Zwift, the global online fitness platform that was the friend of many athletes during COVID-19 lock downs, has announced the return of the Tour of Watopia for 2021, which started on March 29, a five stage virtual event .
Zwift is essentially fitness e-sports, be it cycling or running, where users pay a monthly fee and get to participate in virtual events with other participants around the world and features multiple courses, group rides and races. Zwift tells me Kiwis have embraced the platform over the past year, seeing year on year popularity almost double as fitness enthusiasts kept fit during lock down last year.
It’s not just weekend warriors that Zwift is proving popular with, either: Professional cyclists like Ella Harris, from Dunedin, used the platform during lock down to keep themselves in shape.
Zwift utilises an app that connects to exercise equipment like smart bike trainers and treadmills and uses massively multiplayer online gaming technology to create 3D worlds for riders and runners to explore. Circuits include London, New York and Paris and riders earn XP that they can use to “level up”, buy virtual clothing, accessories and bikes like the Specialized S-Works Venge so they can customise their avatar.
Zwift’s Tour of Watopia (ToW) allows riders and runners to fast forward the rewards with double XP and for those new to the training platform, there are rookie rides and runs led by some of the most knowledgeable Zwifters and participants can learn the how-to’s of a group event while earning Double XP. The rides are kept at a pace that encourages riders to stay together.
A few years ago, my father-in-law had a relatively big TV (I think it was a Panasonic) and it had LED lighting either side which would bathe the wall behind it with a soft blue glow. I always thought it looked kind of cool.
Now, thanks to Nanoleaf’s new Essentials lightstrip starter kit, I now too have my Samsung TV emitting a soft blue glow – or purple or green or orange – and it does indeed look cool.
The lightstrip is part of Nanoleaf’s new Essentials range (there’s also a rhombicosidodecahedron shaped bulb: Try saying that three times after a few drinks) which range in price from $NZ50 to $NZ100.
Tripping the light fantastic …
The lightstrip comes in a 2m length, which you can cut to size (but only at designated points clearly marked) so chances are, like with my TV, the final length will either be too long or two short (you can’t reconnect the cut portions).
I had a bit of overlap at the edge of my TV so I had to get creative and ended up sticking it to the side a nearby gaming console (sorry Xbox Series X). You peel off a protective tape to reveal a 3M adhesive strip then press down firmly to make sure it sticks to the surface. It’s incredibly simple to set up.
There are 21 LEDs per metre in the lightstrip, clustered in groups of five, and they’re bright: Bright enough to cast a glow on the walls behind my TV. They work best affixed to a flat surface but I’ve had no problems so far with the slightly curved back of the TV .
There’s a control box that controls the light strip that connects to the strip via a ribbon-type connection, which in turn connects to the power adapter. The remote is rather bulky and you can also attach it to a surface using 3M sticky pads. I just attached it to the back of the TV to get as clean a look as possible.
I hardly used the control box, to be honest: I connected to the smart bulb and light strip using Nanoleaf’s smart phone (iOS and Android) app which let me control everything. The lighting range is also compatible with Apple’s Home App and Google’s Assistant.
Nanoleaf says the light strip can display 16 million plus colours, is thread enabled (an IP based wireless protocol supported by Apple, Google and Samsung but you need a compatible border router such as a Home Pod mini) and can be voice controlled. It’s rated at a maximum of 2200 lumens and has a lifespan of 25,000 hours.
I don’t have a thread enabled router so connected to the lights via my smartphone using bluetooth and there’s a slight delay changing colours when you first turn it on but it’s nothing that ruins the experience (and was much more noticeable on the smart bulb).
I was impressed how a simple light strip can add a bit more atmosphere to our lounge, especially at night when the only other light on in the room is a lamp. My wife likes it, too, which is a bonus.
I haven’t managed to work out whether Nanoleaf is right in its claim the lightstrip can display 16 million+ colours which are changed using a colour wheel or pre-set tones. You can also adjust the colour temperature and brightness of the LEDs using the app.
Nanoleaf says that the Essentials range features a circadian lighting mode that automatically adjusts to the natural colour temperature of the room and sets different colour tones for morning, daytime and evening. You enter your location in the settings menu and the light syncs with the estimated sunrise and sunsets in your city. It’s a nice feature but I really didn’t notice much difference.
It comes in a bulb, too
I put the smart bulb into my bedside lamp and it emits a good amount of light – Nanoleaf says it has an average brightness of 806 lumens and maximum brightness of 1100 lumens – but I did have a bit of trouble connecting the bulb to my phone during the initial set up. It took a few attempts to get a stable connection.
When using bluetooth, there is a noticeable lag when you first connect to it and change colours. It rights itself but from time to time it’s there. For me, the light strip is the winner here but the smart bulb offers myriad options, especially if you have a few lamps around your home that you can work with.
Overall, I was really impressed with Nanoleaf’s lightstrip: It’s sturdy and well made and offers excellent colour range and performance. I hear that Nanoleaf are planning more updates in future as it would be nice to be able to sync, say, the light strip to music like you can with Nanoleaf’s panels.
Both are great cost-effective options to add some colour – be it bright or subtle – to your lounge, gaming room or underneath your TV.
Home surveillance cameras are a bit like insurance: They’re not really something you want to have to set up around your home but they offer peace of mind when something goes wrong – and you need to call the insurance company.
At the moment, our neighbourhood Facebook page (yes, I know, I know) seems to be a constant stream of posts about car break-ins, people wandering onto other peoples’ properties uninvited and general dodgy behaviour so some form of home security system seems warranted these days.
Last year, I looked at D-Link’s DCS-8302LH wi-fi security camera, a reasonably priced and capable home surveillance camera. Now, it’s time to look at the 8300LHV2, a more streamlined security camera to add more security to your home network. Thanks to D-Link in Australia for sending across a review unit.
Like the 8302LH camera, the 8300LH offers a full HD image (D-Link says it’s 1080p at 30 frames per second), a 2 megapixel CMOS sensor, night vision (up to 5m) and motion detection. The 8300LH offers a field of view of 120 degrees, which is less than the 8302LH, but has something called edge-based person detection as well as a built in microphone/speaker, which is ideal if you want to install it outside and want to capture audio. It is mains powered so you’ll need a power outlet.
The 8300LH has an RRP of $NZ149.99 and $AU129.95.
The nice thing about these D-Link cameras is that you can be up and running out of the box within minutes as the whole installation process uses a smartphone-based app. Handily, because I already had the 8302LH installed, the app automatically assigned my wi-fi network to the new camera and it was all systems go. You can also connect via ethernet cable, if you want.
D-Link’s Myd-link app lets you adjust camera settings like motion and person detection sensitivity, night vision modes and storage modes. Like it’s brother, the 8300LH can store captured footage to either a microSD card of D-Link’s cloud based offering which ranges in price from free to $US100 a year (which saves a month’s worth of recordings to the cloud at a time).
At the moment I park my car outside on the driveway, so I decided to set the new camera in a spare room that looks onto a road that has a lot of foot and vehicular traffic. I adjusted the sensitivity window of the camera to take in the driver’s side of the car and a portion of footpath.
I got multiple notifications to the app throughout the day (and night) of movement captured by the camera and I’d suggest that if you’re contemplating buying one, adjust the sensitivity until you’re happy with the level of notifications you get (or mute the notifications on your phone by turning on the privacy mode via the app).
To be fair, I wouldn’t normally want to place the camera in such a high traffic area as constant notifications do get annoying but the 8300LH alerted me to any goings on so it did its job admirably.
I also tested the camera in a living room that had a view of the front door and in the garage where I could get a view of a side gate. Thanks to the camera, I saw the food meal courier deliver our dinners for the week from the comfort of the cafe I was having a coffee at. Thanks, mate!
I like that I can capture a screenshot or record video from the live view if I’m alerted to movement using the app. You can also change the resolution from 1080p to 720p using the app as well, although it does look like it defaults to 720p.
The D-Link can be installed inside or outside but here’s a tip: Don’t have the camera too close to a window like I did for one test. The image quality is perfect during daylight hours but at night time, the night time IR sensor bounces back off the glass, blurring the image with a bright light which means much of the detail in the scene is hard to see. It’d suggest a high vantage point not too close to a window or glass.
I don’t have much to gripe about with the D-Link 83000LH but if there was something it would be that the supplied charge/power cable is quite short so you’ll need to position it close to a power outlet or use an extension cord it you want to set it up at a vantage point where a power outlet isn’t nearby.
Overall, I was impressed with D-Link’s 8300LH: Like it’s sibling, it’s an excellent, affordable option for home security that will give you that extra layer of peace of mind when you can’t be at home 24/7.
This product review is something of a departure for the blog so hear me out.
Up until now, this blog has been a catalogue of video game and hardware thoughts and reviews but I’ve decided to expand on the usual theme every once and a while and write about one of my other passions: Mountain biking.
Now, I’m not as good as I think I am at mountain biking and I’ve only really being doing it for the past five years after what seems a lifetime of road bike riding, but for me, it’s quite a stress release to get out on two wheels and hit some dirt trails after a mentally exhausting week in the office. For me, there’s nothing quite like zipping through forested tracks to bring a little calm to things.
So, every now and then, I’ll post about mountain bike-related things: It might be a new piece of clothing or a new piece of kit for my bike but it’ll mix up the gaming and tech content, hopefully broadening the appeal of the blog. First up is a new helmet that I got last Christmas: Lazer’s LZB-23 Coyote MIPS helmet.
Lazer was founded in Belgium in 1919 and note, this blog post isn’t sponsored by Lazer or a local bike shop: This is me, an average bike rider, doing a review of a helmet I own and I have found a great product.
MIPS and the technology behind it
MIPS – or multi-directional impact protection system – is protection built into the helmet that helps reduce rotational forces that can occur during certain impacts. Essentially, there’s a layer of protection inside the helmet that is designed to mimic the brain’s own protection system that will reduce the strain of rotational forces, thus lessening the risk and severity of brain injury if you have a crash.
The good thing about MIPS is that a MIPS-equipped helmet looks almost identical to a non-MIPS-equipped helmet except for when you look inside, there will a thin liner beneath the pads. The only indicator that the helmet is any different to one without MIPS is that some brands have a small yellow MIPS logo on there – or in the case of Lazer’s Coyote helmet lots of little MIPS logos dotted all over the liner.
My dear wife bought me the Coyote as a Christmas present (I don’t know what it cost her but it ranges at retail for around $NZ180) and it’s probably the best mountain biking helmet I’ve used since I picked up the sport. My previous helmet was a Giro Phase which I picked up during a well-know New Zealand outdoor pursuits retailer’s regular online sales. I’ve been a long-time Giro wearer – my current road bike helmet is a Giro – and the Phase is a good entry level helmet but it’s pretty much an entry level helmet that does the job and that’s it.
Before settling on the Coyote, I tried several helmets on, at several bike shops, over several weekends and eventually settled on the Coyote after chatting to the helpful staff at Evo Cycle’s in Christchurch. Helmets can be weird things: The fit and comfort is all dependent on the peculiarities of your nonce and I ended up with a medium (55-59cm) Coyote, tipping the scales at 370 grams.
What I like about the Coyote over my previous Phase is that back-of-the-head protection that the Coyote offers: It extends further down the back of my head, offering more protection. Like with all new helmets, it took me a couple of rides to adjust to the feel and added weight compared to the Phase which comes in a 342 grams but soon enough the Coyote felt comfortable on my head.
The Coyote’s chin strap is comfortable enough and as is the norm these days the helmet’s “tightness” on your head is adjusted by a ratchet know at the back: turn clockwise to tighten the internal liner, turn counter clockwise to loosen it. Simple enough.
The Coyote has 19 vents across the surface of the helmet – the widest being across the top and at the back – and not once have I suffered “hot helmet head” while out riding, even on hot days. The helmet has remained secure and and my head cool every time.
Perhaps the only gripe that some riders might have with the Lazer Coyote is that the front visor isn’t detachable (as it is on the Giro Phase via two velcro dots). Personally, I haven’t had any vision issues with the fixed visor on the Coyote but then again, I’m not going 6000km/h down black trails at the Christchurch Adventure Park or advanced grade tracks where perhaps an adjustable visor might prove useful.
For me, Lazer’s Coyote is the best mountain biking helmet that I’ve used: It’s comfortable, offers excellent protection and is stylish, and I can see myself hitting the trails with it on my head for a long time to come. Luckily, I haven’t had to test out the MIPS protection – touch wood – in a real-world setting.
Long may that continue.
Do you want to see more mountain biking related content on the site? Let me know.
Data from product comparison site PriceSpy has confirmed what many gamers still trying to get their hands on hardware like a PlayStation 5 or a new nVidia 3000 series graphics card already knew: A global shortage is leading to high demand and inflated prices.
Liisa Matinvesi-Bassett, New Zealand country manager for PriceSpy, says: “Our data shows Kiwis have never been more into gaming goods than now, with the PS5 a clear winner that many want in their homes. In fact, the console is currently the most-popular product on our website, above some 139,337 other indexed items. Since the start of this year, we’ve seen significant growth across the shopping category of graphics cards both in New Zealand and globally.”
PriceSpy’s key findings:
In New Zealand, popularity for graphics cards doubled on PriceSpy, compared to the same time in 2020 (up 111 per cent)*
Globally, popularity for graphics cards increased 276 per cent, compared to the same time in 2020****.
Consumer buying interest for gaming products, such as the PS5 and graphics cards has skyrocketed this year*;
Kiwi shoppers could struggle to find stock availability due to global supply shortages;
Whilst the launch of two popular gaming consoles in November last year may play a contributing factor to the shortage of supply, so too is the fact that more people than ever are staying home globally – and these people want to keep entertained;
The recent rise in the price of the cryptocurrency, bitcoin, is also driving up consumer buying interest globally for graphics cards, which are required to mine bitcoin currency;
Covid-19 has continued to globally affect manufacturing, supply chains, distribution channels and demand;
All of these factors are impacting the overall price of goods. The new PS5 for example can only be purchased second-hand, with prices reaching as much as $1650 on Trade Me. And, according to PriceSpy’s price index, the indexed price point for graphics cards has risen, up nine per cent year-on-year since the start of the year.
As a result of Covid-19 impacting manufacturing processes, supply chains, distribution channels and consumer buying interest rising, PriceSpy warns, many shoppers may struggle to physically get hold of these in-demand items from retailers due to global supply shortages.
Matinvesi-Bassett continues: “Since the PS5 first launched, consumer buying interest for Sony’s latest flagship console quickly skyrocketed. In fact, before it was even released in November 2020 last year, it was already the most-clicked on product on PriceSpy, above thousands of other items.
“But, with global supply chains affected by Covid-19, stock soon ran out – and popularity quickly dropped off. However, since the start of February, even though stock levels have not yet returned, consumer buying interest has once again peaked – with the PS5 ranking again as most-clicked on product on PriceSpy.”
The lack of product availability also appears to be driving up the price of the PS5 on the second-hand market, with prices on Trade Me reaching as much as $1650, $831 over its RRP**.
And it’s not just the PS5 that’s increasing in popularity and price…
“Graphics cards may not be an item that appeals to everyone, but our data shows popularity has peaked, increasing 111 per cent year on year*, which is extremely high. We believe this additional demand is driven by a number of reasons,” says Matinvesi-Bassett.
There are several reasons why graphics cards are sold out:
Supply issues Firstly, there’s the production aspect. Many Chinese factories stopped manufacturing graphics cards during the onset of the Covid-19 outbreak. The graphics card manufacturer, AMD, has probably also needed to use a significant part of its production capacity to provide the new gaming consoles with graphics cards. All this means that manufacturers have not been able to produce as many cards as required.
More time at home Covid-19 has seen us all spend more time at home, which has resulted in an increase in popularity of all types of entertainment, including gaming consoles – up by almost a third year-on-year***. Similarly, more may be looking to upgrade their gaming equipment, as consumer buying interest on PriceSpy for CPUs grew 58 per cent* and graphics cards up 111 per cent*.
The rise in price of Bitcoin The price of Bitcoin has risen exponentially over the last three months, further increasing consumer buying interest for graphics cards which are used for mining.
Supply levels demand – driving up the price of goods For the PS5, it is only available ‘second-hand’ via Trade Me and is being sold at a much higher price than its RRP.
With availability of graphics cards now scarce, the indexed price point for these items on PriceSpy has risen almost nine per cent since the start of this year.
“Without a doubt, Covid-19 continues to affect the retail sector. From manufacturing, supply chains, distribution, consumer buying interest and price. It’s therefore more important than ever that consumers carry out important price research before they buy, to make sure the price they are purchasing at is fair and reasonable and not over the odds,” says Matinvesi-Bassett.
*Kiwis’ buying interest between 1 January and 1 March 2021 vs 1 January and 1 March 2020.
**Prices correct as of 2 March 2021
***Between 1 January and 1 March 2021, Kiwis’ buying interest for gaming consoles increased 30 per cent year-on-year. Source: PriceSpy
JBL’s Quantum series of gaming headsets have been out for a while now: I reviewed the Quantum 600s on the site last year, saying my “ears were in aural heaven” but now, I’m taking a look at JBL’s Quantum 800s, a more feature-packed wireless headset and it’s second from the top in its gaming headset range.
I use the Quantum 600s as my daily gaming headset and despite the two being essentially identical in design and build, the 800s just seems more premium with a more comfortably fit. I’m not sure whether it was mind playing tricks on me but the ear cups on the 800 felt more comfortable than those on the 600s, with the leather-covered memory foam feeling a lot more dense and more secure over my ears. The headphones withstood a bit of twisting and didn’t seem to move around much on my head when I moved it from side to side.
The left ear cup houses a flexible, fold down boom mic, a mic mute button, a volume wheel, a game/chat balance wheel, a 3.5mm input and a USB-c charge port. The left ear cup also sports a a button that activates the active noise cancelling functionality. The right ear cup is home to the power/pairing button and the Bluetooth connection button.
The Quantum 800s support surround sound options DTS and JBL’s own Quantum surround sound which gives you 7.1 audio right into your ears. It also has Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity meaning you can connect your phone or another mobile device to the headset so you can still hear listen to music or hear incoming phone calls when you’re gaming. You can also use them with a console like a Nintendo Switch using the 3.5mm cable.
Speaking of the cables, it’s a small thing but the USB-c charge cable and 3.5mm cable are a nice braided cable with alternating orange and black highlights rather than straight black plastic. It’s just a small thing but shows JBL want the whole package to be a high-end one.
Like the 600s, the 800s connect via a USB transmitter and JBL’s QuantumEngine PC software lets you tweak things like in-built sound presets (clarity, deeper bass, boost high end tones or FPS specific soundscape), surround sound settings and the ear cups’ RGB lighting. I switched the lighting off as I’d rather have battery life than flashing lights, thanks. JBL promises around 14 hours with the lighting turned off and that seemed about right, although I didn’t record how much time I got between charges. Battery life is much less, of course, if you’re blasting the RGB 24/7.
The tagline for the Quantum series is “Sound is survival” so how do the Quantum 800s sound compared to the 600s which I use regularly? Much, much better, if I’m honest. I felt that the 800s delivered slightly better sound than the Quantum 600s, delivering impressive deep bass and nice, crisp highs. I tested the 800s playing games like God of War on PS5 – you can use them with consoles using the USB dongle but will need to use the 3.5mm cable on an Xbox One X console – and really noticed that the headset was able to deliver immersive and impressive sound while I was gaming.
Perhaps the biggest advantage the 800s have over the 600s is the Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) functionality, which is activated by the button on the left ear cup.
A robotic voice lets you know when ANC is on or off and believe me, you can actually hear the difference when it’s active: It drowned out the reality TV playing in the next room and let me concentrate on what I was doing on my PC: Playing games. Sure, JBL’s ANC isn’t as good as on my Bose QuietComfort 35iis but for a gaming headset, it’s an excellent feature to have when you just want to concentrate on the mission and drown out external noise.
JBL is really aiming high with its Quantum range of gaming headsets and for me, a good gaming headset must do two things: Deliver great sound when I’m gaming and be comfortable. JBL’s Quantum 800 headset delivers on both counts. Two thumbs up from me.
Thanks to JBL for the review unit. The Quantum 800s will retail for around $NZ400.
There’s a moment in the opening minutes of Hitman 3’s Chongqing, China, mission when you realise that there is actually a real-life human being inside genetically engineered killer Agent 47.
The “moment” happens on an over pass near Chongqing’s train station where a young woman is staring out over the harbour, puffing on a cigarette as rain falls onto the neon-lit streets. She asks Agent 47 whether he has seen a woman with a green top. He replies he hasn’t then the woman tells 47 how the woman’s friend has been rock over the year and perhaps she has decided not to come meet her for drinks.
It’s what happens next that surprised me: Agent 47 tells the woman, sagely, that her friend agreed to meet her at 4am, in the rain, and that wasn’t the actions of someone who didn’t care. He then suggests she pick up the tab to show how much she appreciates her friendship. The conversation ends and Agent 47 goes on his way but it’s a powerful sequence with masterful writing. In those few sentences Agent 47 shows that despite a life filled with murder and mayhem, he can show human emotion when needed.
OK, touching moment in Chongqing out of the way, Hitman 3 is a truly fitting farewell for the trilogoy started by developer IO Interactive in 2016 and follows the format bedded in by the two previous games: A handful of locations (this time around 47 will visit places like Dartmoor in England, Mendoza in Argentina, Chongqing in China and Berlin), a variety of targets and multiple ways to reach your end goal.
The opening mission, for example, sees 47 infiltrating the tallest building in the world, the Sceptre in Dubai, to assassinate two wealthy targets – but he’s not alone, this time he’s assisted by former foe Lucas Grey.
As I moved to the entry point in the Sceptre, 47 bumped into a tool box that was sitting on a work platform, spilling tools from the container. I just watched as the tool box – and the tools inside – spun aimlessly for what seemed like an eternity before clattering noisily onto a girder hundreds of metres below me.
As with previous Hitman games, wardrobes, cabinets, dumpsters and freezers are 47’s best friend again – they’re great locations to stash bodies out of sight – and once again, the beauty of the Hitman games is the open-endedness of the game play. There are myriad ways to assassinate targets so they look like accidents using a variety of implements: letter openers, poisons, exploding golf balls, cans of drink, bananas … and it’s this open-endedness that means you’ll come back to a location time and time again to eek out all its little secrets.
Something I really love about the recent Hitman games – and the opening conversations is a good example of this – is the dialogue from and between NPCs, some which might lead to important information about targets and their movements and others which are just downright amusing and fun and just add to the immersion of the game world.
Examples? One time, Agent 47 was getting getting frisked by a security guard who proclaimed “No need to flex you don’t need to impress me”. Another time, 47 was following too closely to an NPC who turned around saying “Hey, space bubble, buddy”. Then there was the time a commando radioed command after spotting 47 throw a can of soft drink at a soldier’s head:”Eyes on comedian throwing things at people.”
I sometimes found myself hiding behind a desk or object just to eavesdrop on conversations, like the NPC who was lamenting to a work colleague he thought was his friend that he had just been fired by his employer for no reason and could they still be friends.
The Hitman games are all about planning, planning and planning but sometimes, though, the series is at its finest when you bumble an assassination attempt & things turn to shit but somehow, some way, you manage to complete your task and get to an escape point. Other times, though, you’ll make such a meal of it that it’ll turn to custard mere metres from an exit point and there’s no choice but to reload a saved game and try better next time.
Of the locations in Hitman 3, I’d have to say my favourites are Berlin and the Carpathian Mountains in Romania.
Berlin is brilliant because it’s unlike previous missions in that you’re not actually sure who your target – or targets, in this case – is: Just that you need to locate the ICA agents that have infiltrated the rave at an abandoned nuclear plant and eliminate them before they spot you. The beauty here is the game forces you to get close to people until you can identify them sufficiently to mark as a target. What makes it tense, though, is the ICA agents know what you look like so it’s an intricate game of cat-and-mouse.
The Carpathian Mountains mission is brilliant because it’s set on a train and, look, I don’t want to spoil it for you but it’s a no-holds barred, all-gloves-are-off mission where Agent 47 goes weapons free without repercussions. I enjoyed it immensely.
As I said in the beginning of this write-up, Hitman 3 is a fitting farewell to this trilogy and one that I thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish, despite having the odd janky character animation and the pain-in-the-arse always online aspect which does grate from time to time, especially when you get disconnected from the server mid-location!
Developer IO Interactive’s next game is based on British spy James Bond and based on the brilliance that is Hitman, I for one, cannot wait to see where they take Double Oh Seven.
Thanks to Bandai Namco in Australia for the PC code for Hitman 3. I completed the main story then proceeded to visit the locations again, dabbled in some of the sniper challenges and played through some of the contract missions.
As I write this, it’s 11pm on a Tuesday night on January 26. My phone tells me it’s still 27.1 deg. At 11pm at night. I’m uncomfortable, sweating and can’t sleep – so I’m writing. I’m not sure it’ll make sense or be coherent but here I am, writing because it’s too hot to sleep.
Welcome to the blog for 2021 and to be honest, it hasn’t been a good year personally for me so far. Actually, it’s been quite shit so far, if I’m being completely honest, with the sad news that our fluffy companion of six and a half year – Drew – the Samoyed who featured in photos in many of the smartphone reviews that appeared on this blog – passed away unexpectedly on January 10. I’m devastated and he will be missed incredibly.
Anyway, back to the blog and the plan for this year. Frankly, I don’t have a plan for this year: What happens, happens. I’ll hopefully still be supported by the longtime PR across New Zealand and Australia that have continued to support me for the past few years and I’ll be able to write down my thoughts and share them with you as I have previously.
Anyway, games. You want to hear about games. At the moment, I’m playing Hitman 3 (thanks to the fine Kerrin at BandaiNamco Entertainment) and I’m loving it. Really, really loving it and I didn’t realise how much I missed Agent 47 as a video game protagonist until I started up the game.
Look, I’ve played most of the Hitman games – old and new – on various platforms and I’ve enjoyed most of them, apart from perhaps Absolution which I didn’t hate but …. I didn’t adore either. It was just “meh”, I suppose, when I think about it.
These last three Hitman games, though, are special and H3 is something really special, with great locations, great open-ended game play and as always amazing replayability where you’re always going to back to see if you can eliminate a target in some new outlandish way using a rubber duck, a banana or an exploding golf ball. Or perhaps a combination of all three.
I’ll get a review up in the coming days (early next week, probably) but in the meantime, for your viewing pleasure, here is a launch trailer for Hitman 3. Oh, and I really appreciate you for visiting. If you’re a longtime reader, I’m glad you’ve stuck around and I appreciate your support. If you’re a first time visitor, have a look around and hopefully you’ll like what you see and come back again.
Let’s get this out in the open from the start: This is not a review of Cyberpunk 2077 or commentary on its current state on last-generation consoles. The internet has plenty of discussion on the console versions for you to digest.
I have, however, started playing it on PlayStation 5 (the PS4 version). I’ve played a handful of hours but have decided to park it until the PS5 upgrade is available. I don’t want to refund the game as it was – as I may have said before – a gift from my children for Father’s Day – last year so I’ll stick with it.
A common theme, however, that seems to crop up is that Cyberpunk 2077 is a much better experience on PC. I reckon it is so I was keen to see how it ran on what it probably considered a mid-range PC these days because, let’s face it, not everyone can afford a high-end Intel or AMD CPU paired with an eye-wateringly expensive RTX3090 graphics card. I know I certainly can’t [I’d love to have a better GPU but can’t afford it right now. If there are any GPU manufacturers keen to hit me up you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org…]
So I approached the Australian PR team for NamcoBandai to see if they would provide a PC code so I could testing the PC version on my rig: And kudos to the team, they sent me a code, redeemable through GOG.com.
For Cyberpunk 2077, developer CD Projekt Red recommends a minimum i5 3560K or Ryzen FX8310, 8Gb RAM and a nVidia GTX780 or AMD470. Recommended specifications are an Intel i7 4790 or an AMD Ryzen 3 3200G and a GTX1060 6Gb or a Radeon R9 Fury graphics card.
My PC is pretty mid-range these days, I reckon: An i5 8400, 16Gb PNY RGB RAM & a Sapphire RX580 8Gb, which is something like a four year old graphics card but its no slouch when it comes to performance. I’m playing at a resolution of 1080p on a 27-inch 144Hz LG monitor.
What I wanted to test was was simple enough: I wanted to see if I could I run Cyberpunk 2077, a game that was clearly developed for PC first and console second, on my mid-range (probably low-end to some PC owners) PC rather than a super computer which is what many reviewers seemed to play it on.
Using the optimised settings by Alex Battaglia from Digital Foundry & tweaks by YouTube channel RX580, I set about adjusting settings until I got what seemed to the ideal marriage between performance and visuals.
As you’d expect for a PC game, it has a plethora of tweakable settings such as being able to adjust the number of pedestrians on screen, contact shadows, improved facial lighting geometry, volumetric clouds and fog and screen space reflections. I also switched on AMD’s Fidelity CAS [Contrast Adaptive Sharpening) which sharpens and optimally scales an image to see what impact that had on frame rate (it seemed to gain me a few frames). I also lowered volumetric fog to medium and Screen Space Reflections to medium. Obviously, I’m not using any ray tracing as it isn’t supported by the RX580.
I played the same story line I did on console – Nomad V – and frankly, the difference visually between PC and console is stark: Cyberpunk is without a doubt a much more visually stunning game on PC than it is on console, even without ray tracing. This is partly the reason I want to keep my console version: I want to see what the PlayStation 5 is capable of when the eventual upgrade lands and that ray tracing is shown off.
Using AMD’s in-built Radeon monitoring software, I found that Cyberpunk 2077 pushes the RX580 to its limits, with GPU utilisation sitting at 100% a lot of the time. Remarkably, the hottest the card seemed to get was around 74 degrees but the fans were definitely working overtime, sounding like a jumbo jet taking off a lot of the time.
My RX580 has a VRAM clock of 4210MHz and a memory clock of 2000MHz. Cyberpunk 2077 seems to be more GPU heavy than CPU heavy [CPU utilisation fluctuated from between 40% to 85%.] A one point I was using 8.2Gb of RAM (the card only has 8Gb on board).
But what about the all important frame rates? In-game it ranged between 36 frames per second right up to 48 frames per seconds. Occasionally, it even crept above 50 frames per second. I had it capped at 60FPS but I never got realistically close to that.
It did drop to 36FPS during the opening garage sequence in the nomad story line, strangely, but then rose back up to early 40s when arriving in Night City. In the van shoot out sequence early in the game, the frame rate dropped below 30 frames per second but that seem to be a common hiccup point for most players.
For the most part, though, the game averaged around 38-40 frames per second, which I’m really, really happy with, given the GPU I have. I noticed the frame rate often dropped to the mid-30s during heavy combat sequences, which is still certainly playable.
I haven’t experienced any crashes but I have had bugs and glitches. I had a weird audio one that made all the voices crackly, forcing a restart to sort it. A couple of times V’s scanner remained on screen even when I had deactivated it. Jackie, V’s friend, walked through an elevator door once and I had a classic bad-guy-caught-in-a-loop-in-an-elevator bug during a firefight. I just lobbed a grenade in: That sorted him out.
I’ve noticed signage (for the most part) and textures are definitely a lot crisper on PC than it is on PS4 version: For example, At the border station in the opening moments of the nomad story line, I couldn’t read the text on the map of the United States due to it being so blurry. On the PC version, it was crystal clear.
Cyberpunk 2077 also has a pretty amazing photo mode and you can pretty much activate it any time you want during the game then use the in-built editor to tweak things. All the images for this write up were taken with the photo mode and showcase just how damn good the game looks on PC. I’ve also captured some footage of the game play: No spoilers, really, it’s pretty early content.
So there you have it: I’m pleasantly surprised that my RX580, an 8Gb GPU that is hardly cutting edge these days, is able to play Cyberpunk 2077 comfortably and it looks good to boot.
Look, it’s clear to me that Cyberpunk 2077 is a much superior game on PC than it is on console and while I will be playing it on my PlayStation 5 now is not the time: I’ll play through it again with another story line once the next-generation (technically it’s current-generation) upgrade has been released. I have no idea when that will be, though.
For the time being, I’ll keep plugging away with the PC version, dreaming of the day I’ll be able to afford a card capable of ray tracing.
In Spider-man Miles Morales, the latest Spider-man game from longtime PlayStation darling developer Insomniac, we have a new hero for a new [console] generation.
Regular Spider-man [Peter Parker] has headed off on holiday with Mary Jane so Miles Morales is left in charge and has to protect New York city from the bad people – and guess what? Bad people come a-knocking in the guise of renegade revolutionaries the Underground and shady corporate figurehead Simon Krieger and his energy company Roxxon.
Miles was in Insomniac’s last Spider-man game and is the star of Netflix’s rather excellent Spider-man Into the Spiderverse animated movie and there’s a nice “Previously” feature at the beginning of the game that fills you in just in case you haven’t played the original game – or just plain forgot.
Right off the bat, Miles Morales looks fantastic on the PlayStation 5, with a much busier and detailed New York than the original Spider-man on PlayStation 4 [which has, incidentally, been remastered for the PlayStation 5, by the way]. Texture work is just insane on Miles and his spidey suits and Insomniac really have nailed, again, the swinging through the city streets mechanic.
The biggest thing that has impressed with with Miles Morales, though, is the super quick load times off the PS5 SSD. From pressing “continue” on the game’s menu screen to being in-game, it’s a scant four seconds. Four seconds. I know it’s four seconds because I counted every single time I played just to make sure that I wasn’t dreaming.
The PS5 version comes with two visual modes: Fidelity, which runs at 30PFS, 4K with all the graphical bells and whistles [impressive ray tracing, particle effects] and Performance which drops the resolution down [a bit] and removes the ray tracing and other things that will impact on high frame rates, delivering a pretty solid 60 frames per second.
With my eyes, I found it visually really hard to tell the difference between the two modes when I was zipping around New York. Sure, the fidelity mode looks a little bit prettier, especially with its ray tracing, but I played mostly in performance mode as movement just feels so much smoother as does combat which feels slower when dropping back to 30FPS. In fact, it’s quite jarring going back to 30 FPS with the fidelity mode, which I did sometimes only because I wanted to take some neat photos with the sweet ray tracing action.
As is the norm these days, Miles Morales has a pretty robust photo mode – although getting to it is a bit of a pain, especially when you’re mid-swing [You have to hit the pause button then scroll down to photo mode]. There must be a better way of accessing it that I don’t know about. All the photos in this review were taken from the game’s photo mode.
Spider-man Miles Morales is the game to show off to your friends and family just what the PS5 can do in terms of graphical grunt and speedy load times. It’s also a game that shows off what a talent development studio like Insomniac can do: I can only imagine what the company will be releasing with a few more years PS5 development experience under it’s already impressive belt.