Red Dead Redemption 2: In pictures

Red Dead Redemption 2 (PC) A story in pictures

 

It might have arrived on PC a year after the console release, but Red Dead Redemption 2 on PC is a beautiful thing. It really is.

Sure, you have to tweak a multitude of settings to get things just right (I’m currently averaging around 55 frames per second with a mix of ultra/high/medium settings) but boy, oh boy, it just looks gorgeous.

RDR2 on PC wasn’t without its problems, though: Rockstar screwed the launch royally with launcher issues, frequent crashes, and new patches that reset all the graphical settings to the default, meaning painless tweaks of each graphics preset had to be done all over again to find the optimal frame rate settings – but things seemed to have settled down now and RDR2 it’s still one of my most favourite games of recent times.

Actually, RDR2 seems to be comparable to Hideo Kojima’s recently released Death Stranding: Both are quite polarising among gamers, both criticised by some for its slow pace while adored by others. I haven’t played Death Stranding so I can’t comment on its game play but I have played RDR2 on both PS4 Pro and PC and I love it. It’s one of my favourite games of recent times.

It’s also got an amazing photo mode and there are so many great moments that I find myself pausing the game, framing a nice shot (especially if it’s night or the sun is just right) then clicking! It’s one of those games that you can document your life thanks to the photo mode.

So, enough words: Here’s is my journey so far through Red Dead Redemption 2 on PC through the lens of the game’s photo mode.

Enjoy.

 

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PriceSpy predicts big Black Friday ahead for Kiwis

Black Friday is approaching fast so PriceSpy has sent through some data on what it expects this year’s edition to hold for Kiwi consumers.

Excitement for Black Friday is mounting, as keen Kiwi shoppers search out the best deals ahead of Christmas.  According to New Zealand’s fully impartial price and product comparison site, PriceSpy,  popularity for the big day is as popular as ever, as visitors numbers using the site grew by a fifth (20 per cent) in 2018 compared to 2017.  What’s more, PriceSpy predicts this figure will rise by the same amount (20 per cent) again later this month on Black Friday.

But as some savvy shoppers know, not everything is always as it seems. PriceSpy data also reveals the global shopping phenomenon doesn’t necessarily offer the best deals, with discounts on some popular products being considerably lower than what consumers may actually expect.

Liisa Matinvesi-Bassett, New Zealand country manager for PriceSpy, says: “Our insights suggest popularity for Black Friday has continued to rise year on year, with the percentage of overall visitors using our site increasing by a massive 108 per cent since 2015.  

“For those looking to take part in the Black Friday sales this year, we couldn’t recommend more strongly the need for consumers to be price aware, as a recent PriceSpy survey* found Kiwis may be expecting more of a bargain that what is actually being offered.”

The  survey found:

  • A fifth (21 per cent) of Kiwis expect to save an average of up to 30 per cent on Black Friday 
  • Three fifths (58 per cent) of Kiwis said they expect to save an average of between 30 and 90 per cent on Black Friday.
  • Historical insights from PriceSpy however suggest a very different reality, as the average discount offered across all products listed on the site last year was just 12 per cent.


Liisa continues:  “Out of all the products consumers clicked on last Black Friday (124,771), 37 per cent of items were found to offer a discount, but almost one in ten (nine per cent) increased in price, going against what the majority of shoppers believe.”

For those hoping to bag a bargain or two ahead of the Christmas shopping frenzy, historical data from PriceSpy suggests electrical items are amongst the most popular that consumers are searching out.

Liisa adds:  “Last year, 68 per cent of TVs listed on PriceSpy decreased in price on Black Friday, offering an average discount of 10 per cent per item, which is a pretty decent saving.

“On the other hand, even though almost two fifths (39 per cent) of headphones decreased in price on Black Friday 2018, the average discount per item was only seven per cent. What’s more, nine per cent of headphones were found to increase in price!”

“So even though a large proportion of products appear to offer a discount on Black Friday, some of the prices aren’t slashed as much as consumers might expect.”

Liisa Matinvesi-Bassett concludes: “With almost 50 per cent (47 per cent*) of Kiwis planning to purchase something this Black Friday, shoppers should first head to a price comparison site like PriceSpy to be sure the purchase being made is being offered at the best price, as this will avoid the disappointment that comes with finding out you’ve overpaid later on.”

To help Kiwis gamers prepare for the big Black Friday rush, here are PriceSpy’s top predictions on most popular games:

 

Top predictions Game Price range (current as of 23 November 2019)
1 Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (PS4)

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (Xbox One)

$93.69 – $114.95
2 FIFA 20 (PS4)

FIFA 20 (Xbox One)

$75.00 – $109.99
3 Pokémon Sword (Switch)  $87.69 – $99.95
4 Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Switch) $93.69 – $99.95
5 The Outer Worlds (PS4) $93.69 – $99.00

Oppo Enco Q1 ear buds

Oppo’s Enco Q1 ear buds in all their glory.

Ear bud heaven

I’m not usually a fan of ear buds – my ears don’t seem to agree with most of the brands I’ve tried in the past – but Oppo’s Enco Q1 ear buds seemed to have agree with my ear holes right off the bat.

The silicone ear tips were comfortable and, most importantly for a company that started out as an audio equipment manufacturer before branching out to smart phones, the sound was top notch – but more on that later.

What’s interesting with the Enco Q1’s design is the neckband that houses the ear bud cables, which snake out from near the end of the soft, flexible band like a serpent.

The neckband is made of a flexible memory rubber and to be honest, I hardly noticed it was there. It’s light weight so it’s not uncomfortable. The accessory pack includes a variety of different sized silicone ear tips so you’re bound to find one that fits.

Embedded into the left hand side is the on/off switch, noise cancelling button (which also activates the Q1’s three audio modes) and volume up and down.

Pairing via bluetooth 5.0 was hassle free (with the ear buds advising me they’d connected quickly with a rather soothing voice, not like the rather robotic voice with my Bose Q35s) and Oppo says the buds have a range of 10m (line of sight, of course). I only had one instance when the audio cut out and that was when I had to go hunt for the dog when he wandered down the street – and that was further than 10m.

I mentioned noise cancelling earlier. Yep, the Q1’s have active noise cancelling that you can turn on and off with the press of a button on the neckband. You know when it’s on or off as the soothing voice tells you “Noise cancelling on/off”, and while I didn’t feel the noise cancelling was as good as my Bose Q35 over ear headphones, they blocked out overly loud noise around me.

But how do they perform? How does audio actually sound when listening?

Impressively, actually.

Most impressive

Right from the get go, the Q1’s impressed me with a quality of sound that, frankly, put many other ear buds that I’ve used in the past to shame. Bass notes really resonated and sound quality was crisp, clear and balanced.

The left hand side of the neckband houses the control buttons.

Double tapping the function button switches between music, cinema and gaming sound modes, with each one adjusting the audio to suit what you’re doing. The cinema mode, for example, pushes up the bass and adds 3D audio where required, while the gaming mode drops the bass, instead highlighting the finer audio details that gamers are listening for. Playing Deus Ex Go, the sound was crisp and immersive, as was the cinema mode when I fired up John Wick on my iPad.

As Darth Vader would say, “Most impressive.”

Oppo claims the Q1’s will last for 15 hours before needing a recharge and they’re not far off the money, actually. I’ve used them fairly consistently over the past two weeks – mainly listening to music while walking the dog – and haven’t had to charge them yet (at the time of writing they had 20 per cent battery left). The ear buds remind you when you have 10% left and they’ll charge in a couple of hours.

Pedigree on display

Oppo’s pedigree as a former maker of high-end audio equipment is on display here, with an impressive ear bud set that will make your ears smile (if your ears could smile, that is).

I also think at $199 the Q1’s are priced really well, especially given the bells and whistles you’re getting in these ear buds.

D-Link Exo AC3000 Smart Mesh wi-fi router

The first thing my wife said when she saw me lift the D-Link Exo AC3000 (DIR3060) out of its box was: “What the hell is that thing???”. She then pulled a face that made it clear what she thought of its looks.

“It’s a router,” I said. “All those antennae are there to provide a better signal. Anyway, it’s going to be behind the TV so you won’t see it then.”

To be fair, D-Link’s Exo DIR-3060 router does look a bit like some sort of interstellar landing craft with its six antennae but they’re there for a purpose: They boost the wi-fi signal to the devices that are using it.

For most of us, routers are the unsung heroes that sit in the background, doing their job and nobody really notices them until the unforgivable happens: You don’t have any internet access.

A week or so before the D-Link arrived, I contacted my ISP for guidance on just how hard it would be to configure the router to its network because I was, frankly, expecting it to be a nightmare. They reckoned it wouldn’t be too hard. They were right: It was a piece of cake.

After plugging in the router, I connected to D-Link’s online portal, selected my ISP, entered my account username and password and the router did the rest. In a few minutes,  I was connected and up and running. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was. As I mentioned earlier, it’s currently behind the TV which is the closest point to where my fibre internet enters the house, and I’ve spread the antennae as much as I can.

The DIR-3060  comes with four Gigabit ethernet ports, two USB ports (2.0 & 3.0), tri-band wi-fi with MU-MIMO, supports voice commands using Google Assist and Amazon Alexa and features a button for easy WPS set up. It also comes with a complimentary five year subscription to McAfee home network security. It also supports up to 400 Mbps (on the 2.4 GHz band) and 866 Mbps & 1733 Mbps (5 GHz). It’s large, though, measuring 221.8mm x 201.4mm x 58.8mm so you’ll need a good sized surface to prop it onto.

D-Link touts that the DIR-3060 has Ookla speed test built in but really it’s just a feature set in the router’s menu system. Using Speed test on my mobile, I tested in the lounge (where the router is located) and got download speeds of 59.8Mbps and upload speeds of 42.9Mbps. In the kitchen, which is probably 25 feet away, I got a download speed of 45.3Mbps & an upload speed of 27.2Mbps (the wired connection to my PC returned a download speed of 847Mbps and an upload speed of 531Mbps.)

I also tested the router by doing a lot of media streaming (mainly Netflix via an Apple TV box and You Tube) over wi-fi and performance on Netflix was butter smooth. We have several devices connected to our network at anyone time: Phones, tablets, computers, streaming boxes, gaming consoles etc and all connected without a hitch.

I didn’t experience any drop outs or connection issues with the D-Link from the moment installed it but I still needed to use the D-Link COVR wi-fi extenders that allow the wi-fi to reach the top end of my house, meaning I have two wi-fi networks. I could, though, buy some D-Link DAP-1820 mesh extenders if I wanted to, which would create a mesh network from the main network.

A QoS (Quality of Service) engine lets you prioritise particular devices that are connected to your network over others (ie streaming boxes ahead of mobile phone). The DIR-3060 also has a strong suite of parental controls and comes with two years free McAfee security software.

At the end of the day, the DIR-3060 does what it says on the tin: It sends the internet to all our devices in my home (four at any one time) and it does it pretty darn well. I’m happy, though: The wi-fi was definitely more reliable than the signal from the router my ISP supplied me with (which has since been relegated to a cupboard in the spare room).

The only people I reckon the DIR-3060 won’t appeal to are those people who still have landlines as the router doesn’t have a port for your phone. I told my wife she should be using Facebook messenger or some other online telephony to call people, anyway.

Look, I was impressed with D-Link’s DIR-3060 router. It’s pricey, though, at almost $500, but it provided a stable, consistent internet with reliable speeds and that’s what I expect from my routers, especially given how much content gets downloaded and streamed at my house.

The Witcher Complete Edition review (Nintendo Switch)

This review was originally published on Koru-Cottage.com, which I also write for.

I’m not really sure what alchemy and magic potions CD Projekt Red & Saber Interactive have evoked to enable one of the finest action RPGs of this generation – The Witcher 3 – to run on Nintendo’s handheld console the Switch but, my God, they’ve done the seemingly impossible and made it happen.

I’m not going to give a history lesson in this review retelling the story of Geralt of Rivea, a genetically enhanced mercenary who is the star of this game series based on the books by Polish author Andrei Sapkowski, suffice to say this game – the third in the series – has Geralt tasked with searching for Ciri, his understudy many moons ago who has returned, along with an oppressive evil called The Wild Hunt that wants to destroy everything in its path.

 

The Witcher, It’s a miracle

The fact that Saber Interactive has even got The Witcher running on what is essentially a tablet chipset is a miracle and what’s even more astounding, though, is isn’t some pared back version of the same game that appeared on PC and consoles: It’s the complete edition (just as it says on the tin), with all the DLC (including the Blood & Wine and Hearts of Stone expansions that were released). Sure, it’s a compromised version of The Witcher but it’s feature complete – and that is a miracle.

Geralt of the RivieraWhen it was rumoured that The Switcher was coming to the Switch I didn’t quite believe it but here we are: It’s real and it’s wonderful.

I’ve played The Witcher games right from the beginning and The Witcher 3 on both PC and PlayStation 4. So I know a thing or two about the series, and yes, Nintendo’s version takes a dramatic hit visually. With environments more washed out and fuzzy than its console and PC counterparts (especially vegetation). At times, when a sunset bathes the game world in golden light or light shafts stream through a forest, it really does look beautiful. Also, from all accounts NPC counts and character models are comparable to other versions. Besides, The Witcher 3 was a demanding game on PC at the best of times if you cranked all the bells and whistles up.

Some advice, though: If this is your first time experiencing The Witcher. I advise you don’t start with the Switch version. If you have access to either console or PC versions, play one of those versions first. That’s the best way to play it. Also, I don’t recommend playing it in docked mode (if you have a Switch Lite you can’t anyway). Why, you ask?

It’s really for on the go

Played in docked mode on my Samsung 40-inch 1080p TV, the visuals are frankly a mess and hurt my eyes. Things are blurry – as if a thin layer of petroleum jelly or such was smeared across the screen [especially ground vegetation which is lifeless and flat] – textures take ages to load in sometimes [detailing on Geralt’s shoulder armour took an insanely long time to sort itself out] and to be honest, it just doesn’t look nice.

It’s clear the Switch version is designed for handheld play first and foremost. The 6-inch screen hides all the imperfections and compromises better. Yes, you still notice flat grass and the like, but portable mode is best for this edition of The Witcher. Play it on the bus, on the train. Heck, play it sitting on the toilet. It doesn’t matter where you play it because handheld mode is where the magic shines best.

The Witcher and Roach on the move How does CD Projekt Red & Saber Interactive get the seemingly impossible game onto a console that is dramatically underpowered when compared to its siblings? By using a dynamic resolution to ensure stable performance, that’s  how. The game will drop as low as 540p in crowded and demanding places, but you know what? You don’t notice it that much in portable mode due to the small screen [at least, I didn’t notice resolution drops but then I have old many eyes]

The game seems to hold a relatively steady 30 frames per second (Digital Foundry has done a great performance analysis on things), although dips are noticeable in crowded areas and some cut scenes where it’s abundantly clear that the Switch is being pushed to its absolute limits to keep things running, and like many games ported over to Switch I still found on-screen text ridiculously hard to read at times – even with my glasses on. It’s also a battery hog. Be warned: During one 2 1/2 hour play session, my Switch’s battery went from 100% to 34%. So have a power bank ready to go if you plan to play for extended periods.

That damn horse again

Any niggles? Of course. One is the game’s automatic pathfinding when you’re riding Roach, your horse. Which I’d hoped they might have fixed in this version. When I set a way point and held down the appropriate button for automatic canter to our destination. He’d lose track of where he was going, forcing me to manually steer him back onto the right path. It’s not a game breaker: It’s just annoying that it’s still here. Another is given the small size of the Switch’s screen [and the default quite dark gamma settings for the game], sometimes enemies are harder to spot, which makes combat challenging at times.

The bottom line here is that yes, The Witcher Complete Edition on Nintendo Switch doesn’t look as good as its console and PC counterparts and purists will recoil in horror at that, but The Switcher is an outstanding port of one of the finest action RPGs of all time that is feature complete and I just can’t put it down [I’ve played for hours and hours over the past week]. It’s just perfect for when my better half is marathoning her soup operas and I need something to occupy me.

I tip my hat to all the talented individuals involved. Who have shown that magic and alchemy can indeed get a game like this running on Nintendo’s system.

Thanks to Stephen at Namco Bandai in Australia for the review code.

Player 2 Charity Marathon: Gaming for a good cause

Here at GamejunkieNZ, we love supporting our fellow gamers when they’re doing good things for the community.

Well, our friends at Australian website Player 2 is holding its fourth Charity Marathon on November 2, supporting the Terry Campese Foundation. The Terry Campese Foundation, a charity started by ex- Australian, NSW and Canberra Raider player Terry Campese, helps those in his home region that are doing it tough. 

Player 2 Editor Matt Hewson has been a strong supporter of this cause for many years, with the last 2 marathons raising $8314 for the foundation. Matt’s passion for this charity has been recognised by Terry and his foundation with Matt becoming an official member of the Foundation’s board in June of this year. 

With Matt now having a say in where the money raised during the P2 Charity Marathon is used, he has chosen something close to Player 2’s heart, video games. Country hospitals in NSW are severely underserviced when it comes to providing entertainment for sick and injured children being treated in their wards. As any parent can tell you, waiting in an emergency bed for results or observations with a sick child can be a painful experience, making things worse for a kid that is already feeling terrible. With that in mind the Marathon is looking to raise $4000, enough to purchase three GAEM Vanguard portable game systems, three gaming consoles and associated accessories and three android tablets for the Queanbyan District Hospital and Braidwood hospital. 

It is Player 2’s belief that making any stay in a hospital for a child and their family easier is a goal worth chasing and that is what they are going to do by playing video games for 24 hours and streaming the entire event on Twitch. Player 2 invites people to donate, win prizes and watch the fun as the Player 2 team tries to make it through all 24 hours without nodding off or going insane. 

Anyone who donates $AU5 or more (one entry per $5) will go in the draw to win prizes donated by Xbox, Turn Left, Namco Bandai, 2K Australia, Koch Media, Ubisoft and more. Thousands of dollars of prizes are up for grabs, the full list of which will be available on Player2.net.au in the lead up to the event. 

From the team at GamejunkieNZ here in New Zealand we say “Good on ‘ya, Matt.”

You can find Player 2’s Twitch channel here and more about the marathon, and how to donate, here.

 

Lonely Mountains Downhill: You, your mountain bike, & nature

Two years ago, I was browsing through Kickstarter and was intrigued by a campaign for an as-yet-unmade mountain biking game called Lonely Mountains: Downhill.

Inspired by videos by riders like Danny MacAskill, German development studio Megagon Industries wanted to create a “mountain biking game in which the mountain is your only opponent and nature your only companion”. Fast forward two years and I can confidently say they have succeeded.

I plonked down 25 Euros ($NZ44) on the campaign, which got me a digital copy of the game, a digital art/behind the scenes book, an exclusive wallpaper and an exclusive poster, my name in the credits and the developers Megagon Industries, based in Berlin, Germany, would plant a virtual tree in the game for me.

My name’s in there as a backer. See if you can spot it? (Hint, second line from the bottom, sixth name from the left).

Megagon Industries was seeking 35,000 Euros and when the Kickstarter ended, they’d secured 45,042 Euros, and reached some stretch goals, too. I was backer number 274.

I think I was attracted to Lonely Mountains because I loved the low poly-aesthetic and I love mountain biking – and this would let me be more reckless that I would ever be on my real mountain bike (I’m too scared of crashing most of the time I go downhill these days).

This was the pitch: “Just you and your bike – take it on a thrilling ride down an unspoiled mountain landscape. Make your way through thick forests, narrow trails and wild rivers. Race, jump, slide and try not to crash – all the way from the peak to the valley!”

Now, 2019, the game is out and I’m loving it. A lot. It was originally slated for a mid-2018 release but development slipped. These things happen, you know. I wasn’t even worried: I actually forgot I’d backed it for a while. It was a surprise when the the Steam key landed in my inbox.

Off the bat, Lonely Mountains looks gorgeous. I love the low-poly asthetic that gives it a real unique look and feel. The environments, too, are just vibrant: Full of life and colour. I mean, look at this shot (I stopped my rider there purposely, so he could look at the waterfall below). Impressive, right?

I’ve said it before but Lonely Mountains really does let me be more adventurous that I would ever be on my real mountain bike. While I’m able to climb hills OK when it comes to the downhills, I tend to ride the brakes more than I should. Lonely Mountains lets me sprint, jump and slide to my heart’s content without any fear of injuring my ageing body.

Talking about injuries, I’ve crashed a lot in Lonely Mountains: a helluva lot. Megagon said we would. Despite smacking into numerous trees and rocks (which puffs of pixelated blood), my little rider dusts himself off – and restarts at the most recent checkpoint.

I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve already smacked into the tree that Megagon Industries planted for me. Keep an eye out for it, will you? It’ll be the one with lots of pixelated blood on it.

The thing I like about Lonely Mountains is that it rewards persistence.

At first, each new trail – like real mountain bike trails – is an unknown quantity, unfamiliar. You take it cautiously (well, I tend to), braking on every corner, following the suggested path. The more you ride that trail, though, the more confident you become: You notice shortcuts between stands of trees or around a clump of rocks. You notice little things that shave precious seconds off your time and get you to the finish just that little bit faster.

Another thing I like is that the in-game soundtrack is nature itself. It’s refreshing, to be honest, to play a game that doesn’t bombard your ears with an overly loud soundtrack.

If you haven’t already guessed, I’m loving Lonely Mountains and am slowly unlocking new challenges and trails. This is one Kickstarter I’m glad I backed.

 

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