Month: February 2016

Axon Pro (Hardware) Review

Axon Pro (Hardware) Review

This last fall I had the pleasure of testing out one of the best mid-range Android phones currently available, the ZTE Axon. It may not have been the most powerful device or the most eye-catching, but it was solidly built with a set of features many entry-level buyers would love. Now a few months later, I got to try the Pro model of the Axon, and although it addresses many of the issues with the standard model, it may not be an upgrade everyone will want to pay the price for.

Axon Pro Phone (Hardware) ReviewVisually the Axon and the Axon Pro are almost identical. It has the same sleek style seen in the previous model. It looks clean, sharp and professional. From the moment you pick it up, there is a quality feel to the overall device. It feels great it your hand and remains one of the most solidly built mobile phones I have ever tested. Beyond the top and bottom on the back, and the screen, the rest of the phone has an entirely metal construction. It is a touch that is deserving of a flagship-priced device, and it is a welcome touch from ZTE. It is on the heavier side, weighing in at 173 grams, so people who like light and tiny phones may be disappointed here.

The screen on the device is another area ZTE have improved for the Pro model. The 5.5-inch display is boasting a 2K IPS screen that looks positively stunning. Blacks look crisp and colours look very true to nature. It might not be the best screen on the market, but anyone interested in bright, high-resolution displays on a phone will not be disappointed. There was a bit of a light bleed on the top and bottom of the display, and although this will not pose a distraction in everyday use, it does make the screen seem a bit less bright than it could otherwise.

The overall experience of the phone feels close to stock Android with a few minor tweaks. The phone has just been updated to Android 6.0 Marshmallow. It has relativity little bloat, although it should be noted that ZTE has loaded a selection of apps that could get in the way. These include TouchPal, ZTE Perks and Yahoo Sports. They also managed to have their own “hub” known as Z-Space that can be accessed by swiping up from the bottom of the phone. In testing, this app held little value and although it did give quick information on music, favourite contacts, fitness and news. It seemed like an interesting idea, but it could have been better executed to take full advantage of all the possibilities the phone could offer. These are only minor annoyances, but for people that like a pure Android experience, it is worth mentioning.

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Left: Axon Pro Right: Axon CA

The Axon Pro is a powerful little phone; ZTE has loaded it up with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor that right now is one of the most powerful chips on the mobile market. Few things will cause this chip to chug, and in testing everything ran smooth as butter. With this power, however, comes a knock to battery life, but we will get to that later. Loaded with 4GB of ram the Axon Pro has little problem opening apps quickly when needed. Most notably the camera opened almost instantly, and this feature paired with a dedicated camera button ensures you can take photos the moment the action is happening. No more missed photos due to a slow phone, and for the shutterbug out there, this is a must.

Sadly, the camera was not all we had hoped, considering the price. In overall testing, the 13MP shooter was serviceable for quick snapshots of the world around you, but lowlight left a lot to be desired. We noticed camera noise with indoor shots and some photos looked far more washed out then we would have liked. The F1.8 lens was not all bad, though, as outdoor shots looked sharp and clear, but with many smartphones now delivering stunning results, the Axon Pro feels lacking in comparison.

The additional of the 2MP second lens on the back allows you to alter the depth of field of a photo after the fact. This is a nice touch that was also seen in phones such as the original Axon and the HTC One M8, and in testing, it works well enough. It may not be something that people would use in every instance, but it is a nice added feature when needed.

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Left: Axon Pro Right: Axon CA

The sound, on the other hand, was fantastic on the Axon Pro. The front facing speakers are loud and clear, with call quality sounding great all around. More phone companies should take note; the front facing speakers are hard to beat in quality and crispness. With more people using their phones for media consumption and gaming devices, the need for good audio is paramount. The fact the phone also includes a set of JBL earbuds is a nice touch also, and one that is a welcome surprise on a phone in this price range.

Battery life is the area that falls a bit short for our testing. Since the phone is much more powerful then the non-pro model, there is a noticeable hit to battery life. The 3,000mAh battery is enough to get most users though an “all day” experience. For anyone that wants to play some games or use the phone for social media, you will need to charge the phone before the end of the standard working day. Since it is still not running Android 6.0, the Axon Pro is currently missing many of the battery saving features seen in the most recent version of the OS. This could change if it gets moved over to Android 6.0, but at this current time, this is something to take note of.

Axon Pro Phone (Hardware) Review 5Gaming on the device was fantastic overall, with all games looking crystal clear and buttery smooth. All major games currently on Android were tested, and even with many of them being graphic intensive, none showed any real slowdown and all played as you would hope from a flagship device. If it did not impact the battery so heavily, this would be the perfect phone to play all the latest mobile games. The bright, crisp screen ensured everything looked console quality, and with the Snapdragon 810 under the hood, there will be few games that will give any issues for at least a few years to come.

The Axon Pro is the ideal step up for anyone that wanted more from the Axon, but it does come at a price. Costing $650 unlocked and off contract makes the Axon Pro a pricy investment, and although you are getting flagship specs, it also comes in close to the cost of other flagship offerings such as the Nexus 6P. There is a lot to love about the Axon Pro, but it also has some issues that cannot be ignored. If you are in the market for a flagship, the Axon Pro may be for you, but if you are okay with a bit slower phone with a similar feel, you will not go wrong with the non-pro variant. Either way with the Axon line, ZTE are firmly planting themselves as a company that makes quality devices, and I for one am excited to see what they come out with next.

AnyKey Focuses on Supporting Diversity in the Competitive Gaming

AnyKey Focuses on Supporting Diversity in Competitive Gaming

The world’s largest eSports company, ESL, has teamed up with Intel to found the AnyKey Organization, a group set to focus on supporting diversity in the competitive gaming industry.

The organization’s main goal is to create inclusive spaces/atmospheres and to advocate for underrepresented members of the competitive gaming community. This includes but is not limited to, the LGBTQ community, women and people of a variety of ethnicities.

Jesse Sell, Senior Manager of Pro Gaming, Business and Strategy at ESL stated, “The need for an organisation such as AnyKey is clear, and with the help of Intel we have been able to make it a reality.” He also went on to say “AnyKey initiatives are well under way and with those that will debut at Intel Extreme Masters Katowice and beyond, we hope to be an advocate for positive change. We’re looking to broach a subject that most shy away from – it’s a daunting road that lies ahead but we have a fantastic team on board and we’re confident we can make a difference.”

I find it depressing that in this day and age that there is a need for an organization that focuses on this. By now this should just be happening naturally within the industry. We all love gaming, race, gender and sexual orientation shouldn’t matter one bit.

Iconic Horror Characters Fight it Out in Omen of Sorrow 6

Iconic Horror Characters Fight it Out in Omen of Sorrow

The worlds of horror and fighting games officially collide in Omen of Sorrow.

AOne Games will be bringing players Omen of Sorrow, a horror fighting game to be released on the PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The team is made up of  ex-Ace Team developers (Zeno Clash 2, Rock of Ages), young talent from SCL and will include art by the acclaimed Genzoman (Double Dragon: Neon, Ultra Street Fighter IV, Hearthstone) and the music of Francisco Cerda (Jamestown, Gunpoint), Omen of Sorrow is sure to be a cult classic among the horror community

The game, inspired by its dark characters, creates a dark and dramatic art style, lending itself well to being an atmospheric fighter. The game will focus heavily on complex combat mechanics, revolving around the player’s skill rather than stats.

While it has been revealed that there will be 12 ironic characters, little has been said as to who they will be. I am figuring the one below is Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde.

Iconic Horror Characters Fight it Out in Omen of SorrowAnd as all good fighting games include, it can be played locally or online with friends! Using a netcode technique called rollback, players will be provided with an almost lagless experience when fighting online.

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Zombies and Gore: A Brief History of Resident Evil 1

Zombies and Gore: A Brief History of Resident Evil

People just love getting spooked, don’t they? Horror has been a mainstay in entertainment for hundreds of years, whether it’s Edgar Allan Poe’s eerie short stories or the 1980’s deluge of slasher flicks like Halloween and Friday the 13th. Videogames, which are comparatively a much younger medium, have also embraced horror in the 30 to 40 years that they’ve been in existence. One franchise that has arguably left the biggest impact on the horror genre, and one that continually innovates on it, is definitely Capcom’s Resident Evil. With the recent re-release of Resident Evil Zero HD, it’s a better time than ever to take a look back at the series that made zombies popular in games.

Resident Evil and the Rise of the PlayStation 1

Of course, as we all know, the first Resident Evil released for the PlayStation 1 back in 1996. Horror mastermind Shinji Mikami, the man also behind Resident Evil 4 and The Evil Within, directed the game. The game was a runaway success, selling millions of copies and garnering fantastic critical reception. It contains tank controls, forcing the player to press the up, down, left, and right buttons on the D pad to move in those directions. While the controls feel cumbersome today, they played a vital role in making the player constantly feel powerless against the game’s panoply of satisfyingly disgusting creatures. The pre-rendered backgrounds were, and still are, gorgeous and the game contains an unsettling, spooky atmosphere. Resident Evil’s main setting, the prodigious Spencer Mansion, is a well-designed level that contains a slew of clever and challenging puzzles to solve, and gruesome bosses to fight.

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As the story goes, the game was originally envisioned as a remake to Capcom’s 1989 psychological horror role-playing game Sweet Home. Sweet Home is considered a forerunner of the survival horror genre, mainly because it introduced a set of gameplay mechanics that are used in most horror games, including Resident Evil. The item management system is a great example, as Sweet Home prohibited players from carrying an infinite amount of weapons, healing items, and other objects. However, Mikami was also inspired by 1992’s Alone in the Dark, which also features similar mechanics.

With the first Resident Evil’s incredible success, a sequel was quickly greenlit. Resident Evil 2 released two years later, in 1998, for the PlayStation. It features two new protagonists, rookie police officer Leon S. Kennedy and college student Claire Redfield, who is looking for her brother Chris Redfield (the star of the first game). RE2 is set two months after the mansion incident, and takes place in Raccoon City. The game mostly employs the same gameplay mechanics from the first game. Puzzle solving and exploration are the focus here, with gunplay relegated to the background. The new element that RE2 introduced, however, is the “Zapping System,” which provides the two playable characters with unique storylines and obstacles.

Plenty of fans believe RE2 to be far better than the first game, and only second to Resident Evil 4. But where does this leave 1999’s Resident Evil 3: Nemesis? Well, it’s also a beloved entry, but it’s just not as well liked as the two aforementioned games. Capcom did make quite a few changes with the game though. There’s a bigger emphasis on action-oriented gameplay, with returning hero Jill Valentine forced to combat an excessive amount of baddies. Jill is the only playable character, and the game takes place 24 hours before Resident Evil 2. The biggest addition is definitely the titular Nemesis; a hulking monster that continually chases Jill throughout the game. It’s near impossible to kill the guy, and he makes RE3 a very tense experience.

Capcom then started to quickly run out of ideas for the series. 2000 saw the release of the much-maligned Resident Evil Code: Veronica, which brought nothing new to the table other than frustrating puzzles and an awful story. 2002’s Resident Evil Zero, which is the latest RE game to get an HD port, shares the same fate as Code: Veronica. It plays exactly the same as the first three games, with the only major addition being the poorly designed buddy system. You can switch between the game’s two leads — S.T.A.R.S. rookie Rebecca Chambers and convict Billy Coen — on the fly. But this system results in too much time spent worrying about the character you’re not controlling. The A.I. often dies from making stupid decisions, which forces you to the “game over” screen even if you didn’t do anything wrong.

The New Resident Evil Generation

Resident Evil was in limbo for several years, until Shinji Mikami decided to reinvent the horror genre with Resident Evil 4. The game was a dramatic departure from previous entries in the series and most horror titles during that time. There’s no tank controls, pre-rendered backgrounds, or fixed camera angles. Instead, RE4 is an over-the-shoulder third-person shooter. The gameplay focuses on action and shootouts with large crowds of enemies. There are very few puzzles to solve as well. Oh, and there are no zombies to fight-at all.

Mikami wanted a change of pace, and so he decided to add in much quicker enemies called Los Ganados. You have to think on your feet, be on the move, and have great aim. Though RE4 did kickstart Resident Evil’s worst era of games (we’ll get to that soon) it is still highly regarded as one of the best horror games ever made. Despite the action-heavy approach, RE4 is still genuinely scary and tense. It deftly avoids feeling like a generic shooter.

Which unfortunately isn’t the case with 2009’s Resident Evil 5. Returning hero Chris Redfield, and his new partner Sheva Alomar, are in Kijuju, Africa doing battle with the same type of fast, deadly enemies found in RE4. RE5 plays very similarly to RE4, but it brings back everyone’s favorite buddy system from RE Zero. RE5 is essentially a co-op game, as Chris is always accompanied by Sheva. This negatively affects the game’s ability to frighten its players, instead it throws wave after wave of enemies at you constantly. It even has a few on-rail missions involving a bunch of machine guns and generic monsters. Plus, Chris actually punches a huge boulder at the end of the game to help kill returning villain Albert Wesker.

Zombies and Gore: A Brief History of Resident Evil 3

2012’s Resident Evil 6 continued this action trend, only this time it has an even more confusing and dumb story for players to “follow.” You can play as four main characters: mercenary Jack Muller, and returning heroes Chris Redfield, Leon S. Kennedy, and Ada Wong. They each have their own separate 6-hour campaigns that are slightly interwoven with one another. It’s also a third-person over-the-shoulder shooter, but this time you can move your character around while aiming instead of just standing still. However, the game’s a colossal mess with an awful plot, humdrum level designs, and unbalanced gameplay. The title performed well commercially, as it has become Capcom’s 2nd best-selling game. But, with the company’s acknowledgement, it’s a worrying sign that the franchise has definitely jumped the shark.

Capcom has since announced that it is entirely remaking Resident Evil 2 as per fan requests. Resident Evil is a classic example of a franchise gradually losing grasp of what made it so special in the first place. But hopefully, it has a better and brighter future ahead of it.

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