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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.

Get Ready for Titanfall

For many, Titanfall acts as a rival to popular first-person shooter franchise Call of Duty. Setting aside that EA is publishing the game of the same genre, many members of developer Respawn Entertainment are former developers of the franchise they’ve been tasked with toppling. And while it will surely take more than one pebble to topple the Goliath that is CoD, the futuristic shooter that implements parkour and enormous mechanized robots is more than a simple pebble.

After seeing advertisements on television and plastered on websites that have very little to do with gaming, it’s clear who EA and Microsoft are advertising to: everybody. And with good reason. With a new console out in the Xbox One, Titanfall has been hailed as the “system seller,” and has been applauded universally at every trade show that it was featured at. Granted, by this point you’ve undoubtedly seen countless reviews and editorials about the game, but what makes it so well received?

First, FPS titles genuinely hinge on a few simple factors. Controls, level design, and balance are key to making the game enjoyable. In Titanfall, the controls feel precise to where it’s hard to blame anybody but yourself when you end up face down in a bloody heap, your opponent standing over you victorious. It’s extremely fast-paced, but not to detriment. Even at high sensitivity, movements are smooth and accurate with any weapon you use.

This is also important because of the movement in the game. The implementation of parkour — running up and along walls — takes the players view away from the general horizontal plane and moves it vertically. Because enemies will be on walls and rooftops (and sometimes hundreds of feet in the sky), having accuracy on both the X and Y axis makes you lethal. Thank the controls for that.

What’s strange though is that the controls, while silky smooth on the ground, endure a sort of “stiffness” when you finally earn your Titan. As you begin controlling the metallic monstrosity, you’ll feel it jerk one way and the other as you target enemies. Movements, while still comfortable, lose a bit of fluidity and instead make you feel like a lumbering giant. In your Titan you’re powerful, you’re deadly, but you’re not necessarily agile, even when controlling the fast-moving Stryder, the most agile of the three available. Pilots are smooth and agile, Titans are hulking, powerful machines.

Both are deadly when used correctly.

The difficulty of creating levels that work with squishy little Pilots and the iron giants must have been a headache, but somehow the folks at Respawn Entertainment did it. Where there are wide alleyways for the Titans to maneuver through, there are also tunnels and hallways for players to duck inside to protect themselves. After all, nobody wants to end up as flesh-colored paste on the bottom of a Titan’s foot. Because one step can end a Pilot’s life, levels include many ways for Pilots to take up hit-and-run tactics against the Titans. Additionally, if you get cocky and a Titan catches you in the open, you’re toast.

That said, when multiple Titans meet up it can create some of the most intense firefights you’ve seen in any shooter. Oftentimes it’s those moments that Pilots take to join the fights with their own heavy weapons. Be careful though, because if you’re on the second story of a building, windows are designed to be eye-level with a Titan. Another magnificent design choice that needs to be mentioned.

Finally players should take note of perhaps the most important and most difficult aspect of FPS games, the balance. Different weapons and traits apply to both Pilots and Titans in order to complement your particular playstyle. It’s nearly impossible for a game to get the balance of each individual gun perfect prior to launch. One of the drawbacks of the game, the limited number of assault weapons you can use, helps ensure that the balance stays level throughout playing. There are only a few options for assault rifle, SMG and sniper rifle, and only one for shotgun and LMG. Compared to CoD’s arsenal this is embarrassing, frankly. The same goes for Titan loadouts: there are very few options.

While it certainly helps with the overall balance of the game, it also introduces boredom, something that FPS players will develop quickly. Without the variety of options we’re used to — and yes, there are varying attachments for each weapon — the game turns into a grind. Particularly with the campaign being such a throwaway and really only a barrier to accessing different Titan chassis, it devolves into “just an online shooter”.

Granted, that shooter controls well, has magnificent level design, and is balanced masterfully. One has to wonder though, is Titanfall primed for DLC content, or is this just a teaser for the inevitable sequel? Either way, it will sell.

Overall Score: 9 out of 10

Home Security Leaps into the Future with Nexia Home Intelligence

Graduation is just around the corner and soon you’ll be stepping into a full-time job, starting your career, and buying your first home. It’s a big deal. You’ll have a ton of worry in your life — student loans, your mortgage, impressing your new boss — so why add home security to that list? You never really think about it until you’re forced to think about it.

I know this because I’ve been robbed.

Because of that experience, and my passion for all things tech, when Nexia approached me about taking a look at what they offer I leapt at the chance. Nexia Home Intelligence, combined with Schlage’s hardware, was expected to create a warm bubble of security for my family. There are number of security systems available for residential (and commercial) customers, so some important factors to keep in mind are installation, quality, cost, and of course, accessibility. Above all though, the most important consideration is whether the hardware actually provides security or if it’s just a sense of security.

Nexia Home Starter Bundle (Bridge & Appliance Module) – The Bridge is the brain of the entire operation. This is what everything else you own will communicate with and this acts as a portal for your security monitoring. The installation was surprisingly simple, requiring access to a basic wall outlet and router. An AC adapter and ethernet cable are included, but the lack of options for connecting via WiFi was disappointing.

The Appliance Module is an interesting piece of hardware for anybody who’s not had experience with Z-Wave. It stays connected to the Bridge to allow you access to whatever is plugged into it. You can plug your television or anything else into it, but the most effective experience for me was a floor lamp. With that, I was able to control when it turned on or off and even set schedules from the online portal. Going on vacation? No problem, schedule it to turn on every day when you would normally arrive home from work, making would-be thieves think you’re home.

The last piece — and most important for me — that the Appliance Module offered was the ability to act as a repeater. The Z-Wave technology has a limited range and, while it doesn’t need to be as robust as WiFi, if you want total coverage of your home The Bridge itself might not be enough. As a repeated, it takes the Z-Wave “bubble” and sends it farther, increasing range exponentially.

Schlage RS100HC Home Door/Window Sensor – While it’s a small piece of hardware, it’s extremely important. This sensor records when a door or window has been opened and keeps a log of it for you to see on Nexia’s online portal. The drawback was the lack of immediate pings to my smartphone or tablet.

For instance, if the sensor is placed on a back door and the door is opened, I could certainly view that in the log, but I was unable to find a way that would provide me with some sort of pop-up notification indicating it had been triggered. Meaning you’ll have to actively monitor this through the portal, which isn’t entirely reasonable 100% of the time.

Schlage WCW100 Indoor Camera – This little device can be set on a desk (or any surface) or mounted on a wall to provide indoor monitoring for a specific area. It’s not USB-powered, so you’ll need a wall outlet nearby, but this is wired or wireless so access to a router isn’t required. It’s surprisingly light, so worry of it falling off of your wall is minimal .The quality of the live feed however, is not necessarily the greatest. The image is a bit pixelated due to the 640×480 resolution (30fps) and, while you can certainly monitor your home easily, getting detailed images to help identify someone in your home might prove a bit difficult.

A notification system is built into this device, too. While you won’t get push notifications to your mobile device, you will get an email sent if someone happens to trip the built-in motion detector. There’s also a mic and external speaker, though I was not able to monitor that remotely after my setup was complete. Perhaps it’s an advanced setting, but not one I found easily.

Schlage WCO100NX Outdoor Camera – Despite not having Z-Wave functionality, the outdoor camera can still communicate with the rest of your system through WiFi. This is also a fair bit heftier than the indoor camera, due to the design. It’s not made of aluminum, but it feels like it, and the AC adapter (and ethernet cable, if you choose not to go wireless) each come with a rubber stopper-like device that prevents moisture from ruining the camera.

The image itself is viewable during the day or the night, though my installation had it near an exterior light. Motion detectors allow it record footage of people coming and going, but at an additional fee (we’ll cover that later). It’s easily mountable, though not very low-profile. You can spot it easily enough, so savvy criminals may know ways to avoid the field of view and disable it entirely.

Schlage BE469NXCAM619 Deadbolt – This is my favorite piece of hardware in the entire group because it combines some amazing technology with a whole bunch of steel. It’s the hardest to install though, because you need to have a knowledge of both tech and home maintenance to even attempt putting this on your door. It’s not a daunting task at all, but for those who aren’t familiar with door locks or installation, you might want someone looking over your shoulder.

Once finished though, you’ll be protected by the highest rating for residential security available. It’s got a built-in alarm that has three modes, one for basic activity, one for tampering, and one for forced entry. Granted, I only tested “Basic Activity,” but other options are available. Further, you can assign a 4-digit combination to individual family members and then log when they use their code for entry. It’s a great feature for those with children who get home from school at a set time — simply check the Nexia Portal and confirm that they’ve used their code at the appropriate time.

UPDATE: Referring to the ALERTS section; Nexia has confirmed that you can receive pings on your mobile or email about triggers to your sensors or any other connected device. Additionally, video recording up to 250 MB of storage is free.  An additional 1GB costs $1.99

Nexia Home Interactive – With all of the hardware installed, it needs somewhere to report to. That’s why you have the Nexia Portal at MyNexia.com. From here you can monitor your locks, cameras, and even your home temperature controls, should you install compatible thermostats. It’s this area that allows you to setup home automation, manage multiple homes, attach and confirm mobile devices for multiple viewings, and look at the log of your events. There is a fee of $9.99/mo, plus additional fees if you want cameras to record rather than just stream. Having a monthly fee is a little off-putting, considering there are options out there that have no cost, but for what you get, the monthly subscription isn’t excessive.

If you’re in need of home security hardware that’s easy to use, easy to learn, and provides options beyond something that a closed-circuit system would offer, you may want to look into Nexia.

Technological Trinkets and Overlooked Hardware Essentials

PC enthusiasts know where to turn for cutting-edge graphics cards, gamers know which consoles are available and why one may be better than the rest, and everybody knows about the latest and greatest smartphone, because the world can’t shut up about them.

But what about those small, unknown gadgets that we’re all missing out on? The reasonably-priced tidbits of tech that enhance our experience, yet don’t get the attention of the rest of the world because they’re not designed to be flashy or expensive.

They’re simply designed to be useful.

It’s these odds and ends that reside in the pockets of your backpack, are packed in your luggage for trips, and can ruin a vacation when they’re left at home. They’re important. We just don’t treat them that way.

strong>Accell Powramid and USB Charging Station – It’s a surge protector, to be simple about it. The design makes it far more useful than your typical horizontal surge protectors, though. The round, pyramid design is perfect for all your electronic adaptors, without the bother of those particular chargers that are so large they take up two slots. That means you can have six things plugged in without having to navigate a gauntlet of other cables to find real estate. There are also two USB ports and, with the entirety of the technological world running on USB, it’s an added bonus.

ChargeKey – A 2.5” micro-USB that you can carry on your keychain. How awesome is that? The downside is the price. While it’s certainly handy, the fact that it’s priced at $29.99 is the only major drawback. It’s made from a flexible rubber, it’s easy to use, and tests indicate the thing must be made from the little black box they use on airplanes because it’s damned near indestructible. That price though, that’s going to be the dealbreaker for most.

Nyko PlayPad Pro – With console gaming seeing a decline (for now) and mobile gaming surging like never before, accessories are now available to enhance your experience. This is one of them. “But,” you say, “the point of mobile gaming is to get rid of my controller.” Not so. The PlayPad Pro offers a stable of games(http://www.nykoplayground.com/games/) that you’re familiar with and some you’re not, then let’s you play them from the comfort of your thumbs. The Bluetooth connection and the semi-scaled down design means that any backpack or shoulder bag should have enough room to tote it around, ensuring that some fun, interesting games are available on a whim.

span style=”line-height: 1.3em;”>MHL Hardware

MHL stands for “Mobile High-definition Link,” and essentially acts as a way to connect your tablet or smartphone to a television. You might wonder why you’d want to connect a mobile device to a television, it’s mobile after all. Well, if you’re using the Nyko PlayPad Pro listed above or if you simply want to play something like Angry Birds on your big screen without having to pay $40.00 for it on console, an MHL device is perfect. There are a number of manufacturers though, and there are variations in design.

strong>Accell MHL to HDMI Adapter with Extended MHL Cable – Despite it not fitting perfectly into any particular piece of hardware, I was able to get it to work, albeit with some problems. Potentially a defect (hey, it happens), the fact that the cable was so long, I was able to stay on the other side of the room to troubleshoot. The only MHL cable I tested that extended more than 4” — seriously — the nearly ten feet of distance was amazing to have. Seriously, other manufacturers, if you can’t at least match the distance, step up your game.

Samsung Galaxy HDTV Smart Adapter – At $39.99 you might be scared off, but with the popularity of the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the fact that this is the only MHL cable I’ve tested that works flawlessly with it, it’s worth the investment. The Galaxy S4 is known for it’s robust screen as it is, but seeing it on a 46” television (in 1080p). The drawback is the short cable length, David to Accell’s Goliath, but if you can extend it yourself, this is perhaps the best of the bunch.

Rocketfish 8” MHL cable (RF-G1171) – The Rocketfish option is as close to “universal” that I’ve encountered, but even so it doesn’t work flawlessly with all hardware. In fact, it doesn’t necessarily work with all hardware at all. It measures about 4” long and is perhaps the most basic of this bunch. It broadcasts in 1080p and allows you to charge your device while using it, but most MHL cables do. Truly, if any of these cables are considered “oatmeal,” this is it. But, hey, people like oatmeal.

While there are dozens, hundreds of additional accessories that we could wax poetic about or cite as simply “disrespected,” I’ve found that the few here are worth mentioning. From gaming options to broadcasting to your television to simply charging your devices, oftentimes the simplest of tasks is overlooked. It’s a shame, really, because without some of these little technological trinkets, your smartphone or tablet investment turns into a paperweight.

South Park weaves an epic tale where you strive to become King Douchebag in the Stick of Truth

South Park is no stranger to the digital world, having appeared in five video games since the show debuted in 1997. Now, nearly 17 years since the pilot aired, we’re given South Park: The Stick of Truth, an RPG set in the small Colorado town. You play the new kid, someone unfamiliar with the children of South Park and, because you don’t speak, you’re soon branded with a simple moniker: Douchebag.

You can guess who decided you’d be called that.

Douchebag’s parents give small hints as to why you’ve all moved to South Park, but never blatantly explain the reason, opting instead to send you outside to make friends with the neighborhood children. It’s here that you’re introduced to the two warring factions: the Drow Elves and the humans of the Kingdom of Kupa Keep, or simply “The KKK”. This faction is lead, of course, by the Grand Wizard, Eric Cartman.

Cartman explains that the reason the two sides are warring is simple, they each want to possess the Stick of Truth, for whoever wields it has absolute power over the universe. It’s from there that Douchebag accepts the responsibility of trying to get the Stick back from the elves with help from the first of many party members, the faithful Paladin, Butters.

It’s clear the kids are roleplaying, but like the episodes when their imagination takes them to other realms, the quest for the Stick of Truth is no different. As Douchebag and his party member — you’re allowed only one other — make their way around South Park, you’ll begin to notice familiar landmarks. Despite this being the first time that the town has ever legitimately been mapped out, it doesn’t feel foreign. If you’ve got even a passing understanding of the television show, you’ll feel comfortable in each area. Rather surprisingly, these areas have their own aesthetic to them, while seamlessly blending in at the same time.

The combat system is most easily described as “actively turn-based”. While most turn-based RPG’s simply let players sit on one side of the battle or the other, here you’re tasked with learning a particular timing for each of your moves. The timing and button presses vary based on the class you’re playing and the skill you’re using, creating a system that seems jarring upon introduction, but soon is comfortable and players will quickly begin to take advantage of it.

Defense works in a similar way, though is far easier. A button prompt will pop up when it’s time to push “A” and if you time it right, you block a large portion of the damage. Simple.

Players familiar with the Final Fantasy series will also recognize the Summon ability. After completing a number of side missions, particular characters make themselves available to you with the ability to insta-kill every enemy on the screen. Jesus Christ, Mr. Hanky, and others will appear once per day to lend a hand in your most dire hour.

Unfortunately, you can’t use them on bosses and you only get one use per day, each. With the game spanning only three days and not really presenting any great challenge, they’re really only included in the game as a nod to South Park enthusiasts. And truly, the whole game speaks to that on some level or another. Factions exist that you may be asked to recruit or to battle, like the goths, the kindergarteners, and the girls, while others make simple cameos or act as quest-givers. Mrs. Broflovski, Al Gore, or Mr. Mackey are prime examples of quest-givers that are clearly included as fan-service.

The magic system is also worth noting, if for no reason beyond the fact that you’re using farts. Yes, your magic is gas. Because Douchebag has such brilliant control over his colon, he’s able to learn the first bit of magic early on, the Dragonshout. An obvious nod to The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, your Dragonshout throws a dangerous cloud of gas at opponents, exploding brilliantly and causing massive amounts of damage.

When not in combat, Douchebag has free reign to interact with his surroundings and is often required to use his Dragonshout or other gas-based attacks to clear a path. This is accomplished by hurling the farts toward open flames which, obviously, explode in brilliant displays that would make Michael Bay jealous.

Farting into fire isn’t your only interaction with the environment, either. Often you can open drawers for additional loot, or even use the bathroom to drop a deuce. Those shitnuggets are then collected and used in combat to cause damage over time to your enemies.

I’m not making this up. You throw poop.

Clearly, the humor of South Park is inherent within South Park: The Stick of Truth, and why wouldn’t it be? It was written by Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the creators. It’s that humor that saves the game from being a complete letdown though. The setting, one we’re all familiar with in at least an informal way, is easily recognizable. The art is designed specifically to mimic that of the show and, with these two particular features together, helps patch over what is average gameplay mechanics at best.

Like the show, The Stick of Truth isn’t about what package it’s delivered in, but rather about what’s inside. The juvenile humor, including a brilliant take on Canada, and mockery of society as a whole act as bridges in between combat that doesn’t offer much in terms of difficulty and level design that is simplistic. Oftentimes you’re left wondering if the game intentionally responds a particular way, or if it’s the folks behind it having a 12-hour long laugh at your expense.

Either way, you’ll learn some great new curse words.

Overall score 7.5 out of 10

Nimble fingers and dexterous hands help get the prize in "Thief"

There’s a reason the game is called Thief and not Assassin, or killer, or anything else that would insinuate that the combat would be halfway worth a damn. And from the onset of the game, the first cutscene, you’re presented with a clear directive of what to do with enemies during your heists: don’t kill them. Playing as the master thief Garrett during what should be a typical job, you’re accompanied by the talented upstart Erin, a youngster of reputable skill. Where Garrett is calculated and nonlethal, Erin is a loose canon.

Erin has no regard for safety, including her own. She steals without remorse and it’s clear after only a few seconds that Erin’s only real goal is to be compared to Garrett himself. Of course, with envy comes jealousy, and that jealousy makes Erin careless.

That jealousy gets Erin killed.

Suddenly, a year after that you’re returned to the city with no memory of what’s happened since the night when the attempted theft went sour. Old friends are happy to see you, but most people aren’t doing so well. You’re alive, of course, but the Gloom is wiping people out by the hundreds. A plague-like disease, the Gloom appeared shortly after you disappeared and has ravaged the population. The poor are the ones who suffer most, but nobility isn’t immune, making the Gloom a far more dangerous adversary than Garrett himself.

As you attempt to piece together the period of time you were away — a hole in your razor sharp memory — you’re forced to take a stable of thievery missions that range from petty burglary to well-planned and expertly executed heists. Some of these are used to build your bank account for upgrades, while others are used to advance the plot and fill another piece of the jigsaw puzzle.

The city is a living breathing organism itself. Even when you notice the deficiencies of the game, seeing how the city reacts to Garrett is quite impressive. Guards, the very bastards you have to dispatch, even when you’re not in the act of thievery, will have conversations that often offer clues to Garrett. Random conversations are struck from behind closed windows that will direct him to hidden riches, but many take grim tones, a constant reminder of the dismay that hangs over the city like a festering cloud.

A strange thing happens though, for those who play Thief with no expectations of dazzling combat or swashbuckling heroes: you’ll start to like it. The city itself acts as a hub of sorts, with missions all branching off from within. If you’re not actively engaging in a mission, you’re free to traverse as you see fit. Guards stick to the streets, so you’re best option is to scale the walls and look down from on high. Running from rooftop to rooftop is easier in some places more than others, with paths sometimes laid out perfectly for efficient travel.

For those places where the path isn’t exactly simple, your arrows are your friends. See, your arrows aren’t necessarily your weapons. In fact, your arrows are more of a tool than actual weapons. Rope arrows for instance, when fired into overtly marked beams, will drop a climbable rope that allows Garrett to access new areas, grants access to hidden areas, or presents new paths during missions, most often to prevent combat. Choke arrows will disable birds or dogs that will alert any nearby guards to your presence. Water arrows snuff out flames. There’s a pretty impressive array of options when selecting your arrows, including some specifically designed for combat. It’s those that you’ll find yourself saving, using them from the shadows to dispatch one last guard who happens to be patrolling the area that you’re trying to move through.

Character progression of the game is focused on Garrett’s skills and the tools he uses. Focus Upgrades help hone Garrett’s thieving skills, like making him more dexterous or enhancing his ability to detect noises. Most are very well balanced and grant significant benefit, but don’t offer anything unrealistic. Others, namely Intuition and Stealth, offer a semi-supernatural feel to them, while still residing in the realm of believable.

Garrett’s tools are plentiful, as expected. How would you suggest stealing a priceless painting, after all? The  razor is perfect for it. Garrett isn’t some uncivilized barbarian after all. Besides, people pay more for undamaged wares. Wirecutters help disarm traps and the wrench acts similar to the rope arrows, only for on the ground. Loosening bolts will uncover secret areas or open additional pathways throughout the city.

Finally, Garrett’s collection of trinkets actually do offer benefits that aren’t easily explained. The Lucky Coin increases your focus for instance, the essence behind your “Thief Vision,” an ability to see and hear specific things in the environment. The Moss Quiver, another trinket, turns a particular pair of arrows into noiseless killing options. These are two of the least powerful trinkets available, which means they’re also the least expensive.

While all these options exist to help players along in order to make later confrontations easier to handle, Thief isn’t without its flaws. There are hiccups within the audio that sometimes cause unexpected noises to be heard. They sound distorted and clearly not part of the game itself. Other times the characters lip movements are grossly delayed compared to the audio being recorded, causing players to focus on nothing else during those moments and distracting from an otherwise beautiful game.

One particular error in the game cost me around 3 hours of gameplay. While the game often leaves three or more paths for players to take in order to accomplish their tasks, in one particular instance you’ll be greeted with one way out. Only one. It’s at this moment when the ropes I needed to climb out of the hole I was in refused to appear. Which just so happens to be the end of that particular level.

Locomotion is generally handled well too, as mentioned with the rooftop pathways being fairly clear of debris. Unfortunately, unless you’re extremely careful when on the rooftops, Garrett will easily fall, without warning, into the midst of patrolling guards causing you to do one of two things: run or reload your last save. It was such a common occurrence that “Run or Reload,” will become somewhat a of a mantra for anybody who gets deep into the game.

The most masterful thing that Thief does is by living up to its name. Garrett is indeed a thief of renown, but you are not. Pulling off a heist here or there will certainly develop your legacy, but to become the thief that Garrett is known to be takes skill. That’s why, littered throughout the city, are dozens and dozens of trinkets to collect. As you move through rooms, complete missions, or simply explore your city, you’ll be stealing picture frames, necklaces, brooches, even silverware — if it holds value, of course. And instead of actually having to fence the items, they’re immediately turned into gold for your purse.

That’s not even the best part.

Because you’re constantly stealing, you actually begin to feel like the thief that Garrett is. In spite of your nimble fingers though, you’re never too rich. Granted, you’ll probably never want for money if you’re trying to stock your arrows or other consumables, but you aren’t lavishing in luxury until after the game ends and you begin dabbling in the challenge modes, of which there are three scenarios.

Truly, no game quite lives up to it’s name like Thief. If your scenario degrades to the point where you’re battling hand-to-hand with more than one guard, you’re probably going to lose. Unless you run or reload, that is. However, if you’re calculated, take your time, study your surroundings, and move cautiously, you’ll get to enjoy a true-stealth game that allows you to finish it without killing a single person.

Overall score 8 out of 10

NASCAR '14 is a Contender, but Comes Up Short of the Checkered Flag

For years the NASCAR series of console games has been mediocre at best. While developer Eutechnyx owns the license to the series, publisher Deep Silver is the newcomer, taking the reigns from the former publishing giant Activision. With that change I found myself suddenly interested in the series once again. It had been years since I last spent any time in the world of NASCAR on any platform, instead opting for other, more arcade-like titles. With NASCAR 14 suddenly under new management, it was worth a peek.

I wasn’t entirely disappointed.

It’s undoubtedly difficult to add variation to a series like NASCAR, which can create some ire among fans who often complain that annual sports franchises are simply “Roster Updates”. While I can’t speak to years past, NASCAR 14 delivers a solid gameplay experience and gives players what they’re expecting: a racing game that simulates the professional sport.

The tracks don’t change, the racers typically stay the same, and it’s always news when someone moves from one team to another or gets a new sponsor. Frankly, NASCAR can be a monotonous business. Thankfully it’s all broken up by competitors screaming through corners at 150mph and tire marks burned into the side their cars. It’s that adrenaline rush — for racers and spectators — that NASCAR 14 puts into digital form. As you tuck in behind a rival and start to draft, you’ll gain speed until the precise moment needed to pass them.

As you’re drafting though, you’ll need to pay attention to your engine temperature to prevent overheating. It’s that authentic gameplay that will appeal to NASCAR enthusiasts. Adjusting car options is also important. While most may joke that professional racing is simply, “Drive fast, turn left,” the truth is there is far more science that goes into a car setup than most realize. Adjusting wheel tilt, wedge, spoiler height, and more will affect how your car handles on each particular track. That level of detail leads to players forming communities that share car setups in order to reach maximum efficiency.

Don’t be off-put by the hardcore players though. As a returning player, I was clearly at a disadvantage. The in-game adjustments that are available will easily level the field. You can adjust the level of difficulty that the AI brings to the track, the number of laps, or how much you want the game to assist your braking and acceleration. This allows people like me to have a fighting chance at being competitive in areas where we’re unfamiliar.

The game modes are quite common, with “Season Mode” and “Race Now” available if you want to race as your favorite driver. Career mode sees you starting off as a rookie, working your way up the ladder by earning sponsors. Different sponsors offer different monetary benefit which allow you to increase the hardware that’s under the hood or attached to your chassis. If you’ve played any of the Madden or NBA 2K franchise, you’re already familiar with this. The classic options for creating your own paint schemes were also quite nice, despite the lack of your mainstay sponsors like Bud Light.

Online mode is also available, both privately and publicly. Public matches are filled with people all eager to do one of two things: put you in a wall, or bitch at you for not being as good as they are. That’s not any fault of the game of course, but more the community within. To avoid those of the community that are toxic, you can schedule private races and have just your friends involved. Unfortunately, if you’ve only got one or two friends, the lack of AI inclusion during these races usually leads to a pretty boring experience.

Finally, the level of detail was initially surprising, with many different paint schemes available for each driver, including the date where each scheme appeared. But in the situations where you get a group of 20 or more cars bunched up and someone makes a mistake to cause a wreck, you might get to see the underside of the cars. In that instance, you’ll be surprised to see a flat piece of nothing. No details whatsoever. For someone like me, who is often included in these fantastically ridiculous wrecks, it’s off-putting. Additionally, during replays of the wrecks that the game automatically triggers, the framerate drops to an embarrassing 1fps. ONE.

Eutechnyx knows how to handle the NASCAR license, else they wouldn’t still hold the rights to it, but they’ve still got some ground to make up. Upgrading to next-gen might be the answer, or it might be as simple as getting Deep Silver behind it, a publisher that is consistently passionate about their games, top to bottom. There’s nothing particularly awful about NASCAR 14, but there’s nothing that leaps out to make this a must-have either. NASCAR 14 is definitely a step in the right direction, but comes up short of taking home that checkered flag.

Overall score 6.5 out of 10

Make your iPhone less tangled with the togoDock

Already more than halfway to their Indiegogo goal, togoDock has received nearly $12,000 of their $20,000 funding goal. This is because developer [FUSE]chicken is working on eliminating the mischievous leprechaun responsible for tangling the cables that you use for charging your smartphone, tablet, or any other gadgets that you need on a daily basis.

You know of the leprechaun of which I speak. You neatly wrap your cables and place them in your pocket or bag, only to discover that within minutes they’ve been transformed into a knot that even the Boy Scouts would be proud of. This same leprechaun was formally responsible for tangling your Christmas lights each year, but with the advancement of technology, he’s been promoted.

That’s where togoDock comes in. With the use of some heavy-duty magnetics, togoDock creates a leprechaun-free* environment. Compatible with most iPhones and iPads (even certain models of iPod Touch & Nano), users will be able to turn nearly any surface into an iOS dock.

It works by attaching your iPhone (or other device) to a disc mount which contains a magnet. The magnet can then attach to … things magnets attach to. Suddenly your refrigerator, cubicle wall, wire basket, or the plate in grandpa’s head becomes a place to mount your phone (he won’t mind, trust me).

The mount itself is made up of the aforementioned magnet, a backstop, a lightning connector (to attach your device), and a cable wrap designed for easy management. It’s small and light, and for only $30.00 you can claim one for yourself.

Check out the IndieGoGo campaign

*togoDock does not knowingly harm leprechauns

Kontrol Freek Evolves with Xbox One, but Not Entirely For the Better

With the launch of the next generation of Xbox gaming, the Xbox One introduced a new controller. Granted, the Xbox 360 controller is still considered the epitome of controller perfection, but we all know the console game and the changes therein. That said, Kontrol Freek, maker of the beloved thumbstick add-ons that help with everything from first-person shooters to sports games, is at it again. This time around they’re making some different modifications to the overall feel of where your thumb rests, while still maintaining the same benefit as before.

First, we’ll start with the Kontrol Freek Ultra, the most basic option, and the one that put Kontrol Freek on the map. The design is still simple, as it elevates the thumbstick about a half inch and increases leverage, making it easier to maneuver high-sensitivities in shooters, as well as creating precise crossovers in NBA 2K14. Concave design allows the contour of your thumb to rest gently in the small “scoop”, which matches Xbox One thumbsticks themselves.

The biggest issue is that the Xbox One thumbsticks have changed since last generation. On Xbox 360 the thumbstick was elevated from the controller about 5/8”, so have the additional 1/2” from the Kontrol Freek Ultra was manageable. With the Xbox One however, the height changed to about 6/8” and for those who spent a lot of time with the Xbox 360, the increase of 1/8” is noticeable and uncomfortable.

It may have something to do with the controller overall, as there are contextual changes as well, but the Kontrol Freek Ultra doesn’t give the same enormous benefit that it once did. It feels too tall now, and players who need the Kontrol Freek for precision — that’d be everyone — will feel awkward and clumsy when they upgrade to the Ultras on Xbox One.

Thank goodness Kontrol Freek doesn’t rest on one design though, because the Kontrol Freek CQC’s also make a return. These were introduced back on the Xbox 360 for players who were uncomfortable with the original Ultra design, particularly those with smaller hands who couldn’t manage the full 1/2” elevation.

The CQC’s add just 1/4” to the controller and is clearly marketed at those who think the Ultras are just “too much”. The design is simple though, with a greem “KF” emblem etched on a semi-convex pad. The lack of additional designs is disappointing, but the overall comfort of the CQCs is unrivaled throughout Kontrol Freek’s entire arsenal.

The biggest benefit to the Kontrol Freeks, for both sets, is the diameter of the thumb rest. The Xbox 360’s thumbsticks measured nearly 3/4” in diameter, while the Xbox One measures just over 1/2”. Kontrol Freek has widened that diameter back to 3/4” and in the process has made the hardware invaluable. Whether you are comfortable with a slight increase or a large one, you’ll enjoy the diameter increase without a doubt, making price tag of $15 or less seem inconsequential.

Tote your tech with Ogio's Renegade Slim

You own smartphones and tablets and laptops. You research cutting edge technology and your favorite gadgets. Sadly though, one of the most overlooked aspects of your obsession is how to carry it. There are messenger bags, shoulder bags, postal bags, and all sorts of backpacks to consider.

But how do you choose?

Of course, the devices you’re invested in matters, but you need to know what to spot for your gadget’s luggage. Pockets and dividers matter. Tossing everything into one compartment can create a jumbled mess and, even worse, damage your accessories. That’s where Ogio comes in with their Renegade Slim, a pint-sized, pocket-plenty, portable pack for your possessions.

Not oversized, the Renegade Slim measures approximately 14” x 10.5” (it looks bigger when laid flat) and has three main compartments. The front compartment is for your smartphone, your cable accessories, and anything else that you’ll need on your travels. There’s an area for pens, but most beneficial may be the breakaway clip inside, perfect for attaching a flash-drive, but designed for keys.

The main pocket, the biggest, is split into two sections, each with a soft lining sewn in to ensure your hardware rests comfortably. One side is for your tablet and has an elastic band to prevent it from rattling around during your normal hustle and bustle. The other side holds your netbook or laptop, though nothing bigger than 13” will fit inside.

Finally, the rear pocket is simply a document holder. Only about 7” deep, you won’t fit a typical sheet of paper in without folding it, but your checkbook, passport, or student ID will rest inside without damage.

If you’re looking for a smaller, lighter messenger bag that isn’t overly complicated, the $60.00 Ogio Renegade Slim is what you need. Water resistant and compact, you’ll be able to manhandle this for your daily use. While it may not work for lengthy business trips or to carry everything you own, it’s a great backup if you need to carry a few things and don’t want a larger, bulkier bag weighing you down.

Keeping your medical records on your wrist – See what MyID can offer you

The advancement of technology inevitably seeps into all facets of our lives. Endevr offered me a chance to experience the MyID Cadence from their line of MyID bracelets, to get an idea of what’s available in the ever-growing community of health-centric tech options. The bracelet is designed to be fashionable and readily available in the case that you’re ever in a situation where a first responder needs information about you, but nobody is available to offer it.

The way it works is that the MyID Sleek has a QR Code printed underneath a metal band, acting as a sleeve for the actual rubber bracelet — the comfortable part. An emblem on the top indicating MyID is what a first responder keys in on in order to identify that the wearer, but it’s not so large that just anybody can read it and identify the bracelet as a “medical device”.

In fact, the design of the MyID Cadence is pretty damned stylish, particularly with the color palette tested, the black and gray model. Other options exist for those looking to match their own style, a wonderful decision considering nobody, particularly those who this is marketed at, wants to wear an ugly piece of jewelry, regardless of its intended use.

The design, as previously mentioned, is simply a metal sleeve that slides over a durable rubber band. For those that have immediate medical concerns, nut allergies for instance, “conditional sliders” can be purchased that are immediately identifiable. That way the first responder knows that you are hearing impaired, have diabetes, or even if you’re prone to seizures. It’s an interesting addition to the product, but one that can defeat the entire purpose of the most important information packed within the QR code. Additionally, it can make your private information far more public (it’s easily readable) and each one costs $4.99 each, an added expense you don’t really need.

The biggest question with the MyID product, regardless of which model you wear, is whether a first responder will mistake it for just another piece of of attire. First responder is also considered a vague term. Fire fighters, police officers, paramedics, they’re all considered first responders, so where one may be trained to look for devices like this, the others may not. Additionally, in a situation where a first responder shows up, what priority is identifying the victim? Mike Mejia, police officer from Jay, Maine says, “If they require immediate medical attention, that need would be addressed first. The process of identifying them would be secondary.” Mejia continues, “Usually if the persons identity is unknown I would begin that process when the paramedics arrived and took over.”

Another first responder, Chris Maeurer, a paramedic from Greene County New York says, “It’s not so much a conscious thought that I’d look for a MyID so much as I would come across it in the process of doing a lot of other things for the patient.” So while first responders can certainly benefit from the information attached to your MyID, it’s not necessarily a priority, nor should it be.

Maeurer also speaks about the training paramedics receive and whether a MyID (or similar device) is something that they’re trained to spot, “Sadly, its pretty rare that we actually run into any of these notification devices, but of course its a trend we’d like to see grow because it does help us.  MyID is not something I’ve come across in any training classes that I can remember and as such it would really be dependent on the individual EMT or Paramedic as to whether they are A) educated about the device and/or B) have the app on their phone to read the information on it.  As of yet, it has not become so popular that my company (or any that I know of) has any equipment or devices issued to read the information on something like the MyID.”

For those purchasing the $40.00 MyID Cadence or any of the other bracelets, you’re able to put enough information into your profile so that you have one emergency contact and one medical condition. In order to list allergies, medications, physicians, and other important information, users are required to pay $10.00/year.

Stylish and handy, the MyID Cadence is important to have and can save your life in emergency situations. Priced at $40.00 and requiring an additional $10.00 per year has this hardware falling in the category of, “Nice to have, not a necessity.” While it may be important for people who have immediate medical issues that should be made available to any who would lend assistance, the price and lack of features make this overpriced. With first responders not being explicitly trained to look for MyID-like devices and because it relies on a simple QR code, something easily created by anybody with an internet connection, you’re overpaying.