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

Halo Infinite campaign: Thoughts and impressions

I thought I’d do something different with this review for Halo Infinite. I thought I’d write what someone else thought of the game as they played it as well. My 22-year-old son Mitchell, who I think has helped with reviews on this site over the past few years, has played all the Halo games so has a good idea on what to expect and what they deliver. Together, we give our thoughts on the latest Halo game from Xbox.

Thanks to Xbox PR in Australia for the game code for Halo Infinite. The game was played on an Xbox Series X console and an Alienware M15 R6 gaming laptop.


Somewhere between Halo Reach and Halo Infinite, I feel the Halo series lost its way.

While I’ve played all the Halo games, personally, I’ve always found myself gravitating towards the Gears of War series, to be honest. That said, Halo ODST and Reach (both games not featuring the Master Chief, interestingly) are my standout Halo titles.

I’ll be honest: I haven’t finished Halo Infinite yet and I’m struggling to complete it. It’s competent enough, and I feel that developer 343 Industries have looked back at what made the original Halo Combat Evolved good, but it just feels to samey so far. It seems a lot closer aligned to Bungie’s Halo games, though, which is a good thing.

The game opens with Master Chief battling Atriox, the leader of an army of Covenant forces called the Banished that has broken away from the Covenant. The Banished both fear and despise the Master Chief. Following the fight, the Master Chief is assumed dead but is rescued by a friendly UNSC pilot and must gather the splintered UNSC forces, collect a new AI known as the “Weapon”, and stop the Banished activating the Zeta Halo. The game takes place around 18 months after the ending of Halo 5.

It’s during the very first mission – an infiltration onto a Banished frigate – that you’re introduced to the new grappling hook mechanic and it’s a great addition to the Master Chief’s arsenal. The hook can not only be used to propel Master Chief towards to high vantage points but can be cleverly used to pull him towards an enemy, delivering a bone-crushing melee punch on landing.

Or he can use the grapple to grab a just-out-of-reach explosive cannister (which are Halo Infinite’s equivalent of the explosive barrel trope found in video games since almost the dawn of time) that can then be thrown towards enemies, exploding on contact. It can even be used to pick up weapons left scattered around.

Importantly, the grappling hook brings a level of verticality to the Halo games that hasn’t really been a thing previously. It proved invaluable on numerous occasions when I’d miss timed a jump and I would have surely plummeted to my death had I not been able to use the grapple to attach to a wall at the very last moment, pulling the Chief to safety.

The opening two levels are full of tight corridors, corners and plenty of cover and the weapons pack a punch, and Chief will face off against familiar but different enemies in the Banished: Brutes, grunts, jackals, elites.

It’s once you reach the surface that the open world element reveals itself, with the Master Chief able to go off the beaten path if he wants to explore and capture Banished bases, before tackling the main mission again. Think freedom to go exploring for a little bit but not the dearth of content you’ll find in series like Far Cry or Assassin’s Creed.

The narrative is handled well but I felt Infinite falters with the open-world aspect: It lets you tackle a variety of side missions if you want but ultimately they don’t fundamentally add anything to the main story.

I liberated the odd Banished controlled base, provided UNSC marines to support me and supplies, but ultimately, I just felt there was no real necessity to deviate from the main story arc as for the most part the diversions are bases with the same objectives to complete.

The battlefield banter from grunts is amusing – stop every now and then and just listen to the banter – and enemy AI it a challenge at times, especially from the higher skilled Elite Covenant. With Infinite, I think 343 Industries has really found its stride with Halo but the game just lags in the middle section with a lack of variety of mission types. Bosses – at least those I’ve faced anyway – all take place in tight boxy environments, which just aren’t fun.

With some video games, I think about missions and how I could tackle them when I’m not playing the game. I’m not getting this with Halo Infinite: I’m not strategising on how I can defeat an enemy or tackle a problem. I don’t want to play it continuously to completion like like Guardians of The Galaxy did. Halo Infinite just isn’t wowing me.

My son Mitchell, who’s a far better Halo player than I will ever be, reckons game play is up there with Reach and ODST – his two favourite Halo titles – but he, too, agrees that the open-world aspect doesn’t add much to the game. He thinks it falls flat a bit and felt there there was no real incentive to deviate from the main mission.

He felt the that the opening missions were far too easy in terms of a challenge then later some missions were the opposite, with the game at times throwing almost endless waves of enemies onto the battlefield, making things hectic. He also would have liked to have seen more variety in the missions.

Look, Halo Infinite is a solid Halo game with a nice narrative, which is what fans will want, but for me, it just hasn’t “wowed” me like other games I’ve played this year have and won’t remain with me for long.

“The Weapon” from Halo Infinite’s story campaign.

One man, a tractor and Farming Simulator 22!

New Zealander Dylan Beck, more commonly known by his online personna @Rudeism, has made a name for himself by creating crazy and wacky game controllers using a variety of objects – then playing games with them on his streams. However, he meet his biggest challenge yet when Five Star Games in Australia asked him to make a controller for its simulator game Farming Simulator 22 (spoiler alert: He made it out of a real tractor!) I spoke to Dylan about what was involved in his latest build project.

Dylan Beck, aka @Rudeism on Twitter, with the Case IH Magnum 310 tractor he would turn into a game controller for Farming Simulator 22.

Firstly, thanks for your time, Dylan. What was your reaction when Five Star Games approached you about building a controller for Farming Simulator 22? Did you come up with the idea for using a tractor as a controller yourself? How did the collaboration work?

Five Star originally came to me right out of the gate with the tractor idea, but it’s also something I’ve thought about myself for a long time. I’ve always wanted to do it, I just never had the means to source a tractor in the past! They got in contact with Case IH, the farming equipment manufacturer, and they reached out to local farmers in the area that would be willing to let me come to their farm & borrow their tractor over the weekend.

Luckily we found a guy out west of Christchurch (New Zealand’s second largest city) who was willing to help! I already had a rough idea in my head of how I’d do it, on account of having thought about it so much in the past, so luckily I already had a really good starting point to work from.

How do you approach a project like this? What’s the first thing that goes through your mind? Talk me through your creative process.

I don’t tend to do a whole lot of pre-planning when it comes to controller building – my usual process is very trial-and-error based. I tend to go with the first idea that comes to mind, and if I find a problem, I’ll go with the first solution I can think of to get around it. Sometimes I’ll be in the middle of building and realise that I could be using a completely different & more effective methodology – nine times out of 10, I’ll scrap the whole thing & start over if that happens. I tend to find that technical ideas come best when I just get stuck in!

Of all the controllers you’ve built, has this been the most ambitious? It’s certainly the biggest, I’m thinking …

Absolutely the biggest! I think the only thing that comes close is the car I used to play Forza Horizon years ago, and that’s probably only a quarter of the size of this tractor. It’s not the most complex in terms of the controls themselves, but in regards of the cost & size of the object I’m using, it’s going to be a LONG time before I can top this! The only two things I can think of that might top it right now are super cars and planes!

Talk me through some of the challenges that you faced over building a controller from a fully working tractor? Did you ever think at any stage you may have bitten off more than you could chew?

It definitely felt daunting at first! I think the main issue was building a control panel that took all the controls of the game & boiled them down to a small set of buttons. There’s a *lot* of different things you can do in the game – different levers to pull, different tools to use, etc. It took a good number of iterations to figure out a layout that worked, but once we had it, it became really easy to use from the get-go.

You have a history of making controllers from a variety of things: a baguette, jellybeans, a Lego Star Wars helmet, a Honda, and you’ve got a Samoyed called Atlas: Have you ever contemplated creating a controller powered by your dog? Would something like that actually be remotely possible? I guess if anyone could make it work it would be you, right?

It’s something I’ve thought about a lot! I think the thing that makes it hard is that I’d need it to be voluntary on Atlas’ part, so he can run off if he wants – I don’t want to force him to play games! He’s in his rebellious teenage phase right now, so maybe in a while, once he’s calmed down. Might make a good Youtube video! I think you could make it work by training him to press certain buttons – the hard part would be figuring out the right cues to encourage him. If you could use cues in the actual video game to make it happen, that’d be perfect!

How important was working with the farmer whose tractor it was? How did his input help with your building of the Tractroller?

The tractor is owned by a guy named Matthew, who lives on his farm west of Christchurch. If it wasn’t for him, the whole project would be dead in the water! He was super helpful – he took time out of his day to show me around the farm as well as the tractor & how it all works. When it comes to a build like this, where the controller is going to be an object that you can use in-game, I do my best to make that functionality line up as closely as possible, so Matthew’s insight was super helpful!

What was the most memorable part of the stream with Farming Simulator 22 using the Tractroller? Are you pleased with how fans reacted to it?

I think it was the moment I first managed to put the throttle to the tractor and having it move forward in-game. It’s a really small thing, but seeing it work for the first time is always super exhilarating. I have a tendency not to test my controllers in-game before I stream, so I can experience it purely on-stream for the first time. (I made sure the right signals were being sent from the controller beforehand though, of course!)

Lastly, were you happy with the final product and was it everything you expected it to be? 

It turned out better than I could’ve hoped! I’ve had a tendency in the past to try and build controllers that are a bit more ambitious or complex than my skills will allow, but considering this is the biggest controller I’ve ever worked on, and it went off without a hitch, I’m feeling a lot more confident in my skills now. I reckon I’d be keen to try more stuff on this scale!

Farming Simulator 22 is out now on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC. You can watch Dylan’s Twitch stream from a week ago here

Death’s Door: Reaping spirits on the move

Every once in a while a game comes along that completely engages you with its game play and atmosphere: Death’s Door is one of those games.

Played from a slightly top down perspective, Death’s Door has you control a black crown who collects the souls from vanquished foes for a living (he’s a reaper at the Reaper Commission), but when an unknown creature steals a much needed soul you are assigned to collect, he must hunt down the assailant through a world untouched by death and inhabited by weird and bizarre creatures.

I first played Death’s Door on PC earlier this year and I was just struck with its beautiful art style, the soundtrack and the whimsical charm of the lead character.The world of Death’s Door is full of secrets and hidden passageways, too, and Our hero can uses melee weapons, arrows and magic to dispatch foes as he explores deeper into this strange land.

Bosses are brutal until you learn the attack patterns and if you’re anything like me you will fail at the first attempt, not generally because the foe was too tough (although as you progress they get progressively harder and harder) but for the simple reason that you missed a crucial telltale before it delivered a fatal blow. In Death’s Door, timing your attacks and memorising enemy attack patterns are the difference between life and death.

Death’s Door is challenging, make no mistake, and you will get punished hard for your mistakes, but it’s not as frustrating as, say, Demons Souls or Sekiro and it’s now available on the Nintendo Switch – and it’s bloody good.

If I had any complaints with the Nintendo Switch version of Death’s Door it’s that the text is too small – something I increasingly find annoying on Switch games – and, like the PC version, there is no in-game map to help in your exploration. I’d like to see an in-game map, please.

There’s not much more to say about Death’s Door: It’s was a delight to play on PC and it’s a delight to play on Nintendo Switch (despite the hard-to-read text) – and that’s testament to the skills of developer Acid Nerve.

If you want a game bursting with charm and weird characters and a lead hero who’s a soul-collecting crow, Death’s Door is the game for you. Highly recommended.

Thanks to Devolver Digital for the Nintendo Switch code

PriceSpy’s tips for Black Friday

So Black Friday is upon us (well, Black Friday week, it appears), and PriceSpy, the fully impartial price and product comparison site, has some tips for getting the best deals – and what it thinks will be the top game selling on one of the biggest sales days around.

Before gamers rush to the malls to snap up the deals being offered by retailers, the pricing watchdog is encouraging shoppers to carry out pricing research ahead of people buying and to look out for products that increase in price across the big sale days.

First off, here’s the top games PriceSpy things will be most popular in the Black Friday sales:

According to new pricing insights released within PriceSpy’s new Black Friday Report, almost a fifth (18 per cent) of all products listed on PriceSpy reduced in price by at least 10 per cent or more on Black Friday last year. But, 12 per cent of products also received a price hike on the sales day (Black Friday vs to 1 November 2020).

And if you’re tempted to shop early this year, especially with shipping delays affecting product
availability and customer demand skyrocketing for items like graphic cards, consumers should be wary that not everything is necessarily cheaper.

Liisa Matinvesi-Bassett, New Zealand country manager for PriceSpy, says: “Our pricing data found almost one in 10 (eight per cent) of products listed on our website increased in price before Black Week last year, to then get discounted on Black Friday, making the sale appear better than what it was.”

So, how can shoppers seek out the best deals around? Here’s PriceSpy’s top sale shopping tips:

Check out the competition
First things first – take time to check if an offer really is as good as it sounds by sussing out the
competition. Is the same game, console or controller available at an even better price elsewhere? Using the PriceSpy app will help you do this, as it provides access to thousands of prices and products instantly.

Don’t get confused by the big discounts
Even if the product you are looking to buy is being advertised with a price drop, don’t take the
retailers word for it. Use a price comparison site or app, like PriceSpy to check out the product’s price history. If the deal isn’t as good as what it should be, we encourage people to be prepared to walk away.

Preparation is key
The best chance of finding a good bargain comes from preparation. If shoppers know in advance what they are interested in and have a rough idea of the price, they’re less likely to get carried away and buy the wrong thing during the sales event. Matinvesi-Bassett says: “When it comes to making the most of Black Friday, preparation is key. Whether shopping in-store, or bargain hunting online, shoppers should research items they want to buy well in advance rather than splashing out on a whim.

“The PriceSpy app and website is designed to help consumers conduct research quickly and easily. They can even check out delivery costs, delivery times, whether products are in stock and for online shopping, whether click and collect is available. It couldn’t be easier.”