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Bite sized news & reviews, June, 2019

God of Waaaar tops June games

Santa Monica Studio’s PlayStation 4-exclusive God of War has topped the games charts in New Zealand for the month of May, according to price aggregation site PriceSpy.

Despite being released over a year ago, the game staring angry Kratos and his son stomping around Norse mythology, beat out Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption 2 (PS4), EA’s Anthem (PC) and Insomniac’s Marvel’s Spider-Man (PS4) for the top spot. That’s a pretty impressive effort. given the game came out early last year. Coincidentally, you can just happen to find my thoughts on God of War here

God of War originally launched with an RRP of $120 and according to pricing insights from PriceSpy, it can now be picked up for just $48, 60 percent less than 15 months ago.

If you haven’t played it, then I  politely suggest you give it a go. It’s very, very  good.

“They’re not loot boxes. They’re surprise mechanics,”  says EA 

Spotted on Eurogamer this week, EA and Epic Games got a grilling from Britain’s Digital, Culture, Media & Sport Committee on a few video game related issues. One of the topics of discussion was loot boxes .

The response from EA’s vice president, legal and government affairs Kerry Hopkins will become the stuff of memes: “We don’t call them loot boxes – we call them surprise mechanics … People like surprises. We do think the way we’ve implemented these kinds of mechanics is quite ethical and quite fun. They aren’t gambling and we disagree that there’s evidence that shows they lead to gambling.”

Eurogamer reports that the “thorny” issue of loot boxes and gambling was also brought up, but EA, which makes hundreds of millions through the sale of a virtual currency that’s then used to buy packs of cards in FIFA Ultimate Team, believes the two aren’t linked.

There’s not really much else to say on that, is there?

Total War Three Kingdoms & Shakedown Hawaii reviews

I’ve started writing for Australian-based website Koru-Cottage so here are a couple of recent reviews I did for the site: PC game Total War Three Kingdoms and PlayStation 4 game Shakedown Hawaii. Enjoy.

Bite-sized review: Hellmut The Badass from Hell

What is it: Hellmut Badass from Hell is a twin-stick shooter rogue-like which, according to Slovakian development team Volcanicc , has you play as a collection of “improbable creatures and slaughter furious demon hordes”. I looked at it on Nintendo Switch but it’s also available on PC and console.

So, what’s it all about?: Hellmut uses the currently popular 16-bit pixel art style of graphics that a few developers are favouring at the moment, and it’s one of those games where you move with the left stick and aim with the right as you fight your way through increasingly tougher enemies until you die – then you respawn and start all over again.

If you like games like Dead Cells and Hollow Knight, Hellmut will likely appeal to your gaming sensibilities (conversely, if you hate games like Dead Cells and Hollow Knight, you’ll hate Hellmut). It has procedurally generated levels and nice touch is that Hellmut (who seeks imortality from a demon so is reduced to a floating skull and spine) can transform into two other nightmarish creatures (the rat king and the stitchmonster), both with different abilities. The game really looks great on the Switch’s screen, too.

So, anything about the game that grinded your gears?: Well, it’s a rogue-like so, yeah. I frustrate easily with rogue-like games and so it was with Hellmut (and with Dead Cells and Hollow Knight before it). You have to have incredible patience and stickability with games like this and I’m not sure I have the patience to see them through to the end.

Verdict?: Hellmut Badass from Hell has a nice little sense of humour running through it and I liked that, but the bottom line is, like all rogue-likes before it, if you find games like Dead Cells – where when you die you restart from the beginning – frustrating then this isn’t the game for you. That said, if you love games where the odds are often against you and you love the challenge of learning from your mistakes, you’ll love this.

Thanks to the publisher who provided me with a Nintendo Switch game code.

Huawei Y6 Pro 2019 review

Huawei has been in the news recently – and not for great reasons thanks to Android OS maker Google and a decision by the US government – but don’t write the Chinese smartphone manufacturer just yet.

The Y6 Pro 2019  is one of Huawei’s budget phones – it’ll set you back a paltry $249 – but it doesn’t look or feel like a budget smartphone, thanks to its sleek design and quality construction. My review handset was coloured a nice sapphire blue that really does look the bee’s knees and wouldn’t look out of place next to top end smartphones from Huawei and other manufacturers.

Sporting a 6.09-inch HD+ IPS screen (1520 x 720 resolution), 3Gb of memory, a 13MP camera and 32Gb of storage (which is expandable via MicroSD), the Y6 Pro doesn’t have a fingerprint scanner like Huawei’s top-line phones like the P20 and P30 (or even the Nova 3i) but it does have facial recognition which worked every single time I picked up the phone.

The screen is good but not colours don’t pop and the screen isn’t as sharp don’t pop as Huawei’s higher end models and it handled mobile games like Deus Ex Go and Lara Croft Go extremely well, not seeming to drain the battery too much. Talking about the battery, I was impressed with Y6 Pro 2019’s battery life. I got on average two days usage from the phone’s 3020mAh battery needing a charge.

The camera does the job but images aren’t as sharp as on higher end smartphones.

Perhaps the biggest flaw of this phone is the limited internal storage: 32Gb isn’t going to last you very long so if you’re the sort of person who takes lots of photos or downloads content, I’d suggest buying an microSD card at the same time as buying the phone. Face it, buying a larger microSD won’t break the bank given how cheap this phone is.

Overall, Huawei’s Y6 Pro 2019 is a good phone without being a fantastic phone. It’s a workhorse that ticks all the right boxes and is perfect if you want a cheap but good-looking smartphone for your teenager.

If you’re a power user, though, you’ll want to look at something more high-end.


 

Weekend news

Some news for you all.

As well as maintaining this blog, I’ve now started writing PC game reviews for Australian-based gaming blog Koru Cottage which has a great team of writers based in New Zealand and  Australia.

I’ve known the guys involved in the site for some time through social media platforms so it’s nice to have been asked to join the team and contribute.

I’ve done my first review for the site, too  – Rebellion’s Sniper Elite V2 Remastered – which you find here.

Have no fear, though, I’ll still be keeping this blog up and running: I may just tweak the content a bit as time goes on.

Have a great weekend.

 

Nintendo Switch most searched console in New Zealand – PriceSpy

It seems the Nintendo Switch console is the most searched video game console on price aggregation site PriceSpy.

PriceSpy says Nintendo’s handheld hybrid is currently the most popular console on the site (1 January 2019
to date), followed by the Sony PlayStation 4 Pro (1TB) and Microsoft Xbox One S (1TB).

PriceSpy says Nintendo ranks overall as the most popular brand within the gaming shopping category
on PriceSpy, followed by Sony and Microsoft, and in 2018, the Switch also claimed the top spot as overall most popular console, followed by Sony PlayStation 4 Pro (1TB) and Sony PlayStation 4 Slim (500GB)

Liisa Matinvesi-Bassett, New Zealand country manager for PriceSpy, says its data suggests consumers appear to be making the switch (har, har), increasingly searching for Nintendo over the other big gaming players.

“Whilst consumer interest appears to be up the up, historical pricing insights for the
Nintendo Switch show the console’s actual price point has remained fairly static, varying by
just $79 between $469 to $538.

“In comparison to the second and third most popular consoles, the historical pricing insights
tell a different story. Both the Sony PlayStation 4 Pro (1TB) and Microsoft Xbox One S (1TB)
have varied massively in price points, suggesting retailers are offering bigger discounts on
these models to entice consumer in to make a purchase.”

Edifier e10BT multimedia speakers First look (video)

Thanks to the fine folk at Edifier in Australia, a pair (set?) of its e10BT multimedia speakers arrived on my doorstep this week, just crying out to be reviewed. So that’s what I’m going to do.

I currently have the speakers connected to my desktop PC but they also have Bluetooth connectivity so they can be used for other multimedia use. I’ll use them to play music from my phone and play some movies off my iPad.

I’m going to do a full-length review when I’ve tested the speakers out for a bit longer but here’s a short video showing what they look like and sound quality (you also hear my Kiwi accent, which is supposedly sexy according to some survey some person/people did. Not sure I hear it, to be honest). I haven’t gone into specifications of the hardware: I’ll leave that for the long-form review.

I selected the opening credits music from Rocksteady’s Batman Arkham Knight to showcase the e10BT’s, which has some of the most impressive bass in any video game’s opening credits music I’ve heard in recent times.

Turn on your ears, enjoy & look out for a review soon.

 

Does the GTX950 stack up these days?

OK, the GamejunkieNZ new PC build is complete: It’s working perfectly (I just updated to the latest motherboard BIOS last week) but it’s not complete yet.

I still want to buy a better graphics card for it. At the moment, I’m tossing up whether to stick with nVidia, as I have most of my PC gaming life, or do I take a risk and go with an AMD GPU. The thing is, I don’t have an unlimited budget so I have to get a mid-range card and for me, that’s either something like a nVidia GTX1060 6Gb GPU or an AMD RX580 8Gb card – and after a lot of research (well, mainly YouTube comparisons), I’m edging towards the RX580. It just seems a faster card and, frankly, is better priced than nVidia’s equivalent offering. I almost feel nVidia have too many cards on the table these days and is almost diluting its range.

Anyway, until I buy a new GPU, I’ve whacked in an MSi  GTX950 Gaming 2Gb GPU, which I won in a competition a couple of years ago and was released in 2014. Actually, this is the first time it’s been used as the motherboard on my old PC was too old to accept the architecture (not even a motherboard firmware update helped).

Now, according to Steam’s annual hardware survey, the GTX950 GPU is the 16th most popular GPU with Steam users. Surprised? Me too, actually. I wasn’t expecting a card primarily aimed at MOBA games to be ranked at 16th, used by 1.03% of Steam users that completed the survey. Don’t believe me? Here, look at this chart:

 

Anyways, MSi’s GTX950 Gaming GPU supports all the bells and whistles you’d hope a 900 series card from nVidia would: Dynamic Super Resolution, MFAA, nVidia GPU Boost, DirectX 12, Open GL4.5, and it will let you connect upto four displays using DVI, HDMI and DisplayPort. So far, so cutting edge.

The MSi card features Zero Frozr cooling, which means the fans don’t spin when your PC is under idle, keeping noise levels low, and has three different modes: OC mode, Gaming mode and silent mode. The GPU’s boost clock, base clock and memory frequency is 1317 MHz / 1127 MHz / 6650 MHz in OC mode; 1279 MHz / 1102 MHz / 6610 MHz in Gaming mode; and 1190 MHz / 1026 MHz / 6610 MHz in silent mode. The card has some rather neat LED lighting effects that you can control via MSi’s Gaming app, but they’re totally redundant in my PC case, to be honest, as it has solid side panels and not see-through.

Anyway, until I get a new GPU I wanted to see how the GTX 950 would handle some of my favourite games in my Steam, GOG.com and Origin library. The GTX950 has one major flaw: It only has 2Gb of GDDR5 Vram, which isn’t a heck of a lot these days, which I guess is why this card was aimed at the MOBA market. The GTX950 is firmly aimed at medium graphics settings on games, especially fast twitch action games.

So, is the GTX950 GPU still relevant today? Let’s finds out.

How I tested

My reason for doing this was pretty simple: I just wanted to see how the GTX950 would perform with a selection of relatively modern titles  until I bought a new GPU. I picked games that I own in my Steam, GOG and Origin libraries: Deus Ex Mankind Divided, Batman Arkham Origins, Astroneer, Dishonoured, Metro Last Light, The Witcher 3,Titanfall 2 and Wolfenstein The New Order. The screen shots below show the graphics options.

Most games were set at the medium graphical options, given the GPU only has 2Gb of VRam, although with Astroneer I was able to set things to high. I used MSi Afterburner to monitor things like GPU temperature, average frame rates and GPU load and I recorded game play footage using nVidia’s GPU’s capture software.

The results

The bottom line is, if I want to play modern games at decent frame rates and with as many bells & whistles turned on, I need a card better than the GTX950 Some games performed better than expected, others about how I expected, given the small memory allocation the GTX950 has.

Running the Deux Ex Mankind Divided benchmark had frame rates hovering around 30fps, but it’s a graphically demanding game – the average frame rate was around 25fps – and I don’t recommend the GTX 950 is the card of choice. Look, it’s playable but I definitely need a better card to get the most of out the game.

Wolfenstein, too, fared a bit better (see game play videos below), with the frame rate hovering around 60fps during a fairly demanding combat sequence, but again, it’s not the latest in the Wolfenstein universe.

Metro Last Light and Dishonoured  fared pretty well, too, with high frame rates but I have to remind myself they are both older games – still great, great games – but not games that are pushing graphical boundaries. Astroneer and Titanfall 2 both performed really well with the GTX950, giving solid frame rates.

The conclusion

When it came out, the GTX 950 would have been a capable card and it’ll play older games at medium to high graphics settings, but there’s no denying the 2Gb of memory is a major handicap: It just can’t handle today’s games at high resolutions or graphics settings.

Now that the GamejunkieNZ PC is built, I want to be able to play more games on PC. I want to be able to play upcoming games like Rage 2 and Cyberpunk on PC, with high frame rates and all the graphical bells & whistles turned on, not be compromised by 2Gb of memory and having to turn down options because the card can’t handle it.

The days of the GTX950 are numbered, at least in my PC.

 

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