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Josh Smith

Josh has been interested in video gaming and technology since the early 80’s. Growing up in Maine has proven difficult, but he’s found ways to gain access to hardware and software not typically seen in rural parts of the country. Now living near the coast, Josh is happily married with two young children and is teaching them the ways of the Force. Unfortunately, it’s the Dark Side.

The Last of Us – Perhaps the Best Game Available on Playstation 3

It only happens once or twice every console generation, when a game is released that reaches the height of visuals, audio, story, gameplay and emotion and wraps up into an experience that extends beyond the controller. Few games can affect you beyond your time spent in front of the television, but Naughty Dog has achieved just that with The Last of Us, the post-apocalyptic survival game that sees you crossing the country in an attempt to keep the wise-cracking, too-smart-for-her-own-good Ellie safe. With gameplay that beautifully melds stealth and action, requiring use of audible and visual cues to navigate the landscape, The Last of Us very well may go down as the best that Playstation 3 has to offer.

Navigating across the country is a feat within itself, but doing so with zombie-like creatures, called infected, lurking at every corner, not to mention a tag-along tween who has clearly seen far too much for her age. Playing as Joel, the protagonist, you’re never unprepared for what the scenery has to offer, despite the constant feeling of helplessness. By picking up items like scissors (clearly a commodity in the apocalypse), rags, or duct tape, Joel has the ability to fashion makeshift bandages and weapons to deal with the ever-present horde. Weapons, also found scattered throughout the world, give just enough defense to lend a feeling of ease, only to see you thrust into an unexpected encounter that uses damn near all of your ammo. Truly, while players will find handfuls of ammo and weapons, it’s never enough to allow for constant combat, leaving Joel to rely on his own resourcefulness.

That resourcefulness comes in the form of quick, quiet movements that can be used to avoid combat or dispatch enemies in methodical ways. Enemies come in many forms throughout the long, 15+ hour campaign, creating a unique triumvirate of baddies. Zombies, other refugees and the military each present their own problems and must be approached with different tactics, particularly when they’re inevitably aware of your presence. Zombies will swarm Joel and Ellie when startled, creating havoc and using the last of your resources when the fighting becomes close quarters. Refugees seem to use flanking maneuvers to try and catch you in a pincer-like standoff, and the military uses brute force and dangerous firearms to simply overpower you. To avoid each of these dangerous situations, Joel and Ellie must meticulously study and learn the somewhat-random path that the AI takes. Sneaking from cover to cover, you’ll eventually find yourself with an isolated enemy and, with lightning fast reflexes, can remove them from the scenario with little effort.

Unlike most games that rely on surprise to catch players unaware, Joel has the ability to listen for his enemies, an ability that he can upgrade along with some others. When listening, Joel enters a slowed version of reality and can see possible enemies based on how much noise they’re actually making. you may find yourself startled when you happen across a room with a silent enemy though, as this skill doesn’t locate enemies, it only focuses on the noise they make. It’s this reliance on audio that forces players to slow down and pre-determine which route is best for their overall survival. Stumble into the path of an unexpected enemy and you’ll soon be facing a legion of their allies hell-bent on your destruction.

With the stunning gameplay mechanics creating a blend of action versus stealth, adrenaline stays at a surprisingly high level. Even with the constant concern that a pack of enemies may catch you off-guard, it’s still easy to take in the scenery. Transitioning from city streets to sewers, then to open, forested terrain is common, but the use of seasons to help differentiate each of these landscapes is another simple factor that Naughty Dog uses to add realism and other concerning elements to the fray. Furthermore, each scenario takes you on a voyage through various aspects with cities seeing you move in and out of business or to the tops of buildings, sewers requiring a level of problem-solving that may take you underwater, or the wilderness taking you in and out of small, deserted towns. Don’t think that everybody you meet is out to kill you, either. Routinely you’ll include additional survivors that are scavenging for themselves and will be faced with joining with them or moving on – a choice that is made for you as part of the narrative.

The lone situation that causes concern is the combat AI during certain events. To be blunt, the enemies come off as simply clumsy when multiple enemies are engaged with Joel or Ellie. Zombies, military personnel and other scavengers may get stuck on debris or fall into a pathing issue that has them running back and forth from point to point — a benefit for players, as it’s an easy kill, but nonetheless it’s distracting and stands out as a flaw in an otherwise flawless game. Discovery problems also plague the game, with AI sometimes becoming aware that you’re in an area when you’ve clearly not moved or made a sound, while other times you can pass behind them without the slightest hint of recognition.

em>The Last of Us is a title that will clearly define the end of an era for the Playstation 3. Giving players the option to toss bottles or bricks in order to distract enemies and the brilliant use of darkness to force players to rely on senses beyond sight creates a blend that is unseen in the gaming world. Stress and anxiety is high throughout, which only enhances the truly human moments seen between Joel and Ellie. With other characters coming into the narrative, even for short times, the personal responsibility that Joel has for Ellie is developed in ways that you wouldn’t expect. If you’re on the fence about purchasing this game, don’t be. The Last of Us is a must buy and, for those who don’t own a Playstation 3, is a title that will help sell the console, even this late into its life cycle.

Overall score: 10 out of 10

Mad Catz RAT M Wireless Mouse

Portable and Impressive

Mad Catz has released a torrent of gaming peripherals in recent months and, with the enormous push of wireless and gaming laptops, would be remiss not to cater to a cordless audience. That’s why, using the design of their popular MMO Gaming Mouse, they’ve released a more succinct wireless version, dubbed the R.A.T. M. Despite being a smaller, more mobile version of MMO series of gaming mouse, does the RAT M deliver enough options to justify its $129.99 retail price? Yes. It does.

The design is reminiscent of the previously discussed MMO series of gaming mouse, but one caveat is that the palm rest is extendable, meaning those with smaller (or larger) hands will find that it fits nicely. With no hardware to hot-swap in and out, the simplicity is pronounced. There are 10 programmable buttons, five of which appear on the 5D button, which has transitioned from Mad Catz’s other gaming mouse options. The mouse itself can track up to 6,400dpi, easily adjustable on the top of the mouse to allow for smooth transition during games when quick, reactive movement is necessary.

It also features a wireless dongle that is inserted into the mouse itself when not in use, allowing for easy storage and reduces the risk of losing the tiny USB-plugin. For those who would rather take advantage of Bluetooth, that option is included as well, though how it affects the two AA batteries needed to run the mouse is not entirely clear. What is clear, and frankly quite surprising, is the claim that the AA batteries will last a year before they need to be replaced. Testing the mouse by leaving it on overnight, connected to both bluetooth and the USB dongle, for approximately two months showed no signs of battery drainage as far as performance was concerned. Whether it lasts the full 12 months remains to be seen, but the results thus far are impressive.

Those who have fallen into the world of gaming certainly understand the importance of a useful mouse. The R.A.T. M delivers the comfort, ease of use, simple installation, long battery life, portability, and customization needed to perfect whatever game you’re currently playing. Beyond that though, is a simple truth: even non-gamers will enjoy using this mouse. Beyond the Transformer-like design, users can easily take advantage of 2, 4, 6, or all 10 of the buttons to create an experience engineered specifically for the task at hand. From video editing to Photoshop, browsing through College News or Youtube, the R.A.T. M is a wonderful piece of hardware that is durable and useful. If you’re shopping for a new wireless/Bluetooth mouse, look no further.

The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing

Perhaps it should be more incredible.

Right now the world is infatuated with vampires, werewolves and zombies, so much that the supernatural beasts have invaded every aspect of pop culture. There is one family though, who understands the threats that unnatural creatures possess. That family, Van Helsing, has been dedicated to eradicating the warped, twisted monsters of the world. In The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing though, you don’t play Abraham Van Helsing,  the character who goes face-to-face with the dreaded Dracula, instead it’s his son donning the recognizable hat and equipping the title of ‘hunter’ in an attempt to carry-on the family tradition. Coupled with a dungeon-crawling, loot-hunt, Van Helsing looks to take on some of gaming’s biggest titles, Diablo and Torchlight to name two in particular. The question then is, how does it measure up to the competition?

Fans of dungeon-crawling games typically show up for one thing: mounds and mounds of loot. The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing does not disappoint, delivering thousands of options that benefit your particular Van Helsing, regardless of they way you choose to play him. And there are options, though nothing as diverse as multiple classes or builds per class. Instead you’re faced with the options of selecting a melee or ranged as your specialty. Once you make your selection — because opting to mix the two severely cripples your character at later stages — multiple skills begin to make themselves available. Ranged, for instance, allows Van Helsing to fire ammo that explodes or deals poison damage. Magic is also prevalent, though the options are far more limited and barring specialization will be rarely used.

What seems like limited gameplay actually works well with the setting, a 19th-century steampunk version of Europe, where the Van Helsing legend resides. The flow of the game, split into multiple acts, does a great job of presenting fresh visuals time and again. Progressing from forest wilderness, through a dingy marshland and finally to a city, aboveground and below, the game never grows stale. Numerous one-off instances will add a layer of depth to the landscape and won’t pull attention from the campaign, but they create an additional objective with difficult encounters that give way to impressive rewards. In reality, that’s what should be the overarching objective of any dungeon-crawler, the loot-grind. The story is typically an add-on to make the game flow, and Van Helsing is no different. The story makes sense and includes side quests that distract and offer variation.

Of course, that may be precisely the problem. Dungeon-crawling RPG’s always provide an option to continue your quest at higher difficulties and obtain scaling gear.The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing released with no replayability option beyond creating a new character and starting from scratch. And while a new patch has included some gameplay options to allow continuation beyond the final boss, the fact that the game shipped with a finite ending and that the new patch adds gameplay without fixing some of the more pressing bugs is cause for concern. The tiered pricing, ranging from $15.00 to $50.00, is an easily justified purchase for those looking for a cheap escape into an RPG thriller, but if you’re looking to bolster your RPG catalogue with another title that provides hundreds of hours of gameplay, this isn’t it.

Overall score: 6 out of 10

Tame the Wild West with Call of Juarez – Gunslinger

A solid choice on PS3, XBLA, or Windows PC

When it comes to successful first-person shooters, people everywhere know to answer the call. Recently released on Xbox Live Arcade, Playstation Network and Windows PC is a different call, one with it’s own storied history: Call of Juarez: Gunslinger. Stepping away from the military simulation, CoJ:G instead uses an arcade style and presents a shooting-gallery-like combat system that challenges players with typical gameplay mechanics that vary only slightly throughout the story. The narration provided, spoken in first person from the point-of-view of the protagonist Silas Greaves, offers a welcomed variation from the normal “experience as you go” vanilla storytelling that is offered in far too many FPS games of today. With Call of Juarez: Gunslinger, players will experience mechanics that offer very little beyond anything else out there, the story though, that’s what causes the game to become memorable.

The wild west was the last untamed frontier of the United States, made even more difficult by roving gangs of over-glorified outlaws. To become famous you had to be an outlaw or catch one. Silas Greaves was a bounty hunter, set upon a laundry list of outlaws with the intent of bringing them in dead or alive and collecting the bounty. Most chose the latter. It’s not that simple though, with Silas Greaves sitting in a saloon relaying the chain of events to an eager group of listeners about how he single handedly brought down the west’s most notorious outlaws. The first person narration presents a unique experience for players, allowing Silas to tell firsthand accounts of how he outgunned famed westeners like Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett, Johnny Ringo, and many other infamous names that still haunt history. As Silas creates what seems to be tall-tales, his audience becomes increasingly skeptical that the events he explains actually happened. This creates an additional level of intrigue, as the questions posed see the player resubmerged into the story to further explain what may seem impossible.

Levels change or take shape as the story unfolds or as Silas answers questions from his audience. This creates an experience reminiscent of Bastion, the hit title that took the gaming world by storm with its own unique narrative. Instead of swords and magic though, Call of Juarez: Gunslinger uses six-shooters and dynamite. Despite the wonderful narrative and memorable level sequences, the gameplay is still bland and offers little beyond typical point and shoot mechanics. As you kill outlaws in various styles, headshots or through debris, you’ll earn experience towards leveling up and fill your “focus meter”. The XP is used to unlock particular skills, increasing ammo, granting improved weapons, or other goodies that will benefit the players as the game rolls on. The focus meter gives a bullet time-like slow motion event where players have an easier time lining up headshots for increased XP. Even at full-meter though, focus runs down awfully fast, making the event barely more than a passing advantage.

Finally, as Silas faces down each of the wild wests biggest names, your typical gun battle is cast aside in favor of a quickdraw duel. As interesting as this sounds, it becomes more frustrating than fun, surprising players with attempts at making each battle unique and different. The results are the opposite, however. With little direction during those unique scenarios, players will find that the only course these battles take is a constant trial-and-error, resulting in reloading and retrying the same duel time and time again.

em>Call of Juarez: Gunslinger is not a bad game, it just does little to separate itself from other shooters in terms of gameplay experience. Silas’ own narration and the unique design of levels masking the constant re-use of level assets makes it a pleasurable experience though. The inclusion of mini-games outside of the main story, a score-battle arcade mode and a rehash of the frustrating duels from the single player game, as well as a new game plus mode present some above average replayability. For those looking for a basic arcade shooter, but with a unique, interesting story, this is made for you.

Overall score: 7 out of 10

HP Pavilion Sleekbook 15 – A laptop made for you

When shopping for a new laptop, price is one of the deciding factors if you’re on a budget. For college students, the word budget is important, but that doesn’t mean you have to suffer with low-end performance. That’s because HP has introduced the Sleekbook series of laptops and, with the Pavilion Sleekbook 15, gives students a piece of hardware that meets the requirements of day-to-day college life. While you won’t be playing Crysis 3 on high settings (if at all), the Pavilion Sleekbook 15 is light, safe, useful, and above all, affordable!

Boasting an AMD A8-4555M quad-core APU, which combines the CPU and GPU, the operating speed is modest at 1.6GHz. Combined with 4GB of RAM, power isn’t the primary selling point, instead users will find that this laptop excels at mobility and efficiency. The operating system included is Windows 8, a questionable choice considering the lack of a touch screen. Windows 8 does boot fast and operates efficiently, allowing for multi-tasking at a better rate of speed, but the design is overall a headache. Mainly due to the drastic change from the Windows we’ve been accustomed to since Windows 95, the difference is the Windows 8 tile-system that is fastly being pushed by Microsoft.

For entertainment though, the Sleekbook 15 excels nicely. Though no optical drive is included, therefore no DVD or Blu-ray option, the HD graphics make for streaming video, Netflix or HBO Go for example, a worthwhile enterprise. Other Sleekbook options have the option to include optical drives, but by removing it from the laptop itself the overall weight and size is cut drastically, increasing the mobility of it. An included webcam also records your actions in 720p, allowing Skype, Youtube or, if you’re willing to risk it, Chatroulette videos of sparkling clarity. Three USB ports and an HDMI port are also available if you want to connect your laptop to an external monitor and, to complement those ports, a card reader and network input for those without a Wi-Fi connection to connect to the included wireless card. A big perk to purchasing the HP Pavilion Sleekbook 15 is the included software. HP has packaged in tools to use for your music, video, chatting, movies, pictures and even some games.

It’s clear that HP recognizes and acknowledges what the sole purpose of the device is: basic, everyday use. They’ve included hardware that complements the system as well as your wallet and software to enhance your day-to-day needs. A built-in accelerometer will lock up the hard drive in the event of a drop, ensuring your data stays safe even when the rest of the laptop is not. The battery allows for up to four hours of continuous use, the keys on the keyboard are appropriately spaced for those of us with fat fingers and gives simple media controls. It’s true that you won’t be playing hardcore games or delving deep into video or photo editing, but at a price starting around $479.99 you’ll find that the laptop delivers in exactly the ways you’d expect. With a 15.6” monitor, overall weight just over 4.5 lbs, USB 3.0, HDMI out, and enough hardware to power the 64-bit Windows 8 OS, the HP Pavilion Sleekbook 15 is ideal for students looking for a simple, affordable option.

 

Xbox One – The Next Generation of Entertainment

MIcrosoft’s reveal shows off new features

For the past few years gamers have been ripping Microsoft apart after each E3 event, held annually in June, for not catering to the hardcore crowd. That’s why, entering the reveal of the next generation of Xbox console yesterday, Microsoft was faced with a win/lose situation. Microsoft could use the reveal to focus on gaming and leave entertainment for E3, again drawing criticism, or they could focus on the entertainment side of the console and use E3 for gaming. They chose the latter. Now, while gamers continue their complaints that the core of the console — gaming — was barely touched on, those sitting outside of the gaming world can look on and get excited for a piece of hardware that caters to their own wants and needs. Entertainment took the front seat yesterday and here’s what we saw.

The Hardware

To start, let’s get a little technical. The components inside the system are impressive when compared to the Xbox 360, but don’t forget that console released eight years ago. Now we’re facing an x86 octa-core processor by AMD built around “Jaguar”. The RAM has increased to 8GB, but strangely is only DDR3, whereas Sony opted for DDR5 with the Playstation 4. How it will affect memory access is still to be determined, but undoubtedly the next-gen Playstation will access and retrieve information faster. The HDD caps out at 500GB and, again, the speed is unknown. A hard drive at that capacity is not uncommon, but considering the newly implemented Blu-ray drive will install the games automatically and the disc capacity is 50GB, more questions are presented. Microsoft has confirmed that external drives will be permitted and easier to use than ever, but capacity limits or proprietary hardware have been commonplace for Xbox in the past.

The Xbox One also has an array of ports available for consumers, including USB 3.0. HDMI-in and HDMI-out is included, which plays into the full entertainment experience that Microsoft has invested into. Wi-Fi is available via three separate radios each at 802.11n, allowing connectivity for your tablet, smartphone, controller, or other devices.

Entertainment

As the crutch of the reveal, Microsoft clearly wanted to impose the Xbox One integration with everyday entertainment above “simply gaming”. Evidence of this was clear during the first reveal when those in attendance were presented an image of ‘The Price is Right’ to show off the cable television integration. The aforementioned HDMI in will act as a passthrough to allow consumers to use their Xbox One as a cable box and Microsoft alluded to partnerships with most major cable carriers, though the specifics were not discussed. The Kinect 2.0 was on full display during the presentation, but not in the form of motion controlled games. Voice activation was the ‘good son’ of the show, with presenters often using simple commands like, “Xbox, play MTV,” or “go to ESPN,” in an attempt to show off the ease of transition from channel to channel. Additionally, speaking “Xbox, ON” will turn the console on and go through the boot sequence at an alarming rate, raising issue that the console sets itself into a sleep mode rather than powering completely off.

A point was made to explain that the Xbox One runs off of three particular operating systems. A new, updated version of Xbox Live allows for easy searching of television, music, and movies and provides an option for personal favorites and trending television or movies, ensuring you’re plugged into what’s popular. Xbox Live is also increasing their server numbers from around 15,000 total to an astounding 300,000, partly to compensate for the constant activity that users will have. For instance, while catching up on your favorite episode of Game of Thrones, your Xbox One will be performing a background search for the best lobby of Call of Duty, allowing a seamless transition without waiting for extended loading and searching times.

An abridged version of Windows 8 is also implemented, which is how the Snap feature implements the use of Skype, television, and other features that will have the ability to run concurrently. The Windows 8 metro-style is also apparent, using tiles to place particular apps and access to information on your desktop, similar to what we currently see on the  Xbox dashboard. One interesting note is that a portion of the dashboard was noted as “My pins” — a possible indication that users will be able to customize a portion themselves to deliver a truly customized experience. Finally, a third service, not deeply discussed, is implemented to connect the Xbox Live and modified Windows 8 service. It would be reasonable to assume that this is the service that also connects these two operating systems to the cloud, another change to how entertainment and gaming will be evolving. Your Xbox One will require an internet connection in order to connect a minimum of once every 24 hours, but the reason for that requirement is still unknown. It could have something to do with the cloud service, but it could also be one of the DRM implements to cut back on system tampering and piracy.

Wrapping up the entertainment-focused portion of the reveal was the introduction of an agreement between Microsoft and the NFL, two powerhouses in their respective industries. With the capabilities of Kinect, the streaming services of the NFL, and the power of the Xbox One, users will be able to watch their team and interact by keeping tabs on fantasy stats or using smartglass in other ways. With the current state of television contracts, it’s hard to assume that users can watch any team at any time, more likely it will depend on your local carriers and be subject to blackouts, consistent with television contracts now.

Gaming

Despite having little in terms of featured titles, gaming was touched on. The current vitriol being streamed on social media fails to see that a lot of gaming information was announced, despite not seeing any gameplay. The controller, to start, now features a less pronounced battery pack and communicates with the Xbox One via Wi-Fi. The thumbsticks have been retextured to compensate for where your thumbs rest naturally and the back button has been replaced with a button used for simply viewing. Inventory during RPG’s, statistics during FPS titles, and other easily accessible map options for future titles. The thumbsticks have been revamped as well, allowing for rumble feedback. This may seem an insignificant feature, considering a rumble on your thumbs doesn’t add much to your gaming experience, but the fact that each trigger is able to be modified individually means that developers will have a better way to introduce physical depth to their titles.

A gaming DVR was also announced, complete with editing and sharing integration, turning everybody into a veritable gaming sensation. With the explosion of eSports, strangely absent from the reveal, gaming personalities have never been more prevalent. The question remains though, if everybody is creating videos, who’s watching? The answer may be limited to your friends list, which has undergone a transformation and increases from the current friend-cap of 100 to an astounding 1,000.

The biggest questions come in the form of what users will be doing with their disc games and what piracy prevention is being implemented. What’s known right now is that games will install themselves to your console automatically and, upon activating (a requirement), will allow users to play the games without the need of a disc. With a large enough external hard drive users may be able to maintain their entire catalogue of titles on one system, accessing them without ever needing to get off of the couch. Despite the increased benefit, the questions still loom regarding what Microsoft will be implementing to ensure that used games can be played (as they claim) and what sort of disc-sharing options will be available, if any.

EA also made an appearance to show off their Ignite engine, being used in NBA Live (yes, it’s back), Fifa, Madden, and future UFC titles. After showing a sizzle reel of some pre-rendered footage, EA noted that the line between real and digital is becoming blurred. Unfortunately the images shown reeked of the same enhancements and upgrades that EA touts year after year, with no real footage to provide a context of their claims. Consumers will have to wait until later this year or, best case, at E3 to see any of the engine at work.

em>Forza Motorsports 5 and a new title, Quantum Break, were also showcased. For Forza, players can expect to dive in on launch day and enjoy the simulated racing experience you’ve come to love. Another flashy trailer was released to get adrenaline pumping for fans of the series, but pre-rendered footage rarely looks similar to the final product and players should still remain sceptical until some semblance of gameplay is actually shown. Quantum Break, on the other hand, introduced fans to an FMV-like sequence where a girl shows off an ability to see through time and relay that information to people. Developed by Remedy Games, the game will undoubtedly be story driven; Remedy is most well-known for the Max Payne and Alan Wake franchises.

Overall Reactions

Microsoft clearly had a plan going into this reveal and, to the chagrin of hardcore gamers, it wasn’t to appease us. As an Xbox user myself, consuming television, movies, music and games, seeing implementation of added features is a welcomed announcement. The Xbox One is going beyond simply gaming and some entertainment apps to introduce a true experience and turn the console into the one piece of hardware that manages everything in your living room. This reveal wasn’t for gamers, but Microsoft has already noted that E3, less than a month away, will be where the gaming portion of the console thrives. For now, gamers need to understand that Microsoft knows this is a gaming console and is doing everything it can to market it to homes that don’t game as much as you or I. They have proven that they are capable of delivering an experience that extends beyond the controller and onto the remote, tablet, smartphone and to the users themselves. Be enthusiastic for what we currently know, because Microsoft is poised to make E3 a gaming-haven, complete with 15 exclusive titles, eight of which are brand new IPs.

It’s a good time to be a gamer.

Garmin nüvi 2597LMT – A GPS that works with your phone

Traveling has never been so easy!

The GPS market exploded about a decade ago, triggering a whole generation of drivers who had no need to stop and ask for directions. With turn-by-turn navigation a reality, people were finding their locations easier and faster than ever. Then came the smartphone boom, when apps became all the rage and entire GPS systems were put inside the small device typically used for only making calls. As a student and a member of society who probably has all their required applications on one device, you question the need of a GPS today. Cell coverage is getting better, removing most dead zones where you’d be stranded and lost anyway, right? So what’s the draw? The reason you upgraded to a smartphone from that old flip-phone is the same reason to invest in one of the current-generation GPS systems: features. While your smartphone still operates as a phone, the reason you upgraded from that outdated brick you had in 2006 was the features it presented. With the Garmin nüvi 2597LMT, it’s the same story, different chapter. The GPS offers the expected benefits, providing easy to hear and follow directions to get where you’re going. To justify the $219.99 price though, Garmin knew it had to offer consumers with something more than basic GPS features. It did just that.

Your phone isn’t going away, so it’s nice to see Garmin embrace that fact by implementing your use here. Bluetooth capability allows users to sync their phone to the GPS itself and use their phone in a hands-free environment, allowing users to make and take calls through the nüvi 2597LMT. Additionally, the implementation of Smartphone Link, a free app, takes advantage of your data plan to provide traffic and weather updates on the fly or to act as a beacon and help you find your car in a parking lot. That same technology, the ability to speak to the GPS, is also implemented for traveling ease. If you suddenly have to input an address, basic commands are able to tell the device to reroute you to the appropriate coordinates. Further, if you’re out and about and have a craving for a particular type of food — BBQ for example — you can tell your GPS of your desires and be given a listing of the closest BBQ joints in your area, select one, and be on your way to some finger lickin’ good food.

With the debate of smartphone versus GPS, there will always be pros and cons. The battery of the nüvi 2597LMT for instance lasts about 2.5 hours, but being stationed in your car and with a charger included in the box does make that a bit of a moot point. Removing it from your car would limit its use, but there’s hardly a reason to do that. Maps for bicycle, ATV, and snowmobile paths aren’t available and when browsing Garmin’s website for downloadable maps, none were found.

It’s true that the Garmin nüvi 2597LMT is packed full of features, both free and for purchase. The 5” screen makes it easy to see navigation without requiring you to take your eyes off of the road for too long. Spoken instructions that go beyond “turn left in 500 feet” are available to ensure you never make a turn incorrectly. Trip planner gives users the opportunity to mark multiple destinations and determine the most efficient route. Truly, this goes beyond your average GPS and with an MSRP around $219.99, you’ll certainly get what you pay for. The downside is that for those who don’t routinely take trips will find limited use; those who spend excessive amounts of time in their car or are planning a trip after graduation will definitely find value in the features included.

The Destroyed Beauty of Metro: Last Light

The Apocalypse never looked so pretty

After the events of Metro 2033, the world, and Russia in particular, are still hell. Despite destroying the Dark Ones, protagonist Artyom finds that the problems facing the survivors of the fallout are faced with new enemies. Nazis and communists are still prevalent and set on invading the neutral outposts littered throughout the sprawling metro tunnels. It’s tough living in a world where venturing into the open requires a gas mask to breathe and a firearm to survive. The world though, in all it’s devastated glory, is beautiful wreckage of turmoil. Plane wreckage litters the landscape to create a semblance of rolling hills and shells of once-proud buildings cast shadows like fall trees. It’s those shadows though, that vivid darkness, that holds danger. Mutated beasts roam freely like cattle, setting upon any unprepared scavenger who ventures into what has become their domain. With no manmade defense patrolling the skies, demons fly to and fro, laying claim to them and, should they set their eyes on you, will pluck you from the terrain with ease. The world is hell — a rusty, dusty hell.

Down below is much of the same; the metro, subway rails that connect towns, is the prime mode of transportation, with scavenged carts and scrapped locomotives the only travel options people have beyond their own two feet. While the surface has been claimed by the demons, the underground is arguably more dangerous. Twisting corners and ever-present darkness hide some of the most vile, disgusting beasts to roam the metro. And that’s only the people. Cobwebs cake the walls and hide decomposing bodies, victims of scavenger parties who never returned, presenting a constant reminder of the dangers that await you. With your personal flashlight and a hand-powered pump, used to recharge the battery as the light begins to dim, players will take Artyom through a labyrinth of metro tunnels, both used and abandoned. The goal is to find the last remaining Dark One, a race of creatures thought obliterated during Metro 2033, the first title in this series set on Dmitry Glukhovsky’s novel (which makes a cameo in the game).

Artyom soon finds that his objective, the Dark One he is pursuing, is nothing more than a child and, in an unfortunate turn of circumstance, gets both of them captured by rival factions. Where Metro 2033 relied on beasts and humanoids for most of the danger, Metro: Last Light introduces a delicate blend of human and monster combat. Various weapons return, all customizable with scopes, stocks, and barrels, and each presenting a different gameplay mechanic. Shotguns work wonderfully for close encounters, the constant tactic of deadly beasties roaming the metro. Assault and even sniper rifles are inserted for those full-scale firefights you’ll often find yourself wading into. Perhaps most impressive is the option to move throughout the game stealthily, using those deadly shadows as your own personal hunting ground. Attaching silencers to your weapons allows dispatch of pesky guards who patrol areas, but even in those instances there are many passages and hidden pathways you can traverse to avoid combat altogether.

Boss battles are always a difficult proposition in FPS games, so the three or four that you face throughout your 10 to 12 hour journey would feel out of place. In reality, most of them are well executed, though telegraphed to players well before they happen. In each instance players will find themselves in an arena-like setting, a rounded battleground that allows easy maneuverability to help against the foe you’re dealing with. Unfortunately, pathing becomes an issue not only during these encounters, but routinely throughout the game. Often you can turn to your compass to provide general direction, but the corners of the metro and the dangerous above-ground landscape provides little direction to players looking for easy-to-find paths.

With the exception of the final battle, where out-of-place dialogue can mislead players and leave them confused, the overall scope of Metro: Last Light is brilliant. The use of light, both artificial and natural gives players a sense that the world they are in is real. The wreckage provides a layer of filth that projects onto every piece of equipment you use and every character you interact with. Though a silent protagonist, Artyom provides monologues in between levels that helps relay his feelings to players who may be having their own internal struggle. Even the nudity, of which may feel out of place in this shell of Russia, is presented in a way that makes players understand that debauchery in its rawest form is something that cannot be dismissed, even in the worst of times. Players looking to experience a compelling story should take note, even if you missed out on the first title Metro: Last Light is game you should not miss.

Overall Score: 8 out of 10

Verizon Wireless and Samsung Note 10 Team Up to Deliver Quality and Coverage

In terms of geographic personality, New England is prime for tourists to visit and see the beautiful landscapes that are available. From rocky coasts to beautiful fall foliage, New England is a unique treasure to our country. With that beauty though, there is a price. It’s difficult to litter the landscape with cell towers or repeaters, meaning that cell coverage is difficult for some of the major US carriers. With Verizon Wireless though, the network is surprisingly robust and paired with the Samsung Note 10.1, delivers an experience that is as consistent as it is impressive.

Boasting a 1.4GHz quad-core processor, the Note 10.1 handles any of your apps, whether they’re for business or pleasure, with ease. The 10.1-inch screen displays images up to 1080p with a steady rate of 30fps. This clarity and framerate allows for movies and games to display in surprising clarity, enhancing the overall experience for users. Like most tablets releasing today, there are also two cameras for use. The rear camera provides a much better picture at 5 megapixels and optional flash than the forward-facing one, giving only 1.9 megapixel. A better design option would be to put the better camera as forward-facing, as users will find that apps like Skype allow for video-calling and rarely do you see someone holding up a 10-inch tablet to take a picture and not think, “Wow, they look ridiculous.” If you’re not concerned with appearances though, the rear camera provides decent pictures and records in 1080p video.

The operating system of choice is Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), but it works well with the “S Pen” that is included with the tablet. For students in particular, using the pen as a means of keeping track of important information in their ebooks or highlighting important pictures during research. As you use the pen a screenshot is taken of the area you circle, meaning students can focus on particular passages that they’re able to designate themselves and there’s no more annoying highlighter marks covering the pages. The pen also acts as a stylus, allowing using of all apps and easy navigation with it, reducing the amount of smudges and fingerprints on the screen.

An array of options are available for connecting devices to the Note 10.1, including Bluetooth and dual-band WiFi. WiFi direct is also an option, meaning instead of using your network connection — as reliable as it is — you can use WiFi hotspots to help save yourself from potential data charges. The battery is perhaps the most impressive thing about the device, totaling 7,000 mAh and allowing users a lengthy time of usage before a recharge is needed. Typically, with medium brightness, WiFi active and Bluetooth off, users can get heavy usage from the tablet for most of the day. This includes viewing videos, using applications, or simply reading ebooks. To summarize, the battery lasts a long time and take very little time to recharge back to 100%.

Finally, as previously mentioned, it is difficult to get a solid, sustained connection in certain parts of New England. Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont are very rural and go to great measures to sustain the beauty of natural landscapes. Cell towers help expand coverage, but also can become an eyesore on certain landscapes, creating a catch-22 when it comes to how to deliver quality service. Verizon Wireless, using CDMA technology, does a magnificent job of blanketing the area and providing a solid 4G LTE connection, even in some of the most rural places. Testing in Maine ranged from Portland to Bangor, including areas on the interstate (where the most coverage is, according to the map) and areas that were well off of it. In only rare circumstances did the 4G LTE connection fail, but in nearly every instance some form of connection was available.

Verizon's Coverage Area

The team of Samsung and Verizon Wireless work well together, giving users information and a way to reliably access it. The Note 10.1 is powerful and useful, providing access to hundreds of thousands of apps from the Google Play library. The pen makes navigation a snap, while the battery life ensures you’re able to consistently use the device without the constant worry of running low on juice. For anyone looking to upgrade or enter the world of tablets, the Verizon Wireless/Samsung Note 10.1 partnership is worth investigating.

Review – MOGA Pro Controller

Mobile gaming goes hardcore

Tablet and mobile gaming has historically been something that’s reserved for those who are on the go or looking to kill a little time while sitting on the toilet. It’s a disgusting reality, but it’s true. While sitting in a doctor’s office waiting room, avoiding eye contact while on public transportation, or during any other part of your day when you have some, but little, time to waste. Games like Angry Birds or Candy Crush Saga, while fun, lack the depth of story that hardcore gamers desire, mostly because the controls are limited to touch and nobody wants to commit to a directional pad or face buttons on a touch screen. Granted, it can be done, but for those looking for a genuine experience, it’s uncomfortable. That’s why PowerA created the MOGA Pro Controller, to give players a hardware option that feels comfortable. The fact that it has an impressive stable of compatible games is certainly a bonus.

Designed in the image of the Xbox 360 controller, arguably the most ergonomic available, the MOGA Pro controller connects to your favorite Android smartphone or tablet via bluetooth. For your smartphone the MOGA’s arm extends to attach it directly, turning the controller into a portable handheld device. For tablets, a stand is included in the packaging to ensure you’re not stuck staring straight down at your table and you enjoy a more genuine gaming experience. Unfortunately, a tablet-to-television cable is not included, though it can be purchased fairly cheaply via your favorite technology outlet — still, putting it in the box would make this an exponentially more impressive bundle.

As mentioned, the MOGA Pro controller is designed to mimic that of the Xbox 360, featuring two full triggers and two ½ triggers, sometimes referred to as bumper or shoulder button. With four face buttons, A, B, X, & Y, two thumbsticks, and a directional pad, the controller is actually quite light. That’s partially due to the lack of a swappable battery; it relies on a micro-USB connection to recharge. The grips, where your palms rest, a made of a plastic-like rubber and are designed to ensure no slipping occurs; when you play for long sessions, hands can sweat after all. Unfortunately, the rubberized grips are hard rubber, not soft, which can be just a slippery as basic plastic.

The biggest obstacle for the controller is that not all Android games are compatible. Once you install the MOGA Pivot app, you’ll find a stable of about 75 games that you can use to enhance your experience. Despite this being a fraction of a fraction of the overall games available, games from every genre including shooters to racing and even pinball are available.Speaking with the PowerA development team at PAX East, it was explained that in the beginning with the MOGA Pocket controller, a product far inferior to this iteration, PowerA was left trying to reach out to developers who would make their game compatible with the device. Since it has attained some success though, developers have started approaching PowerA for an opportunity to have their game featured on the Pivot app.

Though tablets and smartphones have a long way to go to match the power of consoles like the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3, the interest in gaming on them will increase tenfold as more and more MOGA Pro Controllers make their way into the wild. Ergonomic, comfortable, and familiar to gamers, the controller will take your mobile gaming experience and transform it from something you do to pass the time to something you seek out. This little piece of hardware may even transform your phone or tablet into your primary gaming medium.

The MOGA Pro Controller retails for $49.99 and can be ordered at MOGAAnywhere.com