XCOM 2 Review

XCOM 2 Review

XCOM: Enemy Unknown is one of the best games in the strategy genre and it’s easy to see why. The game had a stellar user interface that would give Jony Ive an inferiority complex, a tough but fair set of game rules, and an addictive flow of events that would have you playing till the wee hours of the morning. Is XCOM 2 a worthy successor?

XCOM 2 takes place 20 years after the events of the first game. The world has surrendered to its alien invaders and XCOM – a clandestine group responsible for the planet’s last line of defence – is no more. This has resulted in a dystopian rule quashing any semblance of dissent. However, a force is being amassed to rebel against Earth’s extra-terrestrial leaders.

(Also see: XCOM 2 Promises to Bring Calculated Dread One Turn at a Time)

It is an interesting premise, and developer Firaxis has injected enough of a story to keep you invested in the proceedings. The story is neatly meshed with several gameplay elements. Much like the last game, you’ll spend a large amount of time in XCOM 2 managing your base of operations. This time around it is within the environs of a captured enemy aircraft, known as the Avenger. You’ll spruce up its interiors, allowing you access to new weapons and tech facilities, and repurpose rooms to suit your requirements such as recon about the aliens you’ll face on the ground, or researching new armour types.

sharpshooter_xcom2_2k.jpgThe other half of XCOM 2’s gameplay is its on-grounds turn-based combat. You’ll square off against enemies in a host of locations such as city squares, countryside churches, and alien facilities, utilising a variety of soldiers and weapons at your disposal. These include rangers, sharpshooters, specialists, psi operatives, and grenadiers.

Each class has its own special skills and abilities. On surviving skirmishes your soldiers gain experience, level up, and gain access to new skills and upgrades. If they die in battle they’re gone for good, making you invested in ensuring that they live to see another day. Combat itself is a treat to watch with the camera zooming to capture the spectacle of each headshot, stab, and shotgun blast, making it feel as impactful as it should be.

The first game had you defending the planet, but in XCOM 2, being on the offensive allows for some unique situations. For one, you’ll be able to keep your troops concealed from their targets. It allows you to set up and employ guerrilla tactics such as ambushes, propping up your squad to create the perfect kill zone just before you let the grenades fly. It’s a great feature that works well with the rest of the game. But another addition to the formula left us feeling a little less overjoyed: timed objectives.

gameplay_xcom2_2k.jpgMore often than not you’ll find yourself having to seize a location or obtain access to points of interest in a set number of turns, and failing to do so results in a game over screen. While it adds a sense of near death tension to the levels, we found that it tends to limits options.

As the game wore on we were forced to play aggressively, making risky decisions in order to meet the demands of the mission timers. It took away the regular set of tactics or tricks we’d usually indulge in, such as having our snipers hold back for cover. XCOM 2 is the rare game that forces you to think differently, but not in a fashion that everyone would necessarily be open to. There are some user-created modifications to rectify this, but a balanced approach to timed objectives would have been welcome, rather than forcing gamers to change it themselves.

Time also impacts the overall flow of the game’s events much like before. This time around you’re racing to beat the Avatar project. This is an alien weapon that, when complete, would allow your oppressors to consolidate their power. To keep the pressure up, you’re informed of its progress with each passing mission. Think of it as a Doomsday Clock, inching closer towards the inevitable.

While you can probably prevent the doom in the world of XCOM 2, there are some glaring concerns that have yet to be worked out with the very game itself. It’s been almost two weeks since the game has been out and it performs poorly. We checked it out on two different PCs, both well above the recommended specifications and found it lacking. When in-game or during cut-scenes, it slows down so much that it makes a PowerPoint presentation seem like a Formula 1 race. The frequent frame rate drops and constant stutter make us wonder what Firaxis did with the extra time needed to bring this to PC, forsaking other platforms in the process. Even after the latest patch, very little has changed.

beserker_xcom2_2k.jpgIn addition to this, loading times are horrible even with a solid state drive, requiring you to hold theCaps Lock button down to speed it up. The glaring lack of controller support (except for the Steam Controller) does it no favours either, as nor does the user interface. There’s very little that’s explained in terms of turn by turn mechanics or the overall base management outside the initial tutorials, leading to a game that feels a lot more overwhelming than it should be.

Overall, XCOM 2 is a flawed sequel. Much like Street Fighter V, we can’t help but feel that there’s a good game here, it’s just that the wrong set of features were prioritised in production. We recommend waiting for it to be fixed before putting down your cash.

Pros:

  • Better narrative
  • Addictive combat
  • Troop concealment

Cons:

  • Too action-focussed for some
  • Mission timers
  • Appalling PC performance

Rating (out of 10): 7

[“Source-Gadgets”]

Asus GL552JX Laptop Review

Asus GL552JX Laptop Review

The new GL552JX from Asus’s Republic of Gamers (ROG) stable was launched in India towards the tail-end of last year, aimed at gamers who wanted something a bit more potent than the R510J (Review) while still staying under the Rs. 1 lakh mark.

This latest model of the GL552JX is priced at Rs. 80,990 and features a much better design than Asus’s mainstream R510J gaming laptop, and is upgradable, which many will appreciate. Let’s see how all of this translates in the real world and if it’s worth the premium over the company’s more mainstream offering.

Asus_GL552JX_front_ndtv.jpgLook and feel
The GL552JX stays true to Asus’ ROG style and sports an eye-catching design and very good build. The quality of plastics used for the chassis feels solid and well put-together. The lid offers decent protection for the display, and the screen doesn’t distort too much when you apply pressure from behind. There’s a rubberised coating over the lid along with a metallic strip in the middle with an illuminated R.O.G logo, which looks pretty slick.

Asus_GL552JX_logo_ndtv.jpgThe 15.6-inch full-HD, anti-glare display is an IPS panel with very good viewing angles so there’s very little colour shift even when you’re viewing content at odd angles. Reflections are also a non-issue here, making the laptop comfortable to use under most lighting conditions. The display is held by two hinges, which feel rigid enough for long-term use.

Asus_GL552JX_keyboard_ndtv.jpgThe black and red theme continues around the keyboard area too. The red lettering on the keys are visually striking and there’s also red backlighting. You can vary the intensity of the backlight but you can’t change the colour like on some of the more expensive gaming laptops offer. The keys themselves are well spaced out leaving enough room for a numeric keypad. We liked the tactile response of the keys, which aren’t too noisy and have short travel making them comfortable for typing as well as gaming.

Asus_GL552JX_right_ndtv.jpgThe trackpad is decently large and is placed a bit off-centre so it doesn’t get in the way while typing. Button response is good as minimal effort is required to engage it and you also get the usual gestures for Windows 10. The status LED lights are placed towards the left of the trackpad, facing forwards. Asus has moved the speakers from the bottom to just above the keyboard so the sound doesn’t get muffled if you place the laptop on an uneven surface like a couch or a mattress.

Coming to the ports, we have a total of three USB ports out of which two are USB 3.0, one HDMI output, Gigabit LAN, VGA, headphones and microphone ports, and a Kensington lock. There’s also a DVD writer and an SD card slot. The exhaust vent is placed on the left, which also has red accents to go with the gaming theme of the laptop.

Asus_GL552JX_upgrade_ndtv.jpgFlipping the laptop over we see four thick rubber feet to prop the laptop up for better ventilation. The battery sits flush with the rest of the body and is removable. The most interesting bit however, is the panel which gives you access to the RAM and hard drive. The GL552JX comes with a single 8GB RAM stick, which you can expand with another 8GB stick in the future.

Thankfully, Asus hasn’t gone with the ‘soldered-on’ approach for the RAM like it does for its mainstream offerings, so this gives you better flexibility when upgrading. You can also add an M.2 (SATA III) SSD if you need to speed things up. We appreciate the fact that you can upgrade the laptop pretty easily by yourself, which is something most enthusiasts who are willing to spend this sort of money will look for.

The Asus GL552JX ships with a charger, cable tie, microfibre cloth and a backpack. The machine is pretty heavy at 2.6kg, so it isn’t the most portable laptop. Then again, that’s pretty much the case with most gaming laptops.

Specifications and software
We would have loved to see the more power-efficient Skylake platform here but we’ll have to make do with Haswell for now. The CPU of choice is a quad-core Intel Core i7-4750HQ running at 2GHz with a Turbo frequency of 3.2GHz and HyperThreading. There’s a single stick of 8GB DDR3 RAM running at 1600MHz.

Asus_GL552JX_left_ndtv.jpgFor storage, we have a 1TB 2.5-inch hard disk running at 7200rpm from HGST, which should be plenty for most use cases although we do recommend adding an SSD in the provided slot to improve loading times of Windows and applications. Graphics duty is handled by an Nvidia GeForce GTX 950M, similar to the one on the R510J, except for the 4GB of VRAM on this SKU. Other specifications includes an HD webcam, Wi-Fi b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth 4.1.

Asus_GL552JX_led_ndtv.jpgThe GL552JX ships with Windows 10 Home 64-bit and Asus’s usual variety of promotional offers and software pre-installed. Asus bundles some of its own software such as AudioWizard for tweaking the sound profiles for gaming, movies, etc. GameFirst III which also ships with its gaming motherboards, prioritises game data traffic to reduce lag during online gameplay. You also get a one month trial of Microsoft Office 365, 25GB of Dropbox space for six months, and a year’s subscription to McAfee LiveSafe.

Performance
On first boot, Windows felt very slow and sluggish due to the myriad pre-installed apps prompting you to register or check for updates. The sluggishness got a little better once we trimmed the number of applications that start with Windows. However, the laptop just doesn’t feel as snappy as it should even with a 7200rpm hard drive. An SSD is desperately needed here. Another reason could be due to the fact that the RAM is only running in single-channel mode, which effectively halves the memory bandwidth, as opposed to dual channel which is possible only with two sticks.

Asus_GL552JX_audio_ndtv.jpgThe sluggishness is also noticeable in the load times of games, which was a lot poorer than we would have liked. Audio quality is also quite good thanks to the speakers facing the user. You can also tweak the sound using Asus’s software. Sound is not very loud if you’re watching a movie with a group of people but is enough for solo use.

Asus_GL552JX_litup_ndtv.jpgThe GL552JX clearly has a much better cooling system than its mainstream sibling, the R510J. The palm rest area stays cool and so does the bottom part of the laptop, which means you can use it on your lap while gaming. Coming to the benchmarks, the laptop produced good scores as you’d expect given the components inside. Cinebench R15 returned 42fps in the OpenCL test and 598 in the CPU test. We also got a decently low trace time in POVRay: 3 minutes and 33 seconds. 3DMark Fire Strike gave us a score of 2,732, which was surprisingly a bit lower than the R510J, which recorded a score of 2,809. Finally PCMark 8 gave us a score of 3,518 for the Home test, 4,092 for Creative. and 2,962 for Work.

In real-world gaming tests, the GL552JX managed to hold its own at the native 1080p resolution. We got an average framerate of 22fps in Tomb Raider (2013), with most settings at ‘Ultimate’ and FXAA turned on. We had to drop the some of the settings down to ‘High’ or ‘Ultra’ in order to get a smoother and more enjoyable 27fps average during actual gameplay.

Asus_GL552JX_bf4_ndtv.jpgIn Battlefield 4, we averaged 24fps with everything set to ‘Ultra’, Anti-Aliasing (AA) tuned off and 16x Anisotropic Filtering (AF). The game is playable at these settings although firefights and explosions cause a bit of lag.

Asus_GL552JX_crysis3_ndtv.jpgCrysis 3 put on a similar show churning out 23fps on average with the texture setting dialed up to ‘Very High’ and system spec setting at ‘High’. This was with SMAA set to low and 16x AF.

Asus_GL552JX_farcry4_ndtv.jpgWe tried to push the laptop in FarCry 4 but going beyond the ‘High’ quality preset resulted in unplayable framerates. After a bit on tinkering we settled at an average framerate of 23fps without compromising too much on the visuals.

Last but not least, we ran GTA V with DX11 and a mix of ‘Ultra’ and ‘High’ settings without any AA. In the fifth scenario of the built-in benchmark, we got 20fps on average, which is pretty poor. Dropping the settings down to mix of ‘Medium’ and ‘High’ resulted in a more playable framerate. One thing to note is that even though GTA will let you push the graphics settings to the max due to the 4GB of video RAM, it’s a bit pointless since the GTX 950M won’t be able to handle any of it.

Asus_GL552JX_dark_ndtv.jpgThe 4-cell 48WHr battery only managed about 1 hour and 5 minutes in Battery Eater Pro, which is below average. During actual usage, we managed to get just about 2 hours of run time with Wi-Fi on and a lot of Internet browsing. Clearly, Asus expects you to use this laptop in one place near a plug point rather than on the go.

Verdict
The Asus GL552JX is priced at Rs. 80,990, which is about Rs. 10,000 more than its “budget-minded” sibling. We feel that if you’re ready to spend a lot of money on a gaming laptop anyway then you might as well pony up a bit more and get the ROG version instead of the R510J. The GL552JX has a much better build and cooling system too and offers good upgradeability.

The laptop isn’t designed to be carried around all the time (although there’s nothing stopping you from doing that) and battery life is pretty weak too. Other than these two factors though, it performs well in gaming, if you don’t have very high expectations. It also has a very good anti-glare screen, looks stylish, and is upgradeable. We strongly recommend adding another stick of RAM and an SSD for better overall performance if you do plan on getting it, but then again this will push the price up by quite a bit. Also, given how quickly Asus refreshes its lineup, we wouldn’t be surprised to see a Skylake version of the GL552JX in the near future.

Price (MRP): Rs. 80,990

Pros

  • Stylish design and good build
  • Anti-glare 1080p display
  • Can be upgraded
  • Good gaming performance

Cons

  • Poor battery life
  • Not very portable
  • Based on an older platform

Ratings (Out of 5)

  • Design: 4
  • Display: 4
  • Performance: 3.5
  • Software: 3.5
  • Value for Money: 3
  • Overall: 3.5

[“Source-Gadgets”]

Far Cry Primal Review

Far Cry Primal Review

We never asked for Kanye West’s latest spate of rants on Twitter, and we never asked Ubisoft to make Far Cry Primal. It’s crazy, bombastic, and surprisingly entertaining, and not something you’d expect from a first-person open-world game set in the Mesolithic age.

With most games taking on fantastical or futuristic settings, this seemed like a poor choice. It’s a backdrop where cutting-edge weaponry means spears, clubs, and bows and arrows. It sounds weird, but it comes together in a fashion that works brilliantly.

Taking place in 10,000 BCE, Far Cry Primal puts you in the role of Takkar. You’re a hunter who belongs to a tribe known as the Wenja. After a series of unfortunate events, you find yourself in the land of Oros in search of your fellow tribesmen. It’s up to you to rally the Wenja and stave off attacks from warring factions – the Udam and Izila.

beast_master_tensay_far_cry_primal.jpg(Also see: Far Cry Primal Will Take You to the Stone Age)

The first thing that struck us is how good Oros looks. From its snow capped mountains to the tiny flickers as you light a fire, Far Cry Primal is easily one of the best looking games this generation. And that’s coupled with an immense sense of freedom as the entire region is open for you to explore from the very outset.

Which is something you’ll spend a lot of time doing. The game features the usual tropes that Ubisoft has codified, and you’re going to explore the map and capture locations, crafting gear and collecting items of importance along the way. Every now and then, you’ll take part in an event that takes the story forward, such as protecting your village from attacks or laying siege on an enemy fortification.

These mechanics are similar to other Ubisoft games including Assassin’s Creed and previous Far Cry titles, but Primal ends up feeling fresh for a number of reasons. For one, the combat is superlative. Sure, the weapons are primitive but there’s an innate sense of satisfaction in clubbing a raging cave man on the head, or shooting fire-laced arrows at bears.

udam_spear_far_cry_primal.jpgAs you progress through the game, you can craft rudimentary bombs and train all manner of beasts such as jaguars and sabre-toothed tigers to fight by your side, allowing for options beyond the ordinary. You’ll lure predators like wolves with bait, and hold down a button to win their loyalty. Each type of animal comes with a unique skill set, for example, canines are great explorers and gatherers, felines are good for stealthily sneaking up on foes, while ursines are a solid option for out and out attack. It adds a layer of strategy and depth to the game, giving you more choices as you plan your approach. This is an interesting system that works as it should, making up for the lack of weaponry in the game. There’s enough variety and polish to keep things fresh even late into the game.

(Also see: Far Cry Primal, Street Fighter V, Firewatch, and Other Games Releasing This Month)

While the absence of guns is solved with a range of new ways to cause mayhem, one other concern remains, which is traversal. Far Cry games in modern settings included vehicles for you to use, allowing you to cover vast expanses of the map with ease. This time around, it appears that Ubisoft has increased the number of areas you can spawn at, and the locations you can fast travel to, by simply accessing your map. This somewhat alleviates our concerns, and as the game progresses, you’ll be able to use a grappling hook to get to hard to reach areas and ride bigger animals as well. It’s a competent set of solutions and for most part, we never did miss jeeps or helicopters.

This aside, there’s a sense of mysticism about the proceedings that feels all too real. While we’ve seen such elements in earlier games in the series, it works better in Far Cry Primal thanks to its setting. Spirits, beasts, and shamans all have a part to play in Far Cry Primal’s narrative and their understated presentation makes all the difference.

beast_master_far_cry_primal.jpgAlong the way you’ll discover key members of your clan including ace hunters, beast masters, and inventors. Each of them have a part to play, not just in granting you access to new skills and abilities but help furthering the the plot. They’re unique, well thought out characters that are a perfect foil to Takkar’s straightforward demeanour and do wonders for keeping you interested. This is further heightened by the game’s language spoken by the characters. Since it’s fictional, you will be playing Far Cry Primal with subtitles.

Our grouses are few and far between. Without spoiling much, series veterans hoping for the usual twists and turns from a game bearing the Far Cry name should keep their expectations in check. The straightforward story-telling ensures that the gameplay and overarching plot don’t seem as disconnected from each other as they did in Far Cry 3 or Far Cry 4.

(Also see: Far Cry 4 Review: A Superlative Sandbox)

Far Cry Primal might be the most retrograde addition to a franchise known for vast open spaces and guns galore, but it’s also one of the most refined entries as well. It’s not something anyone asked for, but it’s welcome all the same.

Pros:

  • Quirky cast of characters
  • Beast taming
  • Great combat
  • Looks gorgeous

Cons:

  • So-so story

Rating (out of 10): 9

We played a review copy of Far Cry Primal on the PS4. The game is available on the PS4 and Xbox One for Rs. 3,499 from February 23. The Windows PC version will be available from March 1.

[“Source-Gadgets”]

SanDisk Connect Wireless Review

SanDisk Connect Wireless Review

Since a significant number of smartphones ship with limited local storage and no options for expansion, there is always going to be a demand for more storage space. Even though services such asApple Music and Netflix now let you stream content you’d otherwise have stored locally, you’re still going to run out of space on devices with up to 16GB internal storage. Services such as Dropbox andiCloud exist to address this demand but they aren’t of much use if you don’t have a stable Internet connection.

This is why the market has products such as the SanDisk Connect Wireless – a pen drive that lets you stream content on up to three Android or iOS devices at once. With up to 128GB of storage, can SanDisk Connect Wireless be the portable thumb drive you’ve always wanted for your smartphone? Read on to find out.

SanDisk Connect Wireless looks like a slightly bulky USB pen drive with a power switch on the side. The device creates a Wi-Fi network once you switch it on, and you can connect up to three devices to its network. To access the contents of the drive, you need to install the SanDisk Connect Drive app forAndroid or iOS.

sandisk_connect_wireless_bag.jpgThe connection process was easy and we managed to get three devices (two Android phones and an iPhone) on to SanDisk Connect Wireless’ network in no time. This process is very user-friendly, which is a big plus. The big test for such a device is whether it can let all three devices stream movies at the same time. We played a 700MB video file on all three devices without a hitch, but the app did take around 30 seconds to start playing the file on each device, but once the streaming started there was no stuttering. The app’s built-in video player doesn’t let you add subtitles to the video file.

We were trying to watch a German film from the 1930s and the lack of subtitles was a big let-down. One workaround is to download the file to your smartphone and open it in an app that supports subtitles, but that beats the point of the product. If you had enough space on your device, why would you buy the SanDisk Connect Wireless in the first place? This is an understandable limitation as the relatively less powerful hardware inside the SanDisk Connect Wireless is not capable of transcoding and adding subtitles of the fly, but it is something potential buyers should be aware of.

The app lets you back up your photo library with just one tap, which is a nice touch. That apart, it allowed us to open pdf files and play music without a hitch. The app didn’t let us view pdf files in landscape mode. That is annoying if you’re trying to read comics on your smartphone.

sandisk_connect_wireless_app_sc.jpgSome of these issues can be fixed with an app update, so we’re hopeful that SanDisk will do what’s needed here. When you plug the SanDisk Connect Wireless into a PC or laptop, you can’t access its data via your smartphones. This is likely to ensure data consistency on your device. Overall, we were quite happy with the performance of the device.

Launched at Rs. 2,790 for 16GB, going all the way up to Rs. 9,490 for 128GB, SanDisk Connect Wireless is now available online start Rs. 1,725 for 16GB, Rs. 2,499 for 32GB, Rs. 3,599 for 64GB, and Rs. 6,099 for 128GB, from leading e-commerce stores such as Amazon, Flipkart, Snapdeal, and Gadgets 360, which makes it a decent value buy if you need a portable wireless stick to carry your data and entertainment.

[“Source-Gadgets”]