Mass Effect Legendary Edition Review Part 1: Mass Effect

Unsurprisingly, EA’s 4K remaster of the first Mass Effect is a night-and-day difference from the 2007 original. One look at a side-by-side comparison tells you most of what you need to know about this upgrade: textures, character models, and effects have been retrofitted and everything runs at 60 frames per second or more, though animations show their age in places, especially on human faces. But to find out how this famed but notoriously uneven game plays in 2021, factoring in the gameplay tweaks in the Legendary Edition, I spent 30 hours on a full playthrough. Revisiting an RPG I hadn’t played since 2008 turned out to be a fantastic refresher on one of gaming’s best original science-fiction universes, and also a reminder of the mechanical weaknesses a lot of us were willing to overlook at the time because of how revolutionary Mass Effect was back then.

In general, Mass Effect looks good at 4K. (I played on Xbox Series X.) Environments are a tad on the sparse side when it comes to how spread out everything is, but textures are sharp and detailed and the lighting effects look respectably modern. Its biggest weakness – visually – is its facial animations, which are hard to ignore considering how much you see of them. In contrast to their detailed and well-lit skin, a lot of human characters look like their faces are paralyzed between their upper lip and their eyes. Sometimes those eyes have an uncomfortable, unblinking gaze. It’s not terrible but it definitely stands out next to current games. However, the nice thing about aliens is that they’re immune to the uncanny valley effect because for all we know that’s how their faces are supposed to look – so they mostly look excellent.

(The new photo mode is a nice addition, though I don’t know if the original Mass Effect – even after its 4K upgrade – is a good-enough looking game to inspire a lot of photographers who could just as easily be practicing their craft in a game that originated in this decade.) [ignvideo url="https://www.ign.com/videos/mass-effect-legendary-edition-the-first-21-minutes-of-gameplay-4k-60fps"] What comes out of their mouths, though, has held up brilliantly. Mass Effect’s voice cast is outstanding, especially Jennifer Hale as the female version of Shepard. The supporting characters have plenty of recognizable voices, including Keith David, Seth Green, and Star Trek: The Next Generation veterans Marina Sirtis and Dwight Schultz. Naturally it’s all but impossible to have a 30-hour game without a few low points in the voice work here and there, but the prominent characters are all extremely well done. [poilib element="quoteBox" parameters="excerpt=There%E2%80%99s%20nothing%20terribly%20wrong%20with%20your%20human%20crewmates%20%E2%80%93%20they%20just%20pale%20in%20comparison%20to%20the%20four%20aliens."]The story of Commander Shepard and the crew of the Normandy working to stop the rogue Specter Saren from jumpstarting an ancient cycle of galactic genocide hasn’t missed a step in the past 14 years, and neither have its unforgettable alien companion characters. To be fair, there’s nothing terribly wrong with your human crewmates, Kaiden and Ashley – they just pale in comparison to the four aliens who’ve earned their reputation as some of the best companions in RPG history. Wrex, Liara, Tali, and Garrus’ personalities come through strongly in their voice acting and dialogue, like when Garrus needs to be talked down from his shoot-the-hostages style of law enforcement. It’s legitimately tough to decide which two characters to take with me on each mission because I want to hear how they’ll interact. Meanwhile, Saren is a strong villain who comes across as both a monstrous traitor and at times somewhat sympathetic. He’s certainly evil from the jump, but as you learn more about him you find that he has beliefs that drive him and an argument to support them – even if it’s one that no sane person would get on board with. (I remember the first time I played, which was relatively soon after Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, I was annoyed that Shepard couldn’t choose to accept Saren’s offer to join him. In hindsight, I can see how that might’ve been an issue for the sequels.) [widget path="global/article/imagegallery" parameters="albumSlug=every-ign-bioware-game-review&captions=true"] On top of that, it’s simply astonishing how much worldbuilding is crammed into this first game without any of it seeming like a giant exposition dump. Through conversations, both aboard the Normandy between missions and with dozens of characters on the worlds we visit, we learn the interconnected and complex histories of the Krogan, the Salarians, the Quarians, the Turians, the Asari, the Geth, and more, and all of it is used to build up tension in the uneasy alliance of species that governs the galaxy from the shiny white Citadel station. When bad blood bubbles up between characters of different species, it all makes perfect sense. Revelations come at a pace that keeps the energy up, and I’ve rarely seen a universe feel so thoroughly fleshed out so quickly. Also, the frequent criticism of the unchecked police power of the Specters feels relevant today, too (though its embrace of the idea that only a good space cop can stop a bad space cop may not please everybody). [poilib element="quoteBox" parameters="excerpt=Just%20about%20every%20major%20world%20you%20visit%20contains%20at%20least%20one%20weighty%2C%20life-or-death%20decision."]Of course, just about every major world you visit contains at least one weighty, life-or-death decision that we know will have repercussions in Mass Effect 2 and 3, including the fates of major characters and even entire species. Behind all of that is Mass Effect’s signature morality system, which lets you choose to play Shepard as a truth and justice-style Paragon or a Renegade who gets the job done by their own rules. It’s still a pretty great roleplaying mechanism that rewards consistency with more persuasive conversation options. And it’s not too rigid: I didn’t feel penalized for making my generally law-abiding Shepard knock a few heads or even work outside the law on a few side quests when it felt appropriate. [poilib element="poll" parameters="id=7a68469c-2ece-424b-be61-0cb42482ba5e"] Combat isn’t much of a highlight. To its credit, The Legendary Edition has smoothed things out a bit with improved aiming, shorter ability cooldowns, a revamped interface, and the ability to direct your two squad members individually. You do get some moments of intensity when you’re being pinned down by enemy fire and taking potshots at them. Also, Shepard can now use any weapon regardless of your class, which occasionally comes in handy. But the AI is barely there, to the point where you’ll see certain enemies moving in clearly predefined patterns, so they’re not exactly tactically interesting fights that really require you to make use of all of your squad’s abilities. As long as you’re periodically updating your squad’s gear with the slightly improved but still slow and clunky inventory system there aren’t many battles that are likely to slow you down much on normal difficulty. [poilib element="quoteBox" parameters="excerpt=Enemy%20AI%20is%20barely%20there."]Inventory management remains a drag on the pacing without a lot of upsides. You can now mark a bunch of items as junk and sell them all at once when you reach a store, which certainly is a big increase in convenience, but other than that it’s a lot of slowly scrolling through tons of items to find what you want. One thing that constantly gets on my nerves, given that you have the ability to swap out your weapon ammo mods on the fly, is that you’re effectively encouraged to do it whenever you need to counter a new enemy with a shield or other resistance. The problem is that in order to do that you have to pause, select the menu item next to the one where you change your graphics options, find the right character and weapon, then scroll through your list to find what you need. It’s just a lot when you’re in the middle of a gunfight, and it makes the shift to the ability-based ammo system in Mass Effect 2 feel like a great idea. [ignvideo url="https://www.ign.com/videos/mass-effect-legendary-edition-the-10-biggest-changes"] I played on the new default Legendary mode, which just means you’re only prompted to stop and put in upgrade points half as often as in the still-available Classic mode – and it still felt like it happened a lot. I preferred it this way because most individual points only give you a negligible stat boost; this way you can usually put in enough points to unlock something new when you level up. The original Mass Effect has a lot more old-school RPG stats than its sequels, but it’s not like it’s asking you to crunch any intimidating numbers – just pick which skills of your chosen class to boost and unlock. I wish there were more room to make my Shepard feel like a build I chose within my class, because I had enough skill points to max out nearly everything by the end and that made it feel homogenous. [poilib element="quoteBox" parameters="excerpt=The%20real%20problem%20with%20the%20Mako%20is%20that%20nothing%20you%20do%20in%20it%20is%20fun."]Another highlighted change in the Legendary Edition is the adjustments to the way the Mako landing vehicle drives. And sure, I appreciate that it’s less annoyingly bouncy and not as prone to instant deaths… but that just made me realize that the real problem with the Mako is that nothing you do in it is fun. Combat is incredibly bland because most enemies basically just sit there and shoot at you while you pick them off with two boring weapons, and the rest of it is just driving from point A to point B on the large, open, and mostly empty world maps you can land on and explore. Small adjustments to make it less punishing can’t save it, and it’s easy to see why BioWare mothballed the Mako in the next two games. [ignvideo url="https://www.ign.com/videos/original-mass-effect-developers-react-to-speedrun"] Some other annoyances from the original version have been toned down to the point where you have to wonder why they’re even there at all. The hacking minigame, for instance, is the same simple Simon Says button-pushing routine from the original Xbox version (as opposed to the “Frogger” one from the PC version) except that failing is entirely consequence-free – you can try again instead of resorting to spending your omni-gel currency to unlock it (or reloading a save). In fact, in my entire playthrough I never used omni-gel to hack anything once.

Amazon’s Solos: Season 1 Review

All seven episodes of Solos are currently available to stream on Amazon Prime Video. [poilib element="accentDivider"] Watching Solos, the seven-part anthology from creator David Weil, is like hearing your most interesting friends recap the least interesting episodes of Black Mirror. The show brings together eight well-known actors — Anne Hathaway, Anthony Mackie, Helen Mirren, Uzo Aduba, Constance Wu, Nicole Beharie, Dan Stevens, and Morgan Freeman — for sci-fi stories set somewhere in the future. With mild exceptions, these stories take the shape of monologues delivered right down the lens. It’s a night of black box theatre with some tremendous performers, so it’s not exactly boring, but it lacks the spark, the curiosity, and the visual flair that usually makes this genre captivating. The episodes range from 20 to 30 minutes in length, but they play less like self-contained short films, and more like scenes carved out from seven larger features, each with their own unique concepts that are left largely unexplored. Some shorts are nominally connected to one another, while others share specific themes — from dealing with loss to the fragility of human memory — but the show doesn’t quite have a complete thematic through-line. Its threads are often left to dangle, as if waiting to be tied together by subsequent stories. The conceptual storyline is hazy too; initial episodes playfully pit actors against themselves, or against disembodied A.I. voices, lending credence to the title. However, this one-actor-per-story premise is soon discarded. [poilib element="poll" parameters="id=2294ac39-9a64-48dd-b38a-60f3f122af8c"] Weil directs three of the seven episodes, but the first, titled “Leah,” is helmed by Zach Braff. Anne Hathaway plays Leah, a scientist a few years in the future who hopes to crack time travel to prove herself to her superiors and escape her surroundings. Her life is a bit of a mess, between an ailing mother and a stuffy workplace basement she can’t seem to organize, illuminated by dozens of overhead bulbs powered by her equipment, which glow and fade as she gets closer to or further away from her goal. The production design is commendable, making Leah feel like a twee mad scientist of sorts, though it’s one of the only episodes where the environment tells a story. A mild breakthrough results in Leah being able to video chat with different versions of herself, and Anne Hathaway is delightful opposite Anne Hathaway, capturing a mix of excitement and desperation. Braff even uses the limited space to tell a kinetic story, but unfortunately, it ends up playing out strangely counter to its own weighty themes about dealing with the present. The second episode, “Tom,” sees a terminally ill Anthony Mackie speaking to a mysterious, memory-less new version of himself. It largely comprises static shots of Mackie’s original Tom relaying his memories and his feelings about his family to this strange new doppelganger; visually, this Weil-directed entry feels like a bare-bones experiment completely at odds with Braff’s, wherein no cut, camera movement, or design element has anything to say. There’s nothing challenging about the episode — it doesn’t have much resembling dramatic conflict — but at the very least, it allows Mackie to dig into some decent emotional meat between the words, despite his philosophically sophomoric story that feels like a hasty first draft. [poilib element="quoteBox" parameters="excerpt=Watching%20Solos%20is%20like%20hearing%20your%20most%20interesting%20friends%20recap%20the%20least%20interesting%20episodes%20of%20Black%20Mirror."] The show brings out its big thespian guns for episode 3, Sam Taylor-Johnson’s “Peg,” in which Hellen Mirren explains her lonely backstory to a spaceship’s computer, en route to the far reaches of the solar system. What is the purpose of her journey? It’s unclear, beyond a vague mention of some nondescript “experiment” that never comes to light. Like the previous entry, “Peg” features a monologue that doesn’t really need a sci-fi setting to unfold the way it does. A mere three episodes in, the show’s own concept feels perfunctory — although, only a fool would deny Mirren’s enthralling talent. Not much happens in “Peg,” but Mirren makes a meal out of it regardless, injecting innumerable layers of charm, doubt, and longing into what otherwise feels like a Google search result for “audition monologues.” [ignvideo url="https://www.ign.com/videos/2021/05/13/solos-exclusive-official-clip-2021-helen-mirren"] In episode 4, the Uzo Aduba-led “Sasha,” is where the show’s central thematic paradox begins to emerge. Prior episodes feature brief mentions of contemporary technology, like Tik Tok, Alexa, and the advent of driverless cars, but none of these references amount to much by way of commentary on the present. “Sasha,” also directed by Weil, could not feel more rooted in the current moment — it features a woman still self-isolating twenty years on from a viral pandemic — and yet, it could not feel more confused about what it actually wants to say. As the A.I. controlling Sasha’s smart-home urges her to go outside, she runs through the rote exposition of the events that led her to this moment. “Sasha,” it turns out, is less about an actual pandemic and more of a confused screed against the omnipresent role of technology in our lives, though it can’t seem to decide on what that role actually is. Aduba, however, is a treat to watch, as she chews the scenery with reckless abandon. While few ideas carry over from episode to episode — despite the show’s best efforts — this haphazard approach to technology as some all-consuming monolith rears its head once again, in a later episode. However, the theme that begins to feel most potent, especially once it’s made explicit by “Sasha,” is perhaps unintentional: the effects of pandemic-era isolation. [poilib element="quoteBox" parameters="excerpt=Uzo%20Aduba%20is%20a%20treat%20to%20watch%2C%20as%20she%20chews%20the%20scenery%20with%20reckless%20abandon."] To be clear, each episode is fully aware that its characters are isolated people, but the way isolation takes root in the show’s aesthetics is as maddening as a lengthy quarantine. In October-November of 2020, Solos was filmed when Hollywood was only just getting back on its feet, and productions still had to enforce stringent safety measures. A show featuring one actor at a time is a perfect reflection of this era, but the problem permeating Solos is that it doesn’t properly adjust to capturing one person alone with their thoughts (which is essentially the case even when they’re speaking to an A.I. or a different version of themselves). The show’s inability to get used to isolation is frustrating, and ironically, all too familiar to those of us who lived through similar frustrations over the last year. [widget path="global/article/imagegallery" parameters="albumSlug=solos-season-1-gallery&captions=true"] Episode 5, the Weil-directed “Jenny,” discards any pretense of even trying to tell a visually enticing story. It simply has Constance Wu drunkenly monologue into the camera, without much by way of actual science fiction (barring an idea that feels tacked on at the last minute). Wu does an incredible job, perhaps the best of anyone in the series. She’s an absolute powerhouse, and there’s something disarming about her honesty as she narrates a story about her boring husband, her attractive neighbor, her thoughts on having children, and the ways in which she feels invisible. However, the show’s honesty about its visual approach is a little more disconcerting. It plays like it isn’t even trying to adjust its storytelling to the constraints around it — it’s quite naked in its lack of effort too, often resembling webcam confessions more than visual explorations of thoughts, feelings, or ideas. Luckily, it has the wherewithal to cast stellar performers, without whom it would have practically nothing (at least Malcolm & Marie, an average film made under similar conditions, relied on more than just its actors to tell its story). [poilib element="quoteBox" parameters="excerpt=The%20close-up%20is%20one%20of%20the%20most%20powerful%20tools%20in%20visual%20storytelling%2C%20but%20Solos%20treats%20it%20as%20if%20it%20were%20the%20only%20tool."] Episode 6 is a merciful exception. “Nera,” directed by Tiffany Johnson, stars Nicole Beharie as a pregnant woman trapped in a snowstorm, whose worst fears come true when she goes into labor unexpectedly, with no one around to help. It’s a riveting and largely wordless sequence, followed by a few more twists and turns: her baby was meant to have been genetically altered and “improved,” but things don’t seem quite right. For once, the show not only unfolds in isolation, but captures the fears of isolation as well, with a frame that feels constantly off-kilter. It’s the only episode that uses its visual palette to convey any kind of mood. The only one with any relevant commentary about the present is between the specter of gene-editing and a social dimension that eventually comes to light in a moment of quiet intensity. It’s also the only episode that has anything resembling an actual ending, with something poignant to say (in this case, about the anxieties of parenthood in general, and of Black parenthood in specific). It puts the other six episodes to shame, despite being the shortest among them. [ignvideo url="https://www.ign.com/videos/2021/04/28/the-biggest-streaming-movies-and-shows-of-may-2021"] Sadly, the show falls back on its worst habits in episode 7, Sam Taylor-Johnson’s “Stuart,” which feels thematically at odds with its predecessors in several ways (for one thing, it unfolds out in the open). It does, at the very least, feature a similar sense of loneliness, as Morgan Freeman’s Stuart battles dementia, while Dan Stevens’ Otto tries to restore Stuart’s memories for his own mysterious reasons. The episode also tries to tie the whole series together, but its attempt feels half-hearted. Freeman and Stevens are incredible in their roles, but the episode puts far too much on their shoulders; there’s only so much life they can breathe into a scene that feels dead on arrival. The characters sit on a bench and recall various events from their past, revealing their painful connection, but the episode chooses not to express its musings on love and loss as anything but exposition — despite this being a story about how actually experiencing emotions is central to one’s memory. As its actors describe powerful images, the episode keeps the viewer at arm’s length, mechanically cutting between dialogue rather than trying to portray those images, or evoke them in some way. The close-up is one of the most powerful tools in visual storytelling, but Solos treats it as if it were the only tool. The result is a blinkered approach to science fiction, a genre often used to capture the breadth and scope of human possibility. Without first journeying outward, the show is unable to meaningfully delve inward, and so it amounts to little more than a series of speeches hinting at more interesting ideas, somewhere off-screen. 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Corsair Virtuoso RGB Wireless XT Review

When the original Corsair Virtuoso RGB Wireless SE released back in 2019, it took the reins as the company’s new flagship. As our own review demonstrated, it was an impressive gaming headset that put sound quality first yet still had issues with long-term comfort. Corsair has taken that feedback in stride and returned with a brand new revised version of its premier headset, the Virtuoso RGB Wireless XT. It claims better padding, reduced clamp force, and high-resolution aptX HD Bluetooth for listening on the go, as well as an increased price of $269.99. [widget path="global/article/imagegallery" parameters="albumSlug=corsair-virtuoso-rgb-wireless-xt-review&captions=true"]

Corsair Virtuoso RGB Wireless XT – Design and Features

As the saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and that seems to be the maxim Corsair applied with the Virtuoso RGB Wireless XT (which I’ll just refer to as the Virtuoso XT from here on out). The last model, Virtuoso SE, was a striking headset in its simplicity: sculpted aluminum ear cups, gleamingly polished edges, leatherette cushions, backlit logos on each ear cup that would disappear when turned off – the combination of features lent the original a look that flew in the face of the aggressive design of typical gaming headsets to deliver something altogether more grown up. All of that remains the same with the Virtuoso XT and allows the headset to go where other gaming headsets cannot. Like the original, it can easily pass as a normal pair of headphones just by removing the mic and turning off the RGB. The XT one-ups that design by cutting the cord and adding Bluetooth connectivity to become all-around more versatile. If you’d rather connect with a wire, that’s still an option too via USB or the 3.5mm cable. For gaming on PC, PS4, or PS5, you can take advantage of Corsair’s high-speed 2.4GHz Slipstream wireless with the included dongle. It’s an adaptable package, which is great for gamers looking for an “all-in-one” headset that breaks the bonds of just gaming at home. Unboxed And you just might want to do that with the Virtuoso XT. Unlike most gaming headsets, it’s meant to compete with high-end headphones designed to put sound quality first. Corsair claims that its 50mm neodymium drivers are custom designed, hand-selected, and matched for every headset to deliver the best listening experience possible. They also feature an expansive frequency response range of 20Hz - 40,000Hz – a full 20kHz beyond the range of human hearing and most other gaming headsets on the market. It seems strange at first – why design a headset that goes beyond what the user can actually hear? – but it’s a common trait among premium audiophile headphones to ensure that every audible frequency comes through clear and free of any distortion. In my experience, that was definitely the case. Cushions There’s more to a good pair of headphones than pure frequency response, however, and thankfully, Corsair demonstrates that with a tuning that excels beyond just gaming. Gaming headsets get a bad rap among audio enthusiasts for their bloated bass and muddy details, but that’s just not the case here. Like a good pair of music headphones, the Virtuosos are much more balanced to enjoy all kinds of listening. The bass is present but pulled far back compared to traditional gaming headphones. It doesn’t overwhelm the mids or high notes but instead provides a steady backbone to music, movies, and games. In fact, the headset skews the other way, drawing out those middle and high-frequency details, eliminating the muddy, boomy sound most gaming headsets exhibit. That isn’t to say they don’t have punch and slam for those explosion-laden shootouts in Battlefield and Call of Duty, but expect to hear sounds like bullet casings and breaking glass come through more clearly than ever before. Controls This kind of tuning makes it an even more appealing option for music lovers and gamers who want to enjoy every tiny detail in their games. The level of detail the XTs can provide is easily one of the best I’ve heard, trumping even the Sennheiser GSP-600s (reviewed here), and easily competes with dedicated music headsets. When plugged in over USB, the built-in DAC can produce sound up to 24-bit/96kHz to support lossless audio. To make the most of mobile listening, Corsair has equipped the Virtuoso XT with high-resolution aptX HD playback, which is altogether rare in the world of gaming headsets. The addition of Bluetooth is a massive upgrade in usability away from the PC or console. Being free of cables is always better when you’re on the go, and thanks to aptX HD, you’ll still be able to enjoy the same high quality audio as if you were plugged in. Corsair has built the headset to allow simultaneous connections, so you never have to worry about missing a call or update because you were playing a game. All of the volumes can be controlled separately through the volume roller, Bluetooth control buttons, or the in-line remote on the AUX cable, but I found myself wishing for a solution to balance out my sources. Dual connectivity is an excellent upgrade but does cut battery life a full 25% from the original, coming in at 15 hours instead of 20. Software 1 The name of the game for the XT is HiFi audio, but we all have different tastes and the default tuning won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. That’s where Corsair’s iCUE software comes in with customizable EQ presets. There are several available for Bass Boost, first-person shooters, and movies but you’ll want to make your own to really dial in your sound. Unfortunately, there’s no way to save or select these presets on the headset itself, so you’re stuck using the software. The software also provides some other features important to the headset, like lighting control. With only two lighting zones, the options are limited and not very exciting. The software also allows you to adjust your microphone level and how much sidetone you hear in your ear. The software also allows you to control how long the device remains active before going to sleep to preserve battery. Software 2 Returning back to the physical build of the headset, Corsair has really done an excellent job of making the Virtuoso XT feel like a premium headset. It’s robust and the heavy use of metal in the earcups, yokes, and band make it feel made to last. There is an excellent attention to detail, from the matching aluminum trim on the microphone, to the etched measurements on the headband, to the triangle pattern emblazoned on the inner ear cup, the entire headphones feel exceptionally well-considered. The original Virtuoso was often critiqued for having too much clamp force and too little padding, and the XT addresses both of those issues. The amount of padding has been increased, effectively preventing hotspots from forming on the top of my head even when I wore the headset for a full workday. The memory foam cushions, trimmed in leatherette, felt good against my skin and did a good job of blocking out external noise while only becoming moderately warm. During summertime, I could see them causing my ears to sweat, however, so I would have liked to have seen an alternate set of pads included in the box at this price. Clamp force is also a complete non-issue on this headset, though Corsair may have gone too far the other direction as they had a tendency to slide around when I would move around too much. The final key feature of the Virtuoso XT is the omnidirectional microphone. Corsair calls the microphone “broadcast quality,” which is a stretch, but it’s unmistakably good. Using Slipstream wireless, it produces a full-bodied sound with only moderate compression. It doesn’t compete with a dedicated desktop mic like the Elgato Wave 3 (reviewed here) but is perfectly fine for chatting with friends or hopping on a conference call over Google Meet. There’s an LED ring around the end to let you know when you’re muted and the gooseneck feels durable and well-made, though it has a tendency to lose its position over time. Mic

Corsair Virtuoso RGB Wireless XT – Performance

Since the Virtuoso XT is such a multi-purpose device, I tested it with a mix of PC and console games, music, and for watching shows on Netflix and Hulu. On PC, I played multiple rounds of Battlefield V and Call of Duty: Cold War and worked my way through several campaign levels in Doom Eternal. On PlayStation 5, I spent some time with Astro’s Playroom, Hitman 3, and Red Dead Redemption 2. For music listening, I listened to Spotify across every connection type and with aptX HD enabled over Bluetooth. The gaming experience delivered by these headphones was fantastic. At first, I felt the lack of bass pretty substantially but that’s only because I was used to my last gaming headset, the HyperX Cloud Alpha. After getting used to the new sound, I really began to enjoy how much more I could hear throughout the frequency spectrum. Footsteps in particular came forward but I was also able to hear the automated callouts of my teammates better. Laying Unlike the Virtuoso SE, the XTs use Dolby Atmos instead of Corsair’s own 7.1 surround sound solution. Simply connecting the headphones with Atmos installed will activate the license so there’s nothing separate to buy. Compared to their stock sound, Atmos adds depth and space to what you’re listening to, including music and movies. The headphones sound great on their own and I didn’t struggle to pick out the direction of footsteps or gunfire, but Atmos provides such an improvement to soundstage, there’s no reason not to use it. For music, the Virtuosos are one of the best gaming headsets I’ve heard yet, right up there with the Audeze Penrose. Even though the sheer quantity of bass is less, the quality of what you can hear is improved. Bass notes have more texture and ring out tighter making them feel more defined. The mids are clear and since the bass isn’t stepping on them, it’s easier to pick apart every instrument and audio cue. The highs are soft and never sibilant. Even wearing the headphones for long, multi-hour stretches, I never found them fatiguing. Ear Cup The microphone also did its job well. My teammates had no trouble hearing me over Discord and when I used it for calls, the person on the other end reported that I sounded clear – more so than on my usual Galaxy Buds Pro. I also used the headset for several online meetings. There, my colleagues noticed that I sounded more compressed than my usual desktop mic but were still able to hear me fine throughout my presentations. Taken as a whole, the package is surprisingly solid. Even with the reduced battery life, I was still able to get a full day of listening with juice to spare. It was freeing being able to get up from my desk without needing to take them off, even if I needed to step outside for fresh air. The constant Bluetooth connection is a major upgrade and the improvements to comfort make them a very reasonable all-day wear.

In the Heights Review

This is an advance review of In the Heights, which opens in theaters and HBO Max on June 11. [poilib element="accentDivider"] A film version of In the Heights has been in the works since 2008 when the show debuted on Broadway. A number of stars had to align before it came to fruition. Creator Lin-Manuel Miranda had to find success with Hamilton, his 2015 Broadway smash, and director Jon M. Chu had to helm the cultural sensation Crazy Rich Asians, which, while lavish and excessive, is ultimately about belonging. The In the Heights movie lives in the shadow of both these works in the way it adapts Miranda’s show. The result is a pure distillation of what he set out to achieve, updated in ways that not only work for a modern retelling but often work better than the original text. It’s also one of the liveliest and most moving films you’re likely to see this year. The story follows Usnavi de la Vega (Hamilton’s Anthony Ramos), a bodega owner in Washington Heights with big dreams of reopening his father’s bar in the Dominican Republic, but it really follows an ensemble of friends, family, and lovers living through what feels like the last days of a neighborhood being steadily lost to gentrification. To call New York City “a character” is a well-worn cliché, but it’s a truism that bursts to life in Chu’s film, not simply through shots of streets and landmarks, but through the way each corner and sidewalk brims with life, love, and culture. Usnavi runs his corner store with his cousin Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV), a teenage activist, and the rest of the cast is largely introduced as they stop in for a cup of coffee. There’s Usnavi’s friend Benny (Corey Hawkins), an upbeat taxi dispatcher, Benny’s diligent boss Kevin Rosario (Jimmy Smits), and Rosario’s daughter Nina (Leslie Grace), who’s home for the summer after her first year away at Berkeley. Then there’s Usnavi’s crush Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), who’s on the verge of moving downtown to follow her fashion designer dreams, and there are a whole host of neighborhood gossips who work at the local nail salon (Stephanie Beatriz, Dasha Polanco, Daphne Rubin-Vega). There’s also a fun minor role played by Miranda himself, and to bind them all together, there’s the local matriarch Claudia (Olga Merediz), who practically raised the entire neighborhood, and whom they all lovingly call Abuela. Abuela Claudia, an elderly Cuban immigrant, often speaks of dignity in the face of adversity and the ways people can leave their mark and be remembered. Her words now feel more vital to these characters than ever before. Their neighborhood — made up of Dominican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, and a number of other Latin American cultures — faces the prospect of permanent change, as residents and businesses are being priced out. [ignvideo width=610 height=374 url=https://www.ign.com/videos/2021/04/26/in-the-heights-official-trailer-4] While the casting has been criticized for colorism — which Miranda and screenwriter Quiara Alegría Hudes have acknowledged — the film attempts to frame its tapestry as multicultural, and its perspective as multigenerational. The characters are all either immigrants, first-generation Americans, or that in-between generation that immigrated when they were young (Usnavi’s family came over from the Dominican Republic when he was eight, while Sonny was still in diapers). Washington Heights is their home, but the film takes aim at the complicated question of what home even means when change is the only constant. Usnavi remains torn between New York and his father’s home in the Dominican Republic, the first home he ever knew. Vanessa wants to move to a new neighborhood where she might be more successful, but her heart belongs to the Heights. Nina has moved even further away, to California, though she might want to drop out and return home despite shouldering the expectations of her community. The film also adds a brand-new element that didn’t exist in the show, a subplot that hits like a freight train, where one of the characters is revealed to be an undocumented immigrant. They may not have the choice of deciding what home they belong to. These questions of belonging permeate every scene, from the subtle to the operatic, and the film wraps its story in a framing device also invented for the screen. Usnavi, years later and sporting his most Miranda-esque goatee (Miranda played the role on Broadway), narrates the film’s events to a group of children on a tropical beach. It feels like an element influenced by Hamilton, which frames its story of America’s founders as history told (and wrestled with) in the present. Here, it makes the film’s narrative wistful and bittersweet. Right from its opening Spanglish number — the half-sung, half-rapped title track “In the Heights” — Chu, cinematographer Alice Brooks, and choreographer Christopher Scott make it clear how they plan to tell this story. It starts out restrained, waiting to burst into all-out mayhem as the music builds. The depiction of these characters and the spaces they occupy is distinctly intimate, as the camera peeks at them in the crowded corners of the bodega, often through glass fridge doors or from between messy shelves. It turns the stage’s two-dimensional backdrops into an inviting three-dimensional world, and it establishes the city’s texture before letting its streets be engulfed by dance. The first time a crowd gathers to move in unison, they’re reflected in a window, out of focus and in the distance. At 2 hours and 23 minutes in length, the film doesn’t want to tip its hand too soon. It doesn’t need to. Instead, the opening song introduces the neighborhood in fragments, through an energetic montage of people from all walks of life heading out to start their day. The film even treats the sounds of the city as music, with honking vehicles and the spritzing of sidewalk water hoses layered into the soundtrack. Chu’s approach is multifaceted. Depending on the scene or song, the film grounds its bombast in naturalism — the actors, though they sing their hearts out, measure their performances for the camera rather than the back row of an auditorium — but as it gets deeper into its runtime, it introduces playful elements of magical realism, of frames seemingly graffitied by hand, and of dreamlike numbers that combine stage lighting with memories of the city’s past. It runs the gamut, but it rarely loses focus of its story and characters. [widget path="global/article/imagegallery" parameters="albumSlug=best-reviewed-movies-of-2021&captions=true"] There is, however, an unfortunate downside to this initial fragmented approach, which seems designed to delay gratification. The first time the film feels big, the way you expect a musical to feel is during “96,000,” in which the neighborhood gathers at a local pool. The song comes to life in a synchronized display in and around the water, but the film hasn’t yet managed to shed its penchant for quick-cuts and zippy movements; the result is haphazard, and it feels less like a story told through dance, and more like the random shot selections of a modern pop music video, where the order doesn’t matter, and the visual language has little to say. This fragmentation continues a little while longer, carrying over to a flirtatious number between Benny and Nina, resulting in a stretch of the film that drags as it approaches the 1-hour mark. However — and this is a pretty big “however” — this brief dip in visual and narrative energy barely matters moving forward. As the threat of a blackout looms and the characters prepare to confront each other over things left unsaid, the film settles into a rhythm, both in its more intimate moments (often non-musical ones, shared over delectably photographed food) and in its more vibrant, energetic dance scenes, one of which unfolds in a scintillating nightclub. The film’s biggest aesthetic question is how to frame people. It does this quite deftly throughout when it comes to individuals, whose stories it punctuates through close-ups. This is helped immensely by the fact that ostensible leads Ramos and Barrera are able to balance huge bursts of musical emotion with moments of restraint, culminating in a spellbinding single-take musical sequence between the two of them. The film is a rousing success in this regard, though it’s hardly a surprise; Hollywood, after all, is the realm of the individual, most often telling stories of people who rise above. [ignvideo width=610 height=374 url=https://www.ign.com/videos/2021/03/15/in-the-heights-washington-heights-trailer] However, In the Heights is not an individualistic story. It’s one of found family and community, and one that needs its extras and dancers to feel like more than just a backdrop. The film occasionally falters at this — for instance, a candlelight vigil, which arrives at a key moment and leaves just as quickly, lacks the emotional resonance of the more personal, individual story playing out simultaneously. But the film soon finds itself in this regard, culminating in the show-stopping celebratory number “Carnaval del Barrio,” which goes against most musical instincts and places a large crowd of characters in a cramped setting, allowing their joie de vivre to feel defiant in the face of tragedy. The scene is downright overwhelming. At its loudest, In the Heights explodes with uncontainable energy. At its quietest, it becomes a reflection on memory, and the connections that make up a culture, a story, and a history; “Little details,” Abuela Claudia says, “that tell the world we are not invisible.” But there are some moments where the film does both these things at once, as it fills the screen with small acts of heroism, and with people dancing and dreaming in darkness. Above all, it does what a great musical should do. It makes you feel alive.

In the Heights Review

This is an advance review of In the Heights, which opens in theaters and HBO Max on June 11. [poilib element="accentDivider"] A film version of In the Heights has been in the works since 2008 when the show debuted on Broadway. A number of stars had to align before it came to fruition. Creator Lin-Manuel Miranda had to find success with Hamilton, his 2015 Broadway smash, and director Jon M. Chu had to helm the cultural sensation Crazy Rich Asians, which, while lavish and excessive, is ultimately about belonging. The In the Heights movie lives in the shadow of both these works in the way it adapts Miranda’s show. The result is a pure distillation of what he set out to achieve, updated in ways that not only work for a modern retelling but often work better than the original text. It’s also one of the liveliest and most moving films you’re likely to see this year. The story follows Usnavi de la Vega (Hamilton’s Anthony Ramos), a bodega owner in Washington Heights with big dreams of reopening his father’s bar in the Dominican Republic, but it really follows an ensemble of friends, family, and lovers living through what feels like the last days of a neighborhood being steadily lost to gentrification. To call New York City “a character” is a well-worn cliché, but it’s a truism that bursts to life in Chu’s film, not simply through shots of streets and landmarks, but through the way each corner and sidewalk brims with life, love, and culture. Usnavi runs his corner store with his cousin Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV), a teenage activist, and the rest of the cast is largely introduced as they stop in for a cup of coffee. There’s Usnavi’s friend Benny (Corey Hawkins), an upbeat taxi dispatcher, Benny’s diligent boss Kevin Rosario (Jimmy Smits), and Rosario’s daughter Nina (Leslie Grace), who’s home for the summer after her first year away at Berkeley. Then there’s Usnavi’s crush Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), who’s on the verge of moving downtown to follow her fashion designer dreams, and there are a whole host of neighborhood gossips who work at the local nail salon (Stephanie Beatriz, Dasha Polanco, Daphne Rubin-Vega). There’s also a fun minor role played by Miranda himself, and to bind them all together, there’s the local matriarch Claudia (Olga Merediz), who practically raised the entire neighborhood, and whom they all lovingly call Abuela. Abuela Claudia, an elderly Cuban immigrant, often speaks of dignity in the face of adversity and the ways people can leave their mark and be remembered. Her words now feel more vital to these characters than ever before. Their neighborhood — made up of Dominican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, and a number of other Latin American cultures — faces the prospect of permanent change, as residents and businesses are being priced out. [ignvideo width=610 height=374 url=https://www.ign.com/videos/2021/04/26/in-the-heights-official-trailer-4] While the casting has been criticized for colorism — which Miranda and screenwriter Quiara Alegría Hudes have acknowledged — the film attempts to frame its tapestry as multicultural, and its perspective as multigenerational. The characters are all either immigrants, first-generation Americans, or that in-between generation that immigrated when they were young (Usnavi’s family came over from the Dominican Republic when he was eight, while Sonny was still in diapers). Washington Heights is their home, but the film takes aim at the complicated question of what home even means when change is the only constant. Usnavi remains torn between New York and his father’s home in the Dominican Republic, the first home he ever knew. Vanessa wants to move to a new neighborhood where she might be more successful, but her heart belongs to the Heights. Nina has moved even further away, to California, though she might want to drop out and return home despite shouldering the expectations of her community. The film also adds a brand-new element that didn’t exist in the show, a subplot that hits like a freight train, where one of the characters is revealed to be an undocumented immigrant. They may not have the choice of deciding what home they belong to. These questions of belonging permeate every scene, from the subtle to the operatic, and the film wraps its story in a framing device also invented for the screen. Usnavi, years later and sporting his most Miranda-esque goatee (Miranda played the role on Broadway), narrates the film’s events to a group of children on a tropical beach. It feels like an element influenced by Hamilton, which frames its story of America’s founders as history told (and wrestled with) in the present. Here, it makes the film’s narrative wistful and bittersweet. Right from its opening Spanglish number — the half-sung, half-rapped title track “In the Heights” — Chu, cinematographer Alice Brooks, and choreographer Christopher Scott make it clear how they plan to tell this story. It starts out restrained, waiting to burst into all-out mayhem as the music builds. The depiction of these characters and the spaces they occupy is distinctly intimate, as the camera peeks at them in the crowded corners of the bodega, often through glass fridge doors or from between messy shelves. It turns the stage’s two-dimensional backdrops into an inviting three-dimensional world, and it establishes the city’s texture before letting its streets be engulfed by dance. The first time a crowd gathers to move in unison, they’re reflected in a window, out of focus and in the distance. At 2 hours and 23 minutes in length, the film doesn’t want to tip its hand too soon. It doesn’t need to. Instead, the opening song introduces the neighborhood in fragments, through an energetic montage of people from all walks of life heading out to start their day. The film even treats the sounds of the city as music, with honking vehicles and the spritzing of sidewalk water hoses layered into the soundtrack. Chu’s approach is multifaceted. Depending on the scene or song, the film grounds its bombast in naturalism — the actors, though they sing their hearts out, measure their performances for the camera rather than the back row of an auditorium — but as it gets deeper into its runtime, it introduces playful elements of magical realism, of frames seemingly graffitied by hand, and of dreamlike numbers that combine stage lighting with memories of the city’s past. It runs the gamut, but it rarely loses focus of its story and characters. [widget path="global/article/imagegallery" parameters="albumSlug=best-reviewed-movies-of-2021&captions=true"] There is, however, an unfortunate downside to this initial fragmented approach, which seems designed to delay gratification. The first time the film feels big, the way you expect a musical to feel is during “96,000,” in which the neighborhood gathers at a local pool. The song comes to life in a synchronized display in and around the water, but the film hasn’t yet managed to shed its penchant for quick-cuts and zippy movements; the result is haphazard, and it feels less like a story told through dance, and more like the random shot selections of a modern pop music video, where the order doesn’t matter, and the visual language has little to say. This fragmentation continues a little while longer, carrying over to a flirtatious number between Benny and Nina, resulting in a stretch of the film that drags as it approaches the 1-hour mark. However — and this is a pretty big “however” — this brief dip in visual and narrative energy barely matters moving forward. As the threat of a blackout looms and the characters prepare to confront each other over things left unsaid, the film settles into a rhythm, both in its more intimate moments (often non-musical ones, shared over delectably photographed food) and in its more vibrant, energetic dance scenes, one of which unfolds in a scintillating nightclub. The film’s biggest aesthetic question is how to frame people. It does this quite deftly throughout when it comes to individuals, whose stories it punctuates through close-ups. This is helped immensely by the fact that ostensible leads Ramos and Barrera are able to balance huge bursts of musical emotion with moments of restraint, culminating in a spellbinding single-take musical sequence between the two of them. The film is a rousing success in this regard, though it’s hardly a surprise; Hollywood, after all, is the realm of the individual, most often telling stories of people who rise above. [ignvideo width=610 height=374 url=https://www.ign.com/videos/2021/03/15/in-the-heights-washington-heights-trailer] However, In the Heights is not an individualistic story. It’s one of found family and community, and one that needs its extras and dancers to feel like more than just a backdrop. The film occasionally falters at this — for instance, a candlelight vigil, which arrives at a key moment and leaves just as quickly, lacks the emotional resonance of the more personal, individual story playing out simultaneously. But the film soon finds itself in this regard, culminating in the show-stopping celebratory number “Carnaval del Barrio,” which goes against most musical instincts and places a large crowd of characters in a cramped setting, allowing their joie de vivre to feel defiant in the face of tragedy. The scene is downright overwhelming. At its loudest, In the Heights explodes with uncontainable energy. At its quietest, it becomes a reflection on memory, and the connections that make up a culture, a story, and a history; “Little details,” Abuela Claudia says, “that tell the world we are not invisible.” But there are some moments where the film does both these things at once, as it fills the screen with small acts of heroism, and with people dancing and dreaming in darkness. Above all, it does what a great musical should do. It makes you feel alive.

Rig Nacon Pro Compact Review

After years of catering to PlayStation players, Nacon’s getting into the Xbox controller business. The Rig Nacon Pro Compact controller for Xbox, the company’s first for the platform, is a wired alternative for players who want something smaller than what Microsoft has to offer. While the idea is nice in theory, the controller’s redesigned grip feels restrictive and unlikely to fit a wide range of hands. Even with a configuration app and a surprising bonus feature, the Pro Compact has an Achilles Heel weak enough to keep it out of consideration. [widget path="global/article/imagegallery" parameters="albumSlug=rig-nacon-pro-compact-review&captions=true"]

Nacon Pro Compact – Design & Features

The Pro Compact is noticeably slimmer than the standard Xbox gamepad. As the name implies, it has a more compact shape, with shorter handles and a thinner body than the standard Series X/S gamepad. Its grips have deep grooves in the backs of the handles, guiding your middle fingers into a specific grip. According to Nacon, the design is 15 percent smaller than the official Xbox controller. Supposedly, that should lead to less fatigue over time. At 203 grams, versus the 287 grams of the official Xbox controller, it is substantially lighter. That said, I can’t say I find fatigue to be a serious issue with most gamepads, so while the difference is noticeable, its impact is not. Photo May 17, 3 14 22 PM Unfortunately, whatever benefits the Pro Compact gets from its reduced size are undone by the controller’s restrictive shape. I don’t have especially large hands, so I found the grip imposed by the handle design to be a bit problematic. By default, the handles don’t fill your hand and the bumpers feel slightly out of reach. I frequently choked up on the controller to what I felt was a more natural resting position, but doing so moved my fingers out of the handles’ grooves. In that position, my middle fingers sat just behind the triggers and my pointer fingers were over extended. When I tried to force myself to keep my hands in place with my middle fingers in the proper place, I still found myself shifting my hands up to hit the bumpers. The Pro Compact’s button layout is very similar to the standard Xbox configuration. It has all the standard buttons, most of which are in the standard places. It has offset analog sticks, and the cable has the usual breakaway mechanism near the USB connector. There are a few small tweaks, though: You may notice that the menu and view buttons are higher and further apart than usual – they’re closer to the left analog stick and Y than the Xbox button. The Xbox button sits just below the center of the gamepad, and the share button falls just below that, directly between the D-pad and right analog stick. The only major addition or change on the Pro Compact is a small switch on the back of the gamepad, which allows you to toggle custom button mapping off, presumably for tournament play. Photo May 17, 3 16 23 PM D-pad feel, an area in which many players are particularly persnickety, seems fine, though that may not be good enough for everyone. The D-Pad has deep travel, which is good, with very little squish when you hold it. Though it offers very little tactile feedback, the cardinal directions all feel fairly comfortable. It can be hard to feel direction shift under thumb when doing quarter circles and diagonal presses, though. Surprisingly, one of the best upgrades from the Pro Compact is audio-related. Every Pro Compact comes with a license for Dolby Atmos, the premium virtual surround sound setting. Normally a topic reserved for headset reviews, Atmos is the best of the three virtual surround sound services available on Xbox consoles (One, Series X, and Series S), but it costs a little extra. Plugging in the Pro Compact essentially waives the $15 licensing fee to use it. Your access to Atmos is tied to your console or PC, not the controller, so it isn’t a technical achievement, though. It’s a nice add-on that improves the experience of pairing the controller with a gaming headset via its 3.5mm headphone jack.

Nacon Pro Compact – Software

Nacon created a one-off configuration app for the Pro Compact, which is available on both console and PC via the Xbox and Windows stores. The Pro Compact app allows you to switch inputs for face buttons, triggers, and d-pad directions, and swap the left and right analog sticks. You cannot remap the system-level buttons, or remap buttons with other functions. While that seems to be the norm for third-party controllers, this limited amount of customization restricts the function’s utility. [widget path="global/article/imagegallery" parameters="albumSlug=rig-nacon-pro-compact-software&captions=true"] The app also features independent response curve customization for both analog sticks and virtual trigger actuation adjustment. Both are well-implemented, and come with clearly defined genre-specific presets. You can only create a single custom profile, but always have the option to toggle back and forth between your custom setting and the controller’s default using the rear switch. All in all, the Pro Compact app works well, but feels extremely niche because of its limited remapping capabilities. Only the gamepad power user, who wants to meticulously customize trigger and analog stick feel, will really need it.

Nacon Pro Compact – Gaming

Though I adjusted over time, the Nacon Pro Compact isn’t as comfortable as other Xbox controllers. Due to the aforementioned issues with the controller’s shape, I found myself frequently shifting my grip as I played a handful of games across Xbox and PC, including Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, Dead by Daylight, and Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla. The ways in which my hands shifted varied from game to game. In Call of Duty, where my fingers needed to hang on the triggers, I simply choked up on the controller so I could quickly hit the triggers and bumpers instinctively. In Assassin’s Creed, I kept my left-hand down, but moved my right-hand up to reach the light attack assigned to right bumper. Across most games, though, my fingers often felt cramped as they scrunched into the molded bumps behind the triggers. Photo May 17, 3 15 18 PM It’s worth pointing out that I never experienced any performance-related problems due to the shape of the controller. The face buttons have the same snap as the standard Xbox controller, the triggers have a slight squish, but I only noticed when I was looking for it. I was able to play these games well, even in a competitive multiplayer setting. The controller didn’t “fit” in my hands as well as other gamepads, though. A heavy, but well-balanced controller like the Xbox Elite: Series 2 feels more comfortable over long stretches of time.

Just Die Already Review

If there’s anything more concerning than where we go when we die, it's thinking about how we should live right up to that fateful moment. Going out in a blaze of glory does hold a certain appeal, and as a collection of the spectacularly terrible ways to go, Just Die Already really over achieves. But like your elderly avatar, the fun of this game has a pretty short life left ahead of it before it gets cranky and painful.

As one of four geriatric nursing home patients who abruptly decide that dying peacefully in a stuffy nursing home isn’t how they want to go out, you leave in search of a more glorious and violent end. Expect no real story or philosophical explanation of why you’ve come to this conclusion, though; Just Die Already assumes that you and up to three others in online co-op are in the mood for absolute havoc and doesn't put much between you and that bloody prize. [ignvideo url="https://www.ign.com/videos/just-die-already-release-date-trailer"] Wanton chaos is your driving force, and it's at least a brief good time for anyone who loves a good ragdoll physics engine with emergent systems that can interact to create very hectic scenarios, like when you introduce electricity to anything involving water or other liquids. There's plenty of unguided fun to be had, like when I chopped my way into a secret tunnel to find a weird recluse working on exploding squid technology, or a hidden dojo I found filled with furry suits. [poilib element="quoteBox" parameters="excerpt=There's%20plenty%20of%20unguided%20fun%20to%20be%20had."]That said, I found myself constantly referring to the Bucket List for my next goal, which included tasks that range from simple things like turning over trash cans or taunting locals, to more difficult objectives like trying to shoot hoops in spite of some finicky controls. Checking one off rewards you with points to buy new items and weapons like a Roman candle or a katana, who occasionally come with their own Bucket List challenges. The downside of the checklist spelling out every step for you is that you rarely stumble upon secret moments or events that stand out as funny or memorable completely unprompted. There’s no equivalent to the “Penis Shaped Foods Protest” or “Satanic Ritual” moments that made Goat Simulator so delightful here. [poilib element="poll" parameters="id=61532745-5a01-4ce8-abd3-6d94783e01bf"] The city you rampage through is separated into sections, all of which have well-realized themes and environmental quirks. You’ll easily be able to tell if you're in the Zen Garden, which is guarded by killer monks, or the Docks that are marked by waterways filled to the brim with dangerous creatures. There are enough prominent landmarks in each location that learning to navigate the vast city just by sight is relatively easy. That’s helpful, since many of the Bucket List challenges are zone and even building specific. Character models for the NPCs are surprisingly varied, with folks wandering around town looking just as odd as you do. I particularly like how vibrant the color palette is, with the sharp blues and greens of water and grass really punctuating the cartoony art direction. [poilib element="quoteBox" parameters="excerpt=Just%20Die%20Already%E2%80%99s%20gameplay%20is%20messy%20and%20simply%20not%20well%20put%20together."]No matter what you’re doing, though, you’re given nagging reminders that Just Die Already’s gameplay is messy and simply not well put together. Is that intentional as part of the joke? Maybe, but it’s annoying. Aiming is frustratingly imprecise, hit detection is a crapshoot, and characters swing weapons and objects in inconsistent arcs. Trying to hit someone with a close-range weapon can be remarkably difficult, and getting into back-and-forth melee fights was almost always losing effort for me. Platforming is clunky, and interacting with objects doesn't feel responsive. The wonky physics often impede what should be a straightforward object-placement puzzle in inexplicable ways. Just the simple act of playing can sometimes kill the mood before you even encounter a gag. [widget path="global/article/imagegallery" parameters="legacyId=20108647&captions=true"] What causes Just Die Already to… well, just die, is that the overall humor feels hit or miss. Sure, many of the gags are funny, in the same way that watching someone trip and fall can be funny in the simplest sort of way – and here, they might trip and fall onto a spring-loaded manhole cover that launches them into power lines that fry them to a crisp. I guess that’s worth a chuckle the first time or two you see it. What completely fails to work are the objectives that ask you to gruesomely dismember random people for no reason – what’s the joke here, exactly? To be clear, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with hyperviolence in games, it’s just that it’s not inherently funny on its own – you have to add some comedic context to it. Just as many of these bits are just strange. Opening a bathroom stall and watching a naked man run out is awkward and maybe fits the overall energy of Just Die Already, but I can’t say there was ever a time when I actually laughed at it. The fact that you’re playing as elderly people is supposed to be its own joke as well as a lens through which all the other jokes seem that much more hilarious, but unless you find a Boomer simply being alive to be funny, this entire mechanism falls flat. But, as with all attempts at humor, your mileage may vary.

Army of the Dead Review

Army of the Dead is currently in limited theatrical release and debuts on Netflix on May 21. [poilib element="accentDivider"] When it was announced that Army of the Dead would see Zack Snyder return to the horror sub-genre that kickstarted his career, there was cause to be excited. But what starts as an escapist zombie/heist movie set in Las Vegas eventually devolves into a rote action movie, its few, fun but superficial surprises quickly washed away in favor of embracing the bleakness popular in the post-Walking Dead era of zombie stories. Army of the Dead’s opening credits sequence teases a darkly hilarious and ironic zombie romp set in Sin City, presenting all the backstory and world-building required. Set to a Richard Cheese and Allison Crowe cover of "Viva Las Vegas," we see zombies quickly overrun the town, with every ridiculous Vegas staple you can think of -- from the obligatory Elvis impersonator to pageant queens and showgirls devouring tourists -- succumbing to the growing army of the dead. The sequence is a delight, offering everything you'd hope to see in a zombie heist movie set in Vegas. But the subsequent film never matches the promise of that great opening. For better or worse, Army of the Dead feels like Snyder unchained, even more so than his four-hour Snyder Cut of Justice League. Everything you love or hate about his directorial style is fully on display here, from the epic action and gore shots, tremendous slow-mo that can occasionally make the film feel dull and repetitive, poor dialogue that sounds like someone who just watched Aliens for the first time but only remembered the one-liners, and sudden attempts at forcing emotional connections to characters right before they die. Still, when the movie works, it works, especially when Snyder leans into dark deadpan humor (would it surprise you that The Cranberries’ "Zombie" is used here?). [widget path="global/article/imagegallery" parameters="albumSlug=the-best-horror-movies-on-netflix&captions=true"] The plot sees former merc Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) approached by Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) with an offer to escape his post-zombie war, burger-flipping life by smuggling $200 million out of a casino safe before Vegas is nuked to rid it of zombies. (The nuking will happen on the 4th of July because the President thought it "would look cool" and "kind of patriotic, if you think about it.") The subsequent "putting the crew together" portion of the film is a hoot, with big "You son of a bitch, I'm in" energy as we're introduced to all the quirky characters -- and a few important tagalongs -- that anyone familiar with zombie movies knows will inevitably end up dead meat. Scott’s mercenary group includes his close friends Cruz (Ana de la Reguera) and Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick, whose badass buzzsaw just sort of disappears early on), and sardonic helicopter pilot Peters (a scene-stealing Tig Notaro, who digitally replaced Chris D'Elia). Even though most of the characters are underdeveloped and very superficial, any time Vanderohe and safecracker Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer) are together, hilarity ensues. Once the crew enters Vegas, Snyder reveals his zombie influences and the clever additions he makes to the mythos. His film is almost a spiritual successor to Romero movies like Land of the Dead, and at other times, it also feels like the closest there’s been to a proper adaptation of the latter portions of the novel I Am Legend. There are regular zombies here, sure, but they coexist with fast zombies, as well as weirdly evolved "alphas," who have a bluish, sort of robotic look to them and are vastly more intelligent than regular zombies. And, of course, there’s that cool zombie tiger seen in the trailer. Some of the movie’s zombie lore, particularly when it comes to the leader of the zombies, is worthy of an entire sequel or spin-off just to explore the huge implications it suggests. (There's both an anime and a live-action prequel movie in the works.) [ignvideo width=610 height=374 url=https://www.ign.com/videos/2021/05/14/army-of-the-deads-zack-snyder-and-dave-bautista-on-which-movie-characters-would-survive-a-zombie-apocalypse] The problem is that the script -- credited to Snyder, Joby Harold, and Shay Hatten -- is not interested in exploring any of the myriad entailments of the plot beyond just a wink at the audience to make sure they know how clever the film is. While some of the mythology questions might be answered in the aforementioned follow-ups, that doesn't satisfactorily explain the film’s lazy allegory for the southern border detention centers beyond trying to nod to zombie movies’ long history of social commentary. Army of the Dead wants you to be sure that it is talking about serious topics -- by making most of the refugees in the quarantine camp appear Latino or have a character constantly talk about trying to escape the camp and face the dangers outside just to secure a better future for their children -- but it doesn't have anything nuanced or new to say other than the fact that some people take huge risks crossing the border. [ignvideo url="https://www.ign.com/videos/2021/05/19/zack-snyder-and-dave-bautista-on-making-army-of-the-dead"]

Army of the Dead Review

Army of the Dead is currently in limited theatrical release and debuts on Netflix on May 21. [poilib element="accentDivider"] When it was announced that Army of the Dead would see Zack Snyder return to the horror sub-genre that kickstarted his career, there was cause to be excited. But what starts as an escapist zombie/heist movie set in Las Vegas eventually devolves into a rote action movie, its few, fun but superficial surprises quickly washed away in favor of embracing the bleakness popular in the post-Walking Dead era of zombie stories. Army of the Dead’s opening credits sequence teases a darkly hilarious and ironic zombie romp set in Sin City, presenting all the backstory and world-building required. Set to a Richard Cheese and Allison Crowe cover of "Viva Las Vegas," we see zombies quickly overrun the town, with every ridiculous Vegas staple you can think of -- from the obligatory Elvis impersonator to pageant queens and showgirls devouring tourists -- succumbing to the growing army of the dead. The sequence is a delight, offering everything you'd hope to see in a zombie heist movie set in Vegas. But the subsequent film never matches the promise of that great opening. For better or worse, Army of the Dead feels like Snyder unchained, even more so than his four-hour Snyder Cut of Justice League. Everything you love or hate about his directorial style is fully on display here, from the epic action and gore shots, tremendous slow-mo that can occasionally make the film feel dull and repetitive, poor dialogue that sounds like someone who just watched Aliens for the first time but only remembered the one-liners, and sudden attempts at forcing emotional connections to characters right before they die. Still, when the movie works, it works, especially when Snyder leans into dark deadpan humor (would it surprise you that The Cranberries’ "Zombie" is used here?). [widget path="global/article/imagegallery" parameters="albumSlug=the-best-horror-movies-on-netflix&captions=true"] The plot sees former merc Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) approached by Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) with an offer to escape his post-zombie war, burger-flipping life by smuggling $200 million out of a casino safe before Vegas is nuked to rid it of zombies. (The nuking will happen on the 4th of July because the President thought it "would look cool" and "kind of patriotic, if you think about it.") The subsequent "putting the crew together" portion of the film is a hoot, with big "You son of a bitch, I'm in" energy as we're introduced to all the quirky characters -- and a few important tagalongs -- that anyone familiar with zombie movies knows will inevitably end up dead meat. Scott’s mercenary group includes his close friends Cruz (Ana de la Reguera) and Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick, whose badass buzzsaw just sort of disappears early on), and sardonic helicopter pilot Peters (a scene-stealing Tig Notaro, who digitally replaced Chris D'Elia). Even though most of the characters are underdeveloped and very superficial, any time Vanderohe and safecracker Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer) are together, hilarity ensues. Once the crew enters Vegas, Snyder reveals his zombie influences and the clever additions he makes to the mythos. His film is almost a spiritual successor to Romero movies like Land of the Dead, and at other times, it also feels like the closest there’s been to a proper adaptation of the latter portions of the novel I Am Legend. There are regular zombies here, sure, but they coexist with fast zombies, as well as weirdly evolved "alphas," who have a bluish, sort of robotic look to them and are vastly more intelligent than regular zombies. And, of course, there’s that cool zombie tiger seen in the trailer. Some of the movie’s zombie lore, particularly when it comes to the leader of the zombies, is worthy of an entire sequel or spin-off just to explore the huge implications it suggests. (There's both an anime and a live-action prequel movie in the works.) [ignvideo width=610 height=374 url=https://www.ign.com/videos/2021/05/14/army-of-the-deads-zack-snyder-and-dave-bautista-on-which-movie-characters-would-survive-a-zombie-apocalypse] The problem is that the script -- credited to Snyder, Joby Harold, and Shay Hatten -- is not interested in exploring any of the myriad entailments of the plot beyond just a wink at the audience to make sure they know how clever the film is. While some of the mythology questions might be answered in the aforementioned follow-ups, that doesn't satisfactorily explain the film’s lazy allegory for the southern border detention centers beyond trying to nod to zombie movies’ long history of social commentary. Army of the Dead wants you to be sure that it is talking about serious topics -- by making most of the refugees in the quarantine camp appear Latino or have a character constantly talk about trying to escape the camp and face the dangers outside just to secure a better future for their children -- but it doesn't have anything nuanced or new to say other than the fact that some people take huge risks crossing the border. [ignvideo url="https://www.ign.com/videos/2021/05/19/zack-snyder-and-dave-bautista-on-making-army-of-the-dead"]

Fast & Furious: Highway Heist Review

For a franchise that’s spawned nine mainline films, plus spin-offs, with more in development, it’s a shock there aren’t more Fast & Furious board games. After all, you’d think the series’ blend of visual thrills and (literally) high octane action would be a great fit for the medium. Well, the wait for a new Fast & Furious boardgame experience is over with Fast & Furious: Highway Heist from Funko Games.

This co-operative game lets you take the role of characters from the series, like Dominic or Letty, and work together to win one of three scenarios, all of which recreate climatic chase scenes from the movies. There’s the truck heist from the first Fast & the Furious movie, the tank takedown from the sixth, and the helicopter sequence from the seventh.

Fast & Furious: Highway Heist Quick Look

Funko

Box and What's Inside

Highway Heist was designed by Prospero Hall, a tabletop design team who’ve made a big splash with acclaimed games set in popular franchises like Jaws and Disney Villainous. Like most of their titles, opening the box greets you with a quote to set the scene: “doesn't matter what's under the hood. What matters ... is who's behind the wheel”.

Beneath the board there’s a tray full of colourful plastic miniatures: cars, enemy SUV’s and the three big boss vehicles, one for each scenario. While serviceable enough, these are soft plastic and lack detail. Each piece has two holes in the top to fit pegs that represent someone standing atop the vehicle, so they’re not well suited for painting.

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The choice of art is interesting. Rather than stills from the films, the Fast & the Furious board game offers blurry faux-impressionist pictures in a post-apocalyptic style. While not the most obvious pick it’s very effective, creating a sense of speed and mimicking a certain car-heavy Australian film franchise.

Rules and How to Play

For a game with the potential for mass-market sales, Highway Heist requires a decent chunk of rules digestion before you can put your foot down. If you’re familiar with modern board games it won’t be a struggle but to friends who prefer hardtop to tabletop may find the number of options a little confusing.

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Aside from that, setup is nice and quick. The group picks a scenario to play and each player chooses a character and a car. Some combinations are better suited to particular scenarios. Then you put the big bad - tank, trailer or helicopter - in the middle of the road, surrounded by four enemy SUV's, and get your engines revving.

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On a turn, each player gets to take two actions. Some of these, like Drive and Leap, are automatic. Most, such as Force, which lets you push enemy vehicles around, require a roll of some custom six-sided dice with a mix of blank, nitro, and empty faces. You check what stat it requires, like Speed or Control, then total up the pool from your chosen character and car. The action requires a certain number of green success dots to succeed, else it’s wasted.

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Dice-based cooperative games can be frustrating when things don’t go your way. But in Highway Heist you often end up rolling twice per turn, per player, so luck tends to even out.

Plus, any dice that come up with Nitro symbols offer you a tactical choice: discard them, or burn one of a limited stock of matching tokens to turn them into successes. It’s a slick combination, delivering tension for the big rolls while rarely leaving you feeling out of control.

After your turn, you roll another die to see what the enemy figures do. Sometimes opposing SUV’s will ram your cars, or their passengers will leap on your roof to cause havoc. Often, though, you’ll have to draw from a scenario-specific enemy deck of more detailed events. These cause the big scenario foe, and sometimes other enemies, to move and attack. The tank might shell or crush the player cars, the helicopter unleash a rocket and so on.

They also push down toward an “activation” space for an extra-negative effect if you don’t anticipate and plan to prevent them. The “Cargo Thieves” card in the truck heist, for example, places enemy pegs atop your cars who, if not dealt with in time, will steal back some of the loot you’ve managed to gain.

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Even with only two actions and enemy activation, Fast & Furious: Highway Heist creates a great sense of kinetic energy and motion. Cars jostle for position on the road, player and enemy pegs alike climb on roofs and jump about. In a smart design choice, motion is relative: rather than moving lots of spaces on a huge board, there's a presumption of high velocity. The constant bustle on the board gives it the sense of speed it needs.

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Adding to the chaos are the stunt cards that move along the bottom of the board. These are special actions that require you to set up particular placements on the board and a successful dice roll to pull off. The reward is an extra Nitro token and a big step toward your scenario goals. However, they're also a timer. A new stunt gets added to the board each turn, increasing through three levels of difficulty, and an old one is removed. The last, hardest stunt is an instant win if you can pull it off. But if it shuffles off the board, it's game over.

The stunt mechanic is a bit of a double-edged sword. While it adds strategy and stand-out moments to the fun, some of the cards are super-specific and very hard to complete with only two players. Highway Heist works better with three or the full complement of four. Most of the stunts aren't actually from the movies, either, but straight from the imaginations of the designers.

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You can adjust the toughness by removing more stunt cards to make it harder. And a good thing, too, as the standard difficult setting feels a bit too easy. A good cooperative game needs to set the players a challenge they can aspire to. Married to the limited roster of three scenarios, it does pose a question about the long term replay value of the game.

But while it's on your table, Highway Heist is a thrilling ride, its moving pieces locking into a satisfying whole. The list of actions and stunt cards give you plenty to think about. The way stunts count down and enemy cards count up winds the tension without remorse. And the dice rolls and Nitro boosts help you feel like you're always in with a shot right up to the finish line.

Where to Buy Fast & Furious: Highway Heist

Fast & Furious: Highway Heist has a list price of $29.99 and can be ordered directly from Funko Games or other online retailers in the US, as well as in-person at your local game store.