• Your one stop for college news and resources!

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.

Razer Sabertooth Review

Total control at your fingertips … all of them!

One of the greatest advances for our current generation of Xbox is the controller itself. A marvel of ergonomics and efficiency, Razer is taking a unique approach with their own variation of the controller. The Razer Sabertooth is the follow-up to their previously released Onza controller and after hearing the feedback for the Onza, Razer has made engineering changes that any Xbox gamer can relish. While the general design has stayed somewhat similar to its older brother, the Sabertooth has finally given gamers a reason to step away from the Xbox licensed controller without having to fear a reduced gameplay experience. In fact, the Sabertooth has implemented enough changes that users will have an advantage over anybody not wielding one.

Because Razer has already released an Xbox controller that, while unique and beneficial in some ways, was not as comfortable and felt uncomfortable compared to the officially licensed controller, it’s hard not to compare the two. For instance, the face buttons (A, B, X & Y) have been elevated to allow for a more pronounced feel when pressing them. The tell-tale spring-like feedback and audible click is still there, which simply adds to the unique overall feeling of the controller. Additionally the thumbsticks have been modified, much to the appreciation of anyone using Kontrol Freeks. With the Onza the thumb sticks were widened to accommodate big thumbs, but the Sabertooth has brought them back to standard size and actually includes some custom grips to allow for maximum adhesion.

Still included are additional buttons between the triggers and the shoulder bumpers, but thankfully the size and positioning of these have been altered as well. With a shorter, wider design and reposition to a more accessible spot on the controller, users won’t have to worry about accidentally pushing the modified reload setting instead of tossing the grenade that was intended, for instance. The final, most recognizable modification to the Sabertooth are the buttons located on the underside of the controller. Using the natural ergonomics of your hands, users can access four additional buttons with their middle or ring fingers, depending on how the controller is held. The buttons underneath are initially semi-circles that fit the contour of your fingers, allowing for simple movements of up or down to act as another button on the controller. Users can also remove the semi-circles in favor of a “bar” that acts the same way, but is less noticeable.

All of these extra buttons might seem a little overwhelming, but the simple customization provided takes the confusion and makes it stress-free. By using the small OLED-panel, users will easily navigate to the option for customizing a button, then map the custom button to whatever they prefer. To prevent cheating and potentially being banned from Xbox Live, setting multi-button press macros is not allowed. That doesn’t mean the controller is any less useful though, as genres like shooters or fighting games evolve into an experience that, while certainly requiring players to learn and grow accustomed to the new setup, will enhance the experience by making particular movements and actions far easier to perform.

The Sabertooth allows for two separate button profiles, includes a 10’ braided cable, independent D-pad controls, a carrying case to protect the device when traveling, and works with the Xbox 360 or PC. While it certainly feels and acts differently than the controller players have grown accustomed to, when a little time is spent with the device and the configurations are mastered players will find that a clear advantage is given during its use. With a retail price of $79.99, it’s more expensive than the officially licensed controller, but the added features more than make up for the increased price.

Review Rewind: Dance Central 3

Shake yo’ booty!

As intricate as it is fun, Dance Central 3 by Harmonix takes full advantage of the Xbox Kinect by putting players on the dance floor to bust a move to some of their favorite songs from the last two decades. Using hits from today and classics from the 70’s, 80’s & 90’s, players can dance simply for the fun of it, travel through time and experience a full story mode, or set up a workout routine to help shed some unwanted weight. The biggest issue that the game runs into isn’t one that’s inherent in itself, it’s the limitations of the hardware it’s on.

Not that a game that pivots on dance mechanics needs a story mode, but for players that look for a deeper experience while shaking their money-maker will find one. The player is part of DCI, a federal agency trying to stop evil Dr. Tan who is hatching a plot to take over the world. Your job is to stop him by … dancing. It’s crazy, but stay with me here. By shooting back in time and particular moves from some of the famous dances from each era the players can string together certain important steps … and save the world. It’s a silly premise to be sure, but having the added content and putting an objective to the game beyond, “shake it, get points,” is a wonderful addition. The problem is the Kinect hardware itself. In order to progress through the story the player has to get a particular move 100% correct from each song in the era. If you miss the move, you’ve got to replay the song. The Kinect hardware requires a lot of light and a clear playing space in the front and on both sides of the player, so even the slightest shadow or even dark pants can cause your legs to be “misread” by the device, leading to multiple replays of the same song. It can get quite tedious. Surely it’s unfair to blame a game for shortcomings of the hardware it’s on, but not putting in some sort of “fail safe” for what has become all too common on the Kinect is shortsighted.

But with clear, bright lighting and clothing that is Kinect-friendly users can dance their cares away to some of the best tracks to grace the franchise. The soundtrack contains hits that anyone can recognize regardless of age, but that’s why the game is so charming. With titles from New Kids on the Block, Vanilla Ice, Gloria Gaynor and the Village People, the game provides a sense of ridiculous fun. Once players stop caring how ridiculous they look, and you will certainly look ridiculous, there’s an immediate transformation from reserved swaying to wildly frantic hip-jiving. In a good way. It’s just that transformation that epitomizes the Dance Central franchise as a whole. When a player can let go of themselves and simply enjoy a game without risk of being judged or, when they are being judged, just don’t care, it’s a testament to the amount of fun to be had.

Piling onto the simple (and not so simple) dance routines is a variety of minigames aimed at giving players something a little different to try one their own or during a party. For the player looking to shed some weight, the game can also track your movement and give a somewhat accurate reading of the calories burned and time played, while setting weight goals is an option for those looking to really take advantage of this option.

The essence of the game is truly “just dancing,” but the implementation of the gameplay mixed with the soundtrack and other added goodies really make the game worthwhile to anyone with even a minimal interest in using their Kinect to it’s fullest. Minigames, unlockable characters and outfits, weight loss goals, and a fantastic soundtrack help prove once again that when it comes to rhythm games or games taking advantage of the often-ridiculed Kinect hardware, Dance Central 3 is the apex of fun.

Overall score – 8 out of 10

Skulls of the Shogun Review

Slightly better than seppuku

With Skulls of the Shogun as their first release, developer 17-BIT is looking to add an interesting spin on the turn-based strategy game. By simplifying some aspects of the game and introducing a witty, lengthy story, players can expect to get their money’s worth. Adding in cross-platform multiplayer is also seamless and interesting. It’s the execution that needs work, because as you progress further into the story or establish games online it starts to get repetitious and stops being cute.

Turn-based strategy is a hot genre right now, what with the success of XCOM: Enemy Unknown catching us all off-guard, but to churn out the same gameplay time and time again means users will get bored and soon titles will start to meld together, indistinguishable from one another. Skulls of the Shogun doesn’t suffer this fate thankfully, as it adds new and interesting elements to the game itself, but still suffers from other issues. As expected, units have their own benefits and liabilities that must be put to use strategically to ensure victory. The particular mechanic of your General though, helps put a spin of personality to the game. Your General is your commander in the field. He’s the overpowered, high-damage/high-defense unit that can turn the tides of battle in a single turn. If he dies however, it’s game over and you lose, so tread carefully. Being such a valuable character, your General also gets a benefit at the beginning of each game and every round he is inactive. As he sits idle he gains 1 HP each round which, in a game where victory or defeat is determined by the smallest of margins, is a valuable benefit; the player looking for a quick win is sure to ignore the benefit though.

The General isn’t the only character on the field and as players progress they will be introduced to new soldiers and tactical options to implement. By haunting a particular rice paddy players earn rice, a form of currency used to summon new soldiers to the battle. The more valuable and dangerous the soldier, the higher the cost. Additionally, shrines are strategically placed that, when haunted, give players access to a unique character capable of devastating offensive magic or simple healing spells. It’s the rice paddies and shrines that present a unique tactical option to the game, posing the question, “do you move in for the quick victory and risk being overrun, or do you play it slowly and overrun your enemy?”

The story itself revolves around your General, as he awakens in the underworld with the rest of the samurai who have fallen in battle. He’s told to form a queue in order to get access to the promised land, but doesn’t take kindly to being given orders — he’s a General you see, and he gives orders. Add to that the fact that an imposter is masquerading around the underworld as your General, so nobody gives you the respect you’ve earned throughout your life in battle, proving that identity theft is a serious problem that dates back thousands of years. The writing is silly and juvenile, but not to the point where it’s embarrassing. Thankfully it’s aware of itself and the silly situation players are in. With quirky one-liners and snarky dialogue, the character quotes help players progress through what would be a painfully long game had it been written in a serious tone.

 

The bread and butter of the game, and the reason anyone should buy it, is the multiplayer. Working cross platform between Xbox Live Arcade and Windows 8 phones or tablets, a new level of gameplay is presented that helps the game take a small step away from repetition and introduces another experience for players. Where the campaign gets monotonous and, due to the large amount of content, forgettable, having dual-multiplayer options present an interesting change. First, players can hop into a 2-4 player showdown that pits players in a ‘last man standing’ deathmatch. With different maps, each with shrines and rice paddies placed strategically, matches can degrade into a bedlam with each player vying for an important tactical position within a round or two. The best way to enjoy Skulls of the Shogun multiplayer is the asynchronous mode, allowing players to make moves on their own time, which the game then relays back to the other players, again 2-4 per match. As you take your move, it is then delivered to other players to watch. It could be an hour, it could be a day, but the other players then get to take their moves and, when completed, you’re provided a notification that it’s back to you. It may seem silly, sending moves back and forth as if playing a game of chess long-distance, but with a hectic student and personal life, sometimes the only chance you get to enjoy a game is when you sit down for a … rest.

Skulls of the Shogun, with its witty writing and interesting design certainly provides for many, many hours of gameplay. Unfortunately, after a few hours the combat becomes repetitive, exceedingly difficult, and few will see the campaign through to its end. Those playing on a mobile device will see added benefit with the asynchronous multiplayer which can create some surprisingly fun and adrenaline pumping scenarios. It’s those modes that add value to the title and if you have a group of friends who enjoy gaming but have limited time, this is for you. But If you’re looking for a deep, interesting experience to have on your own, this is slightly better than seppuku.

Overall score: 6.5 out of 10

Review Rewind: XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Has a game ever been so difficult you cried?

With XCOM: Enemy Unknown a classic game is resurrected and recreated to provide players with multiple facets of gameplay, each of them requiring precise execution in order to succeed. One misstep, one incorrect decision and your entire plan can become a maelstrom of defeat under a flurry of gunfire. That level of difficulty is what makes the game such a unique experience though, giving players a heightened sense of victory when a mission goes according to plan. With multiple levels of difficulty to choose from, even the easy setting is unforgiving and will cause players unfamiliar with proper strategy to restart again and again.

With aliens invading earth, the major countries of the world have joined together to fight off the threat. The joining, named “XCOM”, helps funnel money to the organization in order to complete research, build facilities, and engineer new, useful gear that can be used in head-to-head battles with the aliens. Each country has a panic meter that gauges just how close to mass panic they are and if they sit at level five for too long, kiss their monthly cash contributions goodbye. Run out of money and you’re left at a severe disadvantage, going into battle with armor akin to rolled-up newspaper and firearms that are weaker than spitballs. Maintain a generally low level of panic though and the game becomes much more forgiving. This is accomplished by monitoring which countries are more exposed than others, keeping track of scientists and engineers, and responding to missions that give better rewards or help a panicked nation. It’s a tightrope act to maintain calm across the world, ensuring that players be skilled at managing tense public situations as well as the required combat skills you’ll need to overcome some of the meanest creatures you’ve ever seen.

Another layer that goes beyond simple combat is maintaining your squad of soldiers and seeing that their progress helps the team as much as it helps them individually. As you recruit new soldiers and they get a taste of combat, their levels begin to build and they’re giving combat roles, though the roles are assigned seemingly at random with no rhyme or reason — at least, none easily noticed. Certain soldiers will become “Heavies” and will wield RPG’s and an LMG, while others may become Snipers, Assault, or Support, each with their own particular benefits and drawbacks. As they see more combat and gain more experience, multiple skill options present themselves that force the players to choose how each soldier will advance in their particular class. Each of those characters is customized further by editing their particular loadouts with upgraded weapons, increased armor or particular items like grenades or medkits. Additionally, you can customize the name and appearance of each soldier, but resist the urge to name them after someone close to you. You see, if the soldier dies in the field, they’re gone. For good. No resurrection. Though in moments of troubled remembrance players can visit “The Wall” to see the names of those fallen heroes.

And finally, after gushing about the gameplay elements that are sure to surprise you, the combat itself requires as much, if not more, tactical implementation to succeed. Standing out in the open is sure to get you a face-full of alien blaster, so ensure your characters are in cover at the end of each turn. Using a burning car as cover may not be the best of choices either, as we’ve seen action movies and we understand that even the slightest shot can turn it into a lethal explosive. Strangely aliens get a “free move” when you find them on the map; each map is covered by a fog-of-war, reducing your visibility unless your character has direct line-of-sight. As you move tactically from cover to cover, you’ll inevitably run across a group of aliens. As they see you, they immediately scatter into a defensible position, a luxury not afforded to players if an alien happens upon a soldier standing out in the open. That simple design element turns a difficult game into a lopsided affair that weighs heavily in the favor of the invaders and leads to a wall full of memories.

It’s strange that such a difficult game would rate so highly, especially a game that’s unforgiving and may cause players to guiltily play the “load game” dance, reverting to previous saves over and over again after scenarios play out and your high level soldier ends up face down in a puddle that used to be his face. But as you finish mission upon mission and understand the level of difficulty you’re up against, players will gain a feeling of absolute victory and start to develop an actual relationship with their soldiers. Nothing as deep or connected as a real relationship mind you, but players will discover tactics that are key to surviving each encounter. When a soldier is lost and those tactics are no longer viable, a sense of panic and loss sets in that leaves you confused and frantically attempting to regain control of a dangerous situation. The game-within-a-game mechanic creates a brilliant meld of difficulty, fun, and tension, making XCOM: Enemy Unknown one of the best games of 2012.

 

Overall score: 9 out of 10

Review Rewind: Tropico 4 Gold

Being a dictator has never been so fun!

Tropico 4 released in 2011 and it set the bar for city-building simulations. With its deep construction system, faction management, and juggling of multiple politics players were able to assume the role of El Presidente, dictator supreme. As charming as he is deceitful, El Presidente moves from mission to mission, each with different objectives and challenges to overcome. With the introduction of new content, players were presented with all new content to explore. Packing in the Modern Times DLC, Tropico 4 Gold gives players new buildings to construct, new edicts to issue, and all new scenarios to master.

El Presidente is a wonderful character because the player can direct him to be as democratic or dictatorial as they see fit. Building a new high school to educate the island’s inhabitants is a wonderful idea! Though while construction is underway, he also has the option of siphoning some of the funds use to build it and putting it in an offshore account of his own. It’s just like real politics! In fact, that offshore account filled to the brim with money is one of the deciding factors in how well you are managing your island, which in turn leads to your overall score and character progression. As you work your way through scenarios, El Presidente earns aptitude with personal traits which can affect the way the island responds. As you progress and scenarios get harder, having a leader who can demand higher prices for agricultural exports or gains more money from tourism is a major benefit.

Whether you choose to ‘free play’ and just develop an island, or you decide to move from scenario to scenario, there remains a constant battle to make your citizens happy. Your citizens are unique people though; while some may want to drink and gamble, your religious sect wants you to outlaw that sort of debauchery. Finding the middle-ground proves to be a task that isn’t easily accomplished. And it’s not just factions that you’re pacifying, as you need a solid workforce to get things done on the island. Farms don’t plant themselves, but if a job in construction pays more than planting coffee or corn, you may end up with a masterfully developed island with nobody tending to it. Then again, if you set all salary rates too low you may end up with a union strike on your hands or worse, a large group leaving the island altogether.

It’s that constant shifting back and forth, managing population demographics, foreign relations, keeping law and order, and ensuring that the land doesn’t become polluted that makes El Presidente both powerful and powerless at the same time. Then, just as you feel that you’ve got a handle on your economy and population, the wrath of the island strikes with a natural disaster. Tsunamis, earthquakes, drought, or tornados can decimate your population, leaving buildings destroyed and your population frantic. Foreign aid only goes so far and, as in real life, budgets and events can be ruined by mother nature’s scorn.

Moving into the modern times is a significant step as well and the introduction to this is welcomes with the Modern Times DLC, included with Tropico 4 Gold. Buildings, once able to sustain the people of your island, are presented with new options as you move from a country of farms and nightclubs, to one with biodomes and industrial buildings. Each with an additional expense, these new buildings produce less pollution and grant a level of “beautification” to your tropical paradise. El Presidente himself will even benefit, as new traits are granted that will allow him to further the island’s profit, thus ensuring his own financial stability. And finally, new scenarios are presented that will take your knowledge of island micromanaging and eliminate any ego you may have developed. These scenarios range from difficult financial situations to barren lands that produce no food, requiring precise importing and exporting in order to start seeing a profit. The added content is worthwhile, but for a game that is already packed full of difficult scenarios and requires dozens of hours to master, the biggest benefit is the buildings alone.

Despite being out for nearly two years, Tropico 4 still manages to be one of the better city-simulations to date. Additional DLC has been made available giving it a far longer shelf-life than anticipated and each has their own benefit, but the extra buildings are truly the main reason to purchase them, so if you’re content with what the primary game has to offer you may want to save your money. Tropico 4 Gold has all the content you’ll need to feel like a disgusting dictator and is packed full of tongue-in-cheek comedy that provides a level of enjoyment even during the hardest of social or financial times. The game isn’t particularly fast-paced, but for anyone who enjoys micromanaging, this is your game

Overall score: 7.5 out of 10

Cyborg MMO 7 Gaming Mouse Review

It’s like a Transformer in your hand

A carpenter never blames his tools, but in gaming sometimes the difference between a good game and an epic game is the hardware you’re using. In PC gaming specifically, players can use a mouse or players can implement a tool of absolute destruction. A tool so finely crafted that your opponents will weep openly at your feet as the lie there, defeated. OK, that’s sensationalized, but Mad Catz new Cyborg M.M.O. 7 Gaming Mouse aptly deserves the praise. MMO gaming veterans will immediately recognize the benefits of a mouse crafted to fit your hand comfortably and engineered with access to multiple buttons with minimal movement.

The M.M.O. 7 Gaming Mouse looks like something from a Transformers cartoon, but that’s part of the appeal. A device with a unique look is sure to attract attention, but it’s the rest of the design that earns the accolades. Weighted perfectly, the construction feels solid with no pieces wiggling under the constant movement of fingers and thumbs. Precision is key and the mouse is designed with precise movements in mind. A dozen buttons are laid out systematically within easy reach of primary fingers and still allow users to control direction while accessing them. That’s not to say the mouse comes without its own set of problem. Adapting to a device with that many buttons in this specific layout is difficult and not something that the average gamer will pick up with ease. Even the most experienced will find that small hand movements sometimes result in unexpected button presses.

Button mapping is the simplest way to solve unwanted presses and the software available for the M.M.O. 7 is easy to install and simple to use. Unfortunately that software is available on their website, as the mouse doesn’t come with an installation disk. Being an MMO mouse though, users are expected to have access to the internet and some sort of broadband connection. Without it, purchasing the mouse simply gives you a sexy looking piece of hardware, as the software also also particular profiles to be implemented. When rotating between World of Warcraft, to Guild Wars 2, then to Diablo III, users can assign specific macros to perform difficult in-game skill executions and save those macros to three individual profiles for use in your favorite games.

Aside from the Batmobile-looking design, the buttons and dials have actual uses that go beyond stating, “They’re there and you can use them.” Specifically, the ‘Hat button’ is a small rubberized dot that has five particular functions. Each direction plus pushing it creates a different response depending on how you’ve set them to react. It’s a brilliant use of a simple design that allows users added customization. Additionally the ‘scroll’ button is a simple knob, but is accessed by your thumb and can be used for web browsing or in-game to cycle targets, zoom in or out, or any other options that suit your fancy.

The most frustrating experience with the mouse is the learning curve that accompanies it, but the solid, well-built hardware is a blessing once you’ve grown accustomed to the design. Buttons don’t require aggressive pressure to react, and the software available makes designing your ideal profile very simple. The retail price hovers around $129.99, making it one of the more expensive gaming mice on the market. To compensate, they’ve included additional hardware that allows users to customize the mouse’s exterior as well; new designs and added palm traction will make you feel like the mouse really is a creation of your own. If you’re looking for a mouse that will turn as many heads as it helps remove, the M.M.O. 7 Gaming Mouse is it.

Review Rewind: Assassin's Creed III

The Assassin’s Creed series isn’t so much about the events transpiring in the past as it is about the story of Desmond Miles. Despite spending a large majority of each game taking place inside the Animus, the machine designed to allow Miles to experience the events of his ancestors, the machine driving the story is his desire to find the ‘Pieces of Eden’ with the intent of saving the world. Assassin’s Creed III is no different, as players are this time whisked away to colonial America and injected into a volatile period of our own history: the American Revolution. Again, Desmond must take to the Animus to relive the history of his ancestors and again, the combat is crisp, the story is interesting, and there’s much to do. Unfortunately though, as gamers we expect our favorite franchises to evolve. Assassin’s Creed III delivers an experience that differs minutely from the other games and by the end you realize it’s time for a big change.

Playing as Desmond Miles is certainly a treat, as previous games your interactions with what is essentially the main protagonist of the series has been minimal and lacking. Even as the storyline progresses and more exploration and combat are introduced, playing in the modern-day gives the series a nice touch and perhaps a glimpse of what’s to come. However, most of the 30+ hour single player experience is spent playing as Connor, the ½ Native American, ½ British protagonist introduced into the Order of Assassins by the aging father-figure Achilles Davenport.

Achilles is responsible for introducing Connor to the life of an Assassin and does his best to train him in both body and mind. The storyline plays out as expected, with Connor learning the difficult life lessons and Achilles confidently training him in a Miyagi-like way. While visiting Achilles, Connor will open up additional play options to embark on. Homestead missions require Connor to seek out and help random strangers in an attempt to have them move onto the land and establish a small village. It’s a nice change of pace from the typical combat, sprinting around and stabbing people. Naval battles and game hunting are also introduced, with the sea battles being the biggest and most impressive change. Taking the helm of monstrous sea vessels to do battle against smaller, more agile boats radiates a feeling of absolute power. The landscape itself is perhaps the most impressive, presenting battles in day or night, clear skies and rain each mission, while requiring similar controls, feels different due to the constant change of scenery.

 

The unfortunate truth of Assassin’s Creed III is that despite new implementations to the game, it remains largely the same. Combat remains the constant wait, counter, execute strategy, though the implementation of multiple weapons and firearms is done nicely. Additionally, recruiting and training assassins as a clan returns and with added choices. Instead of simply running in to dispatch enemies, your brood can implement multiple skills to allow Connor a level of subterfuge not yet seen in the series. The issues is that, while it’s new and interesting, it’s not quite perfected and frankly not needed to finish the game.

em>Assassin’s Creed III presents an interesting setting with the dawn of our country, but without large changes to one of the best franchises of this generation players will feel it starting to fall stale. With some of the worst chase scenes in recent memory and largely the same landscape —  Boston and New York look strikingly similar — it’s a solid game for any fans of the series, but anyone looking for an evolution will be disappointed.

Overall Score: 7.5 out of 10

 

GeForce GTX 660 Ti Review

Moderately priced hardware provides amazing power

When your PC starts falling behind the technology, there’s little you can do. Upgrading to a new PC can be expensive and may be more than you need, but diagnosing your hardware brings affordability in-line with user need. Of the components that you can upgrade personally, a video card is arguably one of the most important. The GeForce GTX 660 Ti (NVIDIA) provides power, ease of use, and multiple viewing options even for those with semi-outdated processors. The inclusion of the PhysX engine allows gamers to see visuals they never knew were there and breathes renewed life into some of your older titles.

 

Indeed, your gaming will undergo significant visual improvement from the onset of installation. Popular games like World of Warcraft and Diablo III from Blizzard will present character detail, distant landscape intricacies, and foliage that simply don’t exist with lesser or older video cards. Even when installing this in an older PC (2.5gHz dual core, 8GB RAM) the improvements seen were markedly better and ran seamlessly. Well, as seamless as you can get with a dual-core — you won’t be playing Crysis on the highest settings, but titles like Orcs Must Die! and Torchlight II see impressive upgrades to all aspects of visual settings and game flow, regardless of the amount of mayhem on screen.

Placed in a gaming PC with good specs though, the GPU shines. Particularly impressive is the included PhysX technology that takes your normal gaming experience to new heights. Water, lighting, and basic landscape detail becomes sharper and more lifelike. Combat sequences unfold with gruesome detail to show violent battles with disgusting results. Particular games like Borderlands 2, Metro 2033, and others that you may have already experienced are injected with new life as players will see detail that was painfully absent during their original play through. Banners flutter in the wind, ricochet particles from gunfire become clear, and negotiating terrain becomes far more interesting when you can see detail that simply isn’t there with lesser GPU’s. Unfortunately PhysX isn’t a technology that affects every game, because the results are jaw-dropping. 3D display options are also available, however most gamers are still staring at that option with disappointed or, at best, inquisitive glances.

 

For those looking to spice up their PC, without shelling out thousands of dollars to do so, the GeForce GTX 66 Ti is a step in the right direction. While it won’t take your PC performance from dud to stud, it will certainly provide a superior viewing experience while giving you renewed interest in all the games you’ve previously played while spurring extra enthusiasm for those upcoming titles. With a retail price around $300.00 (or less), users will appreciate the ease of installation, enjoy the power of the GPU itself, and allow themselves to upgrade a key component of their PC experience at a very reasonable cost.

HTC 8X Smartphone Review

Power without the power

Microsoft recently released their newest operating system, Windows 8, to consumers and while it hasn’t quite been applauded by PC users, tablet and smartphones seem the perfect fit. Couple that with a hardware manufacturer who has a reputation for making useful, interesting devices and you end up with the HTC 8X. Delivered in the typical ‘candy bar’ design, the phone stands out physically and for the power it brings to it’s owners. Games, apps, pictures, and more are easily accessible with the Windows Phone 8 design and its integration into the cloud is seamless. The phone isn’t without it’s problems though and one glaring issue in particular should make you hesitant about choosing it over competitors.

As with all phones, and technological hardware for that matter, the first noticeable feature of the HTC 8X is its design. The rectangular shape is all the more pronounced by the fact that the corners aren’t rounded, ala iPod or any of the other devices that have flooded into the market. Instead, the corners have a sharper edge to them creating a distinct shape, even if it is one we’ve been familiar with since grade school. The reverse of the phone, where your hand sits most often, is a luscious blend of hard protective plastic with a soft, smooth texture.

And speaking of the back of the phone, for users who rely on swapping batteries you can forget it; which as it turns out is the biggest issue of the phone altogether. Instead of having access to changing the battery when it dies or won’t charge, users will have to ship the phone back in order to get it fixed. While an embedded battery is frustrating in-and-of itself, the fact that its life rivals that of a fruit fly also adds to the frustration of the device. Having to recharge once a day is bad enough, but times when you activate the WiFi, Bluetooth, or other options forces a second recharge during the late afternoon which is simply unacceptable. Especially considering the Flyer, HTC’s tablet PC, has an amazing battery life and with minor use can last days without being plugged in.

Internally the phone itself is quite a marvel to behold. Regardless of Windows 8’s success on PC, it’s clearly designed for the mobile user. The tile-based OS takes advantage of the phone’s monstrous 4.3” screen, which is also crafted from Gorilla Glass and holds up surprisingly well. The size of the screen projected at 720p resolution combined with the Windows 8 aesthetic allows users to easily navigate through their favorite apps and customize the setup to their own desire. Custom icon sizes gives users the ability to prioritize their most used versus other apps that are needed, but not necessarily as important.

Internal hardware is impressive and will cause some phone connoisseurs to nod knowing why the battery drains so quickly. With an 8 megapixel camera, shots are crystal clear and widescreen, allowing for more of the image to be seen. Additionally, the internal processor operates with a dual core at 1.5 GHz, makes efficient use of the 1GB RAM, and allows users to take full advantage of apps and Xbox games with 16GB of internal memory, though some of that is taken with the OS and phone carrier’s included apps. Finally, Beats Audio is back and allows music to come through clearer, with deep bass and sharp trebles. Granted, that’s only with headphones plugged in, but the inclusion of one of HTC’s most impressive features is certain to make music aficionados ecstatic.

Amazingly clear pictures, a super-sized screen, extremely lightweight, and with a good size to fit into most hands, the HTC 8X is a marvelous phone and represents Windows Phone 8 products to its height. Unfortunately the embarrassing lack of battery power is sure to drive users away though. By requiring the phone to be a nearby power supply at all times, the ‘mobile’ is removed from mobile phone and causes users to remain tethered to a micro-USB port constantly.

For more information on the HTC 8X, visit their website.

Guardians of Middle-earth Review

Monolith brings MOBA to console

The Multiplayer Online Battle Arena genre, lovingly referred to as MOBA, has seen a massive surge in popularity mostly due to the success of League of Legends (LoL) for PC. Those too timid to join for fear of annihilation or those who don’t game on the PC have probably heard of it, but never experienced it themselves. The developers at Monolith have developed a MOBA for consoles that should remove any reservations inexperienced players have. Guardians of Middle-earth presents a gameplay experience catered to each player’s particular skill level, users can enjoy themselves online or off, with friends or without. And as one of the first games of this genre available for Xbox 360 and Playstation, they’ve set the bar high.

The objective of each match is simple: destroy your enemy’s primary tower. It’s far easier said than done, of course. Players must battle through waves of soldiers and destroy defense towers on the way to the primary tower, all while staving off enemy Guardians equipped with their own special abilities. Defeat an enemy Guardian and they face a long respawn time. Get yourself killed and you face the same fate, which puts your team, consisting of AI or player-controlled Guardians, at a severe disadvantage.

But simply tearing down a lane, battling soldiers, towers, and other Guardians doesn’t make for particularly great gameplay. That’s why there are additional creatures and “free areas” throughout each map. By traveling to one of these areas your team can capture a shrine which grants an important buff to the rest of your team. These shrines are highly contested throughout each map and should you capture one from the enemy, be prepared to defend it. The creatures scattered throughout the maps are also of Lord of the Rings lore, with trolls, shades, and spiders resting in out of the way places. Kill them though and you will receive a game-changing buff to tip the battle in your favor. Be wary though, these buffs will wear off and if you find yourself in the midst of a battle when that happens, you may pay with your life.

The key to winning is understanding your own playstyle and that of your allies. You can’t expect to be dealing massive damage if you’re better at healing. Similarly, you shouldn’t be playing defensively if you’re more adept at using hit-and-run tactics to wear down the enemy. Developer Monolith understands this and has implemented characters that excel in particular categories. Additionally, the characters themselves have talents and skills that directly draw influence from their characters inside the realm of Middle-earth and each of the movies (including newly released The Hobbit). Bilbo Baggins for instance excels at stealth and dealing damage. The beautiful elf Galadriel, on the other hand, is particularly skilled at healing. Evil characters are also included, giving players the option of playing as Sauron or Bert the Troll.

You begin each match as at level 1 and as you dispatch soldiers, Guardians, and towers, your character earns experience that will take them to level 2 and eventually to the maximum level 14. The benefit of leveling is that you can increase the power and effect of your skills, mapped to each of the face buttons on the controller. You will also develop the ability to upgrade the soldiers that spawn periodically, moving from simple foot soldiers up to massive Ents or dangerous spiders. Finally, your level determines the upgrade for your defensive towers as well. Instead of simply firing at enemies that come within range, you can increase attack speed, targeting ability, and even the ammo used.

At the end of each game your profile will earn a particular amount of experience and gold that will allow you to increase your rank. While you start at level 1 for each match, your rank will continuously increase allowing you access to other goodies to use during each match. There are four slots for potions and for commands. Potions grant different bonuses and are used only once per match, so trigger them wisely. Healing, damage increase, even ability cooldowns are affected by the different types of potions, of which each character has a maximum of four.

Commands on the other hand are extremely powerful skills that have extended cooldowns ranging from 120 to 300 seconds. That’s for good reason as each one provides a fantastic benefit immediately upon triggering it. Healing, damage, summoned minions, they’re all available and come in tiers. As with potions, commands are given four slots for use, but instead of filling them with your own selections, commands are delivered in tiers ranging from one to four. Each tier provides different commands, but as they increase in tier so do they in power.

Rounding out the role-playing experience is the inclusion of the player’s belt. On the belt players can add gems or relics, again with varying benefits. Every player has seven slots to fill with gems, while relics come in different flavors. Relics can be filled with gems, so there really is no benefit to using gems alone. Each relic can fit two, three, or four gems and grants a particular bonus. Gems act as miniature versions of the relics, but their bonuses aren’t as intense.

While Guardians of Middle-earth doesn’t do anything radically different than other popular MOBA’s that are available on PC, delivering it on console makes it notable. Customization of loadouts with potions, runics/gems, and commands creates a sort of meta-game when not in the thick of battle. Figuring out which characters excel with particular equipment and commands will compliments your team and your own particular play style. With most games lasting around 20 minutes or less, it’s easy to get involved with a match if you have just a few minutes to spare, but the intense action and overwhelming pride from a victory is sure to pull you in for hours at a time. With Monolith dedicate to providing continued support with new characters and maps, whether you’re a PC MOBA fan or simply interested in the genre, you do not want to miss this game.

Overall score 8.5 out of 10

A video of gameplay can be seen here