Month: January 2021

Pixels & Ink Podcast: Episode 335 — Everyone's a Critic

Pixels & Ink Podcast: Episode 335 — Everyone’s a Critic

In this week’s Pixels & Ink Podcast: Jordan and Chris sit down with CGM’s Lane Martin to talk about the ridiculous situation of Gamestop stonks, Konami’s recent restructuring, the Resident Evil Showcase and Animal Crossing: New Horizon’s recent update. 

Things get heated as the gang talk’s about Lane’s review of The Medium, a poorly received tweet, and the impossible job of critics. 

CES 2021: CGM's Coolest Tech Choices 1

CES 2021: CGMagazine Editors Choice Awards

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2021 took a closer turn into its digital roots as the showfloor moved online. CGMagazine explored the most cutting-edge tech of tomorrow with the annual expo’s countless booths. From new to familiar companies showing off their latest inventions, there’s been a special quality-of-life pattern for this year’s consumer electronics. Of course, we also stumbled on some of our favourite gadgets and other appliances which do more to improve the extra time at home. Spanning smart masks, AR/VR peripherals for productivity, a commercial water recycler and smart perfume (which exist now), CGM’s own choices aren’t limited to the cool or strangely fascinating.

Razer Project Hazel

CES 2021: CGMagazine Editors Choice Awards
Project Hazel (Working Title) – Razer

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has become a contributing factor for tech companies like Razer across 2020 and 2021 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Project Hazel mask is a different focus from a company specializing in high-end gaming hardware. But the company has also kept an open mind to producing beyond the RGB-soaked offerings through other lines including its latest Productivity Suite. Of course, Project Hazel extends safety, security and even varying degrees of productivity for front-line workers worldwide. This is where its World’s Smartest Mask concept focuses on making the top N95-type masks even better. Its leading and CDC-certified N95 filters can be replaced. Each circular filter is also boosted by electric ventilators to block out COVID-19 droplets or other harmful particles by 95 percent.

But in true Razer fashion, the sleek ventilators are also lined with Chroma RGB rings for customizable effects. Under low-light situations, the mask interior also lights up for others to read lips in important verbal and nonverbal communication. Project Hazel also comes with a built-in microphone to clear up vocabulary for listeners, eliminating muffled speech under the mask. The mask also comes in an air-tight seal with all-day battery for constantly fresh breathing. In an attention to detail, we also admired Project Hazel’s charging case which comes with UV lights in the ceiling for sterilization. It’s still unknown if the mask will be commercialized or limited to essential workers when released. In a product which takes great considerations to help users amid the pandemic, CGM gravitated to Razer‘s stranger but well-meaning creations.

Razer Project Brooklyn

CES 2021: CGMagazine Editors Choice Awards
Project Brooklyn (Working Title) – Razer

Razer double-dipped in their unorthodox CES 2021 entries by tapping into their gaming beat. Project Brooklyn is an all-in-one concept for gamers at home. The RGB-infused gaming chair comes at face value. But its level of comfort also follows a tried-and-true formula of back support. This is where Razer‘s gaming chair offers all-day comfort for long playthroughs or work shifts. The direct optimization for a gamer-centric back support comes with reclining options. As a chair, users can also keep all of Project Brooklyn’s true power hidden and work in any setting. But wasting the chair’s real features for a retractable table and 60″ surround screen would be a shame. Brooklyn features the mentioned screen as an ultrawide OLED monitor which connects to PCs and other HDMI devices. Of course, users can be creative with the deployable screen for any tasks they want to perform beyond the extra gaming benefits. If things get too intense, Project Brooklyn can also selectively retract the flexible display behind its seat.

CES 2021: CGMagazine Editors Choice Awards
Project Brooklyn (Working Title) – Razer

Project Brooklyn hides another surprise quite literally under your nose. The chair’s armrests come with a retractable table that can hold virtually anything. Obviously, PC gamers can set their favourite mouse and keyboard peripherals as part of the all-in-one PC battle station. According to Razer, hiding the table will let players switch to console gaming. Without the table, users can rest their arms and use a controller on their lap with the 60″ screen. Just when Project Brooklyn couldn’t become more jam-packed, the chair itself has haptic Hypersense vibration. Players can feel different sensations on their back, thighs and sides against different in-game effects. This comes with zero latency, letting players sense attacks from different directions in a 360-degree benefit. The chair also contains its beefy hardware under a carbon-fiber frame, letting users relax without worrying about damaging and internals. Unfortunately, the chair doesn’t come with wheels and instead is supported by a flat blade. In the prospect of maximum home comfort, Razer‘s Project Brooklyn struck an RGB nerve with us as a welcome CES 2021 product.

Lenovo ThinkReality A3

CES 2021: CGMagazine Editors Choice Awards
ThinkReality A3 Enterprise Smart Glasses – Lenovo

Lenovo has slowly, but boldly experimented with AR and Mixed Reality (XR) across the mid-2010’s. Its ThinkReality headsets slowly worked out the kinks with holograms to help engineers, architects or every kind of office employee do more. The ThinkReality A3 was CGM’s fondest choice for headsets at CES 2021 for its potential to amaze ahead of AR’s big moment. Of course, its direct no-nonsense focus for work is strong. As we previously wrote, the A3 is directly integrated with Windows 10. This lets wearers turn entire rooms into their own desktop with expanding windows and other programs running outside of their single screen. Thanks to inside-out tracking and depth, windows can also be fixed like paintings in any part of a room. This gives other users and visitors in an AR meeting a gallery or holographic slideshow for information. The built-in GPU from its processor enables A3 users to generate full-sized models for CAD engineering which can include mechanical solutions, fully-sized vehicles and other factory-based items. In an added bonus, Lenovo has also included a few quality-of-life improvements from their A6 glasses. Swappable batteries and expandable SD card storage are in.

CES 2021: CGMagazine Editors Choice Awards

ThinkReality A3’s refined and upgraded features are all powered with a simple USB-C cable to any computer. The A3’s computing power is also boosted by its own built-in Qualcomm Snapdragon XR1 chip. This lets the A3 use a 1080p 8MP camera to produce video calls for at-home or remote meetings. A standalone version lets users plug their A3 into a few Motorola smartphones for fully-wireless freedom. For mobile-based users, they can also keep their holograms, essential information and HUD with them across different hands-on workplaces like factories, laboratories, CAD design spaces and the hospitality sector. Though we would have wished all devices would be supported for a 6DoF (six degrees of freedom) experience like the VR-based Oculus Quest. But CGM’s interest in AR is only peaked by the ThinkReality A3’s potential to nail the formula before mass adoption. Thanks to VR development, Lenovo also carries a benefit of packing the S3 into a sleek but powerful glasses frame which is a wire cut away from stylish. This is easily our pick for a handy, but brand new AR gadget at CES 2021.

Wheelswing-VOLT

A worldwide interest in cycling has increased traffic and infrastructure, particularly across city centers. The Wheelswing-VOLT is just one of the solutions which meet a cyclist’s needs, literally as a self-powered engine which automatically spins the front wheel. This lets the VOLT attach itself to any kind of bicycle for a pedal-free experience. The most impressive feature comes from the VOLT’s eco-friendly and self-sufficient power. As an engine, it continually powers itself while using friction as seen in hand-cranked radios or flashlights. But at the high-speed velocity of riding a bicycle, this electric power is generated exponentially. In other words, the VOLT could (in theory) give any kind of bike an unlimited renewable energy source and engine. Of course, a second VOLT can be attached to the front or back for a complete usage with any bicycle.

This is enough for the VOLT’s spinner to move any bike’s wheel without pedaling (and supporting a rider’s weight). It’s a non-sequitur choice for CGM at CES 2021, but the VOLT’s compact size and magical efficiency were enough to steal our staff’s adventurous hearts. Because the VOLT can generate so much power at a constant, it’s even high enough to charge a phone or small device via. USB in rides. Like a gadget which keeps on giving, cyclists can conserve their e-energy while keeping their phones topped up before arriving at work. The attachment is also highly-accessible for all bikes. From its promising features in a small body, we also hope its price would also give worldwide riders equal access to the VOLT. Another question comes from how riders could stop with the engine continuously spinning wheels (though there should be a brake feature). In CGM’s eyes, the Wheelswing-VOLT is one of this year’s more special device to grace the showfloor and is already a CES 2021 Innovation Award Product honoree.

Samsung Bot Handy

CES 2021: CGMagazine Editors Choice Awards
Samsung Bot Handy – Samsung

A wave a day can bring object from far away. This was a concept-turned prototype for Samsung’s home line of products. The Bot Handy is exactly what owners could expect from a physical assistant. Its strong, but gentle hand can sort dishes and tableware into dishwashers. Samsung’s lifestyle AI features from their flagship products will also learn about an owner and their home for tailored tasks. For the Bot Handy, it can also use its Roomba-like movement to smoothly glide across living rooms and kitchens. After some programming and offering it specific guidelines, the Bot Handy can perform bigger tasks including your laundry when you’re away. This is where its tall body can move up and down for grabbing objects from different heights. It’s also (handy) in setting the table for dinner, as shown in its concept trailer. It can go as far as decorating a table or lighting candles for a much-needed romantic dinner.

Bot Handy’s responses also suggest it can listen to voice commands and other smart-speaker like features. Through its AI, users can use a combination of simple phrases or keywords for home tasks (including putting groceries away). At any future review or demo, CGM’s staff aren’t hesitating to adopt have Bot Handy over to make home life more comfortable. Its quality-of-life features are clear for becoming an assistant, particularly for accessibility or long-term care use. Its ability to reach heights, carry out normal out-of-reach or timely chores makes the Bot Handy another top CES 2021 choice that we hope to see in a store shelf someday (and not reserved for high-end homes).

Ninu Smart Perfume

CES 2021: CGMagazine Editors Choice Awards

One of CES 2021’s surprisingly compelling gadgets comes from the Ninu Smart Perfume. Like a ubiquitous “smart” item, Ninu also uses AI to adapt when spraying scents for users. This is where an app pairs with the device and allows users to choose their occasions. From sports to parties and work shifts, the sprayer’s special compound is infused with a variety of “flavours” to create a unique scent. This is what makes Ninu’s first-of-a-kind gimmick unique for creating a perfume for the right setting near-instantly. The real magic also comes from its refillable self-contained ingredients. Through different “ratios,” scents from sweet, savoury, bitter and sharp are combined accordingly. Of course, the resulting scent from Ninu is sprayed from the device and varies with a user’s own odor.

The Ninu Smart Perfume bottles themselves are also integrated with connections with the mobile app. It uses Bluetooth to send the right information and combination for scents to combine. Within the bottle, scents are balanced and stored in a special reserve for spraying. A button projects the mist for wearers. If users like a particular scent, they can also save their favourite ones. The information is saved to the app, while its AI continues to use the most-used scents to add recommendations. It’s unknown if the app would continue update with different occasions or customizable perfumes. Of course, the perfume’s formula would also be a refillable add-on. It’s also worth noting its ingredients would be 100 percent animal-free, with sustainably-sourced elements without sulphates and other toxic compounds. But for CGM, the idea of a self-generating perfume factory users can take with them is a convenient and practical addition to CES 2021’s hygiene gadgets.

Hydraloop

CES 2021: CGMagazine Editors Choice Awards
Hydraloop – Hydraloop Inc.

Standing as a gentle giant for homes, commercial areas and industrial facilities, the Hydraloop is a water recycler. But its vision for mass adoption is also what makes the Hydraloop another highlight in our virtual field trip to CES 2021. To keep more taps from shutting off worldwide in a “Day Zero” scenario of water scarcity, the machines essentially reuse water twice and cleans about 85 percent of waste. The simple result comes with holding back water consumption while refiltering fresh water beyond the Britta in homes. The Hydraloop also follows a similar city-wide system of decentralized water recycling, but makes it possible to do anywhere with one install. It can also be directly used as smaller water treatment systems, delegating the process within schools, public parks and other institutions with higher-than-usual consumption. Surprisingly, the Hydraloop’s size was also comparable to a refrigerator and could be installed literally anywhere as an appliance. Its filtration also uses some magic to treat water without chemicals or replaceable filters, thus reducing Hydraloop’s maintenance.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P1ABMsZaKCo

The large system can be used as a single unit in regular homes. Larger places can also use multiple ones for bigger treatment. In water-running tasks for hygiene, laundry or sanitation, the Hydraloop can filter out bigger emissions by 45 percent. The water itself would also be clean and safe for reuse before it is normally flushed a second time. Installing the Hydraloop means integrating a box with any water system, with waste passing through the first time. The system would then route the filtered water for reuse, while a variety of conditioning would disinfect it. According to Hydraloop Inc., the water could be directly used for flushing toilets, the laundry, gardening and even swimming pools. The Hydraloop’s concept as an open treatment process, along with its prospect to save water by half of its consumption are enough to deem this one of CGM’s coolest technologies seen at CES 2021.

Etee Controllers

CES 2021: CGMagazine Editors Choice Awards

As a finalist for CES 2021’s Last Gadget Standing competition, the etee controllers aren’t exactly a phone for home. But they give VR, AR and XR users more functionality without buttons. The etees ditch the pesky buttons offered from Oculus Touch, HTC Vive Wands and Windows MR controllers. Though users aren’t getting the essential button presses most games are built on, they rely on a combination of raw hand gestures. Instead of simulating a grip or thumbs-up with buttons, the etee’s pressure sensitive haptics would directly translate it into VR, AR and XR experiences. Interestingly, sensors can also detect open and closed fists with minimal latency. This also gives the controllers a much longer lifespan without failing buttons over time. Originally a Kickstarter idea, the etee controllers passed their funding goal for mass production.

The etee controllers are made even more interesting for deepening immersion. By eliminating buttons, the controllers strip away more of VR’s (artificial) mechanical aspects which can pull viewers out of the experience. This is where the etee controllers do more to play on a user’s direct sense of touch in real life (as opposed to triggering it with a button). For maximum simulation and Matrix-factor, the etees are also lighter without buttons to make users forget about them overall. According to its product info, the controllers can be directly calibrated on pressure while it can sense nearly every intricate gesture. It’s still unknown how well the etee controllers can translate to pulling a mechanical trigger for first-person shooters in VR, or movement without joysticks. It’s also worth noting the etees are integrated with SteamVR only, creating limitations for Oculus platforms. Regardless, the controllers are also a welcome step towards making VR more immersive than before. Like removing hardware like sensors, controllers for hand-tracking and cables, CGM has found another evolution for games at CES 2021.

TourBox Controller

CES 2021: CGMagazine Editors Choice Awards

Content creators looking to precisely manipulate software with their hands can finally do so with the TourBox controller. Though it looks like a charcuterie board for fidgeting, each are actually programmable functions. Its use in Adobe Suite (Photoshop, Premiere, Illustrator, After Effects), DaVinci Resolve, Final Cut, Capture One and Comic Studio are among some of the software the TourBox can help through instant shortcuts. This is where buttons can simulate gestures for cutting, move, key-framing, deep-scrubbing through footage and expanding blocks. Tools can be mapped according to a creator’s wishes, while its range of controls can cover a majority of hand gestures. As a result, creators can have full control over an editing software with one hand without getting lost in keyboard shortcuts. Broadcasters and streamers can also rejoice at TourBox’s universal functions for Windows and Mac apps while performing gestures in teleprompting, transcribing and clipping videos fluidly. Without a combination of shortcuts, the TourBox works with a creator’s instincts and executes tools at will.

Its upgraded TourBox Neo includes over 14 buttons, including the clickable knob and dial. For content creators, they can also customize specific presets for their apps (with auto-switching). The snappy controls also come with an interactive on-screen HUD to help users adjust to the controls without looking down. Of course, the TourBox can also be paired with other peripherals including a digital sketchpad or any USB tool for accessibility. CGM gravitated to the ToolBox’s consideration for a rising level of content creators which is expected to grow across the 2020’s. As multimedia creators, we also loved the device as a solution for our imaginary hand-gestures while working. This is clearly a creative tool which addresses many pet peeves for leading productivity software and also makes the cut for CES 2021’s coolest gadgets.

Wraith The Oblivion Afterlife Revealed by Fast Travel Games 2

Wraith The Oblivion Afterlife Revealed by Fast Travel Games

Wraith The Oblivion Afterlife received another reveal trailer by Fast Travel Games, known for their work on VR titles including Apex Construct, Budget Cuts 2 and The Curious Tale of the Stolen Pets. Going-all in on a VR supernatural horror game, the studio puts players in the deceased shoes of a spirit roaming the Barclay Mansion. There, players use their powers as a Wraith to uncover the truth behind their death and evade enemy Spectres roaming the afterlife.

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Ninja Theory ceases development on Bleeding Edge

Ninja Theory ceases development on Bleeding Edge

Ninja Theory, the Microsoft-owned first-party game developer behind Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice as well as the action-adventure-based slashers Heavenly Sword, Enslaved, and DMC: Devil May Cry has ended post-release development on its first Xbox-exclusive game, Bleeding Edge, the developer announced yesterday on Twitter:

Taking a page out of the playbook of 2013’s Anarchy Reigns, Bleeding Edge is an online, team-based arena brawler featuring a cast of 13 eccentric, cybernetically-enhanced characters, each with their own unique weapons, skills and abilities.  Boasting high production values and very unconventional character designs, the game was the first title produced by Ninja Theory following their acquisition by Microsoft in 2018.  Originally developed by a small team within the studio as a passion project, Bleeding Edge was ultimately positioned to help fill one of the many gaps in the Xbox platform’s notably weak 2020 first-party lineup, but sadly, the game failed to garner much of a following despite its immediate day-one launch into Xbox Game Pass. In fact, given the lukewarm reception the game received from audiences upon its release, it’s arguable that without its inclusion in Microsoft’s “Netflix-of-games” subscription service, this announcement may have come much, MUCH sooner.

Bleeding Edge Review - Chaotically Confounding 4
Image Source: Microsoft

On the bright side, fans of Bleeding Edge can at least take solace that the game itself still up and running and remains playable.  It just goes without saying that they should not expect any new content or updates beyond basic maintenance.

Microsoft warns Xbox Series X/S consoles will still be “constrained by supply” in 2021 1

Microsoft warns Xbox Series X/S consoles will still be “constrained by supply” in 2021

Microsoft’s Xbox Series consoles may not be fetching the astronomically high reseller prices that the PS5 Standard and Digital Edition consoles have been selling for online lately, but according to Microsoft they are in equally short supply and will remain that way for the time being (at the very least for Q2 2021).  During a Microsoft 2nd Quarter 2021 Earnings conference call this past Tuesday, Microsoft Chief Financial Officer Amy Hood reported that both consoles would be “constrained by supply” in the face of “significant demand”, citing gaming revenue increase of 51% and Xbox Hardware growth of 86% driven by the new console launch as well as lower price promotions on last generation consoles such as the Xbox One S and Xbox One X.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella was also in attendance and had some impressive numbers to share during his segment of the call.  Xbox surpassed 5 billion in revenue for the first time in Q2 projections, with the launch of the Xbox Series X and S proving to be the most successful in Microsoft’s history and the most devices ever sold by the company in a launch month, despite the supply shortages that Microsoft and rival Sony are currently enduring.  In an interesting follow-up to this statement, Nadella commented that “Game developers are benefiting too as they turn to us to reach more players and scale the games using the power of the cloud.”  Naturally, with xCloud existing as one of the three platform pillars of Microsoft’s gaming strategy (the other two of course being Console and PC), it’s expected that both Microsoft and third party developers would be doubling their collective efforts to bring even more content into this space, as it’s clearly been paying off (according to Nadella, Microsoft made more than $2 billion in revenue from third-party titles for the first time in Q2, after all).  Yet with Xbox Series X and S shortages could this also be a hint that Microsoft might even be looking to lean more heavily on its cloud technology in the short term to help make up for the supply shortfall of Xbox Series hardware? 

Project xCloud and Xbox Game Pass are Tying the Knot: Will this be a Game-Changer? 3
Image Source: Xbox

Microsoft recently confirmed that its xCloud game streaming service will be coming to PC in beta form this spring, signaling that both console streaming as well as Cloud Gaming via Xbox Game Pass arriving on PC in the near future are now dead certainties, if the previous roll out of these services on Android are anything to go on.  As I previously suggested in a feature article covering the potential of xCloud last year, the increased horsepower, connectivity options, higher potential resolutions and larger screens of desktops and laptops are capable of providing a gaming experience more on par with that of today’s consoles.  In light of the continued worldwide supply constraints of both the Xbox Series X and S console, it’s quite possible that this beta could arrive at the perfect time, acting as a stop-gap to fill the hardware void for may gamers and allowing them to stream console-quality Xbox Game Pass experiences on their PC.  An overly “synergystic” prediction perhaps, but you never know.  Only time will tell.

The Yakuza Remastered Collection (Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One) Review 12

The Yakuza Remastered Collection (Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One) Review

With the Yakuza Remastered Collection making its long-awaited debut in Xbox Game Pass this week, and Yakuza 6: The Song of Life launching into the service late next month, the now 15-year-old Yakuza franchise is one step closer to achieving a historic milestone in the West; very soon, all eight of the mainline Yakuza titles (previously exclusive only on PlayStation consoles as a complete series) will be available to play on the Xbox platform.  As a fan of the series since the 2005 release of the original game on PlayStation 2 in the west, but also harbouring a much stronger affinity with the Xbox ecosystem, I’ve personally been longing to see such an outcome since the game’s famed developer, Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio released the cross-platform Sci-Fi title Binary Domain on Xbox 360 way back in 2012.    Sadly, Binary Domain turned out to be a total flop, and studio head Toshihiro Nagoshi apparently took it rather personally, as it would be eight years before another Ryu Ga Gotoku-developed game would appear on an Xbox console That honor of course belongs to the sublime franchise prequel known as Yakuza 0, which arrived on Xbox One and Xbox Game Pass in early 2020, almost a full year after it launched on Windows PC (another Microsoft platform, how ironic).

The Yakuza Remastered Collection (Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One) Review 11
Image Source: Sega

It’s puzzling why it has taken so long for the Yakuza franchise to come to Xbox, though according to Nagoshi himself, it had far more to do with where Microsoft and Xbox’s collective head was at back in the early 2000s as opposed to any exclusivity arrangements that may have existed on the PlayStation’s side, as he candidly shared in a 2018 interview with Edge Magazine (via ResetEra): “I’ve never said this before, but while we released this game with Sony, I’d done presentations about it to Microsoft and Nintendo. Back then they said “No we don’t want it.” Now they say, “We want it!  They didn’t understand the reason why I created it.”  Thankfully, much smarter people (Microsoft VP of Gaming and Xbox head Phil Spencer among them) are calling the shots at Xbox now, and thanks in large part to an aggressive push of more recent installments to the franchise on both Xbox Game Pass and the Xbox platform overall, the Yakuza series has blown up – fans and newcomers alike seemingly can’t get enough of it.

Well, if there was ever a release that could test the limits of all that pent-up demand on Microsoft’s platform, it’s The Yakuza Remastered Collection.  This anthology packages together the franchise’s three mainline PS3-era installments, Yakuza 3, Yakuza 4 and Yakuza 5, and follows the continued adventures of “self-retired” gangster Kiryu Kazama,  whose unflinching code of honor perpetually draws him back into the Japanese criminal underworld that forged him.  Referred to honorarily as “The Fourth Chariman” by those who respect him and known as the legendary “Dragon of Dojima” by those who fear him, Kiryu is principled to a fault and fights unrelentingly to protect the ones he loves, including his adopted daughter Haruka Sawamura, a young girl entrusted to his care several years ago.  More often than not, that fight involves using one’s fists, and as his fearsome namesake implies, Kiryu possesses mad skills when it comes to smashing in faces. 

The Yakuza Remastered Collection (Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One) Review 3
Image Source: Sega

This time however, Kiryu won’t be entirely going it alone.  Yakuza 4 was the first game in the franchise to introduce three new protagonists in addition to Kiryu, loan shark and Taekwondo(-ish) martial artist Shun Akiyama, former Yakuza enforcer Taiga Saejima, and “bent” cop Masayoshi Tanimura.  The game’s gritty storyline is divided equally between the four characters, with Kiryu bringing up the rear.  Yakuza 5 goes one step further and features five playable characters, with Shun, Taiga and naturally Kiryu returning, as well as two other characters that I’ll avoid naming for the sake of avoiding spoilers.  As with all the mainline Yakuza games (aside from the latest title, Yakuza: Like a Dragon), the main setting for all three titles is the fictional red light district of Kamurocho (based on the real-life district of Kabukicho in Shinjuku, Tokyo), but each game typically features other popular Japanese locales as secondary areas.  About half of Yakuza 3 takes place in the Japanese islands of Okinawa, Yakuza 4 expands its Kamurocho map to include connecting rooftops as well as underground shopping and garage areas, and Yakuza 5 sees players moving back and forth between locations in Osaka, Fukuoka, Sapporo and Nagoya in addition to Tokyo.  Regardless of which title you are playing, expect a huge, overarching drama that usually involves an astronomically large sum of missing money, complex political intrigue, Yakuza internal power struggles filled with twists, turns and betrayals, and tear-jerking melodrama aplenty.  And most of all, expect Kiryu and his motley crew of fellow anti-heroes to punch, kick, bludgeon and samurai slash their way through every obstacle they encounter.  Fortunately for the player, Yakuza’s tried-and-true PS3-era combat and skill upgrade system has been kept intact.  The old-school upgrade trees of Yakuza 3 through 5  might more closely resemble a MS Excel spreadsheet when compared to the flashy, mandala-inspired “Style” system of Yakuza 0 and Yakuza Kiwami, but they’re cleaner and more consistent across all three games in the collection, making it easier for players to transition smoothly between them.

So let’s get down to it.  What has been improved in these remasters over the original PS3 version of these games (aside from being able to play them on a console that isn’t two generations behind)?  Well, the two main differences worthy of note are the resolution and framerate.  Outside of the occasional pre-rendered cutscene, all three Yakuza games display at a crisp 1080p resolution and run at a silky-smooth 60-frames-per-second.  While this might not seem like that dramatic an improvement, the increased fidelity and fluidity of movement go a long way in helping these older Yakuza titles age more gracefully, particularly when compared to the newer remakes (Yakuza 0, Yakuza Kiwami, and Yakuza Kiwami 2).  I do not joke.  Having played all three games on my PlayStation 3 back when they were new, I expected the experience of playing these games again on my Xbox Series X  to be far more awkward than it ended up turning out.  In fact, I had just as much fun playing them now as I did back then, if not more (having a far superior controller to the DualShock 3 in the Xbox Series gamepad might have helped too).  But the true unsung hero in this mix is actually the Xbox Series X’s blazing fast SSD, which has shortened load times to mere seconds across each game.  Street fights, chase sequences, cutscenes and just about all the game’s modes of play initialize and conclude within an instant, the improved speed not only making the fun parts more enjoyable and faster to repeat, but also mitigating each game’s more archaic elements.

The Yakuza Remastered Collection (Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One) Review 8
Image Source: Sega

What do I mean by “archaic elements” you ask?  Well, to be clear, these are long-standing conventions that exist across practically all the Yakuza games (regardless of how new they are, Yakuza: Like A Dragon being no exception), modern inconveniences that Yakuza fans like myself have simply learned to embrace as part of the Yakuza experience.  While there are several examples that I could bring up, the most irritating convention that just about anyone will encounter when playing a Yakuza game right off the bat is the “quest hijack”, where an NPC will call the character by phone or encounter them on the street, triggering a mission or tutorial that the player has no choice but to follow through or complete, even though they may have originally been on the way to do something else.  Even voluntarily striking up a conversation with a complete stranger might result in the player getting recruited to run a Hostess Club and spend the next 15 minutes learning how to manage it and recruit new girls before the game finally releases the player to freely roam the streets again.  Yeah, forced gameplay is totally a thing in Yakuza games, so player beware.  The good news is, while these inescapable “gameplay padding moments” are still very much present in the remasters, the speedy load times of the Xbox Series X allows the player to get in and out of them faster, making them a bit more bearable.   

On the other hand, if you are actually looking for a helping of distractions and side quests to go along with the pugilistic main course, The Yakuza Remastered Collection has your back.  Each game in the collection is packed with loads of side missions, items to collect, bizarre DIY weapons to craft, and a smattering of recreational activities and mini-games, be it swinging for the fences at the local batting cage, playing a round of golf, fishing, visiting the local bowling alley, playing assorted Sega arcade games at CLUB SEGA, or indulging in virtual gambling of both the Western and Eastern variety.  Slots, Roulette, Card Games, Mahjong, Pachinko, even betting on oneself in illegal underground martial arts cage matches…it’s all there.  That of course is in addition to the main campaigns of each title, which can take upwards of 20-40 hours just to finish. 

The Yakuza Remastered Collection (Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One) Review 5
River fishing anyone? – Image Source: Sega

Beyond the “archaic elements” mentioned earlier, there is only one other negative that I can level against what is in my mind a pretty solid Yakuza anthology.  The first is that while any of these three titles offer up more than enough action and content to serve as great jumping off points for a newcomer to the series, in all honesty the third, fourth and fifth installments are probably the least ideal due to all the narrative baggage many of the principal characters are bringing in from the previous games in the saga, not to mention the obvious spoilers and confusion resulting from the player not knowing or fully understanding the events that have gone before.  Anyone looking to get acquainted with the Yakuza franchise would be better served to start with Yakuza 0 or Yakuza Kiwami and proceed forward from there.

That said, this brings us full circle to the beginning of this review, where the strongest argument for anyone to consider picking up this collection lies:  It’s available right now in Xbox Game Pass, right alongside all of the preceding games, and will soon be joined by Yakuza 6: The Song of Life on March 25th.  Simply put, if you are an Xbox Game Pass member, or join the service for just $1 CAD (which will give you three months under the current promotion), you will have access to all of the mainline games in the Kiryu Kazama saga and can experience all their stories in any order that you want (and on any current Xbox/PC/XCloud-compatible Android device you want). I might like an Xbox Game Pass shill right now, but it’s hard to argue against that kind of value. Even if you choose to forgo Game Pass and purchase The Yakuza Remastered Collection outright at its MSRP of $55 CAD, that still comes up to less than $20 per title, which is an excellent price for just about any solid remaster of a triple-A game. Trust me, do yourself a favor if you haven’t already, and give these games a try.

Classic Prison Tycoon Series Getting a Reboot Thanks to Ziggurat Interactive 1

Classic Prison Tycoon Series Getting a Reboot Thanks to Ziggurat Interactive

Prison Tycoon is returning with a fresh entry in the series titled Prison Tycoon: Under New Management from Ziggurat Interactive. In development at Abylight Studios the people that brought us such games as Hyper Light Drifter, Tiny Thief, and Super Hydorah the game is slated for a 2021 release on PC and consoles.

Prison Tycoon: Under New Management will once again task us to rehabilitating prisoners, as they struggle to once again return to polite society. The game will feature all the key characteristics you expect from a modern prison, including security checkpoints, guard towers, prison cells, and inmate services. Needing to find a balance between security and rehabilitation, this new entry looks to be a fun, and engaging way to bring out your inner wardens Samuel Norton from Shawshank. With the need to get funding, continually drawing in new inmates, all while working to keep the population happy, Prison Tycoon: Under New Management will keep you on your toes as you work to build the best correctional facility possible.

“We are thrilled to be working with Abylight Studios on a transcendent reimagining of the Prison Tycoon franchise,” said  Wade Rosen, President of Ziggurat Interactive. “Under New Management is our opportunity to reboot the franchise with a modern mindset and positive outlook.”

While no firm date is set for release, Prison Tycoon: Under New Management is set to hit both PC and Console sometime later in 2021. Stay tuned to CGMagazine for more on this instalment in the classic franchise.

The Medium Review 6

The Medium Review

A few years ago, Polish developer Bloober Team hit the scene in a big way with Layers of Fear, their horror/painting simulator from 2016. To be perfectly honest, I never saw the appeal of that one. It always just felt like a lot of jumpscares and shocking images with a loosely defined theme and never really got into anything truly horrific. With this in mind, and after 2019’s poorly received Blair Witch, I don’t know why I went into The Medium with any inkling that I would enjoy it.

The game starts with protagonist Mary Anne preparing for the funeral of her deceased foster parent, which functions as a loose tutorial. Mary Anne stomps around looking for a tie clip and appropriate keys using her special ghostly vision to detect things that are not readily apparent, even though those things are not especially ghostly. This sequence culminates in a confrontation with the shade of her extremely confused father figure, in what should have been an emotional, somber scene. The problem is that there are no emotional stakes here. Sure, Mary Anne is wailing, and this old man ghost is muttering about like he’s meant to remind me of the grim reality of senility, but none of these characters mean a thing to me yet so all their overacting just feels unearned and hollow.

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The Medium – Bloober Team

The rest of the game is like this too. There is a distinct lack of subtly in the storytelling around every corner, so much so that there is literally a major character named, “Sadness.” This is a cheerful ghost of a child and she tells you that her name is actually Sadness. You meet Sadness at the Niwa Resort, a big haunted place that Mary Anne is meant to meet some guy at; and, frankly, the rest of the story is fairly incomprehensible, poorly told, and seemingly negated by the time the whole ordeal is over and done with. There are some smaller stories here and there about people long dead that fare a little better, and some of the environmental story telling can be downright good, but these moments are fleeting overall.

The game plays like a 3D adventure game at the best of times, albeit one with sluggish and unresponsive controls. Move forward until you can no longer do so then you look for an item, or fuel for Mary Anne’s ghostly powers, then continue forward. Numerous times you’ll be asked to circumvent completely glass doors in an abandoned building to progress, but I guess we can’t go wrecking up the place any further. The game has a habit of needlessly holding the player’s hand in some places and providing little to no guidance in others.

The Medium Review 3
The Medium – Bloober Team

For example, when you’re approaching Niwa, there’s a set of ghostly footprints leading through the forest to the building. It goes on for several screens, but there’s no other paths to go on for most of them, so I don’t see that there was even any point to having them there in the first place. A bit later there’s a puzzle where you find a little statue and with it is a picture of someone looking through a mirror with it and the statue looks different on the other side. For a moment I thought that this was great and an excellent way to signal to the player what they could do with that statue, only to have Mary Anne explicitly say that I should bring it to a mirror. It felt rather insulting to have the game doubt my intelligence so much that it had to ruin what could have been an interesting moment.

To make matters worse, the game is exceptionally buggy. I ran into weird graphical glitches all over the place, some hard crashes, and had to restart the game several times just to progress. There is neat feature where the screen splits in half and the main character can interact with the real world and its ghostly counterpart. I came to dread these sequences because it absolutely destroyed the game’s framerate. The fact that the game has an option for an unlimited framerate cap feels impossibly optimistic.

The Medium Review 4
The Medium – Bloober Team

The Medium is not my cup of tea. That, I think, has been well established, but it’s not without its good points. The visuals throughout can be pretty cool, and some of the aforementioned environmental storytelling can be interesting. I particularly enjoyed the designs of the ghosts, Sadness included, and the locales looked very striking in their haunted, spooky forms. A few of the puzzles were even satisfying to solve when they weren’t the standard item hunt. I think that one of the reasons the art design of The Medium stands out to me is that it takes inspiration from the artist Zdzisław Beksiński. His work is haunting and beautiful, managing to capture surreal and decrepit images that invoke awe and dread masterfully. The Medium leans on his style heavily, and to great effect, even employing the same shades common in his work to their depiction of the afterlife.

There is one last thing that I would like to touch on here, and I really think it can explain a lot about why The Medium didn’t resonate with me. As Mary Anne goes about her business in exceptionally spooky spots, she is occasionally stopped by doors made of skin sewn onto an opening. Using a straight-razor she acquired early on, she can easily slice down the middle of the thing and it disappears into the ether. Now, I couldn’t shake the feeling that that felt alarmingly familiar, and that’s because that’s a thing that happens a lot in Silent Hill: Homecoming; one of the bad Silent Hill games. Now, in that game it is used to help establish a theme of things being split (Silent Hill: Homecoming has a similar problem with a lack of subtlety), but here it is mostly used to fill time and maybe create some tension. .

The Medium Review 5
The Medium – Bloober Team

Now, cribbing from a popular franchise in the genre isn’t the worst thing a game can do, though choosing a better entry to draw inspiration from might have been a good idea. However, The Medium’s most glaring issue is something that that franchise, even Homecoming, has always done and that is providing interesting decisions to the player. Now, those aren’t always big decisions and more often than not the most they’ll resolve into is a different ending, but if you compare that to The Medium then the difference is massive.

In Silent Hill 2 a suicidal girl gives the protagonist a knife. You can’t use it in combat or for any of the puzzles in that game; it just sits in your inventory. However, each time you look at it counts up on an invisible tally that makes it more likely the at the end of the game the main character will take his own life. The game never tells you this, but it’s still a choice that you, the player makes: the more often James looks at that knife the more likely it is that he will do what its original owner wanted to do with it. The Medium, on the other hand doesn’t offer the player any choices. It’s a spooky scary carnival ride that will always start and end in the same place no matter how you play it.

I want to like this game. On paper, it looks like a pretty good idea, and some of the designs are exactly the kinds of things I want to see in a horror game, but, as a whole, there are too many issues here. The bugs, the poorly told story, and the deeper narrative concerns really hold the game down and there’s not much here to hold up. Hopefully some intense patches can iron out the technical issues, but other issues cannot really been improved on. I cannot recommend fans of the horror genre to pay money for The Medium.



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