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Review: PlayStation 4

Nov 18 // Dale North
PS4Manufacturer: Sony Computer EntertainmentRelease Date: November 15, 2013MSRP: $399 Design The PS4's sleek, angular design surprised us all when it was unveiled at E3 this year. Sony ditched the rounded space hog for a sharp, thin box that somehow manages to catch your eye while not being distracting.  Looking down at a PS4 laying flat, its top is just slightly off from 12 inches square. Sony keeps it elegant with a simple black gloss and matte split, marked with a small system logo. These textures are separated by a thin light bar that can change color to indicate status. On its two-inch tall face, tiny touch sensitive slivers function as power and disc eject buttons. In the recess that runs the entire face and sides hide two USB ports and a slot-loading Blu-ray disc drive. On its rear, Sony continues the theme with only the bare minimum for ports: a power port, an HDMI port, an optical audio port, an Ethernet port, and a port for optional accessories, like the PlayStation Camera.  Coming in at about six pounds, the PS4 feels dense but not heavy. The whole package is self-contained, so no external power supply is needed. It's a slim, sharp-looking, elegantly designed system that seems to completely make up for how awkward the PS3 was. No more George Foreman grill jokes. No more Spider-Man font jokes.   Specifications The PS4's hardware build isn't far off from what you'd find in a respectable PC gaming rig, which was exactly the intent of chief hardware architect Mark Cerny. Sony wanted a system with an architecture that would be easy to make games for, so they ended up bulding around an eight-core x86 AMD Jaguar processor and a Radeon GPU. These number crunchers are supported by 8GB of GDDR5 RAM and a 500GB hard disk.  For communications, aside from the Ethernet port, the PS4's 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth 2.1 chips handle connections.  The PS4 keeps quiet. At normal speed, its fans won't cut into room noise, and when they do spin up to a higher speed, its sound is still subdued. The only time you'll ever hear the PS4 make any marked noise is when it's installing a game from a disc.   Controller You're either a DualShock person or you aren't. While I have no problems calling the DualShock 4 the best controller I've ever used, I don't think that any of Sony's improvements over their last controller will win over anyone who dislikes the symmetrical analog stick placement. But, for those who liked previous DualShock controllers, this one is a huge improvement.  The hand feel of the controller has changed considerably with grips that will feel more comfortable to those with larger hands. A super-fine texture covers the entire rear of the controller for improved grip. Despite being packed with several pieces of new tech, the DualShock 4 is light. It's solid and well-built, and seems like it'll be able to take some wear. The thumbsticks are spaced farther out, which is nice for those that had trouble with their thumbs touching before. They're topped with smaller, concave tops, which makes them easier to grip. The d-pad and face buttons have improved spacing and feel, with the latter losing their analog touch capabilities in the upgrade. Finally, the rear triggers now curve upward to give your index fingers a place to rest. Between this new curve and their improved action, the triggers perform fantastically in shooters and racers.  One of the most visible new additions to the controller is the light bar. This can change colors to indicate game modes or identify players. As far as we can tell, it cannot be shut off.   A new touch pad lets you use gesture-based control in games to do things like scroll through maps or swipe commands. For example, Killzone: Shadow Fall lets you send commands to a drone by swiping in different directions. The pad is smooth to the touch and easy to reach, and can even be clicked as another input type. So far, it has no real use in interface control, which is a shame.  The new speaker port can play programmed audio from games. Resogun uses it in conjunction with game audio to create a neat echo effect. More useful is the DualShock 4's headphone jack, which will accept any standard headphone (skip the one Sony packed in -- it's junk). What's neat is that you can have all of a game's audio sent to this jack, which essentially gives you a cordless sound rig. Very neat. Finally, while battery life is down when compared to the DualShock 3, it's still plenty enough to last you for a full day's gaming. I worked through a few full eight-hour days playing PS4 games for review last week. The DualShock 4 controller would be drained by the end of the day, where a DualShock 3 might go two or three days before needing a recharge.   User Interface Logging into the PS4 is very quick and easy. Simply selecting a listed profile and pressing X brings up the UI instantly. The PS4 boots so fast that it's easy to take for granted. Curiously, the PS4's facial recognition log-in takes a little bit longer than the default method. You'll face the optional PlayStation Camera and then move the controller to line up with a specific zone on the screen to log in with this method. The same simple elegance Sony shot for with the hardware design seems to carry over for the PS4's user interface. Sony likes horizontal bars (see the system design or the PS3 UI, the XMB), so the PS4's Dynamic Menu keeps with that. A primary line is populated with tiles representing all of your games and apps, sitting alongside tiles for What's New, a Library section, a video section, and the built-in browser. Simply scroll from left to right to pick any one to open. Hit down on any selection and see more details on the game as well as social activity and DLC listings. Hitting up from this primary bar takes you to a secondary one that gives you access to settings, social functions, chat, your profile, your messages, your friends, your trophies, the PlayStation Store and more. The trophies sync across all PlayStation platforms now, and Party Chat also works cross-platform. The Dynamic Menu seems to keep your most recent played game at the far left for easy access, but there appear to be no rules when it comes to how other games or apps are placed. What happens when you have 50 games to pick from? How will they be organized? So far, this new menu seems to be a cleaner, more manageable XMB. There are parts of the Dynamic Menu that will have to change in the future as the system grows. For example, the TV & Video section is already overcrowded with apps, and the Friends list has no sorting support. Let's hope Sony addresses these and other issues with updates soon. Again, there's no touch panel navigation for menus, so it's all done with the d-pad and the face buttons. Hitting Option will open a sub-menu for any bar item, giving you finer control. The Share button can also be accessed from the Dynamic Menu's main screen, giving you access to all of your shared/stored image and video content.  Text can be put in through the standard d-pad on-screen keyboard method, but the motion-sensing point-to-type method is a bit faster. To use this method, simply tilt the DualShock to point to the letter you'd like to enter and then press X to select it. Hopefully they'll add a touch panel method in the future. In use, the UI is nimble. While its appearance is minimal, there's this feeling of quiet power that permeates the experience. The system can jump from an app back to the main menu in a blink, with no visible loading issues. Games might take a few seconds to load, but the wait is never long, and getting out of them and back to the UI is immediate.    Online, Social, and Broadcasting There's a socially connected backbone that ties all of the PS4's functions together. After logging into Facebook and Twitter (at least one service is required to use the share functions), screen captures and gameplay clips can be shared with a press of the Share button. The PS4 is always recording, giving players instant access to the last 15 minutes of play. By pressing the Share button, clips can be edited and trimmed, tagged, and uploaded to Facebook (Twitter only accepts images). The process is impressively fast and easy.  The default sharing settings for each service has it so that all game starts and trophy acquisitions are announced and shared. If you value your friends you might want to shut these options off.  And if you'd like to share a broadcast of your live gameplay on Twitch.tv, PS4 makes that just as easy. When you first try the Share button's broadcast option, you'll be asked to log into Twitch's service. You can input a broadcast message for social networks and then begin streaming instantly. Again, it's so easy anyone could do it; there's almost nothing that has to be done to start streaming. The optional PlayStation Camera does a fine job of facilitating game broadcasts. The system creates a picture-in-picture window for your face, fed by the camera. The two newest lines of chat show up at the bottom of the screen, just under the gameplay feed. The camera feed is clean, even in poor lighting. The camera's microphone lets you interact with viewers with clear, pristine voice. It's a very good solution for those that want easy streaming. That all said, those that need streaming options will not be satisfied with the PS4's limited options. You can't resize screens, add graphics, or mix other audio sources into the stream. It's nowhere near as flexible as a PC would be. But, for those that want the easiest way to be up and broadcasting, the PS4 wins. Streaming works great in the box, but if you want to capture HDMI output with an external device, you're out of luck as Sony's HDCP copy protection is always running.    Connectivity We didn't expect that the PS4-to-Vita cross-play would be so easy to set up. It's as simple as asking the PS4 to generate an eight-digit code, and then entering that code into the Vita's PS4 Link app. After a few seconds of processing, the connection is made, and the screen view of the PS4 is shared. It works so well that it's kind of hard to believe! [embed]265875:51433:0[/embed] In this Remote Play mode, the Vita can navigate the Dynamic Menu fully, meaning that you can manage your friends lists, enter codes, upload content, and shop from your Vita. The only thing that didn't work was streaming video from streaming video services, which is a shame.  Of course, the real draw is being able to play any PS4 game remotely. Even fast-paced games, like Need for Speed: Rivals and Resogun, seemed to work perfectly well over the Remote Play Wi-Fi connection. Your mileage may vary with the Vita's lack of an secondary triggers and clickable thumbsticks. These buttons can be remapped to touch zones on the touch screen and rear panel, but it's not quite the same. Remote Play will serve slower, simpler games better than it will any action or shooter title.   Disk Management and Installation The PS4 has a Blu-ray disc drive, but that drive is for installation only. So, just like your PC, your hard drive space limits how many games you can have playable at once. With a 500GB hard disk, you'll eventually find yourself deleting games so that you can install others. Thankfully, the system makes deletion easy: press the Options button on any game and select Delete.  You'll be glad to own a retail copy of a game when it comes time to reinstall. Putting in a disc has the PS4 automatically copying files over, which is sure to be faster than any re-download.  There's no way the launch library of the PS4 would fit on the hard disk. Both Battlefield 4 and Killzone: Shadow Fall weigh in at over 35GB, taking a fair bit of time to install. Though smaller, Assassin's Creed IV is still over 20GB and Need for Speed: Rivals is over 15GB. Digital-only games aren't as offensive: Flower is 736MB and Resogun is only 466MB. What's nice is that games do not require a full installation to begin play. I only needed to wait a couple of minutes before I could begin Need for Speed: Rivals, though the full install comes in at a hefty 16GB.    Video and Audio The PS4 serves as a hub for streaming video content, launching with apps for the most popular providers, including Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix, all housed under a Dynamic Menu item named TV & Video. I was pleased to find anime service Crunchyroll in the mix as well. All of the apps are clean and simple, and all work without issue. As with the PS3, Sony has included its own video store, letting you buy or rent movies and television shows to watch on your system. A menu item houses all of your purchased and rented content for ease of access. If you'd like to watch a Blu-ray movie on your PS4, you can do that too. You just can't play media files as PS4 does not have a media player.  Music Unlimited is the only option for music listening at the moment. Sony's all-you-can-listen streaming service is free for a month with the included trial, but requires payment for continued use after that. It's the only way to listen to music on the PS4, as there is no support for MP3 files from drives or media servers.  Hopefully Sony will add some kind of player and external media support soon.   Optional Accessories The PlayStation Camera is not included, and that's likely because there aren't enough good reasons to own one yet. Sony's included Playroom software is fun to toy around with, and the system's optional facial recognition is handy for easy log-in, but that's about all you'll do with it, save for one exception. That exception is broadcasting gameplay through PS4's share feature. Let's be clear: if you plan to broadcast from the PS4, you should definitely pick up a PlayStation Camera.  An optional system stand lets you prop the PS4 up on its side, letting you show off its sharp angles. Note that the system can be propped up on its side without this stand, but it'll knock over easier.   Conclusion If there's one thing that's apparent from using the PS4 for a couple of weeks, it's that Sony has been listening. This system shows that they've heard our gripes over the PS3's XMB, and that they've heard our many George Foreman grill jokes. It shows that they know that game broadcasting is a rapidly growing segment of gaming. It shows that they understand how important being socially connected is.  The $400 offering they've released in response is a sleek beauty with plenty of power under the hood to usher in the next generation of videogames. While only a few of the launch games look to bring us beyond the current generation of console graphical power, it's clear that there's enough power and potential to eventually get us to where we want to be. For those considering a purchase, know that you're buying into a system with a very limited game library. You're essentially buying potential, as the launch library has limited appeal. There is already decent third-party support, and publishers are working on more games, but they're a ways off. Depending on your tastes, the PS4 library might be missing that must-have title.  That all said, if technolust is taking over, go for it. Go get a PS4. Sony came out strong this generation, and the future looks bright for them. 
PS4 Review photo
Investing in your future
Remember daydreaming about a system that would let you buy and download games online, and then let you share your experiences socially? There was a day when the concept seemed so far off, but now that system is finally here.&...

Review: SteelSeries Siberia Elite Gaming Headset

Oct 18 // Chris Carter
Product: SteelSeries Siberia Elite Gaming HeadsetManufacturer: SteelSeriesInput: 3.5mm jacks with USB adapter includedMSRP: $199.99 First things first, the Siberia Elite is extremely comfortable. The cup material doesn't feel sticky (meaning it won't get sweaty over time), and it does an amazing job of isolating pretty much every bit of noise -- even my wife, who I didn't notice calling me on multiple occasions. For good measure, I tested them out for multiple-hour sessions on many devices, and I was never tempted to take them off due to discomfort. The self-adjusting suspension headband feels fairly comfortable (especially at the top), but it's a tad flimsy -- like it could potentially snap in half if dropped on a hard floor. One of my favorite things about the headset is the volume control dial that's available on the right earmuff. When I first threw on the Elite I noticed that the volume was severely low, even with my device's volume set at the maximum level -- come to find out the dial was at the lowest setting, and it was capable of a much louder range. I really enjoyed the ear dial after extended use, as it's better than fumbling with a corded volume control or a dongle. Elites come in a black or white variety, but I prefer the latter due to the unique look -- especially when the LED functionality is enabled. [embed]263498:50985:0[/embed] While testing out these levels, I noticed that the quality of sound didn't drop, even near the "hearing loss" standard of volume. The lows aren't nearly as powerful as they would be on other headsets, but everything else sounds perfect. When coupled with the bundled equalizer, most everything sounded like it should, boasting up to 7.1 channel surround sound. The right cup also comes equipped with an additional headphone jack, should someone else want to share a movie on a plane or listen to your playlist. Thankfully, the included cords are fairly long (short cards are a pet peeve of mine with other headsets), clocking in at 1.2 meters, which is approximately four feet. The extension cord is two meters, which is around 6.5 feet, and more than enough room for most setups. Along with the extensions, a USB Sound Card is also included, which allows the headset to gain a few extra features when plugged into a PC. The Sound Card itself is a proprietary design, with standard green and red audio/mic inputs, and a USB connection. Functionally, it allows you to connect your headphones to SteelSeries' software suite (SteelSeries Engine 3), enabling sound manipulation, noise-cancellation for the mic, and the ability to change the LED lights on the muffs for fun. The software itself is fairly non-obtrusive, and easy to use, with giant buttons and clear descriptions for all of its features, like Dolby toggling, the equalizer, mic compression/volume, and LED customization (including the rotation of certain colors, and pulsing). Of course, the headset has to measure up in extended gaming tests, and I was pretty pleased with the results. Whether it was with my Vita, 3DS, iOS device, or my PC, everything sounded clear as every nuance like footsteps was captured, and the microphone worked as advertised -- especially when I used the noise-cancellation option through the software. As an added bonus, the mic lights up to indicate when you're muted or not, and it's retractable, so you won't look ridiculous wearing these in public with a giant mic sticking out. Additionally, the left earmuff has a mic mute control that operates in the same way as the right-ear volume dial. SteelSeries products tend to be really expensive (like the Siberia Elite), but I had very little complaints from just about every aspect of the headset. The Elite is sleek and well-designed, it's flashy, and best of all -- it actually works and sounds great.
SteelSeries Siberia Elite photo
My new go-to headset
Over the past year or so, I've acquired a decent amount of headphones. Some of them have fallen by the wayside, some of them relegated to certain devices, and a few have become decent "catch-alls" for most of my needs. Seeing...

Review: Nvidia Shield

Sep 25 // Jim Sterling
Nvidia Shield Manufacturer: NvidiaReleased: August 29, 2013MSRP: $299.00 The first thing you'll notice about the Shield is how it refuses to compromise on the things handheld gaming systems most commonly acquiesce. This is a big lump of plastic -- it can just about fit in the pocket, but you'll look like you've got the world's worst thigh tumor. It's chunky, and possessed of not inconsiderable weight, but that's because it's a screen sat atop a full-fledged, console-level controller. There's very little difference between it and an Xbox 360 controller, with its full-size, clickable dual analog sticks, face buttons, bumpers and triggers on the shoulder, and D-pad. The center of the controller also features a large button to access Tegra Zone, a back button, a start button, an Android home button, and a button to bring up volume controls. The obvious downside to having a full-on controller as a handheld is that you're, well, carrying a full-on controller around with you. The upside, however, is you've also got the most game-capable handheld system ever made, able to do things other systems simply can't.  [embed]262335:50645:0[/embed] Where it's taken the PlayStation Vita over a year to get one first-person shooter to get it right, and even then it has to compromise, the Shield launches with a rock-solid alternative right out of the gate, one that doesn't have to skimp on functionality in the least. While Dead Trigger isn't exactly the most impressive shooter ever made, it's nonetheless thoroughly enjoyable to be able to play a handheld FPS that actually feels like a real FPS, rather than a developer's noble approximation. Games like Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Sonic the Hedgehog, and The Bard's Tale are all simply better here than they are on other Android devices, making the Shield a viable choice for those who want to try some of the souped-up Android releases, but aren't into the idea of touchscreens.  This is also where the Shield humiliates its closest comparative system, the Ouya. Like Ouya, the Shield is a dedicated gaming system that gives you physical controls for Android-powered games. Unlike the Ouya, the Shield's native controller is responsive, the system itself is incredibly powerful, games feel like they belong on it, and the system is overall just more pleasant to use. The Shield also has full access to the Google Play store, with a real Android OS that can run any app. Of course, games not designed specifically for Shield controls are awkward to run on a touchscreen with a great hunk of plastic hanging off it, but the fact it has the option to access so much more than the Ouya makes it a superior alternative.  Comfortable in the hands and capable of running games at their highest settings, Shield is a lot of fun to play around with -- and this is not taking into account its ability to run a range of emulators for old games that you totally already have the physical copies of.  So far, my only real complaint with the physical design of the thing is the D-pad. The Shield really did elect to imitate the Xbox 360 controller in every way possible, including a rather dreadful and imprecise directional disc-thing. For the most part, it's not too much of a problem to deal with, but it can make twitchy platform games more of a hassle than they should be, and it certainly doesn't make playing something like A Link to the Past any easier.  Android games specifically designed for the Shield are thinner on the ground, and while more Tegra-powered games are appearing on the Shield Store, it's going to need a lot more support. There are already some solid titles worth getting, with the aforementioned Dead Trigger, Vice City, and Bard's Tale all good choices, but there's a very real risk at this stage that the game's library could suddenly dry up. I hope it doesn't happen, but it's not uncommon for a handheld system to become a software wasteland in a short span of time.  As well as the physical controls, the Shield's screen supports multitouch, and you can even use the right stick as a mouse, bringing up a cursor for menu and web browsing. The left stick acts as a traditional console controller would, meaning you have three methods of input and can interact with the system as you would a console, PC, or smartphone.  The screen itself is a five-inch display that flips up and rocks a 1280x720 resolution. On top of such a large controller, it feels comparatively flimsy, but it's all solidly built stuff. Games, naturally, look pretty damn good on the screen, and it does a more than adequate job of showcasing the Tegra-4 titles it was built to support. Audio is where I was really impressed, however. The two front-facing speakers are situated neatly above the face buttons and D-pad, and are capable of blasting out some damn loud sound. Handheld systems typically fail when it comes to providing sufficient audio, but these speakers are frankly incredible.  Another plus point is the battery life. Up to 20 hours of life can be gotten out of the system when streaming content from a PC, with a fair few hours of regular use available too. I want to say you'll get at least five hours from the thing if you're running games from the device itself, and altogether I found this machine working far longer than any comparable device.  As well as utilizing a full Android OS, the Shield also run's Nvidia's own little playground, TegraZone. Here, you get quick access to your Shield game library, as well the Shield Store, which collects those Google Play games customized specifically for Shield controls. Not all of these games are as elegant as they could be -- some confusingly utilizing touch-only menus or requiring a full recustomization of the buttons (looking at you, Shadowgun Deadzone) -- and some of them are straight-up garbage. Still, the titles worth getting are really worth getting.  TegraZone's biggest feature, however, is its "PC Games" section, allowing users to stream games from their PC directly to the system using Steam. The feature is still in beta, something Nvidia warns users about with good reason. While a fantastic idea, it is currently unreliable, as well as a complete pain to set up. To even get a game to work, it requires diddling around on your PC first. You'll need to make sure everything is updated, download TegraZone to your computer, run your desired games at least once, ensure you've a fast enough wi-fi router, and potentially fiddle with your Firewall and DPI settings. Even when you have everything in order, sometimes messages can pop up on your PC that interrupt streaming, or the connection could terminate for unknown and seemingly arbitrary reasons.  The beta status also limits the amount of games that currently work, and even among the ones that do, only a few work very well. Sleeping Dogs, for example, puts a mouse cursor in the center of the screen while it streams, and an attempt to move it using the Shield's touchscreen will disable all controller input. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is just laggy, and suddenly stopped working completely after only two successful attempts to get it running. Also, the less said about Half-Life 2, the better.  However, all complaints aside, when the planets align and the thing actually works as intended, it's seriously impressive stuff. BioShock Infinite runs pleasantly, with only vaguely perceptible controller lag, while Borderlands 2 is almost perfect. If it weren't for the mouse cursor issue, Sleeping Dogs would also be triumphant, looking lovely on the Shield's screen and running at an impressively silky pace. When everything comes together smoothly, there's definitely a magical quality to the process.  A lot of critics have been down on the Nvidia Shield, but I honestly don't know why people have been so harsh. Games look great and run superbly, the controller is big but beautifully functional, and its wide range of features makes it superior to dedicated systems like the PS Vita in several ways. It delivers on several of the Ouya's promises better than the Ouya ever did, and while the PC streaming is still highly problematic, it at least works, and one would hope its post-beta performance is far better. Of course, it has to be said that it's an expensive little toy, with an asking price of $299, and that's really going to be the dealbreaker for a lot of people. For an Android system with an unsure future and no guarantee of continued software support, three hundred bucks is going to be too rich a gamble for most. As a piece of hardware, I feel the Shield fully justifies its asking price, but these days it's so much less about the hardware, and more what you can do with it. That said, having full access to Google Play, and its range of emulators (most of which work with the physical control options) severely opens up what the Shield can do beyond its "official" uses.  The Shield's biggest feature needs to get itself out of beta soon, and it will need a lot more Tegra-powered games under its belt before it can be a real competitor. However, the device is quickly becoming one of my favorite handheld gaming systems to date, and as a generally big fan of portable gaming, that says a lot. It was never going to appeal to everybody, but to the right buyer, the Shield may be the perfect handheld.  You've just got to be the really, really niche type of buyer it's gunning for. 
Nvidia Shield review photo
Come back with your shield, or come back on it
[Disclosure: Nvidia has provided Destructoid with a number of computers for PC game review purposes in the past. If you feel that may make our reviews of any of their products "biased" or "paid off," you are welcome to.] The ...

Review: Wikipad 7-Inch Gaming Tablet

Sep 18 // Chris Carter
Product: Wikipad 7-Inch Gaming TabletManufacturer: Wikipad, Inc.Input: Micro-USB, Micro-HDMI outMSRP: $249.99 Once upon a time the Wikipad was supposed to have glasses-free 3D and a large screen. But eventually, Wikipad Inc ended up with this particular model, which has a seven inch screen (1280x800) and no 3D to speak of. If you want more specs, the Wikipad ships with Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean), an NVIDIA Tegra 3 processor, and 1 GB DDR3 RAM. These specs aren't top-end in the slightest, but they can handle the vast majority of what the Google Play store can throw at it. Just keep in mind that it can strain a bit on a few higher-end games, which may be an issue. You likely won't run into much trouble at all in the short term as I rarely ran across a performance problem, but just know it's not future proof. The screen itself isn't the absolute cream of the crop, but good enough to deliver a sharp high quality image. There's 16GB built into the unit itself (which is really nice right out of the gate), with the option for expandable memory via Micro-SD (up to 32GB extra), which is a really great touch since you'll most likely want to load it up with high capacity games. Other connections include a standard headphone jack, and the ability for TV-out via Micro-HDMI -- so you can pretty easily hook the Wikipad up to a big screen. Like most tablets, there's a power button on the side in addition to two volume controls, and the touch screen itself works great. But one of the main selling points of the Wikipad is the included gamepad cradle, which attaches directly to the seven inch tablet. To be blunt, the cradle is hideous, but hey, it works. It's literally plug and play, which is crazy because all it takes is a quick snap into the tablet's Micro-USB port. It's very firm and fits like a glove, so there's no fear of dropping it or the device slipping out. You can even charge the tablet while it's cradled, which is nice. The analog stick placement is a tad weird as they're not quite as off-centered as the 360 controller's sticks, but they're not awkwardly side by side like the Dualshock -- so it's somewhere in the middle. Before you work them in the buttons feel a little cheap, but I didn't have issues like sticky triggers or unresponsive inputs. Like most standard controllers these days there's two trigger buttons, two buttons on the top (LB/L1, RB/R1), four face buttons, start, select, an eight way d-pad, and two clickable analog sticks. Keep in mind though that the Wikipad isn't wholly unique, as there are a number of gamepads that can be paired with Android tablets, not to mention straight controller integrated devices like the Nvidia Shield (which has a better performance rate than the Wikipad with a 1.9GHz Tegra 4 chipset). So there are options out there if you want a gaming tablet. The OS itself is technically dated (it launched last year), but it actually works quite well. Pretty much all of your typical Android functionality is alive and well, and I didn't have any major issues engaging in typical tablet based business. Thankfully there's no strings attached with the Wikipad, as it grants full access to the Google Play storefront -- not a gimped, fragmented version like other Android based devices. As an added bonus, the Wikipad is a PlayStation Certified device, which means it has access to the PlayStation Mobile storefront (note that this doesn't mean PSOne Classics, just PlayStation Mobile) with full support for the Wikipad's control scheme. As such, I was able to load up my PSN ID and queue up a few downloads right off the bat like Super Crate Box. It also ships with a Tegra Zone app that finds compatible games for your Wikipad. So on to the important part -- the games. Not every app supports the Wikipad's controller out of the box specifically, but if it supports gamepads, you can certainly remap it with ease. The Wikipad comes pre-loaded with a few games, most notably Shadowgun: Deadzone (an online shooter), and Dead Trigger by Madfinger Games. All of the native games work wonderfully, and I almost felt like I was cheating in Shadowgun while playing online due to the precise analog movement. Games that would logically make sense like GTA: Vice City: 10 Year Anniversary also work, but you have to double-check for gamepad support (or cruise the Tegra app) before you plunk down your cash. The Wikipad is basically a different incarnation of an older Nexus 7 with a giant controller attachment packed in. I enjoyed my time with it and found the controller to be surprisingly comfortable, and the ability to access Google Play, the Amazon App Store, and PlayStation Mobile is great. But considering the device won't age well, I'm not sure if it's worth the full asking price, and the Wikipad may have entered the market a tad too late.
Wikipad hardware review photo
Terrible name, neat device
I'm constantly reminded that we're in a rather strange era of gaming. While past generations have decidedly kept console and portable gaming completely separate, the two experiences are converging more and more with the rise ...

Review: Elgato Game Capture HD

Sep 13 // Chris Carter
Product: Elgato Game Capture HDManufacturer: ElgatoInput: USB, HDMI, ComponentMSRP: $179.95  After opening the box for the Elgato Game Capture HD, I was really surprised at how minimal the presentation was. The unit itself is tiny (2.9 x 1.0 x 4.3 in, with a weight of 5 oz), and extremely portable. The entire package includes the unit, a quick reference guide, a USB cable, an HDMI cable, a PS3 cable, and a component adapter. Now, I don't want to sound like an advertisement, but I was literally up and running within five minutes. All you have to do is plug an HDMI cable (or AV for PS3 -- more on that later) from the source into the "in" part of the unit, plug another HDMI cable from the TV into "out," and hook up the unit to a PC via USB. That's it. There's no giant bulky power source, since USB handles power and data. Once you've downloaded and run the software, the unit automatically configures itself and starts previewing your captured video for up to 1080p recordings, in addition to support for 720p, 576p, 576i, 480p, 480i, 288p, and 240p. But it also does a whole lot more than show your game in a preview pane, as the last 10 minutes of your session are automatically captured and cached from the moment you start running it. This is especially useful for competitive gamers who need to capture that perfect kill or amazing escape, but weren't actively recording at the time. [embed]261417:50447:0[/embed] Once you've captured your raw footage, you can either keep it uncompressed, or have the program automatically compress the video into a codec of your choice. All of the sample videos at the bottom of this review were compressed with the default settings, so you can see the results for yourself. The speed is extremely fast, and from the moment I hit "stop" it only took me a few minutes to put a short clip onto YouTube, including compression and upload times. The actual software suite is very easy to read, with huge buttons and a blue/black user interface that's easy on the eyes. All of the video's parameters (recording and compression) can be set through the options menu, and all of the pertinent info is readily available on the main menu. To record, you just hit a big red button, and to stop, you hit it again. Cutting and editing video can also be done in-house through the edit tab, but it's fairly rudimentary and will only suit less experienced content creators. Live commentary is supported, and like setting the unit up in general, took no time at all to get sorted. You can have the game's audio automatically lowered when talking as well, which is a great touch for those who are new at creating Let's Plays and don't want to mix audio. If you're not keen on letting the software decide for you, you can easily turn off all these options and just edit it in post-production. Streaming is possible with the device, and the software makes it pretty simple to utilize. You can stream to Twitch with live commentary, as well as use XSplit, which is fully supported. There are also easy buttons to share on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter (as well as via email, iOS, Apple TV, and Windows Movie Maker). The 360 is the probably the easiest device to connect, and recording is practically a plug-and-play affair. Because the PS3's HDMI port is encrypted, you'll have to go another route with the included AV cable, but don't worry -- it still captures in HD at 1080i if the game supports it. The Elgato also works on other devices like the Wii U, which instantly connect just like the Xbox 360, and older devices are supported by way of the packed-in component cable. If you're thinking about getting into the video side of the gaming world and hate all of the technical aspects that come along with it, the Elgato Game Capture HD is a really solid option. Between the ease of use of the software and the simplicity of the device, pretty much anyone can record a bit of gameplay and have it up for the world to see. Sample recordings: PS3 Wii U Xbox 360
HD capture card review photo
The easiest capture method I've ever used
Creating and cutting videos can be extremely time consuming. For those who have been doing it for years, it's like second nature -- all of your advanced equipment ready to go, and all you have to do is press a button to have ...

Review: Razer Ouroboros wired/wireless gaming mouse

Sep 12 // Dale North
Razer Ouroboros Wired/Wireless Ambidextrous Gaming Mouse (PC/MAC)Manufacturer: RazerMSRP: $149.99 The Ouroboros is a USB mouse equipped with a 8200dpi 4G laser sensor. Razer says it gives a 1ms response time with its 32-bit ARM processor innards. Everything about it seems responsive in use, from its tracking to its hair-trigger buttons. Right out of the box it's an impressive device, from its spaceship-like looks to its fit and finish. Hell, even the packaging is nice. But when you start pulling it apart to customize it, the Ouroboros becomes even more impressive. Two different sets of side panels can be switched out easily, as they're attached by strong mini magnets. You can also pull the base of the mouse out to have it fit any length of hand. My favorite is the palm rest, which has a dial that lets you fine tune its height for maximum comfort.  Through Razer's Synapse 2.0 software, the Ouroboros is also customizable on the software size. You can dial in everything from tracking to surface calibration for maximum accuracy. Being able to customize the use of any of the buttons is also nice. Get it exactly as you want it with the mouse's 11 buttons and save it to a profile for easy recall.  What's neat about this mouse is that it's both wired and wireless. Simply plug in the included braided USB cable and you're good to go, with the USB port charging the internal battery. Take that cable and plug it into the included base dual-purpose charge base and hit the sync button and you're wireless.  Despite all its fancy innards and functions, the Ouroboros is very light. It glides wonderfully on a good mousing surface. Both aspects make this mouse perfect for extended play. I put a few hours into leveling my character in Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn without any hand fatigue.  Wired or wireless, it performed beautifully in just about everything I tried, from shooters to MMOs to rounds of online golf. I was perfectly happy with my SteelSeries Sensei mouse, but trying the Ouroboros out showed me that there is better out there.  But better will cost you a hefty $149.99. That hit to the wallet may sting a bit less in knowing that the Ouroboros is probably the most high tech, customizable gaming mouse out there.
Ouroboros review photo
Ambidextrous!
I've been playing PC games with Razer's Ouroboros wired/wireless ambidextrous gaming mouse for a bit now, trying out everything from MMOs to FPS to casual games. This is one really nice mouse, but it had better be for its asking price of $149.99. 

The Ouya is a nice idea ... at least

Jun 25 // Jim Sterling
The most adorable console ever At a squat little 3x3", and designed as a cube with a curve toward the bottom, the Ouya is certainly a cute little thing. In terms of visual design, I like the box very much. Streamlining and ease of use is a core philosophy of the design, with a setup process so intuitive it'll take all but the least tech savvy of troglodytes to get it working. Simply pop the provided HDMI cable in the right slots, do the same for the power, and you're away. I do wish the included cables were longer, but for most homes, that shouldn't be a problem.  The back of the system -- and it's so small it's hard to even consider it a "back" -- has only ports for the power and HDMI cables, standard USB, micro USB, and an ethernet lead. The one single button is place directly on top of the unit -- a large round one for the power. It's really all you need.  Losing control Things fall apart at a basic fundamental level, however -- the controller. Reports of lag and a cheap, sticky feel to the controls were a major part of reviews of early "beta" units, and while the Ouya team has gone to lengths to improve these problems, they're still pretty damn noticeable. First of all, having to remove two separate faceplates to inset batteries on either end of the device makes no good sense to me, and the way the plates ostensibly slough off do little to discredit the "cheap" impression the lightweight plastic gives.  It only gets worse when you actually use the thing. In navigating menus, I found lag to be unnoticeable, and it was fine for playing regular action or role-playing games. As I got further into games like Deep Dungeons of Doom, however, where timing and precision become more important, the Ouya controller simply is not up to the task. Even worse, the face buttons tend to get stuck inside the removable faceplate fairly easily, requiring an extra flick to get them to snap out of their holes.  It's reported the controller lag gets worse the further away from the system you get. I was actually playing with the Ouya maybe three feet away from the controller, and still found it insufficient for playing games with any degree of precision.  The controller is also worthless when it comes to turning the system off. Every single time I attempted to remotely power down the Ouya via the controller, it switched itself back on. It got the point where I yanked the power cable out of the wall to make sure the bloody thing stayed off.  The real shame is that, as a controller, it's not badly designed otherwise. It feels comfortable in the hand, the analog sticks and buttons are well spaced out, and the touchpad is a nice idea, even if it is too small to be useful and suffers even worse lag than the buttons. Many recommend you pair the Ouya with a PS3 or Xbox 360 controller, and I find it hard to disagree -- though the lack of a touchpad may screw you over for some games that inexplicably demand its use in menu navigation. Inside the Ouya The UI is about as straightforward as you can get. Once you go through the process of downloading any firmware updates (which can take a long time) and entering your credit card information (which I don't appreciate being asked to do as a first action), you're tossed into a bright orange menu screen with four distinct items -- Play, Discover, Make, and Manage. They all do exactly what you expect, one being the game library, one being the store, one being for developer content, and one housing all the system settings.  Libraries and the store front are simply rows of pictures of games, not enticingly set out, but at the very least functional. The store front can be browsed by genre, though most space is given up to eShop-like gatherings of games by contrived type, such as "couch play for friends" or the confusingly titled "sandbox" group of games that have nothing to do with sandbox play. An elegant layout it isn't, but it's no worse than any other console storefront, and it's generally pretty quick to load as well.  Ouya mandates that every game provide a working demo, and while that's a noble goal, in practice it leads to a convoluted purchasing system. You cannot buy games from the Ouya marketplace, you can only download demos, and then purchase the full version within each game. Downloading The Bard's Tale involved downloading the free demo, buying the game from within its main menu, and then waiting almost an entire day for the "additional data" to download -- a process that hogged the wi-fi in the house, and kept needing to be jumpstarted due to "connection errors."  Downloading a large game like The Bard's Tale, by the way, exposes how little space the Ouya actually has for games. It wasn't long after nabbing the game that I started being informed the system was too full for anything else. An external hard drive is one storage solution, but in doing so, we must admit the Ouya is a console that needs a third party controller, and a third party storage solution, in order to be viable. Not exactly a great selling point.  Games, Games, and ... Amazing Frog  Ouya boasts over 170 games and counting, and while it's tantalizing to think of playing some awesome mobile games on an HDTV, it only takes a short while to remember exactly why iOS is given more attention as a gaming platform than Android. Most Android games are absolute crap, and some real garbage is already all over the Ouya. Even among the storefront's most promoted exclusives, there are maybe one or two games worth checking out for even a second. Others, like No Brakes Valet or The Little Crane That Could, are embarrassing.  Ouya's proprietary market does not have access to the full range of Android games available on Google Play, yet somehow it managed to get its hands on some astoundingly bad dreck. Amazing Frog. Have you tried Amazing Frog? I sincerely urge you, if you're getting an Ouya, to try Amazing Frog. Go try it now, and come back here. What the FUCK was that, right? It's not all bad, of course. In fact, Ouya's scored some nice games that I love playing on a television. Canabalt, Pix n' Rush, and Knightmare Tower are all great fun, and there's some benefit to playing them on a television with a sound system pumping out their genuinely excellent soundtracks. Even so, however, these games are all designed primarily for touchscreens, and as such there's always a sense of subtle disconnect between your physical button presses and the onscreen action, even outside of any perceptible lag.  It must also be said that some of the more graphically intensive games run like shit. The Bard's Tale and Chronoblade, two games that should benefit most from the Ouya, suffer choppy framerates and moments of complete performance breakdown. One hopes further patches can sort this all out, because right now, the games the Ouya needs most to showcase what it can do simply aren't making it look good at all.  And yet ... I still kind of like it This article has been about as unflattering as one could possibly get, but I want to make it clear I don't hate the Ouya -- not yet, anyway. It's true, I struggle to find almost anything truly good to say about the thing, and even my praise is littered with important caveats, but I can at least say it works, and for a crowd funded open platform designed with home developers in mind, working is something of an achievement.  As disappointed as I am with the Ouya right now, I still maintain a flicker of excitement for what it could still be, especially once (if) the market becomes populated with homebrew and garage developers. Of course, it could also become a Wild West of utter trash, the Xbox Live Indie Marketplace in console form, but it could also house some genuinely interesting and inventive things.  The Ouya needs a lot of work still, and one wonders exactly how much of that work can be done in firmware updates alone. As of right now, I'd urge all but the most curious to wait and see before dropping even the relatively minor asking price, but I'd still suggest everybody keep an interested eye on it. I honestly want it to improve, and grow into an excellent, successful platform. It's just not there right now, and it has some ways to go. 
Ouya reviewed photo
Impressions on the little console that almost could
The Ouya is on sale today, and I've spent a few days with the final retail unit. For $99, you can get your hands on a cute little cube that runs a selection of Android games, a handful of apps, and is designed for amateur dev...

Review: On-Lap 2501M Portable LCD Gaming Monitor

Apr 22 // Dale North
Product: GeChic On-Lap 2501M portable LCD monitorManufacturer: GeChicInput: HDMI, VGA, MHLMSRP: $249.99 The GeChic On-Lap 2501M portable LCD monitor is exactly that. It's a 15.6" LCD that weighs just over 2.5 lbs, with an internal battery that lets you charge it up and take it with you. As far as connectivity goes, you'll find HDMI, VGA, and MHL video ports on its slim side, as well as power and headphone jacks. It even comes with a screen cover that doubles as a stand. It's a really unique solution that traveling gamers should check out. The various slimline ports on the right edge of the unit let you plug in just about anything you can game on, including consoles (via HDMI), computers (HDMI or VGA), or tablets and phones (MHL port). To truly test out how the monitor would make for a portable gaming solution, I threw it and the new slim PS3 into a bag and went elsewhere. The combo fit in a standard backpack with no issues, and the combined weight of the two was so light it felt like I was missing something I'd need. At my destination only one power plug was needed for the PS3. The included cable connected the HDMI port of the PS3 to a micro HDMI input on the monitor's side. It couldn't be easier. The On-Lap display does 720p no problem, as it runs at 1366 x 768. The screen itself is matte, making it easy on the reflections, though it's a TFT panel, so viewing angles won't serve more than two players sitting dead on. The colors or contrast ration (400:1) won't blow anyone away, but the images I saw in testing were sufficient and pleasantly clean. I also liked that glare was never an issue. What it lacks in color depth it makes up for in response time. Testing it with puzzle and fighting games I found that the monitor holds its own against the best in my arsenal, the Asus VH236H, one of the fastest and most recommended gaming monitors available. GeChic claims 8ms typical and 16ms max. I have no tools to test display lag other than my gamer instincts, but I will say that I don't think it hits those numbers. It's definitely not as fast as my Asus, but it's better than any television I own. Trying out some highly sensitive games, like PS1 rhythm game classic UmJammer Lammy, I was impressed with how much better I was faring on the monitor than I could on the HDTV in my office. I managed to reach rockin' "cool" status in no time flat. The internal battery must be huge because it lasts for a very long time. I originally planned to time it, but eventually lost track of time. You know a device has good battery life when you forget you were timing its battery! I'd say expecting a full day of play is reasonable. Another plus is that, switched off, this monitor holds a charge for a very long time. And if the extra long battery does run out, the small and light 5V power brick allows for direct powering. It's also chargeable via USB, meaning you could plug it directly into your Xbox 360 or PS3 for charging. The 2501M does have internal speakers that put out sound from two rear grilles, but they're small, so there's no low end response. They're plenty loud, though, and will do the trick in a pinch. You'd do better to bring along some earbuds and use the device's headphone port.  This monitor is useful beyond console gaming applications, too. You could flip it out on your desk and use it as a small second monitor with its VGA port. If you own Android devices, the 2501M will accept connection over the included MHL video cable for gaming or video viewing. There's even an included smartphone holder that lets you clip your device to the screen. Before I started testing the On-Lap 2501M I found myself questioning the need for such a device. I honestly don't see your computing road warrior or typical tablet/mobile user needing one. But now that I've put one through its paces, I can easily see the monitor fitting into a traveling console gamer's life. Its light and highly portable form factor, great battery life, and wealth of connectivity make for a unique display solution, and in the right context it could be worth the $249 asking price. If you've ever felt the need to take a display with you for gaming, definitely check this one out.
Portable gaming monitor photo
Grab and go
Are you an on-the-go console gamer? If so, taking your gaming rig with you usually requires a television to be waiting at your destination, which is not ideal. While bringing a smaller television or monitor with you...

Review: Logitech G700s Rechargeable Gaming Mouse

Apr 20 // Chris Carter
Product: Logitech G700s Rechargeable Gaming MouseManufacturer: LogitechInput: USBMSRP: $99.99 My initial negative vibe with the G700s went away after a few short hours, as my hand had actually gotten used to the grip, and I found it extremely comfortable from then on out. The off-putting "lightning bolt" design can't be helped of course, but in terms of pure comfort, I was extremely surprised at the quality of the texture grip around my fingers, and the physical feedback from the material. Specifically, even the buttons feel great; there's a very light feedback on the thumb buttons that doesn't get too "clicky," but lets you know that you triggered it. The G700s comes with a tiny nano-receiver that plugs into a USB port for the wireless connection, and a Micro-USB cable in case you need an extension for charging the AA rechargeable batteries. It is a normal cable and not braided, which was my only real complaint, since I've gotten used to the latter. Still, I haven't had any real issues with the cable itself -- it's fairly sturdy. If you want to use a replacement cord, any micro-to-USB connection will work, making the mouse fairly flexible for use anywhere. During my testing, I had no issues with the wireless connection or the cable, and the nano-receiver is a dedicated line, creating a 1ms latency that makes this mouse reliably accurate with no movement hiccups to speak of. [embed]251274:48234:0[/embed] I was utterly confused at first as to why the scroll wheel was so sensitive, but then I found out the mouse featured dual mode scrolling -- meaning, you hit a button near the wheel, and it switches the wheel's sensitivity. The wheel itself is metal, and you can toggle notched mode with a quick press. By default the other buttons on the G700s allow you to raise and lower your DPI, switch profiles, change your resolution, and so on, but you can customize the twelve buttons (thirteen if you count the scroll wheel tilt) to anything else. To my surprise, it was extremely responsive for a wireless mouse -- as in, one of the best I've ever handled. I mainly tested with FPS and RTS play, and the accuracy I experienced previously from image editing and everyday use translated over to gaming quite nicely. Logitech Gaming Software (LGS) is supported for the G700s. You can utilize the software to build five profiles, which allow you to customize DPI settings, power modes, and multi-key macros. The mouse also houses a tiny three light LED display on the left side (in plain sight and not blocked by fingers), which shows battery level in green. It seems as if the mouse was designed more for performance than battery life, as the G700s will last around 8-10 hours with pure constant gaming use before you have to plug it in. That shouldn't be an issue for most competitive gamers though, who will have their mouse plugged in anyways for 100% reliability. For everything else non-gaming related, I was able to use it for days on end without a need for a single recharge. I was previously using the Razer Mamba for my review rig, but over the course of a week of testing, I've slowly acclimated over to the G700s. It took a bit to get used to and doesn't look the prettiest, but it's extremely comfortable to the touch, especially now that I've slowly adjusted the settings to suit my needs. If you already have a G700, there may not be enough here to warrant an upgrade, but if you're in the market for a gaming mouse, Logitech is pretty much always a solid go-to -- the G700s included.
Logitech G700s review photo
Don't let the odd design fool you
There's so many options for mice out there, it's tough to narrow down what you actually need. With options for everyday use, gaming, image editing, and everything in-between, sometimes things can get confusing. Enter the Logi...

Review: MOGA Pro Controller

Apr 18 // Dale North
Product: MOGA Mobile Gaming SystemManufacturer: PowerADevice compatibility: Android 2.3+MSRP: $50 The MOGA controller was a great idea, but fans of traditional controllers might have felt a bit limited by its portability-focused design. In short, it was a very small controller.  For this pro version, PowerA went from pocketable game pad to a full-on Xbox-style controller design. Aside from increased comfort and familiarity, this size increase let them add more shoulder buttons and proper analog sticks with click button functionality. They did a nice job in making a bigger controller; it feels nice when you pick one up with its solid build and rubberized hand grips. The MOGA Pro seems to share design elements with PowerA's console release, the FUS1ON Tournament Controller. While the primary idea behind the system is to get some real buttons and sticks under your fingers for portable Android gaming, PowerA has added some functionality to make the Pro more of a versatile gaming solution at home as well. Being fully wireless and rechargeable, the MOGA makes for a fine couch controller for a tablet connected to a television, making your HDMI-connected device work and feel more like a gaming console.  Another major bonus comes with a new switch to flip to HID Bluetooth compatibility mode, making this controller even more versatile. The compatible library is already fairly sizable, but now you're not stuck playing only MOGA approved games. I played a little bit of everything using the MOGA Pro on a Samsung Galaxy Tab to test the controller out. I booted several games from the MOGA Pivot app, which doubles as a game launcher and storefront for MOGA compatible games. All worked without a hitch, with controller mappings already in place -- no setup required.  The controls performed admirably in games like Pac-Man and R-Type, though I couldn't figure out how to use the d-pad over the analog sticks in the latter. First-person shooters like Dead Trigger and N.O.V.A. 3 worked surprisingly well with the system, though some might feel that the sticks travel a bit farther than Xbox 360 ones, which took a bit of getting used to. Overall, experiences with the MOGA and the Tab were smooth, precise, free of lag, and free of problems.  A flip-out arm in the middle of the controller holds just about any Android phone. It even extends just far enough to get a tight grip around massive phones like the Samsung Note. And if you're gaming on a tablet, PowerA has included a nifty tablet stand to hold your rig up.  If you're happy flicking at your screen, fine. There are plenty of games that are built solely for touchscreen play, and for those this controller will do nothing for you. But if you have a few games in your library that need proper controls, the MOGA Pro is probably your best bet. And if you don't, for a limited time, MOGA Pro comes with a free download of Gameloft's N.O.V.A. 3 - Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance. The MOGA Pro is certainly a worthy successor to its pocketable predecessor -- it's bigger, more comfortable, and more familiar. The price of entry gets you console-style controls for portable gaming, but also a nice controller for the home for Android gaming on your television. The HID compatibility is a good bonus for now, but I suspect will turn into a major selling point in the near future. For whatever your use, the MOGA Pro is recommended.
MOGA Pro photo
Mobile gaming controller system for Android
Remember the MOGA controller for Android that we reviewed late last year? PowerA took the idea behind the system and has now gone pro with it with what they're calling the MOGA Pro Mobile Gaming System. We've put this brand new controller through its paces this week to bring you this launch day review.

Review: Pro Controller U

Apr 07 // Patrick Hancock
[embed]247806:48005:0[/embed] The Pro Controller U may look like it's just a haphazard combination of the Wii U Pro Controller and an SNES controller, but it is actually comfortable to hold. It is a perfect weight, not feeling too heavy or too light. It feels slightly lighter than a PlayStation 3 controller and the wireless Xbox 360 controller, if that helps to put it in perspective. Whether or not you like your analog sticks to be both on top, both on bottom, or asymmetrical is a completely personal preference, but be aware that this controller has both analog sticks on top. Personally, I find the analog placement to be quite comfortable, with no problems whatsoever. The triggers and bumpers, to borrow Xbox jargon, also feel very nice, and are laid out just as they are on the Wii U Pro Controller. Even the SNES buttons are replicas of the originals, with X and Y being concave while both A and B are convex. The controller feels really nice to use, and that's about where the niceties end. First of all, allow me to reiterate a previous statement: This does not function as a Wii U Pro Controller. Despite using the words "Pro Controller U," this is not a Wii U Pro Controller in any capacity. I tried using it in ZombiU's multiplayer mode with no success. There's even an eensy teensy tiny line in the included pamphlet titled "TIPS FOR PRO GAMERS ONLY" that says, verbatim: "The Pro Controller U does not function as a Nintendo Pro Controller. This is correct.", as if they knew people would be disappointed and needed to console them with that last reaffirming yet disappointing remark. I expected a "We're sorry" after that, but alas none is present. Even if it just acted as a wireless Classic Controller and functional Wii Remote that pairs with Android devices, it would still be a really useful product. However, the controller I received malfunctions when trying to play games. After spending about two hours playing Xenoblade Chronicles with the Pro Controller U, I noticed that the main character, Shulk, would take a few stutter steps even after I stopped moving the analog stick. "Not a big deal," I thought to myself. Then about 30 minutes later, Shulk was stuck moving forward indefinitely. The left analog stick was sitting comfortably in the default position, yet there Shulk was, running head first into a wall forever. This digital input issue seems to mainly happen when changing the controller from Wii Remote mode to Classic Controller mode using the switch on the back of the device. For whatever reason, switching back and forth almost guarantees that the digital input will get stuck, rendering the controller unusable for most games. To be fair, you should never really need to change the controller between the two modes while in the middle of the game, and if you do, it can sometimes be reset by rebooting the system. The controller can also function as a Wii Remote with the flick of the switch on the back of the controller. This works exactly as you would expect, allowing a game that only uses a Wii Remote control scheme to be played on a more traditional controller. The problem here is that the buttons cannot be reconfigured and the SNES-like buttons are spaced far enough apart to make them awkward to use in conjunction as you would while performing a running jump in a platforming game for example. In addition, the D-pad will register a downwards input if your thumb is on the lower half of the left and right sides. This becomes a huge issue when playing platformers -- your thumb is bound to naturally press the area that activates a downwards input while attempting to move left or right, causing the character to lose all momentum in games like New Super Mario Bros. U. Pairing the controller with a bluetooth device is easy, as it just needs a third-party Wii Remote app to work. I used the "WiimoteController" app on my Galaxy Nexus and it paired easily and quickly. Not that any of it really mattered, since the D-pad and analog issues still persisted. I did get a pretty decent score in Canabalt, though, since that game only uses one button. The Pro Controller U is not only a terribly sleazy and misleadingly-titled controller, but it's also a barely functional one. Given the analog issues combined with the D-pad issues, it doesn't matter if it connects to every single gaming device known to man, since it would be unusable for almost every game. It's a shame, too, since if it were a functional controller for the Wii, Wii U, and Android devices, it would be a stellar device.
Pro Controller U review photo
Not for U
[Update: For clarification, this product is not made by ThinkGeek and simply retails on the site. The headline of this post has been changed to reflect this. Sorry for any confusion!] The Pro Controller U really appears ...

Review: V-Moda Crossfade M-100

Mar 03 // Daniel Starkey
Now, obviously that claim doesn’t go without qualification, and what I really mean to say is that this set is practical compared to what else is on the market at that price level, but these things are pretty incredible for their cost.  At $300, you’re mostly getting into reference-class headphones. That tier consists headphones that are very, very well made with a bunch of cool things like gold contacts, large, well-calibrated diaphragms for accurate sound reproduction, and all that other fancy goodness. V-Moda has all of those nifty features here too, but they've also brought a pragmatic mindset.  For example, most of those sets can often have a resistance of 300 or 600 ohms. The M-100, though, only have a resistance of 32 ohms. For the average consumer, all this really means is that you can use these guys on a portable media player or a laptop without having to go out and buy a separate (and often very expensive) headphone amplifier to boost the signal. That portable philosophy is really what is so impressive about these. They can be used almost anywhere, with almost any set of equipment. The Crossfade M-100 isn’t quite like anything else. Portable, light, and relatively small with interchangeable cords and a built-in microphone by default, it's very unusual but totally amazing. All of these features are the result of its crowd-sourced design. Headfi, a forum for headphone aficionados like myself was tapped by V-Moda to figure out what people really wanted in their next set. The result is something of a cyberpunk version of Frankenstein’s monster.  The cable for the M-100 is, thankfully, replaceable. This means that damage to the plug and the cord, which are typically the first parts to fail, doesn’t necessitate that you replace the whole set. Beyond that, the cords themselves are reinforced with Kevlar. The stuff they use to make bulletproof vests. And you get two of them. Taking it a step further, either ear cup -- the left or the right -- can be used to plug in the cable. So if one of those fails, you still have another option. V-Moda also includes a few caps to keep the unused plug from getting dirt or grime inside. Of the two cords that come with the headphones, one has a TRRS connector (which really just means that it has a built in microphone and pause button), perfect for a standard cellphone. The other is something that the company calls a “SharePlay” cable which really just means a super-awesome version of a splitter so that your friends can listen too. The entire frame is made of steel, which is a welcome change from most other headphones which tend to take the cheap route with plastic. This means that the headphones don’t creak at all with pressure. There was no give when I applied force, and I even dropped them on the ground a few times without noticing any scratches or damage. The steel does add a little weight overall, but this set is still quite a bit smaller than other $300 sets, so the difference isn’t too noticeable. Ear pads are another place where most companies tend to go pretty cheap, but again we see a dedication to quality throughout -- in this case, the cups are made of memory foam and well-designed for almost any sized ear. I can also say as someone with pierced ears, that the memory foam works splendidly -- it didn't place any additional, unnecessary pressure on my ring-ed lobes. I found that I could wear the set for 5-8 hours straight with no discernible discomfort whatsoever. Your mileage will vary of course, but I can’t imagine anyone wanting to tear off their ears in horrific, unbearable pain. Speaking of which the M-100s also comes with a really, really tough carrying case that can definitely take a good hit. I took a few solid swings at it with a hammer and did no permanent damage to either the case or the headphones inside. It also has little harnesses for all of the cords and small accessories included. With any luck this set will last you a good long while. Now, the set that I reviewed also came with a dedicated add-on mic for gaming and eSports and Skype and stuff. This too comes reinforced with Kevlar, because why the fuck not, guys?! Other than that, though, it’s a pretty standard, flexible boom microphone. It’s not quite as cool as the one on the A50s that are muted automatically when you flip it away from your face, but it definitely holds to the same ridiculous level of quality seen everywhere else in this set. Its only notable downside is that the connectors provided pretty much make it impossible to use with a console. With only a TRRS connector and an adapter for PC users, you would be hard-pressed to jury-rig the thing to get it to work on the Xbox 360 or PS3. Thanks to that adapter it is theoretically possible, but it would be a huge pain in the ass. I do have a few tiny nitpicks that don't neatly fit into any category I’ve discuss thus far. On either ear cup, for example, a small cord runs up into the headband. While aesthetically that cord looks totally badass, I’ve managed to get it caught on a couple of things. It is Kevlar reinforced like the other cables, but these things aren’t user-replaceable, so I freaked out a bit. Obviously, this is a very expensive set and causing damage is no bueno. I can’t tell you just how much I love these things from a purely “Holy shit, why doesn’t everyone make life easy for like this” way. But they do sound damned awesome. Allegedly they have a dual-diaphragm design with 50mm drivers in each cup. What does this mean for the non-aurally fixated? Well, balancing high tones and low tones in a set of headphones or in any set of speakers that don’t have separate tweeters and woofers, is really hard. The kinds of stuff you need to produce good bass and good highs are very different. Most reference-class headphones go for the mid-tones instead. As a result, those of us that like heavy bass for ... I dunno rap, or techno, or gunshots in Half-Life 2 miss out on what we tend to prefer. Now, a lot of people don’t like the heavier bass of DJ-class headphones, but that sound profile can mostly be fixed with a decent equalizer. Having that deep, rich bass capability as well as the range to really make the highs sing is a rarity though. In all of my tests, I noticed no tinny sounds, nor any bottoming out on the low end. Everything performed perfectly. To cause failure I had to connect them to amp and run a dangerous amount of power through them. The M-100s will keep up with whatever crazy stuff you like to listen to at any volume that could ever be called “safe” or “reasonable.” If you want to go deaf, then they might start sounding like crap, but you won’t know anyway. Because you'll be deaf. Okay, I think I’m done raving. Wait ... steel construction. Gold connectors. Kevlar cords. Interchangeable parts. Great case. Incredible sound. Excellent comfort. Super-portable. Versatile. Now I’m done. I’m amazed by what crowd-sourcing people’s preferences in headphones can do, and now I’ve started thinking that every other headphone company just hates its customers or is too self-absorbed to consider what features customers actually want in a high-end set. Granted, they are by no means cheap. I get that, but if you can swing that amount of cash and don’t need to use them on an Xbox 360 or PS3, then you cannot go wrong with the M-100s.
Crossfade M-100 review photo
The first crowd-sourced headphones
I realize that the percentage of our readers that are legitimately in the market for a $300 set of headphones is fairly small, and honestly if you don’t think dropping that much cheddar is ever worth it, then I probably...

Review: Razer Taipan gaming mouse

Feb 22 // Patrick Hancock
Product: Razer Taipan Gaming MouseManufacturer: RazerInput: USB MSRP: $79.99  Regardless of any amount of gizmos or doodads, comfort is a big key factor for a gaming mouse. The Taipan is incredibly comfortable for me, as someone who uses the aptly named "palm grip" on his mouse. Both the left and right sides have rubberized grips running up towards the front which feels nice and also helps with gripping the mouse for extended periods of playtime. The Taipan is also suited for lefties since its design isn't biased on either direction. The grips and mouse buttons on the left side are also on the right side, so no features will be missed for lefties using the Taipan due to this symmetry. I've had long gaming sessions playing games like Dota 2 and Path of Exile that rely heavily on mouse movements and constant clicking, and never did I start to feel uncomfortable while playing. Careful attention was paid to make this mouse ergonomic and it shows. [embed]246380:47133:0[/embed] The Taipan mouse is wired with a braided cable. The braided cable looks and feels neat, but in practice it may be a bit of a nuisance. I've been using this mouse for about two months and the wire still isn't exactly straight like a rubber wire would be, and still has slight kinks from how it was wound and packaged. The braided wire has also begun to fray as it rubs against the edge of my desk. Not exactly the best sign for the longevity of the device. Beyond the standard left, right, and middle mouse buttons, there are two buttons on both the left and right sides and two buttons below the mouse wheel, for a total of nine buttons. The box calls them "hyperesponse buttons" but they feel like regular ol' buttons to me. By default, the side buttons will go forward and backwards in browsers while the two below the mouse wheel will adjust the sensitivity of the mouse on the fly. There are up to five sensitivity stages that can be set, all of which are completely customizable with a maximum of 8200 dpi. Being able to customize the stages as well as adjust the dpi as needed is a strong addition, though on a few occasions I did find myself accidentally hitting the top sensitivity button nearest the mouse wheel. As a righty, I have also hit the buttons on the right side of the mouse when simply moving the mouse to the left and eventually ended up disabling them altogether in the software. There is also a "Dual Sensor System" in place, using both a laser and an optical sensor in order to provide good tracking capabilities on any flat surface. It works as well as expected on the flat surfaces I could find; just don't use a shag rug as a mouse pad and you'll be satisfied. The software used is the Razer Synapse 2.0 and it works quite well. Of course, it allows you to remap any of the buttons on the mouse, and will even make sure that a “left click” is always assigned to prevent getting stuck without one and bricking the device. Macros can be recorded and set, liftoff range can be adjusted, and the colored lights in the mouse wheel and top of the mouse can be turned on or off (though they are not color customizable). Profiles can be saved and then accessed on any other machine without setting them up again using the almighty cloud service. This is meant for players going to tournaments and such, but it's a nice feature to have for more casual gamers, too. The Razer Taipan is a great middle ground for those who like to play competitively, regardless of whether or no they're playing in actual tournaments. It's simple enough as to not be overwhelming, while at the same time having plenty of features that the more hardcore players want to see, such as quickly adjustable dpi settings and macros. Priced at $79.99, it's hard to recommend it over the very popular DeathAdder, but the Taipan is still a great mouse to handle most competitive gamers' needs. The braided cord can definitely be a cause for concern, but the mouse feels great, the software works with no issues, and it's as customizable as anyone could want.
Razer Taipan mouse review photo
Taking the middle ground
Until recently, I had always used the same mouse forever: the classic, three-button optical mouse with nothing special about it. It was, and still is, passable, but my competitive gaming needs are a bit higher these days. Usi...

Review: Razer Orbweaver Gaming Keypad

Feb 07 // Chris Carter
Product: Razer Orbweaver Gaming KeypadManufacturer: RazerInput: USBMSRP: $129.99 Despite the overall complexity of the device on paper, once you actually open it up, the design is fairly simple. The Razer Orbweaver is a keypad with a wired USB connection, and 20 mechanical keys (including an eight directional, non-analog thumb-stick). It weighs about 10 ounces, and the keys require a minimal amount of pressure to activate (50g of force, technically). The non-braided cables are lower quality than what Razer has done in the past, but they don't feel super cheap, either. Out of the box, WASD is configured to buttons 8, 12, 13, and 14 respectively (the arrows are shown on the pad), which is a nice touch. The backlit keys help for late night gaming sessions, and although you can't customize the color outside of green, you can choose to turn the lights off, constant, or pulsing. The keys have a feature called "anti-ghosting" which allows for every key stroke to be recognized by the system, regardless of whether or not you hold down or press multiple keys at once. In terms of form factor, the Orbweaver is actually pretty comfortable, despite how awkward it may look. The palm rest is rubberized and didn't become grating after hours of gaming. It's also fairly compact with its one USB cord, which makes it really easy to carry with you if you're gaming on the go with a laptop. Both the thumb and the palm rest are adjustable to conform to your hand, should you need it. The improvements to the Nostromo are fairly small, seeing as it only has four more buttons, and a more ergonomic design. So if you already own a Nostromo, you probably don't need to upgrade. You also have the option of Logitech's G13, if the Orbweaver's price is too steep (although the G13 is not mechanical). As previously mentioned, it does work out of the box by mapping WASD and some standard gaming keys (like left shift and E) across the numpad, but you're going to want to take advantage of the full macro capabilities of the device through Razer's software. So while you don't necessarily need it, Razer’s Synapse 2.0 utility suite needs to be downloaded in order to enhance your experience with the device. The guide is also available online should you need assistance figuring out how to use the thing. Synapse 2.0 allows you to configure a near unlimited amount of profiles through the use of cloud technology, which means that you'll be able to pick up your scheme on multiple machines -- which again, is useful given the portable nature of the device.For those of you who may be turned off at the thought of more software, even if you opt to use both the keyboard and the Orbweaver without bothering with Synapse 2.0, it is doable. The vast majority of games have an alternate key setting that will allow you to utilize the secondary controls without screwing up your keyboard mapping. When you're setting up multiple profiles, a colored indicator on the side shows your current map profile selection, and you can dynamically change your profile to create more. The ideal situation is to configure a game in windowed mode in tandem with Synapse 2.0, then link the program to the Razer dashboard so it keeps that profile forever. For the purposes of this review, I tested the following games: League of Legends, The Binding of Isaac, Diablo III, Call of Duty: World at War, Frozen Synapse, Torchlight II, Dungeonland, Guild Wars 2, From Dust, Wizardry Online, and Star Wars: The Old Republic. For MMOs and RTS titles that can utilize a near limitless amount of macros, I found the Orbweaver to be pretty invaluable. I was able to pretty much craft anything I could ask for control-wise within the confines of Synapse 2.0, which came in handy once I learned how to use it. The more complicated the game, the better the Orbweaver will serve you. One particular use I found is for pet classes in World of Warcraft. Being able to utilize multiple summoned minion abilities in swift succession completely trumped relying on a keyboard -- and I have to say, after playing with mechanical keys, their responsiveness makes it hard to go back. The D-pad is also a huge plus for many games, eliminating the need for WASD use in some cases. There's also nothing stopping you from using your keyboard in tandem with the Orbweaver, the latter of which can function as a separate macro-enabled numpad, to so speak. But for certain types of games, it may be too much. For instance, League of Legends (or other MOBA games for that matter) don't need a complex control scheme when you only need to micro-manage one unit (barring summoning classes), and a few skills. FPS games as a general rule also don't need complex control schemes, and the standard WASD setup with a few outliers will probably cut it without the need for the Orbweaver. Of course, there are exceptions, as some games in either genre happen to utilize more than a few keys. Despite the tough learning curve, after a few days of constant testing, I started to acclimate myself to using it for even menial tasks in my daily PC life outside of games -- specifically, image-editing. I found that using Synapse 2.0 made it fairly easy to program macros for Photoshop, and allow for quicker editing through the use of the directional thumb-pad. All in all, I don't see myself using the Orbweaver for absolutely every game I own, but I keep it hooked up to my PC all the same, next to my keyboard. I've found that for basic image editing required for my writing career, and my frequent MMO habits, it suits my needs fairly frequently. I've created a number of profiles for a few MMOs I play, and one for a few image touch-ups that I'll be using for the foreseeable future. If you don't play a lot of PC games I don't see a need for splurging here given the high price point, but for everyone else, it's a decent investment.
Razer Orbweaver photo
Fits like a glove
Do you really need multiple methods of control outside of a mouse and keyboard? Well, in today's PC climate with the vast amount of games available at a moment's notice for pennies, it's never be a bad thing. Between bluetoot...

The best and worst games of 2013: January May Cry

Feb 01 // Jordan Devore
A New Beginning: Final Cut The German-language version -- which was the original -- is meant to be better, but alas I know about ten words in German so I really cannot confirm or deny this. It does strike me that the worst aspects of the game are due to the terrible effort made by the translation team and English-speaking voice actors, though.  If you are truly desperate for good puzzles and sumptuous art, then you could do worse than play A New Beginning, but I found it impossible to look past the many issues and really enjoy the few things it manages to do right. There are too many superior adventure games to count, and it's not even one of the better games with an environmental message.  Read the full A New Beginning: Final Cut review The Sims 3: Seasons Each of these features adds a nice layer of depth to the game, but they really don't add a lot of new gameplay. There isn't any new career to follow, there aren't any exciting new public lots, and while playing, I pretty much just goofed around waiting for the seasons to change. If you find yourself playing The Sims 3 a lot anyway, then Seasons will add something to the experience. If you are waiting for a new expansion to make you get back into playing The Sims 3, however, skip Seasons and wait for the next one. Read the full The Sims 3: Seasons review Forge All in all, Forge is quite enjoyable. At the same time, I did find myself struggling to want to continue playing. I'm not sure if maybe it's that the game is more of a shooter than I expected, or how it lacks that progression and stat growth, or if it is just because it's incomplete. When I do play, I enjoy Forge, but I wish that I was playing an MMORPG with the same gameplay setup instead. In the end, unless you're someone heavy into shooters who is looking for something different yet familiar, or are into MMOs for the PvP mainly, then it would be worth waiting for the game that will be "forged" a few months down the road. Read the full Forge review Gunman Clive (3DS) Gunman Clive can be pretty tough. In your average oppressive 2D action game, a motivating, beat-driven soundtrack can really help you push through the process of replaying a level for the tenth time. When Gunman Clive's soundtrack goes for old west authenticity instead of platformer euphoria, it can make the more challenging parts of the game feel less like a battle and more like a grind.  That said, the game is still a steal at $2. Fans of 2D action platformers need to check it out. If Hörberg Productions is ever graced with the opportunity to develop a mainline Mega Man game, I'm confident that fans of the series would be happy with the results. Read the full Gunman Clive review Anarchy Reigns Despite some issues, brawler fans should find everything they're looking for with Anarchy Reigns. It's ridiculous, it's fun, and it's packed with enough content to last you a long while, so long as you don't get tired of beating dudes up over and over. The budget pricing of $29.99 makes this decision even easier. Read the full Anarchy Reigns review Joe Danger Touch Like Rayman Jungle Run, Joe Danger Touch really "gets it" when it comes to iOS gaming. You don't need to 100% replicate console experiences, and "simplified" doesn't have to always mean "dumbed down." All in all, Hello Games did a great job bringing the Joe Danger franchise to your pocket, and I highly recommend it to anyone -- former fan or not. Read the full Joe Danger Touch review Seduce Me However, taken simply as it is, as a game where solving puzzles leads to porn, it's near the forefront of its field, particularly among non-Japanese games. It does make an effort to provide more than naughty pictures, including cursory character development and some semblance of a narrative. It's pretty and technically sound. While slightly anemic in content, it's titillating when it needs to be, and is at times even fun to play - I wouldn't mind playing the card games with real-life friends (minus the sex). And frankly, for a porn game, that's sometimes all one needs. Read the full Seduce Me review Fire Pro Wrestling Fire Pro Wrestling on Xbox Live Arcade is the most basic of wrestling games. Flat, featureless, and simplistic, it is devoid of any redeeming qualities found elsewhere such as replay value or fun. What could have been a cool, cartoon-y version of a classic franchise is but a wasted shell of its former self. Read the full Fire Pro Wrestling review Final Fantasy All the Bravest Final Fantasy All the Bravest is not really a game. It's a cash delivery system, with you playing as the courier, your money the cargo, and Square Enix the unpaying recipient. After years of trying to monetize videogames, Square Enix has now moved on to monetizing customers themselves. It's cut out the irritating middle man that is the videogame, and found a way to simply get people to hand over money in exchange for nothing. That is what All the Bravest is. It's nothing. It's air. It's a thought. You're buying a concept in order to keep buying concepts. Read the full Final Fantasy All the Bravest review DmC: Devil May Cry There is an argument to be made that, when judged alongside the rest of the series, DmC is a bad Devil May Cry game. The suggestion may be debatable, but there's a potential case to be made. It's more streamlined, it's not as challenging, and ultimately it has stripped away what a significant portion of the fanbase love most of the series. However, even if one sides with the argument that this is a bad Devil May Cry game, that does not preclude it from being deemed a terrific videogame on its own merits, and in my estimation, that's exactly what DmC: Devil May Cry is. Read the full DmC review Kinect Party Kinect Party is a fantastic game in the right scenario. If you often have guests over your house, especially family or children, then this is definitely something to check out. It’s hard for anyone to dislike a game in which you build a castle and promptly turn into a dragon to destroy it. However, I find that this isn’t the best thing to suit lone gamers like myself. I do love pretending to be trapped inside a jello mold with my dog every once in a while, but that can get old. That’s not to say that it isn’t a good game -- it certainly is for what it aims to achieve -- but Kinect Party is best played with others! Read the full Kinect Party review AirMech (beta) If you're even remotely interested in MOBAs or RTSs, then you'll be doing yourself a great favor by downloading AirMech and firing it up. It succeeds in building on the solid foundation laid by Herzog Zwei over 20 years ago, while simultaneously feeling modern and fresh. Now, I need to get back to the game so I can eventually buy a UFO that transforms into a giant mechanical spider. Abductions here I come!   Read the full AirMech review  Krunch It isn't perfect, as certain level design elements are a bit jarring and the lack of a quick-restart level option can make five seconds feel like forever. That being said, Krunch is a title that is sure to please anyone who stayed up late completing the Skyscraper Warp Zone in Super Meat Boy or ripped their hair out completing the Veni Vidi Vici room in VVVVVV. Fellow masochists, rejoice! Read the full Krunch review Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch If you're a lover of games that require you to put in before you get out, and you recall the glory days of the Eastern RPG, where experience points were the lifeblood and the grind was king, you have literally no decent excuse for not finding a way to play Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. A classic of the modern age, built entirely from classics of the past, it's advised you get comfortable, cancel all your plans, and prepare to enjoy a game that will dominate your life for the next few months.  Read the full Ni no Kuni review The Cave All told, The Cave is a morbid, humorous romp filled with life lessons which should be apparent already to all but the total sociopath. While there are some niggling issues with overall polish, it's a fun time for fans of adventure games that should set you to giggling and, hopefully, feeling just a little bit guilty about that glee. Read the full The Cave review Borderlands 2: Sir Hammerlock's Big Game Hunt Enjoying Sir Hammerlock’s Big Game Hunt is about managing expectations, about knowing what you want out of Borderlands 2’s constantly expanding menu -- its strong suits are the subtle twists on combat and enemy behavior, exploration, farming, and a hidden raid boss that costs almost 100 Eridium to spawn. Its narrative and mission structures are too loose and shambolic, though, and implemented with the same lack of care that led the designers to include a tribe of mind-controlled “savages” throwing spears at each other as the campaign’s principle enemy. Sir Hammerlock’s Big Game Hunt is, like each of the game’s expansions, more Borderlands 2 at its core, but it’s a shallow version of it, without any of the main game’s self-awareness or charm. Read the full Sir Hammerlock's Big Game Hunt review Strike Suit Zero When the final, sadly unsatisfying mission came to a close I was ready to put down SSZ. Replayability is offered in the form of scores, medals, and some unlockable ship bonuses you may not have been able to grab when first attempting the missions, but I'd had my fill. I would be happy to get in a thousand more dogfights, but I'm done with protecting and escorting my UNE chums. It's rare that a game knows when to call it quits, but that's the situation here. It's not so long that it outstays its welcome, but not so short that it fails to show off all its promise. The ending, or at least the one that I got (there are two different ones), implies the possibility of a sequel, and I couldn't be happier with that prospect. With better targeting, and less mentally sub-normal allies, I could very well find myself in Heaven. Until then, Strike Suit Zero will undoubtedly help you scratch that space combat sim itch you must have by now. Read the full Strike Suit Zero review Corpse Party: Book of Shadows Fans of Corpse Party would do well to pick up the second installment. The first game left a lot of unanswered questions and Book of Shadows does an admirable job at answering them. I've enjoyed spending time with these characters, even if it is the worst day of their lives. As for the uninitiated, well, they might want to consider expanding their horizons. But seriously, play the first before tackling this one. It's not like PlayStation Portable or Vita owners have been spoiled for choice when it comes to quality software as of late. Visual novels may be niche, but just about anyone can enjoy a good horror story. If you can get past the insipid gameplay, Corpse Party: Book of Shadows provides a pleasurable and haunting narrative that's well worth experiencing. Read the full Book of Shadows review Westerado The soundtrack goes perfectly with the detailed, sun-soaked pixel art visuals that tap into one's nostalgia, while also creating a surprisingly authentic western look. Westerado's a very animated game, never staying still for a moment. The protagonist's poncho constantly waves away, chickens never stop pecking at invisible seeds, and dried out weeds endlessly dance in the ceaseless wind. Even if you are put off by the plethora of bugs, it's free and accessible at the click of a button. You'd be doing yourself a disservice by not checking it out at least once. No doubt you'll find yourself checking it out again and again, as I have been. Drape that knackered old poncho over your shoulders, roll up that cigarette, and strap on a rusty six-shooter -- it's time to hunt down a real bastard. Read the full Westerado review Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes (iOS) Although outsourcing to Tag Games was probably a smart business move, I can't help but think how picture-perfect Clash of Heroes would have turned out if Capybara had done it themselves. With a lot of polish in terms of the controls through a future update, this could be one of the finest games on the App Store. Otherwise, just stick to the other incredible versions if possible. Read the full Clash of Heroes review DJMAX Technika Tune DJMAX Technika Tune offers a smooth, enjoyably frustrating experience rooted in precisely-tuned gameplay fundamentals. It's presented attractively, with a level of engagement that relies on mechanics rather than sentiment and effectively transcends one's taste in music, which in the case of the arguably exotic track listing would present the highest initial barrier to entry. It may not be especially generous with the extras and fluff, but gets it all right where it counts the most, with the added bonus of making the PS Vita's touch gimmicks useful and relevant to play. Read the full DJMAX Technika Tune review Boob Wars: Big Breasts vs. Flat Chests Even playing devil's advocate and writing this from the perspective of somebody who might be into these games, Boob Wars isn't good. By the standards of those who want to masturbate themselves silly over violent cartoon sex, we're looking at something sub-par, lifeless, and cynical. To offend a regular bypasser is one thing, but this feels offensive to even the target audience. Then again, I could be wrong. Maybe this truly is the game fans have been waiting for. I don't claim to speak for them, and nor would I, but all I can say is, if you want to get off with cartoons, there's much better out there. I can give you the links later. You really don't need to waste your time with this brainless, gormless, depressing little exercise in grisly misery.  All that said ... the soundtrack's pretty good. Read the full Boob Wars review Kentucky Route Zero Kentucky Route Zero evokes the feeling of old ghost stories told around a campfire. There's the familiarity of friends and family around a warm, man-made fire, but with it comes the unnerving tale of the strange and unusual. Kentucky Route Zero is beautifully bizarre and perfectly poignant, and most of all, deserves your attention. Read the full Kentucky Route Zero review Fire Emblem: Awakening While Fire Emblem: Awakening may not turn the notch up to 11, it's everything that's right about strategy RPGs. Whatever options you choose to go with at the beginning of the game, it's either one of the most accessible strategy games to date, or one of the most difficult. It's a brilliant design that will pay dividends for Nintendo in the long run, as it will convert plenty of new fans. If you've been itching to get into a Fire Emblem game, this is a great place to start. If you've been playing them all along, you'll feel right at home. Read the full Fire Emblem: Awakening review Skulls of the Shogun While Skulls of the Shogun does a great job of offering a decent amount of units, there's no inherent "wow" factor when it comes to gameplay. Although the traditional grid is tossed in favor of a circular movement shadow, it still feels about the same as the genre always has, minus the game's visual and vocal charm. I wasn't enamored by Skulls of the Shogun, but I enjoyed my time with it. If you can find local friends that enjoy a good asynchronous strategy game (think local Advance Wars), you might get a bit more mileage out of this one. Read the full Skulls of the Shogun review Ikachan (3DS eShop) I appreciate that Nicalis is trying to share more of Pixel's catalog -- such as this, the foundation for his later works -- but asking us to part with $5 for what amounts to a concept project is a little too tough to swallow. Ikachan is a marvelous introduction to a much larger, more ambitious game. But that's all it is: an introduction. If you are willing to accept that, you'll happily enjoy the short time you spend in its watery world. Read the full Ikachan review Puddle Fans of LocoRoco or those hurting for games to play on their Wii U will probably dig it, so long as they have the patience to rev it up a little bit. It's still a neat little puzzler for sure, but it needs a bit more tweaking for me to wholly recommend it. If you've always been on the edge in terms of buying this game, this release should tip you, as it's the definitive version. Read the full Puddle review Antichamber Antichamber is a perfect example of how a player learns to play videogames. There’s no gameplay tutorial, no loading screen tips (or loading screens, for that matter), just good ole' fashioned learn-as-you-play information aided by the in-game advice. There’s never a reference of mouse or keyboard, outside of the main lobby area. Antichamber is a unique and delightful first-person puzzle game that relies a bit too much on the wrong kind of puzzles. The plot is intentionally vague and some players may completely ignore it, but it hardly detracts from the overall experience. Antichamber looks great, is confusing in all the right ways, and may change the way people approach not only videogame puzzles, but real life obstacles as well. Read the full Antichamber review Euro Truck Simulator 2 A far cry from some of the more technical and unforgiving sims on the market, Euro Truck is as welcoming as it is authentic, forgiving while still prepared to reprimand those who fail. It's one of the best jumping points anybody curious about sims could have, and for everybody else, it's still just a damn fine experience in its own right.  It may sound like a joke that so many people are piling glowing praise on a trucking sim, but Euro Truck Simulator 2 is the real deal.  Read the full Euro Truck Simulator 2 review Everything else Destructoid reviewed: Razer Sabertooth The customizability of this controller and the fantastic performance of its buttons and sticks would definitely appeal to professional and competitive gamers, but I fear that the $79.99 MSRP will prevent some from jumping in. That would be a shame as the d-pad and face buttons alone were enough to win me over. I'd love to see a version of this controller that drops the customization and OLED screen for a lower price point.  Read the full Sabertooth review ROCCAT Isku FX Is the FX worth the extra $10 over the Isku (or even other keyboards)? I'm going to have to say no, because the new keys simply aren't worth the additional cost. Even beyond the fact that both keyboards are oddly expensive for not being mechanical, I feel that it might have been smarter to just re-release the Isku to include multicolored key lighting instead of making an even more expensive version. Read the full Isku FX review The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia The book contains so much Skyward Sword that, if you don't like it in some capacity, you may be disappointed. If you have no appreciation of the retro titles as well, the impact may be diminished, especially the portions involving Miyamoto and Aonuma. Even still, Hyrule Historia is a great read. I learned some things both old and new, and I got to enjoy some beautiful art. Read the full Hyrule Historia review
January 2013 reviews photo
Review round-up: The games of January 2013
I'm not sure what it's like from the outside looking in, but as someone who's directly involved with covering games and has to be thinking about them on a daily basis, January was one hell of an action-packed month. We kicked...

Review: ROCCAT Isku FX

Jan 25 // Alex Bout
In a nutshell, the ROCCAT Isku FX is no different than the Isku except for the multi-colored keys. To be honest, when I finally saw the box, it seemed like the keyboard was split into three different "zones" that you could pick to change the color as shown in the image below. Sadly, that was not the case, and I found that out pretty quickly after browsing through the familiar-looking control interface. Overview Similar to the Isku, the FX sadly isn't a mechanical keyboard and falls with the rest of those high-quality dome keyboards we love so much. Just like the Isku though, the FX also has a pretty awesome wrist rest, five programmable macro keys, on-the-fly macro recording, EasyShift, and ROCCAT Talk technology to boot. I also want to mention just a small feature that I thank every day: there's a small bump (like the F and J keys) on the W key for your WASD games or QWER, if you play a lot of League of Legends. Being able to find your key orientation instantly without having to look down is a stroke of brilliance that's saved me countless times. Yes, I know ROCCAT isn't the first company to implement this, but it's still appreciated by this gamer nevertheless. ROCCAT Isku price: $89.99 ROCCAT Isku FX price: $99.99 Let's talk more about the keys So the biggest difference between the Isku and the FX is definitely the keys, and might actually almost justify the ten-dollar increase in price. One of the problems I had with the Isku's keys originally was that when the key illumination was turned off, you had some serious trouble seeing the letters on the keyboard since they were made transparent in order to let the light through. Here's where the FX really shines (or doesn't). When the illumination is set to "off," the letters are just as visible as a keyboard without illumination. I don't really ever take advantage of this, but it's still an improvement over the old design. Moving onto the multi-color function of the keys! ROCCAT claims there are something like 16.8 million colors you can choose between to light your keys. While it's true that you can change the shade by a little bit depending on what color you're going for, it often just snaps to another color when it gets to the "sweet spot." If we're talking about the more realistic amount of colors, I would say there are maybe twenty distinct colors to choose from -- not a bad selection, if I may say so myself. The keys are beautifully lit, given that some of the colors look better than others. One thing that does bother me is that the profile, thumbster, and num-lock lights are the default blue and don't change with the rest of the lights. This sometimes creates some color conflicts depending on what color is currently on the main keys. Software is simple, nice, and familiar The software has the same layout as most of the other ROCCAT products we've looked at so far. It's extremely good software that thoroughly goes through every part of the customization in a clean-cut way. I do have to mention a new addition they recently added, however: a trophy system. It seems to give you trophies when you reach different objectives like a certain amount of keystrokes or whatnot. It has potential in theory, but in practice, the ROCCAT voice seems to randomly turn up, shouting random things at you. It certainly freaked me out, and isn't something you want when you're in a clutch moment in a game. You can, as always, turn it off. It's just the matter of remembering to do so for every profile you make, which tends to be annoying (especially if you make a new profile for every game you play). Bottom Line Is the FX worth the extra $10 over the Isku (or even other keyboards)? I'm going to have to say no, because the new keys simply aren't worth the additional cost. Even beyond the fact that both keyboards are oddly expensive for not being mechanical, I feel that it might have been smarter to just re-release the Isku to include multicolored key lighting instead of making an even more expensive version. That being said, the new keys are pretty nice and might be worth it for you if you like the power of the rainbow enough. As for me? If I didn't already have this keyboard, I would probably wait for the new Ryos coming out.
Isku FX review photo
Needs to offer more than just colorful keys
Remember when I reviewed the ROCCAT Isku? Well, the company has turned out another model, the Isku FX, which is essentially the same keyboard, except the keys can now change colors. While there are some other small things included for the slightly increased price, I set out to see if the FX was worth it over the regular Isku.

Review: Razer Sabertooth

Jan 21 // Dale North
Product: Razer Sabertooth controller (Xbox 360)Manufacturer: RazerMSRP: $79.99 I was impressed from the moment pulled the Sabertooth controller out of the included carrying case. Throwing my thumb and fingers around the controller and mashing all of the buttons at once had the Sabertooth emitting sharp and fast little clicking noises -- even unplugged I could tell that the buttons would be very responsive.  My favorite of the vast button selection on the Sabertooth are the A, B, X, and Y face buttons. They have very little travel distance and weight, and they click quickly when pressed with their microswitches. They are a million miles away from the slow, mushy standard Xbox 360 controller face buttons in both feeling and use. I tried them in everything from heavy action games (DmC: Devil May Cry) to fighters to puzzle titles (Lumines, Super Puzzle Fighter) and they never failed to impress. In short, they move fast and that makes you feel fast, so you end up playing a bit better. Their shorter travel distance may throw some off at first, though. Once I got used to this, I really liked it, and found that using the standard Xbox 360 felt sluggish in comparison.  My second favorite set of buttons are the bumpers and triggers. The right and left bumpers have more travel distance than the face buttons, but they're almost as fast and clicky, and feel amazing when, say, pulling off fighting moves, or throwing grenades. Again, a quick side-by-side comparison with a standard controller, even unplugged, says volumes. When it comes to responsiveness, the Sabertooth is in a completely different league. I'm nowhere even close to a competitive gamer, but I can clearly see how using this controller would give players a marked advantage.  The d-pad isn't a nasty floating disc, and for that I'm grateful. Sticking your finger in an electrical socket is better than the standard Xbox 360 d-pad, so merely saying that the Sabertooth's version is better isn't doing it justice. Four separate press-able buttons that have no connection to each other let you hurl out quarter-circle forwards like nobody's business, making it great for fighting games. My go-to Xbox 360 d-pad testing games, Dig Dug and Lumines Live!, were more enjoyable than ever with this PS3-style alternative.  Speaking of advantages, the Sabertooth has several assignable buttons and functions for full customization. On the top edge of the controller, placed just between the bumpers and triggers, are left and right assignable mulit-function buttons. These buttons can be assigned to anything you wish using any of the controller's other buttons or sticks. On the rear of the controller, you'll find two crescent-shaped rockers that Razer calls multifunction triggers. Both the left and right triggers rock up or down to give you four more assignable controls. In use, they're extremely responsive, though they're easy to accidentally nudge if you're not actively using them as they fall directly where your middle fingertip would rest. An included screwdriver lets you remove these triggers if you don't intend to use them.  The braided USB cable is also removable. And it looks really nice. An OLED display along the bottom edge of the controller lets you quickly load one of two user profiles to game with by pressing a little button to the left of it and then pressing up or down on the d-pad to select one.  Another button on the right side of the display lets you customize any of the above-listed assignable buttons to your desired function. It's easy: simply select the assign function, hit an assignable button or trigger, and then press the standard button you'd like it to function as. I used simple assignments at first, like pulling down on the trigger buttons to drop blocks in puzzle games, but broke into more creative uses later on. Doing a sort of reach-around finger wiggle in the place of button mashing for QTEs was a revelation.  In action games, the triggers are great as they let you copy the functions of the face buttons, allowing you to keep your thumbs on the sticks.  The customizability of this controller and the fantastic performance of its buttons and sticks would definitely appeal to professional and competitive gamers, but I fear that the $79.99 MSRP will prevent some from jumping in. That would be a shame as the d-pad and face buttons alone were enough to win me over. I'd love to see a version of this controller that drops the customization and OLED screen for a lower price point.  Still, the Sabertooth is a first-class controller. If you've got the cash to spare and don't mind playing with a corded controller (bonus: PC compatibility) you won't be disappointed.
Razer Sabertooth review photo
A third-party controller worth checking out
I've tested many third-party game controllers in my day, and while I've liked quite a few of them, I always end up going back to the stock console controller. At the end of the day there's never enough there in these third-pa...

Review: Hauppauge HD PVR 2 Gaming Edition

Dec 29 // Dale North
[embed]241400:46228[/embed] [Watch our test video in 1080p on YouTube] We've used Hauppauge's HD PVR video recorder boxes here at Destructoid to capture game footage for the past couple of years. They worked fine for what they are -- a reliable but inexpensive way to capture HD video to computer. While nothing fancy, the on-board video encoder and USB 2.0 connectivity made the job easy.  But we've been missing HDMI connectivity lately. And while suitable, the video quality was always a bit lacking when compared to higher-end equipment. The biggest issue with the HD PVR was that the component video passthrough feature had a delay, making the device unsuitable for capturing gameplay footage without looking like a terrible player. If you've seen us fail a lot in our game footage, blame this box. Hauppague's newest, the HD PVR 2 Gaming Edition, solves all of the issues we had with its predecessor. For about $160 (street price) you get HDMI and component inputs, perfect HDMI passthrough, on-board encoding with decent video quality, and some high-quality cabling to boot. The HD PVR records at rates up to 1080p from HDMI sources directly to your computer via USB 2.0 without breaking a sweat. But! HDCP copy protection rears its ugly head when recording video output from the PlayStation 3. Simply put, the HD PVR 2 cannot record HDMI 1080p video from HDCP-protected devices like the PS3 and some Blu-ray players. You'll have to settle for component-connected video, which caps out at 1080i.  I'll admit to not reading the manual, but I thought the box was broken at first, while trying to capture footage of Ni no Kuni gameplay a few weeks back. Scrambled or blank screens had me flustered. But trying out an Xbox 360 gave me a crisp, clear image on passthrough, and a really nice recording, even on default settings. And then I read the manual. I wondered what that included high-quality PS3 component cable was for!  The rear of the unit features obvious ports for HDMI in and out, but the component (or other optional video cabling) connections connect through a very small proprietary port. An included breakout cable fans from this tiny and fiddly little connector to five female RCA cable ends for component connection. I get that they were trying to keep the device small and sharp looking, but I worry about how durable this port will be after several connections and unpluggings.  As mentioned above, they've tweaked the looks of this device. It's small (smaller than a Wii), black, and sleek looking, with a big record button on its top and a glowing blue/green recording light on its edges. It's predecessor felt hollow and looked cheap, so I appreciate the redesign.  Hauppague includes a copy of ArcSoft Showbiz for Windows PCs for recording video. It does the job, though it's a bit clunky in use, and slow to respond when changing video settings. Options are given to change video and audio inputs as well as video format and encoding settings. There's nothing in the way of delay-free monitoring of incoming video in the software, but that's the HDMI passthrough is for.  As Mac is not officially supported, you'll have to buy recording software from a third party. I can easily recommend HDPVRCapture, as we used it for the previous model, and it never gave us any issues. A new version (pictured below) of this $29.95 download has been released for the HD PVR 2, and it works wonderfully, with full options to take advantage of all of the device's features. A free demo is available on the product site. Hats off to this one-man show, headed up by a nice gent named Steven Toth. The HD PVR 2 does a fine job of capturing anything you throw at it. As mentioned above, Xbox 360 and PC content coming in via HDMI works beautifully, with what seems to be a totally transparent passthrough coming through to my television and monitors. Cranking the recording settings to a max bitrate of around 14 Mbps gave much nicer files than we ever saw with the previous model. Files are clean, with little hit to color. Of course, compression artifacts pop up now and then, but nothing serious. The framerate is capped at 30fps, which might bum out some videophiles, but probably makes no difference for video to be used on the web. With the PS3, the passthrough isn't exactly transparent, but that does not affect the quality of capture. What does affect the quality of capture is that you're stuck using component. 1080i captures suffered from motion blur sometimes. I found that things looked much better running the PS3 at 720p. While not quite at the quality of Xbox 360 capture, the HD PVR 2 still does a nice job with the PS3. And to be fair, you're not going to notice much of a difference in web video. You can find several examples of game capture using the HD PVR 2 from both the Xbox 360 and PS3 in the video above. YouTube is a better choice as you can watch it in 1080p. If you're looking to capture game footage or any other type of video, the HD PVR 2 is worth considering. You're getting a really solid H.264 capture solution for under $200, though you'll have to go in knowing that PS3 capture (and system output) won't be optimal. Its passthrough feature lets it become a fully integrated piece of your gaming setup, meaning that you won't have to mess with unplugging and reconnecting each time you want to capture something.  In the end, the HD PVR 2 comes with all the cables you'll need (two HDMI cables, one PS3 component cable, USB cable, and component breakout), is easy to use, and captures really nice video. Recommended.
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HD PVR 2 Gaming Edition
It used to cost ridiculous amounts of money to record video from other sources, especially in HD. But these past few years companies like Hauppague, Pinnacle, AVerMedia and others have released affordable boxes that...

Review: Designears

Dec 14 // Daniel Starkey
There’s a rabid individualism that sort-of pervades modern western culture. I can’t be said to be against it, because I totally get it. I’m an egotistical ass sometimes. I love my stuff and I’m prone to being more than a little obnoxious about it. I wear a lot of clothing with logos, I have a Dtoid sticker on nearly everything I possess, etc. So I definitely understand why people might want to loudly declare dedication to one thing or another and as an avid lover of all things audio, I have a dozen sets of circumaural beasts that I use almost constantly. That in mind, Designears seem almost tailored to me. The selling point here is the ability to slap whatever image or logo you want on a pair of headphones, so when you’re strolling around, going about your day, everyone can see that you’re into cupcakes and green robots. The “design” part of Designears is totally fine. The image they print is covered with a rubbery plastic which feels higher-quality than I expected and is resistant to scuffs and scratches. Mr. Destructoid’s face wasn’t pixelated or washed out at all, and presumably that same attention to detail will be pretty consistent.  Unfortunately, my praise ends there. Wait… no… the carrying case is actually really nice. Yeah, now I’m done. When you pick up the set, Designears’ biggest problem is immediately apparent -- they are cheaply made. It’s something I would expect from a tweaking pack of five-year-olds given a year’s supply of paste and Popsicle sticks. It’s bad. Made entirely of plastic, the phones creak and strain when any significant force is applied. The set has no weight, either.  When holding them with one finger, they still feel so completely insubstantial that I’m honestly left wondering how they work at all. Putting them on is an even bigger disappointment. Designears are halfway between being supra aural and circum, and they come off as a poorly constructed unholy hybrid of the two. They isolate no outside noise and they leak worse than any set I’ve ever heard. On the inside of the earcup there’s this foam-like… thing that hits the top arch and ridges of my ears. Its scratchy and horribly uncomfortable for any length of time. The leatherette cups aren’t much better, and they rotate freely, not at all properly connected to the base. The frame and connecting pieces aren’t up to snuff, either. Most adjustable headphones have a kind of light locking mechanism that keeps the piece from sliding around too much. Again, Designears fails as the cheap plastic pieces are incredibly stiff and a pain in the ass to move or adjust at all. Similarly, the frame doesn’t have much give in the coronal plane, meaning that wider-headed folks like me are almost squeezed by the plastic trying to return to their natural shape. But as stiff as they are, I’m afraid to apply any real force to them for fear that they’d shatter in my hands. The foam underside of the headband is also held on with a very cheap, very weak double-sided tape. As I checked to see if the cord was user-replaceable, I discovered what the most offensive fault in these headphones is, to me. The cable runs out of a small hole on the left ear cup -- pretty standard for these things. On the right cup, though, the exact same hole is in the same spot. The manufacturers were so lazy that they simply didn’t make more than one kind of cup. Build quality matters. It does. Especially when consumers start dropping some real money. If you’re going to put cash down, then the product should be able to last for a while. When people make shoddy hardware and charge above what they are clearly worth, it shows a profound lack of respect from the customer. If the piece sounded incredible (I mean ridiculously awesome) then most of these things could be forgiven. But, as you’ve probably already guessed -- they simply don’t. Somehow, they are bass-heavy without any of the crisp definition that I’ve come to expect. Everything is muddled and quiet, without any of the pop or life media deserves. And it should be more than a little indicative that this is all I can think to say about it. Here’s the bottom line -- if you’re vain enough that all you need from these things is a pretty picture of your choosing and you happen to have $70 lying around, then you’re good. Go buy them and be on your merry way. Otherwise, just find a place to print out your own stickers and plaster them on whatever it is you’re using to listen to Taylor Swift, the Ting Tings, or whatever.
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Customization can only get you so far
It’s not very often that I get a chance to review something bad. It’s even rarer for me to come across headphones that I just hate. Truth is, most things that you spend $50 or more on are pretty good. Mediocrity c...

Review: Razer Electra Headset

Dec 10 // Aerox
Product: Razer Electra HeadsetManufacturer: RazerInput: 3.5mm jack (inline mic requires a 3.5 combined audio/mic jack, or a separately-sold splitter)MSRP: $59.99 The most important quality in headphones, for me, is how long I can wear them comfortably. My ears are on the larger side, and I've experienced some fairly serious discomfort from other headsets after even just 45 minutes of use. Even with my big ears, I was able to wear the Electras for extended listening sessions without problems. Large, wide leather cushions around the ear cups kept things comfortable, and while I occasionally wanted to adjust them when I felt my ears getting warm, I was able to avoid the pressure I often get with other headsets. The ear cups also do fairly well in keeping out external noise. They won't completely block unwanted sound, particularly if you're out and about in the city, but typical background noise won't make it through. A close second in terms of importance, of course, is sound quality, and the Electras perform well for a $60 headset. The bass is solid, though serious dubstep fans will likely not find it powerful enough, and the treble comes through crisp and clear. While the audio won't stand up to the kind of quality you'll find in more expensive headsets, the Electras seem comparable to other headsets I own in the sub-$100 range. One disappointment is the lack of controls on the in-line mic -- surprising given that the headset is mainly designed for phones. There's no way to raise or lower volume, or to accept an incoming phone call, without reaching into your pocket. The microphone itself, however, is about what you'd expect from an in-line microphone. When I called people to test it out, they could hear and understand me fine, and felt the volume levels were appropriate, but noted that my voice sounded rather tinny, and that it was lower quality than if we were just regularly speaking on the phone. Finally, the headset itself is somewhat thick and bulky, and may not be easily transported. Given that these are designed for use with cell phones, it's a shame the Electras don't come with some sort of carrying case or bag. While the headphones themselves are certainly sturdy, I'd be wary of just tossing them into my already packed laptop bag. On the whole, it's hard to recommend the Electras for "gaming," simply because I'm of the opinion that there's not really a need for gaming audio equipment for mobile devices at this time. If you're in the market for some nicer headphones for listening to music on your phone, though, the Electras are a solid choice that are priced right, as long as you don't mind reaching into your pocket every now and then to answer calls and adjust the volume.
Razer Electra Headset photo
Decent headset, fair price
The Razer Electra is an oddity. It's billed as a "music and gaming headset," but is primarily designed for use with mobile phones -- the headset is specifically made for iPhones, HTC phones, and Blackberries (and any laptop t...

Review: Tt eSPORTS Level 10 M Gaming Mouse

Dec 05 // Victoria Medina
Product: Tt eSPORTS Level 10 M Laser Gaming MouseManufacturer: ThermaltakeInput: USB MSRP: $99.99  Although the Level 10 M looks strange, and takes some getting used to, it was not an uncomfortable transition from my previous mouse. The transition was also made easier by the fact that I could adjust the height of the back of the mouse up or down as well as to right or left angles. It might take some fiddling, but being able to adjust how your hand rests on the mouse is a nice feature.  There are several features of the Level 10 M that make it more comfortable or easier to handle, such as the rubber grips on the bottom to limit resistance against whatever surface your mouse is resting on. There is also a cradle in the front that holds its cord (this is not wireless) so that it doesn't drag on your desk or get snagged against anything. Other features touted for the the device are an aluminum base, laser sensor, programmable colors, and "air-through ventilation" which basically means your hands shouldn't get all sweaty. I never had much of a problem with sweaty palms to begin with, so I can't tell you if this actually works, but man oh man, it sure does look cool. As far as buttons go, it has the usual left and right mouse buttons and mouse wheel, as well as two buttons on the right side and three on the left. The buttons on the left are dedicated forward and back buttons, with the third being solely for changing your DPI settings and profiles. Button placement is a bit awkward and took some getting used; despite this layout, accidental changes to DPI levels and profiles happened quite often for a while, and usually at the worst possible times. As for the buttons on the right side, they are very awkward and difficult to press, considering that I would have to click them with my pinky. The DPI default setting caps at 5000, but can be raised to 8200 by tinkering with the software, though I never went above 3200; handling and control are smooth. If you ever forget what you have the DPI set to, there's an indicator on the right mouse button that lights up to tell you which level it is at. There is also no resistance or friction due to the rubber pads on the bottom, and if you tend to pick your mouse up while playing, there is also a setting to change how high off the desk you can raise it before the sensors stop registering. In addition to changing the DPI and lift off sensitivity, you can also adjust the double click, cursor, and scroll speeds as well as the polling rate. Additionally, you can change the colors and switch between normal mode and "battle mode," with battle mode changing the colors on the Level 10 M based on how much you click. That's it. Other software options open to you include five different profiles, macros, and the ability to assign each mouse button whichever function you want. While some of the features offered on the Tt eSPORTS Level 10 M Gaming Mouse are useful and quite nice, I can't say that it's been a vast improvement over my generic Microsoft mouse. The extra buttons and increased mouse sensitivity are great, but there seems to be a lot of extra 'stuff' that looks nice without actually doing much to enhance your gaming experience or make gaming easier. As cool as the Level 10 M looks, and as well as it works, there are probably other, less expensive options out there for you that will do just as well.
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If a Transformer became a gaming mouse
Up until recently, my experience with mice was limited to a trackball and basic mouse with no bells or whistles. My basic mouse was enough, and while it may not have enhanced my gaming experience, I didn't feel that it was ta...

Review: Razer Blade

Nov 21 // Dale North
Razer BladeProcessor: Core i7 2.2GHzStorage: 500GB 7200 RPM,64GB SSDGraphics: Nvidia GTX 660MRAM: 8GB Price as reviewed: $2,499 This year's Razer Blade looks similar to last year's, but they've upgraded it here and there, and have dropped the overall price. You're getting a quad-core i7 (2.2 GHz) Windows 7 machine tucked into a beautiful, slim (not even 1-inch thick) casing, topped with a matte 17.3" screen. Graphics are pumped through the 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 660M and 8GB of system RAM, and all of your goodies are stored on a dual drive solution, which uses both a 500GB standard hard disk and a 64GB SSD drive. The left edge of the unit is lined with 3 USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI port, an Ethernet port, and a audio jack. All of this costs $2,499, which is huge heap of cash to drop on a machine of this specification.  Oh, and there's no optical drive. But in this world of Steam and other digital distribution outlets, who needs that? There's more to the Razer than just its innards, of course. You're also paying for the design work that Razer put into the Blade. Its sleek design and glowing lights may not speak to all of the gaming masses, but I'm certain there are some out there that want the sharpest, thinnest thing available for gaming, and the Razer would certainly fit the bill. Practical? Not really. But it's not trying to be. The Blade is like sparkling water over flat tap. It's designer clothing made of the finest fabrics over discount department store t-shirts. It's that high-end sports car in a parking lot full of economy compacts. People will definitely notice a Razer Blade. Attention to detail is what speaks loudest when it comes to the Blade's design. Its dark metal and rounded corners makes for a very attractive machine. The backlit keyboard and flat style help out in that department, too. Overall, there's very little in the way of seams and screw holes to be found. On the bottom, rear feet slightly raise the back of the unit from the surface it sits on, keeping the really sharp-looking, silver-rimmed cooling ports free from obstruction. Even the power adapter is thin. Razer didn't miss a mark as far as appearances go. All the looks in the world won't make a damned bit of difference in a deathmatch, though. As you can see from the specs, the Razer is not the fastest thing out there. Its specification and performance are certainly respectable, but it's not to hard to find more power for less money. The 2GB 660M is enough to make full use of the system's 1080p display, however you shouldn't expect to run the latest games on high settings and get a great framerate. Newer games, like Dishonored and Hitman: Absolution, ran fine on moderate settings. I had no problem running games like XCOM: Enemy Unknown or Alan Wake at all. Coming from my gaming desktop to the Razer had me missing a bit in the framerate department, but for the most part, it held up respectably.  Street Fighter X Tekken showed the Blade getting 31.243 frames per second at 1080p and 2x anti-aliasing. If you get a chance to run Hitman: Absolution's benchmark for comparison's sake, know that the Blade scored around 15fps at 1920 x 1080 and on medium settings overall. The game ran much better than that, mind you. These aren't blow-your-face-off numbers, but they're respectable, working out to be more than enough for current games.  The screen also holds up nicely, though it doesn't come close to comparing to the screen on a MacBook Pro Retina. It feels huge at 17.3 inches, and it's plenty bright enough to where you don't feel like you're missing anything. Colors are good and blacks are deep enough that you're not cursing the display. Expect to be pleased more than blown away. Overall, it's a really nice, matte screen that had every game I put on it looking great. The speakers are sadly a case of form over function. The thin black grill near the screen hinge of the system looks the part, but whatever is under it doesn't sound all that great. Even moderate-to-high volume settings had the speakers distorting. Midrange sounds, like voices and gunfire, come through clearly, but the low end is nonexistent.  I'm a fan of the Blade's keyboard, which uses the flattened-style keys. They feel great, and backlighting makes them look great in the dark. I don't love the tiny half-sized up and down directional keys, but they're not deal breakers, either. When the lights come up, you'll see your finger grease on the black keys -- there's no getting around that. You'll also see your finger grease all over the Blade's most standout feature, the Switchblade UI. The Switchblade UI is an attractive idea, but it doesn't do as much as you'd like it to. It is 10 assignable keys with individual displays and while its display/touchpad capture the imagination, in practice you'll find that you just aren't doing much with them. The touchscreen makes a fine, responsive multitouch touchpad after you get used to how slick it is. It works as standard touchpad until you go poking around one of the 10 buttons. Poke the number pad one and the touchpad turns into a 10-key touchscreen. Tweet, surf, check your Facebook or email, and even watch YouTube on the little screen if you'd like with other buttons. This all sounds fun until you really think about how silly it is to do these things on that small screen when a big, shiny 17" screen sits directly above it. The pre-assigned functions are a novelty at best. Razer lets you customize any of the buttons with your own functions and images, meaning that you could potentially configure the Switchblade to be really useful. But with both Switchblade UI devices I've had in my office this year, it never worked out that way. While seeing a flying corgi image under the touchpad every time I booted up was always delightful, it was never useful for more than a giggle or two. A major fault in the thinking behind the Switchblade UI is the need to be logged in to access settings. No internet? No settings! In fact, a red banner is displayed across the top of the touchpad if you're not logged in.  I can't understand the decision behind this choice. I never imagined that one day I'd have to log into a pointing device.  Razer provides a few dedicated gaming applications for the Switchblade beyond this. Games like Battlefield 3 and Counter-Strike get game-specific buttons and functions for the keys. Although it's a neat concept, as of now there's just not enough game support to make Switchblade a must-have feature for a gaming system. As for battery life, no gamer is ever going to try to economize and use the minimum amount of power, so I didn't either while testing it. Playing Dishonored at 1080p, high settings, with near-full brightness and volume most of the way up lasted only one hour and nine minutes. It's a good thing that the power adapter is nice and small. As for non-gaming use, an afternoon of surfing the web at moderate brightness got more than three hours, though Windows had me believing that I'd get much less.  Practical? At $2499? No. Not at all. But there are those out there that desire a super thin, beautifully designed, respectable spec'd machine that they can carry around and play anywhere. The Razer Blade is exactly that. And in this world of shrinking devices, it's getting harder and harder to find something portable with a 17" screen.  If you game at home, the Blade makes no sense for you. As we said earlier, you can get so much more power for less money. But for those that are always on the go, or for LAN-loving gamers, the Blade is worth considering. If your pocketbook can handle it, that is. I was really bummed to send the Blade back to Razer this week. Again, there was something very satisfying about having a thin, sleek and reasonably powerful gaming rig that I could fold in half to be 0.88" thick. During my test period, I quickly fell in love with the idea of having a portable rig like this -- having something under my arm with all my games on it, and enough horsepower to run them all. 
2012 Razer Blade photo
Revised 2012 model
Stop. I already know what you're going to say. It's too expensive, right? You could build a rig for much cheaper, or some other manufacturer has a better price on a similar configuration. Something like that. And I get you.&n...

Review: Wii U

Nov 18 // Jim Sterling
A tight little box The Wii U is bigger than the Wii, but remains a humbly sized little box when compared to both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Even next to Sony and Microsoft's slimmer offerings, the Wii U is a compact system that is easy to place on pretty much any shelf, floorspace, or entertainment unit. It can be stood upright in a tower position, or horizontally, as is the standard of consoles these days. Unlike in mine, when all systems were as big as a car and had to be stored on the Moon.  Like any good Christian, the Wii U keeps all its action in the front. Aside from the usual disc slot, eject and power buttons, a small compartment opens up (on the left or underside, depending on how you're standing it) to reveal an SD card slot and two USB ports, all very easily accessible and even helpfully labeled for people who have never heard of USB ports and, as such, probably won't be reading this. Hello anyway, if you are.  While I like the design of the box overall, I've never been too fond of flat buttons that run evenly with the casing. Both the power and eject buttons are like this for the Wii U, and given the tiny size of the eject one in particular, it's a pain to press -- especially given the inability to remotely eject a game from the system menu. That gripe aside, this is a sleek, sexy little machine that conforms to modern design sensibilities more than Nintendo fans will be used to. Looking like a modern entertainment device as opposed to a fun toy, the design may not appeal to some, but others like myself shall appreciate having something that looks a little more at home sat next to all the other gadgets feeding the television with their whimsical wares.  Bigger can indeed mean better Of course, the design of the Wii U's box was never the real focus for Nintendo, to the point where early marketing even confused potential consumers who thought it was just a handheld peripheral. While the Wii U system is compact, shiny, and fashionable, the GamePad plays entirely by Nintendo's anomalous rules, giving us the chunky, attention-grabbing, toy-like design that we've come to expect.  This is a big controller, as I'm sure you're all aware, and it has to be. Making room for a large touchscreen, as well as two analog sticks, face buttons, a D-pad, and two sets of shoulder buttons isn't going to make for a pocket-sized interface, but Nintendo has gone above and beyond in making something that feels comfortable and pleasant to use, despite its hefty bulk -- very much like myself. Get it because I am fat.  For a start, the GamePad is deceptively light, not feeling much heavier than a standard Xbox 360 controller in any appreciable manner. Of course, when held in one hand, the thing is awkward and unwieldy, but for most traditional gaming experiences, there's quite a nice distribution of weight afforded by its flat, lengthy design, meaning that only those with frail, cat-like limbs will struggle. The large surface area makes playing games more comfortable, at least for folks with massive pig hands like mine. The way in which the buttons are spread out makes me feel a lot less cramped, and I've found it far more enjoyable to play old favorites like Warriors Orochi 3 on it. The extra space also means there's a lot more freedom of hand positioning, so if one's palms do start to ache, the hand can be shifted without ever having to stop the game. A welcome little ridge is provided at the back of the controller, providing a useful shelf that players can rest their fingers under in order to securely cradle it while in use.  While it boasts a traditional controller layout, it wouldn't be a Nintendo system if things weren't altered just a little bit. Both the left and right stick are placed above the D-pad and face buttons respectively, and this can indeed take a little getting used to. Even after a week, I'm still occasionally hitting the X button while expecting to hit the Y button, but such instances are growing exponentially rare as I spend more time with the system.  Touch Waggle Touch Waggle Swipe As far as the touchscreen goes, it looks, feels, and behaves very much like that found on the DS family of systems, meaning there's no multi-touch, and the input isn't always the most responsive, especially when using thumbs or fingers. It's not awful, and it generally works, but playing games like ZombiU, where there's a lot of thumb-tapping touches, the spotty response can get a bit annoying. The touchscreen will work best with games where touch is only occasionally implemented, or requires the stylus as the predominant method of control. It's a good option to have, but developers are going to have to not go overboard, as they often seem to love doing. As far as picture quality goes, you get a consistent stream from the Wii U with any potential lag remaining imperceptible to the human eye. The only fault here is that the screen just can't compare with an HDTV, and colors appear washed out in comparison. Bright and vibrant visuals appear just that bit more muddy on the GamePad, and given any choice in the matter, I always prefer to be looking at the TV than the pad. It still works perfectly for maps, menu interactions, and a few well-implemented game mechanics, but as an alternative method of viewing an entire game, it doesn't speak to me. I foresee rarely, if ever, choosing to play a Wii U game solely in my hands.  As far as motion controls go, I have to say I'm always going to take a gyroscope over a remote pointer or something like Kinect. It's just that much more precise, and gives the GamePad a lot more versatility than limited motion controllers that restrict input options and are bound to some form of sensor bar or camera. Letting the GamePad's independent movements dictate motion input allows it to work in conjunction with all the more tactile controls on offer, and also opens the door to one thing I wish we'd had more of with this past generation of waggle -- options. Even at launch, there are games like Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition and ZombiU that offer some choice in how we use the touchscreen, allowing us to look around in GamePad-specific viewpoints using either motion or the right stick. Flexibility is something I hope developers give us more of this time around, rather than forcing us to do inefficient things just to show off.  There's a microphone and a camera, both of which work about as well as they do on the 3DS, and a pair of speakers are situated on the bottom corners. The speakers are quite loud and clear, and add a level of fun interaction as radio chatter in Arkham City comes through your controller, or the GamePad adds extra bits of percussion to the background music playing on the TV. I was always a huge fan of Wii games that used the oft-neglected Wiimote speaker, and I'm thrilled that so many Wii U launch titles have embraced it here. The only thing to watch out for are those games that simply stream games to the controller -- they'll play exactly the same sounds on the TV and GamePad, which can just sound echo-y and weird. Fortunately, there's a volume control right on top of the Pad.  Into the Interface Once the Wii U is booted, and initial setup is dealt with, the menu is somewhat similar to the Wii's, with big, user-friendly windows containing all the games and apps. The major difference is that the GamePad hosts all the icons, while the television is littered with wandering Miis and helpful tips. Touching an icon switches these screens, but strangely the icon menu can't be interacted with via the GamePad when it's on the television. It's easier to just leave it where it is.  Although not to a gross degree, the menu can be a little slow. It takes a short boot time to return to the home menu or to load up apps. Not huge amounts of time, but just enough of a wait to register as noticeable with every use. Fortunately, once you're there, things move swiftly and responsively, especially in areas where Nintendo has been famously sub-par, such as anything that involves an Internet connection.  Pressing the Home menu brings up quick links to key features, such as a friend list, the web browser, and downloads. Adding friends is far quicker and easier now, thanks to the removal of friend codes in place of good ol' fashioned usernames. That, alone, is a marked improvement.  eShop, Miiverse, and Internet shenanigans The difference between the Wii U's eShop and previous digital storefronts on the Wii and 3DS is remarkable, given that this time it's actually good. Vastly quicker to browse, with an efficient layout and easy access to game info, screenshots, and trailers, the new eShop is an active pleasure to browse. It looks prettier than storefronts on rival machines, works like a charm, and boasts one beautiful feature that Nintendo systems have been aching for -- background downloads! Credit card information can be input easily and saved, and downloads themselves are fairly swift. I'm yet to buy one of the full retail games, because I'm not made of money, but my purchase and download of Chasing Aurora was fast and hassle-free, taking four minutes or so to download. The only issue is that, like with the PlayStation 3, downloaded games must be installed manually, a process that tacks on an extra minute or so of waiting. Once that's done, another few seconds on the home screen will add a fresh-faced icon.  Miiverse is the Nintendo Network's new social hub, which pretty much acts like a forum on a console. Every released game gets its own community that users can share drawings and short posts within. These posts can be liked (Miiverse calls them "Yeah!"s) and commented on, while users can be followed, friended, and messaged. Although simplistic and fairly limited (you only get 100 characters per post), I am finding Miiverse more entertaining than I expected, if only for the fact that I can saunter up to the Rabbids Land community and start posting about Willem Dafoe for my own stupid amusement. It remains to be seen how stringently Nintendo will police this stuff, but rest assured I'll be testing the lines! As with everything on the software side of things, Nintendo has gone above and beyond to make things easier and faster than before. Again, browsing is actually fun, rather than an impediment to my entertainment, and I do love getting to interact with other Wii U users via the system itself. If it takes off with customers, I can see Miiverse being something genuinely compelling, worth checking out every time the system is booted. It'll take a while to see if it does indeed catch on, but I hope it does.  The Internet browser has been improved tremendously, and I'd say that, of all the consoles, this is the best system for Web browsing on a TV. The GamePad and its stylus interface certainly helps in this regard, as it makes scrolling, browsing, and looking for pornographic images a lot less awkward than it is when using a normal controller. The speed of the browser is practically supersonic compared to past efforts, and I can say that if you indeed use your game consoles for general Internet chicanery, the Wii U's got you perfectly covered.  Oh, and did you know you can open the Home menu and access the Web browser while playing a game? The game will pause and you can go to Miiverse or the browser, and play will resume once you close the Home menu. Neat! Over time, the Wii U will also boast a range of apps, including popular offerings such as Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube. At the moment, these items aren't active, nor is the TVii feature. They are coming in the weeks following launch.  Battery chicken If there's one major potential dealbreaker to worry about, it's the battery. As big a fan as I am of the GamePad, there's no skirting around the problem of an incredibly short battery life on the controller. The projected three to five hours of play is pretty true, with spans that rarely trend toward the higher of those two numbers. In all honesty, I've found it easier and simpler to just keep the GamePad plugged into a source of power at all times -- something I can do simply by the good fortune of a setup abundant in nearby outlets.  Other gamers may not be quite so fortuitous, and for them I'd suggest they think strongly about whether or not the Wii U will work. If you're not rocking backup batteries or a wired controller, the GamePad just isn't going to work for intense and lengthy gaming sessions. I can't blame anybody for being put off by this quite crucial issue, but at the same time, I feel it'll be only a minor hassle for those who can keep it plugged in. Lots of fun for Wii and U As I said at the top of this article, I am a believer in the Wii U. Of course, a lot of this belief hinges on the Wii U getting the software support it needs, and while there's a solid launch library of titles to choose from, the coming months after release shall prove themselves the true test of this system. The Wii U needs a healthy mix of both traditional software and that which exploits the GamePad's functionality in a way that doesn't try to fix what isn't broken. The GamePad can do almost anything in terms of popular interface -- that doesn't mean a game needs to force it to do almost everything.  The Wii U has a few faults, with a less colorful, simplistic touchscreen, and a dire battery life, but ultimately I have been impressed by its flexibility, as well as the welcome chance to see Nintendo's colorful library of games designed with HDTVs in mind. Titles like New Super Mario Bros. U and Nintendo Land are absolutely gorgeous on a modern television, and that feature alone is as exciting as anything the GamePad's bells and whistles can do.  The GamePad's motion controllers are inherently superior to the Wii's, and the ability to play any type of game with one controller, regardless of genre, is something I find quite exciting. Not to mention, more traditional input works -- although the relative stiffness of the analog sticks takes a little getting used to, I've found myself easily able to play a first-person game, a platformer, and a third-person action title with no dip in personal performance. It does take a little while to get adjusted, but now that I have done, I honestly find using the GamePad as much fun as any traditional controller -- maybe even a little moreso.  I wish the Wii U all the success in the world, because I am behind it. Conceptually, it's exciting, and in practice it works. That's rare for new ideas in the game industry these days, and I feel it's a success that needs to be rewarded with publisher support. I foresee potential for an amazing library of not just exclusives, but multi-platform titles to boot, and I'm rather excited for it.  Whether that future comes true remains to be seen, but I maintain a level of hope nonetheless. Hope feels good. Really quite good. 
Wii U reviewed! photo
Nintendo does what Nintendon't ... at last!
The Wii U has been a curious prospect ever since Nintendo revealed it to the world at E3 in 2011. Depending on the perspective of the individual, it's either launching very early for the next generation, or very late for this...

Review: Logitech G600 MMO Gaming Mouse

Nov 14 // Fraser Brown
Product: Logitech G600 MMO Gaming MouseManufacturer: LogitechInput: USBMSRP: $79.99 Upon unboxing the G600, I was pleasantly surprised to find it lacking the gaudiness or design quirks one often sees in its contemporariness. Its curves mimicked indentations made by palm and fingers, and it is rather wide to accommodate the ring finger, which rests on the third button, but otherwise it looked rather conservative, though sleek. While it's a wired mouse, the cord is braided and thus far has not become tangled on my desk, despite the massive clutter. The cord is flexible, yet stays in place, and I find it to be a much better alternative to the rubber cord. It's far from light, and the surface is plastic, not rubber, so those who intend to play the MMO of their choice for an extended period and suffer the terrible affliction known as sweaty palms may find that the grip could be better. It never once got away from me, but it's something to consider. Twenty buttons might seem like a lot for a mouse, but managing spells, attacks, potions and items can require a hell of a lot more. It's rather handy, then, that the G600's "G-Shift" button -- the one on the far right -- doubles the number of commands of the 12 thumb buttons, once pressed. That's 24 commands under your thumb. The thumb buttons themselves may be squashed into a small space, but it didn't take long for me to get used to them. They are split into two sets of six, with each row of three feeling distinct from the row next to it. The shape of the buttons means that unless you have the thick, calloused hands of rope maker, it's not difficult to tell what button you are attempting to press. The buttons are also quite resistant, so firing off a spell by mistake shouldn't be a concern.  Under the rubber tilt scroll wheel, itself of competent design, are the final two buttons; G7 and G8. Like all of the buttons, these can be customized, but the latter switches the mouse mode by default. This allows users to change the profile -- which can be saved on the mouse's onboard memory -- they are currently using. Profiles can be edited and saved using Logitech Gaming Software that can be downloaded from their site.  Using the software, commands can be reassigned to any button, the lights on the thumb buttons can be customized, even to denote what profile you are using, and DPI sensitivity can be tweaked. As this can all be saved on the mouse, one doesn't have to worry about faffing around fixing profiles should they use the mouse with another PC.  While the DPI can be fiddled around with, the G600 lacks a dedicated DPI adjusting button -- altering it requires interacting with the downloadable software. In MMOs, this isn't a great concern, but if you plan on using this mouse in an FPS, it might become a mild annoyance. However, the DPI does range from 200 to 8,600, allowing for great control over pointer sensitivity.  Using the G600 in an MMO is a delight, though one that took me a couple of hours to get used to. The back row of thumb buttons can be a bit tricky to reach, requiring one to move their thumb down slightly, which is a tad awkward, but I barely notice it now. In games like Guild Wars 2, Champions Online, or The Secret World it really proves its worth, freeing the left hand up to focus entirely on movement. With kinetic or more action-based MMOs, this was a massive boon. $79.99 for a mouse you just use for MMOs is pretty steep, though, so it is fortunate that it can be employed more generally. The considerable customization lends itself well to other games, if not quite as well as it does to MMOs, and I found it perfectly serviceable when playing RTS titles, shooters, and even using programs or just browsing online. The device's weight hampers it somewhat, but unless you're lifting it off the mat frequently, you'll find it hard to notice, thanks to the anti-friction pads that assist it in sliding across mouse mats in satisfyingly smooth fashion.  As an all-purpose mouse it's good, if not quite great, though when compared to other dedicated, programmable gaming mice, it's a bit on the expensive side, heavy, and somewhat specialized. The Logitech G9X, for instance, has changeable grips, customizable weight, and more profiles; though it lacks the vast array of programmable buttons of the G600. For MMOs, however, few mice compare. It features more buttons, better software, and, at least for my hand, a far more comfortable layout than the popular Razer Naga MMO mouse, while costing the same.  So, if you're willing to drop a not insignificant amount of cash for the sake of taking the strain off your dainty little left hand, the G600 is more than worthy of your attention. 
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You can never have too many buttons, apparently
When I made my first awkward steps into the world of MMOs, my mouse had a ball in it. Every now and then, I'd need to twist the bottom a little bit, take out the ball, and clean out all the grime and dust that had somehow bee...

Review: Logitech G710+ Mechanical Gaming Keyboard

Nov 05 // Jordan Devore
Product: Logitech G710+Manufacturer: LogitechInput: USBMSRP: $149.99 Once you get properly acquainted with a mechanical keyboard, the device becomes an extension of your hands and fingers. The lack of resistance required to press down individual keys means you can in all likelihood type faster than you'll be able to think up cohesive sentences. For gaming, particularly when it comes to competitive titles, input speed can obviously be the deciding factor. I'm no would-be professional gamer, but I did test out the Logitech G710+ for a solid couple of weeks as my primary input device. The first noticeable difference was that this keyboard isn't nearly as loud as others are, particularly the Das line. It's by no means quiet -- it is, after all, mechanical -- but those of you who are turned off by the general noisiness of these products likely won't be quite so distracted. The people around you will probably appreciate it as well. The sound dampening doesn't seem to come at the expense of responsiveness, as the G710+ feels very light to the touch. For those of you with a specific preference, know that this keyboard uses Cherry MX Brown switches. Personally, I don't have an exact preference and tend to adapt after the first ten minutes of use. In general, this keyboard felt immediately comfortable. During my time, I also had zero issues with incorrect key rollover or other input-related funkiness that can sometimes crop up. At first, I didn't expect to find the keyboard's backlighting particularly useful. It wasn't long before I came to appreciate the white LEDs -- to the point where I now feel obligated to leave them set on the highest brightness level at all times. Even in my absurdly bright office, it makes reading keys somewhat easier during the occasional times when I need to glance down. Interestingly enough, the WASD and arrow keys have their own brightness settings which are separate from the rest of the keys. If you wanted to, you could have everything else turned off while leaving those on full brightness. One complaint that I could see people having is that, even on the brightest setting (of which there are four, plus "off"), the keys aren't actually all that bright depending on your room's lighting. This didn't bother me so much, but I couldn't help but notice it nonetheless. Additionally, there's a game-mode key which disables the Windows / context-menu keys when enabled; media controls (play/pause, skip, mute, etc.); and a rolling volume control that's far more fun to use than it has any right to be. A lone USB (2.0) pass-through sits at the top, right next to the keyboard's USB cord. I'll go ahead and admit to not even knowing about it for a few days. While it worked for my purposes (wireless headphones), the placement might be awkward for certain devices. The G710+ includes six programmable "G-keys" on its left-hand side that, when used in conjunction with three different modes, can perform 18 separate functions. I found these keys to be within reasonable reach but not so tightly packed in that I inadvertently hit one of them instead of, say, the Esc key. The software used to set all of this up is fairly intuitive and minimalistic, thankfully offering a decent selection of suggested commands to choose from. Of course, you can get totally crazy with this and make your own involved script for keys if that's what you desire. Lastly, there is a detachable wrist rest that becomes rather useful due to the keyboard's height. It's not the most comfortable thing I've set my wrists on, but it is adequate, and its shape complements the device's overall aesthetic, which looks nice -- except for the fingerprints that will surely ensue. All told, I really enjoyed using the Logitech G710+. There's solid performance to back up the stylish look of this keyboard, from the vibrant orange finish to the sleek body angles to the white LED backlighting. If I were out looking for a replacement mechanical keyboard with reasonable game-centric functionality, this would be a serious contender, even at $149.99.
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WASD forever
Before eventually realizing the error of my ways, I was perfectly content with buying very cheap keyboards and burning through them once they became too dirty to deal with or simply broke. As someone who plays PC games and ge...

Review: PowerA FUS1ON Tournament Controller

Oct 31 // Dale North
FUS1ON Tournament Controller (Xbox 360 [reviewed], PS3)Manufacturer: PowerAMSRP: $79.99 PowerA says that they've consulted with a group of professional gamers and have used their best tech and materials to make this premium controller. It certainly looks the part, with its sleek looking design and distinctive analog sticks. The braided cable is 10 feet long and feels like a quality component. The ribbed stock grips also look nice, but feel a bit off in my hands. Thankfully, the grips are changable, and matte and "soft touch" grips are also included, along with a mini screwdriver.  My only design gripe is that the metallic painted brand emblem at the top of the controller seems a bit cheap for the $79.99 asking price. And while we're on looks, it should be noted that the FUS1ON also features illumination options. A small button on the back lets you select from five different backlight colors for the analog sticks and face buttons. Off is also an option. A sharp-looking black and orange accented protective travel case is included for transport. In use, I immediately came to appreciate the FUS1ON's analog sticks, which are lower and wider than your standard Xbox 360 or PS3 analog sticks. The top of the stick is really wide and almost flat, which made them easier to hold onto in far extremes, like what you might encounter in a racing game. It felt like more of the meat of my thumbs stayed on the top of the stick, making it feel more secure in use. I liked the feel of steering while playing some Forza Horizon, and that's likely because the action on these sticks are really smooth. I don't know that I felt more of the claimed precision in shooters, like Call of Duty: Black Ops, but I felt fully capable in aiming and movement, and I definitely noticed the smooth movement. Maybe the difference in throw range made for slightly more accurate feeling aiming, but it's hard to be sure. The face buttons are high quality parts that are responsive and sport admirable action. The triggers have a shorter travel distance than you might be used to from a standard Xbox 360 controller, but they worked well in every game I tried them out on. PowerA says that the d-pad is pro gamer inspired, and features precise 8-way control. My experience in my go-to d-pad testing games, like Dig Dug, Lumines, and Street Fighter II, says differently. The Xbox Live Arcade release of Dig Dug is notorious for showing d-pad responsiveness weaknesses when it comes to directional changes; with the standard Xbox 360 d-pad it is nearly unplayable. The classic quarter muncher could be played with the FUS1ON, but turns came late, and sudden changes of direction didn't always register reliably. It's somewhat stiff action also gave me troubles Street Fighter II HF, as quarter-circle moves were harder to pull off. Forget about half-circle sweeps! The d-pad fared somewhat better in puzzle games like Lumines Live!, where the diagonal directions are rarely used. For shooters and other games that might be played in a gaming tournament, the FUS1ON should serve well. I could definitely see players taking to the wide, smooth analog sticks. I wouldn't worry much about the d-pad outside of puzzle games that require its use. For shooters, where the d-pad is assigned to item or menu changes, it should be fully sufficient.  The MSRP of $79.99 is a lot to ask for a controller, even it it is a "pro," premium option. For anyone considering other controllers to give them an edge in competitive play, try the FUS1ON out. The analog sticks alone may be worth the outlay for you.
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FUS1ON Tournament Controller review
Wired, high-performance, specially tweaked "pro" controllers are all the rage these days with how popular tournament gaming has become. PowerA throws their entry into the ring with their latest, the FUS1ON Tournament Controller. I've given the Xbox 360 version a solid testing by playing through a dozen or more varied games to see just how "pro" this controller is.

Review: Razer Kraken Pro Headset

Oct 26 // Chris Carter
Product: Razer Kraken Pro HeadsetManufacturer: RazerInput: PC Audio/Mic splitter, or standard 3.5mm jackMSRP: $79.99 Since this is being advertised as "the most comfortable headset ever," I had to put that claim to the test. To trial the comfort factor, I wore them for two lengthy sessions, among other shorter bursts -- one five hours and the other, eight. In these power sessions, I tried it on a variety of content: PC games, portables, music, films, TV shows, and everything in-between. At some point during both of these experiments, I forgot I was even wearing them. The top headband is so cushioned that I can barely feel it unless I'm thinking about it, and the headphones are fairly light at 0.65 lbs. At times, the side-cups make themselves aware and you'll have to re-position them, but they were never uncomfortable. Speaking of the cups, they're built with plush circumaural padding, which provides a decent (but not shockingly good) amount of noise isolation. Unless you have elf ears, you should find that your listening devices fit fairly well into the comfy cups. When compared to other headets, I have to say; I own around ten pairs of non-bud sets, and I've found that the comfort factor actually works out as advertised. Since I review games fairly often, long gaming sessions are normal for me, and where other headsets would get muggy or itchy after a while, the Pro feels great. Specifically, this should speak to MMO fans, who find themselves on long raids in need of a comfortable headset with a mic. So if you're tired of scratchy or bulky feeling headphones, this is your huckleberry. As far as looks go, the Kraken is a fairly sexy headset, but the bright green may be a little too flashy for your tastes: especially if you work in a professional office environment. The green may not literally light up and look too ridiculous, but odds are, you will be noticed with these on (which, depending on your personality, you may enjoy). Thankfully though, the mic is retractable (and flexible), so if you don't need it, it doesn't look ridiculous popping upwards like every other headset. You can also get the Pro in black. In terms of functionality, the Kraken accomplishes everything it sets out to do, but just be aware that it does lack some features found in higher-range headsets. For instance, the Kraken doesn't have inline volume control, mic control, Bluetooth, console support out of the box, or handset/phone call controls -- so if you're looking for a more versatile headset, you may want to look at something else, like the Tiamat. Since they're primarily meant for PC gaming, they come with an audio/mic splitter so that you can chat/podcast/Skype to your heart's content. The standard audio cable is 4.27 ft., which isn't a whole lot of slack, but you also have the extended 6.6 ft. length of the splitter. There's also no software drivers here: just plug and play.  As previously mentioned, the mic is retractable, and pulls out very easily without having to take the headset off. It might take a few times to get used to position when you're pulling it out, but with a good two-handed grip you can easily retract it. The material for the mic and mic-stem feel sturdy enough that it won't snap if you apply too much force, and should last you a long while. The audio itself comes in both clear, and loud. I tried comparing it to a few comparable Turtle Beach and Astro headsets in the same price range side by side, and I found that the Kraken Pro was capable of a higher sound output. The only downside is that the lows are crazy powerful, which may either be a good or bad thing depending on the person; so you might need to hit your EQ. Otherwise, I have no real complaints for a headset that lacks on-board volume control. The audio quality itself also isn't worthy of truly calling it "surround," and from what I can tell, it only supports 2.1. I enjoyed my time with the Kraken Pro headset, and look forward to busting it out during lengthy gaming sessions for the foreseeable future. While console support tout of the box would be nice, it still works great with mobile handsets, portables, and of course, as intended, any PC. The Pro is listed at $79.99, but you can pick up the non-Pro (with no mic and no included splitter adapter) for $59.99.
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Release the Kraken!
Choosing a headset can prove to be mighty difficult in today's era. There's a ton of options; whether it's comfort level, sound quality, or functionality. Usually headsets tend to favor one factor over the other, leaving you ...

Review: Digital Storm Marauder

Oct 25 // Alex Bout
First off, let's go over the specs of the Marauder. For this review, we'll be taking a closer look at the "Level 3" version of the system. Processor: Intel i5-3570K 3.4GHzMotherboard: ASUS P8Z77-V LXRAM: 8GB Corsair Vengeance (Low profile)Power Supply: 600W Corsair GSHard Drive: 1TB Seagate Barracuda 7200RPMVideo Card: XFX Radeon HD 7850 2GB Overview Right up front, I have to say that I'm a real big fan of this computer. The components used are pretty solid and made by reputable companies, unlike some of the other companies who offer services similar to Digital Storm. The case of the Marauder is military themed, giving it more of a rugged look than some cases out there nowadays. Designed to look like an ammunition case, the entire case is cammo green with easy-to-open clasps on the top, which really only take a few seconds to undo (hurray for quick access!). The left side panel has transparent plastic allowing you to see through to the interior of the computer with two vents where you can install two extra fans if you'd like. In addition to two fans in the front and one in the back, the Marauder comes with three removable air filters (two on the bottom and a jumbo one in the front). I'm not a big fan of how the filters are placed, but they seem to be relatively high quality filters (well, as high quality as filters can get, I suppose). To top the military theme off, the buttons resemble missile launch buttons, where the big red button is power and the yellow/black striped button is protected by a flip-up plastic cover. Going into more detail on the case... As I was saying before, the case has a very militaristic theme, which makes it interesting to look at. The first thing I noticed when I saw the computer were the two handles on top; they make it extremely easy to carry around. Of course, this doesn't make much of a difference if you don't really move your computer around frequently. The sides come off extremely easy, which is a plus if you're like me and open your computer up all the time for no good reason. They're attached by two latches (two per each door) and you just need to unbuckle them to take the cover off. No tools, no time needed at all -- props, Digital Storm. The front panel has the usual ports you would expect out of a computer: audio and microphone jacks along with two USB 3.0 ports. The DVD-RW drive is sadly not a Blu-ray player, but I can definitely get over that. However, it bothers my OCD side a little that the color of the drive does not match the color of the case.  The inside of the Marauder is nice, clean, and has plenty of space As expected of a company that builds computers for a living, the inside of the Marauder is very clean. There are no PSU cables sticking out or any real mess to worry about, for that matter. As I was saying before, there are three fans (two in front, one in back), but the thing that I got the most kick out of were the easily removable hard drive bays. They're remarkably intuitive to use -- all it takes is squeezing the two pinch things in the front and a pull. Let's get down to the PC components So what really makes any computer worth it are the components inside, and what really makes or breaks a company that sells these computers is how they compare to their competition and those who choose to build themselves. Here's the price you can get just by buying the components yourself: Part: Price: Corsair Vengeance 8GB $39.99 XFX HD 7850 $224.99 Intel i5-3570K $224.98 ASUS P8Z77 LX $139.99 Corsair 600W PSU $89.71 Seagate Barracuda 7200RPM 1TB $69.99 NZXT Phantom 410 Case $99.99 Windows 7 Home Premium $119.99 Lite-On Optical Drive $22.99 Total: $1032.62 So with the Marauder's base price starting at $1199, that's a $166.38 difference just to put some parts together for you. With that kind of money, you might as well buy a decent monitor! Though, there's some justification for the extra $166 that may tip the scales in Digital Storm's favor. Along with the computer, you're going to get lifetime support and three years of hardware warranty. To top it off, Digital Storm's customer service is very good. I called them as if the Marauder was having major issues (it wasn't, but I wanted to test out their service) and they immediately offered to send me a replacement computer, no questions asked. The representative just went straight there. For the investment you're putting into your computer, I would definitely consider paying a little extra for service like that. Component discussion For the most part, I agree with the selection of parts used in the Marauder. I might have chosen a higher wattage on the power supply in case I wanted to overclock it in the future, but it's definitely going to be fine at 600W. Additionally, I'm personally partial to Western Digital hard drives, as I've had some problems with Seagate's reliability, but that's not a big deal at all -- Seagate is still a reputable company. Obviously, the case I chose isn't the same case that comes with the Marauder, but it's a decent case with plenty of room for a mid tower, and the price range is around the price I would estimate the case on the Marauder would cost anyway. Moving on to the operating system, I chose to go with Windows 7 Home Premium despite Windows 8 coming out simply because it's more reliable and you'll be safe running all of your games/programs on it right off the bat. That being said, Windows 8 does only cost $40 for an upgrade (so you can grab an old Windows disc and install it as a trial, then install Windows 8, etc.) and that can knock off a bit off the price. Again, it's up to you -- install Ubuntu if that's what makes you happy. How it runs games While I'm not going to go into too much detail on this because it's not quite needed -- there are extensive analyses to be found elsewhere -- as expected from a high end computer, it runs essentially everything on max settings. I averaged about 40 frames per second while playing World vs. World in Guild Wars 2, and 60 FPS in Battlefield 3. I also ranged above 60 FPS on League of Legends and StarCraft II, but those weren't much of a surprise considering that I can run them on my laptop just fine. Bottom line As with every other review in the world on things like this, the big question is whether or not I think you should buy it. As always, I'm going to say it's conditional. If you have any knowledge when it comes to building computers, then I'd say that it's not worth it. Save yourself the money and buy something personalized with the money you saved. Don't forget that most of these components come with warranties of their own and you can utilize them at any time -- Digital Storm just makes it pathetically easy. If you don't have experience building computers, then it's probably best to go with the Marauder. It's an excellent machine and the warranty will make your life easier. However, there's a lot to be said about learning to custom build your own computer. You get to know a lot about your setup and eventually become your own IT support along with being able to help others! I wouldn't necessarily experiment with such expensive parts like this, but it's definitely worth a try if you're in the market for your first time.
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Ammo not included
For some people, putting together their own custom computer isn't worth the time and effort. Thankfully, companies like Digital Storm exist to fill that void by providing excellent desktops at reasonable prices that are alrea...

Review: Dynaflo Liquid-Armor

Oct 22 // Daniel Starkey
Included in an order of this strange acetone-scented magic-juice is a microfiber cloth to both clean and help apply the substance, as well as a small spray container about the size of a bottle of breath spray.  To apply, you use one side of the cloth to clear the screen of fingerprints and dust, then spray across the entire surface. Before it dries, spread the liquid with the reverse side of the cloth, wait about ten minutes, and then wipe down with the first side again.  If you finish that process correctly, Dynaflo claims that your screen will be twice as scratch resistant as it would be using a standard screen protector. Allegedly, the coating also helps prevent the build-up of dust and finger prints for up to six months. While I obviously didn't have six months to test this stuff, I did allow my electronics to sit around for a few weeks without their daily dusting, and it seemed to work pretty well. Two televisions that were left side by side showed substantive differences between their respective dust buildups. Fingerprint tests yielded similar results. While it didn't make those annoying ridges on the case of my glossy black tech totally disappear, their severity was noticeably reduced. Testing claims of scratch-resistance was a bit more difficult. I didn't have two identical devices I could try this out on. Instead, I just went about my daily life and waited for the inevitable collision between my phone and the planet.  Thankfully, unlike the last time I dropped my poor Galaxy Nexus, the phone picked up no scratches, and seemed to be completely fine -- despite hitting some fairly coarse concrete. I'll count that as a win. While it may be a bit odd, it does seem that Liquid Armor lives up to the manufacturer's big words. As I mentioned earlier, as screen protectors go, it is on the expensive side, but the bottle had enough solution to coat three laptops, two televisions (24"), the aforementioned Galaxy Nexus, and a Nintendo DS. So it's certainly possible to get your money's worth, on top of the flexibility of applying it to more than one kind of screen. Overall, I'd definitely give it a recommendation if you're a stickler for electronic cleanliness, or are really paranoid and have a dozen or so smartphones. Either way, if you pick this up, you likely won't be disappointed. 
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Do you have liquid protection?
Our electronic world, for all of the new abilities it can give us, is infinitely more fragile than it once was. Some modern devices literally shatter when dropped a few feet. Hell, even the more robust devices in our silicon ...

Review: PDP Afterglow Universal Wireless Headset

Oct 20 // Dale North
Product: PDP Afterglow Universal Wireless HeadsetManufacturer: PDPInput: USBMSRP: $89.99 By my tastes, PDP's Afterglow headset is a bit too flashy. They're literally flashy as the earcups and headband are made of transparent plastic, and are lit with colored LED lighting. Even the extendable boom mic has a LED light built into it, with its color indicating mute status and more. The outer hard, transparent headband stands away from the inner suspension headband by quite a bit, making it look like a big halo around your head. For my tastes, it stands out too far. But, if you're fine with (or even enjoy) your head looking big and glowing as you play games, you'll dig their showy design.  The Afterglow fits pretty comfortably on my head, though the tension of the inner, soft suspension band could stand to be a bit more relaxed. The earcups are sufficiently soft, and the whole kit is pretty light. I had no problem wearing these for three hours or more in testing. The Afterglow headset works out to be a 'universal' solution by way of its USB transmitter. When plugged into a PC or MAC, it works as an audio device, instantly transmitting wireless audio to the headset. A cable that runs from the bottom of the transmitter has a standard 1/8" jack can be plugged into several other devices to send audio wirelessly. For most consoles you'll see the included RCA stereo piggyback cables, which grab the audio from your console before it's passed along to whatever device it's plugged into.  For those using a Nintendo Wii or an older system, like a PlayStation 2, the RCA stereo piggyback cables work nicely, plugging right into the A/V cable of the system. It's also quite easy to connect the RCA cables (or the 1/8" jack) to your television's audio output, which lets everything coming into your television come through the transmitter and into the headset.  Things are a bit more complicated if you're using a TV that does not have audio outputs, or are working in an HDMI-only situation with the Xbox 360 or PS3. You can try to simultaneously use both the A/V and HDMI cables on your console, though you might have to do some audio routing trickery to get it working. If you have an older Xbox 360, you can get the Xbox 360 Audio Adapter, which features stereo RCA outputs. This works perfectly fine alongside an HDMI video connection. Finally, for portable devices, you can directly connect the included 1/8" jack cable to the device and a port on the headset, essentially making them powered headphones. As soon as the transmitter receives power (via USB), pairing is automatic and instant.  The Afterglow sounds great. I put this set through its paces with several games on both PS3 and Xbox 360 and came away surprised at how good they sound. The 50mm drivers put forth a clear, full range sound. There's a really great low-end response that never sounds pushed or distorted. It's a bit odd to have a more sophisticated sound coming out of a headset that glows.  A quick couple of test recordings on phone and PC showed that the boom mic does a proper job of picking up the vocal range, and that the noise canceling feature is doing its job. The right earcup end features a large logo'd power button that doubles as a mute button. On the left side you'll find a volume dial and a game/voice mix dial. Below that is a cable jack to connect the headset to an Xbox 360 controller for voice chat. The headset is charged via the included mini-USB cable, and PDP claims 10 hours of use on a single charge. A sound mode button lets you flip through three settings: one for pure audio, another for a more immersive sound, and a bass boost mode. I found that I liked the natural setting the best, though there's nothing wrong with the other two.  The only issue I had with the headset was a couple of instances of having the volume drop out after changing the volume dial's setting. By turning it completely down and up the issue was resolved both times.  Unless you like looking like you're wearing a lost prop from Tron, you may not dig its design, but the key thing to get from this review is that PDP's Afterglow headset sounds pretty good, and does so at a reasonable price for a wireless set (MSRP $89.99).  
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Our 'glowing' review
With all of the gaming headset options on the market this year, you've got to do something to stand out. PDP's Afterglow Universal Wireless Headset certainly does, as its headband and earcups are illuminated, and glow brightly.  Looks are one thing, but price and audio performance matter most to gamers shopping for headsets. Thankfully, this headset stands out on these fronts as well.


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