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    Razer Developing Optical Keyboard Switches: Razer Purple

    Another homegrown member is coming to Razer’s keyboard switch family later this year or early next. Dubbed the Razer Purple switch (for now, although it may end up with a different name when it comes to market), it’s going to be the company’s first foray into optical switch technology.
     
    It’s more than just a switch, though; you can think of it as a platform onto which Razer will continue to build, and it’s the full realization of the company’s decision to develop its own production lines within switch-making factories.
     
    When Razer started playing with making its own switches, all the company really did was build a near clone of Cherry MX Blue switches, using multiple manufacturers for the task. Then it added a tactile Orange switch (essentially a clone of the Cherry MX Brown). Eventually the company sought more control over the process and now has its own production lines within its partners’ factories.
     
    Since then, it’s added the Yellow (linear) switch, the “mecha-membrane” switch, and a low-profile switch that’s made its way into a Razer Blade laptop.

     
    The Purple Platform
    To its credit, Razer has been unafraid to delve into experimental keyboard switch technology, and the Purple switch effort shows that in spades.
    Essentially, when the optical Purple switch debuts, it will be the first of multiple generations for Razer. Before it pushes the boundaries of what an optical can do, Razer is planning to just focus on getting all the fundamentals as perfect as possible: characteristics, actuation, reset, consistency, tolerance, keyfeel, bounce/return, and so on.
    Then, it will explore unlocking some of the benefits that optical switches can bring.
     
    The Optical Advantage
    Although optical switches and standard desktop mechanical switches are the same in that both use a plastic plunger mounted in a squarish housing, they have different sensing methods and are therefore implemented differently on keyboards. In the simplest of terms, whereas a standard mechanical switch has two metal contact points, an optical switch actuates when the plunger interrupts a light beam that emanates from the PCB.
     
    For a primer on how optical switches work, head here, but the upshot is that because of the difference in construction, optical switches have some advantages. 
     
    For instance, there’s no soldering, so the switches can be hot swappable, which means you can easily swap different types of switches. For example, you could load up a keyboard with clicky switches or linear ones, or a mix (whatever your heart desires), and change it back whenever you feel like it, like on the Epic Gear Defiant keyboard.
     
    Although we don’t have a way of testing it ourselves just yet, some optical switch makers claim that the inherent lack of metal debounce in optical switches makes them “faster.” We’ve also seen several demos of optical switch keyboards functioning underwater--in other words, you won’t nuke your expensive plank if you drop your water/beer/Mountain Dew on it.
     
    Analog?
    Most importantly, though, optical switches unlock the possibility of analog input on mechanical keyboards.
     
    We’re on record that analog keyboard input could become enormously important to gamers, but so far, there are just two analog mechanical keyboards in existence. One is a promising prototype, the Aimpad R5 (why has no one bought that IP yet?), and the other is the Wooting One (full review here).
    By dint of being a shipping product, Wooting has the advantage, but for all of the keyboard’s wonders, it still needs a bit of work. What analog technology needs is the focus of a big company with plentiful resources. Enter Razer.
     
    Platform Patience
    It’s surely exciting for gamers to imagine how quickly analog keyboard technology could accelerate once Razer gets behind it, but don’t hold your breath. As we mentioned above, Razer is pacing itself with the development of its optical switch platform.
     
    Don’t expect first-gen Purple switches to have analog input, or ever hot-swap capabilities. They’re going to be fine switches, but it won’t be until the second or third generation that we’ll likely see more of the features that optical switches offer over and above what standard desktop switches do.
     
    However, there’s a hidden advantage there, and that’s why we’re referring to this as a “platform:” Once the hardware is perfected, the technological upgrades can primarily come in the form of firmware and software updates--including analog capabilities. Therefore, it’s not at all unreasonable that we could see a Razer keyboard ship with first-gen Purple optical switches, and then you could keep that same keyboard and load up second-gen Purple switches when they’re available, or at some point install a big firmware update that enables analog sensing.
    Finally, it’s important to note that Razer’s efforts on the standard desktop mechanical switch side of things will continue unabated. The new Purple optical platform will alongside the Razer Green, Orange, and Yellow switches.
     
    What’s next for Razer and its keyboard switch skunkworks? Who knows, maybe we’ll see a version of the Hall Effect switch emerge at some point.

    Corsair HX1200 PSU Review

    Given Corair's highly successful RMx power supplies, which lack the digital interface found on all RMi models and use a different fan to bring costs down, the company thought to do something similar with its high-end HXi family. But instead of naming the new line HXx, which would have looked strange, Corsair simply removed the letter "i." After all, there was already a portfolio of HX PSUs. Now it's revamped with new members.
     
    The HX line-up includes four models with capacities ranging from 750W to 1200W. The biggest difference between Corsair's HXi and HX models, besides the latter's lower price, is the lack of software control/monitoring, since a digital interface circuit is missing from the HX family. Both the HXi and HX PSUs use the same 135mm FDB fan. It's incredibly quiet, even at high speeds, so we expect these lower-cost models to still feature great acoustic profiles under any circumstance.
     
    Apparently not every enthusiast wants a power supply with digital circuits. Some have no intention of connecting their PSU and motherboard, believing that simpler is often better. This also gets around an extra installation step, even if it's just one cable and some extra software.
     
    According to Corsair, the HX1200i and HX1200 we're reviewing today are separated by only $10. We figured the HX1200 would be significantly less expensive, making it more attractive. But that tiny delta compels us to lean towards the HX1200i, frankly. The only HX model with a notably lower price tag than its HXi equivalent is the HX750, which costs $30 less.
    At least all of the HX units are similarly modular, with the ability to toggle between one and multiple +12V rails through a switch on the PSU's rear panel (where the modular cables plug in).
     
    The same warranty that covers Corsair's highest-end PSUs also applies to the HXes, giving you 10 years of protection. With the cryptocurrency craziness in full swing, we expect a lot of HX units to power mining rigs operating at nearly full load continuously. Under such harsh conditions, a 10-year warranty could prove catastrophic if RMAs start rolling in at an accelerated rate. We don't think any power supply will last for prolonged periods of time under the kind of duress that mining imposes. We've even heard that some companies are thinking about cutting their coverage if a PSU is used for mining, though we're not sure how they plan to prove this.
     
    Corsair's HX1200 achieves a Cybenetics ETA-B rating and an 80 PLUS Gold certification. When it comes to noise, it is LAMBDA-A+-rated, indicating very quiet operation. The list of protection features is thorough; Corsair even offers OCP at +12V through a switch, located on the back of the PSU.
     
    The 135mm cooling fan uses a fluid dynamic bearing, so it should last quite a while. In a PSU backed by a hefty 10-year warranty, the fan has to be super reliable.
     
    A 20cm depth makes this a long PSU, indeed.
     
    Power Specifications

     
    The minor rails boast an impressive 150W of maximum combined power, while the +12V rail can deliver up to 100A if needed, handling the PSU's full power on its own. Lastly, the 5VSB rail is also quite strong with 17.5W capacity. We like to see 1kW+ PSUs with beefy 5VSB circuits.
     
    In the multi-+12V rail mode, there are eight +12V rails with 40A maximum current output each. All of the rails combined can deliver the same wattage (1200W) in single-rail mode, of course.
     
    Cables & Connectors

     
    There are two EPS connectors along with eight PCIe ones, all available at the same time. The number of SATA connectors is huge, while the eight four-pin Molex connectors should cover every need. Some miners would probably ask for 10 or 12 PCIe connectors, but Corsair obviously didn't have a cryptocurrency boom in mind when the HX1200 was being designed.
     
    Power Distribution
    As mentioned, there is a switch that lets you choose between one +12V rail or multiple ones. In the HXi models, this is achieved using the Corsair Link software. However, since the HX models don't have a digital interface, a different approach had to be used.
     
    The +12V rails can deliver up to 40A each if the multi-rail mode is selected. According to Corsair, each individual connector in this PSU has over-current protection, so no more than 40A goes through any given cable.
     
     

    EVGA Unleashes SC17 1080 Gaming Laptop

    EVGA announced its plans to cram a GTX 1080 into its SC17 gaming laptop back at Computex, and today, the SC17 1080 became available.
     
    The new EVGA SC17 1080 is mostly unchanged from its predecessor, the SC17 1070. It still features an overclockable Intel Core i7-7820HK Kaby Lake processor, 32GB (2x16GB) DDR4-2666 memory, a 256GB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD, a 1TB 7,200RPM HDD, and a 17.3” 3840 x 2160 IPS display with Nvidia G-Sync onboard. One of the few negatives from our review of the SC17 1070 was that the GPU was somewhat underpowered for gaming at 4K (although it was still better than its predecessor, the original EVGA SC17, which had a GTX 980M), but EVGA seems to keep throwing more graphics horsepower under the hood with every iteration, and the SC17 1080’s GTX 1080 should get you closer to comfortable framerates at the display’s native resolution.
     
    Another gripe we had with the SC17 1070 was that although it had enough horsepower to power virtual reality (VR) games and HMDs, it wasn’t entirely VR friendly, with only two USB 3.0 ports and a USB 3.1 Type-C port (with a Type-A adapter) residing on the opposite side of the chassis as the display outputs. Three ports is fine for running an HTC Vive (so long as you had a USB extension to get the cable near the display output), but not if you want to use the Oculus Rift with Touch (which requires four USB 3.0 connections).
     

     
    However, the SC17 1080 remedies these issues with three USB 3.0 ports, in addition to the USB 3.1 Type-C port (with a Type-A adapter), giving it enough connectivity to run an Oculus Touch setup. Even better, the third USB 3.0 port is right next to the display output (two mini DisplayPort 1.4 interfaces and an HDMI 2.0 port), making it much more adept for a mobile VR gaming solution.
     
    EVGA had to sacrifice some of the SC17 1070’s 1.07-inch profile to accommodate the new GPU, with the thickest part of the SC17 1080 measuring in at 1.3 inches. It’s thicker towards the back of the device (where the beefy cooling system and GPU is housed), but it thins out towards the front. The company also somehow managed to shave some weight off the SC17 in the process of bulking up, with the SC17 1080 listed at 8.93lbs to the SC17 1070's 9.04lbs.
     
    Both the CPU and GPU are overclockable using EVGA’s Precision XOC Mobile software or a hotkey preset (SC mode or downclock with EOC hotkeys), and the keyboard’s LED backlighting can also be controlled using the company-branded software.
     
    The EVGA SC17 1080 is available now on EVGA’s website for $3,000.
     

     

    Facebook's bringing 'Stories' to the desktop!

    It appears Facebook is not giving up on the Facebook Story. The social media giant is planning on expanding the vanishing pictures and videos to be visible on its desktop version as well as mobile. 
     
    Facebook Stories, the outrageous clone of the original Snapchat format, currently sits above the newsfeed in a central position on the Facebook app. The feature will now be moved to the right-hand side of the screen on the desktop, becoming the first time Stories has appeared on non-mobile devices.
     
    When a user's profile picture is clicked on, the Story will pop up, blacking-out the background of the desktop, as screenshots sourced by the French site Siécle Digitaldemonstrate. Facebook confirmed to TechCrunch that stories on the desktop is still a test but said it would be rolled out to a wider audience in the near future.
    Since Snapchat launched the 'Stories' format, Facebook's companies have been quick to adapt the feature for their own platforms. Instagram was the first to rip-off the Snapchat feature in the summer of 2016. Since then, Instagram Stories has grown to over 250 million daily users, crushing Snapchat’s 166 million.
     
    Facebook also joined in at the beginning of 2017, hoping to steal some of the success of Instagram (as did WhatsApp and Messenger). Outside of the Facebook companies, Tinder has introduced a feature that's similar to Stories. However, as the year has developed it has become clear that Instagram is now the chosen platform for users to share their visual communication.
     
    Unsurprisingly, TechCrunch reports that over half of businesses have made a story with Instagram over the past year while this number dwindles on Facebook.
    This is nowhere more evident than in the graveyard of Facebook’s story bar. In April 2017, instead of a blank space where stories should be, Facebook introduced blurred out, ghosted icons of your friends. An awkward reminder of its continued unpopularity. Still, an amusing irony considering the icon of the bruised Snapchat is a ghost.

    Intel’s Core i9 Extreme Edition CPU is an 18-core beast

    At one of the most exciting – but least surprising, thanks to a series of leaks and rumors – announcements at Computex 2017, Intel unveiled its powerful new line of Core X-Series processors, including the beastly 18-core Core i9 CPU.
    The Intel Core i9 is the world's first ever consumer desktop CPU with 18 cores and 36 threads – out gunning even AMD's upcoming Ryzen 9 Threadripper CPU, which is due to come out with 16-cores. It is also the first ever teraflop desktop CPU, according to Intel.
     

     
    Last year at Computex, Intel unveiled its first 10-core consumer CPU, the company's move into the world of a "megatasking." It was a pricey chip, launching at around $1,700, but it satisfied the needs for users who needed to juggle several intensive tasks at once. Now, Intel is upping the ante with a whole new family of processors for enthusiasts, the Core X-series, and it's spearheaded by its first 18-core CPU, the i9-7980XE.
    Priced at $1,999, the 7980XE is clearly not a chip you'd see in an average desktop. Instead, it's more of a statement from Intel. It beats out AMD's 16-core Threadripper CPU, which was slated to be that company's most powerful consumer processor for 2017. And it gives Intel yet another way to satisfy the demands of power-hungry users who might want to do things like play games in 4K while broadcasting them in HD over Twitch. And as if its massive core count wasn't enough, the i9-7980XE is also the first Intel consumer chip that packs in over a teraflop worth of computing power.
     
    Its full name is the Intel Core i9-7900X X-series processor, and this first version will be made available with 10 cores and 20 threads, with 18, 16, 14 and 12 core variants coming soon.
    The 10-core i9 variant will come with a base clock speed of 3.3GHz, Inel Turbo Boost Max technology, which ups the frequency to 4.5GHz, 13.75MB of L3 cache, support for 4 channels of DDR4-2666 RAM and a TDP (thermal design power) of 140W. At launch it will cost $999 (around £780, AU$1300).
    The 18-core Core i9 7980XE, along with the 16-core Core i9 7960X, 14-core Core i9 7940X and 12-core Core i9 7920X should follow soon.
    All will come with up to 44 PCIe lanes and support for Intel Optane memory.
     

     
    Keeping it in the X-Series family
    While the new Core i9 CPUs are understandably stealing the limelight, Intel also revealed the rest of the X-Series family of processors, which Intel says is its most "scalable, accessible and powerful desktop platform ever", and covers a range of processors with 4 to 18 cores.
    These eighth generation Core processors offer a 30% performance improvement over the current seventh generation CPUs, according to Gregory Bryant, corporate vice president and general manager of the Client Computing Group at Intel Corporation, who took to the stage at Computex to announce the new generation.
    These CPUs will also be up to 10% faster for multi-thread performance, and up to 15% faster for single-thread performance compared to the current generation of Core processors. These new processors will make use of Intel's new X299 chipset, which comes with improved I/0 capabilities.
     

     
    Gaming, and virtual reality in particular, will benefit from these new processors, according to Intel, and will also improve streaming for gamers who want to show off their gameplay.  
     
    At the launch event Intel demoed a PC running a Core X-Series processor that was live streaming someone playing a virtual reality game to Twitch. Thanks to the power improvements of the new CPUs, the PC was able to simultaneously broadcast a number of views and angles of the gameplay live – something that would normally take a number of separate PCs to achieve.
     
    It's all very exciting stuff, and Intel said that we should see many Core X-series processors available to buy by the holiday system this year. Maybe even in time for Black Friday, we hope.

    Kingston's First NVMe SSD, The KC1000

    Kingston has reintroduced the KC1000 NVMe SSD. We first saw the drive in January at CES, but the company wanted to hold the details until the official launch. Seemingly, that is in the very near future--mid June.
    The KC series has historically targeted system builders and corporations upgrading systems en masse. Kingston released several client SSDs under the KC brand, and many of them were tuned for increased stability and longevity but share similar hardware with models from the standard consumer product line. The KC1000 press release seems to turn the tables and take this series in a slightly different direction.
     
    "The demands of today’s performance power users are constantly being put to the test as new data-intensive applications push the boundaries of what can be achieved with even the market’s high performance professional workstations and most powerful gaming rigs,” said Ariel Perez, SSD business manager, Kingston. “KC1000 is the perfect solution to meet the needs of media and design professionals, gaming enthusiasts and anyone who needs ultra-low latency storage performance to end data bottlenecks. This native NVMe device offers one of the industry’s most powerful storage solutions for high-resolution content delivery, virtual reality applications, accelerated game play or a competitive edge for the creative professional on tight deadlines.”
     
    Gamers, power users, and enthusiasts have always been directed to the HyperX brand, but in recent years that series shifted to target gamers exclusively. Kingston calls the KC1000 an "Ultimate Storage Upgrade for HD Video, PC Enthusiasts, Gaming and More." The release later identified a list of specific application categories the series will perform well in:
     
    High-resolution video editing Virtual and augmented reality applications CAD software applications Streaming media Graphically intensive video games Data visualization Real-time analytics  
    It seems the KC series may begin to target a wider audience with the introduction of the first Kingston NVMe SSD.
     
     
    The KC1000 series ships in three capacity sizes, but there are a total of six product SKUs. For each capacity, the drives ships as either a bare drive or with a half-height, half-length (HHHL) add-in card adapter. The performance coming from the Phision PS5007-E7 controller paired with Toshiba 15nm planar NAND looks strong. The sequential read performance reaches 2,700 MB/s, and the sequential writes are 900 MB/s for the 240GB model and 1,600 MB/s for the two largest-capacity drives. Random performance is also impressive, with up to 290,000 IOPS (225,000 for the 240GB). Users can reach up to 190,000 random write IOPS.
     
    Kingston backs the KC1000 series with a generous five-year limited warranty with ample endurance figures that reach as high as 1PB for the 960GB drive.

    Play FiveReborn LAN

    Select System: Windows Support Status: How To
    This tutorial is for those guys who want to play FiveReborn offline in LAN since they have a college proxy, or no internet access.
    To the Moderators :- Please add this to the FAQ. The part that you need to have FiveReborn.exe.dev for inst mentioned anywhere in the forums, no one
     
    Get GTA V. Now, install FiveReborn as given in the forums. Get the Enhanced Reborn trainer and install it. Use the Release or the Beta. I recommend the Beta. For hosting the server, make sure to open citmp-server.yml and change Announce=True to Announce=False. For using the client, just create a copy of FiveReborn.exe in the same folder and rename it to FiveReborn.exe.dev. Make sure you run FiveReborn.exe in Windows 7 Compatibility mode and as Admin. Now, you’ll need to make a hotspot with your mobile phone or router to create a LAN network. Now, open cmd and type in “ipconfig” without quotes. Search for the Ipv4 address and note it down. IF your university has a proxy server AND IF you are just connecting to a FiveReborn local server:-
    Disconnect your internet, start FiveReborn.exe and once it loads, reconnect your internet. IF your university has a proxy server AND IF you are hosting a FiveReborn local server AND connecting to your server:-
    Connect your internet, start the server, Disconnect the internet, start the client, and Reconnect.
    (Note: If you don’t disconnect your internet and start FiveReborn client, Social Club hangs infinitely. If you disconnect your internet and start FiveReborn server, it doesn’t start.) Now, if you get a black screen even after waiting for like 3 or 4 min, just try to close it by right clicking its entry on the taskbar and clicking on close. It’ll then load. Click on the settings wheel icon on the top-right, and type in that ip that you’ve noted and also set a username. Click on connect. Enjoy FiveReborn.

    Mass Effect: Andromeda Review

    After the first few hours of Mass Effect: Andromeda, I was discouraged--maybe even a little distraught. Within that short span of time, I'd already encountered unconvincing animations, bog standard missions, clunky user interface, stilted dialogue--basically every red flag you hope to avoid when approaching a lengthy shooter-RPG powered equally by action and story.
     
    Thankfully, Andromeda did improve. As I progressed, I unlocked exhilarating new combat options, met characters with deeper appeal than my initial crew, and discovered freely explorable worlds that finally fulfilled the series' decade-old planet-hopping promise. And yet, some of those early problems persisted throughout, and while I did catch glimmers of the original trilogy's greatness, that shine was often dulled by lifeless dialogue, tedious missions, and even technical shortcomings.
     

     
    To its credit, Andromeda boldly abandons the familiar. In place of the iconic Commander Shepard, we have Ryder, the daughter (or son) of a man chosen to lead one of four arks filled with intergalactic explorers looking to found colonies in a distant star cluster. Several disasters later, Ryder inherits her dad's job, and while the moments leading to and including that scene are pretty hackneyed, the stakes really sink in once you reach the Nexus--Andromeda's version of the earlier games' Citadel.
     
    Here you discover the other three other arks have gone missing and that the Nexus, which arrived ahead of the arks, has suffered every setback imaginable, from growing food shortages to a veritable civil war. With leadership in shambles and no resources to revive the cryogenically frozen colonists, the sudden arrival of an ark immediately lands Ryder in an uncomfortable position of power. In practice, the scenario felt more believable than typical "you are the chosen one" cliches. I understood why those characters would look to me and felt the weight of their desperation. So when the Nexus gradually sprang to life as I started fixing problems, I felt genuinely accomplished.
     
    In parallel with this more broadly-focused narrative--which encompasses much of the side content--the central storyline revolves around an evil alien race and its delusional, narcissistic leader, who poses a more immediate threat than food shortages. He's less one-dimensional than he initially seems, but the plot is largely predictable in a mindless blockbuster sort of way. The two stories intersect occasionally, and both pay off in the end.
     
    Truthfully, Andromeda's story problems stem more from delivery than from plot. The vast majority of Andromeda's characters are just dull, and conversations rarely delve deeper than arduous "get to know you" small talk. No one yells or cries or expresses any measurable emotion at any point, even when they explicitly talk about their feelings, and there's no Tyrion Lannister or Francis Underwood to keep things interesting. There was plenty of room for Game of Thrones-style power struggles on the Nexus, yet all political disagreements are merely mentioned without being explored. Even romance options feel stilted, and the culminating scene I unlocked for successfully wooing a crew member was not as explicit or exciting as you might expect.
     
     
    Worse still, your agency in these conversations is limited. Sure, you can periodically select from up to four dialogue options, but these frequently boil down to "be optimistic" or "be realistic." On paper, this system improves over the rigid renegade/paragon dichotomy of the original series, but in practice, the various options felt only superficially different. And regardless of what I picked, my inputs only rarely impacted the outcome. Even when I tried to be rude, characters generally found a way to shrug it off. And after beating the campaign, I can only recall one major decision that had serious repercussions, and even that felt contrived. It also paled in comparison to the memorably gut-wrenching choices forced on me in the original games.
    In fairness, Andromeda did sometimes surprise me with poignant moments, like my crew comforting me in a dark hour and a conversation with my partner AI about the meaning of life. The game just buries these gems under hours of empty or even cringe-worthy interactions filled with heavy-handed themes, awkward lines of dialogue, and weird idiomatic phrases that felt out of place in a far flung galaxy. What person says "What's the word on the street?" without irony in 2017 let alone 600-plus years in the future?
     
     
    Combat's one major flaw is the crafting system. I would call it more of a missed opportunity than a problem, but crafting is often the only way to get the weapons and armor you actually want, which means hours of scanning objects to accrue research points and many headaches dealing with the messy UI. Even bare essentials like comparing weapon stats can be tricky or even impossible. The crafting and loadout stations are also at opposite ends of the Tempest, which routinely forced me to run back and forth to get things done. You will occasionally find loot around the world, but it's severely utilized as a reward mechanic. I felt deeply satisfied when I finally completed my perfect loadout, but I'm not sure it was worth the energy.
    Crafting isn't Andromeda's biggest time-waster, however. That would be its tedious missions. Far too many open world quests--even some that feel important or come packaged in an interesting premise--devolve into multistep "go here, hit a button" errands. There's always another navpoint somewhere across the map or an NPC who needs exactly three items or a crucial datapad that's unexpectedly missing when you arrive. I frequently felt like an intergalactic errand boy, mindlessly scanning everything in sight so my omniscience AI partner could do whatever the situation required and give me a new waypoint to reach.
     
    These missions aren't all bad, per se, but they desperately needed some editing--or at least a wider variety of gameplay scenarios. Forcing players to repeat the exact same action three times or drive across the map to interact with one prompt isn't fun--it's padding. The campaign and crew loyalty missions provide better crafted experiences, but there's no avoiding at least some of the unimaginative tedium, especially since you rarely receive enough information upfront to really know what you're getting into.
    There is plenty to do outside of missions, however. Andromeda includes a somewhat convoluted meta-game that challenges you to raise planets' viability levels by establishing outposts and completing other quests. You can also hunt for "memory triggers" left by your father that eventually reveal a few interesting secrets. And then there's mining, which uses a hot/cold indicator to let you hunt for crafting resources while driving across the worlds; space travel, which lets you jump from to location to location, scanning planets for XP; and strike teams, which give you the option to send unseen groups of soldiers out on missions or earn additional rewards by jumping into a cooperative multiplayer horde mode match. Individually, these elements don't add much, but collectively, they do round out the sci-fi fantasy.
     

     
    Unfortunately, there's a dark cloud hanging over all of this: technical issues. Sure, the facial animations really don't look great, but the problems run deeper. On PS4, the framerate was all over the place both in and out of action. On both PS4 and PC, I encountered several audio issues, most notably multiple lines of dialogue playing at the same time, covering each other. I also saw other random glitches like characters that failed to load during conversations, exiting a conversation to find myself a room away from where I was previously, and enemies that fell into the level geometry. None of these issues rendered the game unplayable, but they were noticeable and pervasive.
    In many ways, Andromeda feels like a vision half-fulfilled. It contains a dizzying amount of content, but the quality fluctuates wildly. Its worlds and combat shine, but its writing and missions falter--and the relative strength of the former is not enough to compensate for the inescapable weakness of the latter. As a Mass Effect game, Andromeda falls well short of the nuanced politics, morality, and storytelling of its predecessors. For me, the series has always been about compelling characters and harrowing choices, so to find such weak writing here is bitterly disappointing. Yet even after 65 hours, I still plan on completing a few more quests. The game can't escape its shortcomings, but patient explorers can still find a few stars shining in the darkness.

    Kong: Skull Island Review

    In the final days of the Vietnam War, secretive organisation Monarch secures government funding to lead an expedition to a recently discovered island in search of new species. And they find them. Boy, do they find them.
     
    There’s a tale from the set of Kong: Skull Island that goes like this: faced with imagining the giant ape the audience would see standing in front of him, Samuel L. Jackson asked three questions. “How big is it? How fast is it? What it do?”
     
    What it does and how fast it is will be familiar to anyone who’s seen the beast on screen before. It wrestles similarly huge creatures, has a strained relationship with man (mostly man’s fault) and is far quicker than any human (so it’s best not to get caught at the back of a fleeing group). But that question of size? That’s where things have changed
     
    This is the second film in Legendary Entertainment’s MonsterVerse, following Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla, and the plan eventually is to have the two creatures face off. And 25 feet of ape (size taken from the Peter Jackson version, other heights are available) isn’t going to last long against 350 feet of nuclear-powered Japanese lizard, no matter how angry he is. As a result, while still noticeably smaller than Godzilla at 104 feet, this is the biggest Kong has ever been on screen. He’s also the best thing in this hit-and-miss adventure. Fur and sinew moving naturally, he feels tangible — as though he really is swatting helicopters out of the sky or taking a moment to admire the Southern Lights. He’s also got greater depth to his personality than most of the humans.
     

     
    Close behind Kong are the rest of the creatures. Spiders, stick insects and squid (all giant varieties) call the island home, and are on hand to terrorise the new arrivals. But most frightening of all are the Skullcrawlers — giant, bipedal lizards who killed Kong’s family and, given the chance, would wipe out all human life on the island. Their skeletal heads may look like the Maitlands’ first pointy-faced attempts at being scary in Beetlejuice, but they’re no less effective once you’ve put that to the back of your mind. And when all these beasties are doing battle, that’s when the film flies.
     
    But we do have to address the humans. A fair number head out to Skull Island, with many of the faceless ones dying in the initial battle with Kong — he taking none too kindly to them dropping seismic charges (bombs, basically) on his home. Of the survivors, few make much impact. The leads are lumbered with dull characters introduced with leaden dialogue — Brie Larson’s photographer Mason Weaver is asked within moments of her first appearing, “Why do you want a gig documenting a mapping mission when you’re up for the cover of Time?” It’s about as subtle as the thud of a giant ape stamping on you.
     

     
    Perhaps it’s a coincidence, but it’s the two actors with a prominent middle initial who leave the biggest impression. (OK, it definitely is a coincidence.) John C. Reilly’s marooned World War II soldier adds much-needed levity, although he does feel like he’s in a different film to everyone else. So it’s left to Samuel L. Jackson — all bulging eyes and Ezekiel 25:17 intensity as vengeful Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard — to keep the energy high when the monsters are elsewhere.
     
     
    Two films in to the MonsterVerse and it’s been a mixed start — both Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island fumbling the human characters, but nailing the kaiju. There’s potential, it’s just yet to be fully realised. Of the two, Kong is the more entertaining film, so we’re moving in the right direction. Next up: Godzilla: King Of Monsters in 2019. Lessons learned here, perhaps that can be the film that finally nails it.
     
     
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