like previous Samurai Warriors titles, the story takes place during feudal Japan where iconic warlords duke it out on the battlefield. The story mode is split into several small campaigns, each representing different viewpoints. Instead of choosing two weapon sets like in Dynasty Warriors, players choose two heroes to dominate the front lines. Both fighters are switchable during gameplay, making the scattered objectives easier to reach. Samurai Warriors 4 boasts a whopping 55 playable heroes, including a substantial character creator in Chronicle Mode, an RPG-like crusade where players take on missions with their custom avatar. All characters from previous releases return with twelve new warriors making their debut. No warrior plays the same, so it’s impossible to grow tired of a particular fighting style.

It’s difficult to talk about gameplay in these games without sounding like a broken record. Fundamentally, they’re all similar with small variants differentiating each series. It ultimately boils down to mashing attack buttons and obliterating thousands of enemy soldiers. Missions consist of immense open maps with various objectives constantly popping up in every corner. Samurai Warriors 4 sets itself apart with fast-paced Hyper Attacks and powerful Rage Attacks. Hyper Attacks are useful for clearing large enemy hordes, but are usually ineffective against generals and bosses, and Rage Mode empowers Musou attacks by draining the spirit gauge. Musou attacks are unique over-the-top special moves highlighted by flashy cinematics that show the warrior annihilating everyone in sight. 


"Textures, lighting, character models, everything has been meticulously reworked and perfected."

Once the spirit gauge is full, players can enter an invulnerability state via R3, at which point they can perform Ultimate Musou, a chaotic special attack that can take down even the toughest bosses. Generals can be hard to beat as they oftentimes come in packs and have absurdly high health. But once weakened, players can perform finishing moves (similar to Warriors: Legends of Troy), which are quick-animations triggered by an on-screen prompt.

Instead of mid-game power-ups like in Dynasty Warriors, players choose collected items pre-battle to heal or bolster their hero. This makes fights more strategic, encouraging vigilant brawling and more cautious item management. Between battles, players can enter shops where weapons can be upgraded, as well as melted down for gems. Depending on the equipment, gems can add various attributes to each available weapon slot to aid warriors during combat. This spices up battles even further by giving combos impressive elemental powers.

SW 4 can be played solo or via two-player multiplayer. Being able to tackle different sections of the battlefield with a buddy makes missions more dynamic, allowing players to complete bonus objectives much easier. Couch co-op is a blast, but the archaic online structure makes finding teammates unnecessarily difficult. Players have to select a stage first, then wait and hope someone is playing the same area and seeking cooperative assistance. Instead, why not add a quick-match system so that players who don’t care about the field they’re playing on can quickly find matches.


"The audience tends to be split on these type of games...people either love them or hate them, but Samurai Warriors 4 may break that trend."

Samurai Warriors 4 is beautiful. That’s not a term commonly used to describe Warriors games. Sure, they always have a ton of on-screen chaos, but there’s never been this much attention paid to the details. Textures, lighting, character models, everything has been meticulously reworked and perfected. Characters move with fluidity and grace through environments filled beautiful architecture and lush vegetation. Even the throwaway enemy soldiers are more diverse compared to previous entries. 

The music is equally impressive, although it doesn’t have the same charm as Dynasty Warriors’ guitar riffs. The only downside is the exclusion of English voice-overs. While I typically prefer authentic dialogue in import titles, reading endless lines of text while fighting breaks the immersion, making it difficult to follow the narrative. Nevertheless, Samurai Warriors 4 looks and sounds fantastic and is undoubtedly the most technically impressive Warriors entry yet. 

Why choose Samurai Warriors 4 over other Tecmo hack n’ slash entries? Well, it’s a combination of accessibility and polish. The narrative is easier to follow, even for newcomers, and each gameplay mechanic has been tweaked to perfection. The frame rate remains a locked 60 fps, no matter how many enemies fill the screen and the fighting feels more fluid and precise. The audience tends to be split on these type of games...people either love them or hate them, but Samurai Warriors 4 may break that trend. It’s stupendously enjoyable and offers more value than most recent AAA releases. Longtime fan or not, Samurai Warriors 4 is a must buy for anyone craving classic beat em’ up action with a new coat of paint. 

Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: Playstation 4

9.5
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Nekro Preview

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Who doesn’t love a game where you get to play as the necromancer, raising people from the dead to do your bidding as you slaughter townsfolk to create an even bigger army. Spreading your plague has always been a wholesome past time. You know, fun for the whole family. The necromancer is almost always portrayed as the bad guy, an evil fiend with a taste for destruction. Despite the fun concept, there is a decided lack of necromancer themed titles because of the microscopic market. I haven’t played a necromancer themed game since Diablo 2. Going into Nekro was an adventure in itself.

A demon greets you at the start of the game. There is the standard fare of graphical options to tweak, and they can make the game look beautiful, even in beta. Bloom has always been my favorite effect. Now, I mentioned that there was a demon on the main screen, and there’s a reason for it–your necromancer can summon demons. A lot of them. Your entire necromancer army consists mostly of either twisted wildlife or summoned demons. The undead are actually few and far between. You will end up feasting on the corpses for the most valuable resource of the game, blood. That leaves few bodies that the necromancer can use to spawn monster bats that don’t fare well in battle. The necromancer inflicts the bulk of the damage on the enemy. Depending on your choice of necromancer and your load out, you are either wading in swinging or throwing potions safely behind your wall of minions.


"There is the standard fare of graphical options to tweak, and they can make the game look beautiful, even in beta."

And that’s the frustrating part. The feast command to gain blood is short ranged. Many times you will find yourself just a few inches short of a corpse, wondering why your necromancer is just standing there while you repeatedly mash the feast command. While there is an icon that appears above your head when you have the ability to feast, there’s usually too much going on the screen for you to see it clearly.

Your necromancer’s primary summons are demons and wildlife, which leaves a huge gap where there should be more undead. Skeletons can only be summoned by using demonic eels on a pile of bones. You cannot raise corpses. Instead, they are used as fuel or demolished to create two monster bats. I was disappointed in the lack of the ability to create an undead army, and had to console myself by summoning demons to rip the faces off of the farmers.


"Ripping apart humans with your own two hands is a lot more satisfying than watching your bats gnaw on their necks until the humans die from boredom."

You never get a large army, either. What you do get usually falls pretty quickly in combat, even against lowly farmers. So, it’s up to the necromancer to protect them. That is rather unconventional because in most necromancer games the army is created to protect you. In the context of the story it makes more sense because the necromancer is seeking vengeance. Ripping apart humans with your own two hands is a lot more satisfying than watching your bats gnaw on their necks until the humans die from boredom.

Throughout the missions, there’s a chance to explore the game world. While you are confined to do battle within the level itself, there are enough nooks and crannies to find upgrade points called “sins”. Once a sin is spent, it cannot be retrieved. The necromancer is forced to spend their upgrades wisely. Because I spent my sins for upgrades to my existing demons early on, I was unable to unlock the Bile Demon. The next mission was entirely too tough without it. It would make sense to let players decide whether to unlock demons, instead of creating a level where unlocked demons are a necessity. I was forced to restart the game from the beginning and save enough sins to unlock the Bile Demon. After that, I had no issues with the rest of the game.


"You will find yourself replaying the same levels with different necromancers just for fun because the levels pose different problems to different builds."

A game is designed primarily to entertain. While Nekro does have its faults—some issues with user control, camera and the upgrade path—the game is a lot of fun to play. I didn’t mind restarting levels after being defeated because I learned more about what I was supposed to do. The game is in development, so several necromancers and summons are not yet in the game. The levels are short, but have a puzzle-solving quality to them. You will find yourself replaying the same levels with different necromancers just for fun because the levels pose different problems to different builds. Even with its faults, the game shows a lot of potential. This is a game you will want to keep your eye on.

Preview by: Mark Brenner | Previewed on: PC
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The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 Preview

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The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 avoids the all-in-one anathema infecting today’s games. Crowdfunding and the Steam revolution empower indie studios to create, unburdened by typical limitations. Publisher Nordic Games already backed German developer, KING Art. KickStarter assistance enabled them to expand their boundaries, boosting production value without sacrificing storytelling or length. This latest Early Access release is a follow-up to the award-winning 2009 point-and-click adventure. KING Art honors the niche title by averting trendy features for nothing but the good stuff. 

Unwritten Tales sources everything from Batman to My Little Pony while remaining self-aware. Returning leads, Princess Ivodora, Wilbur Weathervane, Nate and his Critter wreck Aventásia’s fourth wall beyond recognition. Shared on a chapter-by-chapter schedule until its slated January 2015 release, it is shaping up to be everything fans of the former could want, without falling prey to the pitfalls of most sequels. Familiar faces appeal to fans through an established but enhanced formula with just enough fresh perspective. 


"Unwritten Tales sources everything from Batman to My Little Pony while remaining self-aware."

Without knowing The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 was an Early Access title, I would think it was adopting the episodic format, because it feels complete. Aside from a fleeting issue with the manual save function, I encountered no bugs during my playthrough of the first two chapters. That’s unlikely for the majority of published games. The team has been responding to player feedback with detailed progress journals and patch fixes. Consequently, the build I accessed benefits from these refinements. A recent update included the newly recorded orchestral score, product of a KickStarter reach goal, straight from Prague to the sound-waves saturating my headphones. The musical upgrade increased the cinematic factor tenfold.


"This new entry better incorporates multiple objectives, by taking its time introducing characters, interactive objects and side quests."

Rugged sky pirate Nate, who is more TaleSpin than steampunk, accompanies the player through a brief tutorial, although the controls are simple, standard and intuitive enough to pick up regardless. The minimal interface now incorporates a much needed menu icon next to the satchel summoning the inventory. Windowed mode has been added. Improved text rendering, helped in part by the increased resolution, makes subtitles easier to follow. The “peek” feature returns, saving players from pixel hunt woes by revealing clickable areas when hitting the spacebar. 

Less than halfway into the narrative, Unwritten Tales instills a sense of progression. This new entry better incorporates multiple objectives, by taking its time introducing characters, interactive objects and side quests. Player choice scales from a handful of options to staggering freedom. The sequences in the Silver Forest Realm meander, encouraging one to drink in the scenery as they acclimate. Ivo, now sporting less hair and more clothing, concerns herself with tamer troubles. Her Princess problems escalate from lamenting unwelcome weight gain to catching the mysterious force unhinging the kingdom. 


"Dynamic lighting produces theatrical presence with ease. Backdrops experiment with distorted perspective to utilize the fixed camera. Animated elements move through environments exposing depth."

This second entry captures the spirit of the original, enclosed in a few layers of cartoonish abstraction. The surreal preference reflects confidence in the game’s visual style. Brighter colors and amplified expressions better suit the comical tone. The artists have rendered every polygon with pictorial flare. Dynamic lighting produces theatrical presence with ease. Backdrops experiment with distorted perspective to utilize the fixed camera. Animated elements move through environments exposing depth. And these enhancements are crystal clear thanks to well crafted high-resolution textures.  


"Pop culture references spanning decades of source material assimilate into the game’s identity."

Unwritten Tales parodies everything under the umbrella of fantasy. Critics and fans praised the original title’s sense of humor, and the sequel entertains without disappointment. Though seasoned nerds will relish recognizing the obscure, blunt allusions manage to be self-contained. Pop culture references spanning decades of source material assimilate into the game’s identity. An entire character’s conflict is steeped in Harry Potter lore, with the same emphasis the first game had on Lord of the Rings. (The game still includes plenty of nods to Middle Earth.) Familiarity with the fandom sent me to the moon, but I imagine I would have enjoyed it otherwise. The characters made me laugh, whether or not I recognized a reference. 

Talented voice actors backed by strong writing bring this world to life. KING Art, already known for the extensive amount of dialogue in their earlier efforts, has recorded a staggering number of lines for this upcoming release. I listened to Ivo seek her father’s eccentric wisdom ad nauseam without hearing a repeated phrase. Whenever possible, I exhausted dialogue options because I enjoyed listening to the characters. 


"If their completed sequel is on par with what I have sampled, The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 is sure to become a modern classic."

Playing The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 awakened a fervor to thumb through already dog-eared copies of Harry Potter while streaming Joss Whedon’s collective series. On a relevant note, I want to play adventure games again. Previous disinterest cultivated after consuming too many boring and identical experiences. Early Access titles have earned an unsavory reputation. Developers release broken games barely out of Alpha into the wild. KING Art has renewed my trust in both the point and click genre and the efficacy of Early Access. Here, the system rewards invested fans with a first look. It elicits their help by requesting feedback when it can be actively applied. KING Art already proved their merit with The Book of Unwritten Tales. If their completed sequel is on par with what I have sampled, The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 is sure to become a modern classic. 

Preview by: Ameenah Salamunic
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