Crackdown 3 review: Punch bad buys and collect the magic orbs

Microsoft’s Crackdown series can be summed up thus: Collect magic orbs then punch bad guys into the air and jump really, really high.

OK, that might be a little simplistic but c’mon, nobody ever played Crackdown for the story. They played it because you didn’t have to think too deeply about what you are doing – and you got to blow stuff up and jump around collecting agility orbs.

The original Crackdown launched on the Xbox 360 in 2007 and fast forward a few years and the latest installment in the Crackdown series is now out, Numero 3 now lets you … collect magic orbs then punch bad guys into the air and jump really, really high.

Crackdown 3, which was first revealed in 2014, has had something of a protracted development cycle, but, surprisingly, after years of reveals and teasing, it was launched last week with little fanfare by Microsoft Games. To me, that’s not a good sign of faith in a game.

Taking place in a cartoonish city dripping with bright neon called New Providence, the story is pretty generic and believe me when I say you won’t be playing Crackdown 3 for the narrative, which involves you – as Super Agent – taking down the leader of an evil corporation called TerraNova, which is masquerading as a good community citizen but is, actually, the complete opposite.

Most of the marketing around Crackdown 3 has been done involving former NFL player and now actor Terry Crews, and its good thinking on Microsoft’s part: Crews is larger than life (with larger than life biceps) so who better to cast as a genetically altered super agent who delivers the smack to wayward robots, mindless goons and organised hit squads and taking the city back, neon-coloured sector by sector.

Like the original Crackdown, the key to increasing your super agent abilities is upgrading them by collecting the glowing orbs dotted around the city. The five abilities are agility, firearms, explosives, driving and strength and you can focus on particular attributes to develop. A definite highlight of the game is that unmistakable “ting” again as you collect an orb.

Want to become a crack-shot marksman? Just use as many firearms as you can. Want to be able to drift and turn and pull off incredible driving feats? Just drive more. Want to be able to stronger? Just pick up stuff and throw it – and punch people. The more you use those particular skills, the stronger you become in that discipline.

There is no denying Crackdown 3’s campaign is fun, but truth be told, after a handful of hours, I found myself losing interest in the generic story and instead focusing on hunting down agility orbs. Truth be told, I found that more satisfying than delivering the boom to goon squads and bosses.

After a few hours of capturing monorail stations, freeing imprisoned citizens, destroying giant mining facilities and hijacking propaganda towers, though, I felt like I’d experienced all Crackdown 3 had to offer.

Some games, for example, are so engaging, so engrossing that I think about them when I’m not playing them. That didn’t happen with Crackdown 3. Not once.

Sadly, Crackdown 3 is a victim of being hyped up to the point that it could never deliver on what it originally promised and the result is a rather average third-person action game. It actually feels like a remaster of the original – which came out 12 years ago – but it’s not. It has nothing that makes it stand out from the crowd, and that’s a shame.

Even Microsoft’s grandiose plans of offering destructible environments where skyscrapers could be destroyed, causing them to topple onto other buildings (all thanks to the power of “The Cloud” ), has been relegated to the game’s multiplayer Wrecking Zone mode, which I haven’t had a chance to check out yet.

Look, Crackdown 3 is one of those games that you don’t have to engage your brain too much when you play it, which is what you want to do from time to time, I get that, but to me, there’s nothing here that captured my attention and wanted me to play it ahead of other games. The formula has stayed the same since the original Crackdown and  in the 12 years between the original and number 3, I would have liked to have seen some innovation and not just the same game with a fresh coat of paint.

For owners of Xbox’s Game Pass service, however, Crackdown 3 is a no brainer as it’s free for subscribers of the service, but for me, it’s an average game that fails to deliver on the lofty hype that was heaped upon it in the lead up to its release.

Yes, it’s some more Metro Exodus stuff but with some Sekiro, too

Yes, this is the second Metro Exodus post in as many days but, c’mon, I don’t have any games or anything at the moment. I’m contemplating a nice opinion piece but until that has come to fruition … it’s some more Metro Exodus … also a story trailer for Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, which comes from FromSoftware, the crazy minds behind Bloodborne & the Dark Souls series.

Firstly, though, the third part in the Making of Metro Exodus mini-documentaries. So, without further ado, here’s part three:

Metro Exodus is landing next week!

Also worth having a look is the story preview trailer for Sekiro, a game set in late 1500s Sengoku Japan, said by the developers to have been a “brutal period of constant life and death conflict”. It’s not long – just over a minute – so I’m guessing we’ll see something with a little more meat as the month progress.

You can have a gander at it here:

Artyom’s Nightmare: Entering the world of Metro Exodus

Metro Exodus, the next game in one of my favourite shooter series of all time (it really is), is close, dear readers, very, very, very close.

How close? So close you can almost taste its radioactive source code.

It’s out next week, actually (February 15) and to celebrate its imminent arrival, Deep Silver and 4A Games have released Artyom’s Nightmare”, a 4 minute something CGi short that acts as a prologue to Exodus where it explores main character Artyom’s hopes and fears of a life beyond the ruins of the Moscow Metro.

If you’re a fan of the series, it’s well worth a look and sets the scene for what we can expect in Metro Exodus.

The countdown for Artyom’s return has begun …

 

Oppo AX7 smartphone review

For as budget priced, mid-range phone, Oppo really has pulled out all the stops when it comes to the AX7.

It really doesn’t look – or feel – like a budget smart phone.

Clad in a colour that Oppo describes as glaze blue, the AX7 feels comfortable in the hand, with a nice weight to it, and the attention to detail in the small – but noticeable – details like the camera lens surround means Oppo’s latest phone will get noticed.

Powered by a Snapdragon 450 octa-core CPU, the AX7 comes with a 6.2-inch HD+ display, 4Gb of RAM and is running Oppo’s ColorOS 5.2 (based on Android 8.2) but weirdly, just 64Gb of internal storage space, which in this day and age of digital consumption doesn’t really cut the mustard these days. Thankfully, the storage can be expanded via microSD card (upto 256Gb). A nice touch is the SIM card tray has space for two SIMs, meaning you can use the phone as your work mobile and private number.

The AX7 comes with all the latest bells and whistles you’d expect, including a fingerprint scanner. If I had one gripe about the scanner it would be that I thought it was perhaps positioned a little too high and could be a tad deeper, so that it’s easy to find first time. That said, it’s fast enough when it comes to unlocking the handset.

I was pleasantly surprised with the phone’s battery life, with the 4230mAh battery lasting a good couple of days with moderate use (phone calls, texting, browsing, the odd YouTube video). I’m still not sold on Oppo’s ColorOS operating system, which can be a little slow at times.

Perhaps the star of the AX7, though, is the camera, which sports 13MP and 2MP sensors at the back and a 16MP sensor at the front. It’s a selfie star, according to Oppo, although I’m not big on selfies, to be honest. Sure the customisation options for the camera are limited when compared to more expensive phones but it’s a good, honest shooter that will do what it says on the tin.

Photos taken with the AX7 were clear and sharp, with bright colours and details, although I thought sometimes the images were a little over saturated at times.

Perhaps the best thing about the AX7, though, is the price. Oppo has set the RRP at $399, which means it’s within reach for average consumers. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: Not everyone needs a $1000-plus smart phone (realistically, does anyone, really?) and like Huawei with its budget-priced Nova 3i, Oppo have created a nice-looking, well-performing smart phone that does everything you need without requiring you to mortgage the house, give up a kidney or sell your first-born.

Look, the AX7 isn’t going to compete in terms of lightning fast performance of higher end smartphones and with Oppo’s own rather great R17 Pro, but then, it’s not designed to. It offers great value for money with a battery that will go the distance (I’m still not 100% sold on ColorOS, though).

What’s not to like?

A big thanks to Oppo NZ for providing the AX7 for review.

Hold your breath, gamers, Metro Exodus is just around the corner

4A Game’s Metro series, which kicked off with Metro 2033 then followed up with Metro Last Night and set in post-apocalyptic Russia, would be one of my favourite FPS series of all time – and two of the most scary, too, with memories of creeping inch by inch forward for fear of something nasty jumping out from the shadows of an abandoned train station or sewer system.

Inspired by the writings of Russian novelist Dmitry Glukhovsky and his Metro 2025 novel, players fill the radiation stained boots of ranger Artyom as he searches for new life in the land laid waste by nuclear war.

In the lead up to the release of the third game in the series, Metro Exodus, Deep Silver and 4A Games have released some three documentaries on the making of Metro Exodus, talking to the development team in Kiev and in Malta. Metro Exodus is out on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC on February 15. I can’t wait.

You can watch episode one of the series below:

And as if by magic, you can also watch episode two here, which talks about the 4A graphics engine and the attention to detail in the in-game weapons:

Edifier S2000 Pro active monitor speakers review: Music to my ears

Chinese audio manufacturer Edifier continues to impress with its audio equipment – and it’s done it again with its S2000 Pro active monitor speakers. They’re bloody brilliant.

I was only able to test out the speakers for a week but I was blown away by not only the styling and build quality (that wood finish is just gorgeous but it does make them heavy!) but the speakers blew me away with the sound quality, too.

Edifier says the S2000 Pro speakers are designed for home recording and mixing but you know what: They’re bloody good to play music on if that’s what you want to get them for. Edifier says the speakers are tri-amped at 124watts, and feature 5 1⁄2-inch aluminium diaphragm drivers and a set of planar tweeters which provide “great acoustic range”. Here’s a .pdf about the speakers: s2000proi and here’s a video (without commentary) of the speakers set up at home and me playing Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody.

I thought a nice attention to detail was that each speaker has four brass feet which means the speakers aren’t resting on a surface (ie table), which in terms means there’s no unnecessary vibrations impacting on the sound quality. Edifier provides a 5m connection cable which means you can place the speakers where they best fit in your entertainment/game console set-up – or wherever you want to place them.

The speakers come with a pretty large, pretty uncomplicated remote which means you can sit back on the couch as you listen to your favourite tunes. You can also change the source using a knob on the left speaker but why bother when you’ve got a fully functional remote? The remote also has four EQ modes: Vocal, Monitor, Classic and Dynamic, which is ideal for gaming and movies (if I’d had the time or thought about it, I would have hooked the speakers up to one of my game consoles and really stirred things up!)

The S2000 Pro speakers can be connected to a sound source either by optical cable, RCA cable or Bluetooth, which is how I tested the speakers out, given the short time I had them. Connecting to the speakers was super easy and I tested the speakers on a variety of songs and soundtracks from my Spotify playlist, which included Paul Leonard-Morgan’s driving soundtrack to the movie Dredd,  a variety of 1979s and ’80s classics,  and one of my standard music testing songs, Queen’s legendary Bohemian Rhapsody. A classic if ever there was one.

The S2000 Pro’s ticked all the boxes when it came to sound quality and cranking them up, especially while playing, Bohemian Rhapsody (to the point of annoying family members who are watching TV in the next room), they fill a room with sound that didn’t distort the louder it got.

To be honest, I’d be happy tossing out our portable speakers and replace them with Edifier’s S2000 units. Sure, they’re not portable so you won’t be able to take them on the boat or on a picnic with your loved one, but around the home, these things punch well above their weight, especially for the price.

Talking of which, the S2000 Pro speakers will set you back around $600-$700, depending on the retailer, which for a set of speakers of this quality and ones that could easily feel at home in your main entertainment set-up, they’re a steal.

Look, if I had one complaint about the S2000 Pro speakers, it would be the plastic covers over the drivers. They just feels cheap, especially at the top. It would be nice to see a more substantial plastic used.

Once again, Edifier has impressed the pants off me with its audio equipment.

 

Stars Wars Republic Commando: One of the finest Star Wars games ever made – but we’ll never see a sequel

Trawling through You Tube the other night, I came across an excellent short by YouTube site GVMERS on the history of the superb Star Wars shooter Republic Commando.

After I watched it, I decided to hunt out my original Xbox copy of the game (which I still have, thankfullyl), Googled whether it would work on my Xbox 360 (it does: Apparently it may work on the Xbox One as well?), inserted the disc, applied a small update patch, and fired it up.

I was transported back to Star Wars gaming nirvana.

Along with FPS Dark Forces, space shooter X-Wing vs Tie Fighter and the wonderful Jedi Knight series, Republic Commando is still one of the greatest Star Wars games of all time. It is, believe me.

dd56a48dbf4f8343759e68efedbcaa74Republic Commando is a great game because it came when LucasArts still made Star Wars games and before the franchise was gobbled up by Disney and the game licenses given to EA to squander. I spent countless hours controlling Kyle Katarn (a stormtrooper who became a rebel fighter) as a burgeoning jedi knight and shooting dark troopers in Dark Forces.

Sure, Republic Commando’s graphics don’t stand up to today’s realistic visuals – where talking about a game that launched on the original Xbox around the mid-2000s – but believe me, the narrative and the game play (set around the time of George Lucas’ second trilogy of movies: Episodes one, two and three) still stand the test of time as you lead a rag-tag quartet of Republic Commandos, each with their own personality (something that is intriguing given republic soldiers are all clones), battling separatist forces on the bug-infested planet of Geonosis.

[Look, I’m not wearing rose-coloured glasses, thinking every single Star Wars game was the second-coming of gaming, because I don’t: There were some real stinkers, but games like Knights of the Old Republic, Dark Forces, the Jedi Knight series and Republic Commando are classics.]

But back to Republic Commando. What makes me love Republic Commando so much as an example of a Star Wars game with a single player campaign done right is that players control one of the Republic’s elite soldiers and it feels so damn badass doing it. The game play feels solid and it’s a nice tangent from the Star Wars movies.

Republic Commando is a game that brings me so much joy despite being years old but I know we will never see a sequel to this amazing game because Disney (and, I guess by extension, EA because it has the SW games license) just doesn’t have any idea what make great narrative-driven Star Wars game. Heck, I’d love to see a re-master of Republic Commando for current-generation consoles and PC. How good would that be??

Disney proved in 2013 that it has no idea what makes a good Star Wars game when it cancelled Star Wars 1313, a game that showed massive amounts of promise in a short 15-minute demo. Sadly, I also don’t have a lot of faith in EA’s up coming Star Wars game from Titanfall developer Respawn Entertainment.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I have the utmost faith in Respawn and Vince Zampella – Titanfall 2 was one of my favourite games of 2016 – but I am seriously concerned that EA will pressure Respawn to forgo a solid, narrative-driven single player campaign (like Titanfall 2’s), making it concentrate on a micro-transaction-laden multiplayer campaign. EA doesn’t care about single player games: All it cares about is MP game that can reap it financial rewards.

Look, I’d like to be proven wrong with Respawn’s Star Wars game – and I really, really hope I am – but I just don’t think Disney and EA care about the narrative-driven Star Wars games, and that makes me sad. Very, very, very sad.

Of course, I’m speculating wildly about EA and Disney and they may surprise us with an amazingly good Star Wars game with a worthwhile single player campaign in the coming years, but I’m not holding my breath.

I guess I’ll just have to keep playing the Star Wars games from the past to get my Star Wars video game fix.

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