Devolver Digital’s Double Doozy

There was not one but two announcements from publisher Devolver Digital this week, with one of them being a new game in one of point-and-click adventure gaming’s most famous franchises.

The announcement of Return to Monkey Island, the long-awaited follow-up to the legendary Secret of Monkey Island and Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge by Ron Gilbert’s Terrible Toybox in collaboration with Devolver Digital and Lucasfilm Games, was somewhat of a surprise to most of us, especially those of us of thrived on Lucasfilm’s excellent point-and-click adventure games. Here’s hoping there’s a return to insult sword fighting! “You fight like a dairy farmer!”

Details are light on the ground for Return to Monkey Island and the trailer doesn’t reveal any game play but Gilbert, who was behind the Kickstartered point-and-click game Thimbleweed Park, tweeted about it on April 5:

Anywho, here’s a link to the short announcement trailer

The second announcement from Devolver this week was another game play trailer for Trek to Yomi, the Japanese samurai inspired game that I previewed on this site a couple of weeks ago.

The trailer is long – it’s 15 minutes – but gives you a good taste of what to expect from the game when it’s available from May 5.

Trek to Yomi preview (PC version tested)

Publisher Devolver Digital is always full of surprises and Trek to Yomi, a game set during feudal Japan is another surprise that has come out of nowhere, at least as far as I’m concerned.

I knew nothing about the game until the Australian-based PR team for the game got in touch asking if I was keen to preview the first opening hour or so. I watched a couple of trailers and was intrigued. Insomniac’s Ghost of Tsushima has left an itch for more games based on Japanese culture and samurai lore so could Trek to Yomi scratch that itch for me? Let’s find out.

Coming from developer Flying Wild Hog and Leonard Menchari, Trek to Yomi starts with a flashback of young samurai trainee Hiroki training with his sensei and it’s a good training sequence that introduces the sword-play that will become crucial as the game progresses. Hiroki’s arsenal includes fast upward slashes and slower paced but more deadly downward strikes.

Suddenly, Hiroki’s sensei grabs a spear, tells his ward to stay where he is and runs off to fight the villagers who have invaded the village. Hiroki, of course, doesn’t listen and runs off in search of his master only to see him slaughtered before his eyes. Hiroki vows to avenge his death. 

Trek to Yomi is a 2.5D game with a striking visual style: It has an old black and white film grain that is reminiscent of the samurai films of old. At times the camera will pull back, revealing rice fields, waterfalls and mountain backdrops, and a few times I just sat back and took in the view, Hiroki often silhouetted in the foreground with the sun shining through trees with falling leaves.

As you can see from these captures, which I took from the game, it really does have an amazing visual presence.

Adding to the immersion is the dialogue is in full Japanese. It really adds to the atmosphere of being drawn into a Japanese samurai movie of the 1950s. So far, so good.

When Hiroki explores the game world it’s in 2.5D, meaning he can move left and right, forward and backwards, exploring, but when combat is activated the perspective shifts to a flat 2D plane with Hiroki having to fight foes coming from the left and right.

Most of the time you can dispatch foes with simple slashing moves and as he progresses he unlocks more complex moves but, to be honest, I found it a struggle at times to have enough time to chain together some of the more complex combinations, instead tending to thrust and slash when confronted with a handful of enemies at once. It’ll have three difficulty modes: Kabuki (Story), Bushido (Normal) and Ronin (Hard).

The preview build only allowed for about an hour of game play – essentially the first two missions – and ended with Hiroki fighting one of the game’s bosses so it’s really hard to say how the game will be as it progresses and how the story develops.

My interest is definitely piqued by Trek to Yomi’s visuals and the Japanese narrative and location but with such a short preview build, it’s too early to say whether the game is style over substance.

I guess I’ll find out when the full game is released later this year, right? 

Byte sized review: D-Link AX1500 Mesh system M15

D-Link’s AX1500 mesh system in its natural habitat: The suburban home.

If you need a wi-fi mesh system that will extend your home’s wireless signal, D-Link’s AX1500 mesh system M15 is well worth a look.

I’ve used several D-Link wi-fi extenders in the past and found them useful in expanding weak wi-fi around a house.

Like D-Link’s other mesh systems set up with the AX1500 mesh system is pretty simple. In the past, I’ve set up D-Link extenders using the company’s smartphone app then scanning the supplied barcode. This time, though, I decided to connect two of the units to my router via the WPS button.

If you decide to use the app, you’ll need to download the D-Link Eagle Pro AI app which the company says lets you manage your network more efficiently. D-Link recommends one unit for a house up to 210sqm, two units for a house up to 370sqm and three units for a house up to 500sqm me. My house is single-storey and around 226sqm so I used two units.

Within minutes, I had two AX1500 units set up and extending my current wi-fi network. The first was around 5m from the router, which is sited in the garage, but the signal had to pass through one door and two walls.

The second unit was sited perhaps at the farthermost point of the house: In the corner of the family room next to the kitchen. The wi-fi signal would have to pass through several walls to reach it.

Using Ookla Speedtest, I did two speed tests standing next to each D-Link unit (one using a server 7km from my house in Christchurch, New Zealand; the other in Culverden, which is 90km north of my home). I also did a test using a server in Sydney which was over 2000km from my house.

The first test from the unit placed in the family room came back with a download speed of 201Mbps and an upload of 73Mbps (ping of 3ms, jitter 5ms). The second test came back with a download speed of 227Mbps, 95Mbps upload (ping 6ms, jitter 1ms).

Speeds from the second unit (in the master bedroom and closest to the router) were 318Mbps up, 247Mbps down (7km away server, ping 6ms, jitter 1ms) and 224Mbps down, 240Mbps up (90km away server, ping 2ms, jitter 1ms). The server in Sydney returned speeds of 281Mbps down, 134Mbps up (pin 40ms, jitter 2ms).

With the ability to connect up to four units to your network, D-Link’s AX1500 mesh system is a good choice to expand home wi-fi networks. While I’m unable to say how it will perform in a two-storey home, where the signal will need to pass through multiple walls, for my 225sq single-storey home it worked a treat, allowing me to stream countless hours of online content, download games to my PC and consoles and do general internet stuff without skipping a beat.

D-Link’s AX1500 mesh system M15 (three pack) will cost you $NZ399.99 and $AU379.95. Thanks to D-Link Australia for the review units.

EAGLE PRO AI AX1500 M15-3PK Mesh System (3-Pack)
• Dual-band AX1500 Wi-Fi 6 delivers blazing fast connectivity with increased range and reliability

• Blanket whole home coverage up to 500sqm

• Up to 1200Mbps (5GHz) and 300Mbps (2.4GHz) speeds

• AI-based Mesh capability with compatible AI Wi-Fi Extender or Router

• AI-based Wi-Fi and Traffic Optimiser monitors and improves your network automatically

• Supports WPA, WPA2, and the latest WPA3 Wi-Fi Security

• Clean Network Initiative compliant for security and privacy

• Voice control compatibility with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa

Trek to Yomi: Way of the Samurai

I have to admit that Trek to Yomi wasn’t on my radar until I was contacted by the local PR team about possible preview codes. Heck, I didn’t even know the game existed until that point.

Well, two trailers later, Trek to Yomi is well and truly on my radar. My “yes please when can I play this game?” radar.

Set in feudal Japan, the game has a real Akira Kurosawa vibe to it and comes from game designer Leonard Menchari (Riot: Civil Unrest, The Eternal Castle), studio Flying Wild Hog and publisher Devolver Digital. Players will face off against myriad enemies across beautiful and terrifying lands, including spearmen, archers, riflemen and even beings believed to be nothing more than folk tales and Menchari has said on social media that the game is inspired by “old Japanese cinemas from the 1950s and 60s.”

You can watch the latest trailer here:

The game’s rather sparse website says it’s coming Spring 2022, which I’m assuming is the Northern Hemisphere, so that means, hopefully, it’ll be out in the three months or so, given the country I live in is heading into Autumn soon.

Colour me very, very intrigued.

Gran Turismo 7: Get your motor running, head out on the highway

The Gran Turismo series has a long pedigree with Playstation.

It’s long been a mainstay series that has pushed the boundaries on whatever PlayStation it has appeared on. This year, the franchise celebrates 25 years of the racing simulator appearing on Sony’s gaming machine.

Twenty five years longevity is a massive achievement so it’s fitting that Gran Turismo 7 is perhaps the series’ most impressive & accessible yet. It’s not perfect but it’s close.

Before you even start racing proper, there’s Music Rally, a surprisingly addictive mini-racing game where you race around a track, against the clock, while a musical soundtrack plays in the background. The timer counts down in the beat to the music with Music Rally kicking off with Hooked on Classics 1 & 2 (performed by Royal London Philharmonic Orchestra, an album I actually own on vinyl), blasting from your speakers while you drive a Porsche 356 Speedster ’56. It’s insane.

Every time you pass through a checkpoint the crowd cheers & claps and time is added to the clock. Race ends when the song finishes. Once you run out of time, you can watch the replay. While watching the replay, I realized I gave a fellow competitor driving a Mazda MX5 a good ole shunt in the rear while rounding a corner!

After Music Rally comes the controls set up section. You can pick from three control schemes. Traditional, which uses the left stick to steer; Using the D-pad or using the PS5 controller’s motion controls where you tilt the controller. This was my preferred control scheme. I don’t have a steering wheel and pedal set up so using holding the controller like you were gripping a steering wheel just felt natural.

I need to talk about the Dualsense controller’s motion controls some more.

Frankly, it is brilliant and adds a level of immersion to a driving game that I’ve not experiences before. I found myself instinctively holding my controller in front of me, arms outstretched, hands gripping the controller like it was an actual steering wheel. As I turned my hands into each corner, I actually also found my body position shifting slightly, mirroring the position of my hands. I hate using the word game-changer – I cringe every time I see it and every time I use it – but honestly, the motion controls with GT7 is just that: A game changer.

Accelerate and braking is controller by the R2 and L2 buttons, respectively, R1 changes your view and other buttons control various other functions. You can have as many or as few driver assists as you like, with difficulty starting at beginner, which has every assist activated, to expert which has every assist off. I’m not a seasoned Gran Turismo professional so I stuck with intermediate difficulty but turned braking assist off.

Graphically, Gran Turismo 7 comes with Performance mode, which targets 60 frames per second at a native 4K, and Ray Tracing mode, which isn’t full ray tracing: It’s just implemented in race replays, demo scenes and the ‘scapes photography mode.

I stuck with performance mode as quite frankly GT7 looks so freaken good that I didn’t miss the ray traced features.

Perhaps one of the most impressive features of GT7 graphically is the often at times simply mind-blowingly stunning time of day cycle, especially when the sun is starting to set in the distance and the landscape is bathed in the orange glow of the disappearing sun.

As is the way with Gran Turismo, your road to greatness starts at the bottom, giving you just enough entry credits to buy a used car from the local car dealership.

Cars range from the Honda Fit Hybrid and Maxda Demio XD to Subaru Impreza WRX Type E to a Lamborghini Murcielago LP 640 – but, sadly, you only have 20,000 credits so you’re restricted to the Fit, Demio or a Toyota Aqua S. I went with the 2014 Honda Fit Hybrid.

Then there is the Car Cafe, a seemingly strange destination at first but it soon turns out to be a rather interesting location. Owner of the Car Cafe, Luca, issues you challenges through “menus”. It’s all very high brow, and the challenges generally task you with completing a series of races in order to collect, say, three European classic cars or three Japanese compact cars by placing in the top three. The cars are the prize for winning the series (if you can’t be arsed racing you can always just buy the car, of course).

The first race I took part in was the Sunday Cup at Northern Isle Speedway: I won a zippy Mazda Demio. In my second race, I won an impressive Toyota Aqua (I genuinely think the Aqua is a neat week car).

My first car collection was obtained, I’d completed the first “menu” and I was sold on Luca and his Car Cafe.

With Gran Turismo 7, the basic fundamentals haven’t changed: The more races you compete in, the more credits you earn, the more of “locations” you unlock, the more cars you can buy.

Before too long you’ll be putting in the miles obtaining a new category licence, you’ll be taking photos at the ‘scapes photo centre, you’ll be upgrading forks, brakes and engines to eek as much performance as you can from your current pride and joy and you’ll be … pressing your nose against the glass at Brand Central as you drool over the luxury cars that will take you most likely a lifetime to afford (or hours and hours and hours of driving)!

Gran Turismo 7’s music is a strange mix, too. at times that almost clash with each other. It’s a real eclectic mix with races having at times quite poppy, modern tunes while menus have more orchestral scores, with grand pianos and saxophones. The soundtrack selection is quite odd at times and forgettable, to be honest.

One thing I didn’t like was that races were the old rolling start – and you’re always at the back. Why, oh why, do racing games insist on doing this? Why place me last out of 12 cars and force me to fight my way through to the front of the pack? I’m not Lewis Hamilton, for goodness sake.

I lost count of the number of times in my career that I busted a gut in, say, my little Citroen Clio, screeching around corners on tracks like Alsace, the occassional touch of bumpers, trying to make up ground lost by starting last to end up 4th by a lick of paint.

There’s definitely a grind with Gran Turismo 7, though, the more you progress but that has always been the way with the series: You have to put in serious time tuning, practicing and racing to achieve greatness.

That said, there is an incredible amount of depth here, there’s so much minute detail that dyed in the wool car afficionados will be positively salivating as they tune their race cars to the nth degree just to gain that crucial extra horsepower. It’s not a racing game, remember, it’s a driving simulator.

GT7 also has a rather splendid photo mode and all of the images with this review were captured with it. I’m especially fond of the ‘scapes photo mode which lets you place cars into images of iconic world location. The Mini and Corvette were photographed in front of the New Zealand South Island’s stunning geography, including Lake Pukaki.

It’s inevitable that Gran Turismo 7 will get comparisons to the Forza Horizons series – that’s just what some gamers do, right: Compare a game on one platform with a similar one on the opposition platform.

For me, though, I’d liken the Gran Turismo series to an avid collector with a stable of classic cars that they polish on weekends and take out for Sunday outings. Forza Horizons 5 is the young, enthusiastic racer with the Subaru Imprezza with lowered suspension who loves nothing more than cruising as fast as they can on a warm Summer’s night, tunes blasting from the eight-speaker Bose sound system. Both games are brilliant in their own right but both appeal to very different audiences.

I’ve yet to check out the multiplayer – the servers weren’t online yet – and the game seems to have micro-transactions embedded in it as I noticed a few pop ups when the game’s roulette-style reward system was in play that linked to the PlayStation Store, clearly allowing players to top up their in-game credits balance with real-world money. Frankly, I wish games would just stop this micro-transactions bollocks.

Twenty five years on, Gran Turismo is still a cracker driving game and it’s rather fitting that Polyphony Digital’s latest creation is such a finely tuned experience that just sings on the PlayStation 5.

Disco Elysium The Final Cut (Nintendo Switch)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Horizon Forbidden West (PS5 version)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taken using Horizon Forbidden West’s photo mode.

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

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

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

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

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

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

OK, criticisms.

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

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

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

Taken using Horizon Forbidden West’s photo mode.

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

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

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

What a time to be a gamer, eh?

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

Taken using Horizon Forbidden West photo mode.

Alienware M15 R6 gaming laptop: Gaming power

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

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

It also ticks some prerequisites for a gaming laptop:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alienware M15 R6 laptop

Testing the M15 R6:

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

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

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

Gaming on the M15 R6:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alienware M15 R6 laptop

Conclusion:

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

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

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

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

GAME REVIEW: GOD OF WAR PC: “It’s good, boy.”

A new year and another PS4 console game has made the jump to PC, with Santa Monica Studio’s God of War now available to PC gamers – and what a beauty it is.

When the game came out on console in 2018 it quickly became the poster child for how a talented development team could make games on Sony’s console sing and on PC the graphical fidelity has been turned all the way up to 11 – and it looks bloody fantastic.

I’ve completed God of War – or Dad of Boy as some like to call it – twice on the PlayStation 4 I liked it so much. The PC version will be my third play through. To this day, it is still one of my most beloved games of the last console generation. I just loved the intricately detailed narrative and the development of a character that has been a PlayStation staple since the days of the PlayStation 2.

Inspired by Norse mythology, the 2018 tale chronicles the journey of gruff Kratos and his son Atreus as they honour the wishes of Kratos’ second wife Faye to scatter her ashes from the highest peak of the nine realms. It’s a journey of discovery as Kratos learns to be a father to his son and Atreus learns more about himself and of his father’s “interesting” history.

God of War is the third high-profile PlayStation game to come to PC, with Day’s Gone and Horizon Zero Dawn already having been launched on the PC previously. There has been internet chatter that porting Sony titles to PC isn’t a good thing but it is: It means more plays get to experience great console games. Microsoft has done it for years without an uproar.

Sony says the PC version offers unlocked framerates, “enhanced” graphics (higher resolution shadows, improved screen space reflections, GTAO and SSDO, and “much more”), Nvidia DLSS and Nvidia Reflex, built-in support for DualShock 4 and DualSense controllers and ultrawide 21:9 support.

While Santa Monica Studio, the makers of God of War, oversaw the PC version, it was ported by Jetpack Interactive, a relatively unknown developer to me, but have no fear: Jetpack has done an outstanding job in porting this game to PC. It’s a straight copy: It doesn’t have new cutscenes or new missions. This is the same great game that appeared on the PlayStation 4 in 2018.

Where the PC version shines is the ability to customise things, especially graphical options, to suit the rig you have. God of War comes with four graphic presets: Low, Original (around the equivalent of settings on the PS4 version), High and Ultra. You can, of course, also run a mix of settings using the Custom option.

I started playing the game prior to Christmas and there were two updates in that time: One prior to launch and one post-launch, which seemed to have dramatically stablised the frame rates.

I played the game on an Alienware M15 R6 gaming laptop (Intel i7 CPU, 16Gb memory, RTX3080 laptop GPU) – a highly capable laptop – and on my desktop PC (i5 10600K @4.1 Ghz, 16Gb memory, 8Gb AMD RX580 GPU).

I spend a fair few hours wandering the game world of Midgard, battling Dragr, large trolls, undead people & floating tentacled things and loved the hell out of it. I also found that the optimised settings from Digital Foundry’s Alex Battaglia (timestamped in the linked video at around 16 minutes, 08 seconds) are worth their weight in gold, giving more consistent results especially with the RX580 given how highly detailed the world and characters are.

Alex Battaglia’s optimised settings (captured from my desktop PC).

I was surprised at the performance of the M15 R6’s laptop RTX3080, to be honest, as I was getting noticeable stutter from time to time but I do understand the 3080 I had is running a lower TDP (how much power it consumes under load) for the 3080 at 125W so this would have likely had something to do with that. That said, frame rates sitting in the mid to high 60s much of the time running the high preset.

Given the current state of modern GPUs in terms of pricing and availability, I really wanted to see how God of War fared on an ageing but perhaps more commonplace GPU, which is why I wanted to see how it ran on the old but trusty RX580 with its 8Gb of VRAM, a highly capable card but lacking modern finery like ray tracing & DLSS.

I was pleasantly surprised at how well the game played on my RX580 paired with my PC’s i5 10600K (running at 4.10Ghz). I didn’t notice any noticeable stutter or slowdown during game play nor cut scenes.

It seems a good CPU is the key to good performance here, and using Alex’s optimised settings – with ultra textures – I was averaging around high 40sFPS, dipping to mid 40s during heavy combat.

At times, I was getting over 60 frames per second during exploration and outside of combat encounters but it’s clear the RX580 is the handicap here. I’d achieve far higher frame rates and visual fidelity with a more modern GPU, something I hope to upgrade this year, stock and prices dependent.

Dropping textures to high, garnered a more consistent frame rate for my setup, sitting above 50FPS pretty much most of the time, even during combat heavy sequences. I could have played the game on the low graphics preset, of course, which would have given more frames but, frankly, I wasn’t going to do that, given the degradation in visual quality.

The game also has a stunning photo mode and all the images in this review were captured using the mode. The high level of detail, especially in character models, is really apparent in the photo mode.

Also – and I’m not sure whether my eyes were playing tricks on me – but I swear in some places while playing the PC version, I noticed details I didn’t remember seeing across my PlayStation play through. I’m sure it’s my eyes playing tricks but the PC version is a looker, make no mistake.

Simply put, God of War PC is a spectacular port of one of the PlayStation’s most celebrated franchises and being able to play it on PC is a win-win for all gamers.

I mean, Microsoft has made many of its best games available on both PC and Xbox series consoles day one (Halo Infinite and Forza Horizons 5, for example) so Sony making God of War available to PC gamers means more gamers get to experience fantastic gaming experiences and that has got to be good for gaming in general, right?

A huge thanks to PlayStation NZ PR for the early copy of the game.

HARDWARE REVIEW: PNY XLR8 2TB NVME M.2 drive & SSD cover with integrated heat sink

This will be the last post for Gamejunkie for 2021. What a year it’s been, eh? I want to thank all of you who took the time to visit and comment. I really do appreciate your support. Here’s to 2022!

Those of us that own a PlayStation 5 are going to face, at some point, the prospect of the paltry available storage space on the console running out. It’s an undeniable reality.

There’s only something like 667Gb of storage available on the PS5’s 1TB drive once the operating system and associated system files are taken into account, so if you plan on expanding your PS5 game library then you’re going to eventually have to buy more storage space.

PlayStation has updated the PS5’s software to let you install third-party SSD drives that will expand the available storage and today, I’m looking at Taiwanese tech company PNY’s XLR8 gaming series 2TB M.2 SSD drive and its PS5 cover with integrated heat sink. The SSD, which can also be used to upgrade the storage in your PC, is an excellent option to boost your PS5 storage capacity, providing ample storage for games.

PNY claims the M.2 2280 form factor PCIe Gen 4 x4 NVMe drive can provide a sequential read of up to 7500MB/second and a sequential write speed of up to 6550MB/second. The drive comes in capacities of up to 4TB of storage and according to PNY exceeds PlayStation’s speed requirements of 5500MB/second for an SSD drive. It comes with a 5 year warranty.

PNY’s SSD cover and integrated heat sink doesn’t come with the SSD drive – you’ll need to buy it separately – which I suggest you do for use in your PS5 as it’ll help dissipate the heat that is generated inside the console. PlayStation recommends a heat sink for any SSD upgrade to your PS5.

The aluminum heat sink attaches to the SSD via a thick adhesive thermal pad and has a rather fetching finish with the XLR8 logo etched into the left hand side. Another nice feature is that the heat sink is big enough that you won’t need to use the PS5’s stock (and rather flimsy) heat sink cover (that’s it in the photo below).

Removing the PS5’s heat sink cover that reveals the SSD bay.

Installation of the SSD and heat sink themselves was super simple and probably the toughest job was actually removing the PS5’s cover to access the SSD drive bay (you have to lift from one corner and slide from another to pop it off).

Once the PS5 cover is off, you use a screw driver to remove the SSD cover and the M.2 holding screw and spacer. You insert the SSD drive carefully into the mounting bracket (it’s a little fiddly), screw it down using the M.2 screw and spacer, press on the SSD heat sink then secure that using the supplied screw from PNY. You then replace the PS5’s side cover.

The PNY XLR8 CS3140 SSD installed in the expansion bay of the PS5.
The XLR8 PS5 SSD cover & integrated heat sink fitted to the SSD drive.

Powering on my PS5, it immediately recognised the new SSD and advised me that it needed to be formatted. Once formatted, I was told there was 2TB of usable storage space available. The PS5 did a speed test, returning a read speed of 6346MB/second, exceeding PlayStation’s minimum required minimum read speed.

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I copied four games from the PS5’s internal storage to the XLR8 SSD: Ratchet & Clank Rift Apart, Kena Bridge of Spirits, Death Stranding Director’s Cut and Ghost of Tsushima. In total, 181GB of data was transferred from the internal SSD to the PNY drive, taking 2 minutes 30 seconds.

Overall, I am really impressed with the load times and speeds that PNY’s XLR8 CS3140 SSD offers. While I haven’t checked internal temperatures, the drive is doing what it should and at times load times on the XLR8 drive actually seem faster than that of the PS5’s own internal drive, which is definitely a win-win in my book (the XLR8 actually offers a faster read time than the internal PS5 drive, too).

Prices weren’t available at time of posting so I will update the post when they become available. I’ll also keep you updated on the reliability of the drive over the coming months.

A big thanks to PNY’s Australian PR for supplying the review units