About Gerard Campbell

Video game blogger, cyclist, coffee drinker, father, husband.

A conversation about: Kena Bridge of Spirits

Kena Bridge of Spirits is a new PlayStation IP that has players control the titular character, Kena, a young spirit guide, as as she works to rid an evil corruption from a once-beautiful land & restore balance back to the world.

The game comes from first-time game developer Ember Lab, a creative studio more well-known for its animation and digital content work than video game making.

Thanks to Ember Lab, I got to play Kena Bridge of Spirits and I thought it was a good opportunity to have a chat about it with my gaming colleague Guy (Twitter: @nzBrowncoat), who also had a crack at it.

Here are our thoughts.

Guy: So, Kena Bridge of Spirits. First impressions in a nut shell?

Gerard: I like it. Right of the bat I just want to mention how damn gorgeous it is. It’s got a real Pixar-like visual style about it – and it’s not surprising, really, given that the developer Ember Lab have a background in animation. They’ve managed to really imbide emotion and feeling into her face, which is impressive. Game play wise, look, it’s not reinventing the wheel as it’s uses a lot of the tried-and-true platformer mechanics but a nice twist is the Rot, little spirit creatures that can Kena finds as she explores the world. They help Kena during combat and help solve puzzles around the world. What are your thoughts?

Guy: I am pleased I stuck with it. As after my first 30 minutess I was worried. It seemed very safe. Pretty…but safe but after I ticked over the hour mark I was totally sold. The combat is simple yet fun, the environments a stunning and the “Rots” scream plushy toy cute. Totally agree on Ember Labs, too. If this is their first ever game, man, what will they do next!

Gerard: Oh, yeah, they do. I love that cheeky grin when Kena discovers another Rot. I think safe is a good word there. It’s not trying anything too dramatic but it does things really competently and the game just has a feel good feeling about it. I liked how the backstory of the tormented spirits that Kena has to free is done through cinematic moments. They’re incredibly well done and I could quite happy watch a full length movie of Ember Labs’ animation work.

Guy: I think it takes too long to get to a complexity in both puzzles and combat, so that every encounter/environment is fun. For an eight hour game, I would say the first two hours could have been compacted down but I get that this game is catering for all ages, so younger gamers need a bit more of a slow burn into mechanics. What are your thoughts on the boss fight difficulty spikes?

Gerard: I agree that the combat is definitely a slow burn in that it introduces the enemy types gradually so that it doesn’t overwhelm the player too quickly but it might frustrate seasoned gamers. That said, some of those tougher enemies can really pack a wallop and I was floored a few times by some of the more aggressive ones. The boss fights up the ante, too, so you’ll definitely be challenged the further you progress. What did you think about the puzzle elements? I think it’s just the right mix of not “mind-numbingly easy but not pull-your-hair out hard”. I did like the mechanic where Kena could manipulate glowing rocks using exploding orbs, allowing her to create paths to higher points on the map.

Guy: I liked the puzzles. Chaining the energy to open doors, using the “Rots” to move items to pressure pads felt very Pikman. Sort of anyway LOL.

Gerard: Yeah, it is very Pikman-like. Nicely put.

Guy: I so enjoyed the aesthetic. Friendly, fun, inviting and just nice to be around. Its the same feeling I got playing Sack-Boys Big Adventure. So many games especially in this high-production space, are so dark and brutally violent. It was nice to play something that even for me (a 40yr old gamer) to exclaim aloud, “Ooooooh, man, that it cute right there.” LOL.

Gerard: Yeah, it totally is, right? It’s just got a fantastic feel good vibe about it and Kena is so wholesome and the Rot are amazingly cute. I smiled every time I found another one and it made that cheesy grin. Plus you can buy hats for them. Hats that look like mushrooms. Hats with horns on them. They look super cute. I can’t want to see what Ember Lab come up with next.

Guy: Haha, the hats!! I have two teenage kids who dragged themselves away from Reddit due to the beautiful graphics and ended up very vocal helping me choose and buy the hats for my “Rots”.

Gerard: Any gripes? I sometimes thought the jumping was a little floaty, and perhaps it’s because I’ve got used to having it in other games, but some kind of aim lock when Kena is using the bow and arrow – especially if you’re target shooting – would have been really helpful. I gave up on a few of the target shooting mini-games because it just proved too hard to line up the shots.

Guy: The aiming thing on the bow… the camera sensitivity is wrong. I almost doubled it from ‘default’ and it was waaaaay better. Then when I unlocked slow-mo the mini games were a breeze. Gripes? I would say the combat is not tuned enough for the punishment it dolls out. That window for ‘parry’ felt a tad inconsistent, so risking a missed parry was, too, well risky. So I tended to roll in bash-bash, and roll away. That would be my only gripe. What are your thoughts on the characters and voice work?

Gerard: Oh, yeah, the slow-mo. That works really nice in combat when you have a few foes or you want to got for a sensitive point on one of the larger enemies. In terms of voice work and characters, I thought it was well done but I would have loved to have learned more about her backstory. Overall I thought it was an amazing first effort from Ember Lab.

Guy: Overall very hard to find fault. Awesome price for the production level and level of polish on offer. Very “done-before” in terms of actual Nuts and Bolts game play mechanics and skill trees…like I said “safe”. But I loved it. It was a joy to play, the “Rots” are cute as hell and it was a perfect length for a weekend game. Nicely done Ember Labs.

Gerard: Looks like we both had a blast and highly recommend this to anyone after a nice chill-out PlayStation game (it’s on PS4 and PS5).

Kena Bridge of Spirits is out now for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5.

Intel i5 10600K CPU: Gaming performance

A couple of months ago, Intel reached out to see whether I interested in review it’s i5 10600K CPU.

Of course, I said yes, and it was the catalyst for a new PC build, which you can read all about here. A big thanks to Intel for the chance to review the i6 10600K.

Intel’s 10th generation, 6 core, 12-thread Comet Lake CPU was replacing an i5 8400 CPU which was still a good CPU but it was just starting to show its age a little. I paired it with an Asus TUF Gaming Plus wi-fi Z490 motherboard, a Sapphire RX580 8Gb GPU and 16Gb of PNY RGB memory. It’s all lovingly encased within a Montech case.

Initial usage indicated to my untrained self that the 10600K was a vast improvement on the 8400 but I wanted to put it to the test in gaming. That is, after all, what I mainly use my desktop PC for.

Right, onto the testing and the highly scientific regime I’d decided to use …

The testing

The testing method I employed to test the performance of Intel’s i510600K was simple: Run the game’s in-built benchmark and record the results. The games I picked were: Gears of War 5, Mafia II: Definitive Edition, Horizon Zero Dawn, Deus Ex Mankind Divided, Hitman 2 (Mumbai) and Red Dead Redemption 2. I also tested with 3D Mark’s Timespy Direct X 12 and Firestrike Direct X 11 benchmarks.Graphical settings were 1080p with a mix of high and medium settings, with the old ultra preset thrown in.

The results

Rather than lots and lots of words that will likely bore you stupid, here are some pretty pictures with numbers and charts on them showing how well things performed. According to the Timespy score, my PC is “Legendary”.

Of the benchmarks, the Gears of War 5 and Horizon Zero Dawn ones impressed me the most as they provided data for CPU as well as GPU performance (Average CPU Framerate).

3DMark Timespy & Firestrike:

Gears of War 5:

Horizon Zero Dawn:

Deus Ex Mankind Divided:

Mafia II Definitive Edition:

Red Dead Redemption 2:

Hitman 2 (Mumbai):

Final thoughts

In the two months I’ve been running Intel’s 10600K CPU in my PC, I’ve been mightily impressed: It’s a solid performer on day to day tasks but it really shines when it comes to gaming. That’s where it really stands out. It’s also said to have rather impressive overclocking potential but I haven’t gone down that route – yet.

If anything, the 10600K will be hampered by the at-least-a-couple-of-generations-old RX580 GPU, still a thoroughly capable card but it starts to creak in some of the more demanding titles coming out these days (I’d love to buy a nice shiny RTX-capable GPU but the outrageously ludicrous GPU prices are just not doing it for me at the moment.)

For gamers who want a fantastic performing 10-generation CPU for a reasonable price (pricing online had it for around the $300 mark), I can heartily recommend the i5 10600K.

Thanks to Intel for providing the i5 10600K for review.

Death Stranding Director’s Cut review: A triumphant return

Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding, like many of the Japanese game maker’s titles before it, is a game that polarised people when it came out on PlayStation 4 in 2019.

Placing players in the work boots of Sam Porter Bridges (played by The Walking Dead’s Norman Reedus), a delivery man working to re-establish a broken and fractured post-apocalyptic America, many heralded the game as the second coming. Others saw it as a grind-laden walking simulator.

I’ve always found Kojima’s games a little bizarre. I didn’t play the early Metal Gear Solid games & only bought Metal Gear Solid V because of all the praise it received from everyone. I hated it. I sold the game disc to a friend pretty soon after I bought it.

Last year, however, I played the PC version of Death Stranding for the other website I write for (to see how it fared on PC) and for the most part, I enjoyed it, concluding “I’m not sure whether it’ll completely win me over but I’ve found myself kind of enjoying creeping through BT (Beach Things)-infested plains and silent valleys.”

For the uninitiated, Death Stranding is a game where you walk from point A to point B then generally back to point B but sometimes via point C and E. There’s stealth thrown in every now and then where Sam has to avoid the BTs – floating remnants of dead people – which can cause events called “voidouts”. If caught by a BT Sam will have to face off against animal-like creatures made out of a tar-like goo that would like nothing more than to eat him if they got the opportunity.

They explode in a shower of a chirrilium, a gold coloured compound that sprouts from the ground in the shape of a hand when the boss is defeated.

The story involves people with names like Fragile, Deadman, Heartman and Die-Hardman and Sam carries an infant in a portable incubator called a Bridge Baby attached to his suit. It can sense BTs. There’s also a protagonist called Cliff, a former special forces solider who is searching for his lost BB, which just so happens to be Sam’s BB. It’s confusing and complicated.

Fast forward to September 2021 and I’m playing the PlayStation 5 enhanced version of Death Stranding thanks to a review copy supplied by PlayStation NZ and I think that the changes made to this version have actually made the game more enjoyable and accessible and I’m enjoying it much more the second time around.

Sure, it still has the incessant grind where one minute you could be delivering underwear to a base somewhere high in a mountain range while the next you’re transporting old parts to a junk man, but the refinements in the new version have made it a less frustrating experience and a, dare I say it, more enjoyable experience.

The Director’s Cut brings a few quality of life improvements: For starters, you gain access to equipment like the wearable power skeletons (which makes you walk faster or through rough terrain) and new weapons much earlier on now.

There’s also the cargo catapult that is, as the name suggests, a canon that that sends cargo into safer areas, avoiding zones that might put it at risk from at the best MULES and at worst BTs. Being able to use those things much earlier on makes things so much easier to traverse the environments – and makes the grind less of, well, a grind.

There are also new story missions and a racing track – and the Monster Energy drink found in Sam’s living quarters has now been replaced by another game-specific brand!

The Director’s Cut of Death Stranding brings a performance mode which up scales to 4K (from 1800p) & targets 60 frames per second and a fidelity mode that offers native 4K but slightly reduced performance. It also has faster load times thanks to the PS5’s SSD & uses the haptics and adaptive triggers of the PS5 controller remarkably well.

Another new feature is that you can replay the boss battles through the figurines on display in Sam’s private room & you can even use a Buddy Bot – an automated delivery robot – to give Sam a lift when he’s tired of walking. They’re small quality of life changes but they’re welcome.

What hasn’t changed here is Hideo Kojima’s movie-like treatment of the game: It’s still incredibly cut-scene heavy but thankfully you can skip them, which is a god send. I really don’t need to sit through four cut scenes every time Sam goes to his private quarters or takes a shower. It’s just a little too much.

As weird as the story is, though, to its credit it’s delivered so masterfully by the ensemble cast that I found myself strangely engaging with what was going on. I mean, I was still confused half the time but it was presented so well that I just went with it.

Death Stranding is also intriguing in that it’s a persistent online world too which means that one morning you’ll step out from your safe house to find overnight while you’ve slept, someone has built a bridge over a nearby ravine or a shelter that will protect you from the acidic timefall rain.

So far, I’ve sunk around 21 hours into Death Stranding Director’s Cut & I’ve just finished Episode 7 (there are 14 from what I understand ). It’s a long, long game with a few of the episodes chocked to the brim with the weird shit that you’d expect in a Kojima game.

Here’s the thing, though: On paper, Death Stranding isn’t normally the type of game that would capture my attention but here we are, more than 20 hours in and I’m still happy to strap a antimatter bomb to my backpack and drudge 2000m through rocky terrain (and possibly deep snow) to deliver the item to some doomsday prepper way in the back of beyond.

Or take on a bunch of enemies to recover a camera for a photographer just because it has sentimental value. Or continuously slide down an icy cliff face, determined to get the winter clothing required for a mission-critical delivery.

The Director’s Cut of Death Stranding has something pushing me forward that the game couldn’t do when I played it on PC. I also found that completing one or two deliveries then putting the game down – sometimes until the next day – worked well. It broke up the trudging from point A to point B into more digestible chunks.

Even with the new additions, Death Stranding will still divide gamers but personally, after spending time with both the original Death Stranding and now the Director’s Cut, I believe that if you’re on the fence over whether you should dip your toes into Hideo Kojima’s weird but kind of intriguing world, then the Director’s Cut is definitely the way to go. I also appreciated the soundtrack more this time around, especially when a tune kicks in when you’re mid-delivery. It’s calming.

Who knows: Like me, you might find some solace wandering alone through a post-apocalyptic landscape with nothing but the cargo on your back and a baby strapped to your chest for company.

Intel i5-10600K CPU review: The heart of a new PC build

While it’s true that much of my video gaming these days is on on either my Xbox Series X or my PlayStation 5, I’m still a proud card carrying member of the PC Master Race and I started my gaming on the venerable ZX81 way back in the dark ages of personal computing.

So when PR for Intel Australia/New Zealand got in touch and offered me the chance to test out its 10th Generation i5-10600K CPU, I jumped at the chance. I was keen to re-build my PC with a newer generation CPU & see how Intel’s 10th Gen chip compares to the i5 8400 that I had been using for the last four years or so.

The Origin Story

For this new build, I was going to need to purchase a new motherboard for the i5-10600K as the Asus B365M-K motherboard that houses the 8400 doesn’t support Intel’s new LGA1200 socket form factor (the 8400 is the LGA1151 form factor).

I spent days investigating the cons and pros of a variety of motherboard chipsets that would work with the i5-10600K and eventually settled on an Asus TUF Gaming Z490-plus wi-fi motherboard from New Zealand retailer Computer Lounge.

The Asus board seemed to rank favourably with the review sites I follow and I’ve long been a fan of Asus’ motherboards as I’ve found they’re generally constructed well and offer great features for the price.

The board even came with a certificate of reliability from Asus, ver. Verifying that it had passed a variety of reliability tests that included vibration, mechanical shock, thermal shock and solderability tests on the motherboard’s capacitors and chokes.

The TUF Gaming Z490 looked just the thing that I needed but I’d be lying if it said it was easy finding a Z4890 mother board: Most retailers were either sold out, didn’t stock Z490 boards any more or were leaning towards the newer chipset for Intel’s 11th Generation CPUs.

The Set-Up

OK, let’s talk about the heart of the build: The CPU for a moment. Intel’s i5-10600K is part of the company’s Comet Lake CPU line up which was released around a year ago and is a 6-core, 12-thread CPU running at 4.1Ghz. It has a maximum clock speed of 4.5Ghz but apparently can be overclocked quite easily to 5.0Ghz. I don’t plan to overclock – at least not at this stage anyway.

So, with the i5-10600K kindly provided by Intel and the Asus Z490 motherboard having arrived safely, It was time to re-build my PC.

Apart for the new CPU and motherboard, all the other components were straight transplants from my old PC; The  SSD (which had the Windows 10 Pro OS install), the HDD (I haven’t got around to getting an M.2 drive yet), two sticks of PNY’s 8Gb RGB RAM and my dependable but ageing Sapphire RX580 GPU.

I was ready to begin, optimistic that I’d be done and dusted before I knew it. Oh, how wrong I was.

Remember earlier in this piece I mentioned how I was no stranger to building PCs? Well, I have to say that this was probably the most problematic build I’ve ever done. Installing the i5-10600K onto the motherboard was the easy part as was installing Cooler Master H410R air cooler (it too came from my old PC and luckily for me, supported the newer LGA1200 socket mounting holes).

I hit a few hiccups during the build, all a result of my fumbling fingers, but soon enough it was up and running. I could see that the i5-10600K was proving significantly better performer than the 8400 it replaced. It’s touted as a great CPU choice for gamers which works for me.

The Payoff

I tested the CPU using Geekbench, CPU-Z, Realbench and Maxon’s Cinebench R23 benchmarking tools.

Using Cinebench, I tested both the 10600K and 8400 on core performance. The 8400 returned a single core reading of 4802 (I forgot to do a multi-core test before swapping out CPUs) and the 10600K returned scores of1253 (single-core) and 8918 (multi-core).

Geekbench returned a score of 1256 (single-core) and 6483 (multi-core). CPU-Z returned scores of 513.7 (single thread) and 3813 (multi-thread) for the 10600K.

Realbench tests image editing, H.264 video encoding speeds, OpenCL and heavy multitasking and delivered a score of 145,369.

To be honest, I have no idea what any of these numbers mean in terms of whether a CPU is good or not but in general world PC usage, the Intel i5-10600K performed remarkably well and faster than my previous 8th Generation i5 8400 did so I’m extremely happy.

So, that’s it for this build post. In a future post, I’ll test the 10600K’s gaming performance.

A huge thanks to Intel Australia/New Zealand for the test i5-10600K CPU.

No surprises: Ratchet & Clank proves a hit with gamers

New insights from product comparison site PriceSpy reveal that gamers are still very much looking to buy PS5 games, despite it not being readily available to buy – with the most-popular game across the month of June revealed as Ratchet & Clank Rift Apart (PS5).

Released on 11 June 2021, Ratchet & Clank Rift Apart (PS5) is a third-person shooter platform game developed by Insomniac Games and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment for the PlayStation 5. 

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Liisa Matinvesi-Bassett, New Zealand country manager for PriceSpy, says: “The current gaming market is extremely interesting to watch right now, as buying behaviours appear to be changing.

“Even though Sony’s latest console, the PS5, isn’t widely available to buy, gamers are not being deterred by the lack of console availability. In fact, our latest data suggests the new release, Ratchet & Clank Rift Apart for the PS5, was overall most-popular game shoppers were looking to buy in June.

“But it’s not just new games shoppers are interested in buying, as our popularity data also found people were interested in older games, too.”

According to PriceSpy popularity data, Ghost of Tsushima (PS4) and Nintendo Ring Fit Adventure for Switch ranked second and third most-popular games in June, despite launching in 2020 and 2019 respectively.

Liisa continues:  “Another old favourite, Cyberpunk 2077 for the PS4 (which launched in 2020) rose back up the popularity rankings again, reaching fourth most-popular in June. 

“A big factor as to why this game has become popular again is its price, as it can currently be purchased for $47.69.”

“Finally, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Switch), which first launched back in March 2017 ranked fifth most-popular in June.

“Right now, there appears to be a wealth of games available to buy – and for those happy to play older games, there’s some great prices available,” says Matinvesi-Bassett .

“If people are happy to wait around at least three months after a new game is released, our historical pricing insights suggest price points can drop considerably after – so it may be worthwhile holding off buying straight away.”

“For those looking to buy a new game, we always recommend people take their time and carry out some price research first, as this important buying step can save hundreds of dollars in the long term.”

Win with PriceSpy and GameJunkieNZ

The kind folks at PriceSpy has got in touch and we’ve joined forces to give away two (2) of the top two games across June.

To enter, all you need to do is email gamejunkienz@gmail.com on the game you’re most looking forward to this year. Ts&Cs: New Zealand residents only. One entry per person. Entries close 30 July. The winner will be contacted via email.

D-Link DAP-X1860 wif-fi 6 mesh range extender (byte-sized review)

D-Link’s DAP-X1860 wi-fi 6 mesh range extender is, literally, plug and play – and it couldn’t be more simple.

For the most part, D-link network devices are a breeze to install and add to a home network and the company’s DAP-X1860 is no different: You plug it into a free wall socket anywhere in your house, set it up using D-Link’s super simple smart phone app, connect to the network you want to extend, and, bam, you’re surfing the web in no time.

The plug & play extender shares the same network name as your router and being powered by a household power outlet means you can move it around your house easily until you find the spot that provides the best coverage.

The DAP-X1860 has two internal antennas and a 10/100/1000Mbps Ethernet port on its left hand side, along with reset button & WPS button. A three level indicator LED lets you know how strong the wi-fi signal is: Three bars and it’s a full strength signal.

D-Link says the device will achieve speeds up to 600Mbps over a 2.4Ghz wi-fi network & up to 1200Mbps over a 5Ghz network. The router in my 225sqm single-storey house is my garage and plugged the DAP-X1860 into wall sockets in the main bedroom, the hallway and the kitchen/dining room (which is the farthest from the router) then used Ookla speed test to obtain upload and download speeds.

Main bedroom: 62Mbps download and 25Mbps upload

Hallway: 34.2Mbps download and 27.2Mbps upload

Kitchen/dining (two bars of wi-fi strength): 23.3Mbps download, 10.9Mbps upload

It’s clear that the hallway was the best location for the DAP-X1860 to get the best speeds, although the speeds are nowhere near the up to 600Mbps claimed by D-Link (but, of course, wi-fi speeds are determined by several factors).

D-Link’s DAP-X1860 will cost you $NZ249 ($AU229) and it’s a good option if you want to eliminate wi-fi deadspots in your house. One thing to take into account, though, it is a bulky unit and took up the bulk of a horizontal double wall plug so keep that in mind when you’re planning on where you need to plug devices.

Zwift review: Sweating buckets but going nowhere

In the New Zealand summer, I ride my bike a lot: To work, on the weekends. It’s warm and it’s sunny. I can wear short sleeves.

Winter is a different beast: It’s cold, it rains, there’s often frost in the mornings when I have to head to work, it’s dark when I have to head home (and darkness + motorists = not a fun time), meaning I get lazy and the bike tends to stay in the garage a bit more during the working week.

I’ve also noticed that the older I get, the more of a “fair weather cyclist” I’ve become. Yes, yes, it’s not thinking of the planet when I take my car to work on a cold winter morning – but I have got used to its heated seats!

Winter, and all that comes with it, is where a training platform like Zwift fits in. Zwift is an indoor virtual training system that has “gameified” fitness training, providing a fair bit more motivation than the old traditional magnetic wind trainers that I used when I was younger (and probably fitter).

The easiest way to describe Zwift is, I guess, to think of it as a MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) game where cyclists and runner can interact and train with each other in virtual locations.

Currently, Zwift has virtual approximations of New York, London, Paris, the world of Watopia and the recently released Makuri Islands, that has a distinctly Japanese feel to it. The routes are pre-determined meaning you can’t go off the beaten path and ride where you want but a certain points during a ride you’ll have the option to change the route and go another direction for a bit of variety.

Zwift costs a monthly subscription to use and full disclosure here: Zwift provided me with a year subscription to the service for review purposes. While I was using it, there were thousands of cyclists and runner using the service from around the world.

I’ll say this from the outset: I have never been a huge fan of indoor training. I’d much rather be riding my bike, on the trails, than confined to a garage riding a stationery trainer but sometimes needs must, especially during winter when it’s, frankly, miserable outside.

As I write this, I have so many thoughts running through my head about indoor training: “You need to be motivated to train indoors as it’s a very different beast to riding outside where you have the breeze in your face & changing scenery”, “Just feels weird sometimes with no back wheel and I’m not controlling where I’m going”, “Man, I’m sweating heaps. I should have set up a fan.”

I’d heard about Zwift and have some cycling friends that use it but I’d never used it myself, nor a smart trainer like the Tacx Neo 2 smart trainer that the kind PR folk sent over as well. You don’t need a smart trainer for Zwift – the old magnetic style will work just fine – but the current generation of smart trainers add quite a little bit of realism to your workout, which makes sense.

Talking of smart trainers, let’s segway a bit and talk about the trainer that was provided for this Zwift test as this review is as much about the technology as it is the program.

Tacx’s Neo 2 trainer is quite amazing and it replicated the feel of being on a road much more realistically than any other trainer I’ve used. Don’t get me wrong, you still know you’re on a trainer but it does a good job of making things feel as real as possible.

With the Neo 2, you remove your bike’s rear wheel and fit it to the trainer using the supplied quick release skewer. The Neo 2 has two fold out legs – it reminds me of the shuttle Tydirium from Return of the Jedi with its fold down wings – which lock into place, providing a stable base. It connects to Zwift via bluetooth and measure power output, distance and speed. It also has a substantial inertia flywheel and can simulate slopes up to 25% gradient and can simulate descents, also. It supports Shimano and Sram cassettes (8 to 11 tooth) but you can apparently fit a wider ratio mountain cassette.

It was unlike any indoor trainer I’ve used before and when I “rode” over a wooden bridge I could feel the vibration from the wooden planks as I went over them. It was quite surreal but kind of cool at the same time.

I used my iPad to connect to Zwift (attaching it to my bike using a supplied mount) but you can use something like Apple TV (if it’s an recent enough generation) that will connect to TV. Set up was easy: I downloaded the app, logged in, entered a few personal stats and I was off pedaling in a matter of minutes.

The app automatically connected to the smart trainer the moment I turned a pedal, with nice big icons showing me that the two were connected and everything was doing what it was supposed to.

There’s also a companion app for your smart phone which lets you see a lot of the data on your bigger screen and lets you interact with other riders or runner by doing things like sending messages or giving them a “wave” for a good effort.

Once you’ve selected your ride, be it a training ride with riders of the same fitness level, one of the many races that are scheduled or just a tour around your selected world, you start pedaling around the virtual world, with the app showing you your speed, cadence and watts (of power) per kilo (of body weight). It’s all very scientific.

I made the conscious decision that while I had the trainer and Zwift that I would train indoors every second day, and I generally stuck to that. It helped that the weather was pretty average a couple of weekends, too: That made the decision to ride in the garage even more appealing.

For me, when I used to race and use a wind trainer, the hardest thing was remaining motivated and I did find that with Zwift sometimes.

Some sessions I would push hard, sweat dripping off my face, trying to catch the Zwifter in front, other times I would lack energy and motivation and every pedal stroke felt laboured and I’ll give up after about 20 minutes. Like riding on the road or trails, I find I have to be in the right mood.

Most of the time, though, I was committed and pushed my 52-year-old body as hard as I could, doing a mix of training and free ride sessions to just get familiar and see how things were. It wasn’t unusual to walk of the garage dripping with sweat.

One of the big differences with using the Tacx Neo 2 to being on a real bicycle is you can’t stop pedaling and freewheel down a hill like you can on the real thing, using it to rest your aching legs: If you stop pedaling, your virtual avatar stops pedaling.


You can make a Zwift session as hard or as easy as you like: One particularly tough 30 minute workout had two 20 second sprints and a climb that got to 18% gradient in some places. I was hurting by the time I created the summit but I stayed ahead of the rider shadowing me all the way up and pipped – I think – a rider ahead of me with a final burst of what little energy I had left!

While I much prefer actually getting out on my bike on weekends and I couldn’t see myself using an indoor training platform much during the warmer months, Zwift is surprisingly motivating and has seriously changed my perception of what indoor training can be.

When it’s cold and wet like in winter, I can see a smart trainer like the Tacx Neo 2 and the online roads and worlds in Zwift as the perfect training partners for when it’s too cold and too dark to hit the trails or tarmac on two-wheels.

A huge thanks to the team at Sling & Stone in Auckland, New Zealand (especially Mikaela and Sam), for organising the Tacx Neo 2 trainer and providing a subscription for Zwift. Thanks, team!

Xbox & Bethesda showcase, E2 2021

This morning, I woke up at stupid o’clock – 5am New Zealand time – to watch the Xbox & Bethesda showcase for E3 2021 (from the comfort of my bed via my iPad) and of all the games that were announced – 30 games apparently (I didn’t count, sorry) – the one that I was most excited about was … Psychonauts 2 from Double Fine Productions.

Why Psychonauts 2, you probably didn’t ask? Well, it’s because after backing the damn thing a few years ago when it was seeking funds on a crowd sourcing site in 2016, raising $3,829,024 we now have an actual release date: August 25 2021.

It’s great that a date has been locked in but, sorry, Tim Schaefer, I know how the gaming industry works: I’ll only believe it when I have my PC backer code in my hot little hands. To be honest, though, I’m pleased I didn’t spend an additional $18 for an Xbox or PlayStation code: The game’s coming to Xbox Gamepass day one, seeing as Xbox bought Double Fine a while back.

Anyway, here’s the Psychonauts 2 trailer from earlier today:

Did you watch the event? If not, you can watch the entire event which is posted at the top of this post but personally, the game’s that caught my eye the most – apart from Psychonauts 2, of course – were Stalker 2, Microsoft Flight Simulator and A Plague Tale Requim. The 90 minute presentation opened with Xbox and PC exclusive Starfield, but the trailer didn’t show any game play so I’m really not sure about that one yet. I guess we’ll know more in the lead up to the November, 2022 release. Yes, November 2022.

Other key announcement included:

Starfield (Xbox Series X/S, PC):

Redfall (Arcane Studios, Xbox Series X/S, PC):

Fallout 76 Steel Reign & Expeditions expansions:

Dell XPS 15 9500 laptop: Portable computing power

When Dell’s XPS 15 9500 landed at GamejunkieNZ Towers three weeks ago, I set myself the goal of using it instead of my desktop PC.

Fast forward three weeks and I’m pleased to report that apart from a couple of times when I had to use programs that were only installed on my desktop PC, Dell’s XPS 9500 was my go-to at-home computing device. My desktop PC has been gathering dust!

Out of the box, Dell’s XPS 9500 has a stand-out white aluminium chassis with a woven carbon fibre pattern on the interior. The colour is called frost white and it looks superb and is a nice departure from the more traditional darks and bare metal commonly seen on laptops. The chassis has a real quality feel to it, too, with thin bezels around the panel, that maximises the screen real estate.

The 9500 has excellent build quality, too, tipping the scales at 1.8kg, so you’ll definitely notice it if you pick it up with one hand or lug it in your backpack.

Vital statistics: Intel i7 1075H CPU @2.60Ghz, 16Gb dual channel DDR4 memory (at 1600Mhz), 4Gb nvidia Geforce GTX1650 TI GPU, 512Gb SSD, Windows 10

The model I reviewed is powered by Intel’s 10th generation i7 1075H CPU, a six core, 12-thread processor (base clock of 2.60Ghz, max turbo frequency of 5Ghz, TDP of 45W) that has long been the go-to for high-end gaming laptops. A couple of months ago, the review configuration would set you back $NZ4698.99. Customisation options include opting for a Intel integrated graphics rather than a discrete card, i5 or i9 Intel CPUs and up to 64Gb of memory and 2Tb of storage.

Connectivity wise, the left side houses two USB C ports while the right side is home to an SD card reader, another USB C port and a 3.5mm headphone jack. Two of the USB C ports have Thunderbolt 3 support.

The lack of a USB Type A port initially caused me concern – I still have a lot of thumb drives floating about – but my concern was short lived as I found Dell had cleverly included a USB A and HDMI adapter in the accessories pack.

The work surface has a neat carbon fibre weave pattern.

Gorgeous screen

Lifting up the lid you’re greeted with a 15.6-inch touch screen display that is, quite frankly, stunning in action, offering a native 4K resolution with a 16:10 aspect ratio.

Images are crisp and clear, as is video and video streaming, and it’s probably one of the best laptop screens I’ve used, if I’m being honest. You can tweak the colour settings using Dell’s in-built PremierColor app which let’s you select a variety of colour presets, including for watching movies, sport or using it at night time

Speakers are located either side of the keyboard, and again they offer excellent performance, highlighting that this is a high-end laptop that is designed to “Wow”. The speakers provided excellent sound reproduction, with deep bass and nice treble and mid tones.

Battery life is, of course, dependent on what you do but I think with general day to day usage you should get around 10-12 hours from a full charge of the 86W battery before requiring wall juice.

The big questions, though, is how does it perform, especially since I mainly used the XPS for gaming (sorry, I couldn’t help myself) because I was super keen to see how the GTX1650Ti handled some of my favourite games. (Of course, I didn’t just limit the laptop to gaming: I also streamed online content (Netflix, YouTube) and did general day to day not-so-exciting stuff. I mainly played games on it, though.)

Well, I’m glad you asked. The answer is, I’m happy to report, excellently. It performs excellently.

Now, you’re gaming with power …

I played Gears of War 5, Forza Horizon’s 4, Titanfall 2 and cyberpunk pixel game Cloudpunk, all with medium to high graphics settings, as well as spent some time with recently released Days Gone a PlayStation title that has now come to PC.

Before I get to the gaming performance, I want to talk about the cooling this thing has. It has a lot of ventilation: There’s a massive exhaust port across the back edge of the device and a sizeable air intake on the bottom that scoops cool air onto the innards. There is also a couple of air “slits” on each side of the underside of the chassis. This thing takes cooling to new heights.

I also tested the laptop with the in-built Gears of War 5 benchmark (recommended medium to high graphics settings). It returned an average of 60FPS (average GPU frame rate 73FPS) at 1080p; an average of 59.9 frames per second at 1440p (average GPU frame rate 63.3FPS); and at native 4K an average of 46FPS (average GPU frame rate 47.2FPS).

I also tested the Dell on PlayStation Studio’s Days Gone, which delivered around 65 frames per second with a mix of medium to high graphics settings at a maximum resolution of 1440 x 900 thanks to the 16:10 aspect ratio. This game, too, had the Dell’s cooling system working over time so it did get loud at times.

I also run 3D Mark’s Timespy DX12 benchmark, scoring a “great” 2898 (GPU score 2667, CPU score 5695) and the Firestrike DX11 benchmark, delivering a score of 6836 (GPU score 7358, physics score 15311, combined score 2895).

As I mentioned earlier, under load the Dell can get quite noisy – not so loud that you can’t speak to the person next to you but it’s noticeable – so you need to ensure that no part of the underside intake is blocked when you’re doing intensive tasks.

This isn’t a laptop that I’d recommend taking to bed and resting on your duvet or using while lying on the carpet: It needs room to breath and space for air to flow. If you plan on doing gaming or high-intensity applications, this is a “use on a desk” laptop.

Top, the Dell XPS 15 9500 running the Gears of War 5 benchmark. Below, running Forza 4 Horizons.

Final verdict

After about three week’s using the Dell XPS 15 9500, I’m happy to report that this is one of the best laptops I’ve ever used. Hell, it could even be the best laptop I’ve ever used.

The screen is utterly fantastic, the performance is excellent thanks to Intel’s i71075H CPU which ensured no system bottlenecks, and it offers great gaming performance thanks to the nVidia Geforce GTX1650Ti dedicated GPU.

I could also see this laptop replacing my ageing desktop PC which is starting to show its age with an eighth generation Intel i5 8400 and a few-years-old AMD RX580 graphics card.

Thanks to Botica Butler Raudon Partners & Passion PR for arranging the loan unit.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 review: Portability in a sleek package

Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 4 ticks all the boxes for a nice laptop: It’s smart looking, it’s lightweight and it’s nicely spec’ed (available in both Intel and AMD CPU configurations and 13.5 and 15-inch variants). 

The review model I was provided was powered by a custom “Microsoft Surface edition” eight-core AMD Ryzen 7 [running at 2Ghz], 16Gb of DDR 4 memory, 512Gb SSD storage, and a 15-inch screen (2496 x 1664 with a 3:2 aspect ratio) and after using it for a bit, I reckon it’s perfect for creative types and productivity.  

So that’s what I used it for, mainly: I wrote this review on it, I tweaked Word documents on it, I browsed websites on it, and I could see it as the ideal replacement for a tired work laptop that needs replacing with something that looks classy and performs better than your current one.

The moment I took the Surface Laptop 4 out of its box I could see this was a premium product, with a smart black metal chassis punctuated by a silver Windows logo smack bang in the middle of the lid. It’ll set you back $NZ1749 for the13.5-inch model and $NZ2499 for the 15-inch model, that I reviewed.

The Surface Laptop 4 just looks classy, and tipping the scales at 1.3kg, it won’t add much weight to your backpack or satchel if you e-scoot or cycle to the office or university or wherever. You can hoist it with one hand without breaking a sweat.

It’s incredibly thin, too: amazingly thin, actually, with great build quality. It felt rigid and sturdy with no creaks or flexing. 

That thinness does come with a downside, though, depending on your view of how much connectivity a laptop should have. The Surface Laptop 4 doesn’t have a lot of ports, with the left-hand side housing USB Type A and USB Type C ports and a 3.5mm headphone jack while the right hand side has the proprietary charge portt – and that’s it. If you want ports to connect more things, you’ll need to get a dongle or something but for most people it should do the job.

It has a 10-point multi touch PixelSense screen that looks sharp, displaying text and documents clearly and crisply, although with a 3:2 aspect ratio, the bezels were a little thick for my liking .  

Talking of text and documents that brings me to the keyboard which is extremely comfortable to type on. As someone who’s been able to touch type for almost 30 years, I found the keyboard on the Surface Laptop 4 just a dream to use, with nice travel from the keys. It really does make for a pleasant typing experience.  

The nice sized touch pad is super sensitive, too, which means it’ll pick up the most minute of digit movements as you slide your fingers across its surface.   

Microsoft claims the Surface Laptop 4 has a battery life of up to 17.5 hours and while it has great battery life, I suggest it was more like 12 to 13 hours of standard use, which is still fantastic and means you won’t need to live near a power point when you’re working on that important document.

Performance-wise, I’ve never used a laptop with a Ryzen CPU but the Surface Laptop 4 seemed zippy enough, handling everything I threw at it: Word processoring, video streaming, web browsering and the like, and while it’s not a gaming machine, it did manage to run easy games like the excellent-but-old BladeRunner (off GOG.com). Have no illusions, though, this isn’t a gaming laptop so don’t load up Cyberpunk 2077 or Call of Duty and expect it to run like a PC with a discrete graphics card because it won’t. This isn’t a gaming machine.

In an attempt to make myself feel like a real tech reviewer, I benchmarked the Laptop 4 with Cinebench and Geekbench 5, returning scores of 4862, and 533 (single core) and 4138 (multi-core) respectively but if I’m being honest, I really don’t know what those numbers mean.  

After using the Surface Laptop 4 for a few weeks, I’m sold on its credentials as a solid, productivity device that would be just the ticket for the home office (or office, office) or a creative type who wants something light and portable to finish writing their first novella on.  

Many thanks to Acumen Republic PR in New Zealand for providing the review unit.