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Razer Wolverine V2 Review: The Pro Xbox Controller With PC Precision

Growing up, unofficial controllers were strictly cheap replacements. You’d only use them to take to a friends house or to punish your younger siblings. The most notorious offender, Mad Catz, made off-brand Xbox and Nintendo controllers that were only good for cramping your hands and making you look like a dork. Sometime in the last console generation, though, everything changed. Brands like Razer and Scuf discovered the functional limitations and flaws in OEM controllers and designed their own superior devices. Suddenly, unofficial controllers weren’t considered bargain bin, they were for the elite and most competitive.

As a lover of “pro” controllers, I think they have gotten a bit of an unfortunate reputation as well. Customizable buttons, adjustable trigger sensitivity, and improved ergonomics are features everyone can benefit from, not just “pro” gamers. Console players and PC controller players (we do exist) sometimes overlook pro controllers because they don’t think they need anything more than the basic Xbox controller, when in reality, an upgraded device would benefit them a lot. Case in point: the Razer Wolverine V2. This controller is definitely on the pro controller level and has some fantastic features for those that play competitively, but I’d argue it has even more value for casual players and those that get fatigued using controllers. The Razer Wolverine V2 is a major upgrade over the previous Wolverine controller, and a MASSIVE improvement over both the Xbox One controller and it’s nearly identical big brother, the Xbox Series X|S controller.

I want to jump straight into what I like most about the Wolverine V2: the buttons. In designing the V2, Razer wanted to replicate the instant action and tactile feedback of using a Razer mouse, and they absolutely nailed it. All of the buttons have a mouse click feel that is very familiar to me as a PC player, but I think even console-exclusive players can really appreciate how much better that action feels over your typical controller. You get that instant feedback with every press, even on the shoulder buttons and d-pad, that makes using the controller feel very precise. The benefits for competitive shooter and fighting game players is obvious, but I have to say it just feels better no matter what you’re playing. In all the pro controllers I’ve reviewed I’ve never seen one that has buttons that feel like mouse clicks, but I love it. It’s my favorite thing about the Wolverine.

More importantly though, the Wolverine V2 has great customization. Using the Razer app on either PC or Xbox, you can set virtually every button to any input you want, even if the game you’re playing doesn’t have custom controller settings. This is not only a great competitive gaming feature, but it’s a great accessibility feature too. The controller even has too additional shoulder buttons. I would have preferred paddle buttons on the back as I think those are more accessible, but I know those are a turn off for some players.

Another cool feature is the hair-trigger locks. You can flip a switch to lock-in your triggers so they have less travel. This can actually interrupt some games, so you have to be careful. In Destiny 2 for example, I wasn’t able to get my sparrow up to full speed with the triggers locked. For games like Call of Duty though, this hair-trigger lock is fantastic. Other pro controllers have ways of doing this, but this actual switch to lock the buttons is the best way I’ve seen it done.

The Wolverine V2 is exceptionally comfortable. I do very long gaming session when I’m reviewing, and even the new Xbox controller has made my hands ache. I think the Wolverine is a lot more comfortable and I especially like the grippy texture around the controller.

Overall, The Wolverine V2 is a big step up from the new Xbox controller in pretty much every way. It is a wired controller, which I imagine will appeal the most to competitive players that don’t want to risk input lag or dead batteries while playing. That’s really the only thing I could see turning anyone off. Otherwise, the Wolverine V2 is a pro controller than all controller players could really benefit from.

A Razer Wolverine V2 was provided to TheGamer for this review. You can learn more about the Wolverine V2 on Razer’s website.

READ NEXT: Razer Kaira And Kaira Pro Review: Xbox Play Anywhere Just Got The Perfect Headphones

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Eric Switzer is the Livestream News Editor for TheGamer as well as the lead for VR and Tech. He has written about comics and film for Bloody Disgusting and VFXwire. He is a graduate of University of Missouri – Columbia and Vancouver Film School. Eric loves board games, fan conventions, new technology, and his sweet sweet kitties Bruce and Babs. Favorite games include Destiny 2, Kingdom Hearts, Super Metroid, and Prey…but mostly Prey. His favorite Pokémon is Umbreon.

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NBA 2K21 Review – New Polish On The Court

Any athlete will attest that you can do all the right things in the off-season and still come up short. Visual Concepts clearly worked to up its game with NBA 2K21 and deliver better results. However, this wasn’t a typical off-season for Visual Concepts; the team wasn’t just trying to take NBA 2K to the next level, it was trying to take it to the next generation, being the first sports game to go all-in on the new console power of the PS5 and Xbox Series X. The result is a valiant effort, full of great new features and impressive visual leaps, but it’s clear there’s still some seasoning and adjustments to the playbook that need to be done. 

Visual Concepts released a version of NBA 2K21 back in early September (for PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Stadia), but this next-gen edition was built from the ground up to harness the power of the new hardware. Some things from the earlier release carry over, like the bulk of Junior’s MyCareer story, but it also has new modes, as well as important tweaks such as smoother movement and more realistic contact. Most importantly, the long load times that have plagued the series are a thing of the past. Games load in seconds, getting you right into the action. The only hiccups I noticed were when my player went to the bench for a substitution and between periods; sometimes your player just stands stoically for a few moments during this transition. It breaks the immersion since everything else functions just like you’re at an actual arena, including a lively crowd and staff performing various tasks.

Minor issues aside, Visual Concepts continues to deliver stellar gameplay that looks and feels straight out of the NBA. The new-gen tech has only added more authenticity and variety to the on-court action. Being able to change up the speed of your dribble and size-up moves makes ball-handling feel great and gives you tons of options. I loved being able to use hesitations, escapes, stepbacks, and crosses to throw off defenders, and this new dribbling quickly became my favorite upgrade. Passes also look more realistic, especially alley-oops off the glass to teammates. A new lead-pass mechanic, alongside the addition of bounce-touch passes, makes it so you always have varied ways situations can play out. 

As with past entries, certain players have signature moves, and Visual Concepts has only added to the realism with new skills like LeBron James’ suspended dribble. It’s cool that players move or play differently depending on who they are, their position, and how they’re built. I was constantly wowed by the level of detail in every player model, from their likeness to their real-world counterparts right down to their facial expressions and dripping sweat in intense moments. NBA 2K21 is easily one of the best-looking games on the new consoles. 

Another high point is the addition of The W, which allows you to can create your own WNBA MyPlayer for the first time and build your own path to stardom by playing for one of the league’s 12 teams. The level of detail in this mode is great, as I loved learning more about the league and its players from the announcers and games feel different from the NBA with a more technical and team-centric style. The W doesn’t have a cinematic experience like the main MyPlayer mode, but you do get to build up your popularity, wealth, team chemistry, and progression by choosing between different things to do on your day off, like volunteering for a youth program or streaming NBA 2K21. 

You have to fill in the blanks to your own story through these small choices, interacting with other players via text messages, and your social-media feed, but the crux is focused on being a visible role model and bringing other young girls into the sport, which I think is fantastic. I just wish it had its own self-contained storyline, and I’m disappointed that your female MyPlayer cannot be brought into the main multiplayer space: The City. You can play with other players in The W Online, but playing in a small gym isn’t the same experience as having tons of shops and courts at your disposal. 

The City is an evolution from The Neighborhood, where players come together in a multiplayer space with their created MyPlayers to play pick-up games and shop. The City is a big attraction, and exclusive for this next-gen version of the game. It’s clear Visual Concepts has some big ideas for it, as you get assigned an alliance and help build up its reputation by participating in events. I enjoy walking through this massive metropolis, stumbling upon special vendors selling unique apparel, and unlocking special challenges like teaming up with cover star Damian Lillard to take on legends Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter. You even get to spin a wheel for a daily log-in bonus that gives you cool freebies. Most recently, I scored a free tattoo, which made me happy because spending VC (which you can earn in-game or spend real money to acquire) isn’t my thing, especially for cosmetic items. Unfortunately, if you’re like me, you’re most likely going to be grinding to get anything cool or hoping your luck serves you well when you spin the wheel – though I have yet to get a high-tier item that way. Good items are very expensive, and grinding for them requires an unreasonable amount of patience; it feels like a blatant effort to drive players toward microtransactions, which feels gross. 

The City is a cool idea, but it is also where the biggest problems surface. To enter The City, you must first get your rank up by grinding out wins in Rookieville. This is miserable, as you’re in a sequestered area where you can’t access any part of The City and must just wait for games and play with others. Losses don’t do much for your rank, so every game feels like you’re fighting for entry to the show. I encountered many players who had clearly bought VC to boost their character’s stats and put themselves at the best advantage – which makes it even harder to win if you don’t pay real money yourself. 

As I walked around Rookieville, I rarely came across a player who wasn’t rated 86 or higher. Badges only further complicate this, because badges can let you make unrealistic shots or avoid easy steals. This has made me hate online play, because the games don’t unfold fairly or realistically. They’re just not fun. Visual Concepts needs to figure out a better way to reward teamwork, because players don’t want to pass the ball and just shoot all day long with these modifiers. It’s becoming more of a problem, especially as online play continues to be a focus. 

Outside of these frustrations, you can still expect the other basic modes and some tweaks. My NBA is now an all-encompassing franchise mode, combining MyGM, MyLeague, and MyLeague Online. It gives you more customization options than ever before, from toggling certain league rules to bypassing some of the annoying role-playing elements. MyGM is still in need of a complete overhaul, even if I do appreciate the revamped boom/bust system and more variation in player potentials. I also enjoyed that there are some little variations from the old-gen version, such as a new path in Junior’s MyPlayer story, where you can join the G-League and brush shoulders with some familiar players from the series’ fiction. 

NBA 2K21’s full-team on-court action plays the best it ever has, and the graphical leap is impressive to boot, but it still comes up short in some key areas. Visual Concepts still hasn’t figured out a great way to elevate its online play, and microtransactions continue to destroy what should be a fun part of the experience. I love creating specular plays and the thrill of sinking a buzzer-beating three, but the moment I walk into the online space, that feeling evaporates. It becomes about the money, not about the love of the game. 






The full-team on-court action plays the best it ever has, and the graphical leap is impressive to boot, but it still comes up short in some key areas.

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The Falconeer review – flying high

One of the most imaginative launch games for Xbox Series X/S puts you on the back of a giant bird patrolling a water-covered fantasy world.

The Falconeer’s mere existence represents a major triumph: in an age when big, blockbusting games are routinely developed by teams consisting of hundreds of people, this has been created (over a period of many years) by just one man, Tomas Sala. That actually makes it the second single creator game in the Xbox Series X/S launch line-up, but The Falconeer is a considerably more refined experience than Bright Memory.

Given the way it was made, the impressive graphics and distinctive, coherent premise of The Falconeer are rendered even more admirable. This is an open world aerial combat game, in which you get to fly around a planet on the back of giant warbirds equipped with lightning-powered weapons. Your area of operations is the Geat Ursee, a vast ocean apparently influenced by Kevin Costner’s Waterworld, in which the population perches on rocky island outcrops and piracy is rife.

However, The Falconeer starts in a very unpromising fashion. A cursory tutorial introduces you to the pleasingly simple control system – the left stick handles your movement, the right trigger fires your weapon, you can do an evasive roll and get a speed boost via the left bumper – while two of the buttons handle different degrees of target lock-on.

Additionally, you discover that you can fly into thunderstorms to power up your weapons (although running out of ammo doesn’t seem to be a problem in the game proper), and that diving towards the ocean also speeds you up and recharges your warbird’s energy.

But the tutorial’s static targets don’t prepare you properly for even the first mission – a reconnaissance run in which you encounter flying enemies and must engage in aerial combat. It’s never a good sign when after a few failed attempts at the first mission, you feel obliged to turn the difficulty level down to easy but that’s what we encountered with the Falconeer.

You’re given a computer-controlled wingman but initially it feels like it requires a lot of hits to take out flying and floating enemies, and too few hits for them to blow up your own warbird.

The combat, frankly, takes some getting used to. Like all aerial combat games, it’s fine when you’ve managed to target a distant enemy, but when they reach you, you must keep flying for a bit, evading fire if necessary, before wheeling around and trying to work out where they have gone.

Cranking the difficulty level down to easy, however, bought us the necessary time to get to grips with the combat, and we were glad that we persisted. Because when you do prevail in a shoot-out – or, for example, land direct hits using the mines you can pick up on pirate ships – there’s plenty of satisfaction on offer.

After its rocky start, The Falconeer really begins to grown on you. The lore that it builds up, in which you operate as a warbird-pilot for hire and come across rivalries between the aristocratic factions that own the Great Ursee’s outcrops of land, plus the tensions existing between them and the everyday folk who do their bidding, is surprisingly compelling.

You can take on missions related to the fortunes of particular islands, or more general courier style ones, all the time earning money which can be used to upgrade your warbird via stat-boosting mutagens or new weapon types – or you can purchase warbirds that belong to different classes.

The missions themselves are more varied than you might imagine, given that they all involve flying around on the back of a giant bird. The Falconeer cleverly alters your overriding motivation from mission to mission. You might, for example, have to shelter a precious cargo from attackers, by dropping into the Maw – a great trench into which the sea mysteriously disappears – and hiding behind its aerial defences.

In the end, The Falconeer sucks you into its strange but beguiling world, and provides a decent dose of escapism, which turns out to be impressively meaty given the game’s indie style price and the fact that it was created by a one-man band. It is a shame, though, that it starts in such an off-putting fashion, and if you’ve never really got on with aerial combat games you’d be well advised to avoid it.

As a determinedly indie game, it also fails to do more than scratch the surface of the Xbox Series X/S’s high-tech capabilities. However, viewed as an advert for the prodigious talents of its developer Tomas Sala, it is an undoubted tour de force. The Falconeer is an oddity, but we’ll surely be hearing more from its creator in the coming years.

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Five Dates Review: Love In The Time Of Lockdown

I review A LOT of games, resulting in my having little to no time left to watch movies. However, if there’s one movie genre that can get me to stop what I’m doing, it’s romantic comedies. From Serendipity to The Proposal, Heart and Soul to Friends with Benefits – I hold rom-coms in the highest regard, especially when it comes to actually dedicating enough time to sit down and watch them. I’ll be damned if I don’t cry every single time while watching Always Be My Maybe and Crazy Rich Asians.

The full-motion video (FMV) genre of video games is not one that I normally gravitate towards, but after seeing the trailer for Five Dates from Good Gate Media and Wales Interactive, I couldn’t help but be intrigued. The result? One satisfied rom-com fan. Five Dates not only portrays dating in a digital world in a succinct and believable manner, but it’s also a title that deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as some of the greatest rom-com films of all-time.

Five Dates puts you in the shoes of Vinny, a twenty-something Londoner who is exploring the world of online dating during the global lockdown with the help of his best friend and confidant, Callum. Through his dating app, he’ll get matched with, meet, and virtually date potential love interests, with each decision ultimately impacting the final outcome.

With popcorn and wine glass in hand, I dive in headfirst on my (and Vinny’s) Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-type of interactive dating experience. And what an experience it is.

First, I set up Vinny’s dating app profile – career, interests… the expected bits of information you might expect from a dating app (full-disclosure: I’ve never used any such app myself). Next, I’m matched up with five potential interests, selecting three to go on virtual dates with. After that first round, I select two to go on second dates with (assuming the interest is reciprocated), before ending with a final single date.

During my playthrough, I generally played as though I was the main character – making my choice selection based on how I would probably do so in real life. However, there are some options that just kind of make more sense than others from an overall story perspective, such as the length of time that Vinny has been single. Based on the way the narrative introduces Vinny, it just feels like he’s been single for a while. This hybrid type of strategy seems to work just fine, thankfully.

As I go through my dates, each one somehow seems to be better than the last. It’s almost uncanny how well my matched dates suit me simply based on my profile and our first conversation. That said, there are subjective red flags that are dropped during the course of the conversations – some more subtle than others – creating the need for me to really be paying attention to the game.

That’s not a bad thing. Far from it, actually. Whereas some rom-coms can hit lulls during their one and a half to two-hour runtimes, Five Dates, quite literally, has no such thing. I’m either smiling and giddy throughout each date, raising an eyebrow at the aforementioned red flag situations, or leaning forward in anticipation of seeing how well my choice will play out. Five Dates had me absolutely enamored through my first playthrough, which clocked in at just under an hour and a half.

Quite honestly, though, that time flew by, speaking to just how good the direction and acting is in Five Dates. Taheen Modak absolutely shines as Vinny – giving off a charm similar to the combination of Freddie Prinze Jr. and Jason Biggs in Boys and Girls – while Demmy Ladipo absolutely nails the “rom-com best friend” role as Callum. Every one of the actresses who match up with Vinny are extraordinary as well. I know that I’m technically playing as Vinny, but since I’m selecting the choices I’d probably choose in real life, it feels like I’m actually the one behind the camera and on a date with them.

And that’s what made Five Dates hit so perfectly for me. The decisions I made throughout my playthrough resulted in what I believe to be one of the most perfect endings in any romantic comedy. I was genuinely surprised that the story played out the way it did, with much of it undeniably having to do with my real-life age and where I am in my life right now. I have to be a bit ambiguous with this since saying more would spoil the particular ending (of many) I experienced, but ultimately, my favorite ending left me wanting more in the absolute best way possible. 

Five Dates offers up plenty of replayability if you’re interested in seeing every possible outcome. I’ll get there eventually, but my last playthrough was so effective in giving me the interactive rom-com experience that I was hoping for, that I think I’m just going to marinate on it for a while. I don’t know if thumb-ratings are still a thing in movies, but I give Five Dates two very enthusiastic thumbs up. Way, WAY up.

A PC copy of Five Dates was provided to TheGamer for this review. Five Dates is available now for PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch

NEXT: Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin Review: Anything But Ruined

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Sam has been writing for TheGamer since early 2018, earning the role as the Lead Features & Review Editor in 2019. The Denver, Colorado-native’s knack for writing has been a life-long endeavor. His time spent in corporate positions has helped shape the professional element of his creative writing passion and skills. Beyond writing, Sam is a lover of all things food and video games, which – especially on weekends – are generally mutually exclusive, as he streams his gameplay on Twitch (as well as TheGamer’s Facebook page) under the self-proclaimed, though well-deserved moniker of ChipotleSam. (Seriously…just ask him about his Chipotle burrito tattoo). You can find Sam on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook as @RealChipotleSam.

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Demon’s Souls PS5 review in progress – prepare to be amazed

The most graphically advanced game on the PS5 is a remake of the forerunner to Dark Souls and it’s already a game of the year contender.

If you’d told anyone 10 years ago that one of the most important launch games for the PlayStation 5 would be a big budget remake of Demon’s Souls we know exactly what they would have said: ‘What’s Demon’s Souls’? Originally released in Japan in 2009, Sony was so unenamoured with the game that they refused to publish it themselves in the West, leaving it in limbo for over a year until Bandai Namco stepped in to release it in Europe.

That caused some mild controversy amongst the PlayStation 3’s hardcore gamer community, who had realised just what a great game it is, but otherwise its existence went largely unnoticed by the wider gaming world.

Bandai Namco took note though and signed up developer FromSoftware to make Dark Souls as a kind of spiritual sequel. The rest, as they say, is history, when against all expectations Dark Souls became a major hit and one of the most influential games of the generation, inspiring dozens of clones and making the concept of purposefully difficult games not only popular but financially viable for even relatively big budget titles.

Despite all that, it’s still surprising to see this full-blown remake as a PlayStation 5 launch game. Although if it wasn’t for the coronavirus it probably would’ve been flanked by Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart and other more mainstream-friendly games. Although we should point out, before we get any further, that Demon’s Souls is not as difficult as its reputation suggests, or at least not in the way most people imagine.

It’s not superfast reflexes you need to beat a Soulsborne game but a cool nerve and a willingness to explore and experiment. Demon’s Souls will force you to fend for yourself from the very first instant but it’s never unfair or vindictive. If you die it’s because you didn’t heed the warning signs or took an enemy for granted. All of them can kill you with just a couple of blows but you can do the same with most of them and as long as you don’t go running around like you’re playing an arcade game, then anyone can beat Demon’s Souls.

Or at least that’s what we keep telling ourselves. Review copies were only sent out on Wednesday, which means there’s been no chance to get a review ready for November 12, when the PlayStation 5 launches everywhere but Europe. We have been able to play several hours though and the initial impressions are extremely favourable.

If you’re not familiar with Dark Souls or its ilk the game is at heart a relatively straightforward third person action role-player. Its main focus is combat, although mechanically it’s very simple, with only a few different moves for each type of weapon. The magic of the game is in the wonderfully complex level design which constantly rewards exploration and cleverly wraps around on itself, so you’re never quite as lost as you think.

The storytelling is extremely opaque and while the intro explains the basic set-up (an ancient evil has appeared and turned the entire population into zombies) the details are left for you to work out from scraps of lore found in the game world.

https://youtube.com/watch?v=JiqGi3GMTko%3Fversion%3D3%26rel%3D1%26fs%3D1%26autohide%3D2%26showsearch%3D0%26showinfo%3D1%26iv_load_policy%3D1%26wmode%3Dtransparent

We’ll get more into the game’s deeper systems in the full review but since this is the only PlayStation 5 exclusive game at launch (not counting the still very good Astro’s Playroom) the first thing anyone really wants to know is what the game looks like. And the short answer for that is… fantastic.

There are two graphical options, with Performance selected by default and running at a ‘targeted’ 60 frames per second and upscaled 4K resolution. Or alternatively you can choose Cinematic mode, which runs at 30fps and native 4K. Either way, this is a staggeringly beautiful game, with every location looking like some interactive painting, ripped from the front cover of the sort of lurid fantasy novel that inspired the series in the first place.

We were surprised to discover that the game doesn’t use ray-tracing, even though there are reflective surfaces (so far mostly puddles) and some gorgeous use of light and shadow. Either way, it’s easily the best looking game on the PlayStation 5 – a clear step ahead of Spider-Man: Miles Morales – and by that virtue one of the best looking console games of all time.

It would be that anyway, from a technical perspective, but what makes it so impressive is that developer Bluepoint, who also handled the Shadow Of The Colossus remake, have nailed the FromSoftware aesthetic so well. Perhaps you could argue they’ve made the character designs slightly more stylised – more cartoonish we’ve heard some people say – but that’s really just a by-product of the improved animation and things like glowing eyes being easier to make out.

There’s always been a unique blend of horror and beauty in the Souls games, where even the most repulsive enemies have a strange sense of grandeur to them. As you creep along battle-scarred parapets or through what must’ve once been carefully maintained gardens there’s an overwhelming sense of doom and misery but also a quiet whisper of hope that things could be returned back to the way they were.

If Demon’s Souls is the first proper PlayStation 5 exclusive it’s almost overwhelming to think what games might look like in a couple of years from now. Although the DualSense controller also plays a major part in making the game feel so unique and ‘new’. The haptic feedback effects are subtle but as you press down one of the adaptive triggers to pull off a heavy attack the rumble you feel is subtly different depending on whether you hit the wall, the floor or an enemy’s blade.

Together with the excellent sound effects the sense of immersion and physicality is incredible. Swords don’t awkwardly disappear through walls when you’re in an enclosed space, they spark off the side, and when you roll out of the way the sound effects and controller feedback is completely different depending on whether it’s stone or wooden floorboards you’re moving over.

Getting a parry right, and using a riposte to instakill an opponent, is especially satisfying thanks to the mixture of force feedback, sound, and the knowledge that you’ve done well in a famously difficult game.

Arguably the most important technical improvement is simply the fast loading, which instantly cuts out much of the frustration incurred when you die. Now there’s no more than a two to three second delay before you’re right back in the action.

The online features seem to be largely the same as the original game and since every PlayStation 5 owner in the world descended on the game as soon as the download code arrived it’s been wonderful to see everyone’s otherworldly spirits running around the world, encountering the same problems and offering advice via messages scrawled on the floor.

The only possible flaw we can see is that the new camera, which is now pulled in much closer to the main character, can be a bit skittish, especially in narrow corridors. Or maybe that was just us panicking. The original camera system is apparently available as an option though so it shouldn’t be a major issue either way.

It’s going to take us a good few days to battle our way through Demon’s Souls, even if we have technically played it before, but at the outset this not only seems the perfect remake but an excellent demonstration of the PlayStation 5’s capabilities and a hugely encouraging sign for the future of the format.

https://youtube.com/watch?v=qjZIw0VUezU%3Fversion%3D3%26rel%3D1%26fs%3D1%26autohide%3D2%26showsearch%3D0%26showinfo%3D1%26iv_load_policy%3D1%26wmode%3Dtransparent

Formats: PlayStation 5
Price: £69.99
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Bluepoint Games and Japan Studio
Release Date: 12th November 2020
Age Rating: 18

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MORE : Bugsnax PS5 review – gotta eat ‘em all

MORE : Spider-Man: Miles Morales PS5 review – pretty spectacular

MORE : Astro’s Playroom review – introducing the PS5

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Acer Nitro 5 review: This budget gaming laptop keeps getting better

We’ve long been fans of Acer’s line of affordable Nitro 5 gaming laptops. This new entry in the series, just $670 at Best Buy, ups the ante with eye-popping CPU performance and great battery life. 

Note that it keeps the same GTX 1650 graphics card that we saw in a similar model last year, so don’t expect ray tracing or frame rates much higher than 60 fps or so. But with its revamped cooling system and Ryzen 4000-series CPU, the updated Nitro 5 manages to squeeze every last ounce of performance from its limited GPU power, making it an enticing pick for gamers on a budget.

This review is part of our ongoing roundup of the best laptops. Go there for information on competing models and how we tested them.

Configuration

Acer offers a wide variety of Nitro 5 configurations, with models powered by 9th- and 10th-gen Intel (Whiskey and Comet Lake) processors or AMD Ryzen 3000 and 4000 CPUs; and GTX 1650, GTX 1650 Ti, or RTX 2060 GPUs. The least expensive Nitro 5 variant packs in a quad-core Core i5-9300H processor, a GTX 1650 graphics card, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB solid-state drive, while the priciest system comes with a hexa-core Core i7-9750H CPU, an RTX 2060 GPU, 16GB of RAM, and a roomier 512GB SSD.

Our Nitro 5 review unit (AN515-44-R99Q) features the following specs:

  • CPU: Hexa-core AMD Ryzen 5 4600H
  • Memory: 8GB DDR4 3200MHz (upgradable to 32GB)
  • Graphics: Nvidia GTX 1650 with 4GB dedicated GDDR5 VRAM
  • Storage: 256GB PCIe NVMe (plus second PCIe slot and one 2.5-inch HDD bay)
  • Display: 15.6-inch full-HD (1920×1080) IPS display, 60Hz refresh rate
  • Webcam: 720p SHDR
  • Connectivity: 1 x USB SuperSpeed 10Gbps Type-C, 2 x USB SuperSpeed 10Gbps Type-A (one with power-off charging), 1 x USB SuperSpeed 5Gbps Type-A, HDMI 2.0, ethernet, combo audio jack
  • Networking: Wi-Fi 6, Killer Gigabit ethernet E2600, Bluetooth 5.0
  • Biometrics: None
  • Battery capacity: 57.5 Watt-hour
  • Dimensions: 14.3 x 10 x 1 inches
  • Weight: 4.7 pounds (measured), 1-pound power brick

The quick takeaway from the Nitro 5’s spec list is that it’s a solid budget gaming laptop, with (on paper) enough GPU horsepower to run most AAA games at or near 60 fps, once you’ve tinkered with the graphics settings. The hexa-core Ryzen 5 4000-series CPU should tear through CPU-intensive activities such as video encoding or database crunching. While the 8GB of RAM is only adequate in terms of multitasking, you can upgrade the RAM all the way up to 32GB. We’ll delve into the Nitro 5’s real-world performance in a bit.

The Nitro 5’s 256GB solid-state drive is decidedly cramped when it comes to games. Luckily, the system comes with SuperSpeed 10Gbps Type-C and Type-A ports, ideal for connecting speedy external storage. You can also upgrade the Nitro 5’s internal storage using the available PCIe slot or the empty 2.5-inch HDD drive bay.

The 15.6-inch full-HD display is roomy but limited to a 60Hz refresh rate (there are pricier versions of the Nitro 5 with 120Hz and 144Hz screens). More impressive is the Nitro 5’s networking features, including a gigabit ethernet port and cutting-edge Wi-Fi 6, which means you’ll be able to wring every last bit of throughput out of the latest gaming routers.

Design

Big, bulky and heavy: That’s pretty much the name of the game when it comes to gaming laptops, and the Nitro 5 is no exception. Tipping the scale at 4.7 pounds (or 5.7 pounds if you include the 135-watt power adapter), the inch-thick, 15.6-inch Nitro 5 feels as hefty as it sounds. That said, Acer (as it has with previous models) has done its best to give the Nitro 5’s shell a slim, tapered appearance.

This year’s Acer Nitro 5 features four redesigned cooling vents to optimize thermal performance by up to 25 percent.

While this year’s Nitro 5 looks more or less the same as earlier iterations, there are a couple of key differences. For starters, the Nitro 5’s hinge is now black rather than maroon, which means that the shell is now almost entirely black, aside from the bright-red cooling vents in the rear.

Speaking of vents, the latest Nitro 5 models feature four revamped cooling vents (two in the rear and one on each side) that are designed to boost the laptop’s thermal performance by up to 25 percent compared to last year’s configurations.

The Nitro 5 also comes with Acer’s NitroSense app, which lets you change the laptop’s power plans as well as tinker with the cooling fans. You can manually customize the rotations of the fans or engage CoolBoost, a setting that intelligently boosts the maximum fan speed and can help optimize CPU and GPU cooling by up to 9 percent. We tried switching on CoolBoost mode and switching the Nitro 5’s power plan to High Performance mode during our game testing, and we’ll let you know the results later on in the review.

Display

The Nitro 5’s 15.6-inch, 1920×1080 display is flanked by a pair of slim, 0.28-inch bezels, while the bezels along the top and bottom of the screen are somewhat chunkier. Overall, Acer says that the new Nitro 5 has an 80 percent screen-to-body ratio. During my real-world testing, the display looked appropriately roomy considering the laptop’s size.

As we noted earlier, Acer does offer pricier Nitro 5 models with 120Hz and 144MHz displays, but the version we’re tested is limited to a 60Hz refresh rate. That means you can expect screen tearing if you’re getting frame rates north of 60 fps and you’ve disabled synchronization. 

We saw some evidence of screen bleed on the Nitro 5’s 15.6-inch display, particularly near the top of the panel.

Rated for 300 nits (or candelas) of brightness, the Nitro 5’s 15.6-inch display uses IPS (in-plane switching) technology to boost viewing angles. The results are pretty much as expected, with the panel dimming only slightly when viewed from the sides, top or bottom. I did, however, note a little screen bleed near the top of the display on my review unit, below and slightly to the right of the webcam. The screen bleed was never distracting during furious moments of gameplay, but I did notice it during dark scenes in videos and games, particularly in Destiny 2, when my ship was sitting in orbit.

Keyboard, trackpad, speakers, and webcam

I was quite pleased by the Nitro 5’s snappy keyboard, which comes with a 10-key numeric trackpad, a generous 1.6mm of travel distance and a satisfying, tactile bump upon key actuation. Gamers who prefer to have their fingers flutter over the keyboard may prefer a smoother, more linear feel to the keys, but personally I prefer the Nitro 5’s bumpier approach.

The Nitro 5’s red-backlit keyboard boasts a generous 1.6mm of travel distance, along with outlined W, A, S,D, and arrow keys.

While pricier Nitro 5 models feature four-zone keyboard backlighting, our review unit came with a uniform red backlight. Also worth noting are the highlighted WASD keys, while a highlighted hotkey launches the NitroSense thermal management app that we mentioned earlier. One complaint is that the volume buttons share space with the up and down arrow keys, which means you’ll need to hold the Function key to adjust the sound.

The Nitro 5’s trackpad sits directly below the spacebar and somewhat left of center of the chassis. When I was gaming on the Nitro 5, I generally didn’t touch the trackpad at all, opting instead either for a mouse or a controller. That said, when I did use the trackpad for everyday PC chores, I found that it did the job and avoided false inputs.

The downfiring stereo speakers on the Nitro 5 are augmented by object-based DTS:X Ultra audio, and the results are, well, OK. Yes, I could hear better-than-average virtual surround cues from the Nitro 5’s small speakers, but the overall sound was still somewhat thin and lacking in bass. Unsurprisingly, you’ll do much better using headphones or external speakers, and yes, DTS:X Ultra audio sounds pretty good when piped through a pair of decent gaming cans.

The Nitro 5’s 720p webcam captures relatively smooth 30-fps video, if a tad washed-out and grainy-looking. Acer says the webcam offers SHDR (super high dynamic range) imaging, and I’ll take their word for it, but I didn’t find the webcam’s images to be particularly vivid. It’s fine for a Zoom meeting with the office, but you’ll probably want to upgrade to an external webcam for your Twitch channel.

Ports

The Nitro 5 comes with a solid collection of ports, including (on the left side) a pair of USB SuperSpeed 10Gbs Type-A ports, a drop-jaw gigabit ethernet port for wired internet, a combo audio jack, and a laptop security slot.

The left side of the Nitro 5 features a pair of USB SuperSpeed 10Gbps Type-A ports, along with a drop-jaw ethernet port and a combo audio jack.

On the right sits a USB SuperSpeed 10Gbps Type-C port, a USB SuperSpeed 5Gbps Type-A port, and a full HDMI 2.0 interface.

Right-side ports on the Nitro 5 include USB SuperSpeed 10Gbps Type-C, USB SuperSpeed 5Gbps Type-A, and a full HDMI 2.0 interface.

That’s a pretty impressive array of ports for a budget gaming laptop like this one, particularly the trio of speedy USB ports and the ethernet interface. A media card reader would have been a nice touch, but its absence on a gaming laptop like the Nitro 5 isn’t a deal-breaker.

Click here to read about the Acer Nitro 5’s performance scores


  • Acer Nitro 5 AN515-44-R99Q

    $669.99See iton Best Buy

    WIth a revamped cooling system and a Ryzen 4000-series CPU on board, the affordable Nitro 5 should delight budget-minded gamers.

    Pros

    • Speedy CPU performance
    • Solid 60-fps visuals
    • Excellent battery life
    • Comfortable keyboard
    • Cons

      • Evidence of screen bleed in the full-HD display
      • Heavy and bulky design

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    The Xbox Series X/S Review

    Following a transformative generation where Xbox recovered from a rocky start to deliver a successful, consumer-friendly approach, the gaming team at Microsoft is back with two consoles that do everything the Xbox One currently does, but better. Blazing fast load times, superb compatibility, and a ton of power combine with various quality-of-life adjustments to improve upon the Xbox One experience in noticeable ways. While an iterative approach may not give you the “wow” factor you expect when you power on your new console for the first time, the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S undeniably provide you the best way to enjoy your library of Xbox games.

    Controller

    Coming off one of the greatest console controllers ever made with the Xbox One, Xbox chose to not reinvent the wheel with its next gamepad. The Xbox Series X/S wireless controller largely keeps the same form factor and functionality as its predecessor, but with a couple of refinements.

    The Xbox Series X/S controller’s most noticeable addition is the new Share button. This button, located in the middle of the controller’s face, offers easier capture functionality. In the Xbox One generation, to capture a screenshot or record gameplay footage, you needed to press the Home button, wait for the side-menu to load, then press X or Y to capture. Unfortunately, some games automatically entered the pause menu if you hit the home button, making it difficult to capture the screenshot you wanted, while others kept the action going, leading to more than a few in-game deaths on my end. Thankfully, this controller’s Share button makes that a thing of the past. Now, you capture a screenshot by quickly pressing the button or record the last chunk of gameplay with a long press of the button. I love being able to quickly capture and share my gameplay screenshots and videos without throwing the brakes on the action or diverting my attention for more than a split-second.

    The Xbox Series X/S controller also swaps out the plus-sign d-pad of last-gen for a hybrid multidirectional d-pad for increased versatility. I’m pleasantly surprised by how precise the new d-pad feels; playing side-scrolling games like Sonic Mania or Dead Cells felt as great as ever, and the d-pad has a satisfying click to it.

    The controller features improved grip on the handles, triggers, and bumpers, plus a 3.5mm headset jack, and a USB-C connection port. Unfortunately, the controller still uses two double-A batteries, which feels downright archaic in 2020. I don’t expect a stock controller to have the awesome rechargeable battery of the premium Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2, but it’s annoying to have to keep double-A batteries nearby at all times. If you want to avoid regularly swapping out batteries, Xbox does sell official rechargeable battery packs. If you’d prefer to stick with your existing Xbox One controller, you can use that without losing any functionality aside from the Share button.

    Compatibility

    While everyone is looking forward to the new games they’ll play on these systems at launch and in the future, many of us have accumulated impressive collections of games we already love. With that in mind, Xbox did an outstanding job of making sure almost anything you enjoyed doing on Xbox One can be done on Xbox Series X/S.

    It all starts with software compatibility. Sure, all your favorite streaming apps make the leap to this generation, but outside of a handful of Kinect titles, every game that runs on Xbox One can run on Xbox Series X/S from day one. That means that in addition to the vast library of Xbox One titles, you can also access the backwards-compatible-enabled Xbox 360 and original Xbox library. I loved turning my Xbox Series X on for the first time, long before any new-gen games had arrived, and instantly having access to the large library of Xbox games I already own. Most people don’t buy new hardware to play old games, but when the games I already know and love benefit from the better hardware (including better framerate, higher resolution, smoother gameplay, better load times, and added HDR), it’s nice to not have to start from scratch. Additionally, if there is an Xbox Series X/S version of a game you own on Xbox One, developers can utilize Smart Delivery to get you the best version of the game on the console you’re using at no additional cost.

    Not only do all of your games and apps make the generational leap, but Xbox took things a step further: Every accessory you own for Xbox One automatically works with Xbox Series X/S. I was able to pair my third-party wireless Xbox One headset and Elite Series 2 controller as if they were made for Series X/S. Even the Rock Band 4 USB legacy adapter plugged in and worked immediately. Upgrading to a new console is always expensive, and this level of peripheral compatibility means I don’t have to worry about buying a second controller for my player 2 or a new headset on top of the several-hundred-dollar investment. Unfortunately, Xbox Series X/S follows in the footsteps of Xbox One in not supporting Bluetooth headsets.

    I was impressed with how simple moving my library to the new consoles proved to be. I had the option to either redownload them or save my bandwidth by simply plugging in the external HDD I was using on my Xbox One X. Once connected, the Xbox Series X/S immediately populated my games library with the titles on the external hard drive. It was largely a smooth process, but moving Rock Band 4 with my more-than 1,500 DLC songs across storage units did temporarily bring the system to its knees.

    The Xbox Series X/S is the most compatible console we’ve likely ever seen. By veering close to PC-like compatibility, Xbox delivers on its platform uniformity goal. Xbox has not only set the standard for compatibility in an industry with a spotty track record, but it has thrown down the gauntlet and brought an extremely consumer-friendly approach.

    The Verdict: B+

    The Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S introduce superb quality-of-life improvements like Quick Resume and the reduced load times over Xbox One or even Xbox One X, but don’t expect a markedly different or revolutionary leap forward when you first power on the system. If you’re simply looking for the best place to play your library of past, present, and future Xbox games, look no further than Xbox Series X/S.

    Release

    November 10

    Price

    Xbox Series X – $499
    Xbox Series S – $299

    More Information

    Xbox Series X Xbox Series S

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    Xbox Series X review — True next-generation gaming

    Xbox Series X stands in stark contrast to what is now the last generation of consoles. Xbox One and PlayStation 4 have tons of great games, but they come up short in terms of presenting those experiences. The Xbox One and PS4 are slow and clumsy and often loud. The Xbox Series X is the opposite. It is speedy and responsive and whisper quiet. It’s the kind of system that makes it okay to play on consoles again.

    Microsoft is launching Xbox Series X for $500 on November 10. For that money, the company is promising the “most powerful Xbox ever.” The idea is to deliver content that lives somewhere in the range of 4K and 120 frames per second. Few games will hit both visual milestones simultaneously, but the Series X’s horsepower is evident in a number of games.

    But if you’re wondering whether to try to get one right now, that’s going to depend on you. Do you just want exclusives, or are you someone who already plays an Xbox One every day?

    As we dig into the details, I’ll try to provide all the information you need to know what is best for you.

    Xbox Series X games

    Reviewing a console is an odd business. We often judge platforms based on their software. But the point of a new console is that it’s launching from scratch, with effectively zero games. A few might show up at launch, but that’s not a large enough sample size to determine the future of the software library. And yet for most people, it is the most important determining factor when it comes to purchasing gaming hardware.

    With that in mind, I’m going to try to speak to what you can expect from games on the Xbox Series X.

    Your backward compatible library (and Game Pass) will run better than ever

    Let’s start with backward compatibility, which is an undeniable strength for the Xbox Series X. As someone who loves PC gaming, I know that new hardware is often more about seeing how much better your old games run. The Series X taps into this by unleashing all of its extra horsepower on Xbox, Xbox 360, and Xbox One games.

    Above: That’s not a light.

    In almost every case, this leads to faster loading times. In many other cases, you also get higher framerates and render resolutions. Microsoft is also promising almost universal compatibility — although with exceptions, like Kinect games.

    But backward compatibility on Series X is not entirely like the PC. Some games will continue to run the same on the new Xbox as they did on the old Xbox. That’s because developers often set performance profiles for console games that do not scale dynamically. This leads to situations where a game could run better, but it doesn’t. Microsoft says it’s looking at ways to improve these games without forcing developers to go back and create bespoke updates. But I haven’t seen this in action yet, so it remains a hypothetical.

    ‘Optimized’ games feel like free remasters

    Old games don’t have to run in a backward compatible mode. Developers can specifically update them to run on Xbox Series X, which comes with even more advantages. Loading times are often even faster. And some games, like Gears 5, now run at 120 frames per second instead of 60. For now, these optimized games don’t feel like they live up to the “remaster” moniker publishers use to try to resell old games. But Xbox Series X optimizations come as free updates, so while Gears 5 doesn’t quite feel like Gears 5 Remastered, it’s close enough — especially for the price.

    This also keeps things simple for anyone looking to upgrade in the future. Microsoft’s Smart Delivery system ensures you get the best version of a game no matter where you play it. So if you want to play Cyberpunk 2077 when (if?) it comes out this year but are waiting to get new hardware, I see no reason to hesitate. That Xbox One version of Cyberpunk will turn into the Xbox Series X version whenever you pull the trigger on a console purchase.

    Every Microsoft game uses Smart Delivery, and some big-name third-party releases do as well. But not every publisher is getting in on this system, which spoils its simplicity. Still, it’s pushing the trend in the right direction.

    Don’t get an Xbox Series X for exclusives yet

    Something I hear a lot is that consoles are really only worth getting for their exclusives, and I think that’s probably true for a certain kind of gamer. If that’s you, you should wait for the Xbox Series X. If you only plan to show up to Xbox to play Halo or eventual releases like Avowed or maybe some big Bethesda game, then wait for those to come out before you buy the hardware. I don’t think I really need to tell you this, but I want to be as comprehensive as possible.

    If you are happy to play exclusives but spend most of your time in multiplatform releases like Fortnite, FIFA, or dozens of other games, the Series X isn’t just a viable option, it’s the obvious choice, thanks to its services.

    Game Pass is a killer app

    Exclusives are still rare on Xbox Series X, and you have to factor that into your decision to spend $500 on hardware. Can you get by playing games on your current hardware? Are you definitely getting a PlayStation 5? Do you have a solid gaming PC? If the answer to any of these is “yes,” it’s easy to skip the Xbox Series X hardware and just stick with Game Pass on an older Xbox, on PC, or on Android via the cloud.

    But even in those situations, Game Pass offers a perfectly good reason to still get an Xbox Series X. This “Netflix of games”-style subscription is an undeniable deal at $10 per month, or $15 for its Ultimate variation that includes Games Pass on PC and console, as well as EA Play, Xbox Live Gold, and cloud streaming. With Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, you can buy a $500 console and have a beefy library of games ready to go as soon as you set it up. Even if you’re someone who loves building up a collection of physical media for PlayStation, Game Pass creates a low-risk complementary method for trying a lot of new games and different genres. If you want, you can then buy those games on disc for another platform or cancel Game Pass at any time and come back to it when you’re ready to try more games.

    With this business strategy, Xbox makes sense for so many more people as an ecosystem, and even as a console. If I had to recommend a console to friends or family, Game Pass makes me lean toward Xbox — especially as cross-platform multiplayer becomes the standard. The obvious exception is if that friend or family member expresses interest in the kinds of prestige first-party games you can only get from PlayStation right now.

    If you play on console every day, you should upgrade

    While some people primarily turn on their consoles for marquee exclusives, others use their Xbox One every day. If that’s you, you have to upgrade. Please stop playing games on that busted last-gen hardware. The quality-of-life improvements on the Series X make the upgrade worth it on their own. You’re spending so much time in loading screens and boot screens, and Series X mitigates, minimizes, and even eliminates that. That’s without saying anything about the improved performance of the games themselves.

    Even if you don’t plan on upgrading to Xbox Series X, anyone who plays the PS4 or Xbox One every day should upgrade to one of the new consoles. Even a single extra day stuck on those systems is too long to wait. You deserve better, and Xbox Series X is a better way to play games than either of the last-gen boxes.

    The faster SSD, CPU, and architecture make everything better

    While the games are crucial when assessing a console, I think we can still find value in talking about the device itself. The Xbox Series X is powerful and speedy, which comes down to the next-gen GPU, CPU, and SSD storage. And everything works well, thanks to top-notch cooling and engineering.

    This hardware design has ramifications throughout the performance of the console. Let’s talk about that now.

    Navigating the console is breezy

    For most of its lifespan, the Xbox One was pretty miserable to navigate. I made it work through the use of smart features like pins that enable you to quickly add games and apps to folders. But loading in your full game library or bringing up the store was sluggish for years. Microsoft has done a lot of work to improve this experience on the last-gen device, and the most recent updates make the Xbox One feel snappy. But that’s nothing compared to how the Xbox Series X feels.

    Almost everything in the Xbox Series X’s menus load in an instant. A lot of this comes down to the speedier SSD. That storage medium can thrust much more information into RAM per second than an old hard drive. But it’s also about the CPU finding and processing that information quickly. This is noticeable when bringing up web-based content like the Microsoft Store or the Game Pass hub. These pages often come in over your internet connection, but the Xbox Series X doesn’t break a sweat when it comes to rendering and displaying that data.

    In 2020, you should never have to wait while trying to swipe to another part of an interface. A console should feel at least as responsive as a high-end smartphone, and the Xbox Series X delivers here.

    Loading games is faster

    The benefits of the hardware don’t end at the UI. Games also load in much faster, thanks to the CPU, SSD, and the connecting architecture. This is obvious in backward compatible games, but it is even faster in Optimized and native Xbox Series X games. This isn’t exclusively due to hardware. Microsoft also has its own Direct Storage API that enables the GPU to bypass the CPU when calling specific data from the SSD. But developers will have to build their games for Direct Storage to take advantage of it. That means loading times should get even faster as we move deeper into the generation.

    Quick Resume is brilliant

    Xbox Series X’s Quick Resume feature may bypass the need for lengthy initial loads entirely. Microsoft has made a big deal out of this system and for good reason — it’s something a closed console can do that a PC would struggle with. Quick Resume works by holding a partition on the SSD with enough space to save the states of at least four games. So if you’re playing through Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla on your own, you can leave it to join your friends for a multiplayer session in Fortnite, Call of Duty, and Rocket League. When you return to Valhalla, the game will be waiting for you where you left off.

    Quick Resume works if you turn the Xbox off or even unplug it. And it happens automatically. This also means you cannot choose to keep a particular game in Quick Resume. The system decides when it needs to push a certain save state out of storage. But this also means it mostly just works — especially with the way most people tend to play games.

    Xbox Series X is now a fantastic media box

    One factor Microsoft isn’t touching on in its messaging is that the Xbox Series X is now an excellent way to watch video. A lot of people use their consoles to watch Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video, or whatever else, and I’ve always found that experience suboptimal. Loading Netflix from the hard drive on an Xbox One or PS4 takes way too long.

    On Xbox Series X, video apps feel a lot more like they do on an iPhone. Opening the Netflix app takes seconds, as does loading in its content. If I want to bounce out to the menu, it’s simple to get right back in and continue my show from where I left off. Xbox won’t save your position in a show in Quick Resume because that doesn’t really make sense with an app that is streaming from the cloud. But loading up something like Prime Video is so fast that you won’t ever really have to wait to get back into your show.

    Xbox Series X hardware

    I like the way the Xbox Series X looks. At least, I think it’s beautiful when it’s standing up in its vertical orientation. On its side, it looks absurd and stands out. Even then, I think it’s ugly in an interesting way. The issue here is that most people won’t be able to choose how to set up their Xbox based on visual preference. You will have to fit this box into your existing furniture because I can’t imagine buying a new entertainment center to accommodate a console. And if the Xbox Series X only fits on its side, that’s what you’ll be stuck with.

    But even on its side, I imagine everyone will get used to it over time. And it’s still more understated than even the smallest gaming PCs.

    Acoustic engineering brilliance

    Microsoft designed the Xbox Series X form factor to prioritize cooling, which is better than a fair trade in my opinion. I barely care that it looks goofy on its side. But I care deeply about the fact that I’ve never noticed the sound of the console’s fan spinning up during gameplay.

    The boxy design enabled Microsoft engineers to put a giant fan right near the massive exhaust port. This big fan can move a lot of air without having to spin at excessive speeds. That means no motor whirring at an ungodly RPM trying to prevent the machine from overheating.

    You won’t actually look at the console when you’re playing a game. But you would hear it if it was loud. I’m so thankful that it isn’t.

    You should get an Xbox Series X

    The Xbox Series X is so good that I think you should get one — only maybe not right away. If you pick it up at launch early next year, when big exclusives start coming out, or even after a price cut a few years from now, you’re going to end up with a great way to play games. Even if you have a powerful PC that runs all of Microsoft’s future releases on Game Pass, the Series X will work better with televisions and can serve as a great multimedia box.

    But Microsoft didn’t design the Series X in such a way that you should feel like you’re missing out if you wait. If it’s how you want to play games, the company did an excellent job ensuring you’ll love the box. But if you only come to the Xbox ecosystem for Halo or a handful of other exclusives, the console is unnecessary. Subscribe to Game Pass and then play those games on your phone or on the PC.

    It’s clear Microsoft only wants to instill the fear of missing out when it comes to its services. If you purchase its new hardware, it is focused on ensuring you end up happy to own it. But I think that approach can make it difficult to feel excited about spending $500.

    And yet once you own it, it’s easy to fall in love with the Xbox Series X.

    Xbox Series X launches November 10 for $500. Microsoft sent GamesBeat review units for the purpose of our coverage, including a $220 1TB Seagate Expansion Card. 

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    Yakuza: Like A Dragon Review – A New Hero Takes His Turn

    Yakuza 6 marked the end of protagonist Kazuma Kiryu’s journey, leaving us with a single question: “What now?” For years, players had explored Japan with Kiryu, becoming attached to the character as well as the template that his games inhabited. Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio could have simply dropped a new face in Kamurocho and called it a day, but that’s not what happened. In Yakuza: Like a Dragon, the studio raised eyebrows by scrapping the traditional arcade-brawler combat and replacing it with turn-based RPG-inspired battles. And while there is a new face to the action, he’s accompanied throughout his adventure in Yokohama with a rotating troupe of like-minded heroes. It’s a pivot that could have ended in disaster. Fortunately, Like a Dragon’s bold gamble pays off, leading to one of the best entries to date.

    Ichiban Kasuga had some big slip-on loafers to fill. Kiryu’s stoicism and determination were a natural fit for the criminal underworld he orbited, but his charm and willingness to help people with their problems won audiences over. Kasuga is no Kiryu, and that’s kind of the point. This new hero is impulsive, hotheaded, and a bit of a goofball. At the beginning of his adventure, Kasuga shares his enthusiasm for the Dragon Quest series with an underling. He sees himself as a hero, even if his abilities don’t initially line up with his aspirations. Kasuga’s willingness to help is weaponized against him, leading to him taking the fall (and an 18-year prison sentence) for a murder.

    We don’t know much about Kasuga at first, which ends up being one of the most refreshing things that Like a Dragon offers. Without the weight of half a dozen or so games and their associated histories on his shoulders, Kasuga is a blank slate for this new Yokohama adventure. Kasuga certainly has goals and motivations – figuring out why his father figure in the Tojo Clan betrayed him is chief among them – but the fact that he’s such a small figure in this world creates an exhilarating feeling of freedom. This new hero doesn’t have established relationships in this new town, so the first few hours are filled with simple things like finding work. What could be a boring slog cleverly leans into the RPG systems that underpin the entire experience.

    Like a Dragon isn’t just a superficial take on RPGs; it holds a satisfying amount of depth, including the various jobs that characters can take. You begin as a bat-swinging hero, but you can also swap to several other roles, such as a chef, musician, or break dancer. Each role acquires new abilities as they’re leveled up, like the chef using an area-of-effect flambé technique or the musician strumming a tune that heals the party. The jobs and the overall attacks are pretty silly, which is suitably on brand. Changing these jobs is simple, though it requires a quick stop at the employment agency – a nice reminder that, as goofy as it all can be, it’s grounded in its own sense of reality.

    It’s a new direction for the series, but Like a Dragon captures the essence of what came before while setting out on its own journey.

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    Aquanox Deep Descent Review: A Sinking Success

    Beginning with Armored Core 2 on PlayStation 2, and eventually, the MechWarrior series, games featuring player-controlled mechs have always been some of the most satisfying titles to play for me, with bonus points coming from a game allowing a first-person perspective. Unfortunately, there really hasn’t been a single go-to mech-based game that has blown me away. The genre has no shortage of titles to choose from, but none ever truly live up to what I’d expect in terms of mech-based gameplay.

    Enter: Aquanox Deep Descent, from developer Digital Arrow. While not technically mechs, Aquanox Deep Descent provides a tight and fluid experience while piloting the mech-like underwater ships. The game will likely fly (swim?) under the radar for most, reasonably so in some cases, leaving Aquanox Deep Descent as being worth a deep dive for only the most dedicated fans of the genre.

    Aquanox Deep Descent puts you in the cockpit of an armored ship as you engage in underwater battles and traverse depths of the dystopian ocean world of Aqua. While the campaign’s roughly 13-hour narrative is an interesting one, it is bogged down by some of the game’s core components – namely, it’s combat encounters and overall setting.

    Encounters at the beginning of the game held my attention, but quickly became redundant. Rather than switching up the pace or tactical strategies of a battle, enemies become more difficult simply because their ship’s armor is more powerful. Coupled with the fact that the various areas of the underwater start to blend together after a few levels – though what’s there does look pretty impressive visually – and too many cringe-worthy moments from the voice acting, and the game begins to slog after a while. However, if you’re able to look past that, Aquanox Deep Descent does have plenty of redeeming qualities.

    First and foremost, I find piloting my underwater ship to be surprisingly delightful. I’m by no means an ace pilot in any first-person game, but controlling the underwater ship feels as good as I would expect for a title like this. It’s almost like it’s easy to learn how to control the ship, but difficult to master, which speaks to both the game’s pick-up-and-play accessibility and its challenge level. It’s easy to aimlessly follow your “flightpath” throughout each linear level, but masterfully piloting the ship through various openings and crevasses without bumping into anything (including the toxic nanoplankton fields) is a whole other beast. Once piloting the ship becomes second nature, Aquanox Deep Descent’s levels become a lot more satisfying.

    In between missions, you can upgrade your underwater vessel and outfit it with more powerful weapons. I find the overall UI design of the crafting mechanic to be a bit tricky to navigate, which – at least during my playthrough of the campaign – had me leaving my ship “as-is” for as long as I could just so I could avoid having to even use the crafting menu. Once weapons are equipped, dual-firing at enemies feels good despite the touchy aiming system.

    Once you finish up with the single-player (or co-op) campaign, Aquanox Deep Descent also features a multiplayer “Dogfight” mode in which you’ll take on other players in either a free-for-all battle or team deathmatch. Unfortunately, despite the Aquanox franchise having a dedicated community following as a whole- the game did become a reality thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, after all – actually being able to find and joining in on an online match is few and far between.

    Aquanox Deep Descent isn’t a bad game. There are just plenty of opportunities for improvement. Piloting the ship throughout Aqua’s underwater world feels great. Honestly, I kind of wish the game had featured more of an open-world to explore, especially with the amount of salvaging and looting you perform throughout the campaign anyways. But that’s not the case, leaving little reason for me to dive back in after playing the game once through. Hopefully, a more robust online community will allow the game to thrive with its multiplayer component, but as it stands, Aquanox Deep Descent will likely be most enjoyed by hungry mech-genre fans who are looking for another ship to pilot. Just don’t forget to bring a towel.

    A PC copy of Aquanox Deep Descent was provided to TheGamer for this review. Aquanox Deep Descent is available now for PC via Steam.

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    Sam has been writing for TheGamer since early 2018, earning the role as the Lead Features & Review Editor in 2019. The Denver, Colorado-native’s knack for writing has been a life-long endeavor. His time spent in corporate positions has helped shape the professional element of his creative writing passion and skills. Beyond writing, Sam is a lover of all things food and video games, which – especially on weekends – are generally mutually exclusive, as he streams his gameplay on Twitch (as well as TheGamer’s Facebook page) under the self-proclaimed, though well-deserved moniker of ChipotleSam. (Seriously…just ask him about his Chipotle burrito tattoo). You can find Sam on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook as @RealChipotleSam.

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