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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.

NFL Sunday Ticket to offer service without the need of a satellite subscription?

Satellite provider DirecTV has had a lock on the NFL Sunday Ticket offering, a subscription-based service that allows viewers to watch every active NFL game each Sunday during the regular season. Until Now.

AppleInsider is reporting that a DirecTV advertisement has shown its hand and will be allowing those who don’t have a satellite subscription to receive the service. The advertisement shows that iOS and Mac users will have the option of purchasing the subscription, but what’s not yet certain is whether this only applies to viewers who have no access to DirecTV’s service, or if anybody can purchase the service.

Additionally, those who don’t own an Apple device will have the option of pairing it with their gaming console, albeit for an additional price. The structure indicated shows that if you’re using just your tablet, smartphone, or Mac, you can expect to pay $199.99 for the service. Access via your gaming console only will bump that price to $239.99, while having access through every option is a total of $329.99 for the subscription.

This may be a move by Apple to add content to their AirPlay technology, but with the current DirecTV app being incompatible with AirPlay, we’re unsure whether this will be an exception or not.

For college students who don’t have the ability to attach DirecTV outside their dorm or apartment window though, you may find that accessing it through your iOS device or gaming console is exactly what you need to follow your favorite team. The downside is, as expected, that local blackout rules are instituted by the NFL, so if you’re expecting to follow a local team, you’re better off sticking to a local broadcast.

EA Sports UFC falls short of a knock-out title

After obtaining the UFC license from failing game studio THQ, the group at EA Sports thought they had the fighting market in a chokehold. With the popular, yet recently absent Fight Night series under their belt, adding UFC all but locks down the fighting genre for EA Sports.

Unfortunately, owning the rights to the franchise doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to deliver a game that lives up to the UFC name, and EA Sports UFC should be a case study for that point. With the money and talent that EA Sports has behind them, the expectation is that fans of the hand-to-hand sport will be able to relive their favorite fights and create new ones, with all the bravado that the UFC delivers.

Let’s get ready for disappointmeeeeeeeeeeeent!

It seems that UFC is simply a victim of a game rushed out to meet a deadline. Granted, with franchises like Madden and FIFA showing annual releases that, despite minimal changes, are still great to play, it’s not unexpected to see UFC getting kicked out before it’s polished, but the fact that EA Sports has delivered a game that seemingly fails to complete a thought is frustrating.

Combat, the majority of your experience, is uninteresting at best and feels empty. Kicks and punches can be thrown in some fantastic combos to drop your foe, but unfortunately each of them feels empty. There’s simply no sense of impact when you strike a foe, particularly when you land a knockout blow. Entirely different from the Fight Night series, where a haymaker made itself known, with UFC you feel like Rocky Balboa, standing in a meat freezer punching slabs of beef. Opponents have no response.

The ground game isn’t much better, with players resorting to frantic pushes and pulls of the right stick that can move your player to a better position to beat or submit your opponent. The biggest issue, and it’s something that’s carried over from the THQ days, is that there’s no real indication of how you’re doing, beyond gauging your position in relation to your opponent. While veteran UFC players may easily distinguish the ground position, those of us who don’t spend hours and hours playing the game have no idea what’s happening. It devolves into a frantic button-mashing event.

EA Sports should be commended for adding in a bit of content with the career mode, but again it’s far too stunted to be praised entirely. Players will begin on The Ultimate Fighter, UFC’s reality show that’s aimed at taking amateurs and turning them professional. You’re introduced to your trainer, then start working towards your fights in an attempt to win the finals and become a pro.

After finishing what is an extremely short experience on the show, you’re then introduced to Dana White and some other personalities of the show. Random videos trickle in after each match or after your training sessions — of which there are three in between each fight — but it’s hardly enough to be considered “content”. Instead you’ll end up skipping each video before too long and, as you max out your character, will start skipping even the training too.

The regular gameplay, including online versus actual players, is hardly any better. While EA Sports is actively patching the game to remove unfair advantages owned by characters like Bruce Lee, it’s still just a brawler with no need to go to the mat to show off your technical skills. You’ll stand toe-to-toe with your opponent and throw combos, doing your best to avoid their clinches, until eventually one of you falls.

The difficulty is a strange curve, as well. On normal, you can be winning a match handily, only to get knocked-out by one well-timed spinning kick or haymaker. Turn the difficulty down and you end up finishing every fight, even against the best players, in 30 seconds or less.

While I expect the UFC franchise to get better with EA Sports behind it, right now it’s simply a disappointing game. There have been no visual glitches (though some have reported them), but the gameplay is bland and uneventful. Content is lacking and combat is a boring game of rinse and repeat.

Overall score 5 out of 10

The Nazis earn the title as world's worst villains in Wolfenstein The New Order

You’ll learn something interesting when you start playing Wolfenstein: The New Order. The entire premise is based on a world that exists as if the Nazis had won World War II. The United States has been invaded and has surrendered to the Germans, but isn’t without a group of freedom fighters, of which you, B.J. Blazkowicz, are one. It only takes a short time to understand the world when you’re introduced to the Nazi power. What you learn is that if the Nazis had won World War II, the world would have gone to hell.

That’s probably why we fought them.

And thank goodness we won because, despite the word ‘Nazi’ being thrown around today as a sort of insult or for someone who is overly strict, the bastards were evil. Machine Games, the developers behind Wolfenstein: TNO, captured the essence of the Nazis perfectly and in doing so created a game that, at times, makes you want to look away.

Though the game is a reimagining of the classic first-person shooter that released in 1992, there are brilliant nods to the game that, for many, was most likely their first experience with an FPS. Weapons, enemies, and level construction is eerily reminiscent of the 22 year old game and, if you’re thorough, even contains a level of the original game as an easter egg.

As Blazkowicz, you’re fighting back against the Nazi regime, but you’re grossly outnumbered. The game initially has you fighting in World War II and the introduction does a magnificent job of introducing you to a lot of the gameplay elements you’ll come to recognize on a deeper level as you progress through the campaign. Machine Games uses this opening level to introduce the dark, gruesome storyline that you’ll be witness to, as well. But, like the overall gameplay and the story, the disgusting deeds performed aren’t shown to players, instead you witness Blazkowicz’s reaction, which in it itself makes you realize how awful these particular Nazis are.

The most surprising part of this FPS is that, in parts, stealth action is a necessity. Where most war-themed FPS games are simple run-and-gun thrillers, Wolfenstein: TNO lets players choose their own style. In fact, an entire perk system is built around your preferred play style. If you’re more a run-and-gunner, you’ll unlock larger ammo clips and can even upgrade weapons from random collectibles in certain levels. The players who prefer a slow, methodical approach will earn stealth perks that allow you to hold more knives, faster stealthed movements, or quieter running, to name a few.

The brilliant part of the overall game is that players are forced to swap back and forth from fast-paced combat to a slower, stealthier approach, then back to high-action combat again without ever feeling like it’s forced. The transition is smooth and painless and you’ll appreciate the game more for having shown you its potential.

Alas, it’s not without problems. The most glaring is that this is shooter and some of the boss fights are simply bad. I’ve taken a hard stance against boss fights in shooters anyway, but here they’re particularly frustrating. While I certainly appreciate a game that doesn’t hold your hand from moment-to-moment, oftentimes you’re left wondering what you should be doing to continue your story. Audio cues sometimes are spoken during the event, but they’re easily missed. The last boss in particular took the game from a fantastic, memorable experience and ruined the hours I had put in to get there. There should never be a reason for players to intentionally get the enemy stuck on terrain in order to complete the mission.

But that’s indeed what I had to do to finish.

With interesting side missions, collectibles, alternate history, and ruthless, bloody action, Wolfenstein The New Order was 99% of a fantastic experience. The destructible environment and unrelenting enemies will make you remember why Nazis are the epitome of evil. The stealth mechanic works magnificently, but doesn’t let players lean on it as the crux of the experience. Seamless transitions from area to area and a difficulty that scales generally well make the game worth playing.

Unfortunately, those boss fights remain and are the low-point of the entire event. The NPC characters themselves are magnificent and embody some of the most dastardly, arrogant personalities to have graced your screen. Still, the build-up and eventual battle with them was disappointing each time.

Overall Score: 8 out of 10

How To Turn Your Dorm Room Into A Home Theater (for under $2000)

Dorm rooms don’t have to be boring with these tips on how to turn it into a home cinema

Let’s face it, dorm life isn’t necessarily a glamorous one. The average size of a dorm is only slightly bigger than a prison cell and with the paint scheme and cement walls, you might even mistake one for the other. But don’t underestimate what you can do with 120 square feet, even if you’re living in a cramped area, you can transform it into your own personal home theater.

With the approval of your roommate, of course.

• Epson Powerlite Home Cinema 750HD – $799.99 – The first, and most important, item in your arsenal of entertainment excellence is your projector. While there are cheaper, portable alternatives, Epson’s Home Cinema 750HD gives a decent 720p image and weighs only six pounds.

Considering your space, the image will be sharp and crisp, even with your light on or sun pouring through your windows. There are eight different ports, including HDMI, composite, and the oft-forgotten VGA D-sub, as well as a speaker and the ability to reproduce up to one billion colors; that’s billion, with a ‘B’.

• Polk Audio SurroundBar 5000 Instant Home Theater – $399.95 – After visuals, the next most important aspect of home theater, even in a dorm room, will be audio. You don’t have need of an enormous seven-speaker system to get surround sound, especially when you can save money and space with only two.

Polk Audio originally designed the SurroundBar 5000 for fans of the Xbox 360, but this Bluetooth enabled system is perfect for your dorm. Piping out 280 watts, it also features one optical and two analog ports, which means less hassle when you switch from one device to another (and you will).

• Camp Chef’s Outdoor Entertainment Gear Big Screen 92 – $180.00 – You might think, “A camping screen? But I’m not camping.” Camp Chef’s Big Screen 92 is as perfect for outdoor use as it is for indoor use because of one reason: mobility. You may not want your home, err dorm theater up 100% of the time. That simple reason makes Camp Chef your ideal product.

The screen can fit a 92” image, which will be plenty for projector in the space you have. Additionally, if you opt not to purchase the legs — an extra cost — you can hang this with the mounts included. Quick and easy setup and teardown, plus an additional carrying bag, means you have a screen on-the-go, just in case you want to bring the show on the road.

• Sumo Lounge Omni – $149.00 – To be frank, there is no better seating for a theater in your dorm than a Sumo Lounge. The Omni is their smaller model, shaped like a mattress, but it’s so easily manipulated that you can use it in a half-dozen ways. The interior is a memory foam-like bead, far more comfortable than the messy styrofoam ones you see in cheaper bean bags. Further, if you want to overstuff your seat, you can even purchase some extra to have the ultimate friend of your fanny.

• Logitech Harmony Smart Control – $129.99 – You don’t want to be stuck running up to the projector or sound system every few minutes to set a movie or mess with your audio. At this point your dorm theater is like the human body, with organs working in tandem to create perfection. It’d be awful if your body didn’t have a brain, and that’s exactly that Logitech brings to the table with the Harmony Smart Control.

Android or iOS, PC or Mac, it doesn’t matter what you’re running on, Logitech has you covered. It even comes with a remote, for those who have misplaced their phone. The Harmony Smart Control replaces your Xbox 360, television, and surround sound remotes and it works with nearly a quarter million devices. The only thing it doesn’t do is your homework.
• DormCubby – $189.99  If you’ve got all this hardware lying around and you’re able to setup and take down in minutes, you’ve got to have some place to store it all. Throwing it under your bed or into the corner means you’ll one day find it covered in “mystery fluids,” which is why Dorm Cubby is last piece of the dorm theater puzzle. Depending on your need, Dorm Cubby offers a variety of options from desk models all the way up to a full-on shelving unit for over your bed.

And there you have it, the ultimate space-saving home theater that will run you under $2,000. Cost and space is a factor when you’re a student and sometimes you have to forego some of life’s greater pleasures. That doesn’t necessarily mean all of life’s pleasures though, and for those who enjoy HD movies, television shows, and games, this system will be the envy of your friends. You can even use it to help with studying!

Or maybe not.

Hunt down villains in the steampunk sequel The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II

Following up on their surprising (and impressive) isometric, dungeon-crawling, RPG, Neocore games has recently released The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II, a game that takes many cues from the original, while injecting a few new twists to try and make it feel like a new title. With new characters, new set pieces, and new gameplay elements, the game should feel like a genuine sequel. The overall gameplay and the reused scenery is what acts as a hurdle though, and will have you second-guessing whether you’re enjoying yourself or not.

The game starts off slower than I’d like, with Van Helsing and his ghostly companion Katarina reintroducing themselves to the player with the playful, sarcastic banter that entertained throughout the first title. You’re not locked into one class this time, either. Instead of playing as a Hunter, you’re also introduced to the Thaumaturge, a magic-wielding badass, and the Arcane Mechanic, a sort of steampunk greasemonkey who is adept with gadgets.

Being a Van Helsing, the plot essentially writes itself: kill monsters and unnatural things. Of course, for most of us that’s enough, but others need some semblance of a story. And that’s why we see General Harker, the military strategist who’s hell-bent on destroying Borgova, your homeland. It’s up to you to lead the resistance against the General and his army in order to stop the siege on the city.

The biggest disappointment was seeing the resistances home base. It’s the same assets from the first game. The layout is the same. Merchants and other NPCs are standing in the same place, your teleporter hasn’t moved, it’s essentially the same assets used over to save time, and that cheapens the experience.

There are some additions though, like your new chimera who, in my game, was dubbed “Fluffy”. You’re also introduced to three new NPCs who act as the resistance army’s captains. Each of these newcomers, including Fluffy, can be sent off to complete missions. While the Captains each earn experience to level up, Fluffy is the only one who will actually bring items back to your hideout. The Captains seem like a great addition at first, but by the end of the game you realize that they really offer no additional gameplay value and didn’t seem to open up any sidequests for you to complete.

Being an isometric RPG, comparisons inevitably come back to the king of the genre, Diablo. With The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II however, you’ll find a more linear experience. The worlds certainly look magnificent and truly embrace steampunk over high fantasy, but the levels themselves seem narrower and more tunnel-like.

Combat was quite a chore as well, even on normal or hard difficulties. For players who expect to stand toe-to-toe with enemies, you’ll want a back-up plan for ranged combat. That’s because enemies can end you in just a couple of seconds. That’s due to the absolute torrent of bad guys who want you dead at every corner. I understand that you’re battling an army, but the amount of enemies was simply excessive.

Unlike most games, I think The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II starts slow and then picks up decent steam (pardon the pun) during the middle of the game. The ending, particularly the boss fight, was a nightmare that seemed intent on having players run around more than actually fight, and while that was consistent throughout the game, the final battle was particularly bothersome.

Still, if you’re a fan of the first or you’ve developed a knack for games like this, you’ll enjoy playing with your friends online and taking advantage of the mindless combat. If you’re looking for deep story though, you might want to look elsewhere.

Overall score: 6.5 out of 10

Your note-taking just got a whole lot easier with the Livescribe smart pen for iOS

With tablet PCs and smartphones invading our lives, no doubt making them easier, we’re in the midst of being assaulted with smart-devices. Watches, lighting, thermostats, home security, even your appliances can interface with your tablets and smartphone. That’s why when I was given the opportunity to test the Livescribe 3 smart pen, I was sceptical.

Though it’s only compatible with iOS, it’s a perfect implement for your college lifestyle. With everything you have being digitized, from books to videos, it’s only a matter of time before everything you write gets scanned to your electronic storage, too. Prior to my time with the Livescribe 3, all notes had to be written, scanned, renamed, then saved where I needed it to be.

Not anymore.

The pen itself is pretty hefty, with the most accurate comparison being that it’s the size of a tampon. Go ahead, laugh, but you know exactly how big it is now, don’t you? Because of the size it may be uncomfortable for some hands, but mostly it means that it’s difficult to stick in your pocket; You’ll want to carry it in your purse or with your tablet.

To describe how it works as “simple,” would be an insult to the developers. Instead, let’s say that it’s easy to use. It’s a pen after all, and it doesn’t require knowledge beyond knowing how to use a pen. After pairing it to the Livescribe app via Bluetooth, then you write.

That’s it.

The barrier, if you could really consider it one, is that your notes have to be scrawled on a proprietary notebook provided by Livescribe in the box, which contains just shy of 200 pages. You have to use this notebook, no other, when you’re writing, otherwise nothing will transfer. Each replacement book costs $14.95 and you’ll probably want one for each class. Considering your books cost hundreds of dollars, an extra $14.95 could be seen as negligible. But you’re college students, it’s not as if you have loads of extra cash lying around.

The pen itself will require a bit of maintenance, too. The charge port is located at the top of the pen, under the capacitive cap. That particular piece is extremely easy to lose and, again, costs you $14.95 to replace it. That piece is a pretty useful cap, as well. While you’re writing you won’t have to place the pen down to use your iPad or iPhone, instead using that part of the pen to maneuver between apps or to quickly close Facebook as your professor walks by.

I loved that my penmanship transfers to the iPad, too. Granted, I don’t have great hand writing, but I’ve found that some other apps that do this try to transfer your words to a system-specific font, oftentimes autocorrecting and losing most of what you wrote.

Additionally, build into the notebook are icons that have a legitimate function, depending on what you use. By tapping the star you can favorite certain notes for easy access or by using the flag you can create a to-do list. There are also media controls printed at the bottom of the page that allow you to use the iDevice’s recording functions to take a direct feed of whatever you’re doing.

Image your friend misses class, but you’re asked to take notes. You know damn well that your notes are different than hers, so while you’re more than happy to send your information to her when class is over, why not bring the class to her? Set your phone up near the professor and right from your seat you can begin recording, stopping when you think it’s prudent.

Most writing options exist within the tablet you’re using (the Samsung Galaxy Note comes to mind here) and are very useable, but not necessarily ideal. The biggest issue is that oftentimes the writing doesn’t feel genuine. The Livescribe 3 takes care of that issue by putting a legitimate writing tool in your hands and then taking your scribbles and moving them over.

You’re not going to find a device that does this better until a company is able to shrink the pen itself down to a more manageable size. It’s not overly large by any means, but it’s big enough to feel just slightly larger than I’d like, and I have big hands. I also understand the need for proprietary add-ons, like the notebook, but the price is a little too high for my liking.

Assuming you’re taking four classes per semester, you’re looking at $120 a year just on notebooks. Coupled with the $149.95 pricetag ($199.95 for the Pro Edition), you’re spending quite a sum for your note taking. For those who pour a great deal of time into the use of the Livescribe 3, you’ll get your money’s worth. But many will find that the they don’t use the gadget to its fullest extent or, more likely, that they can’t afford to use it constantly.

Hack the Planet! with Ubisoft's new title, Watch Dogs

Already boasting more than four million sales, you’ve inevitably heard of Ubisoft’s newest game Watch Dogs. The free roaming not-realistic, but dangerously-realistic gives players a strange look at what our modern-day world could look like, should we allow our lives to become even more automated and digital than they already are.

And it’s damned frightening.

Aiden Pearce is a strange character, a sort of anti-hero. But rather than accepting and embracing the role of anti-hero, Aiden is simply failing to be a hero in the true sense of the word. His motivation — and plot of the entire game — is to seek out and find the person responsible for the death of his young niece.

An accidental death that was meant to only scare Aiden into quitting the illegal hacking he had been doing, finding his niece’s killer is his only driving force he has, but unfortunately the emotional bond Aiden has for the young girl is not shared by players, nor was any attempt made to even try and connect us.

Instead, we’re left playing a game simply to experience and enjoy a new gameplay element: hacking. And it’s done well, having players access personal records, bank accounts, spy cams, and other electronics living on the cTOS system that runs Chicago. It’s typically just a push of a button that grants you access to people’s most private information, with occasional mini-games reminiscent of The Pipe Game that we all know.

The unfortunate part is that the hacking, and the city itself truth be told, lack a certain personality that could have taken the game to a whole new level. Like the hacking, the digital reincarnation of Chicago is simply just there. Lacking all the major landmarks you would have expected to see like Wrigley Field, something I was looking for in particular. Neither the city nor the hacking are done poorly mind you, it’s just that they’re shells for Aiden to exist in, lacking depth.

Instead, the depth is added in the gameplay, where — like most free roam games — dozens of events exist for Aiden to complete. There’s a great variation, too. There are gang hideouts to take down, convoys to disrupt, spycams to invade, even songs to collect from particular people walking among the crowds.

The multiplayer portion of the game feeds into this too, but isn’t a necessity to partake in once you’ve tried it. It’d be more fun if you could spy on and hack your friends exclusively, but oftentimes you’re invaded by some random nobody who hides in a car, around a wall, or, if they’re terrible at the game, right out in the open. Your job is to find out who they are by hovering your crosshair over different people to detect the intruder, then … killing them. They’re job is to try and hack you or, if they’re found, to simply get away.

Protip: If they’re in a car and you’re late finding one, just forget it. You won’t catch up.

By the end of the campaign, which is about 20 or so missions, you’ll have met some magnificent characters, taken part in countless illegal activities, and earned a reputation — good or bad depending on your play throughout the game — as The Vigilante of Chicago.

The problem is that Aiden Pearce lacks the grittiness of an anti-hero like Max Payne or The Punisher, but also isn’t a noble do-gooder like Ezio Auditore (Assassin’s Creed) or John Marston (Red Dead Redemption), good guys who are forced into questionable scenarios. Instead players will want to go into the game with a sort of respect for him, but a few hours in begin to understand that in other games your character would probably be the guy you’re out to stop.

It’s important to stress that the game isn’t bad. It’s just not quite a completed thought. The gameplay is wonderful and the driving is very enjoyable, with cars feeling very different as you use different models. The characters Aiden interacts with are enjoyable, despite the rest of the world and “nameless” NPCs being forgettable.

The most honest thing to say though, is that Watch Dogs is worth playing.

Overall score: 7.5 out of 10

em>A copy of this game was provided for review purposes

Being a dictator in Tropico 5 isn't what it used to be

Having dedicated hundreds of hours to the Tropico series, I feel comfortable labeling myself as an expert. I’ve assumed the role of dictator El Presidente on countless occasions, only to eventually lead my island nation to prosperity and military superiority, which is why with the release of Tropico 5, my inner-ruler is clawing to break free.

The biggest problem facing the newest excursion to the tropical island isn’t the changes, it’s the implementation of them.

For newcomers, Tropico 5 is a game about building a city. In a very Sim City-esque design, you’re El Presidente, the dictator of a beautiful island. You get to decide where to build farms, businesses, homes, churches, and any other of the dozens of buildings that grace the landscape.

The wonderful thing about Tropico is that it’s so much deeper than basic city design. You’re forced to balance how much the different factions on the island respect and appreciate you. If you build a district filled with debauchery, taverns, casinos, and other establishments of the sort, the religious sect will hate you. Rule the island like a communist and, sure, you’ll gain the support of that faction, but lose the support of the capitalists.

Further, you’re always hard at work creating trade agreements and doing your best to balance the exports and imports that your island sees. You may have an island primed for growing sugar, but your population won’t necessarily eat sugar, so importing and distributing food is just as important as the island’s treasury.

Finally, keeping on the good side of the US, the EU, Russia, and other nations is important for a couple of reasons. First, every year you’ll get financial aid from the superpowers — and money is always helpful — but more importantly, you’ll ensure that nobody invades you. Start pissing off everybody and you may face a rebel threat on your island as well.

It’s always been a socio-economical struggle to make sure the scale is never tipped too far one way or the other.

In years past, playing Tropico’s campaign saw you moving from map-to-map, each time dedicating hours to accomplishing a single task, only to see the map disappear once you’ve hit your goal. Starting over from scratch seemed more of a time-sink than a benefit to players. This year though, the campaign progresses well, giving you and your kin (another new feature!) a chance to ensure that the choices you make carry over from one map to the next.

It’s this new feature that has essentially ruined the campaign.

I’m not too modest to say that I’m an expert at playing Tropico. If you’d like to test your mettle in the new multiplayer mode, I’d be more than happy to give a demonstration. But being so good at the game now comes with drawbacks. Because I’ve learned how to create a living, breathing world, I can quickly take my island’s treasury into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Granted, the cost for operating my island is expensive, but the export of products will more than make up for it.

When you start a new mission on the campaign, it’s great that you get to keep the island you’ve designed previously. It’s not great that your treasury is reset to $20,000 at the start of each map. As missions get harder, it becomes harder to please your population. With an enormous city planted on your island, you’ll quickly go into debt at the start of some of the later missions. When that happens, your citizens lose faith in you.

Even with large exports and the ability to stabilize the economy, going heavily into debt at the onset of a mission is your doom. I’ve been forced to restart my campaign numerous times in an attempt to “slow play” the game. Each time I’m able to get a bit farther, but each time the inevitable collapse of my economy happens, with the result being that I’m voted out of office.

It’s frustrating knowing that regardless of the play style I implement, failure is inevitable unless you stick to a particular order of advancement. Of course, I could take on the role of a true politician and simply cheat.

To match the campaign progression, the game doesn’t necessarily feel like an advancement from Tropico 4. An array of new buildings have been added, including some unique, one-time use construction, but a lot has been removed to make way for them. In what I assume is an effort to streamline construction, many useful structures have been removed. This is probably because the islands genuinely feel smaller and more cramped, with many maps having massive amounts of area that is simply inaccessible and unable to be used for building.

em>Tropico 5 is, visually, better than previous titles, but that’s just about it in terms of developmental progression. In all other aspects, the game seems to have taken a step back, despite the changes. For fans of the series, you’ll see nods to some great ideas being made, but the way they’re implemented makes the game fall backwards instead of forward.

Overall score: 5 out of 10

Blue Goji turns your boring cardio into a video game

It’s nearly summer and you know what that means? Bikinis and shorts, which means we’re all showing off the gorgeous, toned bodies we’ve spent the whole winter working on. That is, unless you’re like me and took the winter to grow fat and happy. And by “the winter,” I mean the last 10 winters, of course.

The problem isn’t motivation, I’m sure we’ve all got that particular thing that drives us to get in shape. The problem is that I, like many of you, simply hate running. Without the objective of score a run, a touchdown, or a goal, running can seem extremely pointless. Except for the weight loss and healthy lifestyle, but those are results that yield instant gratification.

And it’s human nature to want to see results immediately.

That’s where Blue Goji comes in. I’ve had the pleasure of spending the last couple of months with Blue Goji in an effort to see if what they promised — making thirty minutes of running seem like five — was true. At 268 pounds I could use to lose a little weight, if for nothing more than to be a bit more healthy. The fact is, you never see a really old fat person. And I’d like to live long enough to become a crotchety old man screaming, “Get off my lawn!”

The hardware that comes with Blue Goji is simple, but serves a purpose. First, the wireless sensor attaches to you in the same way you’d strap on a pedometer, on the band of your shorts or pants, but it can also go on your shoelaces. It’ll probably get rattled around on your laces, but it seems durable enough to withstand it, though I didn’t test how much damage it could take. It only took about twenty minutes out of the box to charge it up the first time and it lasted through my first workout with no problems.

There’s also a velcro button pad, each with two oversized buttons on them. These can attach to the workout bicycle, elliptical, or treadmill handles and stay in place nicely. If you’re using a piece of equipment without handles, or if they’re in an awkward position on your equipment, Blue Goji comes with some foam batons that are about the same size as most workout equipment handles.

This is where it gets interesting.

After downloading an iOS app (sorry Android users, nothing for you yet) there are fifteen different games and apps for you to train with. The downside is that they’re not all free, with most of them priced at $0.99. The Goji Play app itself is free, but after dropping $99.99 on the hardware it feels like being nickeled and dimed to have to pony up $0.99 for the best apps available on the service.

The apps are indeed developed and for sale individually, but are compatible with Goji Play, which explains the fee. It’s still discouraging, nevertheless.

After swallowing the small fee, the exercise program begins. Though I didn’t have a chance to experience each individual app, the general idea is that the wireless sensor can tell when you’re training hard and running fast versus taking it easy and walking. The apps are designed in a way that you’re constantly accelerating and maintaining a high rate of speed, then decelerating to accomplish a task; if you’re playing a game that isn’t based on speed, your high-energy movement may control power or another variable. Riptide GP for example, is a jetski racing game that pits players against other racers in a visually surprising river race. By mastering button presses and the appropriate times to sprint and run, you’ll become King of the Water Race!

And sure enough, the apps do indeed help take your mind off of the task of exercise. Being the overweight guy that I am though, there was an unmistakable realization that I was indeed running. The difference this time is that I didn’t hate it and it harkened back to the days when I was training for team sports.

While the Goji Play app acts as a bridge to compatible titles, it does have its own uses. As you fall into a habitual workout pattern, the app will track your progress. You can also add friends and update your profile from within. Finally, an achievement system is implemented to give users something to work towards, with badges unlocking for calories or distances. For example, you’ll earn an achievement for burning off the caloric equivalent of a cupcake or walking the distance of New York’s Central Park.

The hardware held up very nicely and required charging only in between sessions. The buttons themselves use AAA batteries, but two months later are still not drained. The app should really have more to offer for free, or perhaps a bundle option where users can spend $7 or $10 to get all apps at once, but the biggest letdown is the absence of an Android option.

Finally, despite the claims, thirty minutes of running still felt like thirty minutes of running. The Blue Goji simply made it bearable and provided enough distraction that I was able to commit to, “just a little bit more,” before running out of steam.

The fact is, running sucks, but Blue Goji makes it far more tolerable.

Action-RPG Bound by Flame Disappoints

The fantasy games genre, particularly with Action-RPGs, is hands-down my favorite. That’s why, when I heard of Bound by Flame, I had such high hopes. This genre, more than any other, has the potential to take a lower-budget game and propel it to greatness. If the action is manageable, the customization and equipment is robust, and the story is simply passable, there’s a recipe for greatness.

After playing through the campaign and experiencing it in full, I can’t say that Bound by Flame is going to win any awards, good or bad.

Your character, a name you choose, is called “Vulcan” regardless, is possessed by a demon that has powers of fire. Pretty handy considering most enemies you fight use ice, including the Ice Lords mentioned throughout the narrative. Using the demon’s powers isn’t necessarily a given though, because as you level up you’re presented with options in combat.

If you’re a fan of brute force, the warrior tree is for you; faster, more damaging attacks are controlled by the ranger; and the final skill tree focuses solely on fire magic. You can certainly mix and match as you desire, but your character reaches full potential by focusing on one skill tree first, then branching out into other areas. By the end of the game though, your character may have mastered one tree, but only has enough skill points to dabble in the first or second tiers of the others, with no option to reset your points and try a different style mid-game.

Combat is, unfortunately, stale and incredibly boring. It gives you the impression that it may be rewarding early on, like a date that starts great, but soon you realize that everything you thought was interesting is shallow and unimpressive. After about the midpoint of the game, combat becomes a mush of button mashing due to enemies having no inkling of tactics. Every encounter is a straight-forward affair of, “Run in, use the same few maneuvers, then move on to the next enemy.”

What’s even more disappointing is the fact that you have a trove of party members, each with their own unique personality and combat style. But because combat is so bland, sticking with the character who can heal you is always the best option. Granted, you’re forced to use other characters at certain points, but by then combat is simple and uninteresting anyway.

Dialogue can sometimes lead to side quests or unique party-missions ala Mass Effect or Dragon Age, but the dialogue is horrific that a chore to sit through. You’ll be skimming the conversation as fast as possible due to the odd choice of Old English mixed with modern-day slang. Coupled with the abortion that is the voice acting, you’d be better off listening to GWAR on full volume while stabbing yourself in the ears.

It’s harsh, yes. But it’s really that bad.

Despite my hyperbolic criticisms of the dialogue though, the game doesn’t necessarily follow that same terrible attempt throughout. It’s not entirely beautiful, but there are some scenes that will stick out and make you tilt your head in appreciation. Combat, while tedious and boring, isn’t broken or worth avoiding. Nor will you encounter any particular bugs that ruin your experience. The game isn’t necessarily short either, so picking it up on sale at $9.99 will net you a decent time sink (It’s $29.99 now on everything except Playstation 4, where it’s $39.99).

The overall feel of Bound by Flame just isn’t very good.

Overall Score – 4 out of 10