Disco Elysium The Final Cut (Nintendo Switch)

Disco Elysium, a video game based off a table top role playing game, is complex, dark, confronting, sad – and at times pretentious – but you know what? I love it.

The game opens with main character Harrier “Harry” du Bois (we only learn his name as the game progresses, however) waking in a disheveled room at The Whistling Rag Inn hotel room, hungover and with no memory of what came before. He’s also stark naked and hungover.

Du Bois has no idea who he is or what he does and the first few moments task you with finding your missing shoe (a broken window is a clue to its whereabouts), and getting dressed. As the game progresses, du Bois learns he is a detective in the Revachol police – and his gun and badge are also missing – and he must solve the mystery surrounding the body hanging from a tree in the vacant land behind The Whistling Rag Inn set amid political turmoil in a dystopian city ravaged by a war decades earlier.

The game was first released in 2020 and the The Final Cut brings fully voiced characters and a wealth of additional content and it’s a game that will polarise gamers with its unique lead character skill set, heavy dialogue and frequent internal monologues where du Boir debates with his own psyche on his place in the world.

Played from a top-down isometric perspective and set in the poor district of Martinaise in the city of Revachol, du Bois meets Lieutenant Kim Kitsuragi – perhaps the stand out character in the game for me – who informs him they have been assigned to investigate the hanging man. What follows is exploration, investigation and discussion – often at times quite deep and confronting – of Martinaise as du Bois battles with himself to solve the case and the political machinations working behind the scenes to protect those responsible for the crime.

My first game ended rather prematurely, without much investigation, after du Bois struggled mentally with the hard time he was getting from a drug-addict, foul-mouth youth called Cuno, who was playing in the yard where the hanging took place. Du Bois’s morale took a massive hit and he just gave up on life. Fade to black. Reload last save point.

I learned quickly that saving often is the key here as I died two or three more times in the next hour or so, once after kicking a furnace in a building and suffering a heart attack.

At its heart, Disco Elysium is all about asking the right questions of people and knowing when to push further and when to back off. There’s no combat and the topics are confronting, dealing with subjects like sex, drugs and racism. At times it’s an uncomfortable ride.

The interrogations of inhabitants can get quite complex, too, and I think that is what hooked me: Random thoughts reveal loose threads that can be pulled to slowly reveal the truth about what happened in Martinaise.

There’s also a lot to unpack, too, as you delve deeper & deeper into the story: I think I’ve got about 10 active quests at the moment, many of them picked up from side characters, ranging from opening the door to an apartment for a shady union boss (no questions asked) and buying a pair of label pants from the foul mouthed kid to finding the missing husband of a woman and who called the police about the hanging.

Handily, your journal logs every task you’ve picked up and and certain things can only happen on certain days, such as the controls to the dock that crosses the river won’t be fixed until Wednesday.

After 9pm every night, Harry can also go back to his hotel room to sleep (or he can continue investigating the city) – provided he has paid the manager of the hotel the required amount of money for the night earlier in the day. Money can be found on the streets or gained by recycling bottles at one of the local stores.

Disco Elysium has an interesting – and rather complex – skill tree and depending on the direction conversations go, a different thought process or skill might suddenly jump into the conversation. Key skills like intellect, psyche, physique and motorics have sub-skills that can often steer a line of questioning, sometimes not always with a good outcome. I did find the skill tree complex but the more I played, the more I was drawn into the world of Disco Elysium.

Visually, Disco Elysium has a real painterly graphic style to it, which is quite stunning at times. It also has a great soundtrack with specific tracks kicking in depending on the location you are visiting.

Technically, I noticed the odd slow from time to time while exploring Martinaise – I’m sure the poor wee Switch is bound to be pushed to the limits with Disco Elysium – but it was nothing major and when I started playing load times between locations were extremely long but a recent update has cut load times dramatically, almost instantaneous in some cases.

I loved Disco Elysium and I am being drawn more and more into the adventures of troubled detective Harrier “Harry” du Bois and Kit Kitsuragi, who is a calming and measured voice in all the chaos. Yes, it’s pretentious at times & perhaps a little too clever for its own good at others, but I loved it. It’s perfect for the Switch, too.

Something just clicked with me over Disco Elysium and if you asked me what it was exactly, I’m not really sure I could put my finger on it but I think it’s a number of factors combined. I’m really just adoring the intriguing story line, a lead character who has flaws, and how what appears to be a simple conversation can suddenly lead you deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole.

Disco Elysium is one of the most intriguing and fascinating games I have played in a very, very long time.

Horizon Forbidden West (PS5 version)

It’s said that the second album is often the most difficult but with Horizon Forbidden West, Guerilla has built on the foundations of its original creation and created a sequel worth playing.

Taking place six months after the events of Horizon Zero Dawn, Aloy must once again, save the earth from a catastrophic threat by re-activating Gaia, the powerful AI that helped her defeat the ruthless Hades in the first game.

I played Forbidden West on the PlayStation 5 and diving into the settings menu sees the PS5 version offering two key graphics modes: Favour Performance and Favour Resolution.

Performance provides a higher frame rate but a lower resolution (1800p upscaling to 4K) while resolution runs at 4K but at a lower frame rate (30FPS). I played most of the game on performance mode, wanting better performance given the game’s constant combat, but it looks damn fine in both modes to my untrained eyes. Frame rates in performance mode seemed pretty rock solid, too.

Central to the Horizon series is the machines that wander the game world, a veritable zoo of robot animals bellowing flame, bellies full of flammable fuel and mouths full of razor-sharp teeth.

This time around, though, Aloy not only has to contend with a menagerie of new machines, she also has to content with Regatta, a rebel Tenakth warrior who has tamed the machines and seeks revenge on her people. There is also a new group of enemies that present a much stronger human challenge than Aloy has ever faced before.

The Forbidden West is a big world with desert plains, snowy mountains, rivers & lakes & lush forests, and the environments really are diverse. It’s a land littered with the metallic corpses of human tanks and enemy machines from the events of the first game.

Guerilla says it has listened to player feedback and I believe them here. The climbing mechanic feels much improved over the original game and the narrative is much tighter this time around. Voice acting, too, is more natural, especially for the main ensemble cast, and the visuals, especially underwater, are quite honestly wonderful. Character facial animations are some of the best I have seen in a long time, with highly expressive faces.

One thing Guerilla hasn’t done is change the fundamentals with Forbidden West: Aloy still creeps through lush forests and decaying buildings, hiding in shoulder high grass, avoiding  patrolling monsters but it all takes place in a much, much bigger and more detailed world than that of Zero Dawn, which already was impressive on the PlayStation 4.

I’m just over 30 hours in Horizon Forbidden West so I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on things and I have to say it has captured my attention much more than the original ever did, which I just didn’t gel with. It’s great to see that Forbidden West has improved on Zero Dawn – but it’s not without its faults.

Taken using Horizon Forbidden West’s photo mode.

As in the first game, Aloy scans machines for weak point points using a device called a focus. Machines might have an un-shielded component that can be sheared off and used against it or a component that she needs to complete a weapon build.

There are now hub villages where Aloy can stock up on resources, upgrade weapons using work benches, get side quests (like collecting the ingredients for a chef’s famous stew) or meet up with old friends. She also has a much larger skill tree that in the original game which can be upgraded to improve things like her hunting, stealthiness and combat prowess.

Aloy also has some new gadgets this time to help in her quest to save humanity: The pullcaster will not only let Aloy reach high vantage points but lets her pull open vent covers or drag crates that can be used to access facilities and buildings. She has an arm-fitted sail that lets her glide from high points or from a tall structure onto a tall neck. It’s a nice way to quickly descend from a mountain top and you’re able to cover a fair bit of ground this way.

In more than 28 hours with Forbidden West (which is seemingly only around 25% of the game’s overall completion), I have collected three key components of Gaia, defeated countless rebels and machines, traipsed through the sandstorm-ravaged remains of Las Vegas, swum in crystal clear waters, ascended high peaks and recruited new team mates to help the fight.

So far I’ve completed 12 main quests, three side quest, killed 189 machines killed (91 by critical strikes), overrode four machines (mainly chargers), killed 100 human kills, collected two relics from ruins, lit 78 campfires (I like to save often), ate 437 medicinal berries and obtained 20 legendary items, including all four special gear items.

I climbed tall necks, took on giant machines, saved some miners from certain death and wander countless kms by foot because I forgot to override a charger every now and then.

OK, criticisms.

I felt at times the game world just had too much stuff to do outside the main quests. This is something that all open-world games seem to suffer these days and I think at times Forbidden West suffers from it, too. Pull up the game map and there is almost a bewilderingly huge amount of icons dotting the landscape of things to find: It often became a mass of campfire icons, question marks indicating unexplored features, rebel camps to clear out and undiscovered machine grazing grounds.

Talking of rebel camps, I honestly couldn’t be bothered clearing out the rebel camps as it didn’t really seem to make much difference to the main quests – and fighting the human enemies most of the times was just, well, not fun.

I also felt that at times the game fell into the tried-and-true video game tropes space and I encountered the odd graphical glitch, too. Nothing major but enough to notice. Generally it was pieces of buildings that were missing as Aloy approached the structure then suddenly loaded into view when she got close enough. The HDR also did weird things from time to time, especially when I transitioned from the map screen back to the game, with all the game particles popping a brilliant white before settling down.

Taken using Horizon Forbidden West’s photo mode.

I’d also suggest playing on normal or above difficult as testing it out on Easy mode for a bit proved no challenge at all, even when facing against some of the most fearsome machines. If you want a challenge, stick with the higher difficulty levels.

Horizon Forbidden West builds on the solid foundations laid by Zero Dawn and while it doesn’t reinvent the wheel here, this sequel gives us a more expansive world and a much stronger narrative. I have enjoyed my time with it immensely and highly recommend it.

Horizon Forbidden West is also a technical showcase for what Sony’s PlayStation 5 is capable of with a truly talent development team.

What a time to be a gamer, eh?

A big thanks to PlayStation NZ PR for the early game code.

Taken using Horizon Forbidden West photo mode.

Alienware M15 R6 gaming laptop: Gaming power

Alienware’s M15 R6 gaming laptop is a beast of a machine. 

Clad in a shell made of plastic, aluminum and magnesium alloy, the R6 is finished in the company’s dark side of the moon colour scheme and it looks nice as soon as it comes out of the box.

It also ticks some prerequisites for a gaming laptop:

  • Great build quality: check
  • Powerful GPU: check 
  • RGB bling: check, check, check

Featuring an Intel i7 11800H CPU (running at 2.3Ghz), 16Gb of memory, a 1 Tb nVME SSD and a laptop nVidia RTX3080 GPU, the M15 R6 packs a lot of punch for gamers looking for a powerful machine to play the latest games on – and it won’t disappoint in that regard. 

It also has a fair bit of RGB lighting, if that’s your thing, besides as all seasoned gamers know: The more RGB you have, the more frames you get. Right?

You power the machine on by pressing the alien head shaped button on the right corner, which illuminates orange if you’re on battery power, blue if fully charged and blue/amber if it’s being charged.

Strangely, it took two presses of the power button to actually turn the machine on. There’s a row of cooling vents along the top of the chassis, just under the central hinge, and the build quality is generally excellent (it only has one central hinge so there is a little bit of flex in the screen if you grasp it from both sides and gently twist it).

It also has a huge heating vent – punctuated with LED lighting around its edging – at the back of the machine. The M15 R6 tips the scales at around 2.5kg so it would comfortably fit in your backpack. The 15-inch panel maxes out at a resolution of 1080p, is clear and bright, and offers a maximum refresh rate of 360Hz.

Port wise, it has ethernet, headset jack, two USB 3, a thunderbolt connection and HDMI. It’s running Windows 11. The mechanical keyboard is excellent. As a touch typist, I really love it how satisfying it felt typing with it. The keys offer 1.8mm of travel and the keyboard just feels really nice to type on. 

Alienware M15 R6 laptop

Testing the M15 R6:

This is a gaming machine and the star here is definitely the 8Gb RTX3080, which means you should be able to handle most games with no problem.

I tested the M15 R6 using benchmarks Cinebench R23, 3D Mark and Geekbench and played a variety of games on it: God of War (PC), Forza Horizon 5, Cyberpunk 2077, Halo Infinite and Batman Arkham Knight, a game that was poorly optimised for PC on release, but is much more stable these days. 

In Cinebench R23, the multicore test returned a score of 9880 and the single core test returned achieved 1450points. 3D Mark returned score of 9976 in the Timspy demo (with a graphics score of 10,912 and a CPU score of 6715) and 19,538 in the Fire Strike demo (with a graphics score of 27,906 and a physics score of 14,983). Geekbench 5 returned scores of 1520 (single core) and 8171 (multi core).

Gaming on the M15 R6:

With Forza Horizon 5, Playground Games’ latest motoring game saw the GPU return a FPS maximum of 55.2FPS (average 46.3FPS) with an average latency of 76.6ms (mix of graphics settings, ray tracing on).

I was able to play Cyberpunk 2077 on high graphics settings, while God of War PC used optimised settings from Digital Foundry, reaching mid to high 50s much of the time. Batman Arkham Knight, an older title, averaged 52FPS, maxing out at 66 FPS.

One thing I noticed is that the machine does get warm during intensive gaming sessions. Not hot but warm to the touch.  You can also hear the cooling fans kicking in when you’re doing heavy gaming sessions.

In fact, my wife who was in the same room as I was when I was playing Halo Infinite on it commented on the fans.   Intensive gaming sessions will also drain the battery, too.

My view this is a desktop replacement: It’s not a laptop that you take to the café to do some gaming (unless you’re plugged into mains power, obviously). I’d suggest you keep it plugged into mains power when you’re gaming.

It seems, too, that Alienware for some reason has hobbled the 3080 GPU’s TDP (how much power it draws) to 115 watts.

Look, I can see that Alienware have probably done this so as to keep the heat generation factor to as low as possible (as the more power the laptop draws the more heat it dissipates) but I’d rather have more power going to the 3080, to be honest, so I can get the best gaming experience possible. 

Alienware M15 R6 laptop

Conclusion:

The M15 R6 is a damn fine piece of gaming kit, able to handle any game you throw at it. The build quality is great, it’s good looking and the keyboard is excellent. As a long time Intel CPU user, the i7 11800H CPU performed excellently in everything I threw at it, as well. It’s a winning combination.

In the review configuration, the M15 R6 will set you back close to $4000 ($3998.99) so it’s not cheap but you if you’re more budget conscious you can configure the hard drive capacity and CPU via the Dell website, meaning the laptop can be obtained for as low as $2804.

I loved the M15 R6. I’d just like to see better battery life when not on mains power (of course, adjusting the screen refresh rate and setting the laptop up to only use the 3080 when required will preserve battery power) and a cooling system that isn’t so loud when it’s working hard.   

A big thanks to Intel ANZ for providing the review unit.