Month: November 2014

The Force Awakens Teaser Released

The Force Awakens Teaser Released

I’m excited. Really excited actually. I finally got a chance to watch the teaser trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and while it IS only a teaser, I’m sold.

Mind you, I went into this whole thing with the trepidation and fear many Star Wars fans have been left with following the incredibly disappointing prequel trilogy. Not to mention the undeniable feeling of “hmmmm” surrounding the director, J.J. Abrams. Unlike most of the internet, I don’t hate Abrams. The first Star Trek reboot breathed new life into what was almost certainly, at the time, a dying franchise. While hardcore fans of Trek feel like Abrams missed the general theme of Trek by focusing too much on action, space lasers and that trademark lens flare rather than the diplomacy, dry rhetoric and philosophical musings the series is famous for, this style fits perfectly with Star Wars.

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Plot details have been swirling since the sequels were announced, with leak after leak being dissected and debunked. One of the biggest worries voiced by the legions of internet fans was that the new films would rely too much on the star power of the big three: Han, Luke and Leia. Harrison Ford turned 72 this summer, and Hammil and Fisher aren’t exactly the hot young twenty-somethings they once were. It’s a difficult line to tread for studios hoping to attract long-time fans who want to see the characters they grew up with and love, and newcomers who lack the same kind of attachment and don’t want to watch three seniors ham it up for 2+ hours.

Prior to the Disney buyout, the Star Wars Expanded Universe, meaning the games, novels and comics, were a cluttered mess of stories by an overabundance of writers all trying to create the next Darth Vader or Han Solo. In a bold but brilliant move by the company, they decided to axe everything outside of the existing films and the Clone Wars TV show, removing the restriction of having to tie everything in with the thousands of extra stories and characters from the expanded universe. Doing this has wiped the slate clean, and allowed the writers absolute freedom to take the series in whatever direction they want. This is great news in one respect, but some fans feel that because of this, creating new and entertaining characters to base three films around won’t happen, and the movies will continue revolving around the aforementioned trio of Luke, Han and Leia.

But enough conjecture, let’s get down to the concrete details shown in the teaser.

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A stressed and sweaty storm trooper, X-wings, the Millennium Falcon and a lightsabre with a cross-guard. That basically sums up what was shown, so we don’t have a hell of a lot to go on right now. Just enough to get people amped without giving away ANY solid plot details. We know there is a bad guy, and we know the rebels are still kicking, but that’s about it.

This is how you make a trailer that gets people excited enough, but still hungry for more. Also of note was the lack of Mark Hammil, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford. We know they’re in it, and it bodes well for the movie that the studio feels confident with what they’re doing and don’t need to plaster their famous faces all over the clip.

At the end of the day, all Disney needed to do was show a Star Wars logo with John Williams’ score playing and a date, and people would have freaked. After 30+ years the Force is still strong, and love it or hate it this movie is going to make bank. Even if the prequel trilogy left a sour taste in the mouth of fans, the well-received Clone Wars and several half decent videogames have helped bring massive amounts of new fans to the Star Wars Universe. Combine these numbers with the legions of existing fanatics, and you have what is arguably the biggest sci-fi/fantasy franchise in history.

So please Disney, pretty please make this movie awesome, there’s a lot riding on this.

Canadian Black Friday, Is It Worth The Hassle? - 2014-11-28 18:56:01

Canadian Black Friday, Is It Worth The Hassle?

Black Friday looms over us yet again, and shoppers everywhere are donning flak vests and sharpening their machetes. Normally an America-only event, like most traits from that country, Black Friday is beginning to seep up North. The rampant, often violent zombie-esque consumerism is something so distinctly American it shocks me to see Canadians getting so excited for it. Then again, the majority of our big box stores and outlets are American owned, so it makes sense that they would be implementing similar policies. Not to mention the obvious fact: offer people a slight sale and they’ll trample their own child to get it before someone else does.

As the big day slowly enters the Canadian calendar, the question remains: do Canadians care? Are we joining the masses to fight tooth and nail for a cheap PS4?

Apparently not.

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A report done last year by Vancouver based firm DIG360 showed that most Canadians avoided Black Friday sales, stating that only 27% of those polled for the survey actually bought anything. On the plus side, for Canadian retailers, very few (six percent) actually jumped into their cars and crossed the border to shop. Another interesting statistic showed by the survey was the online shopping habits of Canadians during the big day. 13% of online shopping by Black Friday shoppers was done on an American website. While not a huge statistic, it is up from 11% in 2011.

So the numbers are growing, albeit slowly. This is actually surprising considering the price difference between Canadian and American online retailers, but requiring a US postal code may have a big impact on these numbers. Add to that the often arduous and annoying process of crossing the border in person, and it’s easy to see why the majority of Canadians just can’t be bothered.

But hey, we’re gamers, and it isn’t the cheapest hobby in the world. There are a lot of kids that will expecting a shiny new PS4 under the tree this year, or if they’ve been naughty, an Xbox One. For parents, making sure your kid is happy on Christmas morning is pretty important. And for the rest of us (Looking at you Kristin) even as adults there is still that excitement deep down that the same will happen. So what retailers are offering the best deals? Let’s have a look at a few of the major ones, and see what gaming specials they have on offer for the communist nightmare that is Black Friday, and whether it would be worth your time and effort to head down to the States and score a sweet deal.

Best Buy Canada is offering the Last of Us PS4 bundle for $449.99. The exact same price can be found on Amazon.ca and EB Games. For you Microsoft fans, an Xbox One Assassin’s Creed bundle is going for $349.99- same as EB Games- as opposed to Amazon’s Sunset Overdrive bundle priced at $399.99. As we can see, the competitive pricing and insane rivalry Black Friday is known for hasn’t really affected the cost of gaming bundles up here in the north.

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Or the games industry as a whole, with prices on American sites reflecting those found on Canadian ones (after doing the math of course). So what does this tell us? Basically, to stay at home, it’s not worth it. While I’m sure plenty of local department stores in smaller towns will be offering crazy deals on their select and finite inventory, the big names in the game look to have made a deal to not undercut each other too much.

Which, in my humble opinion, is a good thing, as I’d hate to see our stereotype of being generally courteous and polite tarnished by some greedy Gus who pushed an old lady down an escalator for 15% off a new iPhone. Besides, we’ll always have Boxing Day, and that’s when retailers REALLY want to get rid of things. So keep your sleeping bags packed away until camping season starts again because it just isn’t worth it.

Pixels & Ink 133 – Patriotic Horror

On this week’s Pixels & Ink podcast, Telltale goes crazy releasing two games in as many weeks, with a Game of Thrones and Borderland adventure game hitting digital shelves. Phil does the patriotic thing and watches a good old fashioned Canadian movie about good old fashioned Canadian values like torturing sorority girls to death, and Melanie has played LittleBigPlanet 3… which is pretty much like the other two, but with more stuff.

The Scarehouse (Movie) Review 1

The Scarehouse (2014) Review

Not all horror movies have to reinvent the wheel to satisfy. Sure, it’s nice when something comes along that feels completely unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, but these flicks are few and far between. For the most part genre movies are generic and that’s just fine. We sign up for them because we like the comfort of the formulas and frankly, it’s hard to follow them well. A movie like The Scarehouse will feel pretty familiar for anyone who has seen the dozens of direct influences that clearly inspired the filmmakers. Yet, the filmmakers played to their crowd well and tossed in enough twists on tired formulas to deliver something immensely watchable. It’s a good time, nasty and fun. You won’t learn anything from the movie, but this Canadian cross between Mean Girls and Hostel is time well wasted.

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The plot involves a pair of sorority girls (Sarah Booth and Kimberly-Sue Murray) who just got out of a two=year stint in prison for some sort of mysterious incident. Whatever happened, their entire sorority was involved in the crime, but the whole gang turned against the duo to stay out of the clink. Needless to say, our two anti-heroines didn’t take to kindly to that unnecessary punishment and have spent two years concocting a big ol’ revenge plot. This movie is that revenge plot (along with some handycam found footage flashbacks that reveal the crime that went down slowly over the course of the film). It takes place on Halloween. The gals have created an elaborate haunted house for the public along with a secret side entrance that each of the guilty gals arrive to one-by-one over the course of the night. Once they show up, Booth and Murray shuffle them into a back room in costume, reveal their identities and then slowly and painfully murder their former sorority sisters.

Like I said, it’s pretty standard horror stuff. The difference is in how well it’s executed. Director Gavin Michael Booth made his name in music videos long before delivering this flick, so he knows how to shoot a no budget movie to look like a million bucks. The scope framed digital cinematography is slick and stylish. The man knows his way around an effective suspense or gore sequence and delivers them nicely. He’s also got a stellar single location for his horror yarn, a neon Halloween haunted house that might be inexplicably elaborate for a pair of broke 20 something ex-cons to have designed on the fly, but it suits the horror movie nicely in terms of atmosphere and ambience. The script that he co-wrote with Booth is also rather clever. It might be the usual “pretty girls in danger” routine, but with the killers themselves being ladies there’s a mild, clever, n’ welcome feminist slant to the proceedings. The kills also feel gender specific and it’s quite amusing to see how the duo whip up gore-athons through the fractured fantasies of psychotic college gals.

And oh, what fun those gore scenes are. You’ll see a corset torture, live breast implant removal, and a number of other playfully disgusting sight as the pair of vindictive girlfriends launch into tirades with all sorts of gender-specific salty language. By the time a deadly pillow fight enters the film, you can’t help but laugh at the lunacy even if the make-up effects are gag-inducingly impressive. The Booths might be aiming to disturb, but they are well aware that their film is supposed to be good fun (see title for more), so there’s a sly wink and string of dark humor throughout to induce giggles along with the gasps. The film also benefits immensely from a pair of damn strong lead performances. Sarah Booth and Kimberly-Sue Murray are hardly blank faced eye candy. They genuinely commit to these roles, coming off as frighteningly cracked in one scene and knowingly hilarious in the next without ever losing the thread. The pair are genuine talents and hopefully The Scarehouse proves to be a launching ground of sorts for them and their director.

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If you also watch endless streams of crappy no-budget horror films, The Scarehouse is the type of movie that justifies an undying commitment to genre trash. When executed with creativity by folks who genuinely love B-grade horror flicks rather than cynical careerists using the genre as a low budget resume project, there’s oh so much fun to be had. The folks behind The Scarehouse know exactly what they are doing and are clearly just as tired of half-baked horror garbage as their audience. They’ve made a very fun, clever, and nasty little genre romp well worth seeking out. It’s not a movie that will spark a new genre trend or one that elevates horror to high art. Yet, it is exactly the type of movie you’d hope to stumble upon while cruising through Netflix with pizza in one hand and the intoxicant of your choice in the other. Feel free to indulge in that experience.

Rollers of the Realm (PC) Review 1

Rollers of the Realm (PC) Review

I love pinball. I always have. Even at its oldest, lowest-tech forms, there’s just something so engaging about hitting that silver ball around. I’m also a big fan of RPGs of all stripes. So Rollers of the Realm seems like it should be perfect for me, mixing two of my favorite pastimes like that. Indeed, it does bring several interesting ideas to the table, although some of them are far less successful than others.

Like most RPGs, Rollers presents you with a party of characters, up to ten of them. Here, though, each character is a pinball, with different traits to make it unique. The Rogue ball is small and light, sent flying when you hit it and able to slip into the smallest passages, while the Knight is huge and heavy and best suited for knocking down enemies or breaking barriers. Overall, the classes are decently varied, though some are far more useful than others.

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Aside from the variety in balls, there are a couple of other changes to the standard pinball experience. Most stages have enemies that will need to be eliminated by hitting them with your characters, who do varying amounts of damage based on class, as expected. Like most RPGs, fallen enemies will drop gold and experience points, with a decent number of items for each class in the shop.

Each class also has a special ability that can be activated once enough mana is collected, which is accomplished by bouncing off the bumpers and other targets on each table. Unfortunately, even more so than the characters, some skills were much more useful than others. In fact, I found some not worth the effort at all.

Most of these ideas work, or are at least inoffensive, but the largest problem comes from the tables themselves. The biggest issue is that each table is small and uninteresting. Most of the appeal of pinball comes from the interesting things to do – plenty of targets to knock down, triggers to hit, and so on. Here, most of the targets are enemies, and the courses are rather small and simple, for the most part. I would much rather have had a handful of large, well-designed, elaborate tables than a couple dozen dull ones like Rollers provides.

The difficulty is highly variable as well. For the most part the game is simple and straightforward, but some stages seemed to love setting up failure. It’s easy to lose the one particular character you need for a situation and then watch as the rest of your balls fall quickly one after the other as you try to build up mana to revive them.

Rollers of the Realm (PC) Review
Rollers of the Realm (PC) Review

The penalty for failure is relatively mild – nothing lost but the experience and gold collected in that stage so far. However, even that stings a bit more than it should. It takes quite a lot of either to get any real advancement, and the game is happy to encourage you to go back and grind previous levels to collect more and power up your characters. If the tables were more interesting, I would have no problem with doing so, but as it is, I have little interest in returning. In this case, I would prefer to get to keep something, even if less than the total, so that my failed attempts at forward progress seem like slightly less of a waste, particularly since winning relies more on pinball skill than character stats. The worst offender of all is the final stage, a massive, multi-stage fight that sends you all the way back to the start if you lose half an hour into it, resulting in no small amount of frustration. To the developers’ credit, they have announced that they’re working on a patch for this.

Overall, I enjoyed Rollers of the Realm, but it has some rough edges that need smoothing out. I hope Phantom Compass or another company will pick up the ideas here and work them into something more – give me these mechanics with some larger tables and I’ll be ecstatic.

The Assassin’s Creed Downfall

The Assassin’s Creed Downfall

When the original Assassin’s Creed was released it slipped by me. I don’t remember why, but I know it wasn’t until my brother bought the game months later that I finally played it, and it had the potential to start an amazing and beloved franchise. Instead, Assassin’s Creed has become a series known for disappointing fans and breaking promises. Assassin’s Creed II and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood did a lot to improve the core mechanics, but the original is still the best game in the series.

First of all, Altaïr is the best character the series has had so far. His character design is the only one that ever made me feel like an Assassin. He wore plain white robes with a hood and every game since has put a lot of effort into creating incredibly intricate and ornate costumes that simply make the character stand out in the crowd, which seems counter-intuitive when you are attempting to murder high profile targets. Black Flag and Unity have done a better job of this, but Altaïr has always, to me, embodied what an Assassin should look like. Ezio was by far the worst in this regard. He was apparently able to go unnoticed while wearing a bright, red cape, and the logo of the Assassins on the front of his waist like it was a heavyweight championship belt.

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The gameplay did leave something to be desired. When you are first learning the ropes and taking down your initial targets it can be a lot of fun, but most of the game has a very rinse and repeat formula that definitely can get repetitive and tedious, but I miss the option of stealth. Since then the series has become increasingly action-oriented. When the series started, the wait and counter style of combat was simple and could get boring if that’s how you approached every situation, but you’re playing an assassin, not a soldier. Fighting was a last resort and the goal was to get in, kill your target, and get out without being noticed by guards or having to fight at all. By the time Revelations came out it seemed like they had abandoned that idea completely and taking down targets always involved a fight with either the target or a large number of guards.

The story in the original AC was actually good. For those who started the series later this might seem hard to believe; after the first game there have been god-like hologram people, apocalyptic prophecies and all sorts of terrible science fiction plot points that only lead to increasingly exaggerated eye rolling. The best thing this Assassin’s Creed series did story-wise since the first game was kill off Desmond, but they couldn’t even let it move on from there. They added sages and had one of their hologram people live on in the Abstergo servers.

The original game opened with the idea that people could access their ancestors memories through their DNA using the animus. We were introduced to the Templars and assassins through Altaïr, and we learned about the each of their beliefs as he did. Throughout the game you also learn about Desmond Miles, what Abstergo is, what their up to and about their mysterious, previous captive, subject 16, who clearly went insane during his time there. It was the only game in the series where I didn’t want to shut the game off as soon as I left the animus and was stuck walking around as Desmond.

The first game started as another Prince of Persia game by the series’ creator, Patrice Désilets. When the game wasn’t taking the direction the publisher wanted it evolved into a new IP. Désilets left Ubisoft during the production of Brotherhood, and it shows. That is when the series really started to fall off and since then the only good things I’ve had to say about the AC franchise have had very little to do with the original, core gameplay. Revelations and AC3 were terrible and the only reason I enjoyed Black Flag was because of the parts where it was a pirate game, not a game about assassins or Templars or ancient, hologram wizards.

Every year I play another AC game and find myself finishing my experience by saying “never again.” Never again will one of these games suck me in, but every year I read interviews and watch trailers and convince myself that this one will be different; this one will make AC good again. This one will go back to what made this series good to begin with. It will forget about the present day story nonsense and let me assassinate people without being forced into fighting 20 guards who take turns attacking me one at a time. The teams at Ubisoft are clearly talented. They are able to beautifully recreate iconic cities and are capable of making great games, but whoever is steering the Assassin’s Creed ship is leading it astray. I think instead of playing Unity, especially while Ubisoft continues to patch it’s plethora of bugs and glitches, I’ll go back and replay the game that has kept me coming back with hopes of more.

F1 2014 (PS3) Review

F1 2014 (PS3) Review

F1 2014 marks the return of officially licenced F1 themed racing simulators to Canada. For reasons I still can’t figure out (and according to the front line employees of the various big box and specialty stores that I visited last year), F1 2013 only made it to our nation’s border but never passed it. Obviously it would have been easy to get a copy of F1 2013 if you truly wanted one. A quick Amazon order would have resulted in the game showing up a week later, but it’s at least believed that some games are still purchased by people wandering into a store and looking for something new on a shelf. This is why EA Sports and 2K Sports still pay professional athletes to appear on their covers, and sadly these spontaneously purchasing crowds have not seen any new F1 games since 2012. Luckily F1 2014 is already in stores for anyone looking to log laps like Lewis Hamilton.

Now before you dust off that old Kool and the Gang record that has Celebration on both sides (because it’s Kool and the Gang after all) let’s get one thing straight. There is very little to actually get excited about when it comes to F1 2014. I don’t mean to say that it is a bad game, but instead it’s kind of like Kristen Stewart of the Twilight movies. Put her into the correct situation and the result will at least be profitable; however, if you stare long enough you begin to feel like there is nothing new happening below the surface.

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It’s the same case with F1 2014, which feels so much like F1 2012 that I can start to understand why the 2013 version never came out here. To be fair, the 2014 version is not an exact clone of the previous years, but nearly all the major changes are a result of rule, team, or schedule changes made for the actual 2014 F1 season. For example, all of the 2014 paint schemes, that did not need to be censored due to various sponsorship and rating board rules, made it into the final product. The Sochi, Russia track that went from Olympic venue to F1 circuit is in this game because it was a location in the 2014 F1 schedule. The kinetic energy recovery system, known as KERS in F1 vernacular, has been replaced by the heat-based energy recovery system (ERS) that the actual F1 cars are now using, and in F1 2014 there is no button to use it since it is automatic. The Young Drivers Test was also replaced with a general evaluation that automatically selects the level of difficulty for you. They even added an option to change the length of a season from the full schedule down to 7 races. Unfortunately, as I already stated, all of these changes are minor and do little to differentiate F1 2014 from the previous versions.

Originally, I was also going to say that the Scenario Mode, a mode that provides you with unique situations that the game asks you to overcome, was this year’s big new addition; however, I discovered that it is only new to people who missed last year’s F1 2013.

Rollers of the Realm (PC) Review 3
Rollers of the Realm (PC) Review 2

Now the one thing that I hope to get through to anyone reading this is that lacking something exciting is not the same as being a low quality product. F1 2014 is a high quality game with car controls that feel highly responsive. The tracks are very detailed and accurate when compared to their real world counter-parts. The A.I. is more than competent at what it does. On top of that, becoming a virtual F1 driver will take a lot of practice, but the game never feels like it is punishing you while you’re still getting your feet under you. It helps that you can adjust the type and number of assists to the point where even a novice driver can get around the track with ease. F1 2014 is also a true simulation of Formula One racing. I could spend time giving you example after example, but the game goes so deep into simulating racing that the brakes of your car will be affected by the heat coming off of other cars on the track.

Personally, the reason I’ve always found to play an F1 game is the multiplayer. I would not call it exceptional, but it’s still extremely fun when you’re going up against human controlled vehicles that react unpredictably on the track.

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If I was forced at gun point to complain about F1 2014, I would say that the game’s biggest problem is that it is not interested in inviting new gamers into the F1 world. The previously mentioned young driver test was designed to help improve the F1 videogame community, but it was replaced by an optional test that decides what skill level you will play at. The game offers no instructional videos or tutorial to explain what an F1 car is and how to drive it properly. The game doesn’t even do a good job at explaining what mechanics are given or taken away by increasing and decreasing your difficulty setting. I honestly learned more about F1 racing from that episode of Top Gear where former F1 star Jean Alesi brought a Lotus T125 for Jeremy Clarkson to try out.

In the end, F1 2014 is a perfectly fine game with game-play that has existed in the franchise for the past few years. Since it has been iterated on for those past few years, that core game-play is extremely solid. That said, there is nothing in this package to get excited about since it has been done before at this level of quality, and by the same company. Given the choice I would probably wait for F1 2015, which is rumoured to come out on the PS4 and Xbox One in early 2015. I really don’t know why the games will be out roughly 6 months apart, but it is the one piece of information that finally allows me to understand F1 2014. F1 2014 is a holding pattern (or contractual obligation) designed to hold people over until a PS4 or Xbox One version can be released in 2015.

DC Comics on TV - 2014-11-28 18:57:21

DC Comics on TV

The slate of DC properties that have made their small screen debuts has grown this season from the solitary Arrow to now include The Flash, Gotham and Constantine. DC has notoriously had problems with big screen adaptations, so how do their serialized adventures stack up?

Arrow is the wily veteran of the group as it enters its third season and the other shows to some degree, in particular The Flash, exist based on the success of Oliver Queen and company. When it started, Arrow very strongly resembled Batman Begins, but Oliver quickly racked up a HUGE body count and managed to find his stride and hit it well. While it does resemble Smallville at times, it also thrives on having a strong comic book feel and the inclusion of DC Universe favorites that fits well into the show. Characters like the Suicide Squad, Deathstroke, Dark Archer, Black Canary, the Huntress and the promise of more to come is genuinely exciting. They’ve also managed to make the supernatural and superhero elements of the show seem plausible in the universe which is not an easy feat to accomplish. It also does a great job of using the dual timelines of the present and Queen’s past on the island to draw storylines out without making them feel stagnant. Sure, there are some aspects of the show I could do without, but overall, Arrow keeps me coming back and I’m always entertained with what they bring to the table.

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I’m desperately trying to like Gotham. I mean, really trying. However, the show seems to be doing its best to make me dislike it. While Gordon, played aptly by Ben McKenzie, is likeable enough, everything else seems to be slapped together. Donal Logue is criminally under used as Bullock, a character who can’t seem to stick to a role and is constantly contradicting himself. Whether it’s his work ethic, his friendship with Gordon or even his overall mannerisms, he’s completely inconsistent. There’s Latin American actor David Zayas playing an Italian mob boss, a Scottish and extremely brusque Alfred, Barbra Gordon, Jim’s girlfriend who seems to be unable to find her pants and legendary Bat villains are pulled out far too often with very little to show for the effort. The shows ultimate downfall is Jada Pink-Smith’s character, Fish Mooney. Is that an accent she’s doing or is it just absurdly over the top acting? Why make her up if the plan was use nearly every established villain possible? Gotham seems to be doing okay in the ratings which is baffling but it does mean that it will at least finish the season out.  Maybe they’ll use the time to iron out all the problems it has.

If it’s not broken, don’t fix it’ seems to have been the model for bringing The Flash to share a universe with Arrow. With a pretty much copy and pasted episode and character model, Flash is unabashedly embracing the fact that it will have much of the same audience as Arrow and are giving that audience more of the same. The character dynamics and relationships are virtually identical and they also use the dual timeline to give back story to characters and give relevance to certain incidents in the present without trying to give you a ton of exposition. Unfortunately, without the ‘I was stranded for five years’ element, the need for flashbacks really is just visual chunks of exposition which sort of defeats the purpose. Since The Flash has struck far more of a CW vibe thus far, the best parts of the show have been the stinger scenes at the end of the episodes. It’s giving the show a much needed depth to a show that is still trying to find its footing the way big brother Arrow has.

Finally, Constantine was an incredibly interesting choice for NBC to adapt. Being about an exorcist master of the dark arts who fights demons every week, I was surprised the networks would go for the Vertigo property. That may well explain the bizarre double pilot that started the show off but I have really enjoyed it thus far. Constantine may follow the network TV formula a little too closely for my tastes but the show is buoyed by Matt Ryan’s stellar performance and his likeable sidekicks that have great back and forth with Ryan. While NBC seems to be staying on the safe side with this one, giving it only 13 episodes instead of the usual 22, it is a model that worked for other NBC hit Hannibal. Hopefully the network uses the success of Hannibal as a guideline for how to keep Constantine interesting and not on how to cancel it. I’m looking very forward to tuning in to this one in the future.

While Arrow has set itself apart as the better of the four shows, Constantine looks primed to challenge for that spot if NBC keep it on the air. Meanwhile, The Flash is still looking for something to set it apart and Gotham is floundering. I’m hoping that these successes and failures will help other networks see the potential and that will end up with more DC properties on the small screen.

ASUS ROG G750JH Laptop (Hardware) Review

ASUS G20 GeForce GTX 760 PC Review

The ASUS Republic of Gamers G20 is an odd little thing. It tackles odd little problems in odd little ways, but despite its mixed successes it never sacrifices core functionality. As a result it’s unlikely to be anyone’s first choice, but remains a perfectly serviceable gaming rig. Imagine it as a talented employee with some weird hobbies on the side: you may find those hobbies colourful or cute, but you’re much more likely to hire him for his qualifications alone.

asusg20insert1The G20 is a small-form-factor desktop computer, designed to occupy less space than your typical tower and be far more portable. It stands about 13 inches tall, four inches wide and 14 inches long. At roughly 15 pounds, it’s half the weight of some desktop PCs.

It would be exceptionally portable if not for the G20’s biggest oddity: two power cables, each with a laptop-style brick along its length. Not only does this add to the weight of the unit, you’ll also have to ensure that whatever cabin or LAN party you’re going to has enough free power outlets. So while the G20 tower may be smaller than other options, you’ll also be lugging those cables and a power bar along with it. Ironically, one of the reasons ASUS opted for twin cables is that it helps reduce the size of the chassis.

The other reason is the unit’s much vaunted energy efficiency. Adding to the power saved by the cables, the unit vents plenty of heat out the top, taking advantage of “natural convection” (PR speak, we suspect, for “hot air rises”). The result is a system that runs cooler and produces very little fan noise, although we worry about dust and other debris falling through the top vent over time.

Budget-conscious or environmentally conscious gamers can save even more power with the G20’s Eco Energy Mode, which can automatically switch to a less power-hungry graphics card built into the CPU. A semi-idle state is useful for downloading games and updates, while you can still use the G20 as a home server in its full-idle state. However, the Eco Energy Mode is so inconvenient to set up that it’s unlikely many people will take advantage. You need two HMDI cables, attached to either two displays or a display with two ports, plus you need to fiddle with the BIOS.

It’s also a chore to open the G20 for maintenance, requiring a jeweller’s screwdriver to remove those tiny, easy-to-lose screws. You probably won’t be opening the chassis to install upgrades, as the ASUS website specifically states, “It’s not possible for users to upgrade the G20.” That won’t stop the industrious from finding a way, but those knowledgeable and motivated enough to do so would more likely have built a rig from scratch.

For the style conscious, the ASUS G20 may or may not appeal. It’s certainly striking, with its matte black finish, sharp lines and allegedly Mayan-inspired accents. Those accents light up red and pulse by default, giving it a malevolent look vaguely reminiscent of the Red Markers from Dead Space. The colour of the lights can be easily customized through the use of pre-installed software, and the slow, pulsing effect can be turned on or off. Don’t expect to do any fancy tricks with them, however. You can only change the colours in three large blocks (left, right and bottom), so rainbows and patterns are out, and there’s no option to have them shimmer or change over time.

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You’d think that, having gone through the trouble of building in colour customizability, the manufacturers would have left the chassis a consistent, neutral black. However, the G20 has a red band painted down the front, and the bundled keyboard has blue backlighting that cannot be changed. Whatever colour you intend to use, you’d best make sure they look good with metallic crimson (and, if you want to keep the keyboard lights on, electric blue).

Style aside, the keyboard is perfectly serviceable for basic gaming needs and features a handy volume knob. The mouse, however, should be replaced right away, as it doesn’t even have back/forward buttons for web surfing. That’s not a strike against the G20, however, as it keeps the cost down, and most dedicated gamers will want to hand-pick a mouse for their needs anyway.

After mentioning all those middling successes, it’s important to clarify that the ASUS G20 is a very capable gaming computer, even if its claim of being the “choice of champions” is suspect. Our G20AJ-US009S test model packs an impressive quad-core 3.6GHz Intel Core i7-4790 processor, a quality (if slightly outdated) Nvidia GeForce GTX 760 graphics card, a solid 8 GB of RAM and a hybrid drive (composed of a 1 TB hard drive with 8 GB of solid-state cache) that aims for a happy medium between storage and performance.

The unit comes with Windows 8.1 and all the expected necessities, including plenty of USB ports. On the front: a DVD burner, a pair of USB 3.0 ports and headphone and microphone jacks. On the back: two more USB 3.0 ports, four USB 2.0 ports, an Ethernet port, audio jacks, a lock slot, two DVI ports, a DisplayPort and the two aforementioned HDMI ports. It’s also capable of Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity and 802.11ac Wi-Fi.

asusg20insert2So what’s the result for high-performance gaming? Very satisfactory. The G20 boots from off to desktop in around 45 seconds. It can handle your average game (we tested Mass Effect 3 and Dark Souls 2) at maximum settings without breaking a sweat — the fan didn’t even pick up. It ran the more graphically intensive The Witcher 2 at a perfect 60-110 fps at maximum settings, with the exception of its Übersampling option. Übersampling (which renders each frame multiple times and composites them for the smoothest possible finish) is known to bring lesser rigs to their knees, but the G20 kept chugging at a playable 25-45 fps. As long as you’re not the type to push your computer to its limits (we’re looking at you, Skyrim modding community), the G20 will serve your present needs.

However, at the end of the day, there are simply better options than the G20 for its recommended retail price of $1,299. The bells and whistles (compact form, custom lights, energy efficiency) drive the price up, and they either fall short of their goals or cause small problems of their own. The ASUS Republic of Gamers G20 may not be the optimal choice for most, but it’s a capable enough machine to make just about anyone happy.

(Note: While we were loaned the GeForce GTX 760 model for this review, ASUS has cheaper versions of the G20 on the market, as well as the similar but much smaller Republic of Gamers GR8, which may be worth investigating.)



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