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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.

Singing in the shower is easier with the SoundDew Bluetooth speaker

Have you ever been in the shower, scrubbing away the grime of shame, and thought to yourself, “I could really use a Bieber song right now.” OK, Bieber might not be your music of choice, but that doesn’t remove the urge to listen to some tunes while soaping up. To help meet your needs, Whitelabel brings you the SoundDew, a pint-sized, waterproof, Bluetooth audio option. The engineering used to create this round mound of sound is impressive, but questions still loom.

Before talking about the SoundDew’s main use — listening to music — it’s important to note that there are some additional options included to help make this more than just an “air speaker”. First, if you’re listening to music while you shower and you get a call from your favorite Grandma, rest comfortably knowing that you can carry on a conversation with her without having to stop the thorough cleaning of your giblets. Not awkward at all. Should you need to call her back after the conversation, you can do it with a simple button press, removing the risk of touching your phone or tablet with wet hands. A 3.5mm aux-out port also exists, though it’s questionable why they’d include it. Nearly every device you own that would connect to the SoundDew via Bluetooth also has its own 3.5mm headphone jack, so why you’d want to opt for the SoundDew’s jack instead, when it provides no enhanced audio, is an unanswered question.

The sound though, the focus of the device, is actually quite surprising. For a piece of hardware that is just about 12” in diameter, it maxed out during testing at 101.3db, enough to make your shower or bathroom feel like a concert hall. Connecting to your tablet or smartphone is simple — it’s done through Bluetooth after all, but surprisingly there’s no app related to the SoundDew to alter settings, something painfully absent. Painful because the device itself is perhaps too simple. Three buttons exist, power on/off, volume up and down and users are expected to learn different combinations for features like hands-free calling or the recall option. For those who listen in the shower a button to skip or pause would be welcomed and easily added, as the SoundDew has plenty of real estate available on it for more buttons.

At only $49.90, the SoundDew is an easily justified purchase if you’re looking to add entertainment to your shower time. The waterproof and dustproof design makes this a good choice if you’re into hiking in areas where unexpected weather can cause rain or dust storms to occur, and the engineered handle makes it easily attachable to most apparel. The size and sound mixes well for showertime sounds, but if you’re looking for a Bluetooth speaker for social gatherings or to cover large distances with a canopy of sound, there are better options available.

Ubisoft continues to impress with Rayman Legends

Undoubtedly you’ve seen some information about Rayman Legends over these last couple of weeks. Available on September 3rd, many reviews have already hit and, like those, I could tell you about the spectacular platforming available in the game. Or, if I wanted to appeal to the art-community, I could explain how the blend of colors makes every hue radiant and even the dull, earthy tones seem to pop in during every level. Perhaps I should mention the brilliant use of audio, an implement that comes and goes at just the right moments, allowing for an ebb and flow that affects players and infiltrates levels to create tension or force a smile precisely when it’s needed. I could talk about all of that, and typically I would, but Rayman Legends’ most surprising aspect is perhaps the most valuable: the content.

When it comes to platformers, typically you’re served a dish full of decent gameplay, a side order of interesting story, and interesting level design is the dessert — sometimes you get it, sometimes you don’t, and the unfortunate reality is, sometimes it’s not a flavor you enjoy. Rayman Legends goes beyond that, delivering a buffet of content that is seasoned to perfection, appealing to players who have varying motives for playing.

If you’re a completionist, gobbling up every last collectible and unlocking every character, you’ll find hours of enjoyment within Rayman Legends. All of Rayman’s little buddies return and most have to be saved by completing a level or unlocked by acquiring a certain number of “teensies,” obtained through playing the levels to 100% completion. Further, there are collectible creatures and paintings, which you get semi-randomly by scratching the lottery tickets you acquire throughout the game … seriously.

“But, I’m more interested in humor and story,” you say. The game is packed full of that, too. Ubisoft has taken great efforts to ensure the humor and satire bred into the series seeps out during their most recent release. While dialogue has never been part of the series, a story still exists and is pantomimed so that players will know precisely what’s happening.

Moreover, if you’re not concerned with completing the game to 100%, you’re not interested in the story, but you’d prefer something to entertain you that doesn’t fall off quickly, Rayman Legends is it. Dozens of levels, including throwbacks to Rayman Origins, are available for your platforming pleasure. Further, the level design is masterfully done so that each level isn’t the same run, jump, attack sequence. Variations exist, from levels set to music to levels where you may never even touch the ground, that will project a feeling that your progression truly feels like you’re unlocking something new and exciting.

Multiplayer might be more up your alley and, surprise surprise, it’s covered that as well. Cooperative play is established with a simple drop-in, drop-out system for those who need a little help completing the difficult levels. Asymmetric multiplayer is available in the form of daily and weekly challenges, pitting players versus their friends and, eventually, versus the entire Rayman community. The final multiplayer option is a competitive minigame called Kungfoot, a variant of one-on-one soccer that can provide hours of fun and may or may not be converted into a drinking game. If you’re over the age of 21, of course.

With layer upon layer of content piled into Rayman Legends, it’s easy to see why the franchise has been so popular. The game appeals to an array of players, each of them enjoying their time with it for different reasons. The art style, a beautiful blend of cartoony characters and detailed backgrounds, exudes an aura of silliness, while the gameplay and narrative, if you could call it that, exists only to reinforce that feeling. If you’re looking to step away from the typical violent shooter or enjoy a game that can be as deep or as superficial as you want it to be, Rayman Legends is a must buy.

Overall score: 9 out of 10

GX-Gaming's Manticore Keyboard offers style and substance at a reasonable cost

Recently released for the PC gaming enthusiast, the GX-Gaming Manticore keyboard implements some of the most advanced keyboard technology available. From unique customizations to advanced macro recording, the Manticore seemingly meets most needs that any gamer would have and is compatible with nearly every game genre available. A keyboard is a tool to be used in order to give players an advantage over their opponents — without crossing the line into cheating, of course. So for a gaming keyboard to be considered a value, the player has to feel the value, see the value, and take advantage of the benefits that the tool offers. The ultimate question presented when looking at the Manticore is: does the benefit exceed the cost?

Customization of the Manticore stretches from visual to reactive, as the keyboard comes with software that creates an easy-to-use interface for all of your programming options. The backlight options give users their choice of 16 million colors, but the setup of the keyboard is odd at best. There are three zones that users have control over, the first being the alphanumerical and function section, the second your arrow editing keys (delete, page down, etc), and the third zone being your number pad. Each individual zone is customizable in both color and rate at which the lights pulse, which means you can create a Frankenstein Monster-like setup of multiple colors and varying pulses — though how anyone would find that attractive is a mystery. Instead users will probably opt for one color and no pulse, as it’s a Herculean feat to align the pulses of the three sectors to operate at the same time, an obvious oversight of the design.

Eight programmable buttons lie dormant on the left side of the keyboard until acted upon, and each of them holds the power to execute a simple command like zoom in or out, to other things like launching a particular program or acting as a media remote to play or pause video and music, or alter volume, though you will most certainly opt out of media control as those buttons exist exclusively at the top of the keyboard as well. For more advanced options in RPG or RTS games, heck even FPS games may benefit, the macro system is brilliant. By programming keystrokes and delays, if any, in between them, players will be able to execute masterful maneuvers with the press of a single button. World of Warcraft players, for instance, will find it easy to target, taunt, charge, and attack enemies with a single command in order to ensure the party healer isn’t struck down because your tank doesn’t know how to manage aggro.

Anti-ghosting is also a massive bonus, meaning users can press and use multiple buttons at once without worrying that any particular button or combo will cancel out another. Crouching in a shooter while hard-scoped, then tossing a grenade doesn’t cancel out the previous orders, which gives players the options of pulling off multi-button combos if they macros haven’t been setup in advance. Finally, GX-Gaming understands that most people tend to split time amongst a few games, rather than sinking their lifetime into just one. Because of that, three profiles are available, each with their own custom G-keys for macros or other settings.

The design of the Manticore is impressive, even boasting a palm rest for those players who enjoy marathon gaming sessions. At $79.99 (or less)  the keyboard isn’t unreasonable, particularly for a gaming model, but there is a strange overall feeling to it. This can be attributed to the 3.8mm key travel, labeled as a benefit and noted to be the “optimal distance” for keys to travel to prevent unnecessary motion — a key factor during gaming. The “optimal distance” benefit is something sold on gaming mice  and even console controllers, so it’s not odd to see it here, nevertheless it takes some getting used to. If you’re looking for a gaming keyboard that will stand up to rigorous use and spreads its benefit across countless titles through all genres, the Manticore is precisely what you need.

Da Vinci's Demons: The Apprentice pairs an iOS game with the new Starz Original

Hot on the heels of new Starz Original TV Show, Da Vinci’s Demons, Starz Digital is releasing a companion app for iOS that puts players inside of Da Vinci’s workshop in a game to test their wits. The Apprentice App, available for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch, presents more than 50 brain teasing puzzles to the player, acting as Da Vinci’s apprentice. Like the master inventor himself, you’ll be required to piece together some actual inventions that are commissioned on behalf of some of Florence’s most important residents.

David Katz, Vice President of Digital Media at Starz Digital Media, said, “Series creator David Goyer did such an incredible job weaving historical accuracies and da Vinci’s multitude of talents into the hit STARZ Original series,[that] we see great opportunity extending the experience to iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. Da Vinci’s inventions always felt like a great jumping off point for a gaming experience and we can’t wait for the fans to get their hands on this one.”

The Apprentice takes advantage of multi-touch technology and requires players create inventions and solve puzzles that are accurate of that particular time in history. That means there will be no laser grids, candy-chomping frogs, or angry flying birds to train (at least, I don’t think Da Vinci trained birds). For those who want to take the experience further, players can do additional investigations of the devices to find collectibles, hidden messages, and even additional functions for the contraptions you’re creating.

If you get stuck, there’s a hint system (don’t be a sissy!), a walkthrough, and basic tutorials to get you on your way. Priced at $2.99, Da Vinci’s Demons: The Apprentice is a value, delivering 60 levels, five true-to-life inventions, and more than 150 artifacts to collect. The app is available NOW!

RAVPower WiFi Disk – mobility and power at an affordable price

With the mobile battery industry seeing alarming growth, many companies are trying to put their best foot forward for a piece of the profit-pie. RAVPower is no exception, but the company who has literally taken their name from being reliable, affordable, and a value (RAV, get it?), is introducing piece of hardware that is just so much more than a mobile battery. By taking the idea that those who need a mobile battery are typically those who are away from home, RAVPower has included a Wi-Fi option that appeals to those who spend time away from their abode, allowing for that at-home feeling while out on the road. With an easy-to-use interface and a surprisingly robust internal battery, the RAVPower WiFi Disk wedges itself into this year’s “Must Have” gadget category.

The setup is a little wonky, particularly for those who aren’t already savvy with home networks and pairing devices. Granted, it’s becoming more common to work with networks as mobile devices — smartphones and tablets — continue their massive growth, but there are still a remarkable amount of people who would look at an IP address and say, “What’s that?” First, users are expected to download the AirStor app to their device, then from within the devices WiFi settings you’ll pair it with the RAVPower hardware, named RP-WD01 for its model number. Having a more obvious name would certainly help alleviate any confusion there, but it gets trickier. Once paired, inside the app users should see an option titled “Wi-Fi Disk” that you will use to login. In my case it was absent, forcing me to open a browser and enter the setup by accessing the device’s IP address. The manual included was certainly a help, but imagining someone with only a beginner’s knowledge of networking and it was easy to see where frustrations would crop up.

Once done with the setup though, it’s smooth sailing. The Wi-Fi Disk itself has two readable slots, one for an SD card, the other a USB slot. While neither is particularly fast, the USB slot is 2.0, data testing shows multiple files totaling 10MB transferred in about 3 seconds, while an individual file slightly larger than 2GB took slightly longer than 10 minutes. The interface of the app itself is pleasing though, putting access to your device or the WiFi Disk at the bottom, while options like Home, Settings, Manage, and other essentials are at the top. The important information, folder contents, lies in the middle. No extra information is included, primarily because no other information is needed; everything is presented in a simple way, while keeping the information you need accessible. Movies, pictures, and music can be accessed and played directly from the WiFi Disk, freeing up space on your device and allowing multiple access points in the event that you’re only allowed one device attached to the internet — a hotel, for example.

Finally, the internal battery also doubles as the option to recharge your mobile devices. The 3,000mAh is more than enough to recharge your favorite smartphone, but will be strained and drained if you’re intention is to keep a tablet powered. In an emergency situation the WiFi Disk can be used to add an additional 30-40% and still remain functional, but if you need more or you’ve got no access to a charging station any time soon, the WiFi Disk won’t quite meet your needs.

Retailing at $99.99, the WiFi Disk is a little overpriced, thankfully most retailers have it priced at far less, 50% less or more in most cases. And for a 3,000mAh mobile battery and Wi-Fi “hotspot” capable of up to five connections at once, a price of less than $50.00 is a deal you’d be a fool to pass on, tricky setup be damned.

Race the Sun may be your indie game of the year

Simple and excrutiatingly hard, Race the Sun is a surprising smatter on the indie game canvas. Developer Flippfly takes a minimalist art style and slaps you in the face with some of the most difficult-but-rewarding gameplay that has graced PC gaming in a long while. While Race the Sun certainly has a layer of depth, it is unlike blockbusters like Call of Duty or World of Warcraft. A social element has been implemented, as well as an unlock and customization system to give players the figurative carrot-on-a-stick feeling as they move to another level. It’s not the customization or the social aspect that works to pull players in, which is the hallmark for some AAA titles. Instead, the extra “fluff” of the game works to enhance a gamplay experience that’s solid even without the extras.

The concept is — as mentioned — simple. You’re flying a solar-powered “craft” through an obstacle course and incredibly high speeds. As the sun sets, your goal is to keep it on the horizon in order to continue your journey; if the sun sets, you start over. If you crash, you start over. Don’t let either happen. Not only are you dashing in between and around obstacles, but collectibles also present themselves and often lie behind mountains or inside of tunnels, adding an element of danger to each of your runs. These collectibles start out as simple score multipliers, but as you increase your own level will evolve into particular effects that can help you stay mobile. Some collectibles will send you forward at increasing speeds, helping put the sun back into the air at the right moment, while others may activate an ability to jump when you take a wrong turn — and you will take a wrong turn.

As you finish each, run you’re granted experience based on how you did, which includes finishing challenges that are issued to you constantly. That is then used to level your ship up to unlock goodies. For instance, early in the game you’re granted a magnet, used to pull in collectibles from a small distance. You were required to be spot-on with your racing lines, but this allows you to miss by a small distance and still obtain the benefit or score multiplier, an invaluable ability for obtaining that high score.

The social aspect is also unique, as it implements asynchronous gameplay to create a relay race, of sorts. One player starts his run and, upon meeting his inevitable doom, passes the torch to the next player. Upon finishing that, hopefully successful, run, the second player passes it to the third and so-on. After four runs, the score is then pitted against other “teams” of players to see who reigns as the champion of the day. It’s only for the day because, quite amazingly, Race the Sun changes the tracks every day in order to prevent players from learning the best possible path and turning it into a simple game of memory.

As simple as it is difficult, Race the Sun combines the elements of constant runner with obstacle course to create a game that’s simple to learn, extremely difficult to master. With constantly changing environments, both during the race and renewed tracks each day, this is a magnificent way to spend 10 minutes or two hours. While the community will eventually be a niche, for those who fall headlong into difficult games and long to learn the nuances, Race the Sun will not disappoint. Even if you’re simply looking for an inexpensive game that will provide basic relief from life, when Race the Sun is finally released, do not skip this title.

Overall score: 8 out of 10

Potential Squandered – Madden NFL 25 Review

The annual shout of Madden fans has begun, with millions of players who buy the game each year crying out together, “What was changed?” The answer is, as always, a strange amalgamation of “not much” and “too much,” which is one of the reasons the annual NFL-licensed title is so popular. This year the Madden series drops the year from the title, something historically used to identify the game, and instead opted for Madden NFL 25, a celebration of the 25 years that the Madden franchise has been available. At 25 years, this franchise has been around longer than most college students and, given the clear indication that the EA recognizes this amazing title, players will be surprised at the lack of celebration that the game projects. Instead, players will simply boil down the description to something that could be misconstrued as a negative: it’s still Madden.

The game modes are perhaps the most important unimportant part of the game, redelivering some of our favorites from years past.  Franchise and Be a Player modes return, remaining largely unchanged. Although, a new element of ‘Franchise’ mode allows players to take the helm as an NFL Owner, upgrading stadium fixtures to appease fans and creating a constant influx of money, used for said upgrades. Although, if you’re a sympathizer of Rachel Phelps, as the owner you can deliver a bad product on the field, let your stadium fall into disrepair, and uproot the team entirely to plant them in another city. It’s an interesting take on the Franchise mode, but still doesn’t quite scratch the itch that players once had in older Maddens that would let you build a team, complete with stadium and coaching staff, from scratch.

The actual difference in Madden NFL 25 is delivered in the gameplay experience itself, and is felt strongly in the My Ultimate Team mode. MUT returns to give players an opportunity to build the greatest team possible from current players and some of the legendary ones from yesteryear. Players will open packs of football cards and, depending on what’s inside, field a team that will undoubtedly be mediocre to start. By completing challenges of varying difficulty, tokens are earned to purchase new packs of cards or to target individual cards on the auction block. Of course, if you don’t want to put the time into the gameplay mechanics, you can sink cold, hard cash into EA’s wallet and purchase packs for real money.

With each of the players available in MUT, those wielding the controller will notice peculiarities between the superstars at your control. Running backs have their own distinct style, some relying on raw power to chisel out yardage, some being gifted with shiftiness and speed. Quarterbacks too, will show off their penchant for short, accurate passes, while those like Peyton Manning have accurate, powerful, deep throws that are masterfully executed. It’s this clear ability distinction between players that makes Madden NFL 25 perhaps the most impressive in terms of player depth. No longer is speed the deciding factor for the best players, instead players can excel at any number of precision skills and still be effective.

But for all its depth, the return of a plethora of game modes, and the solid online play, the game still has its flaws. Passing remains an issue when your receiving clearly has position on a defender, but somehow gains a burst of speed equal to Superman to step in front of your bullet pass to deflect or intercept the throw. Additionally, maintaining a constant running attack can cripple a defense on a play-action pass, causing the entire secondary to bite on the fake, leaving a receiver wide open. Should you execute this maneuver though, the AI will catch up to even your fastest player with their defensive backs and in some cases linebackers. It’s a way to help nullify the obvious error inherent in the play-action system, but for a game that cements itself in realism it can certainly spoil the experience. Finally, the injury bug is one that bits an astounding amount of players. It could be the constant use of the “Trucking Stick,” which also makes a return, but you may find a dozen players on the IR two weeks into the season if you’re not careful. It’s an element that rips apart your roster and essentially spoils a season.

em>Madden NFL 25 suffers from being the Aaron Hernandez of the Madden franchise: it’s got amazing talent and skill and when everything is operating the way you expect, it’s a masterpiece of sweat, blood, and touchdowns. When things go wrong though, they go way wrong. Odd locomotion causes unrealistic results and players with massive injuries at the slightest touch will pull you out of your simulated experience and lie dormant in the back of your mind as you play each subsequent game. The lack of true fanfare for the 25 years that the franchise has been around is also disappointing. A retro mode or something beyond the simple loading screens could remedy that, but like the accused Hernandez, Madden NFL 25 had potential to be the greatest ever. Some flawed decisions warrant the utterance that “at least it’s still Madden.”

Overall score 7.5 out of 10

Samsung introduces the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 Student Edition

New clothes? Check.

Textbooks? Check.

Renewed sense of finishing projects ahead of time, preparing yourself for each class by reading the syllabus, and focusing on paying attention during class that will probably only last a week? Check.

New Back to School Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 paired with additional benefits to help get you through a semester that will undoubtedly be more difficult than you anticipated? Che..

Wait, what?

That’s right, this year as millions of students gleefully dive headlong into another school year, Samsung is making it easier for students to experience it with hardware (and partnered software) to help nearly every step of the way. The Student Edition Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 features the 10.1” tablet, running Android 4.1 (Jellybean) on a dual-core 1gHz processor, boasting 16GB of internal memory, and 1080p HD video playback, all basic with the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 as it is. What makes it special and grants the moniker of “Student Edition” is the amenities included.

First, the hardware coupled with the tablet allows for the user to feel as if they have a laptop without having to pony-up $800.00 to $1,000.00. The Bluetooth keyboard, offered in white to accompany the tablet — a first time offering in North America — is very light, large enough for those of us with fat fingers to still type quickly and accurately, and runs on two AAA batteries for an impressive length of time before they need replacing. With the keyboard also comes a desktop dock which allows you to prop the tablet up, charge it, and even includes a 3.5mm headphone jack, for when you’re pouring over hundreds of hours of educational material. Although it also works for entertainment. If that’s your thing, that is.

Finally, all the hardware in the world is useless without the right software — a point that software developers often announce, regardless of whether they were asked in the first place. It’s a fact that Samsung knows as well, which is why they’re bundling in two unique programs for students. First Dropbox, the popular cloud-based storage option will deliver 50GB of storage for users, a far cry from the 2GB most new users receive. Use the storage for homework or backing up data on your tablet, because the internal 16GB of memory is helpful, but easily filled. Second, Samsung also recognizes that you can’t spend all your time studying, regardless of what your parents expect. With that in mind, those enjoying the Student Edition Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 will also experience three months of Hulu Plus at no expense.

Available at Amazon, Wal-mart, Best Buy, and other retailers, this Student Edition bundle will cost you $349.99 and is available now! Hauling a laptop around can be annoying at best and at worst introduces a risk of damage. With the size and weight of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 plus the keyboard, students will easily be able to carry it freely, in a messenger bag or backpack, or even slip it into a purse, cutting down on the amount of weight you have to haul to class because, let’s face it, some of your textbooks are massive.

The Worst Game to Ever Need a Sequel – The Bureau: XCOM Declassified

It’s simple to wrap up the explanation of The Bureau: XCOM Declassified for those who are unsure of what to expect: schizophrenic. After the unexpected, though entirely justified, success of XCOM Enemy Unknown, it’s surprising to see a game released under the XCOM moniker that fails to complete any one thought. Instead, The Bureau decides to combine many different elements to create an experience with several nods to successful franchises like Mass Effect. Unfortunately, it fails to connect all of the elements together and what players are left with is a series of superficial, unfinished elements that fail to blend into anything cohesive. Despite having combat gameplay that is passable, the flaws in every other aspect of the game only acts as a way to enhance the flaws within the combat.

You’re William Carter, special agent of the FBI who is rudely introduced into the XCOM family, despite his personal flaws. Dealing with the loss of a wife, son, and father, not to mention the dark tunnel of alcoholism is a recipe that, in theory, works well to introduce internal strife. The lack of depth from that turmoil is what removes the emotion that players may feel toward Agent Carter, leaving you with a sense of confusion and emptiness because you end up caring so little for the man. Even other characters, as they’re introduced and faux relationships are formed, are lacking any true notoriety. Agent Weaver, the Chief, and others come and go throughout the campaign as a way to keep the scenery fresh, but instead end up feeling like too many ingredients added to one pot of stew. And each of the ingredients is bland.

There are recognizable elements of XCOM throughout the campaign. You’ll recognize the aliens that invade and, should you be unlucky enough to have one of your companion agents fall in battle, they’re gone for good. Beyond that, the third-person shooting combat is new to the series and takes on a unique element of gameplay by giving players a skill-wheel, responsible for issuing orders to your team. Beyond the skills, admittedly interesting and fun to use in the heat of the moment, players rely on firearms, both domestic and alien. The weapons, even on the easiest difficulty, feel a bit janky and awkward to use, but thankfully players should find a weapon they are comfortable with, simply because the options (that range from pistol to plasma sniper rifle) as so numerous.

In an attempt to add a layer of personality to the campaign there are “collectibles” littered throughout the campaign and the headquarters. These items glow a bright yellow and are there to give players a glimpse into a personal side of characters you may have met or may never even see. The aliens, Outsiders as they’re referred to, have invaded Earth and are infecting humans with an unknown disease, turning them into “Sleepwalkers,” or simply braindead humans who do nothing except what they’re ordered to by the Outsiders. You’re tasked with preventing further penetration of the invaders and, of course, trying to find out how to cure the mystery disease that’s turned entire towns into people who remind you of that one pot-head you knew in high school. The story seems solid enough, despite some outdated visuals that are very reminiscent of Fallout 3, though that could be attributed to the fact that the game is set in 1952. At about 12 or 13 hours into the game though, the flaws start peeking out and players will begin to raise an eyebrow at what they’re seeing. By hour 16 though, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified goes full Fonzi and “jumps the shark.” What should be described as “shocking twist!” instead turns into a blatant “what the hell is going on?” And from there it only gets worse.

With so many elements brought together, it’s easy to see how developer 2K Marin got sidetracked on nearly every one of them. The story flies off into another galaxy, the characters lack depth and are forgettable, but the saving grace is that the combat adds a bit to the game to make it tolerable. For players looking to dive into a game for 18 hours, but don’t want an interesting story, character development, or deep experience, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is for you. If a sequel was announced to release in 2015 it would be something to key your eye on, but in the meantime for everyone else you’d have a better time spending time with that pot-head from high school.

Overall score 4.5 out of 10

Lepow U Stone – A Hulking Mobile Battery That's More Hulk Than Mobile

We’ve discussed the importance of carrying a mobile battery for those dire moments when your smartphone is limping along with a 12% or 15% battery life, just daring you to check your messages so it can take a well deserved nap. With the recent popularity of tablets and the juice required to keep most of them operational, your typical mobile battery simply will not provide enough charge to return it to a reasonable battery level. Lots of people are opting to go the route of tablet rather than laptop when traveling or going to class. A dead battery can bring your plans to a screeching halt, leaving you looking like someone straight out of the stone age. Who uses a pen to take notes, anyway? Because of Lepow’s U Stone battery, the simple answer to that is, “Not you.”

There’s certainly nothing wrong with carrying a mobile battery rated around 3,000-4,500mAh, but in the immortal words of the not-at-all-creepy ‘Tim the Toolman Taylor’ character played by Tim Allen, “We need more power!” (insert stereotypical grunts as you see fit). In order to get more power you need the Lepow U Stone battery — or, hook your phone up to a car battery* like the aforementioned Toolman would do.

*NOTE: Don’t do that.

Beyond the obvious reasons for avoiding the car battery option — most explicitly the possibility for death, which will probably ruin your weekend — is that you don’t need the car battery. The U Stone is packed with 12,000 mAh of power; more than enough for any of the tasks that you’ll need it for. Most tablets operate with a battery running on anywhere from 4,000mAh to 10,000mAh, meaning that with consistent use and typical battery discharge, you’re going to need to recharge them at least once within 48 hour period, more if you’re using it more (that’s called common sense). For example, the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 holds a batter of 4,600mAh, the Google Nexus 7 7,000 mAh, and the Applie iPad 4 a whipping 11,666mAh. Clearly, unlike the people here in the United States, not all tablet batteries are created equal, though I highly doubt tablet batteries have to worry about NSA surveillance. Still, the U Stone’s 12,000mAh is enough to completely recharge even the beefiest of tablet batteries.

The downside, albeit a small one, is that the battery itself doesn’t necessarily fall into the category of “mobile battery”. It’s big. Like, “give me your money or I’ll hit you with this,” big. It weighs only about 200g and measures about 6.5”x3.15”x0.75”, which doesn’t mean you’ll be toting around a behemoth of a battery, but compared to other devices that fall into the mobile battery category, this is Andre the Giant of batteries. Despite suffering from the gigantism disease, Lepow has engineered the U Stone to be quite simple in design. Four bright, blue lights act as indicators for battery level, but beyond that it’s devoid of any distracting artwork or branding besides a simple “Lepow” printed on it. One end is rounded off, while the other houses two ports, one for charging the battery, one for charging your devices. With the grey minimalist design, it legitimately looks like a stone — which surely helps against false advertising lawsuits — though other color options are available.

Though it’s priced significantly higher than most mobile batteries, retailing around $80.00, it’s worth the expense. Imagine leaning in for a romantic kiss, the warm glow of your iPad casting a wondrous shadow upon your significant other. Without your tablet there to light the way, you might end up with your tongue in a nostril, and nobody wants that. Though it takes an exceptionally long time to charge the Lepow U Stone, the resting discharge of the battery is minimal, meaning when you need it, it will have enough of a charge to power your tablet or phone, even if you haven’t charged it for weeks. Though you’d be hard-pressed to fit it in a pocket or carry it with you, if you have a messenger bag or a purse, this is ideal for your travels.