Showing posts with label review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label review. Show all posts

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes Review

An acquaintance asked me to get in on Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes and help their group of galactic rabble (aka "guild"). I've played it off and on for several months now, and I think I can safely say that thanks in large part to EA, this game has no soul.

Built on the free-to-play model, GoH to it's credit ties in closely with the Star Wars universe. Many of the classic heroes from the franchise are present; Darth Vader, Yoda, Emperor Palpatine, Luke Skywalker, the list goes on. Even the new characters from The Force Awakens and Rogue One make appearances in special limited-time game events, a trend likely to continue with future Star Wars movies.

A recent update brings in some of the iconic ships from Star Wars, including the X-Wing, TIE fighter, Star Destroyer, even the Millenium Falcon.


The characters and ships each have classes and unique abilities; tanks are damage sponges, attackers attack, support characters support, and so on. Abilities vary widely and the trick is to gather characters and ships whose abilities complement and augment each other. For example, Darth Vader, Yoda, Princess Leia, and other "legendary" characters possess so-called leadership abilities which enhance statistics or provide other benefits for your entire squad.

Some abilities are buffs that can positively affect your character or their teammates. Teebo, an ewok tank, has a percentage chance to have your characters acquire the stealth ability for a few turns. Luminara Unduli in addition to decent damage-doing potential has a potent heal ability.

Debuffs can have similar but detrimental effects, such as the Royal Guard's ability to stun a target or the irritatingly effective ability of Darth Sidious and others which prevents a character from being healed. Emperor Palpatine's lightning can deal damage to your entire squad in a single turn. 

A few exact a toll on their users, such as Talia's Water of Life ability which heals other squad mates at the cost of a percentage of her own health.

Ahsoka Tano (the plucky Jedi from the sadly unfinished
Star Wars: The Clone Wars
animated series) makes an appearance in GoH.

Gameplay involves turn-based combat with a squad of up to 6 characters you choose from among those available in your profile versus another squad controlled by the game, and battle consists of advancing through progressively challenging rounds of combat in various familiar Star Wars locales like Tatooine, the Death Star, Hoth, Endor, and others. 

Player-versus-player "arena" style combat with another character's squad is available, which really puts to the test your ability to create a squad that can handle the opposition. Helpfully prior to battle you can analyze the opposing squad's abilities and compose your squad accordingly. I really like the challenge of meshing character attributes and abilities.

Rewards in battle include in-game currency (used to train your characters, purchase and equip gear and mods (bolt-on devices which are unlocked when your character reaches level 50), arena, guild and cantina credits (used to buy stuff in the arena, guild and cantina stores, respectively) and crystals, which can be earned through completing achievements and certain battles or events, or by forking over real money.

The game, to EA's credit, is quite faithful to the Star Wars franchise. Visuals from the neon glow of light sabers to sparks as blaster bolts find their mark are wonderfully vivid and hearken to the movies. Sounds are similarly faithful, all that's missing are character voices as far as I'm concerned. Those players of Star Wars: Battlefront who appreciate its cinematic spectacle will probably be similarly pleased with this much smaller-scale game environment.

Here unfortunately is where the novelty of the game ends.  

The cantina (depicted below) is the game's lobby. The idea is that you're a patron and you play the different games at one of the various holo-tables. Every time you visit the cantina it's the same thing, time after time. The decor is dingy and the ambient light dim. The twi'lek bartender (aside from being your guide in your earliest levels as a player) has a never-ending one-sided conversation with some dude standing at the bar. Two guys perpetually smack the table as their arena combatants duke it out. A droid mounted with a tray full of drinks trundles among the tables.

Sound familiar? It reminds me of a divey Vegas casino, and the investment in time and effort unfortunately ends up being very similar to sitting at a slot machine.

EA is notorious for exploiting the free-to-play model (the mobile reboot of Dungeon Keeper is just one example). While GoH isn't as obviously greedy for cold, hard cash, it still can be tempting to shell out cash to get that juicy legendary character or ship or refresh one of the numerous time-limited events.

GoH is faithful to the Star Wars universe in some very obvious ways, but I'd argue a distinct lack of detail reveals EA's true focus is getting a crack at players' wallets. Take light sabers versus blasters. Any Jedi or Sith worth their salt could easily deflect blaster bolts, but here the I think the game developers could've gone the extra mile but don't, because there's no sophisticated light saber technique used to deflect blaster fire akin to how "real" Jedi for example do in the films. Instead of elaborate animations showcasing the art of light saber combat, you're given text messages like DEFLECTED. Ho hum!

It's like EA delivers this game and says "Hey everybody, we have Star Wars characters! We have light sabers! We have visuals and sounds from the franchise!" Superficially yes, that's true, but it could be so much more. Similar to how the rebooted Battlefront compares to its old-school predecessor, there's a lot left to be desired here in terms of gameplay.

Speaking of which, for someone who never has (and never will) plunk down cash money for crystals in this game, here's how a typical day plays out.
  1. Check mail for arena or guild or other bonuses and friend requests.
  2. Challenges / arenas. Play / sim, repeat until daily limit reached.
  3. Cantina / light / dark / mod battles. Burn through daily energy to meet daily goals.
  4. Guild raid. If available (highly dependent on guild participation), ~5 battles.
  5. Galactic war. Play until victorious or character pool decimated.
  6. Redeem credits, buy character shards, gear, mods, levels.
  7. Close to a promoting a character or completing a gear level? Spend crystals to regain energy, repeat step 3 until energy exhausted.
  8. Check achievements, redeem any available.
  9. Done.
When your player level is under 50 or so, your game day is over in under an hour or less. As currently level 81, mine takes a little over an hour, with much of that time spent putting my tablet aside and finding something more productive to do while waiting for the game's timers to reset. 

At least it isn't as maddening as the new Dungeon Keeper and that game's absurdly long build timers, but it's still sadly lacking in fun. Certainly, by design it has replayability; there's always that little psychological rush of completing a battle tier or maxing a character's level, which at least serve to motivate one to complete the daily activities. There's also satisfaction in collaborating with your guild mates to share in raid and other rewards, as well as help lower-level players fill their gear requests. Aside from these it lacks substance, and for myself and I'd wager many other Star Wars fans the visuals and sounds while certainly satisfying in the short term quickly give way to boredom.
In the mainstream gaming market EA dwells (and sometimes takes a dump) in, this model of free-to-play is arguably the new normal, and that's sad. If and when I ever become a grandparent, I foresee myself wistfully sharing a tale with the grandkids about how many years ago you could pay for a game once and be provided hours and hours of fun, until the new normal and the almighty dollar helped free-to-play take hold, like cancer.


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

2015 Kia Sedona LX Review

Recently I had the opportunity to drive a rented 2015 Kia Sedona LX.

Following a car accident where my existing minivan was rear-ended and subsequently declared totaled by my insurance provider, I rented a comparable minivan from Enterprise. Having driven it for over 2 weeks now, I have a fairly good feel for the vehicle.

With the LX, the minivan came with power everything, Microsoft UVO infotainment and navigation system are included, but otherwise not the complete range of possibilities offered by Kia for this model (heated / cooled, seats and cupholders, for example, were not present).

I'm 5 feet 7 inches tall, and my legs are a bit short, and this seemed to be problematic with the Sedona. Even with the powered driver's seat moved fully forward, my feet could just barely reach the pedals. This wouldn't be a big deal if not for the fact that with the seat so far forward, each time I got in the top of the door frame threatened to knock me in the skull unless I contorted my torso awkwardly.

Aside from an annoying creaking noise coming from the rear, ride noise was minimal. Given that the Florida summer is arriving, the front and rear AC were sufficient. The 3.3 L V6 engine and accompanying 6-speed automatic transmission were nicely peppy and responsive. The braking was excellent, and upon glancing at a Consumer Reports review of this model, it appeared to be among the best as far as braking goes for minivans. However, one gripe with the ride is that it's a bit brutally stiff. It reminded me of the last time I'd driven a pickup, and even over fairly minimal potholes the suspension was unforgiving. Handling is a bit ponderous, given the 19-inch wheels and somewhat unrefined steering.

The infotainment system is definitely a plus for the Sedona. Navigation is straightforward and simple, and the backup camera is a nice touch. Those of you who use a USB flash drive for your music might be annoyed occasionally, though, as perhaps every 1 out of 3 attempts or so my USB stick chock full of MP3s would need to be reinserted after starting the vehicle after failing to detect the device.

Kia, in typical Korean automaker style, has tried valiantly to copy the success of, say, the Toyota Sienna, and although it comes close, it isn't quite there. I think you'd be better off buying a prior year top-of-the-line minivan by Toyota or even Dodge rather than plunking down some $30K+ for this model.

#Kia #minivan #2015

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Logitech k400 Wireless Touch Keyboard Review

As many "smart TV" owners know, "typing" with your TV remote control can be a hassle at best, a pain at worst. Fortunately, there are alternatives when you want to access your TV like you would a PC. 

One is a smartphone app, such as this unofficial one for use with Samsung TVs. Another, especially handy if you don't use a smartphone, is the Logitech k400 keyboard.

Logitech k400 Keyboard

The keyboard has smallish keys and is nearly full-size, but may be a bit irritating for those with fat fingers. The package includes a small transceiver which plugs into a free USB port on your smart TV, as well as a USB range extender smaller than many USB flash drives. 

Samsung, manufacturer of my particular smart TV, "...does not guarantee compatibility with all devices..." (source), but freely list their very own keyboard as wholly compatible, which is convenient for them. However, at least for my Samsung UN46EH5300, this particular keyboard worked out of the box for me.

The keyboard itself uses two AA batteries, and the transceiver runs off the TV's USB power. For your Samsung TV, a button with a right-mouse-button icon will, assuming you're viewing a TV channel, pop up a menu which lets you open Samsung's trademark on-screen menu. From there you can open YouTube and various other online services, and thereafter type URLs in as desired.

So far, my only complaint is that as far as Samsung's built-in web browser goes, you're stuck with ads (which might otherwise be blocked on your PC with the AdBlock Plus browser add-on or other means), and the browser itself for the few sessions I've opened with it so far has frequently crashed.

This does not impugn my impression of the Logitech k400 itself, though; it seems to do exactly what I expect it to do, enable both keyboard and mouse control of my smart TV.


Friday, May 10, 2013

Sony SMP-N200 Streaming Media Player Review

This marks the 1-year anniversary since ditching DirecTV for the Sony SMP-N200 streaming media player.

The device features HDMI, optical, and RCA jacks, as well as an ethernet port.

So far, the experience has been great! Rather than paying around $900 a year for satellite, I'm paying just what I'd been paying before for internet, around $40 monthly, a decent compromise.

The interface of the player is very similar to that of Sony's Bravia series of TVs. 

The remote enables navigation to the various options and settings. A great thing about this little black box is that you can browse the web, grabbing either streaming video from YouTube and elsewhere, or just general browsing. However, one trick is to use a smartphone app, Sony Media Remote, so that you gain the benefit of a keyboard; trying to "type" using the Sony's remote is an exercise in aggravation, to say the least.

For over-the-air TV, a Winegard antenna hung up near the ceiling of the living room plus a signal amplifier has managed to pull in 8 stations, six broadcast in my immediate area, and two more from towers about 40 miles away.

With the Sony SMP-N200 I can also stream downloaded video over my home's wireless network. To do this, I first needed to enable Homegroup on my Windows 7 desktop PC, and then I installed Nero MediaHome to act as a server for the Sony. Most any popular encoding format (AVI, MPG, MKV, WMV, and more) can stream from my computer to my TV with very little effort.

All in all, aside from the clunky remote, I'd give it a solid 4 out of 5 stars for the money I've saved thus far over cable or satellite.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Foscam FI9821 Review

UPDATE: Hard to believe, but a tip on Foscam's support forum from some random user turned out to be more helpful than Foscam.

A user on the forums reported that they got their wireless functional by simply popping open the camera, and then adjusting the wire connected to the camera's antenna.

Lo and behold, upon opening up the camera (and surely voiding its warranty, but no matter at this point as far as I'm concerned) and then removing the wire from its little post, reattaching it, then grinding it around the post back and forth a few times, suddenly the camera is able to detect my wireless network!


Foscam should enclose instructions telling their users how to crack the camera open and do what their QA department should've done and ensure the connection between the antenna and their camera is solid.

Or, even better, Foscam should do this testing prior to selling a $150+ camera to its customers!


I am pleased to be able to review the recently released Foscam FI9821 IP camera.

Perhaps in part due to my rather frank review of their FI9820 model, Foscam has just recently premiered the FI9821, with similar capabilities as the FI9820 but, I hope, fewer outright bugs than the previous model.

To review, the Foscam FI9820 had the following disagreeable problems:
  • Poor daylight video quality.
  • Inability to connect to a wireless WPA2 network that uses a complex passphrase with any non-alphanumeric characters.
  • As reported by Foscam, no further firmware support that might resolve these and any future issues.

I must give credit to Foscam's tech support. Courteous and respectful to the last, even when I threatened to contact my bank to dispute the credit card transactions associated with my purchase of two FI9820 cameras, they fulfilled an RMA request and provided me with a FREE upgrade to two FI9821 cameras at no cost other than for shipping the old cameras to their Houston, Texas facility.

Now, on to the review of Foscam's newest camera.

The cameras each arrived carefully packaged via USPS Priority Mail. My first minor disappointment came in the form of the AC adapter, its cord is still a mere 3 feet in length, less than I'd like.

I plugged in the power and fired up the camera, then assuming it would utilize DHCP to acquire a network address from my home router, I scanned my network using the handy free utility, Advanced IP Scanner, to ascertain its IP address so I could point my browser to it and configure it. No joy, the MAC address of the camera didn't appear to be detected by the software.

I uncharacteristically decided to consult the manual, which instructed me to pop the included CD into my drive and run the IP Camera Tool utility to help detect the camera on my network. Upon doing so, the camera was indeed detected, but strangely its TCP port had been set to 88 at the factory rather than the industry-standard 80 for http traffic. 


I accessed the camera's interface, and promptly changed the port to the standard port 80. So far, so good.

Next I tried to configure the wireless network settings on the camera. The interface isn't terribly helpful, for one, it seems Foscam expects your wireless network's SSID to be broadcast rather than hidden. I prefer to keep my SSID hidden to minimize the chance some passerby might see it and gain access, but as was the case with the FI9820, this new model wants your SSID to be broadcast.

Despite setting my SSID to be broadcast, this camera seems to NOT want to connect to my wireless network. This as of the most recent firmware update.

I simply cannot review this camera any further until I'm able to connect it to my wireless network. I've contacted Foscam support, hopefully they'll address this issue sooner than later.


Friday, December 21, 2012

Foscam FI9820W Review

I recently purchased a pair of Foscam FI9820W wireless IP cameras to augment my existing pair of FI8918W ones.

Featuring 720p video resolution, H.264 video compression, pan and tilt capability, SD card support, and IR cut to help filter out distortion in the camera's daytime mode, wireless IP cameras like these are very handy because they can be placed anywhere within the reach of your wireless network and a household power outlet, and transmit images and even live video wirelessly. 

In addition, if a burglar happens to break in and swipe or disable the cameras themselves, there's a fair chance that before this happens, the camera will have gotten a nice face shot of the perpetrator discovering the camera, and then send it via email or FTP if configured to do so, for you to later submit to the police.

This newest, more expensive camera in Foscam's lineup unfortunately suffers some significant shortcomings. Compared to the more mature FI8918W model, the web interface is still disappointingly ugly and Internet Explorer-centric, utilizing an ActiveX control to render live video in a browser and a few hoops need to be jumped through to get the interface functional in a more mainstream browser like Firefox or Chrome.

As if that were bad enough, a serious security issue arises with the FI9820W's lack of full WPA / WPA2 passphrase support. If your wireless network happens to be protected with one of these security protocols and uses anything other than an alphanumeric passphrase, you'll have no choice but to compromise your wireless security by making your password simpler to accommodate this camera.

Although the picture quality is outstanding in the camera's grayscale night vision mode with all its H.264 sharpness, the daytime mode leaves much to be desired. Even in a well-lit room the image appears blurry and washed out in spite of the included IR cut feature.

Night vision engaged, the image is relatively sharp and clear.

Another downside, whereas with the FI8918W you could set up its motion detection to optionally take a variable number of snapshots, the FI9820W allows no more than a single snapshot per activation of the motion alarm. Add to that the fact that the camera shares the similarly short AC adapter cable as its predecessor, there isn't a lot to make this camera in its current form worth the higher cost.
Daytime, even with IR cut the image is disappointingly grainy and washed out.

To summarize...
  • High video resolution.
  • Sharp night vision.
  • SD card support.
  • Nonstandard WPA / WPA2 passphrase support.
  • Grainy, washed-out daytime video.
  • Internet Explorer centered, 1990s-era web interface.
  • Short AC adapter cable.

I contacted Foscam's U.S. based technical support about the camera's disappointing features and anemic firmware, who responded to my inquiry on the FI9820W's shortcomings:
"Your suggestions will forward to our R&D team, we'll try to fain [sic] these features in the future software. Highly appreciated your feedbacks. Thanks a lot."

Let's hope they will!