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Skull and Bones review – hell and high water
8:01 pm | February 23, 2024

Author: admin | Category: Computers Gadgets Gaming | Tags: | Comments: Off
Review info

Platform reviewed: PC
Available on: PS5, Xbox Series X|S, PC
Release date: February 16, 2024 

Despite its troubled development cycle, Skull and Bones has plenty to offer for fans of naval combat or those looking to immerse themselves in a pirate fantasy. Engaging ship battles, a wide scope for ship customization, and immersive sailing mechanics all confirm that Ubisoft's latest live service open-world game has some strong fundamentals. However, thanks to a thin storyline, repetitive mission structures, and a narrow range of enemy types, Skull and Bones feels underdeveloped, like a pencil drawing that’s yet to be filled in by color or shading.

In Skull and Bones, you play as a ship captain during the second golden age of piracy in the late 17th century. The prologue has you ambushed by British sailors and your ship blown to bits. You are then recovered by the crew of a small gathering ship, and tasked with making a name for yourself. Soon, you arrive at Sainte Anne, a pirate port and hub location run by the ruthless pirate kingpin John Scurlock. So far, so pirate-y. 

From here, you carry out contracts, amass resources, construct better ships, and repeat. On paper, it’s not dissimilar to the mechanical loop at the heart of action role-playing games (RPGs) like Diablo 4. However, contrary to Blizzard Entertainment’s dark fantasy adventure, Skull and Bones has little to offer by way of a narrative throughline. 

Contracts follow a predictable formula. You go out, sink some enemy ships, take their loot, and deliver it to somebody. Even the story quests will tend to follow this style, too. While Skull and Bones’ central mechanics are strong enough to keep you coming back a few times, eventually, the repetition loses its luster, transforming thrilling piracy into dull bureaucracy.

Best bit

Bounty board in Skull and Bones

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

Taking on my first bounty felt like something straight out of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. A storm roiled around me and my allies as we took the battle to the marauders - I couldn’t help but be thrilled as we exchanged broadside after frantic broadside.

This feeling isn’t helped by Skull and Bones’ crafting system. The things you can build are fun; that much is true. New weapons fixtures, hulls, and furnishings - which add passive effects to your ships - make for interesting choices when it comes to crafting loadouts and formulating your own distinct approach to battle. However, the process of gathering materials to build these new additions detracts from the pirate fantasy. After all, tales of swashbuckling and romantic high adventure on the seas rarely give much consideration to elements of resource management.

What’s more, those looking for hand-to-hand combat or complex on-foot exploration will be disappointed here. Though Skull and Bones offers plenty of sailing, everything from boarding actions to gathering is undertaken by your crew. There are pirate outposts on which you can land, but these are small areas that are only really relevant when it comes to delivering cargo for a particular non-player character (NPC) or digging up treasure for a sidequest.

Full sail  

Skull and Bones picked up by a Dhow

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

Despite these drawbacks, Skull and Bones has a firm and impressive grasp on sailing and nautical combat. As a sailor myself, it’s a real bugbear of mine when sailing in games doesn’t take factors like wind direction and tidal currents into consideration. However, it’s also important for in-game sailing not to become too bogged down in the details. This is a line that Skull and Bones walks rather skillfully. 

As in real life, sailing into the wind is a great way to go nowhere fast. Conversely, filling your sails by traveling perpendicular to the wind or downwind gives you a nice little speed buff - useful in a pinch. However, you are not made responsible for manually adjusting your sails - your crew handles this at the touch of a button. With a single input, you can toggle your sail settings, allowing you to easily change course even in the middle of a hectic fight. The sailing mechanics are technical enough to factor into your movement and keep you on your toes, but not too technical as to alienate or bore those who aren’t quite as familiar with the ins and outs of sailing.  

All of this serves to add a satisfying edge to nautical combat. Much like in Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag, you aim your cannon fire manually while controlling your ship in real-time. Depending on your ship’s loadout, your different weapons will be able to fire in various directions. Subject to cooldowns, you’ll need to patiently time your shots - a feat that becomes an exciting challenge when combined with managing your ship’s speed and position relative to enemy ships.

Ships are highly customizable both cosmetically and mechanically

Do you thread the needle between an enemy formation, exposing yourself to fire but allowing you to unleash a left and right volley at the same time? Do you bear away from a foe to pepper them with your rear cannons, or is it best to stay engaged and attempt to board? These sorts of questions must be answered as battles unfold, making tough engagements feel tense and rewarding. 

There are plenty of weapons and furnishings to choose from for your ship, too. While there are more traditional armaments like culverins and long guns, mortars, torpedos, and even rocket launchers are all available to enterprising pirates looking to spice up their loadouts. What’s more, ships are highly customizable both cosmetically and mechanically. Equipping the right furnishing can be key to getting the most out of your weapons, while plenty of color schemes and embellishments for aesthetic enhancements are available with in-game currency. While the number of cosmetics only available with premium currency did leave a foul taste in my mouth, there were plenty of options to choose from for more frugal seafarers.

Low tides 

Skull and Bones being picked up by a Dhow

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

You are not alone on the seas. In some respects, Skull and Bones feels like a nascent massively multiplayer online (MMO) game. Other players can be found across the waters. You can form ad-hoc groups, banding together to take on tougher missions and contracts. Between other players and an abundance of NPC ships, the virtual Indian Ocean that Ubisoft has constructed feels well-populated.

The issue is that there’s little by way of structured missions or meaningful, player-created narratives to give this impressive open world its own distinct meaning. Grouping up with other players tends to be an ad-hoc affair, where you’ll form parties to take down tough settlements or bosses, only to part once you're finished like, well, ships in the night. 

Accessibility features

Skull and Bones accessibility menu

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

Skull and Bones boasts plenty of accessibility options, including menu narration, the ability to toggle camera shake, and numerous colorblind settings covering deuteranopia, protanopia, and tritanopia.  

The different flavors of mission offer little variation. Settlements can be plundered, forcing you to face waves of enemies as your crew ransacks the place. However, the battles themselves are much the same as you’d find while exploring or carrying out one of Skull and Bones’ many repeatable fetch or kill quests. Distinctive enemy types are absent, making for engagements that are fun the first few times, but lose luster after a while. Though boss battles do offer exceptions to this rule, there simply aren’t enough of them to paper over the cracks caused by the limited range of potential encounters on offer. 

Skull and Bones may, one day, be transformative. Its mastery of naval combat fundamentals and ability to capture the sights, sounds, and visuals of the pirate life make for impressive achievements. However, right now, there is little beyond these robust foundations to keep players interested. Much like a house without a roof, no amount of sturdy brickwork will suffice to keep the storm out. However, there is hope for Skull and Bones. The live service model gives Ubisoft scope and opportunity to add some much-needed embellishments and variety to its impressive yet samey nautical world.  

Looking for other online experiences? Check out our lists of the best multiplayer PC games and the best MMO games.

Dicefolk review – luck be a lady tonight
6:00 pm |

Author: admin | Category: Computers Gadgets Gaming | Comments: Off
Review info

Platform reviewed: PC
Available on: PC
Release date: February 27, 2024

Dicefolk, a roguelike from Leap Game Studios, puts you into the shoes of a determined summoner, responsible for an army of chimera. These are the creatures that litter the entire map and that you aim to recruit into your own party to then train and take into battle. Similarly to Pokémon, these beasts adopt a huge variety of appearances, and anything from a potted plant to a huge dragon could spring to life. You never know what type of chimera is waiting around the corner, but it’s always your job to wrangle them. 

However, rather than sending your chimera into battle like Pokémon, the game takes a unique approach to every instance of combat. Although you are somewhat in control, your entire turn is based on a dice roll. So, you always have to hope and pray that lady luck is on your side and you have a solid enough roll of your three dice to take down whatever beasties you come up against.  

A roll of the dice 

Dicefolk battle in progress in a forest setting with several chimera active

(Image credit: Leap Game Studios)

Dicefolk’s combat is incredibly fluid. You take control of your team of three chimeras you recruit along your journey. At the start, you begin with three incredibly weak creatures that offer little to no power, but the further you travel around the map, the stronger the chimera you can recruit at statues positioned around the map for your next bought of combat. Each encounter needs to be carefully planned out to ensure your success through tactical rotations of party members, and well-timed attacks. However, you don’t have the same abilities - such as a ranged attack, or the ability to rotate - each turn. Instead, every round is controlled by the roll of three dice. 

I’m not the luckiest person when it comes to anything, really, and this losing streak continued during my experience with Dicefolk. More often than not, my rolls gave me ranged attacks that caused less damage and team rotations rather than the option to strengthen my team by bulking up before attacking. Of course, this isn’t the game's fault as these rolls are entirely random, but I couldn’t help but feel like it became a bit of a personal attack after a while. 

Best bit:

Dicefolk

(Image credit: Leap Game Studios)

The unknown factor of not knowing what you’re about to encounter is easily the best part of Dicefolk. I was always excited to see what creatures would crop up in the next combat encounter, heightening a sense of anticipation.  

However, this infrequent success makes combat feel tense and also encourages you to be careful and deliberate rather than rushing in with all guns blazing. When you start in Dicefolk, it’s incredibly easy to be hasty when attacking your enemies, and you can be overly reliant on a few attacks from only one of your chimeras rather than utilizing your whole team. But, as you progress through the map and enter different biomes that are littered with increasingly intimidating creatures, taking your time with encounters, thinking about your moves, and which members of your party are worth bringing to battle becomes incredibly important. 

Across the map, you’ll encounter a huge range of critters that you’ll have to face which keeps combat exciting and fresh. This is a major attraction of Dicefolk as you never know what you’ll find, heightening the game’s concept of everything being a gamble. The character design makes up a huge part of the game's charm, too, and helps make the first experience fighting many of the beasties more enchanting. One moment you’ll be fighting a small, seaweed-clad dog called Algel, but then you’ll have an encounter with a towering koala-esque beast rather than fighting the same thing over and over again. 

However, adding another layer to the combat, your ability to control chimeras isn’t limited to your own team. You also take control of the enemy side, allowing you to decide and plan out what attacks impact your team. This occasionally enables you to give yourself the upper hand, sacrificing your weaker chimera against enemies with stronger attacks and giving yourself an opening to hit back twice as hard in your next turn. Although this isn’t always the case, it does feel rewarding when you do factor enemy moves in and manage to tactically plan four turns in advance, finally pulling off a master heist and taking the win. 

Jack of all trades 

Dicefolk battle in progress in underwater setting with several new chimera active

(Image credit: Leap Game Studios)

It’s not all random dice rolls and crossing fingers in combat though, and there’s a lot of work that goes into Dicefolk outside of just attacks. Across the map, you’ll find shops to buy equipment and armor that provide different buffs to your party of chimera, as well as statues that you can visit to recruit new chimera to join your adventure. Each creature brings unique abilities and skills to the table, so it pays to familiarize yourself with the capabilities of your companions to ensure you’re taking advantage of any moves that could help you take down enemies. 

Rewards from particularly challenging battles provide an incentive to continue pushing through combat, since, much like the various species you’ll recruit along the way, you never know what reward could be waiting for you. Overall, it’s a pretty familiar loop of  ‘battle a beast, get a reward, move on to the next bit’, but the surprise of not really knowing what’s to come is the thing that’ll keep drawing you through Dicefolk.

Prepare for the worst  

Dicefolk battle victory screen with chimera tamer at the front

(Image credit: Leap Game Studios)

The numerous bosses are where your army will really be tested. Like any other battle, you’ll still take control of enemy attacks as you would your own, but these boss fights tend to offer a bigger challenge than your standard enemy encounter since each boss occupies one of the dice rolls with a special die. 

Although this roll does have a similar formula to other enemies, with the possibility to offer an attack, defense, or random rotation, generally the attacks are frenzied and rotations tend to prioritize bringing the boss chimera to the front of the party. If there’s time to plan your next move carefully, it would be during these significantly harder battles especially since the boss dice roll will offer harder attacks than the others and thus cause more damage to your party. 

If you’ve been playing it safe, breezing through chimera encounters, then these boss battles will feel like a significant jump up in difficulty.  These encounters are where planning your next move and utilizing whatever armor or equipment you’ve picked up along the way is at its most important. If you fail and three of your chimera faint then you’ll have to start building your army from scratch once again from the ground up. 

Accessibility features:

Dicefolk

(Image credit: Leap Game Studios)

Unfortunately, Dicefolk offers no dedicated accessibility options, which is disappointing. Considering how much on-screen text there is, being unable to adjust the size of this text may impact some player's experience. 

Generally, Dicefolk is simple in its premise, yet still provides an entertaining experience that is bound to appeal to anyone who loves luck-based combat encounters and quirky characters. Rewards and charming characters offer you the drive to keep you plowing through each environment and map, and combat is just exciting enough with the reliance on luck to stay fun.

As a result, there’s always something that’ll have you excited to keep exploring and to see what comes next, or how you can approach battles slightly differently for a more positive outcome. All in, this makes for a satisfying, albeit occasionally repetitive, experience.

We’ve got a list of all the best indie games if you’re looking for more unsung gems to play through. You may also want to check out the best roguelike games if you want to test your skills in other formats. 

Slave Zero X review – choose violence
8:43 pm | February 22, 2024

Author: admin | Category: Computers Consoles & PC Gadgets Gaming | Comments: Off
Review info

Platform reviewed: PC
Available on: PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch, and PC
Release date: February 21, 2024

Blood, guts, and grime cover the streets in the dystopian world of the new 2.5D action game from Poppy Works, Slave Zero X. Taking place in the Megacity S1-9, this metropolis has succumbed to the tyrannical rule of the Sovereign Khan (SovKhan) with poverty and death rife in the streets. You play as Shou, a freedom fighter and member of The Guardians, who puts his life on the line to take down the unjust rulers.

Slave Zero X takes place four years before the events of the 1999 game Slave Zero, where we see a similar struggle for power take place as the protagonist steals the most sophisticated biomechanical weapon in existence and uses it to win a brutal civil war. The premise is very similar in Slave Zero X as Shou, a revolutionary, merges with a stolen Slave unit prototype (a biomecha weapon) to take the fight to the ruling class and start his journey to killing a false god and his top followers. 

Traversing the world of S1-9 is thrilling. You’ll find bad guys and grunts lying in wait for you around every corner as you progress through the various layers of this dingy city in your pursuit of the five commanders and the Sovereign Khan. There are holy communes, dimly lit streets, and even fights atop speeding trains for you to experience and - hopefully - survive. 

The atmosphere in Slave Zero X is incredibly cool. The 90s-style sprites and visuals, coupled with an advanced lighting system and stylized 3D environments, opens up the abandoned city streets as you watch the world shift on its axis when you turn corners.  

Taking matters into your own hands 

Shou fighting an enemy

(Image credit: Ziggurat Interactive)

Sweeping through enemies masked as a red devil armed with a simple sword and explosive attacks is great fun as long as you can get a grip on timing and combo attacks. Slave Zero X is best experienced with a controller, but as I was playing on PC and my controller was in the other room, I decided to give the keyboard a go. It quickly became clear that using a keyboard can be finicky if you don’t put some serious elbow grease into rebinding keys, however, so if you do have a controller on hand, it’s best to stick with that. 

After rebinding every key and doing a couple of practice runs to make sure everything was working as it should, I took to the streets of S1-9. At first, juggling the hordes of grunts that blocked your path every couple of seconds was quite tricky. Luckily, after plenty of trial and error, I finally managed to master the timing needed to keep these bad guys airborne almost permanently, juggling them until they were no more. Using these new skills alongside dashes and wall jumps meant that most encounters ended with me as the victor. 

The shifting axis of the 2.5D world can also be used to your advantage during fights; as the world turns, you have a bit more space, meaning you can handle more enemies at once. You can use the shifting axis to your advantage when climbing towering apartment buildings or navigating derelict railroads. 

Best bit

Shou fighting enemies

(Image credit: Ziggurat Interactive)

Maneuvering through buildings and fighting against enemies while being hunted down by a boss and dodging her sniper rifle’s scope, which always pulls towards your location like a magnet, was incredibly thrilling.  

The various kinds of enemy soldiers and morbidly deformed grunts that you encounter on your journey have a great variety of skills that keep most fights interesting. Some perish in a single hit and do very little damage, while others wield fiery spears dealing damage from afar or occupy armored mech suits that can grab and throw you to the ground. 

These enemies are fun in bite-sized chunks; however, there are a few times, usually before you take on a mini-boss, in which you find yourself swarmed by them. At these moments, it felt almost impossible to locate yourself among the hordes of bad guys, let alone fight back. There were also times in which I got stuck in a cycle of pain as bombs from above, long-distance enemies, and close-combat soldiers attacked me in specific instances, preventing me from getting even one hit in. These fights get old quickly, and it’s something that happens often.

On the other hand, the one-on-one encounters with the bosses and the ultimate villain were surprisingly digestible. You probably won’t beat every one of them on your first go. However, it does mean that after some engaging practice runs and a little self-reflection, you can prevail against the immoral followers of the SovKhan. 

One of the said followers, Uriel, was an interesting foe to go up against as you have to destroy infusers and kill off grotesque creatures with enlarged limbs and bulbous sacks of fluid that attack you. Once the final infuser is broken, you must run from a mutated Uriel traversing difficult terrain and killing off smaller enemies on your way. It was a nice change from the usual one-on-one fights in Slave X Zero.  

A tough ride 

Shou screaming as enemies fall

(Image credit: Ziggurat Interactive)

Slave Zero X is not for the faint of heart, often demanding pinpoint accuracy, perfect timing, and the patience to replay fights over and over again. There were a couple of encounters with bosses, which did catch me off-guard. Enyo Beloved by the Bullet and Wuguan were both challenging adversaries to go up against, thanks to their rapid attacks and the constant need to stay out of reach during much of the fight. 

Accessibility features

Slave Zero X accessibility screenshot

(Image credit: Ziggurat Interactive)

There are a few accessibility features in Slave Zero X, such as turning on/off screen shake, violence, flashing effects, or changing the background color of subtitles. 

If you manage to make it all the way through, even past the impossibly fast and violent Atavaka The Final Triumph, then you'll be up against the final god-defying boss. It will require you to use everything you’ve learned. This could be perfect dashes, restraint so you have time to dodge incoming attacks, or the ability to juggle your enemy so you can get enough hits in before they get back up and take their own turn dishing out attacks. 

Slave Zero X also boasts a fantastic soundtrack that beautifully pairs 90s-inspired drum and bass music with the bloody retro aesthetic. It makes sweeping through the SovKhan’s soldiers even more thrilling. 

Coupled with the fantastic art style and cool 2.5D world, there’s plenty to enjoy here. It's just a shame that the crowded and ruthless group fights and the unforgiving boss battles make getting through Slave Zero X a bit of a slog occasionally.  

If you’re looking for more excellent games, be sure to check out the best roguelike games as well as the best indie games available to play right now. 

Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth review – fully reincarnated
5:00 pm |

Author: admin | Category: Computers Gadgets Gaming | Tags: , , , | Comments: Off
Review info

Platform reviewed: PS5
Available on: PS5
Release date: February 29, 2024

Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth is dense, rewarding, and confident in the tale it’s telling. Dramatic, playful, and dynamic, action role-playing game (RPG) Rebirth takes a cavalier attitude to its storytelling and mechanics - a move that almost always pays off. The well-paced and intriguing storyline is punctuated by satisfying character moments and thrilling battles, only let down by the rare half-baked idea that doesn’t quite hit the mark. 

On his quest to stop the villainous Sephiroth from destroying the world, protagonist Cloud has an entourage of varied and well-realized companions, each with their own distinctive personalities, goals, and ambitions. The dialogue between these characters is memorable, moving, and often humorous, too. 

Banter between party members is defined by an organic sense of chemistry that’s rare beyond the likes of Baldur’s Gate 3. High-quality facial animations complete with tentative lip twitches and lingering glances help enrich the game’s sense of drama and emotional stakes, creating a memorable and poignant experience. 

Those who fight further 

Yuffie and Cait Sith use a synergy attack

(Image credit: Square Enix)

Rebirth’s predecessor Final Fantasy 7 Remake famously dispensed with the original Final Fantasy 7’s turn-based battle system in favor of a hybrid setup that features pausable real-time combat. Rebirth doubles down on this change, offering battles that feel not only strategic but also fluid and responsive. Every aspect of the combat has been iterated upon. Characters move more deliberately, their dodges and parries feeling lifted from an action game proper rather than an RPG dressed up as one. A perfect parry will even render you immune to damage for a short time - a brave new mechanic that keeps players on their toes.  

This dynamism makes customization more meaningful, a feat that Rebirth delivers by offering oodles of Materia, which can be equipped to give your characters access to different passive and active abilities. This fleshes out the strategic layer in combat. As you battle, you’ll build up ATB - action points that you can cash in for specific spells or abilities. With the touch of a button, combat is paused, allowing you to execute these moves. This is a source of endless meaningful decisions and helps create joyful friction, keeping things fresh and engaging even during more routine battles. 

Best bit

Cissnei in Gongaga jungle

(Image credit: Square Enix)

Fighting a giant mech on top of a Mako reactor was particularly memorable, as were the pilot’s hammy monologues. Fraught with dramatic tension, stunning visuals, and nail-biting combat, this battle highlighted everything there is to love about Final Fantasy spectacle. 

As you battle, you’re able to rapidly switch between different party members, taking control of Cloud’s companions with ease. Each playable character handles very differently in battle, helping not only to add a sense of variety but also to reinforce the characters’ own personalities. 

The stalwart, reliable Barret is slow-moving. His dodge has a shorter range than his allies, but he makes up for this by being tough as nails, slowly but surely advancing as his gun arm spits hot lead. Red XIII moves rapidly, like a wild animal; his unique ‘Vengeance’ mechanic rewarding him for taking risks and successfully blocking attacks. Aerith is a deliberate and methodical spellcaster, placing glyphs on the ground to control the battlefield, and supporting her allies with consistent stability - much like she does outside of combat, too. In dialogue scenes, Aerith acts as the backbone of the party, guiding her friends with a sense of purposeful compassion. Seeing this mirrored in Rebirth’s combat is a real treat. 

It’s the little things 

Costa del Sol at dusk

(Image credit: Square Enix)

Unlike Final Fantasy 7 Remake which took place in the packed megapolis of Midgar, Rebirth has you travel beyond its walls, exploring an expansive semi-open world. However, rather than using this as a way to shoehorn in dozens of tedious sidequests and extraneous tasks, developer Square Enix designed Rebirth’s explorable zones with a sense of restraint. While there are plenty of side-quests, they tend to exist in short, sharp bursts, amounting to bite-sized mini-games or battles with optional objectives. Never do these diversions distract from the weight of the main storyline. 

Some side-quests do seem dull on paper; you’ll sometimes be tracking down a missing item or escorting something across the map. What gives these missions texture, however, is how each of them focuses on a specific one of Cloud’s companions, using the side-quest as a pretext for meaningful character interactions. 

A game of Queen's Blood in FF7 Remake

(Image credit: Square Enix)

What could be an uninspired escort quest in Junon quickly becomes something more when it causes Barret to raise concerns about his attitude toward parenthood and his anxieties around his daughter growing up. Parts of the conversation are played for laughs, with Barret comedically lamenting his daughter “flying the nest,” but there’s a real overtone of emotional sensitivity and nuance, too. 

Accessibility features

Camera options menu in Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth

(Image credit: Square Enix)

Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth is light on accessibility features but not without plenty of options for camera customization. Screen shake can be toggled and camera distance and responsiveness can all be adjusted to suit tastes. There are also multiple difficulty levels, including ‘Dynamic’ which adjusts automatically based on your performance.

Not every side activity benefits from Square Enix’s more restrained approach, though. The occasional task remains a chore. Though almost all of the mini-games make for amusing distractions, some fall flat. Highlights include the Chocobo racing game, a loving send-up of Mario Kart 8, and Queen’s Blood, Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth’s deep and rewarding collectible card game. 

Unfortunately, there are moments where the RPG overreaches. In one dire section, the player must use the DualSense controller touchpad to throw blocks around a dungeon to activate switches and solve puzzles. The section is derivative and torturous - a half-baked idea that is given center stage for a tedious half-hour due to the RPG’s unabashed (and occasionally misplaced) confidence.

Never-ending story 

Cloud leaps towards Sephiroth with his giant sword swung over his head

(Image credit: Square Enix)

Rebirth shows similar confidence when it comes to storytelling, almost always with strong results. Like an industrial drill slowly breaking through layers of concrete, the RPG retells Final Fantasy 7’s second act with consistent momentum. Open-world sections are broken up by hub towns and dungeons, all of which give Rebirth a pleasing ebb and flow where tension can build and fall across an accommodating backdrop of varying environments and contexts. 

Rebirth’s core characters grow and change throughout, their personalities reshaped under the deliberate weight of the RPG’s tightly constructed central story. For instance, as he did in the original, Cloud is forced to confront questions surrounding his identity and sense of self. What’s masterful about Rebirth is how seamlessly the stakes rise. As Sephiroth increasingly uses his supernatural influence to control Cloud, it feels like a frog slowly boiling in a pot, unaware that it’s overheating until it’s too late.

The remake trilogy is sticking to its guns - a move that’s worthy of respect

The tale Rebirth has to tell does differ from what’s offered in the original. While these differences seem minute for the vast majority of the story, the RPG’s final section is a high-concept set piece worthy of Kingdom Hearts 3 or Death Stranding in its simultaneous display of artistic bravery and obtuseness. The final act of Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth will ignite the internet with fan theories. While some will find it distasteful, it’s clear that the remake trilogy is sticking to its guns - a move that’s worthy of respect.

Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth proves that the remake trilogy isn’t a remake in the strictest sense. However, if you’re looking to go on another thrilling adventure with Cloud, Tifa, Aerith, Barret, Yuffie, and Red XIII, then you’ve come to the right place - just don’t expect it to be the adventure you’re used to.

Looking for other immersive titles? Check out our lists of the best RPGs and the best story games.

Thrustmaster eSwap X2 controller review – small improvements to a brilliant pad
1:09 pm |

Author: admin | Category: Computers Gadgets Gaming | Tags: | Comments: Off

The Thrustmaster eSwap X2 controller comes to replace the original eSwap X Pro gamepad and offers the same level of excellence - but only with subtle upgrades. These enhancements and improvements are more akin to quality-of-life changes rather than an overhaul.

Almost all of these are welcome, affecting the type of wired connectivity, button improvements, and enhanced performance. However, they are simultaneously very safe moves. Part of me wishes that Thrustmaster had been a little more adventurous with this update, but there’s also value in the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ approach that can be applied here too as I thought the eSwap X Pro that came before this was excellent (when I review it for our sister publication GamesRadar) and it has also found a home in the competitive and pro player audiences.

All things considered, though, the X2 is a superb Xbox controller and, by default having replaced its predecessor, now becomes one of the best modular Xbox and PC controllers on the market - but does it warrant its $169.99 / £169.99 (about AU$325) price tag? Let’s find out.

Thrustmaster eSwap X2 review - Design & features

The Thrustmaster eSwap X2 controller on a wooden surface

(Image credit: Future/Rob Dwiar)

The overall design of the X2 is almost identical to the original Thrustmaster eSwap X Pro. It retains the same form factor of a chunky gamepad that feels solid and weighty in the hands.

Coming in at 10.5oz / 300g, it’s a bit lighter than the Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2 (12.2oz / 345g). The shapes are slightly different of course, but the X2’s overall dimensions also mean it comes in slightly smaller than the Elite Series 2 - it measures 6.3in / 160mm x 4.7in / 120mm x 2.4in / 60mm (WxDxH). Despite this, it does feel very chunky and will take more getting used to for those with smaller hands. However, this should not put those folks off - I have small hands and use this controller very happily and easily, it just requires a slight change to how you navigate a controller with your digits, and the required alteration to muscle memory.

The benefit of this weight, however, is that it’s a design that inspires confidence. It’s sturdy, and can easily survive a drop, with every part feeling secure and fixed well in place.

The Thrustmaster eSwap X2 controller on a wooden surface

(Image credit: Future/Rob Dwiar)

The modular system is the star of the design show, however, and remains an excellent feature for both versatility and accessibility. The ability to easily swap out modules to change the pad from asymmetrical to symmetrical in a flash is easy and means that it caters to different game types, playstyles, and preferences.

In terms of buttons, the standard Xbox layout is present, but with the same augmentations as seen on the original eSwap X Pro. Both triggers’ travel distance can be changed with the flick of a switch on the rear, there are six front-facing buttons (three for audio controls, three for button profiles), and there are view, menu, share, and Xbox buttons on the front. The face buttons (A, B, X, Y), both shoulder buttons (LB, RB), and the D-pad are all incredibly satisfying to press, with super-short actuation distances that prompt speedy response and input times.

Like its predecessor, the X2 is a wired controller, albeit this time with a more up-to-date USB-C connection. The lack of wireless connectivity does sting in the year 2024, though, despite the reduction in latency that an upgraded USB-C tethered connection offers. At least the cable is friendly for most setups being 9.8ft / 3m long.

Thrustmaster eSwap X2 review - Performance

The Thrustmaster eSwap X2 controller on a wooden surface

(Image credit: Future/Rob Dwiar)

The X2 retains all the performance prowess that was offered by the eSwap X Pro, and tweaks it slightly to push things a little further. However, being only slight tweaks, some small gripes remain present. 

Using the controller as a daily driver for any game is a joy. The mechanical button presses are still exquisite. From the D-pad to the face buttons and shoulder buttons, everything has a fantastic feel with actuation distances of just 0.01” / 0.3mm on offer. The D-pad is particularly fantastic in this regard, while the overall improvement to actuation is a subtle but noticeable step up from the predecessor. 

The S5 NXG mini thumbsticks are superb to use too, allowing for both smooth and slick movement changes or steering, as well as precise movements when lining up jumps and swift changes of direction in Ori and the Will of the Wisps or aiming down the sights in Halo 2: Anniversary or Gears of War 2.

The Thrustmaster eSwap X2 controller on a wooden surface

(Image credit: Future/Rob Dwiar)

The original controller had some strangely intense vibrations by default which I didn’t like at all. It was particularly off-putting in racing games and made it feel like the controller was trying to run away from your hands with a million tiny feet. This, at least straight out of the box, has been addressed, and a more traditional yet deeply satisfying rumble is present. 

The ThrustmapperX app remains an excellent companion too, enabling you to customize and choose your button mappings and profiles to optimize your experience with the controller, both on PC and Xbox.

But there are some drawbacks. The programmable back buttons remain less intuitive than competing pads with their more user-friendly paddles like on the Victrix Pro BFG and the Razer Wolverine series. My smaller hands can barely reach the back buttons at all, and their positioning is too central to be natural. The controller grips and removable panels are also still sub-par - a grippy, textured effect would have been a great addition.

The Thrustmaster eSwap X2 controller on a wooden surface

(Image credit: Future/Rob Dwiar)

Also, while maintaining a wired connection is a contributing factor for the pad’s positioning as something for competition and fighting games, overall it still feels like a drawback in the year 2024. Having a long cable drape over your living room is a pain, and there’s always a fear of it being a trip hazard or putting strain on the pad or the console.

Gripes aside, this is still a superb controller - the modular design is incredible, the buttons are a genuine joy to use, and the level of customization and flexibility on offer with the pad is wonderful. I can’t imagine playing on Xbox or PC any other way.

Should I buy the Thrustmaster eSwap X2?

The Thrustmaster eSwap X2 controller on a wooden surface

(Image credit: Future/Rob Dwiar)

The eSwap X2 is a tremendous Xbox and PC controller. While the changes in this second iteration are very much just quality-of-life, rather than a big overhaul, it’s a quality bit of kit. Thrustmaster has not been shy about this, representing small upgrades that retain the features that its audience most values while improving bits and pieces slightly, and meeting EU standards. 

Despite this, part of me still wishes Thrustmaster had been a bit bolder in the revisions and went further. Perhaps better positioning and ergonomics of back buttons, a tighter design form, and wireless capacity, would all be welcome, for example. 

It’s worth noting that while the original eSwap X Pro pad remains available the value proposition of the X2 is slightly compromised - the eSwap X Pro is still an excellent premium pad in its own right. Nonetheless, if you’re looking for a top Xbox or PC controller, or looking for a controller that can adapt to your accessibility needs a little, and you don’t mind being tethered then this is absolutely worth your interest and your money.

Buy it if...

Don't buy it if...

Thrustmaster eSwap X2 review - How we tested

I spent two weeks with the Thrustmaster eSwap X2 and tested it on both PC and Xbox Series X. I used the controller with a bunch of Steam Next Fest demos and tested the pad with a chunk of Forza Horizon 4, Gears of War 2, and Halo 2 (I'm revisiting classics I missed the first time around, don’t judge me), while also going deep into Ori and Will of Wisps. I thoroughly explored all the available settings in the ThrustmapperX app to tinker with the pad, while also altering the modular layout - mainly to be used as a symmetrical controller but also trying the Thrustmaster eSwap X racing module.

If you’re looking for more accessories then check out our guides to the best monitors for Xbox Series X and the best Xbox Series X headsets. 

SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7X review – a seriously impressive multi-platform wireless gaming headset
4:07 pm | February 21, 2024

Author: admin | Category: Computers Gadgets Gaming Gaming Accessories | Comments: Off

The SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7X takes the already excellent SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7P and introduces additional compatibility with Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, and Xbox One consoles through a new ‘Xbox’ switch on its wireless dongle. As a result, this is an absolutely superb mid-range wireless gaming headset that, despite the prominent ‘Designed for Xbox’ branding, still performs extremely well across a wide range of other platforms.

Available for $179.99 / £174.99 / around AU$305, the headset itself feels highly premium, with a sturdy metal top cover and soft memory foam ear cups that keep it comfortable to wear over extended gaming sessions. Its more neutral sound profile is also a pleasant departure from some of the tuning of wireless gaming headsets on the market, making for a reliable all-round performer that delivers quality audio for gaming and beyond.

A convenient retractable microphone with a visible LED mute indicator further elevates the package. Though it can be slightly tricky to position due to its flexible shape, the mic provides more than enough clarity to have you chatting with friends or making vital callouts in some of the best first-person shooter (FPS) titles with ease. Although our testing revealed that the recording quality can suffer when you’re using the Simultaneous Wireless feature, it’s only a minor complaint when the rest of the offering is so compelling.

Design and features

The SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7X Wireless on a wooden surface.

(Image credit: Dashiell Wood/Future)

The most significant area where the SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7X differentiates itself from the SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7P is in its altered USB-C wireless dongle. On top of the usual status LED and pairing button, the dongle now features a wireless mode switch that enables Xbox compatibility. While the wireless dongle can be plugged directly into a PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch, or PC via a free USB-C port, the package also includes a USB-A to USB-C converter. Although it’s a little more cumbersome to use, this converter is a handy pack-in when the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S lack any USB-C ports of their own.

The design of the SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7X headset is pleasantly understated but still very stylish. Its top is made of soft rubber and covered with a sturdy metal layer that feels very solid in the hands but is, importantly, still quite lightweight. The soft elastic headband is easily adjustable, as are the earcups which can be easily extended by a few centimeters for a more snug fit.

Its left earcup features a retractable microphone, fashioned from a flexible wire, in addition to a volume dial, a pleasantly clicky mic mute button, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. A bright red LED mute indicator is present on the end of the mic, which is always a welcome quality-of-life addition. The right earcup then features a power switch and a Bluetooth connection button, both with small indicator LEDs, in addition to the ChatMix Dial (which decreases game volume while increasing chat volume or vice versa) and a USB-C port for charging.

Pairing a Bluetooth device like your mobile phone automatically enables the Simultaneous Wireless mode, which allows you to hear audio from two sources at the same time. This is ideal if you enjoy listening to music while you game or prefer using chat services like the Discord app. However, I did notice a drop in microphone quality while it was in use.

The headset is offered in two colorways, a plain white paired with a black headband or a basic black with a more eye-catching Xbox-themed green headband. The SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7X is compatible with any Nova Booster Pack. These accessories are sold separately for $34.99 / £29.99 / around AU$50 and contain an alternate headband and two speaker plates to further customize the look of your headset if desired.

Performance

The SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7X Wireless lying flat on a wooden table.

(Image credit: Dashiell Wood/Future)

The SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7X has an unusually neutral sound profile for a gaming headset. This means that it can deliver clear and accurate audio that’s ideal for a wide range of genres, but lacks the specialist tuning that you would find in some alternatives like the Fnatic React Plus, which has been tweaked specifically for the best FPS games with decreased bass and more emphasized mids. 

Luckily, you can freely edit the sound profile to your liking in the compatible SteelSeries GG software, alongside other useful settings like LED brightness and mic sidetone levels, but it’s worth bearing in mind that this can only be accomplished on PC. While your saved settings will carry over to other platforms, the lack of native console software, or even a compatible mobile app, may prove a source of frustration if you don’t have easy access to a computer.

The software of the Arctis Nova 7X Wireless.

(Image credit: SteelSeries)

Even so, the default sound profile will be suitable for most uses and even holds its own when you’re listening to music or watching movies. I often use my PS5 as a media center thanks to its convenient Blu-Ray player and found the SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7X to be a perfectly enjoyable way to experience audio-heavy films like 2021’s Belle, in addition to my usual Apple Music playlists. The bass is a little weaker than some music-listening headphones like the popular Beats Solo Pro, but a good level of clarity in the mids and high-end more than compensates for it.

Although the headset doesn't feature any active noise cancellation, the earcups also proved to be a formidable barrier that prevented everything short of the loudest background noises from bleeding in. Add in the fact that I was easily able to achieve well over 35 hours of continuous playback on each charge, and you’ve got a headset that’ll go the distance for longer gaming sessions.

Microphone quality also fairs well across the board. While it’s not quite as excellent as the exceptionally clear sound from a headset like the HyperX Cloud 3, it’s very much enough to chat with friends provided that you spend a few moments adjusting the mic into the correct position.

Unfortunately, the recording quality is much less impressive when talking through the Simultaneous Wireless mode. Your mileage may vary but, with a quieter, more muffled sound, I found that it was a noticeable step down from the strong performance with the mode disabled.

Should I buy the SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7X?

The microphone of the SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7X Wireless headset.

(Image credit: Dashiell Wood/Future)

Compatible with Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo Switch, and PC, the SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7X is a serious contender if you’re after one of the best wireless gaming headsets for multi-platform use. Its neutral sound profile is perfect for a wide range of titles and an enjoyable way to experience some movies and music on the side, while the attractive design looks pleasantly understated and feels premium.

Buy it if…

Don't buy it if…

How we reviewed the SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7X

I used the SteelSeries Arctis Nova 7X as my primary gaming headset for over three weeks, playing a wide range of games on a variety platforms. On PC, I mainly enjoyed high-intensity FPS titles like Counter Strike 2 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. Over on PS5, I dived into another playthrough of the RPG Elex 2 and tested its multimedia capabilities with a range of movies and songs. 

To assess the Xbox compatibility, I used the headset with an Xbox Series S console and played a range of popular titles including Fortnite and Starfield. I also used the headset with a Nintendo Switch OLED, where I enjoyed a few more hours of Splatoon 3 and Super Mario Bros. Wonder.

For some more headset recommendations, see our guide to the best Xbox Series X headsets or the best gaming headsets for Call of Duty. 

Pacific Drive review – Tokyo drift up in this rift
6:01 pm | February 20, 2024

Author: admin | Category: Computers Consoles & PC Gadgets Gaming | Tags: | Comments: Off
Review info

Platform reviewed: PC
Available on: PC and PlayStation 5
Release date: February 22, 2024 

Driving through the wilds of the Olympic Exclusion Zone in Ironwood Studios’ newest survival game, Pacific Drive, can be a peaceful and beautiful experience. But when it rains, it pours, and the once tranquil pine forests can quickly shift to a chaotic hellscape.

Being aware of everything that poses a threat to you and your vehicle can be overwhelming at first; there are Angry Abductors. They can fly up to you, hook onto your car, and lead you astray. There are also Bolt Bunnies, small balls of scrap and flowing electricity that hop around and can latch onto and damage your car. 

Thanks to these threats, you'll want to make sure you open a gateway - a rift that'll lead you out of the Exclusion Zone to the safety of Oppy’s Garage, your base of operations.

There’s a radius when it comes to gateway exits, meaning you can’t open one when you’re already right next to one of these points. However, if you’re smart, you’ll place yourself right at the edge of said radius to give yourself the best chance to make it to the exit. Or, you can do what I did, which is panic when an Angry Abductor drags you off into the woods, scream a bit, and then open a gateway when you're on the other side of the map; the choice is yours. 

Pillar of light seen from inside a car

(Image credit: Kepler Interactive)

There are no take-backsies in Pacific Drive when it comes to opening a gateway, as, once activated, it will bring forth an instability that will slowly close in a radius around the gateway, destroying everything that's caught up in it (similar to the Storm in Fortnite). This feature meant that I wasn’t just racing against the anomalies that were trying to obstruct me, but I was also racing a killer atmosphere that moved way faster than me. 

Using the standard engine, only capable of a maximum of 45mph (miles per hour), with some Summer tires, which have never graced a dirt road, much less the side of a cliff, I drove in a straight line over rocks and through woods, screaming “zero to 60!” as I slowly deforested half the map, all while trying my best to escape the oncoming wave of instability and destruction. 

Against all the odds, I made it to the gateway and back to the safety of Oppy’s Garage with two doors, three flat tires, and a lesson well learned. All that was left now was to fix up my station wagon and head back into the zone, whether that be to explore the mysterious Mid-Zone location or simply collect more parts and scrap to help fix up my car. 

A bit of a fixer-upper

Garage workshop

(Image credit: Kepler Interactive)

Generally, I’ve never understood the appeal of cars. I get the premise of how getting from A to B quickly is helpful, but people obsessing over fixing up old cars or religiously switching out components always felt alien to me. However, thanks to the crafting and upgrading systems in Pacific Drive, I finally get it - I’m now a car person, which may mean I have to finally start watching Top Gear

Initially, I went into Pacific Drive looking forward to the thrilling action sequences, beautiful landscapes of golden fields of wheat and mountainous pine forests, and intriguing stories. To me, the car seemed incidental - a mere way of getting to those vistas, stories, and action setpieces. However, to my surprise, I spent a significant chunk of time sitting in Oppy’s Garage, changing out car parts, building new additions for the station wagon, and fixing issues with the car at the Tinker Station, a workshop found in the garage. 

As a resident of the Olympic Exclusion Zone and researcher of all things anomalous, Oppy gives you one of her many garages to use as a home base. Here, you have everything you possibly need to make your time in the Zone easier.

Best bit

Car in a garage

(Image credit: Kepler Interactive)

Completing my first clean run in The Olympic Exclusion Zone with no close calls. Coming out with a tank full of gas and a ton of supplies made me feel like a real professional.  

There’s the trusty workbench, which allows you to craft various car parts like doors, lights, health kits for yourself, additional storage, and much more. You also have access to the highly coveted Fabrication Station, which players can use to unlock upgrades to their car like offroad tires, lead-lined or steel doors and panels, and side or roof racks for even more storage. In order to unlock these upgrades, you’ll just need resources found in the Zone and some information on the strange anomalies that traverse it. You can do this by walking up to said anomalies and scanning them; just try to keep a safe distance. 

One of my favorite tools is the Tinker Station. At first, I didn’t pay this much attention; however, after losing three doors to the Zone, I found myself having to give the station a try since, every time I shifted my vehicle into park, it would open the front right door. I decided to try and come up with a fix. 

Once accessed, the Tinker Station will show you a diagnosis screen, allowing you to enter any problem in the form of what you are doing and what the causes are. For example, if you were in my shoes, you might declare that putting your gearshift in park causes the front right door to open. If you manage to put in the correct diagnosis, then the Tinker Station will provide you with a fix. Usually, you need a mechanics kit in your inventory to complete said repair, but if you don’t have one, you can always craft it at the workbench.

The Tinker Station is tremendous and added a puzzling twist to making repairs on my car. I subsequently used it to fix my horn honking every time I shut the trunk of my car, a problem that was slowly driving me off the deep end during my expeditions in the Zone. 

The gift that keeps on driven

Foggy green forest

(Image credit: Kepler Interactive)
Accessibility features

Pacific Drive accessibility features

(Image credit: Kepler Interactive)

Pacific Drive has an impressive range of accessibility features. There are various motion sensitivity options, such as reducing flickering visuals or an in-car assistive camera, as well as three color deficiency modes (Deuteranope, Protanope, Tritanope) and a brighter nights option, which makes a world of difference when driving through the nighttime. There’s plenty of flexibility and customization here, so the game can easily be tailored to specific needs and preferences.

Pacific Drive can really be what you want it to be. There are options to turn off damage, the need to refill fuel, and the penalty of losing most items in your storage if you die while traveling through the Zone. There’s no hard and fast rule as to how you’re meant to experience this survival game, making it accessible to a wide range of players. Whether you want an unforgiving experience that punishes you for pushing your station wagon too far, or if you just want to have a fun time exploring the zone and upgrading your car, you’ll find plenty of mileage here.

These options can go a long way to offsetting the at-times overwhelming experience of surviving in the Zone. If all the lightning strikes, thick fog, or relentless damage gets too much, you can easily switch up the experience without taking away from the gripping struggles of finding enough resources or the thrilling nature of navigating the strange anomalies. 

Pacific Drive is easily one of the best survival games out there now; with so much to love, explore, and probably die from, there’s never a dull moment and always something to discover.

For more thrilling games that you can play right now, check out the best horror games and the best story games

Mario vs. Donkey Kong review: can we skip to the good part?
4:02 pm | February 14, 2024

Author: admin | Category: Computers Consoles & PC Gadgets Gaming Nintendo | Tags: | Comments: Off
Review info

Platform reviewed: Nintendo Switch
Available on: Nintendo Switch
Release date:
February 16, 2024

Mario vs. Donkey Kong is full of charm and head-scratching puzzles that are oh-so-satisfying to solve, but it struggles to cement itself as a must-play Nintendo Switch release. Nintendo’s latest puzzle-platformer is an expanded remake of the Game Boy Advance title which was released back in 2004, and, while it certainly looks much brighter for a fresh coat of paint (and significantly more pixels to play with), frustrations and clunkiness hold it back from reaching its full potential. 

The short-but-sweet puzzler has a simple premise. Donkey Kong becomes enamored with Mini Marios - cute, seemingly sentient wind-up toys based on everyone’s favorite red-hatted plumber - and, in a fit of desperation, ends up breaking into the toy production factory to take the lot for himself. Mario, set on getting his own in-universe merch back on the shelves, embarks on a chase to catch Donkey Kong and take the Mini Marios back from him. God forbid a gorilla have hobbies, I suppose. 

The opening cutscenes depicting all this look fantastic on the Nintendo Switch OLED model, with gorgeous colors and details (such as Donkey Kong’s soft fur texture) that make me genuinely want to see some kind of short animated series created in the same style. While not quite as spectacular, the in-game visuals are also delightful, and with smooth, reorchestrated music to seal the deal, the entire package looks and sounds significantly more polished than ever before.

Big brain moments

Mario vs. Donkey Kong jungle level.

(Image credit: Nintendo)

At the heart of Mario vs. Donkey Kong is its puzzle-platforming action, which consists of a series of bite-size levels to navigate Mario through, with the goal generally being to collect three presents (collectibles) and a Mini Mario from each. Players are introduced to a wide variety of different elements - from colored switches which activate certain platforms, to climbable ropes, throwable springs, and more - all of which you’ll have to master to ‘perfect’ each level.

Best bit

Mario leading a group of Mini Mario toys in a Mario vs. Donkey Kong level.

(Image credit: Nintendo / Future)

Levels where players lead a troop of Mini Marios into a toy box before taking on a boss fight were my personal favorite, largely because they add some variety to the puzzling action which can, at times, feel samey. The lil’ fellas also make really cute noises, which adds to their charm. 

The way these elements work in tandem is a joy - there’s little more rewarding than working out innovative ways to utilize all the different tools on offer to progress, especially when the solution is not immediately obvious. At the same time, it doesn’t feel like every puzzle has a set method that you have to follow to grab all the presents and get to the goal. Mario is equipped with some particularly nimble special moves, including a backflip, handstand, and handstand jump, which can be executed to launch him to taller platforms and collectibles. Bouncing around in this way feels brilliant, and just about offsets the fact that Mario’s regular jump is much less impressive than usual in this game. 

These regular puzzles are broken up into a handful of slightly different levels. You can expect to take on shorter challenges to chase down a key to unlock a chest full of 1-Ups, boss fights against Donkey Kong (which involve throwing objects at him repeatedly), and also stages in which you have to lead a line of Mini Marios safely into a toy box. These add some much-needed novelty to the overall experience, and I really wish that Mario vs. Donkey Kong leaned more into this variety.

Trials and tribulations 

A Fire Mountain level in Mario vs. Donkey Kong.

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Unfortunately, despite the game’s relatively short runtime (I perfected every level in around 11 hours), things take far longer than you’d hope to become challenging enough to be interesting. Most of my first five hours with the game felt like a drag. Of course, some level of difficulty curve is to be expected, and I’m sure no one would expect the stages to be extremely challenging from the get-go. However, this was the case throughout the majority of the game’s initial worlds - I was only really hooked on it once I unlocked the extra ‘plus’ worlds, which are only available after a significant number of levels are completed.

Even though the early puzzles weren’t particularly mind-boggling, you can still expect to lose your fair share of lives on them just due to the general clunkiness of the game. Players are taught early on that they can pick up and throw enemies around to use as extra platforms and knock other foes off the screen entirely. To do this, you’ve first got to jump on top of their heads, which is very simple in theory, but, in practice, this isn’t always the case. 

A combination of Mario’s generally heavy feel in this game (his regular jump doesn’t go nearly as high as it does in the regular platforming games) and awkward enemy hitboxes mean that, at some point or another, you’re very likely going to end up taking damage from them when it appears you were perfectly lined up to land safely on their head. I noticed this was particularly prevalent with the explosive Bob-ombs. Perhaps it’s their rounded shape, but it seems far easier than it should be to catch your foot on the corner of them and, assuming that you’re playing on the ‘classic’ difficulty mode, be forced to restart the entire level as a result. 

Diamonds in the rough

A Merry Mini-Land level in Mario vs. Donkey Kong.

(Image credit: Nintendo / Future)

Levels typically aren’t long, so losing lives in this way will never set you back too far. However, the frustration comes from knowing exactly what you need to do to complete the level, yet still being made to redo it all because the controls and mechanics let you down. The game’s emphasis is placed on puzzles rather than platforming, meaning you’re never really meant to pull off any particularly difficult jumps. However, it feels that poor execution in this area bloats out the whole experience with annoyance. 

If you’re able to push through these grievances, however, there’s still plenty to enjoy. There are two new world themes to enjoy that weren’t included in the original GBA version - the amusement park-themed Merry Mini-Land, and the icy Slippery Summit. Both of these also have additional ‘plus’ versions, adding a generous handful of new levels that are totally fresh. 

Accessibility features

Other than the choice of two difficulty modes which can be switched between whenever you want, there are no dedicated accessibility features in Mario vs. Donkey Kong, nor are there any options to change the game’s controls from the default settings. 

The easier ‘casual’ difficulty setting allows you to take five extra hits from hazards like enemies or spikes before you lose a life, and utilize additional checkpoints in levels to respawn from when you do take damage. Casual mode also turns off the time limit for each level entirely.

As well as two-player local co-op, which changes levels up slightly and offers an alternative way to play, you’re able to unlock a Time Attack mode, which challenges you to beat everything as fast as you possibly can. Doing so will earn you a shiny medal on the level’s icon on the menu. It may be a relatively small incentive, but it certainly helps add a bit more replayability, since there’s otherwise little point in diving straight back in as you already know all the puzzle solutions. 

All in all, Mario vs. Donkey Kong is a mixed bag. Once the extra ‘plus’ worlds were unlocked, I couldn’t put the game down, but the thanks to the boredom I’d faced up to that point as well; as the hitbox-related frustrations, perfecting every level didn’t come with the sense of fulfillment I’d hoped for. There’s plenty of fun to be had here, no doubt, but it’s perhaps best enjoyed in smaller chunks, and only for those who have the patience to retrace their steps even when they feel they shouldn’t need to.

Looking for more games to play? You can find some excellent recommendations on our list of the best Nintendo Switch games. You can also check out what’s releasing soon with our roundup of upcoming Switch games. 

Canyon Doublebee GTWS-2 gaming earbuds review – a decent option for tight budgets
3:45 pm | February 13, 2024

Author: admin | Category: Computers Gadgets Gaming | Tags: , | Comments: Off

The Canyon Doublebee GTWS-2 gaming earbuds are a smart, budget choice that’ll make a fine gift for younger gamers. Its attractive charging case, along with its responsive touch controls and decent audio performance, present an impressive package. They’re certainly a margin above most other true wireless earbuds at this low price point.

However, there is an element of ‘you get what you pay for’ here, and, while they’re by no means terrible, there are very noticeable caveats to keep in mind should you consider purchasing them. For one, the Canyon Doublebee GTWS-2 gaming earbuds feature a rough, overcooked bass profile, which can render your listening experience uncomfortable and potentially ruin in-game immersion. A pretty poor battery life doesn’t help the buds, either.

Still, as far as Nintendo Switch and mobile-compatible gaming earbuds go, the Canyon Doublebee GTWS-2 is a solid budget option at £29.99 (they’re presently not available in the US or Australia). However, you may miss some of the extra features and performance found in some of the best gaming earbuds like the Sony Inzone Buds or the 1More Triple Driver In-Ear Headphones.

Design and features

Canyon GTWS-2

(Image credit: Future)

Undoubtedly, the Canyon Doublebee GTWS-2 gaming earbuds’ best feature is its eye-catching charging case. While certainly imitating the look of Transformers’ Bumblebee, with a matte yellow finish and angular chassis, it’s not as garishly over-designed as you might think.

The top of the case is split in half, with two panels opening outward like a Lamborghini’s doors. Admittedly, this is quite fiddly, but I can’t help but be charmed by such a peculiar design quirk. A simple LED panel also shows the case’s battery life in numerical value, a nice touch that lets you see battery status at a glance. A couple of RGB strips flank the case on either side for some extra flourish.

Inside, both earbuds are held in place magnetically, and dislodge with relative ease. They’re relatively unremarkable in terms of design beyond keeping to the yellow colorway. An LED chevron on each will also indicate when the buds have successfully paired to your device of choice.

The earbuds themselves are fairly standard in terms of design at this price point. There are no soft tips here, meaning the hard plastic can grate on your ears after some time. I found that this wasn’t an issue up until they needed recharging, though your mileage may vary here depending on the size and shape of your ears.

Performance

Canyon GTWS-2

(Image credit: Future)

The Canyon Doublebee GTWS-2 earbuds provide overall serviceable audio for both gaming and casual music listening. Testing on Nintendo Switch, the buds performed admirably with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’s clean register and head bob-inducing jazz fusion soundtrack. For games with relatively laid-back soundscapes, the GTWS-2 gets the job done just fine.

However, it’s also worth noting that the buds have a rather flat audio profile, and they simply couldn’t match up to Astral Chain’s busy, bass-heavy soundscape. The character-action game’s usually excellent sound design felt muddled and lost much of its immersive qualities as a result. It was further impeded by what is easily the earbuds’ biggest flaw: that terrible bass register.

To put it bluntly, the GTWS-2 handles bass and lower-end audio with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. It’s got a real thudding quality to it that’s rather brash and occasionally uncomfortable to listen to. It’s so bad that it often registers at the lower end with unwelcome distortion. This problem also occurred when casually listening to music; the opening notes of Kuze’s theme from Yakuza 0 demonstrated this perfectly - those rough guitar chugs lost all their satisfaction and instead sounded like someone was knocking against the earbuds with their knuckles.

Battery life doesn’t do much to save the buds in terms of performance, either. You’ll get a paltry four hours on a single charge. The charging case does fare better, offering an additional 35-40 hours, which is impressive for such a cheap set. It’s quick to charge up via the included USB-C cable, too, taking roughly an hour to go from empty to full.

The earbuds also feature an in-built microphone, handy for calls and voice chatting online. And like many aspects of the earbuds, it’s also just decent. Certainly not as crystal clear as what you might expect from the higher-end Sony Inzone Buds, but it is a good deal less sensitive than the mic found in the Turtle Beach Battle Buds. A working, if unremarkable, aspect overall, then.

Should I buy the Canyon Doublebee GTWS-2?

Canyon GTWS-2

(Image credit: Future)

Overall, the Canyon Doublebee GTWS-2 are serviceable and certainly worth the aggressively budget price point. However, the deeply muddy lows and poor battery life mean we’d recommend looking for a more effective pair if you can afford it. The SteelSeries Tusq are a great option here, if you don’t mind the fact that they are a wired pair. 

Buy them if...

Don't buy them if...

How we reviewed the Canyon Doublebee GTWS-2

I tested the GTWS-2 gaming earbuds over a few days, primarily gaming on Nintendo Switch and mobile. While I found the buds to perform decently for titles with less busy audio design, such as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Suika Game, they routinely faltered with anything more dynamic.

Considering other pieces of Nintendo Switch hardware? You may want to check our guides to the best Nintendo Switch headsets or best Nintendo Switch controllers.

Helldivers 2 review – holy divers
2:55 pm |

Author: admin | Category: Computers Gadgets Gaming | Tags: | Comments: Off
Review info

Platform reviewed: PC
Available on: PC, PS5
Release date:
February 8, 2024

My friend is screaming my name in a Discord channel like an accusation. I know what I’ve done. I’ve killed her again in third-person shooter Helldivers 2. Her death is down to a combination of my poor spatial awareness and lackadaisical approach to utilizing high explosives - and while I protest that it isn’t my fault, it is. 

Helldivers 2 is a fairly unique, third-person co-op shooter that drops players into procedurally generated killing fields to accomplish missions for the glory of New Earth. It owes a debt to Paul Verhoeven’s film adaptation of Starship Troopers, and some of its best moments feel like they could have come from this movie themselves. It's deeply satisfying to fire a disposable anti-tank munition into a bug hole to close it, turrets barking as they chew through the advancing hordes, or to be saved by close-range air support that crashes into the dirt around you, a hail mary that buys you a few more seconds to try and survive. 

Regardless of your role as a boots-on-the-ground commando in an interstellar war, you’ll often get your hands on the sort of battle-defining firepower more familiar to real-time strategy players. Napalm airstrikes, bombardments from your orbiting starship, and even a planet-cracking laser are all yours to command. However, even with the weaponry, you’re not a space marine. You and your teammates are agonizingly mortal and death comes quickly: teamkilling is just part of the rich tapestry of Helldivers 2, so you’re going to have to get used to it. 

Airstrikes and bugs and robots, oh my! 

A space laser in Helldivers 2.

(Image credit: Sony)

To contradict the Starship Troopers vibe, however, you’re not just bringing the pain to bugs in the game. There are robots on the scene and the two opposing forces have distinct feelings in combat. The bugs are a tide that threatens to wash over you, all melee attacks and spewing acid. By contrast, the robotic menace mixes it up with heavily armored monsters and long-range laser blasts. The strategy for fighting each is different, and you’ll have to mix up your tactics depending on what you’re fighting, which keeps you on your toes.

Best bit

Screenshot from Helldivers 2

(Image credit: Arrowhead/Sony)

Some of the biggest stratagems in the game will bring a smile to your face - like the first time I dropped a 500KG bomb onto a target, killing most of my team, all of the bugs, and warping the very terrain we were fighting over. Frankly, I’d do it again.

With that said, you’ll always know who the enemy is. The huge galaxy-spanning campaign map will let you pick a planet to engage on before you choose a specific mission. The planets have their own feeling to coincide with which enemy occupies the territory. Robots have a Terminator-esque red glow and their planets are full of eerie red light and pollution belching chimneys. The bugs meanwhile have huge tunnels leading into the ground and vivid colours.

The creature design is fairly by the book: bugs look like giant bugs with a fair bit of variation, all bulbous sacks, and glowing appendages. The robots, meanwhile, model themselves after something between Terminator and Warhammer 40,000. Needless to say, the game looks great in motion, and the characters look the part during play. They look much better as they’re coming apart under gunfire, with limbs and appendages being thrown in all directions as you take your enemies out with heavy weapons.

It’s hard to translate what playing Helldivers 2 actually feels like, though. It’s riotously violent without feeling oppressive, diluted by the slapstick comedy that Arrowhead Studios has built a reputation on. Something will always be exploding in Helldivers, and it’s funny no matter who is getting turned into a bucket of wet meat.

With great power comes no responsibility

Helldivers 2 combat.

(Image credit: Sony)

The progression systems in the game reward playing however you want, with higher-level stratagems available as you level up using requisition points you earn through play. You only need to unlock these once and then they're available forever. In addition, cosmetic outfits and weaponry are available from the game’s Warbond system which works like a battle pass system, except that you can buy them forever like a shop - it's a generous system at that. Most missions hand out a handful of medals, and your daily challenge will give you 15 of them. Most weapons go for around the same, meaning that you can treat yourself to something for every day of play. 

At launch, the game has two separate Warbond passes, one free and one premium. I had access to both because of the code Sony provided, but I assume the premium pass is paid for otherwise. Luckily, while the premium pass gave me a different set of unlocks, they didn’t feel like straight upgrades offering a variant that had benefits and minuses on the items available via the free tier, which is reassuring for players unprepared to commit to a paid pass.

You can get unlocks over time for your ship too, which will enhance your strikes and weapons in a variety of ways. I didn’t get a chance to play too much with these because they require a lot of resources and feel more like an endgame than something to engage with as you’re settling in. I’m 20 hours in and only now approaching the first upgrade. 

As you progress, you’ll want some beefier stratagems and weapons for some of Helldivers 2’s later levels. You can take out any enemy with an orbital precision strike, a machine gun, and a dream, but it’s hard work and the slog will be much less so if you can unleash a creeping barrage of artillery fire to clear yourself a path instead.

There are nine different difficulty levels, but I think most players will find a level of challenge that feels comfortable and sit there rather than try something new. Currently, I’m happy with the fifth difficulty level and don’t fancy anything harder for the sake of my blood pressure, but I've played them regardless and, if you truly do want to challenge yourself, there’s plenty there for teams looking to challenge themselves in co-op.

Dive bar

Screenshot from Helldivers 2

(Image credit: Arrowhead/Sony)
Accessibility features

Accessibility in Helldivers 2.

(Image credit: Sony)

A fairly barebones package that features text-to-speech and speech-to-text options, subtitles, and options to change the size of the subtitles. It’s a disappointing array for something that seems to have heavy Sony involvement as the company has previously impressed with their package of accessibility options.

All that aside, the most impressive part about Helldivers 2 is how effortlessly Arrowhead has managed to take the Helldivers formula and adapt it to third-person. Shooting feels weighty but easy to get to grips with, and weapons all have a concrete impact on your foes. For anyone after something more intimate, you can also switch to a first-person mode which is helpful for several guns but offers a level of precision that I found I just didn’t need. 

Mechanically, the shooting feels like the work of a studio with much more experience, and it’s surprising how good it feels. It’s not particularly precise - nothing in Helldivers 2 is particularly precise after all - but it’s a hell of a good time and firmly worth the purchase, if you’ve got the people to squad up with.

Fancy something else? We have a list of the best multiplayer PC games. If you’re playing on the Xbox, here’s a list of the best Xbox Series X games instead.

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