Author: Ashley Esqueda

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Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds review

In any other year, Horizon Zero Dawn[1] would have likely won a haul of Game of the Year awards. I loved the universe Guerrilla Games created in this action-adventure masterpiece (CNET’s Jeff Bakalar had a bit more of a love/hate relationship with it i…

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The Evil Within 2 delivers surrealist scares

There’s a special place in my heart for survival horror games that offer more than your run-of-the-mill jump scares and moaning zombies. (See: Fatal Frame, Silent Hill 2, Outlast.) Rarely does the genre offer up a story that aims to both scare the crap out of you and tug at your heartstrings, but that’s exactly what The Evil Within 2 is gunning for. Based on my time with the game, it just might succeed.

She’s pretty… pretty horrific. 


Bethesda/Tango Gameworks

In an hour-long preview with EW2, I was treated to an atmospheric experience, a heartfelt story and mind-bending monsters that look like they leapt straight out of a Lovecraft novel. The franchise picks up the story of Sebastian Castellanos, who believed his daughter Lily to be dead in the first Evil Within. It looks like that isn’t quite the case, and he’ll need to head into a supernatural world full of macabre machinations to find her.

This particular demo showcased more of the game’s mechanics and puzzle-solving than its emotional beats; still, the mournful cellos pouring out a melancholy symphony added unseen emotional weight to my journey, as I wandered around a broken, floating city with a massive camera lens looming over me like a surrealist moon in the sky. 

There’s a bit of a hybrid horror game happening here, with developer Tango Gameworks looking to serve you tight, linear horror sequences meticulously aimed at drawing out as much tension as possible. Then more open-world options allow you to choose where to go and how much fighting you want to do to get there.

I fought two very different bosses and explored a decrepit City Hall full of interesting little puzzles. The first boss, a flesh golem with a pile of gnashing, giggling heads, pretty much required me to use everything within reach to help finish her off. I made the mistake of going in guns blazing for my first two attempts — which didn’t go very well, considering I was working with limited ammo. The third time, I kicked over some oil barrels and lit my freaky foe on fire, taking her down much more efficiently. Fun, but still a pretty standard boss fight overall, if you have experience with other survival horror games.

A face only a deranged artist could love.


Bethesda/Tango Gameworks

Once I made it inside City Hall, a more linear aspect of Evil Within 2 kicks in, and that’s where the game’s decidedly classic horror elements shine: turning towards and away from hallways, only to discover new doorways to step through the second time you look; rounding a corner and coming face to face with an enemy that turns out to be a lifeless mannequin; a horrifying art exhibit designed just for Sebastian. It’s all effective, and ratchets up the tension in just the right ways.

Finally, I faced a much more different boss than before: Obscura, a positively grotesque monster with three legs and an old-timey camera for a face. Usually, fights like these consist of the same type of stuff I saw earlier in the demo, but not this time. Obscura’s flashbulb blinds you and stops time, and Sebastian has to distract her for 90 seconds so an emitter can start up. I ran around the room, baiting her and shooting out her flashbulb to keep her from stopping the clock, and once the timer ran out, the fight was over. I’m sure I’ll run into Obscura again at some point in Evil Within 2, but it was really neat to overcome this battle with almost no traditional combat at all.

It feels like the development team is making a real effort to diversify the kinds of experiences you’ll have in EW2, especially after encountering three different kinds of horror gameplay in such a short demo. We’ve already seen one great horror game this year in Resident Evil 7[1], and if Tango Gameworks can make good on the promise I saw in this preview, we may have another on our hands.   

The Evil Within 2 hits Xbox One[2], PC and PS4 on — when else? — Friday the 13th of October. 

References

  1. ^ Resident Evil 7 (www.cnet.com)
  2. ^ Xbox One (www.cnet.com)
  3. ^ Tags (www.cnet.com)
  4. ^ Video Games (www.cnet.com)
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The 5 best ways to view the 2017 total solar eclipse

If you hadn’t heard, there’s a major eclipse happening soon. The US hasn’t had a total solar eclipse visible from coast to coast (Pacific to Atlantic) since 1918[1] — so we figured we’d give you some retina-safe options for viewing the eclipse on August 21, 2017.

And, to be clear, safety is paramount. Repeat after me:

  • Don’t look at any phase of the eclipse with your naked eye
  • Note that conventional sunglasses will not protect your eyes
  • The cheap, unsafe eclipse viewers being sold won’t protect your eyes, either
    [2]

We pulled those from NASA’s safety tips to prevent eye injury[3] during an eclipse, but you should read them all. Caveat emptor applies here, and when your vision is on the line, it’s really important to know you’re buying viewers with proper protection.

To that end, we’ve used those NASA guidelines to create our recommendations for eclipse-viewing gear below. The most important rule of thumb while you shop is there are specific trusted manufacturers and vendors who sell certified glasses/viewers that meet the ISO 12312-2 international standard — that’s what you’ll need to be protected from the sun as you stare at it. The American Astronomical Society has an excellent rundown[4] of manufacturers, vendors and retail chains where you can get solar-filter equipment, which has further informed our list.

eclipse-004-rtr4u5qr-edit-500

American Paper Optical makes cheap, safe paper glasses anyone can use to look directly at a solar eclipse. 

American Paper Optical

Cheap and easy: Paper glasses ($1 and up)

We’ve seen em before — they’re those paper frames that look like old-school 3D glasses, but instead of the old cyan/red combo, they’re fitted with solar viewing material. You can buy these in packs for around a buck a pair, making them a great option for families, teachers or organizations hoping to provide larger quantities on the cheap. Again, make sure you’re getting one made by or approved by the AAS list of manufacturers.

Got a pair laying around you plan to reuse? If they’re crinkled, cracked, or more than 3 years old, trash ’em. They’re dangerous and may not provide enough protection.

Sturdier but still inexpensive: Plastic glasses / cardboard viewers ($10-$20)

We’ve seen slightly sturdier options like plastic frames that look like sunglasses and folding cardboard viewers. This is a great option if you want your glasses to last a bit longer, but again, make sure you’re buying from a company that sources their material from the AAS list (for example: Celestron’s viewers often use solar viewing material from American Paper Optics).

The ‘maybe I have this in my garage’ option: Welding shields / goggles (Free-$20)

This one’s tricky, because while you may have a pair of welding goggles in your garage, they’ve got to be at least shade 14 or darker to suffice, according to NASA[5]. You can also pick up a simple piece of shade 14+ welder’s glass at a supply store and hold it up between your eyes and the sun to view the eclipse. At shade 14 and higher, they’re dark enough to meet transmittance requirements for ISO 12312-2:2015. The thing is, most basic welding goggles aren’t that heavy duty — and if you aren’t sure, it’s not worth taking the risk. Trust us.

nc13861an-lg

Celestron’s eclipse binoculars use the proper solar filter material so you can get a slight closeup of an eclipse without damaging your eyes.

Celestron

Getting a closer look at a reasonable price: Solar viewing binoculars ($20-$80)

I’d never heard of solar viewing binoculars, but it’s a pretty cool idea. Using binoculars with approved ISO solar filters, such as this Celestron model[6], allows you to get a slightly magnified look at the sun. You’ll have to exercise some caution putting them up and taking them down off your face, but if you’re a solar enthusiast, this might be a great option. (Note: Don’t ever use standard binoculars to look at the sun. If you’ve ever held a magnifying glass over an ant on a sunny day… well, imagine that ant is your retina. Ouch.)

Going eclipse gonzo: A telescope with solar filter lens (Price: Potentially astronomical)

If you already have a telescope, you’re probably more of a space enthusiast than I am, so I might be repeating what you already know. But you can buy solar filters for your telescope that allow you to get a closer look without harming your eyes. Some of these filters are relatively affordable, and some can be very expensive, letting you view the sun at very specific wavelengths. (Again, don’t ever view the sun through a telescope without the proper equipment. See: aforementioned ant/retina comparison.)

Overall, you have a lot of different options for checking out the upcoming eclipse. Just make safety your no. 1 priority, and you’ll come out the other side with the same retinas you showed up with.

References

  1. ^ since 1918 (arstechnica.com)
  2. ^ cheap, unsafe eclipse viewers (aas.org)
  3. ^ NASA’s safety tips to prevent eye injury (eclipse2017.nasa.gov)
  4. ^ American Astronomical Society has an excellent rundown (eclipse.aas.org)
  5. ^ according to NASA (eclipse2017.nasa.gov)
  6. ^ Celestron model (www.amazon.com)
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Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus revels in alternate history

Warning: I’m about to spoil the start of the game and some of Wolfenstein II’s other story elements. Turn away if you prefer to be surprised!
Alternate history like Amazon’s “Man in the High Castle” is a big trend right now in entertainment and Bethesd…

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Uncharted: The Lost Legacy is a second helping of treasure hunting joy

It’s only been just over a year since we said goodbye to charming treasure hunter Nathan Drake and his pals in Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, but we’re already being treated to more from the universe in Uncharted: The Lost Legacy. What started as an expansion turned into a fully-fledged game in the Uncharted universe set about a year after the events of A Thief’s End. So if you weren’t ready to stop climbing, fighting and exploring on your PS4, Naughty Dog’s got you covered.

So what’s different in The Lost Legacy? This time around, recurring Uncharted character Chloe Frazer is the hero. She’s exploring India in search of the fabled Golden Tusk of Ganesh. Since she faces off against Asav, a notorious war profiteer also on the hunt for the tusk, she enlists the help of a woman familiar with combat: Nadine Ross, one of Uncharted 4’s villains. It’s an interesting pairing, as these two don’t have any allegiance or long-time loyalty to the other; because of that, interactions I got to see offered rich backstory and fun banter.

My play time was brief, but packed with all the things that make an Uncharted game: I discovered lost treasures, flung myself across vast crevasses, climbed precarious rock faces, fought armed goons working for my foe, solved a couple puzzles and drove recklessly around a massive open space. There’s a definite callback to Uncharted 4’s Madagascar area, which was one of the highlights of that game’s features, but Naughty Dog chose to expand The Lost Legacy wider than they’ve ever done before.

uncharted-lost-legacy Naughty Dog

The area I played in (India’s Western Ghats) was a good example of the game’s “linear freedom.” Instead of seeing a vast area with one lone destination and some smaller points of interest, Chloe and Nadine offer a variety of options for you to check out. You’ll still need to end up in the same place, but it is a little less linear than previous installments, and I liked being able to decide which areas to tackle and in what order. Naughty Dog calls this “wide-linear,” which is a nice way of saying “a really, really big line,” but for Uncharted, it totally works. 

According to Game Director Kurt Margenau, the team also chose to narrow the scope of Lost Legacy compared to the globe-trotting locales of its predecessors — you’ll spend the game in one region of India this time around. It’s still really beautiful, even if you aren’t galavanting across the planet (bonus: it looks even better on PS4 Pro). In addition, the multiplayer and survival modes from Uncharted 4 are included with The Lost Legacy, so anyone hoping for some online play should be satisfied.

There are some new game mechanics, including a fun little lock picking function for Chloe, a  new collectible that’s tradable for in-game items, some added stealth abilities for avoiding combat, and Chloe’s cell phone, which can snap pictures of any magnificent sights you happen to come across.

From what I saw (which was pretty close to the finished product, since the game ships August 22), if you’re hoping for Naughty Dog to remake the wheel when it comes to Uncharted, this probably won’t satisfy your needs. But if you loved Uncharted 4 and want a second helping of some really good comfort food? Uncharted: The Lost Legacy will probably be your jam.

       
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