Pint-sized review: Mortal Kombat 11

Mortal Kombat 11: Finish him!I’ll get this out of the way right off the bat: I have no skill when it komes to the Mortal Kombat games. Skill, Mortal Kombat & me are not words that should be placed togther in the same sentence.

This is how Mortal Kombat games go for me: I fumble my way through the tutorials, telling myself that I know what I’m doing & what buttons do what , then  pretty much just stab at random buttons during fights, hoping that I actually konnect with my foe before he/she delivers a fatal blow & rips my spine out my arse.

So it is with MK11: I merrily went through the tutorial, doing what I was told, then starting playing the game proper – and sure enough, it quickly descended into me just mashing buttons until things happened. It wasn’t pretty, I tell you.

Long story short for MK11 is that the brutality of the former games is back once again & while it’s a rare thing for me to actually be in the right on-screen position to deliver a flawless fatality, I can attest to how brutal those climactic moves are after seeing my much-better-at-games teenage son deliver them. Look, if I do manage to pull off a fatality, it’s probably happened by accident and not due to my ability.

I’ve long been impressed with the dynamic environments in the most recent MK games, and this one doesn’t disappoint, letting players use the environment to deliver the hurt to opponents in creative ways. The game’s kutscenes/movies (which at times err on the too long side but are, thankfully, skippable) are top notch, too, and I could happily sit and watch them if they were presented in a long-form movie format.

If you’re squeamish at the sight of virtual gore – and MK11 is dripping with eye-popping, bone-crunching, vital organ-smashing moments – this NetherRealm’s latest isn’t the fighting game for you, and if I’m being honest, I did question at times the sheer graphic nature of the brutality – and I’m a person who had no problem watching the combat sequences in a movie like John Wick 2.

Look, fans of the series will welcome MK11 with open arms, reveling in the opportunity to punch an opponent’s still beating heart out through their rib cage, but for newkomers who just want to give the series “a crack” to see what it’s like, Mortal Kombat 11 probably isn’t the best starting point. You have been warned.

Edifier e10BT exclaim multimedia speakers: Funky style with impressive sound

Edifier e10BT exclaim multimedia speakers ($NZ143-$168)

The first thing you notice about Edifier’s e10BT multimedia speakers is that they don’t look like traditional bookcase speakers. They look funky.

Instead of the usual box shape, these speakers look like they’ve been created by a designer, with a vertical speaker jutting out from a cylindrical base. The upper portion has two 1½-inch mid range tweeters and a 1½-inch by 3-inch passive radiators. Each base of the speakers has 3-inch woofer and a 3-inch passive bass radiator.

Edifier claims the speakers produce 36 watts RMS of power, driving a total of six active speakers. It also features Bluetooth connectivity so it’s perfect for watching movies on your iPad or laptop. The volume up/down & power button is on the left side of the right hand speaker and while it was a little fiddly, I was able to control the volume easy enough (to be fair, I tended to use either the device or the dial control on my PC keyboard to adjust volume levels).

They say proof is in the pudding (mmmm, pudding) and as this is primarily a gaming blog, I decided to to connect the e10BTs to my newly built PC and see how some of my favourite games sounded. Games I tested were Batman Arkham Knight and Rise of the Tomb Raider.

Cranking up the opening soundtrack to Batman Arkham Knight, the e10BT’s pretty much impressed the pants off me, with deep, driving bass and clarity in the high notes. Even at low levels, the sound was crisp and clear. Turning the volume up filled my living room with rich sound, much to the annoyance of my wife who was trying to watch her favourite soup opera.

Here’s a short video of the opening music from Arkham Knight:

The same went for Rise of the Tomb Raider, a game that relies on subtle audio cues at times as Lara Croft is skulking around the Siberian wilderness or scampering around a tomb. Simply put, the sound from these puppies was phenomenal.

Keen to test out the Bluetooth connectivity, I played a selection of movies from my iPad (John Wick, The Martian, Antman and Wasp). A nice touch is that the normal red LED on the right-hand speaker illuminates blue when you’re connected via Bluetooth.

Once again, the e10BT’s performed superbly, providing great bass notes and crisp and clear mid and high notes. The speakers just don’t disappoint.

Much like previous Edifier speakers I’ve reviewed, I’ve come away impressed with the e10BTs. They’re stylish, they look different from run of the mill bookcase speakers, they’re an excellent price (between $143 and $163 according to a price comparison site), and importantly, they deliver when it comes to amazing sound, be it for your PC when you’re gaming or you iPad when you’re watching movies.

Once again, Edifier have delivered a killer blow when it comes to desktop speakers.

Thanks to Edifier for providing the e10BT speakers for review.

Edifier e10BT multimedia speakers First look (video)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Does the GTX950 stack up these days?

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

How I tested

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

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

The results

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

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

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

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

The conclusion

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

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

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

 

The stupidity that is the Nintendo e-shop’s regionalisation

This is a rant about idiocy.

Idiocy from either Nintendo or from THQ Nordic. I’m not sure which company – it could be both of them, to be honest – but it’s idiotic, nonetheless.

Recently, THQ Nordic released the remastered version of its third-person action game Darksiders on the Nintendo Switch: The Darksiders Warmastered Edition. I was interested in buying it as not only was it, in my humble opinion, the best game in the Darksiders series, last week Digital Foundry did a rather nice video covering how the game has both a performance mode (which locks the frame rate at 60FPS but drops the visuals slightly) and a graphics mode (which caps the frame rate at 30FPS but looks prettier).

“That sounds like a bit of me,” I said to myself this week. I hadn’t bought a game for my Nintendo Switch in some time, and I did like the original Darksiders. So, I went looking on the New Zealand e-shop for Darksiders Warmastered edition. Nothing. Nada. Zip. It wasn’t there.

I was confused. The game was released on April 2. Maybe it had just been delayed. So I searched for it again: Nope. It wasn’t there.

So, I asked the helpful Twitters and was told by one of my Australian chums (Dylan Burns) that it was on the Australian e-shop for $49.95 but he would check with one of his Aussie chums (Daniel Vuckovic), who was knowledgeable in all things Nintendo (he runs vooks.net, no less) on what the situation was. It seemed it was a bit of a mystery.

Vooks looked into it and this is what he said (in Twitter form):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sure, enough, I clicked on the NZ e-shop link and got this:

I clicked on the Aus e-shop link and got this:

This is just idiotic, Nintendo and THQ Nordic. How does this sort of ridiculous situation come about?

Seriously, though, how does such an idiotic thing happen? How is that Australia is three hours away from New Zealand by plane, yet I can’t download Darksiders Warmastered Edition????  Some states in Australia take longer to fly to than it does to New Zealand, yet they haven’t been penalised.

New Zealand and Australia are lumped into the same region by video game publishers all the time yet here we are with a mind-bogging situation like this where one country is penalised over the other.

Does Nintendo and THQ Nordic think so little of Switch owners in New Zealand that they won’t release the game in our e-shop? Probably, to be honest. I really don’t think either of them give a shit about little ole’ NZ. It’s just a smack in the face for Nintendo Switch owners in New Zealand [NZ doesn’t even have a distributor of Nintendo product: Everything has to come from Australia].

I was quite happy to pony up and pay for Darksiders Warmastered Edition because it looked like a good port, but you know what? I’m not going to now, just out of principle. And not even selling a physical version? It’s as if THQ Nordic don’t actually want people to buy the remastered version of its game on a portable platform, especially in Australasia.

Sure, I could buy it from another e-shop but, frankly, why the hell should I? Why should I give either company my money when they show disregard to the country I live in? [Apparently, the first two Darksiders are free on Xbox Gold, too, so that’s another reason not to spend my money on the Nintendo Switch version.]

So much for living in a connected world where there are no boundaries …

 

Bite-sized review: The Division 2 -Good times but better with mates

The Division 2, a squad-based shooter that takes place in a rather snazzy virtual recreation of Washington, DC, is a shooter that is best enjoyed with mates.

Sadly for me, though, I have the game on PlayStation 4 & don’t have an active PlayStation Plus subscription, which means I can’t play online games with mates, so as a single-player game, The Division 2 is less enjoyable. It’s still fun but not as enjoyable as a traditional single player campaign.

The Division 2 is an online-always game so when I say it’s single-player campaign, I mean that you can play the game’s online world on your own [ie as a single player] and if you pause, the game still carries on around you. Also, you can’t save your game where you like, so if you quit the game, you go back to the last checkpoint, which is usually at the beginning of a main objective.

I didn’t really get into the original Division: I liked it but I found I lost interest quickly. With this sequel it’s good to see that Ubisoft has built on the foundations of the first game, making Number two a really solid cover-based shooter where enemies will flank you and lay down the hurt as you try to breach inner city Washington’s run down, post-apocalyptic environment, now controlled by powerful gangs.

The better you do in your fight against your enemies, the more XP you unlock, which can be used to upgrade your skills and stock up on neat gadgets that can help turn the tide in your favour. Gadgets include things like a ballistic shield and a seeker mine but a particular favourite of mine is the briefcase turret that you can fling to a vantage point to provide covering fire. Helpful, too, is a drone that packs a serious amount of fire power, again invaluable in providing suppressing fire as you press forward.

Look, fans of squad-based shooters that can band together a solid team with online friends will delight in The Division 2’s game world and its myriad options for strategically taking out the bad guys as they delve deeper and deeper into the intricately detailed world, but players who can’t muster up a squad, or want an actual, traditional single player campaign, might not find as much to shout about.

Thanks to Five Eight distribution for the PlayStation 4 review code for The Division 2.

 

The GamejunkieNZ PC build project: Ah, yeah, I built it this weekend!

Last week, I posted about my plans to build a new PC so that I can rejoin the PC Master Race.

To recap: The week earlier, I’d bought an Asus B365 mATX motherboard, an Intel i5 CPU and 8Gb of RAM but I still needed to pick up an SSD for the operation system and a traditional HDD to install everything. I was planning to buy those in a month or so.

Well, on a whim, I bought a 240Gb Western Digital SSD and a 2Tb Western Digital HDD on Friday last week and, home alone over the weekend, I cracked into building the PC. I recycled the Enermax 500W power supply from my last PC’s case (although, taking apart another PC that’s stored in the garage I noted it had a 700W PSU: I might dropped that into my new PC at some point) and got started …

Surprisingly, it went hassle-free and I encountered no problems, apart from stupidly thinking that the 3-pin connector on the case’s 140mm rear case fan wouldn’t fit the four-pin connector on the Asus mATX motherboard (which only has on chassis fan connector). I tried and tried and it didn’t seem to fit.

So, I made a panicked dash to my local computer store (Dragon PC in Christchurch) and was told, reassuringly, by the nice gentleman behind the counter that a 3-pin connector would, indeed, fit on a 4-pin connection (he’s right: it does). While I was there, I also bought  a $10 adapter which let me connect front case fan via a molex connection.

OK, so the cable management might frustrate the PC purists out there but it’s a mATX board in a full-tower case: There’s plenty of room for air to circulate!

As I said, the installation was easier than I expected. I even managed to connect the power and reset connectors right first time. I always seem to have problems with I’m doing things like this but this build was actually easier than the first PC I built.

Sure, this was the second PC I’d built myself so I wasn’t a complete newb but that was using an ATX motherboard, which is bigger (the mATX case looks tiny in the roomy tower case it is installed in). While it proved difficult at times to read what was stamped on the board, I had plenty of light (and my glasses on) and had no trouble connecting everything to where it was supposed to go.

I had no issues booting it up first time, either: it POSTed perfectly (although I initially wondered why it hadn’t recognised the 2Tb drive then realised I needed to format it). Much of that afternoon was spent installing new drivers for the motherboard and GPU.

Talking of GPU, I know I’ve talked about going with something like a nVidia GTX1060 but I think I need to give the credit card a rest for a few weeks so I’ve installed the GTX950 that I’ve had sitting in my games cupboard since early last year (that I won in a competition held by an Australian YouTuber). It’ll do the job until I can afford a new generation graphics card.

So far I’ve installed Astroneer, Dishonoured, Batman Arkham City, Wolfenstein: The New Colossus and The Sexy Brutale – and the GTXC950 is giving me better frame rates already.

So, Saturday was a successful day all up, and I think, all up, the new PC cost me around $650, which is much, much cheaper than if I had gone with a pre-built system, plus I got the satisfaction of building it myself, too.

The reason for building a new PC was simple enough. I wan’t to get back to playing more games how I started playing them: On PC.

My very first computer was a Sinclair ZX Spectrum and, man, those games blew me away: Knight Lore, Robocop, Maniac Mansion, Ant Attack, Sabre Wulf. I loved them.

My next PC (actually if was my dad’s) was a biege-coloured desktop that was powered by a 486 CPU that had, if my memory serves me correctly, a graphics card that had a whopping 2Mb of video memory. It didn’t stop me from playing shareware Doom or some flight sim that I had to install via about 6000 3.5-inch floppy disks.

So, now that I’ve got a new PC (a better graphics card is still to come), I want to review more games and PC hardware. I’ll still play on console for console exclusives but I want to game on PC for the most part now.

Now, I just need to re-acquaint myself with WASD …

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