Monthly Archives: April 2018

Pint-sized powerhouse: JBL Flip 4 review

JBL Flip 4 bluetooth speaker (from $105 online)

The Flip 4 retails at a price closest to the UE Wonderboom and the UE Roll, both of which I have used a lot and are fantastic speakers.

Being a longtime fan of the UE series, I was somewhat skeptical about the so called “Boom killer” Flip 4 and its ability to outperform my beloved Wonderboom. I was however, pleasantly surprised.

The Flip 4 delivered stunning lows and highs, which is something that is pretty rare with bluetooth speakers these days, with manufacturers often favouring one at the expense of the other.

A good example of this is the Beats Pill, where the low-end (bass) is over emphasized and the mid range suffers. This is not the case with JBL’s newest addition to the portable speaker market. In fact it is probably the best sounding portable speaker in its price range I’ve ever used, period.

The design of the Flip 4 hasn’t changed too much from its predecessor. With JBL opting to pour more focus on what’s under the hood, with improvements aimed towards better sound quality and battery life, as well as full waterproofing.

New additions include speakerphone capabilities and a more durable fabric covering. It still can’t float though, so if you drop it in the ocean, you can kiss it goodbye, but it does have a waterproof fabric cover.

As we all know, Africa by Toto is the greatest song of all time, so naturally it was the first song that I played on the Flip 4. It has quickly become my go-to testing song for both Bluetooth speakers and headphones. You will be pleased to know that your Toto listening is a pleasant experience on the JBL Flip 4.

Review by Mitchell Campbell

 

A video of me playing God of War on PlayStation 4 Pro for several minutes

The new God of War is out now on PS4 and if you’re sitting on the fence on whether you should buy it for your PlayStation 4, let this 13-minute or so video of me playing the game help you out.

You can also read my review here (but I was assuming you’d read it already, anyway) if you want more convincing God of War is a great game.

The video doesn’t spoil anything as it’s from the opening hour of the game so enjoy.

God of War: All hail to the king

At its heart, God of War on the PlayStation 4 is a road trip featuring an angry God trying to bond with his son and forget his past, and a son who wants to be a warrior like his father but doesn’t know how.

As road trips go, this is a helluva ride, as Kratos and his young son Atreus trek to a formidable mountain to bury the ashes of the warrior’s recently deceased wife, but as fathers go, Kratos has a bit to learn and is, quite frankly, a bit of a dick to Atreus.

During an early hunting trip when Atreus misses a shot at a deer and tells Kratos he’s sorry, the bearded God simply replies: “Don’t be sorry. Be better.” Several times, Atreus frequently calls Kratos “Sir”, rather than father or dad.

Not that Kratos doesn’t try to work on his relationship with Atreus: There are  moments when Kratos wants to connect with his son – a comforting hand on the boy’s shoulder, a word of encouragement – but Kratos is clearly unsure of what it means to be a good, caring father so those fleeting moments are brief and his gruffness returns.

As the journey to the highest mountain in the realm progresses, Kratos tries to be a father by telling (rather bad) stories to Atreus as they row a canoe across a giant lake and it’s clear that the relationship between the two evolves and ever changes (Kratos becomes a little softer at times, Atreus pushes back a little) .

Kratos and the relationship with Atreus isn’t the only major change here: The scenery, too, is different, moving from Ancient Greece to Midgard, home of Norse mythos and the mighty vikings. The change in location is welcome and it’s littered with lush forests, ice-covered mountains and deep caverns and, of course, it’s all steeped in Norse legend.

Combat is dramatically changed from previous games in the series but, in my opinion, for the better. Kratos no longer has the blades of chaos that he swings from chains wrapped around his bandaged forearms (although, as if a nod to the past, he still wears the bloodied bandages) , instead he has the leviathan axe, a mystical weapon forged by two dwarfs who also created the mighty hammer of Thor. The axe can be hurled at enemies  then snapped back to Kratos like a boomerang, adding a new dimension to the combat.

The combat is still as bloody as ever, with brutal finishing moves that will cleave an enemy in half, and Atreus is  on hand to unleashing a barrage of arrows on foes as well as choke them with his bow’s string.. The combat feels satisfying and visceral although, at times it seems like it takes cheap shots by throwing in smaller enemies to the mix as you battle larger foes.  I’m not really that keen on being attacked from behind while I’m trying to avoid the fiery breath of a soul eater!

Beginning its life on the PlayStation 2,  the God of War series has always been about spectacle and Kratos’ place in the world, and this new GOW has spectacle aplenty but in previous games, Kratos was often dwarfed by his surroundings (remember the opening fight in GOW3 on the earth mother Gaia? The camera pulls back and you see Kratos is miniscule compared to his surroundings), now, Kratos is given real stature in the world,  real gravitas.

He’s now no longer dwarfed by the world as dramatically. Shifting the camera to behind Kratos’ shoulders as he moves, too, helps with this scale and shows you just how big he is. He dwarfs Atreus, who is wiry and small.

Kratos can upgrade everything from his armour and skills  to his weapons  using items found in the game world and a currency called hacksilver, and you can also upgrade Atreus’ kit as well. Quick time button presses are here but they don’t overstay their welcome, and now when you open chests you do’t have to mash buttons furiously like you used to do. The environmental puzzles won’t have you scratching your head and have you stumped for ages, either, but are clever enough that you’ll murmur a quiet “Ahhh …” when you solve one.

If you’re playing on a PS4 Pro, like I am, you’re in for a treat: God of War looks fantastic, even on my 1080p HD 55-inch TV, with amazing attention to detail and jaw-dropping vistas, and the game is bursting with colour and vibrancy.

The game world is filled with small details: Glowing particles float in the air from fires, muscles twitch underneath Krato’s skin as he moves, his beard is flecked with grey hairs, bark hangs from tree trunks. This is the best looking God of War ever without a doubt.

PlayStation 4 Pro can also chose either performance mode, which will give a better frame rate, or resolution mode, which will output at a resolution of 2160p checkerboarded. I played most of the game on the resolution mode as I like things to look purdy and the frame rate stays pretty rock solid. You’ll can also select a less intrusive UI (user interface), which means less screen clutter but personally, I like to see how much health my enemies have left.

The PS4 might not be the most powerful console in the world, but you know what? God of War is proof of what can be done when a publisher establishes a development studio like Santa Monica Studio then backs it and allows it the creative freedom to go wild and do what it does best. God of War is the result.

Ultimately, Santa Monica Studio has brought us a tale featuring a boy and a man trying to get to know each other in some pretty trying circumstances but, my word, what an adventure it is.

Simply put, God of War is one of the best games I’ve played this generation. Pure and simple.

Thanks to PlayStation NZ for an advanced copy of God of War, which is out on PlayStation 4 on April 20.

 

Tuesday Teaser: God of War media kit

Let’s not beat about the bush, eh: Chances are you knew this was coming, given I’ve talked about media kits before.

It’s no secret that PlayStation does some of the best media kits in the business and I’ve been lucky enough in my writing career to have received a few PlayStation media kits in the past.

So, without further ado, I present to you, the God of War (PS4)  media kit in all its glory. It’s another stunner from PlayStation.

There’s a review embargo on God of War until 7.01pm on Thursday, April 12 so who knows I might post some impressions when the embargo lifts. I might even capture some video footage if you’re keen to see what it looks like running on the PS4 Pro.

Feast your eyes!

Far Cry 5 review: Open-world shennanigans

Far Cry 5 is the game that has made me realise that perhaps my reflexes aren’t up to scratch when it comes to modern first person shooters.

I’m fine with the shooting. In fact, I’m a dab hand with the game’s hunting bow, a weapon that lets me pick off enemies silently and one-by-one. It’s a great feeling to sneak into an enemy encampment and clear it out without setting off an alarm.

No, the part of FC5 that is causing me issues is the driving. Once I put the pedal to the metal, things become all slippery and slidey and I tend to get up close and personal with trees. During one optional mission, where I had to drive a race car through a circuit of flaming checkpoints, I lost control so many times  on tight corners and hit so many trees that I gave up.

Far Cry 5: It seems your driving may be the death of me (and yes, I realise admitting this will open me up to criticisms of “You suck, at games!)

My journey with the Far Cry series started way back when the original Far Cry came out on PC from developer Crytek (and Ubisoft wasn’t even in the picture). Set on a lush, tropical island, it was a PC-destroying game that was great fun, despite losing its way a little when the mutant monsters appeared. The Far Cry series has seen it visit Africa and Nepal and this time we’re in Hope County, Montana, where cult leader Joseph Seed – named The Father by his followers  – reigns and doesn’t take kindly to outsiders.

Like the most recent Far Cry games, Number is open-world, meaning there is a plethora of stuff to do when you’re not dealing with the main story mission. Sometimes, like Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed series, I feel as if the series suffers from too much bloat at times, with almost too much to do.

Narrative-wise, Far Cry 5 is perhaps more relevant for the modern age – a religious Middle American zealot named Joseph Seed is preaching the end of the world for sinners  – but it’s nothing original: Bad guy out to rule the world, good guy has to stop him (but must first stop Seed’s crazed siblings as well.

The game play in numero 5 feels familiar and while Joseph Seed maybe not as memorable as say,  Vaas Montenegro, from FC3, or Pagan Min, from FC4, he’s suitably crazy. One early mission, though, summed up for me all that’s  frustrating with open-world games from time to time.

In it, you have to retrieve the Death Wish, a souped-up and heavily armed off-roader owned by Merle and which has been hijacked by the resident cult. The Death Wish is being driven around by a VIP cult member, so he is a little tougher than your run-of-the-mill cultists.

Stop and retrieve sounds easy, right? Well, yeah, but what seems like a simple mission is hindered by the fact that the cultist is driving the Death Wish on a road, which means that as you wait in ambush to capture it or grab a vehicle to try and ram it off its pre-programmed route, you’re spotted by other cultists as they drive past, meaning the mission is continually punctuated by chaotic fire fights as more and more vehicles drive past and more and more cultists join the fight.

After dying for the umpteenth time because things just got too chaotic and my AI-companion managed to get himself pinned between a truck and a power pole, I re-spawned in a field, not far from the main road the Death Wish was driving on. Unfortunately, I had spawned next to a group of rather pissed off wild boar, which proceeded to gore me  to death. Oh, at one point, a cougar suddenly appeared, mauling my AI companion while a gun fight was going on. Madness!

Eventually, I managed to hijack enough cultist vehicles (including a tractor) that I was able to block the road, cornering the Death Wish and its rather hardy driver. Mission accomplished, I proceeded to drive the Death Wish back to Merle, after which we proceeded to attack a cult compound.

I’d actually like to travel from point A to point B in my car, on a road,  without every few moments turning into a gunfight because the enemy AI in every car that drives past spots me and opens fire. Friends told me to drive off-road to avoid that but, really, should I have to drive off-road just to avoid other AI?

I think, too, sometimes in FC5 there is so much going on, it’s almost a distraction. There are Hope County residents to liberate, animals to hunt and skins to sell, compounds to seize, stashes to raid, things to explode but at times I almost wish it was a bit more linear and wasn’t so “go where ever you want, do what ever you want, when you want”.

At the end of the day, Far Cry 5 is competent at what it does without setting the world on fire, which isn’t a bad thing if you like playing open-world games that throw you onto the landscape and say “Go to it, lad”.It’s a lot of fun at times.

Oh, and if I can offer one piece of advice, it’s this: Watch out for the turkeys.