Tag Archives: pc

BAM. Ride Along – GRID 2 (Big Sur Touge)

In the last bout of the Touge run in GRID 2 I bring the battle to the showcase in California, we hit Big Sur for a battle of beasts, the heavyweight as the Skyline GT-R (R32) and the featherweight challenger as the Ariel Atom 3. For those unfamiliar the Atom is a smaller car, lighter and it uses a high power and high revving engine as its cornerstone for a great power to weight balance.

On a course like Big Sur it’s crucial to maintain a balance of speed and control to carry the fastest line possible as elevation changes often. We’ll see how the two cars carry on in this challenge.

As seen it’s pretty screwed up for balance, on a focused downhill or uphill the Atom would give it a better chance, even a better starting run would allow it to wind out a little harder. Unfortunately the AI in this challenge doesn’t quite push the Atom as hard as it needs to and falls behind immediately. By the time the GT-R cuts the corner the Atom is already being left in the dust, when sliding the long corner after there’s little chance for the car to catch up.

It’s a mix of styles between the two cars, the Atom is designed to hug the corners and tackle them with precision, while the GT-R can do that too, it does it slower when the body is pulling it to the outside of the corner. Going into a slide / drift allows for the GT-R to defy the odds a little against cars that would normally be right on its tail in a challenge like this.

That does wrap up the GRID 2 series at this point, I enjoyed taking the GT-R around for another run in-game but it’s time to move to new grounds. In the future I’ll try to mix up games a little more between installments so there’s a little more variety.

My setup:
AMD FX-8320 @ 4.4GHz
ASUS R9 290 DirectCUII @ 1000/1250
Gigabyte 990FXA-UD3
Logitech G27 Racing Wheel
DXRacer King Series – OH/KS57/NB

 

BAM. Reviews – Crysis (PC)

It’s Fall 2007, my X1800XT is ready for battle and wait… okay so it’s not 2007 it’s 2015 and we’re putting Crysis x64 through the paces in a fresh review that’s heading toward 8 years too late. Recently I picked up Crysis on Steam because it was on sale for $5 and it’s nice to have digital copies of things that were once on disc.

For those late to the game, Crysis was the first project by the Crytek team after departing Ubisoft and the Far Cry series, keen to make another visually cutting edge island adventure we saw Crytek go to extreme lengths creating a cinematic PC engine that would tax hardware for ages to come. Crysis takes players into their own action film, powered up with a nano-suit that enhances defense, strength, speed and even offers camo to slip around the jungle and bypass opponents or allow for stealth kills. It’s campy, it has some holes in the story and odd pacing but it’s the whole experience of this story. The cut scenes and the visuals are sharp and real-time which wasn’t all that common for consistency back then that really made Crysis stand out.

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Because of the innovations and coding at the time with Crysis as one of the first Direct X 10 titles out there it was a monster for PC’s to take on and it brought about the reputation as a benchmark for raw power in a system. Oddly enough it still is that demanding, on a R9 290 OC I was able to appreciate breakneck speeds hovering up to 100fps but also witness particle and shader effect moments that went into the mid 20’s at random. Part of that could fall under optimization issues but still it’s a moment that takes anyone back at the fact that Crysis can still throw those blows.

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Story wise, players take on the role of Nomad, one of an elite group of nano-suit powered soldiers taking on a power mad general on a remote island. The goal of course, to investigate and diffuse the situation but what would that be without a bit of tension and unknown to mix things up. Right out of the gate it’s impossible miss the twist ahead, a random flying object disrupts the drop to the island sending everyone apart . As the team tries to get back together the death and chaos start surrounding them, it’s a dash to sort out what’s really going on in the middle of Korean soldiers laying waste to the jungle to catch you. As things hit their twist the story gets a bit slower and honestly a bit sparse, players take on zero gravity and alien hives with a sudden change in plot to survive at any cost. It’s a shame since it had some good potential to do more but there’s a ton of action and enemies to continue experiencing so I guess that was the filler.

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Gameplay is one of the memorable aspects of Crysis, it’s a throwback to Far Cry in this massive open world experience, diving into the ocean, swimming for attack boats, combing through the jungle and essentially taking any path desired to get the job done. It’s still rewarding even now, not just because of those options but what happens when you mix it up with the physics of the game, punching apart houses, blowing up stacked cars, leveling trees in the forest and sucking it all in. Sadly once the midpoint of the game hits, this sense of wonder and exploration dies in favor of a linear progression, it’s one of the biggest pitfalls for me with Crysis when playing. The experience is enjoyable but you’re left hanging after so much freedom and it lingers in the mind while taking on the rest of the story.

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For those used to traditional shooters there’s a learning curve to handling Crysis, the game works to mimic motion and physics so shots aren’t just “aim, shoot, kill, next” tracking players and planting shots ahead of movement to take down active opponents is a critical part of the experience and learning how to conserve ammo as it gets very limited. The rest of the game is fast to pick up on, learning when to use power, defense and how to maximize camo usage without falling into exposure mid-run.

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Graphically Crysis is obviously a very impressive game, when cranked to very high the presentation is competitve to modern titles. Textures are sharp, water behavior and physics are impressive and the experience is just so well honed for those who see it the first time or come back through again to suck up some of the environment. For those running lower end hardware the grading on Crysis is a bit unforgiving though, Low – Very High is a tough comparison even if many of the features are still there just in very crude form. It’s still best to experience Crysis with at least higher resolution textures if your system allows for it.

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So what’s the appeal if the game is just passing 7 years in age and a bit of a mess when it comes to the complete package? It’s that first experience and coming back around to screw around in the world. Unlike other games, Crysis offers full power out of the gate, as a result players can dominate the landscape if they wish especially after a healthy experience through the campaign. Knowing how to shoot, when to use camo, how to punch someone into the sky and appreciating the ability to wreck a house and leaving the patrol to panic over it. There are also console commands to really mess around with the game and at that point the replay value just keeps going up as players maximize the sandbox experience in the first half of the game and master how to handle every possible scenario.

For me Crysis will never be the perfect action game, but it goes just far enough to stand as one of the shooters I can always come back to and appreciate while passing some of the day. Coming back to it after a few year hiatus was a rewarding experience as I hadn’t completed the entire game for some time. Anyone with the PC power to swing the game should give it a look, it’s usually on sale for $5 on Steam so it’s really hard to avoid the purchase, there’s incredible value for that kind of money.

With that wrapped, it’s on to the next roll of the dice in the Steam list.

First Impressions – GRID Autosport PC

GRID Autosport launched during the Steam sale in June, not the ideal situation but at least they marked it down. After having some time hands on with the game though I do question if it should have gone up to full price. Granted it’s pretty, has variety in disciplines for racing and has a familiar and rounded appeal for racing fans but… the execution is where things get a bit strange.

I admit I enjoyed GRID 2, it was simple to jump into and didn’t require much thought, I do enjoy car setups and minor tuning options and it was something I could just jump into. That said… GRID Autosport could offer that same appeal but the assist system really restricts the enjoyment. On top of that, things requested by the community like cockpit view have been implemented but in a limited sense, using blur and low detail models for the impression.

Personally, I don’t like the cockpit view all that much, the new over the hood drivers side mount is actually very alluring to me though as the camera is no longer dead center in the car like I’m driving a McLaren F1 and allows me a bit of genuine perspective on where the car limits are instead of just guessing and using experience to fudge the corners. It’s a good catch by what seemed like a less vocal audience compared to the cockpit users.

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Overall the impressions aren’t awful but the handling makes it hard for new players to integrate into the game, the overbearing TCS and ASC drag the car down, I actually did a test video to showcase this.

The brakes / car computer take over going into the corners and even with a high speed entry leaning for oversteer, it corrects. While this could be somewhat helpful later on, in the early stages of the game it murders the little performance cars like Golf have in the game.

There’s more to explore and a deeper experience with the season mode to experience but it’s a bit of a missed opportunity as an update to the series as it lead up with so much talk about the return to TOCA and improvements. There are some around but it could have come so much further and hit all the audiences.

Test system:

AMD FX 8320 @ 4.4GHz
ASUS R9 290 DirectCU II
Logitech G27 (Manual, H Pattern, Clutch)
GRID Autosport with 4K pack

Review – Ducky Shine Zero (Cherry Blue)

The keyboard debate on the PC side is honestly just brewing, while some have made their camp with Cherry Red, Blue, Black, Brown, Clear, Green and so on, there are new entities also jumping into the field.

Today I review none of those competitors or even similar Cherry keyboards side by side. I’ve been a gamer on the PC for decades now and this is my first venture into this area as my main gaming keyboards were the Auravision Eluminix and the Everglide DKT which held on for many years and took shifts with standard OEM boards to avoid burning them to bits.

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First Impressions:

So what do I think? First impressions tend to shine when the product is good, the Ducky maintains that with a delivery that’s solid from start to finish. My only concern was a minor one, the manual for the LED system comes on the included Ducky cutout card, once you flip through that, everything makes sense and it’s off to clicky heaven.

When I went into picking out what mechanical system I would end up with it was a bit of a process, watching all the feedback on gaming and daily use I ended up going for the blue switch. I like the clicking sound and honestly it doesn’t bother me as my desktop audio system is solid and my headphones are fine. Each press is dead on, there’s no catching, no squish or other bad issues that come with a membrane. My old keyboard going into this had a problem with keys starting to catch on the sockets and I’m glad I’ll never revisit it.

After the honeymoon:

So far I’ve used this over a week straight, it’s been a nonstop barrage of emails, contacts, writing code and gaming and I have to say, it’s really so much more enjoyable. The slight frustrations with a key getting stuck, extra characters coming out or not registering is a thing of the past. In gaming I can get the response I need on demand without having to guess if it’s going to properly register or not. When the party is over I can switch off the game and resume my work like nothing happened.

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Deep thoughts:

So it’s well and good that Ducky has produced something that works for everyday action and gaming. Some say the keys are tough to press and honestly I’m not even sure what that means, everything goes down easily and I use this thing about 8-10 hours a day with no issues.

That’s not to say it’s perfect, the blue switch does mean more noise and it brings about the issue of ambient recording. If you’re a streamer even casually or active on TS3 or Vent then you might actually annoy your neighbors / chat guests a bit, the blue switches are loud and in my case I do my best to point the mic in and attach extra foam to dampen the incoming sound but honestly it’s enough to probably irritate others easily. The Zero comes in other configurations though which means even if you want red keys or black keys or brown keys you’re not screwed but you will have to dig around.

Appearances:

I’m a computer mod whore, I don’t even hide that, my case is a Phantom, I use Eyefinity, I have LED case lighting and now my keyboard glows too. It’s a magical thing and honestly I don’t think I would have it any other way. Ducky provides 7 stages of lighting with the option to pulse / breathe for the 8th option, when you’re going to be inactive the keyboard also supports lights out where you can shut the LED’s off  or use the LED light saving mode.

In the day I admit I use the LED’s on a lower setting just because they’re available and why not. In the evening I like to push forward with the full stage 7 brightness to carry things on. It’s a good look and if you use the lock keys, it’s the only way to have even brightness on your keyboard as these are apparently not adjustable at all and always run at full brightness.

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Final thoughts:

Eventually with a long enough span of time, any keyboard becomes a problem or has issues, this is because they’re actively used and abused each day, I felt like a week of daily use was enough time to gauge performance on the keyboard and really get a feel for it. I can say safely that I will probably never go back to a membrane keyboard again, any company is free to try to show me how they can be competitive but there’s a design difference at the core level that divides these two classes for me. Maybe it can be overcome, maybe not, the laptop format keys felt like a last hurrah to try to bridge the cap in distance and try to create a new feel.

The Zero Shine is available online and in stores for about $100 with LED lighting and it also comes in orange lighting if you can track it down. There is a light model that strips lighting out entirely and costs about $20 cheaper if you want just the action and none of the theatrics to go with it. Personally once you get this high, it feels safe enough to just invest the extra if you’re that close.

Gunnar Optiks Long Term Review (Rocket)

No doubt in the coming week’s a wave of buzz about Gunnar’s will start to emerge while going into the holiday season. There’s a large marketing push to bridge the market and get buzz going about the style and appeal of the frames and help develop a larger culture around the product. No doubt this is a good thing, while reading it’s clear I do believe Gunnar produces a solid product but there are some things that come with the benefit of using them a year before writing thoughts.

Gunnar thrives on lightweight and sturdy construction, the Rocket frames I purchased last Fall have no actual adjustments available, everything sits firmly with machined slots and pins to prevent inevitable lost screws or broken hinge systems. It’s a relief for a product designed for people on the move and after a year of use, not a sign of wear has hit those parts. The ear comfort band has stayed in tact despite being worn practically everywhere I go, it’s a comfort when normally the paint on other frames will flake and expose the chemical process to the side of the head.

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Moving on from construction we hit the lenses, the infamous yellow and blue, does it work? Yes, it really does especially as contrast / brightness exposure from monitors increases, the ability to filter the light and concentrate for 15-20 hour days working on reviews and coding with 3 white screens filling the eyes for a year and come out with less headaches than just standard glasses is something I’ll always remember.

There are some shortcomings to the lenses though, the default non Rx lens has a love affair with smudging and smearing, on normal glasses one can use a microfiber cloth and just buff it away. The stock Gunnar lens attracts and clings to oils and smudges, if using multiple cloths owners can essentially have a cleaning cloth and a drying cloth to help resolve this but they are picky. At the time my model came with a white bag to store them in, it’s fine for stationary use but I’d never pack a travel or convention coverage bag in such a fashion, as such they do tend to attract dust more often than I’d like. In general the upkeep seems to be stronger with these versus a standard pair of glasses or sunglasses with all the coating techniques involved.

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The inevitable question is, do these improve game skills (what about my KDR bro)? If they’re prescription (Rx) I’m sure they would for obvious reasons, in standard play the biggest factor I can take away is a reduced fatigue on the eye when I really sit in with a game (anything over 30 minutes) in the day the impact isn’t as high but as the darkness sets in, it’s a massive factor. Contrast headaches are essentially absent and I’m able to lock in for as long of a period as I have available. There’s no magical skill increase or unlocked vision ability, it’s just better use of the eyeballs in a focused state for long periods that really drives it home for my experience.

I would suggest going through Gunnar if planning to invest in a prescription pair, I attempted to navigate my area for places to get lenses made and was quoted up to $580 for lenses and a basic Gunnar frame. Gunnar has an in-house system that essentially crushes the competition in pricing and multiple quality tiers available. I have yet to make the upgrade but when I have a feeling my experience will continue to increase. With only a slight correction in my vision I’m able to still get a fairly sharp experience with the stock Gunnar model that has worked so far.

The final thoughts here are simple, the metal frames are a tool free design, they incorporate lightness and functionality over all else, the lenses take off the eye fatigue that leads to headaches induced by contrast. They work even when pulling insane hours to write code, articles, edit videos and do other tasks, as long as one is pushing forward the lenses will continue to do their job and guide the eyes to a safe landing. If it’s a case of being on the fence and looking at a stock pair but need a slight prescription, I suggest taking the plunge from the start so to avoid regrets while dealing with subtle blur issues later.

The Rocket frames took no physical damage during this year of use, the ear band stayed in tact without degrading and the only shortcoming was the front lens has taken a few scratches over the year of wear. As far as product wear goes, these have probably taken less damage than standard glasses of any level would, simply solid no matter where I wore them.

I’d like to thank Woot for having these during one of their sales, well worth the purchase and I would easily pick these up at a regular price rate in the future (Rx of course) when the time comes to replace my Rocket’s as they take up scratches here and there.

Raptr and AMD evolving the desktop experience

In September Raptr and AMD released their dedicated build for PC Gamers, the app included automatic configurations aimed at AMD hardware per game and while limited it provided optimal settings per system. Flash forward almost 2 months and the gaming selection has increased greatly from that initial point.

The first thing to notice about the AMD Gaming Evolved Control Center is it uses a completely different interface from the standard Raptr affair. Delivering a game center, community, gallery and settings per title with dedicated fast access areas for rewards,  global community, profiles and free games. It’s a simple presentation but that’s what makes it impressive, users can use a slider to gauge settings or select optimal choices for their hardware to avoid overtaxing the card and it helps bridge that gap of configuration for those new to the platform.

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For classic Raptr users it may take a bit of time to avoid using the classic dock to navigate but the new UI and presentation do become familiar over time. For me, rewards, friends, game settings are the primary areas I use and they’re almost easy to reach, the friend option itself blends almost too well in the bottom, easily overlooked with bright red text or buttons elsewhere in the UI.

While the AMD branded app doesn’t support everything, they’re working hard to implement feedback and suggest the best possible settings for each product they do include.  A relief given past optimizations tended to massively reach over the recommended settings or dull textures so much it was painful to play just for performance sake.

Do the settings make a difference if you’re adept with hardware? Somewhat, there are certain assumptions made with game settings that might not apply to a specific title and only incur minimal frame loss, by default I tend to disable any AA period for the extra gains at higher resolutions, often with the AMD Raptr application it turns it back on and I’m unable to feel the impact at 1-2fps lost. It’s a reminder in gaming that it always pays to experiment and in this case, it does it for you with a slider and a click of a button.

Personally, I now use Raptr much more than I used to, I explore the community pages, rewards, profiles and have a longer immersion in the community and offerings than I ever did in the past. As a revised presentation I enjoy it and think newbie PC gamers and even veterans might enjoy the quick flip of a switch to adjust performance as needed and get into the game. It’s one thing to play casually but often it’s the performance setting that helps gain any extra FPS possible in competition.

I look forward to continued adjustments to the app (more game custom configurations please) there’s certainly room to continue tweaking for the masses, one can only imagine the day when players will be able to save custom configurations they’ve made to activate on the fly.

Check it out for yourself, if you already have Raptr there’s no additional login needed, just write over your existing install and voila. Also if you’re running AMD video hardware you can enter the ongoing Gaming Evolved Sweepstakes for games each day, although you do have to game for an hour on a supported title.