Archive for the ‘Gaming & Culture’ Category

Xbox Series boxes unboxed, revealing a series of Xboxes inside of boxes

October 28th, 2020

You may have noticed a faint trickle of unboxings and painfully limited previews of new consoles at Ars Technica as of late, and today, I have more of the same to offer. This time, I can finally confirm receipt of Microsoft's $299 Xbox Series S, now in addition to the $499 Xbox Series X I've been testing for over a month.

When we went down this road with Series X earlier this month and Sony's $499 PlayStation 5 one day ago, here's how things began: we announced that we'd gotten the device in question and offered a mild tease while ensuring you, Ars readers, that we were merely diving in with tests and impressions ahead of a more formal review. Today's gallery revolves specifically around the final, retail hardware Microsoft sent us for both flavors of its Xbox Series line; the Series X I've previously shown off has been a "near-final" prototype (likely one meant for use at events like E3, before those went kaput).

Hence, I finally get to yank them out of their boxes (above), then present them in a mild comparison gallery (below). Unlike prior generations, neither new Xbox comes with a physical coupon for subscription services like Xbox Game Pass or Xbox Live Gold, arguably because Microsoft has shifted toward offering those directly to brand-new customers once said customers connect consoles to the Internet. (Apologies in advance to longtime Xbox subscribers hoping for a fun 14-day re-up in the box.)

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Watch Dogs Legion review: A meaningless mob, with mostly merry mayhem

October 28th, 2020
It's interesting how video games take a phrase like 'non-player character' for granted. This unwieldy phrase has become a ubiquitous term of art that highlights just how limited we are in most games by taking the point of view of a single protagonist (or a maybe a small team).

Then along comes a game like Watch Dogs: Legion, which aims to blow up that dichotomy with a simple question: what if practically every non-player character could become a protagonist?

The results of Ubisoft's ambitious attempt are a little sloppy at points, and it doesn't fix the open-world genre's problems with repetitive quests. Still, Watch Dogs: Legion earns points for weaving together a coherent open world game where no one is the protagonist and everyone is the protagonist at the same time.

Everyone's a hacker

Legion takes players to a version of London that has been utterly transformed in the well-established techno-dystopian near-future of the Watch Dogs universe. Things start off with a literal bang when a terrorist hacker collective known as Zero Day sets off a series of massive explosions around the city. Dedsec, the "good guy" hackers from previous Watch Dogs titles, get framed for the attacks, leading the city to grant sweeping police state powers to mercenary mega-firm Albion in the name of "security."

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George Clooney is a grizzled Arctic astronomer in The Midnight Sky trailer

October 27th, 2020

George Clooney directs and stars in The Midnight Sky, based on the the novel Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton.

Netflix has bet heavily this year on high-profile feature films starring A-list talent: first with Chris Hemsworth in Extraction, and then with Oscar-winning actress Charlize Theron in The Old Guard. That bet has largely paid off. Now the streaming platform has tapped another Oscar winner, George Clooney, to direct and star in the post-apocalyptic science fiction film The Midnight Sky. It's adapted from the critically acclaimed 2016 debut novel, Good Morning, Midnight, by Lily Brooks-Dalton, which has been compared to Kim Stanley Robinson's Aurora and Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven. The official trailer just dropped, and it's giving us some strong Away vibes (which, alas, has been canceled by Netflix after just one season).

In the novel, a brilliant astronomer named Augustine is posted to the Arctic, scanning the night sky for clues about the birth of the universe. Then a mysterious global apocalypse occurs, prompting all his fellow scientists to evacuate. But Augustine remains behind, dedicated to continuing his research, even as the airwaves go silent. Meanwhile, a team of astronauts aboard the spaceship Aether is set to return to Earth after a mission to Jupiter. On board is Sully, who sacrificed her marriage and left her daughter behind in order to become one of the first humans to travel so far in our Solar System. The astronauts are unaware of the catastrophe that has befallen Earth, and it falls to Augustine to warn them not to return.

Snow is white, space is black

Clooney's film adaptation looks like it will hew closely to the novel. Per the official premise: "This post-apocalyptic tale follows Augustine (Clooney, Syriana, Argo), a lonely scientist in the Arctic, as he races to stop Sully (Felicity Jones, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) and her fellow astronauts from returning home to a mysterious global catastrophe." The cast also includes David Oyelowo (Selma, Don't Let Go) as Commander Tom Adewole, Ethan Peck (Star Trek: Discovery), Sophie Rundle (Peaky Blinders), Kyle Chandler (Bloodline, First Man) as Matthew, Tiffany Boone (The Following) as Maya, Demián Bichir (A Better Life) as Sanchez, and Caoilinn Springall as Iris, a mysterious child that Augustine befriends in the Arctic.

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Posted in Entertainment, film, film trailers, Gaming & Culture, George Clooney, Netflix, science fiction television, streaming television | Comments (0)

Cyberpunk 2077, after going gold, gets delayed another month

October 27th, 2020
Keanu Reeves as a video game character in Cyberpunk 2077

Enlarge / If you look closely at the shades, you can see the effect of today's news: Cyberpunk 2077 has been delayed again, now to December 10, 2020. (credit: CD Projekt Red / Aurich Lawson)

CD Projekt Red's next massive adventure game, Cyberpunk 2077, has been delayed for what appears to be the 4,000th time since being announced roughly eight years ago.

After assuring fans that the game's last delay—to November 19—was pretty much ironclad, due in part to the game "going gold," CD Projekt Red confirmed a new release date via a Twitter post on Tuesday. Cyberpunk 2077 will now arrive on December 10 simultaneously on a bunch of platforms. (Deep breath: Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, PS4, Windows 10 PC, and Stadia.)

“Undercalculated”

"'Going gold' means the game is ready, can be completed, and has all content in it," the studio's leads wrote in a statement. "But it doesn't mean we stop working on it and raising the quality bar... This is the time period we undercalculated."

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Nvidia RTX 3070 review: AMD’s stopwatch just started ticking a lot louder

October 27th, 2020

Talking about the RTX 3070, Nvidia's latest $499 GPU launching Thursday, October 29, is tricky in terms of the timing of today's review embargo. As of right now, the RTX 3070 is the finest GPU in this price sector by a large margin. In 24 hours, that could change—perhaps drastically.

Ahead of AMD's big October 28 event, dedicated to its RDNA 2 GPU line, Nvidia gave us an RTX 3070 Founders Edition to test however we saw fit. This is the GPU Nvidia absolutely needed to reveal before AMD shows up in (expectedly) the same price and power range.

Inside of an Nvidia-only bubble, this new GPU is a sensation. Pretty much every major RTX 2000-series card overshot with proprietary promises instead of offering brute force worth its inflated costs. Yet without AMD nipping at its heels, Nvidia's annoying strategy seemed to be the right call: the company established the RTX series' exclusive bonus processing cores as a major industry option without opposition, then got to wait a full year before competing with significant power jumps and delectable price cuts.

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Posted in Features, Gaming & Culture, Graphics Card, graphics cards, NVIDIA, nvidia rtx | Comments (0)

PS5 unboxing: Sony’s big, curvy boy stands out in any room

October 27th, 2020

As you may have heard by now, we have received the PlayStation 5 at Ars' orbiting headquarters, ahead of its official launch on Nov. 12. We're still limited in just what we can tell you about the system itself until that launch gets a little closer. One thing we can talk about, though, is the console's design—that is, the physical shell that houses all those electronics.

Sony's big boy

The most striking thing about the PS5 case (especially the disc-drive-sporting version we received) remains just how big it is. We've known for a while that the PS5 was set to be the biggest console in decades, of course. But it's one thing to know that intellectually. It's another to see it in your home, dwarfing most any other piece of consumer electronics you've ever owned (as you can see in some of these photos).

When you lift the PS5, though, it feels a little lighter than you might expect, given its physical size. At 9.92 pounds, it's slightly less heavy than the (smaller) launch-era PlayStation 3, for instance. And while the PS5 is heavier than the 7.3 pound PS4 Pro, it feels much less dense than that earlier system when lifted.

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Hands-on with the PS5’s synesthetic DualSense controller

October 27th, 2020

Astro's Playroom, included with every PlayStation 5, is clearly designed as a showcase of sorts for the system. The game takes players on a fantastical platforming adventure through an imagined version of the system's innards, and through 25+ years of PlayStation history itself.

More than that, though, the game is the perfect showcase for the PlayStation 5's new DualSense controller, and the proprietary perks it has over previous DualShock controllers. But while Sony has hyped up the DualSense's fine-tuned haptic feedback and adaptive force triggers in recent months, the company has been largely silent on one of the controller's most subtly impactful features: the built-in speaker.

Listen to your hands

Sony clearly wanted us to notice this speaker when we received our PlayStation 5 hardware; we were told, both in email and over a video-call briefing, not to wear headphones when testing Astro's Playroom for the first time. This was confusing at first, since the game's tutorial doesn't even mention the built-in speaker while running through the controller's many features. But it doesn't take long to hear the thing in action, and it's much better than you might expect based on recent console history.

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BBC drops new trailer and featurette for the upcoming His Dark Materials S2

October 26th, 2020

Dafne Keen, Amir Wilson, Ruth Wilson, and Lin-Manuel Miranda reprise their roles for the second season of the BBC/HBO adaptation of Philip Pullman's fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials.

His Dark Materials, the BBC/HBO adaptation of Philip Pullman's classic fantasy trilogy, received mixed reviews for its first season, although it still warranted an honorable mention in our 2019 year-end TV roundup. The second season debuts next month. HBO dropped the first S2 trailer in July during the virtual San Diego Comic-Con@Home and a second longer one in August. Now BBC has released yet another trailer that includes a short featurette, with cast interviews and some cool glimpses behind the scenes.

(Spoilers for S1 and the Philip Pullman books below.)

As we've written previously, the three books in Pullman's series are The Golden Compass (published as Northern Lights in the UK), The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. They follow the adventures of a 12-year-old girl named Lyra, who lives in a fictional version of Oxford, England, circa the Victorian era. Everyone has a companion daemon in the form of an animal—part of their spirit that resides outside the body—and Lyra's is named Pantalaimon. Lyra uncovers a sinister plot that sends her on a journey to find her father in hopes of foiling said plot. That journey takes her to different dimensions (the fictional world is a multiverse) and ultimately to her own coming of age.

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Posted in BBC, Entertainment, Gaming & Culture, HBO, hbo max, His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman, streaming television, Trailers, TV trailers | Comments (0)

Facebook’s cloud gaming offering focuses on free-to-play mobile games

October 26th, 2020

Facebook is the latest tech giant to follow the likes of Microsoft, Google, and Amazon into the game streaming space. But Facebook's effort differs from the competition by focusing exclusively on the kind of free-to-play games that are "typically played on mobile devices."

Facebook VP of Play Jason Rubin lays out the thinking behind this move in a blog post this morning. The company's new game streaming service won't be a separate platform, a la Microsoft xCloud, Google Stadia, or Amazon Luna. Instead, streamed titles will be integrated into Facebook's existing Instant Games platform, which hundreds of millions of players already use to run simple HTML5 games in the News Feed or a separate Gaming tab.

"People will play cloud-streamed games right alongside those playing instant games in HTML5," Rubin writes. "And if we do our jobs right, you won’t notice how the games are delivered."

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Lovecraft Country is a cleverly subversive take on notoriously racist author

October 26th, 2020

A Black family in 1950s Chicago struggles to reclaim their lost ancestral legacy while warding off monsters and magic spells in HBO's Lovecraft Country, based on the 2016 dark fantasy/horror novel of the same name by Matt Ruff. Like the novel that inspired it, the series' pointed juxtaposition of supernatural Lovecraftian horrors against more mundane, but equally horrifying racial inequalities of that era is especially timely in a year that has seen widespread civil rights protests against the brutal killings of Black men (and women) by police officers. And social relevance aside, it also works as pure entertainment.

(Some spoilers below, but no major reveals.)

Set in the Jim Crow era of the 1950s, Ruff's book is structured as a series of short stories, although everything is inter-related. The first quarter of the book focuses on Atticus, a black Korean war veteran and big H.P. Lovecraft fan, despite the author's notorious racism. When his estranged father disappears after encountering a well-dressed white man driving a silver Cadillac, leaving a cryptic message, Atticus sets out on a road trip from Chicago's South Side to rural Massachusetts. He's accompanied by his Uncle George—publisher of The Safe Negro Travel Guide—and his childhood friend Letitia (aka Leti).

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