Shantae: Half-Genie Hero Review

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Developer WayForward, originally founded in 1990, can be best described as one of the earliest Indie studio pioneers. Throughout their history, they’ve seen great success across Sony’s and Nintendo’s handheld platforms, and they’ve recently stepped back into the spotlight thanks to their focus on PCs and home consoles. WayForward continues to develop retro inspired titles, and their latest re-envisioning of one of their most popular franchises, Shantae, stays within tradition.

Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is a modernized series re-introduction for newcomers and fans alike. If you’re familiar with the originals, you’ll be treated to an entirely revamped experience that fuses the best parts of the franchise into one incredible package. The gorgeous art direction alone is worth the visit to Sequin Land. Shantae: Half-Genie Hero radiates with charm and personality, and it delivers challenging gameplay that heavily mirrors NES-era platformers. The stunning visuals are accompanied by one of the best soundtracks of the year—a genre mashup of the best kind. Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is a monumental upgrade to previous entries, and the perfect place to start if you’re a latecomer.


"Shantae: Half-Genie Hero radiates with charm and personality, and it delivers challenging gameplay that heavily mirrors NES-era platformers."

The kid-friendly plot is silly and amiable. At its worst, it simply serves to carry Shantae between cool, exotic locations. Shantae is tasked with protecting Scuttle Town against the self-proclaimed Pirate Queen Ricky Boots. If this sounds like an episode of Hello Kitty, you’re not far off. Sometimes the dialogue can overstay its welcome, and not all jokes land, but none of that matters once the gameplay kicks into high gear.

Shantae: Half-Genie Hero plays like a mix between Donkey Kong, Metroid and Mega Man. She can whip-attack with her hair, she can equip an arsenal of magic spells, and she can transform into eight different creatures with unique abilities. Scuttle Town serves as Shantae’s hub area where she has access to various shops, side missions and a giant bird that transports players to the map-select screen.


"This thrill, with a hint of joyous frustration, is what makes Shantae: Half-Genie Hero so special."

The game takes its time to get started because it spends a little too much time telling a lukewarm story. Thankfully, when the action picks up, the pacing remains excellent throughout. It doesn’t take long before new dance transformations become available (dance transformations are similar to Super Mario’s suits, and they are Shantae’s primary tool for overcoming environmental obstacles.), and once the Metroidvania-style levels begin to unfold, Shantae is impossible to put down.

Up until the first bossfight, Shantae: Half-Genie may be misinterpreted for lacking challenge. However, the game has its share of hair-tearing moments. Like the many titles that influenced Shantae, this is a game for hardcore retro enthusiasts who thrive under painstaking conditions. I’m not calling Shantae the Dark Souls of 2D side scrollers by any means, but there are definite Mega Man moments where raw reflexes and talent are imperative for success. This thrill, with a hint of joyous frustration, is what makes Shantae: Half-Genie Hero so special.

Conclusion: Shantae: Half-Genie is the best Shantae entry to date, and one of WayForward’s finest releases in years. It’s a beautiful platformer that provides plenty of challenge for retro fans, even if there’s not much replay value once the game is completed. At 5 ½ hours, Shantae isn’t particularly long, but if you’re looking for a brief and fun distraction, Shantae: Half-Genie is an excellent choice.

8

Marvel's Quest to Dominate Our Lives

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Few comic book companies have made such a glorious transition to the 21st century as Marvel Comics. Although DC Comics have provided some pretty good competition, it’s Marvel who have shown the initiative in becoming a far-reaching media brand who have given us massive blockbuster movies, fascinating merchandising, and even some pretty revolutionary video games.

It’s Marvel’s willingness to populate its many superheroes on the silver screen that’s really helped it become a world beater. Franchises like the X-Men and the Avengers have become some of the biggest hits of all-time, and what’s interesting is how Marvel have shown that superheroes aren’t just for kids.

As well as the foul-mouthed Deadpool delighting older fans, 2016 saw Doctor Strange offering a horror twist on the standard superhero caper. And with the Marvel panel using Comic-Cons to unveil their upcoming film hits, it’s presented fans with a chance to get closer to the action.


The brand have also been quick to take advantage of the rise of TV streaming services like Netflix. Some of the biggest streamed titles like Daredevil and Jessica Jones have come from the Marvel stable, and the Disney-owned company have also found real success in the gaming world.

Beloved titles like 2000’s Spider-Man for the PlayStation were some of the first games to embrace the open-world future, and the Marvel vs. Capcom games series show the brand’s willingness to work with successful gaming companies to spread the Marvel legend. Even adult gamers can find something apt for Marvel fans with Coral offering a Marvel-themed online roulette game that features many of these famous characters.


The company has also seriously ramped up its revenues with all manner of weird and wonderful Marvel-themed merchandise. From Marvel-emblazoned Adidas sneakers to Hulk Fist mugs, it seems that there’s nothing that can’t featured a little superhero action.

So where does Marvel go from here if it wishes to continue it’s global dominance? Already 2017 is looking to be a great year for the brand with many movies, TV shows, and mobile roulette games offering new outings for the likes of Thor, Spider-Man, The Punisher and Iron Fist.

But with Marvel already starting to take their first steps in the hugely exciting world of virtual reality, it looks like we can all soon get a little closer to our favourite superhero stars.

Audio-Technica ATH-ADG1x Review

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There are currently around fifty reputable headphone brands that have garnered major media attention over the last decade. Manufacturers like SteelSeries, Turtle Beach, Creative Labs and Razer have become celebrated names among Esports enthusiasts, and while having this many choices is reason to celebrate, choosing the right headphone for your needs can seem overwhelming. The aforementioned brands are excellent, and they offer some of the most feature-rich headphones on the market, but if you’re an audiophile shopping for gaming gear and don’t care for supplementary features, that list is limited to maybe a handful selections.

If there’s one name that resonates with audiophiles, it’s got to be Audio-Technica. These guys have been around since 1962, and they’ve been delivering superb audio hardware before this type of equipment emerged onto the mainstream market. Audio-Technica continues its excellence as one of the best-rated audio manufacturers in the world. If it’s pure sound quality you seek, Audio-Technica sits on top of the food chain.

Today, we’re taking a look at the ATH-ADG1x, an Open-Air, Dynamic, High-Fidelity Gaming Headset. The ATH-ADG1x doesn’t offer any fancy buzzword features, nor does it provide a particularly impressive build-quality, however, its audio performance is a stunner. The ATH-ADG1x has an incredibly wide sound stage that makes a striking first impression. I personally don’t care for simulated surround sound features or game preset modes typically offered by most brands, so I was excited to analyse another headphone that solely focuses on sound accuracy, and nothing else.


"Audio-Technica continues its excellence as one of the best-rated audio manufacturers in the world. If it’s pure sound quality you seek, Audio-Technica sits on top of the food chain."

The ATH-ADG1x boasts a minimalist design that places aesthetic emphasis on its intricate ear cups. It’s not going to win any awards for its looks, and the flimsy plastic material doesn’t complement the hefty $299 price tag, but (and this is a biggie) I don’t think that the lack of pizzazz is an issue since open-air headphones are meant for private usage. With that in mind, the ATH-ADG1x shines where it matters most: audio performance.

The Audio-Technica ATH-ADG1x conveys remarkable directional accuracy, and it handles minute details with unprecedented precision. Even though Audio-Technica skimped on the build quality, they’ve crammed the headphone with notable specs: 53 mm Drivers, a 5 – 35,000 Hz Frequency Response, an Impedance of 48 ohms and a Maximum Input Power of 1,000 mW. Since this is a low-impedance headset, it can deliver solid volume levels without the need for an amp. However, if you have something like the Sound Blaster E5 or the Sound BlasterX G5 laying around, you’ll appreciate the volumetric push at lower levels, especially if you’re listening to music instead of gaming.


"Regardless of the genre, the ATH-ADG1x flexes its muscles with great confidence and easily overshadows its competitors."

The ATH-ADG1x’s audio quality can be best described as clear and wide with a substantial bass punch when it counts. The sense of space and depth resonates with authenticity thanks to the encompassing and immersive sound stage. My testing typically consists of playing through several action-heavy genres, followed by thorough examining of music and movies. My shooter choice came down to Overwatch and Titanfall 2, and I wound up skipping between racers like Forza Horizon 3 and Project Cars.

Each one of these titles embodies distinct sound design with unique approaches to orchestrating on-screen action. The ATH-ADG1x handles every game with stunning efficiency. Regardless of the genre, the ATH-ADG1x flexes its muscles with great confidence and easily overshadows its competitors. Who needs equalizer settings when every form of media is handled with such exactitude. The superbly balanced audio is a testament to Audio-Technica’s rich history as the industry leader.


"The $299 price tag isn’t a small commitment, but if it’s audio perfection you seek, Audio-Technica’s ATH-ADG1x should be on your top list."

The ATH-ADG1x is so much more than just a gaming headset. If you’re looking for high-quality gear that will suffice across all your media needs, it doesn’t get much better than this. I’ve spent just as much time listening to music and watching movies as playing games, and there wasn’t a single instance where I felt frequency adjustments were necessary. The ATH-ADG1x impresses no matter what I throw at it, and it does it without breaking a sweat.

Conclusion: The Audio-Technica ATH-ADG1x is a phenomenal gaming headset. It’s the perfect piece of tech for audiophiles who crave raw performance over game-heavy extra features. While you may miss out on the many EQ settings and game presets traditionally found in popular Esports-dedicated headsets, the ATH-ADG1x offers such deeply engaging audio performance, the omissions are easily forgiven. The $299 price tag isn’t a small commitment, but if it’s audio perfection you seek, Audio-Technica’s ATH-ADG1x should be on your top list.      

A-

Biggest Video Game News Stories of 2016

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Happy New Year everyone! 2017 is here, but before we dive into the new year, let us reflect on some of the biggest video game new stories of 2016. It was one of the strongest years for the industry in recent memory. We saw incredible releases across every single genre, and our consoles have finally entered the 4K/HDR era. However, not everything was sunshine and roses. Game patches that are as big as entire games are becoming a norm, and we’re seeing more and more single-player games requiring constant online connection.

But that’s not all. An alarming amount of publishers have blatantly misrepresented their products, with lawsuits popping up left and right as angry customers felt betrayed and misled by false advertising. Today, we’re highlighting some of the best and worst newsworthy stories that have shaped 2016, and will have a long lasting impact as the new year unfolds. These highlights are in no particular order.

No Man’s Sky
No other game has garnered as much media attention as No Man’s Sky. No Man’s Sky was a media darling when it was first announced at VGX in 2013. Personally, I was excited about the concepts the game developers presented, and completely bought into the hype during the first few official trailer releases. But as the launch came closer, the dev’s unwillingness to answer, or even address, gamers’ concerns became troubling. I remained optimistic because I thought it was fair to give a smaller developer the benefit of the doubt. I was a fool.


No Man’s Sky was the biggest disappointment that I’ve ever witnessed in my thirty years of gaming. I can’t think of a single major “AAA” release in recent history that delivered a final product so vastly different from its gameplay presentations. Calling No Man’s Sky a failure is an understatement. It was a travesty that didn't even get fundamental gameplay basics right. And yet, despite all the criticism and Sony’s unethical handling of the situation, there were no legal ramifications after the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority rejected consumers’ complaints.

Final Fantasy XV
Final Fantasy XV could’ve easily landed in the same pool as No Man’s Sky when analyzing its troubling development history, but in my personal opinion, the final product has exceeded all expectations. I was ready to give up on the franchise after the disastrous XIII entries, but FFXV has re-invigorated my excitement for JRPGs.

Unlike the lackluster Last Guardian, the long development cycle has done wonders for FFXV. As far as world-building and gameplay, FFXV is the first entry in years to genuinely address fans’ complaints with the series since the rising success of FFVII.

Nintendo Switch
In a way, this news has gone both ways. When the first Nintendo Switch trailer aired, the reception was extremely polarizing. While many media outlets were quick to praise Nintendo for its “innovative” approach, most people, including myself, weren’t impressed by Nintendo’s empty promises. In my opinion, the trailer was an underwhelming attempt at grasping for relevance at a time when audiences have made it pretty clear what they desire from their gaming devices. However, Nintendo continues to ignore reality, and it keeps digging an even deeper hole for themselves.

Who is the Switch actually for? It’s not for mobile gamers as the market has already been thriving thanks to advancements in mobile technology, and it’s not for consoles gamers as the Switch can barely keep up with modern consoles spec-wise. As someone who grew up with Nintendo, I also don’t see the appeal for Nintendo-only fans based on the few IPs they presented. Considering how badly the Wii U turned out and how much Nintendo misled audiences throughout an entire console generation, there’s nothing that the Switch offers (for the time being) that’s representative of a different outcome.


Having said that, I WANT Nintendo to succeed. Competition is healthy for the industry, and I still love Nintendo’s classic IPs...even if they’re becoming incredibly stale. As it stands, the Switch can either be a new beginning for Nintendo, or it may be its final nail in the coffin. Let’s hope for the former!

Game Genres Are Evolving
This isn’t a particular news story, but a general observation. 2016 was the year video game genres stepped outside the norm. Let’s look at Overwatch and Titanfall 2, for example. I have personally never been a big multiplayer gamer. I tend to enjoy single-player journeys, but Overwatch and Titanfall 2 have made me a convert. I’ve spend more time playing these two games online than any other single player game combined. Both game present a drastic change in how multiplayer is structured by providing a more balanced playing field for both newcomers and pros. The same innovation can be attributed to other genres, like RPGs, racing games and even many online casino games were very popular in 2016.

Forza Horizon 3, as yet another example, has elevated the open-world racing genre to new heights. Its world is unlike anything we’ve seen in the genre before, and even gamers who would never typically touch a racing game before were drawn to Forza Horizon’s superb gameplay and stunning environments.

While there are countless other stories that dominated media outlets in 2016, we want to leave the rest to our readers. The above stories are just some of the subjects that dominated our Game Scouts community in 2016, but we want to hear what stuck with you the most. Maybe there are some news stories that didn't get as much global attention, but are equally impactful and important? Let us know in the comments section below!

Turtle Beach—Elite Pro Tournament Gaming Headset + Tactical Audio Controller Review

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2016 has been a healthy year for the competitive audio market. Across each major manufacturer, we saw excellent releases for both casual and professional audiences, and I was lucky enough to analyse a great deal of gaming-audio products throughout the year. In my opinion, Turtle Beach remains in the spotlight alongside Creative Labs and SteelSeries as the most versatile and valuable name in the Esports scene. With the launch of the Elite Pro Tournament Gaming Headset + Tactical Audio Controller, Turtle Beach has given Esports athletes one of the most flexible audio tools for competitive gaming.

The headset and amp are sold separately and retail at a hefty $199.95 each (original price). Even though the cost seems excessive, audio enthusiasts who seek specialized features for competitive needs will appreciate what this unique combo has to offer. It’s also worth pointing out that the sales price is currently listed at only $165.95 per item, and Amazon offers the bundle at an even lower price of only $322.39. The point is that by the time you read this coverage, you’ll find reduced prices for both the headset and the amp.

Let’s take a look at the Elite Pro Tournament Gaming Headset first. This is a genuinely impressive piece of gaming gear that is designed to make an endearing impression. The moment I held the headset in my hands, I fell in love. The design is exuberant without seeming gimmicky. The Elite Pro boasts a playful aesthetic that doesn’t shy away from calling for attention. The steel headband and the adjustable fit system offer a smart solution for easy adjustability and immediate comfort. I appreciate the bold and industrial engineering approach that has benefits from both a stylistic and practical perspective. The whole thing just screams with style, and is simultaneously as tough as a mountain.


"With the launch of the Elite Pro Tournament Gaming Headset + Tactical Audio Controller, Turtle Beach has given Esports athletes one of the most flexible audio tools for competitive gaming."

The 50mm NanoClear speakers are enveloped by a special material that blocks external sounds. It’s very cushiony and comfortable, although it tends to get warm if used for extended periods. On the upside, if you’re like me and wear glasses, the tempurpedic-style material offers notable pressure relief when the temples are sandwiched between both ear cups and the head. Overall, the Elite Pro has given me no problems in the two weeks of constant gaming.

If you are purchasing the Elite Pro Tournament Gaming Headset on its own, you’re still walking away with admirable audio performance. Without the amp, the Elite Pro has enough oomph to compete solo. You may be losing out on virtual 7.1 surround sound and all the audio presets as they’re tied to the Tactical Audio Controller sound card, but the excellent raw performance is more than enough for everyday usage.


"It’s a wonderfully constructed headset that delivers superb performance for all your gaming needs, even if you decide to pass up on the TAC."

The Elite Pro gives out crisp and precise sound. Unlike many gaming headphones that exaggerate low frequencies, the bass isn’t overbearing and perfectly balances with mids and highs. Shooters in particular sound intense. Gun fire has a satisfying punch that makes games like Battlefield 1 feel eerily realistic. Fighting games are equally exciting. When playing Street Fighter V, each punch and kick gives off a thrilling sensation of force piercing through the wind. If you're looking for immersion, the Elite Pro will draw you in instantaneously.

The detachable microphone is one of the better gaming mics I’ve tested in recent memory. My gaming partners on the other line regularly commented on the audio clarity coming from my end, and I had a very easy time hearing overlapping chatter without any problems. The mic is sometimes too good for its own good, as it can pick up minute background details that may essentially distract some users.

Headset Conclusion: As a solo device, the Turtle Beach Elite Pro Tournament Gaming Headset is one of the finer pro-gaming peripherals on the market. It’s a wonderfully constructed headset that delivers superb performance for all your gaming needs, even if you decide to pass up on the TAC.

A-

If you’re looking for further audio tweaking options and a plethora of mic performance settings, then the Tactical Audio Controller is a must. This is a unique amp that’s packed with features heavily geared towards professional gamers. I’ve been using the term “amp” somewhat loosely here, because the Controller is more of a functionality hub than an actual amp. I guess this may be a good time to get the negatives out of the way, since the Controller is an otherwise excellent aid for competitive gaming. As an amp, the Tactical Audio Controller is incredibly weak. The large volume dial has to be turned halfway up in order to hear any sound, and most games have forced me to crank the volume to max levels to properly hear all frequencies. This is especially disappointing when compared to the significantly cheaper, and infinitely better, Sound BlasterX G5.


"As an amp, the Tactical Audio Controller is incredibly weak. The large volume dial has to be turned halfway up in order to hear any sound, and most games have forced me to crank the volume to max levels to properly hear all frequencies."

Poor amplification aside, the Controller is precisely what I’ve always wanted within my gaming setup. Unlike most audio peripherals that require additional software for sound adjustments, the Tactical Audio Controller gives users the ability to access all tweaks during gaming, which makes it stupendously practical when you just want to quickly shift between modes without tabbing out of the program. You can still download a Controller Hub directly from Turtle Beach’s site, and it will allow you to assign further game profiles to the available presets, but it’s not necessary for achieving maximum performance.

The Audio Controller is designed for tournament gaming, and therefore benefits pros more than the average gamer. Remember my issues with the mic picking up too much detail? Well, if you have the Controller, you can easily monitor your mic levels and make proper alterations. You can limit background noise (completely eliminating my previous complaint), there’s a slider for balancing game/chat volume and you can boost your outbound mic volume in case your teammates are having a hard time hearing your voice.


"Even though the plethora of mic settings are mainly geared towards pro players, the conveniently placed audio modes are going to benefit anyone who uses the TAC."

The Tactical Audio Controller is compatible with all major gaming platforms, and it comes with all necessary cables for each connection type. All configurations are straightforward, but on Playstation 4, however, it’s imperative to set the Digital Out (Optical) to ONLY Dolby Digital 5.1, otherwise you’ll get very poor quality and may mistake the sound for a defective unit. You can even connect multiple TACs for a lag-free, local chat experience using a standard Ethernet cable (sold separately)—just make sure the cable is no longer than three meters to avoid signal loss.

Even though the plethora of mic settings are mainly geared towards pro players, the conveniently placed audio modes are going to benefit anyone who uses the TAC. Here, you’re presented with two sets of options: DTS Surround Sound modes and Signature Sudio presets. Each mode has four programmable phases that can be customized via Turtle Beaches Audio HUB, but most of the essential presets are already pre-programmed for immediate use.


"Despite my gripes with the TAC, I highly recommend it to gamers who take competitive gaming seriously and want something niche for their audio needs."

Highlight features include the Superhuman Hearing mode that enhances minute details to give competitive gamers an auditory edge, and the Signature Sound that, in my opinion, offers the most balanced performance. I personally don’t find the other presets as useful since they distort the sound integrity. The Footstep Focus mode, for example, amplifies background noise to a point where the entire sound stage can only be described as metallic. The same can be said for the 7.1 surround sound implementation. It’s very inaccurate, and I found it extremely disorienting and dizzying.

I suppose that’s the downside to having too many options—some things work while others don’t. When used together, the Elite Pro Tournament Gaming Headset and Tactical Audio Controller offer superb raw performance without the need for extraneous audio modes. I found myself sticking with the basics for most of my media needs, including music. Turtle Beach has proven that they obviously know a thing or two about audio, so I wish some of the “buzzword” features were dropped.

TAC Conclusion: This is a tricky one. The TAC is a specialized amp for pro gamers, and the features it offers are imperative for tournament gaming. For everyone else, there are cheaper and, based on your needs, probably better options. The TAC’s biggest downside is its poor amplification performance. For something that costs nearly two hundred bucks, you’d expect more power than what’s being offered. Despite my gripes with the TAC, I highly recommend it to gamers who take competitive gaming seriously and want something niche for their audio needs.

B

ARK: Survival Evolved PS4 Impressions—Review in Progress

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ARK: Survival Evolved has been somewhat of a cult hit since it originally released on Steam Greenlight, but due to an overflowing backlog and a busy review schedule, I never had the chance to take this “acclaimed” dino adventure for a spin. While I can see how Ark has become such a niche phenomenon on the PC, the console release is far from complete, much less playable. You see, developer Studio Wildcard insists that the game is still in development, and that as a reviewer, I should hold off on the final score until version 1.0 is released on all platforms in Spring 2017—and yet, they’re ok with selling the game AT FULL PRICE despite it being utterly broken on both console platforms.

Okay then...fine, I don’t need to assign a score, but this doesn’t mean I can’t express my honest opinion. So, here we go: ARK: Survival Evolved is one of the worst titles I’ve had the displeasure of playing in years. It’s a hideous, broken, unplayable concoction of trite ideas that serves as the perfect example of everything that’s currently wrong with Early Access bullshit (as if the lawsuit wasn’t indicative enough of the studio’s fishy practices). At a time when so many other developers offer free trials of their titles during alpha/beta stages, Studio Wildcard doesn’t seem concerned that they’re overcharging for something that barely classifies as a competent product.


"ARK: Survival Evolved is one of the worst titles I’ve had the displeasure of playing in years. It’s a hideous, broken, unplayable concoction of trite ideas that serves as the perfect example of everything that’s currently wrong with Early Access."

However, the madness goes beyond iffy ethics...ARK: Survival Evolved is an awful game, period. I can't comprehend why this disaster has captivated so many gamers, and I’ve been desperately trying to find out for the past two weeks. Again, I have no idea whether the PC experience differs drastically from the Playstation 4 release, but my 20+ hours on console have been nothing but painful.

I’m already sensing the sharpening of pitchforks in the comments section, but honestly, I went into this title with an open mind and plenty of enthusiasm. In fact, ARK: Survival Evolved seems to be right up my alley on paper, but sadly, not so much in practice. Studio Wildcard can’t even seem to get basic elements like menus and UI design right. Dealing with ARK’s menus and poor navigation is like tying shoelaces with toes while blindfolded. What were they thinking when they slapped this atrocious user interface together?


"Again, I have no idea whether the PC experience differs drastically from the Playstation 4 release, but my 20+ hours on console have been nothing but painful."

After trudging through what seems like the worst character creator in the history of gaming, my avatar woke up in utter blackness with only a few rays of light piercing through the clouds. I’m guessing the starting points are randomized, but couldn’t they have at least blocked spawning at night time for first-time players? When I say night time, I’m not talking about the typical night time scenery seen in most sandbox games, I’m talking about utter blackness with no value separation or details. Lazy doesn’t even begin to describe ARK’s immediate impression.

After taking a few steps, ARK’s framerate plummeted to single digits, and I was enveloped by invisible dino attacks from several angles. My avatar died within ten seconds, and thankfully, I was now resurrected during daytime. It was then that ARK’s ugliness revealed itself in all of its broken glory. I’ve been gaming for over thirty years now, and this is the first time a game has made me genuinely nauseous. The motion-blur implementation can only be described as having Vaseline smeared across your eyeballs. There’s an option to turn the motion-blur off, but the consequent judder makes the entire game look like a stop-motion animation, and not in a good way.


"The motion-blur implementation can only be described as having Vaseline smeared across your eyeballs. There’s an option to turn the motion-blur off, but the consequent judder makes the entire game look like a stop-motion animation, and not in a good way."

It also doesn’t help that the core concept is really no different from any of the countless, derivative “survival” games found on Steam Greenlight...BUT WAIT….it has dinos—and that’s pretty much where the uniqueness begins and ends. Ultimately, ARK: Survival Evolved feels like a slightly more involved No Man’s Sky, and I don’t mean that as a compliment.

The gathering/building/survival approach can be mildly fun if you’re lucky enough to avoid the constant bugs that interfere with the gameplay, but honestly, I turned the game off after twenty hours and plan to never come back. Gathering structural components for my first base was relatively enjoyable until the structure was finalized. At that point, I had tamed a few dinosaurs and constructed a pretty solid defense. The problem is that ARK offers no motivation to keep on playing. The world isn’t interesting enough to explore, and even though there are over sixty (I think?) breeds of dinos with individual abilities, the actual gameplay execution is what makes the whole experience incomparably boring. Studio Wildcard has desperately tried to appeal to mass audiences by including things like boss fights and an end goal, but ultimately, only hardcore survival game fans are going to enjoy this—and no one else.


"I didn't anticipate a masterpiece by any means, but I didn't think I had to suffer through another No Man’s Sky-style travesty."

Overall Progress Impression: I’ve got to be honest here, but ARK: Survival Evolved is nothing what I expected. I didn't anticipate a masterpiece by any means, but I didn't think I had to suffer through another No Man’s Sky-style travesty. It doesn’t matter that the game isn’t complete, because there is nothing at its core that deserves your attention. I have extremely high tolerance for bad games, and I personally tend to enjoy a lot of the lesser-known titles out there, but ARK: Survival Evolved has hit a new low for me. If I really had to assign a score right now, it would probably be a 3/10, and I can’t imagine that score getting any better regardless of how much the performance improves over time. As it stands, ARK: Survival Evolved is one of the worst games of the year for me.

Still not convinced? Then maybe this will change your mind. I honestly can't, in good consciousness, condone such vile and unethical behavior. 

Sound BlasterX Katana Review

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If you’re one of those people who believes that soundbars will never compete with a proper speaker setup in quality and spatial accuracy, then Creative Labs has something that’ll make you a convert. For the longest time, I was in the same boat. I’ve reviewed several excellent soundbars over the years, but when it came to personal preference, I always returned to a traditional speaker setup due to greater sound precision.

However, Creative Labs’ newest Sound BlasterX Katana is in a league of its own. The Katana offers the best audio performance I’ve ever experienced from a soundbar, and it does it without taking up much room in your entertainment setup. It’s a phenomenal audio device that may very well be one of my favorite pieces of tech this year.

Creative Labs has always been known for creating stunning-looking products, but Katana’s designers have taken product engineering to a whole new level. The Sound BlasterX Katana  looks astounding. It’s significantly smaller than most soundbars and weighs just a few pounds. It’s narrower than my 27inch Asus monitor, a perfect fit for a clutter-free gaming setup. The body is enveloped by a beautiful, brushed, chrome-finish, and even the hard-plastic pieces boast a fine, textured exterior. The LED display is smartly tucked away behind the speaker grill, making the screen appear concealed when in standby mode. The Aurora Lighting System is also hidden underneath the speaker so as not to vie for attention when turned off.


"The Katana offers the best audio performance I’ve ever experienced from a soundbar, and it does it without taking up much room in your entertainment setup."

There a multiple ways the Katana can be used to enjoy your media. You can stream music via Bluetooth devices that support the A2DP Profile or you can stream high-quality files directly off of a USB stick,  you can connect the Katana via optical for Dolby Digital Encoding (limited to 5.1 channels),  you can use traditional AUX-in (lowest quality) and lastly,  you can connect the Katana to a PC for the best possible audio experience with the inclusion of 7.1 Virtual Surround Audio Playback. And if that isn’t enough, the Katana has headphone and microphone inputs for late night gaming. If you’re looking for versatility, it doesn’t get better than this. After I finished drooling over the Katana’s sleek appearance and flexibility, the real wow factor set in.

Once I switched my audio profile to the correct 7.1 channels, the Katana transformed into something otherworldly. My entire office filled with sound, and I couldn't even tell where the acoustics were coming from—remember, I'm sitting right in front of the soundbar. For the first few minutes, I didn't know what was happening. I closely examined the soundbar face-to-grill while playing music, and it felt like the sound waves were wrapping around me. There’s some serious engineering wizardry going on in there.


"Once I switched my audio profile to the correct 7.1 channels, the Katana transformed into something otherworldly. My entire office filled with sound, and I couldn't even tell where the acoustics were coming from!"

This is also the very first time I’ve experienced simulated 7.1 surround sound working so effectively. I’ve grown tired of every single audio manufacturer boasting about surround sound capabilities without being able to backup their claims, but Creative Labs’ Katana isn’t your typical audio device. I can’t find the proper words to describe the Katana’s directional accuracy. Words like perfect and flawless are meaningless when you can’t genuinely hear the performance for yourself. If you’re playing a competitive shooter and you find yourself surrounded by foes, you can easily determine their location, despite not having individual channels split across multiple speakers.

Based on Katana’s technical drawings, there are two up-firing bass drivers on each side of the bar, with two high-excursion tweeters positioned next to each driver. The external subwoofer has its own, gigantic long-throw driver that independently handles bass without interfering with higher frequencies. The 2.5″ (63.5mm) Upfiring Midbass Drivers and the 1.3″ (34mm) High-excursion Tweeters are the Katana’s secret sauce—so to speak. Thanks to the inverted alloy dome diaphragms and wide polymer surrounds for low-resonant frequency and extended low-frequency response, the high-frequency drivers deliver remarkable clarity that never loses impact regardless of volume and type of content played. Combine that with a crystal-clear midrange and dynamic midbass performance of the upward-directed drivers, and you have a device that excels at everything you throw at it.


"The Sound BlasterX Katana is, hands down, one of the best soundbars on the market. Don’t let the “gaming” label fool you, the Katana is so much more than just a simple soundbar for playing video games."

And talk about excellence...the Katana's Music performance deserves just as much praise. I normally don’t like placing gaming hardware in the same category as audiophile equipment, but based on my own experience with the Katana, I think it deserves a category of its own. The Katana houses a proprietary multi-core DSP that is capable of producing 24-bit high-resolution audio, so for the music enthusiasts who have a lot of lossless 24 bit 96/192 kHz material, the Katana is a godsend. I’ve listened to countless genres over my two-week testing period, including: Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton Soundtrack, Angel Haze’s latest Resurrection release, Babymetal, Dessa, Snow Tha Product, a bit of old-school Pantera, as well as The Last of Us soundtrack. Whether I’m listening to rap, metal, pop or orchestral performances, the Katana’s audio delivery continuously impresses.

Conclusion: The Sound BlasterX Katana is, hands down, one of the best soundbars on the market. Don’t let the “gaming” label fool you, the Katana is so much more than just a simple soundbar for playing video games. I think Creative Labs has been a little too generous with their labeling as the Katana easily classifies as an entry-level audiophile device. Its 7.1 surround sound performance has no equal, and the fact that the channel separation is as accurate as having multiple speakers makes this a truly special piece of audio equipment. If the Katana is any indication of where Creative Labs is headed with their future products, then I can’t even imagine what 2017 will bring!

A+