Posts with «author_name|nathan ingraham» label

The 'Legacy of Thieves Collection' is a no-brainer for Uncharted fans

Uncharted has been a tentpole franchise for Sony ever since the first game arrived back in 2007, so it’s not surprising that the games have been remastered for newer consoles over the years. Developer Naughty Dog first brought the original PS3 trilogy to the PS4 in 2015 as The Nathan Drake Collection, improving visual fidelity and frame rates. Now, the company is pulling the same trick with the two PS4 games in the series: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End and Uncharted: The Lost Legacy.

Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection arrives for the PS5 this Friday, almost five years after Naughty Dog last released a new game in the series. The $50 collection features a number of technical and visual enhancements, but the games themselves are identical to the PS4 versions. I’ve spent the last week or so playing both games in the Legacy of Thieves Collection to see how they hold up and determine who this package is for.

Sony / Naughty Dog

There are three visual modes here, all of which improve over the original PS4 game. A “fidelity” setting keeps the frame rate at 30 fps but renders the games in full 4K resolution. Performance mode, on the other hand, runs the games at 60 fps while making no promises about the exact resolution. Finally, there’s a “Performance+” mode for people with 120Hz TVs — the games run at 120 fps with a locked 1080p resolution.

I don’t have a 120Hz TV, so I can’t say how that mode looked, but both the Fidelity and Performance modes looked simply spectacular. Uncharted 4 was beautiful enough when I played it in 1080p back in 2016; the cold snowy vistas of Scotland and the wild landscapes of Madagascar look even better in 4K with HDR. The improved resolution is also appreciated in the dark, shadowy opening of The Lost Legacy, as well.

Sony / Naughty Dog

Despite how great things looked on Fidelity mode, I spent almost all my time playing the game on Performance, as the improved frame rates simply offer a better gaming experience. I don’t have the most discerning eye, it seems, because I couldn’t notice the resolution difference between Fidelity and Performance, so sticking with the 60 fps mode was a no-brainer. Of course, your mileage and TV will vary. If I was playing on a TV larger than my humble 43-inch model, or through a projection system, I might have found Fidelity mode more valuable.

There are a number of other improvements that make these games feel native to the PS5, as well. First off, the games support the adaptive triggers on the PS5 controller, which adds resistance and a different feel when you’re firing your weapons (something you do frequently in both games). Combined with the improved haptics in the PS5 controller, the two games in Legacy of Thieves feel more immersive than they did on the PS4.

Load times are also blissfully short, thanks to the PS5’s SSD and more powerful hardware. If the game wasn’t already running, it still took less than a minute to load my progress and get back into the adventure. I never really thought about the load times when playing on the PS4, but I went back and confirmed the unsurprising fact that the PS5 is much faster.

As for the games themselves, both A Thief’s End and The Lost Legacy hold up well. They look gorgeous, the stories are engaging and more intricate than the earlier games, and the gameplay is more varied than the original trilogy as well. On the other hand, it remains extremely difficult to reconcile the lighthearted tone of Nathan Drake, the protagonist in A Thief’s End, with the massive body count he racks up throughout the game.

Sony / Naughty Dog

The stakes are high, but Drake is a charming and charismatic adventurer — despite the fact that he’s put in a tough situation, needing to pull off a huge heist to save his brother’s skin, he’s not a deadly serious lead hero. But he is deadly, killing dozens throughout his quest. It’s easy enough to just go where the game takes you and not overthink it, but it’s worth mentioning that six years on, the two sides of Drake still don’t sit particularly well next to each other.

The Lost Legacy puts you in control of another antihero, treasure hunter Chloe Frazer who appeared in Uncharted 2 and 3. It’s the first Uncharted game where Nathan Drake isn’t the main character, and it overall has a bit of a darker tone — Frazer and her companion Nadine Ross are just as lethal as Drake, but it fits their personalities and the story a bit better. While we’re discussing The Lost Legacy, it’s worth pointing out that the game originally sold for $40 and wasn’t intended to have the same scope as Uncharted 4; as such, it’s much shorter (a standard playthrough takes about seven or eight hours).

Sony / Naughty Dog

Putting aside any misgivings about the ludonarrative dissonance in these games (something that’s come up a lot with Naughty Dog’s games), they are fun, beautiful, sprawling adventures. If you haven’t played any Uncharted games before, you could pick up the Legacy of Thieves Collection and get a lot of gaming value for your $50. Sure, you won’t know Drake’s entire backstory, but A Thief’s End fills in the blanks well enough even if you don’t know every detail of his past adventures.

I’m a completionist, so I have slight misgivings about telling someone to jump right into it with the fourth game in a four-part series. I might recommend spending $20 on Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection, which is a remaster of the three PS3 games in the series — but Uncharted 4 holds up well enough on its own. As for The Lost Legacy, its protagonists are taking center stage for the first time, so their roles in past games aren’t terribly crucial to the story at hand.

If you enjoyed the original Uncharted trilogy, but somehow missed these games on the PS4, the Legacy of Thieves Collection is a no-brainer. If you’ve played them before, though, it’s a little less clear-cut. Improved frame rates and visual quality are solid updates to bring the games into the PS5 era, but they don’t fundamentally change the experience. That said, Sony is offering the Legacy of Thieves Collection for only $10 if you previously purchased A Thief’s End or The Lost Legacy. For the many people who love the series, that’s $10 well-spent, as these games hold up well — and look and play better than ever on the PS5.

'OlliOlli World' is a friendly but deceptively difficult skateboarding game

OlliOlli and its sequel, OlliOlli 2: Welcome to Olliwood, are notoriously difficult to master. These side-scrolling skateboarding games start out easily enough, but if you want to complete every challenge, get ready to play and replay some levels dozens of times over. It can be infuriating, but also extremely satisfying to pull off just the right combo of tricks and grinds needed for a big score.

I was worried that OlliOlli World, a new direction for the series that arrives on February 8th, was going to dispense with that level of challenge. After playing an extended preview of the game over the last week, I’m no longer concerned. Developer Roll7 has made a game that’s significantly more approachable than the original titles — but one that keeps the twitch-response gameplay and score-chasing highs intact for those who crave them.

For the uninitiated, OlliOlli World is a, 2.5D skateboarding platformer where your character simply has to make it from one end of the course to the other while pulling off as many tricks and combos as possible. That’s the same basic formula as the original games, but the scope of OlliOlli World is much greater. The game is split into five different areas, three of which were playable in my demo. The first one, Sunshine Valley, had close to 20 distinct levels, a handful of which were merely training levels meant to introduce the basics of skating, grinding and pulling off different tricks. But even if you don’t count those levels, there’s far more to explore in OlliOlli World than the two earlier games, each of which had 50 levels total.

There’s a host of ways to challenge yourself as you skate through these levels. For starters, you need to navigate grind rails, gaps, ramps and other obstacles to get to the end before you can progress. In a concession to the game’s history of bruising difficulty, though, levels now have checkpoints — so if you blow it 90 percent of the way through the level, you can try that last segment again. Of course, if you had a huge combo going that got interrupted, you’ll lose out on that opportunity for big points. But this at least makes it easier to learn levels and work on problem spots without having to tackle the entire course again.

But the levels are both extremely well designed and visually interesting, so I was eager to play and replay them until I mastered all the challenges and found as many secrets as I possibly could. The world is populated with colorful and fantastical creatures like walking bananas, smiling trees, giant bees holding signs for you to wall ride on, huge frogs (sometimes riding those giant bees) and, of course, the Skate Godz that you meet at the end of each world.

Roll7

See, your character is on a quest to become the new Skate Wizard, with the help of a goofy and delightful animated crew, including Chiffon, the one-eyed, pipe-smoking current Skate Wizard who’s ready to retire. To take their place, you’ll need to meet all of the Skate Godz that inhabit the five different zones you can play through. Each level has some banter with your crew as well as people you meet on your journeys, full of ridiculous puns and occasional advice on how to improve your scores or pull off new moves. You can skip it if you want, but it helped me get in the headspace of the gorgeous world of Radlandia.

It’s hard to sum up in words what makes the individual levels in OlliOlli World so compelling, but they mix serious challenge in with moments that let you really get into that elusive flow state, where you’re just pulling off tricks, riding rails and generally tearing through a course without thinking too much about what you’re doing. The music, sound effects, art style, level design and variety of moves you can pull off all contribute to this vibe — and even though the game looks entirely different from its predecessors, the end result is the same: skateboarding bliss.

My skills from the original OlliOlli games translated here, but there are plenty of new things to challenge long-time players. The game isn’t straight 2D anymore, which means there are multiple paths you can discover through many levels, something that seriously adds to replayability and challenge of these levels. Each level has multiple goals you’re presented with at the beginning, and meeting them all will almost certainly require multiple plays, especially as the game goes on and the tracks get more complex. 

Indeed, by the time I got about halfway through the third world in the game, I was seriously struggling to check off all of a level's goals. The good news is you can keep progressing without beating all three challenges, nor are you penalized for using checkpoints, but the game is so well designed that I wanted to keep going back and trying to best my earlier scores and nail those goals.

Roll7

There are plenty of new moves like grabs to pull off, and quarter-pipes let you change the direction your skater is going in. It sounds simple, but having your skater go right-to-left instead of the opposite really threw me for a loop, but I also audibly cheered the first time I skated into one of those quarter-pipes. They add a whole new dimension to the game that I wasn’t expecting.

It’s also worth mentioning some of the other ways Roll7 made this game more approachable than the earlier ones. Besides the aforementioned checkpoints, it’s a lot harder to wipe out now. Earlier games required you to press a button when landing, or else you’d lose all your momentum as well as the points you accumulated from a trick. Now, you can land without having to worry about that step — but pulling off so-called “perfect” landings increases your speed and score.

The main game is a deep experience, but Roll7 added new features for those who love to chase high scores. Every time you finish a level, you’ll see a rival player’s score that you’re then challenged to best. It’s subtle, just showing your rival’s high score beneath your best score — but these challenges taunted me into playing a few extra rounds to try and beat that challenge. OlliOlli World is smart enough to match you with players of your own skill level, so if your high score tops out at 100,000, you won’t be challenged to beat someone who got 1 million on a level; the rival scores are usually around 20 percent higher than your own best. It’s good encouragement to push yourself even harder through a level.

OlliOlli World also offers daily challenges through the Gnarvana League, which you unlock once you finish the game’s first area. Here, you join a league where you’re pitted against nine competitors who again skate at a similar skill level to you. The levels change every day, and you’re simply trying to put up the best score in your group. As you play, you can get promoted to other leagues, where the courses presumably will get trickier. I’ll readily admit that after putting up a score that put me on top of my group, I kept my eyes on the league throughout the day to see if I’d have to replay it and improve my score to keep that top spot.

Roll7

Finally, there’s a random level generator that you can use to challenge your friends or strangers to put up their best score. The Gnarvana Portal is extremely simple, letting you pick a level’s “style,” which is based on the five main worlds in the game. You can then choose one of four difficulty levels and set the course’s length. Once it’s generated, you can share that course via an eight-digit postcode. That code lets anyone else try your level, regardless of what platform they’re playing on, and you again compete to see who can put up the highest score. The fun thing is that anyone can try this, so you can give the postcode to a few close friends, or post it online and challenge anyone you want.

For the first time in an OlliOlli game, you can also customize your character to your heart's content. There are a ton of clothing options, hairstyles, skateboard designs, skin color options and much more here, and you'll unlock much more as you check off the different challenges each level offers. Unlike the first two games' single, generic male skater design, you can make a character here that truly fits your personality.

There’s a ton of game here for $30, and the Roll7 team has at least two DLC expansions planned for later this year (both of which are included if you order the $45 Rad Edition). If you have even a passing interest in skateboarding or platformer games, OlliOlli World is absolutely worth your time. It’s deeper, brighter, bigger and more fun than the original games, and I expect it’ll be a hit with hardcore OlliOllli fanatics as well as a much bigger new audience experiencing the thrill of this meditative skating series for the first time.

OlliOlli World will be available on the Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One and PC on February 8th.

Leica's M11 rangefinder camera features a 60-megapixel, full-frame sensor

Leica first announced its M10 rangefinder camera back in January 2017, and the company has since released multiplevariants of the camera since. Most recently, the M10-R added a 40-megapixel sensor to the to the camera, a big step up over the 24-megapixel one found in the original M10. But today, Leica is ready to leave the M10 lineup behind and move to a totally new camera, the Leica M11.

Well, “totally new” might be a stretch. It’ll look familiar to anyone who has seen Leica’s famous lineup of rangefinder cameras before, and it still uses Leica’s M mount for lenses, but the company has put in enough new features to justify giving it a new name. First and foremost is a new 60-megapixel full-frame sensor, making this camera a huge upgrade for anyone who might have purchased the original M10 back in 2017. The so-called “triple resolution” sensor can shoot at either 60, 36 or 18 megapixels in DNG RAW or JPG. Notably, Leica says it'll shoot using the full sensor area when shooting at a lower resolution, rather than cropping the image down. But these images might loose some sharpness because of pixel binning or line skipping that occurs when using the full sensor to shoot at a lower resolution. .

Shooting at lower resolution, though, will naturally save storage space and also offer extended burst shooting. The ISO on this camera ranges from 64 all the way to 50,000, a stop more than the 100-50,000 range offered on the M10 series. The ISO on this camera goes from 64 all the way to 50,000, a stop more than the 100-50,000 range offered on the M10 series.

Speaking of storage, the M11 has 64GB of onboard storage, which lets photographers storage images both on the internal memory as well as an SD memory card. Leica also redesigned the bottom plate of the camera to provide quicker access to the SD cart slot and battery. There’s also a USB-C port right in the bottom of the camera, which makes charging the battery and transferring pictures to a computer a bit easier. That’s a fairly common feature these days, but it’s still a welcome addition to the M11. Leica also says that the M11’s 1,800mAh battery stores 64 percent more power than the battery on older models

Leica

As with the M10 series, the M11 uses Leica’s optical rangefinder and manual focus only. But the 3-inch back screen, which you can also use as a viewfinder, has 2,332,800 pixels, more than double the 1,036,800 pixels on the M10. In another concession to modern technology, the M11 has both a mechanical and an electronic shutter. 

The standard mechanical option can shoot at speeds up to 1/4000th of a second, while the electronic shutter goes up to a whopping 1/16,000 of a second. Perhaps most significantly, the electronic shutter will be totally silent, something that street photographers should appreciate. The M10-R had an “extra silent” mechanical shutter, but you can’t beat a motionless electronic shutter if you need perfectly quiet operation.

Leica is offering two models: an all-black M11 and a black and silver option. The latter uses a brass top plate and as such weighs in at 640 grams, 100 grams more than the all-black models. To save weight, that camera has an aluminum top with a scratch-resistant coating. Regardless of which finish you prefer, the M11 is wildly expensive, in keeping with Leica tradition. It costs $8,995 without a lens, the same price as the M10-R. 

Given the numerous improvements here, it’s nice that Leica didn’t increase the price further, but — as we said when we checked out the M10-R — Leica rangefinders are as much a status symbol as they are a photography tool. We said the M10-R was the king of that category in 2020, but now it seems the M11 has taken the throne. The M11 is available to order now.

Acer's new Chromebook Spin 513 channels the Pixelbook's tall screen

It wouldn't be CES without new Chromebooks, and Acer has a new trio to announce — though two of them aren't expected to arrive until June of 2022. The most intriguing of them is a new version of the Chromebook Spin 513 (pictured above), one of Acer's mid-range options. While the company already sells a few different configurations of the Spin 513, this new model has a somewhat unusual processor on board. It's using MediaTek's eight-core Kompanio 1380 processor, coupled with up to 8GB of RAM and up to 128GB of storage. In the past, I've been reluctant to recommend Chromebooks without Intel processors, but I won't write this one off without testing it first. 

Assuming the processor holds up, there are some other things to like about the Chromebook Spin 513. This year's model has a 13.5-inch touchscreen with a 2,256 x 1,504 resolution; that's a 3:2 aspect ratio like the Chromebook Spin 713 I reviewed last year. The Spin 713 is an expensive Chromebook at $699, but the Spin 513 is priced at $599. That's not cheap, but I'm glad to see Acer put this 3:2 display on a less expensive option. As the name suggests, the Flip 513 has a 360-degree hinge so the laptop can be flipped around into tablet mode as well as "tent" mode for watching video. Unfortunately, we'll have to wait until June for this laptop to go on sale.

The other two new Acer Chromebooks are budget options, both priced at $299. The 2022 Chromebook 315 is a 15.6-inch laptop, and its large 1080p panel (touchscreen optional) is the main selling point here. Other specs are pretty standard for this price range: Intel Celeron or Pentium Silver processors, up to 8GB of RAM, 64GB or 128GB of storage and about 10 hours of battery life. The Chromebook 314, on the other hand, is essentially the same as the 315, it just has a smaller, 14-inch 1080p screen. The Chromebook 315 will be on sale this month in the US, but the 314 won't be available until June.

Follow all of the latest news from CES 2022 right here!

In 2021, Apple addressed past mistakes

When Apple announced the upgraded MacBook Pro earlier this fall, the common refrain was that the company was finally giving its customers what they asked for. But while the 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pro updates represent the most obvious case of Apple owning up to (and rectifying) past mistakes, the company has actually been on this course for the last few years. And at the end of 2021, Apple has just about finished replacing some of its most problematic designs.

Reviews of the new MacBook Pro are almost universally positive (aside from the high price points), but it’s still worth recapping just what a big change these laptops represent from their predecessors. Both of the new sizes are thicker and noticeably heavier than the models they replace; for a company that showed an almost fanatical obsession with thin-and-light design over the last decade, it’s a major about-face. But the older, 4-pound, 15-inch MacBook Pro often had trouble staying cool under heavy processor loads, a problem that couldn’t be solved without increasing the laptop’s size and weight. It’s as if Apple remembered it already has the MacBook Air, and that the people buying a Pro are willing to lug around a bit of extra weight for a more capable machine.

Devindra Hardawar / Engadget

Apple arguably started moving in this direction with a mid-cycle refresh a few years ago. In 2019, the company started banishing the unreliable and uncomfortable butterfly keyboard for a significantly improved scissor-switch model. That revised keyboard arrived on the first 16-inch MacBook Pro. Along with the new keyboard, that laptop was a third of a pound heavier, and larger in every dimension than its predecessor.

That was the first indication that Apple was willing to fix some of the ill-fated decisions it made with the MacBook Pro lineup, which brings us to this fall’s refresh. Users still had a laundry list of things they wanted changing, and Apple largely delivered. The new models brought back the SD card slot and HDMI port that the company removed in 2016. The MagSafe charging port, one of Apple’s smartest innovations, also made a comeback. Finally, Apple replaced the Touch Bar with a standard row of function keys.

Of course, Apple only deserves so much credit for fixing self-inflicted wounds. But it feels like the company has a much clearer vision of what the people shelling out (at least) $2,000 for a MacBook Pro actually want. And beyond simply fixing earlier mistakes, the Apple-built M1 Pro and M1 Max processors offer massive performance gains and better battery life. Add in an outstanding new display and excellent keyboard and MacBook Pro buyers have a lot to look forward to. The fact that these computers are thicker and heavier than the ones they replace will barely be a consideration for most, especially since bigger laptops have space for things like extra ports, larger batteries and better cooling systems.

David Imel for Engadget

While the MacBook Pro is the obvious example of Apple giving the people what they want this year, it’s not the only one. Take the iPhone 13 launch. The company once again released two standard models and two “Pro” models, just as it did in 2020. In most ways, these phones were iterative updates over the 12 series — but all four phones have significantly better battery life than their predecessors. Improving longevity is an obvious way to make customers happy, but it’s still good news that Apple quickly identified the weak spot with the iPhone 12 lineup and fixed it. Perhaps not coincidentally, all iPhone 13 models are also all a little heavier than last year’s. (They're also imperceptibly thicker, at .30 inches vs. .29 for the iPhone 12.)

Again, though, there’s some recent precedence for Apple putting battery life over a thin-at-all-costs design. 2018’s iPhone XR was a cheaper and slightly less elegant version of the flagship iPhone XS — but its larger screen and thicker body left room for a battery that smoked the “superior” XS. So, in 2019, Apple made the iPhone 11 Pro bigger than the XS it replaced, but it also vastly improved battery life. It was particularly surprising to see Apple make a bigger iPhone after chasing thinness at all costs for so long, but it was definitely welcome. The company finally seems to realize that an impossibly thin device that constantly needs to be charged doesn’t make for a good user experience.

Another good example is Apple's significant change of heart around product repairs. Specifically, Apple announced plans to sell repair parts and instructions to customers who want to fix their iPhones themselves, a victory for anyone who felt they should be able to pop open their iPhone and put in a new battery or fix a broken display. While right-to-repair groups said there's still more Apple can do in this area, they nonetheless hailed it as a major step forward from the completely closed nature of its products, the vast majority of which haven't been user-serviceable before. Apple is starting with the iPhone, but said it will roll out some self-repair tools and parts for M1-based Macs in 2022, as well. The threat of government regulation may have played a big role in this new initiative, but the end result is still good for consumers.

Apple is even having a little more fun with its products than it has in a while. Take the M1-powered iMac, for example. I wish that it had more ports and, considering the price, it should have more RAM and storage — but the wide variety of colors Apple chose is just great. I’m dying for these colorways to come to a redesigned MacBook Air (fingers crossed for the spring). The three new hues in the HomePod mini lineup are another good example of Apple realizing that hardware you place in your home doesn’t just have to be gray or silver.

While the new MacBook Pro is a huge step forward for those who want serious power on the go, Apple still hasn’t given professionals the full desktop-class computers they need. Because Apple is in the middle of its transition to Apple Silicon, the larger iMac and Mac Pro machines are hard to recommend right now. Hopefully, Apple will bring the power of the M1 Pro and M1 Max to a larger iMac and a new Mac Pro tower in 2022. If they can wrap up this last bit of the transition next year, Mac buyers will be covered at all points of the company’s product lineup. It’s been way too long since we could say that.

'Forza Horizon 5' turned me into a racing game fan

I’m not much of a car guy, but I do enjoy a good drive on an open road and have at least a passing appreciation for a fine automobile. Of course, my beyond-humble Toyota Prius only offers so much in the way of driving thrills. A realistic racing game always sounded like a great way to scratch that driving itch, but they’re almost always just too involved and difficult for me.

But my colleague Jess Conditt described the Forza Horizon series as “the chill, microdosing cousin of Forza Motorsport, with festival vibes, ridiculous race tracks set in lush environments, and, of course, a virtual garage full of gorgeous vehicles” in her glowing preview of the game. I was sold, and so far Forza Horizon 5 has entirely lived up to the hype and praise it has received.

A big part of the reason why is that it’s the most approachable driving game I’ve ever tried. Take the ingenious “rewind button.” At first, I would push the accelerator to the floor and rarely let up, which made actually taking a turn without wiping out damn near impossible. But the rewind button let me try these difficult turns again without completely blowing the race I’m in or having to start the entire thing over again. I think that it helped me get better at the game significantly faster than I would have if I had to re-do a course every time I blew a turn. Without it, I’m pretty sure I would have given up on Forza Horizon 5 pretty quickly.

What I wanted out of Forza Horizon 5 was the ability to drive vintage and modern cars I’d never get a chance to own around a beautifully-rendered Mexican countryside, and the auto car-tuning feature was another thing that made this dream easy to achieve. For people who really want to dive into it, the game’s cars are extremely customizable — but I couldn’t be bothered to figure out exactly what anti-roll bars, tires, suspension systems and so on I needed to buy so my 2003 Volkswagen GTI R32 would keep up with the competition. (Note to Jess: GTI. Every. Time.)

Fortunately, there’s an auto-upgrade feature that can level up your car to the top of various tiers (C isn’t as great as A, which isn’t as great as S1, for example). Of course, you’ll need to pay for the parts, but it’s worth the cost to max out your vehicles of choice without spending all day figuring out exactly what parts to buy.

In the frankly shocking amount of time I’ve poured into Forza Horizon 5 already, I’ve been delighted to find a game with the perfect blend of serious driving challenge and realism coupled with tools and design that make it extremely appealing to someone like me, who doesn’t have the time or desire to endlessly tweak their car for every race. It’s a lot more realistic than most arcade-style racers, but it’s definitely not so unforgiving as to be inaccessible to people who aren’t racing nerds.

Whether you’re a novice like me or someone more experienced with racing games, you’ll find a ton to keep you busy. Ultimately, Forza Horizon 5 isn’t wildly different from open-world adventure games — there’s a “story” you can follow and unlock different chapters as you go, and there’s also a huge variety of different challenges spread all over the map. I gravitated towards road racing events, but there’s a huge variety of different courses. Others might prefer going off-road, trying drag racing or competing in events to rack up trick points.

Playground Games/Microsoft

Regardless of how you like to play, it’s also a beautiful game; I was stunned by the variety of scenery across this little corner of Mexico I got to explore. Coupling that with events taking place at all different types of day and in different weather conditions and there’s always something new to see. I’ve only played it on the Xbox Series S on a 1080p TV — I’m hoping I can give it a go on a Series X or well-tuned gaming PC soon and see just how good it can look with the right hardware. But even on my more modest setup, I’m enjoying this game in a way I never expected.

How to set up your new Apple Watch

Like many Apple products, the Apple Watch can be extremely simple to start using — but that simplicity hides a surprising level of depth and customization. If you just received an Apple Watch, there’s a lot to do to make sure you’re getting the most out of your new wearable. Let us guide you through that process, from initial setup to optimizing everything it can do.

Setup

Of course, the first thing you’ll want to do is pair your Apple Watch with your iPhone. Even if you have a cellular-capable Apple Watch, an iPhone is required for setting up and managing the device. Fortunately, this process is extremely straightforward — after powering on the Apple Watch, just place it near an unlocked iPhone and you’ll get a prompt to set the device up. During this process, your iPhone will walk you through the initial pairing as well as signing in with your Apple ID, assigning a passcode to your Watch, setting up things like Siri and Apple Pay, and deciding if you want to transfer your compatible apps to the Watch. I recommend against transferring all your apps automatically this first time, as the Watch is a lot more useful when you curate it with only what you need.

A few features you definitely should set up are fall detection and emergency SOS. The latter lets you quickly place a call to local emergency services by pressing and holding the side button, while fall detection uses the Watch’s accelerometers and other sensors to, well, detect if you’ve taken a bad spill. It’ll initiate an emergency SOS call automatically if it detects a fall and doesn’t detect you moving. Before making that call, the Watch will try its best to get your attention via a notification, a vibration and an audible alarm.

The fun part: tweaking apps and notifications

Engadget

Once you have the basics set up, it’s time to make the Apple Watch your own. By default, the Apple Watch mirrors all notifications that go to your phone. But I’ve found the Watch to be much more useful with a bit of curation. In the iPhone Watch app, you can customize notifications for all of Apple’s first-party apps, or turn them off entirely. For example, the Activity app notifications panel lets you choose whether or not you want reminders to stand every hour, or notifications when your friends share activity milestones with you and so forth.

Third-party apps don’t have the same granularity, but you can turn them off so they won’t ping your Watch. For things that aren’t particularly time-sensitive (say, updates from Google Photos, or if you don’t want the Apple News app overloading your wrist), feel free to turn them off. They’ll still hit your iPhone, and you can always enable them again later.

The iPhone Watch app also lets you pick which specific apps from your iPhone will be installed on the Apple Watch. I think this is more useful than just letting the Watch install every single compatible app, because that might mean you have a few dozen apps to sift through on your Watch to see if they’re useful or not. Instead, I prefer going through the list and deciding if there’s a benefit to having these apps on my wrist. In the case of apps like Google Maps or Ecobee for controlling my thermostat, it’s a definite yes. But things like Etsy or Bank of America don’t exactly make a ton of sense on a Watch. And if you ever change your mind, you can remove an app from the Watch app or by long-pressing it in grid view and deleting it – just keep in mind that this will remove the app from your Watch but not from your iPhone.

That said, I have been surprised at what some developers have envisioned for the Apple Watch. Take the notes app Bear, for example. I often use it to make grocery lists, and checklists show up great on the Apple Watch. So if there’s an app on your phone that you consider essential, give it a shot on the Watch.

Watch faces

Another occasionally-overlooked part of the Apple Watch experience are watch faces. Since this is literally what you’ll see every time you raise your wrist, I think it’s worth finding ones that fit your personal style. While there are no third-party faces, the Apple Watch has more than 30 built-in options that are endlessly customizable. We’re talking about a huge variety of colors, different typefaces and watch face styles, complications (small slices of info like weather, date, or music controls) and much more. You can have a simple digital time display with nothing else, or an info-dense face with eight different complications or anything in between.

You can set up new faces on the Watch directly — but as with most in-depth features, it’s easier to do this on the iPhone. The Face Gallery shows every available face, along with multiple examples of how they can be customized. You can use those as a jumping off point to make your own creations. Once you’ve curated your favorites, you can simply swipe through them on the Watch itself when you want to mix things up. If you long press on a face, you can edit it directly on your Watch too, which is handy when you want to just change the color quickly to better match your outfit.

If you’re using an Apple Watch Series 5, 6 or 7, you can also decide whether you want to activate the always-on display. You can find this option in the settings app, under “Display & Brightness.” If you’re after maximum battery life, turn this off, but most people will probably prefer it on. New watches can still get a full day of use while using the always-on feature, but once your watch ages a bit and battery performance degrades, you might want to learn to live without it.

Fitness tracking

One of the biggest Apple Watch selling points is its fitness-tracking features. Whether or not you actively exercise on a regular basis, the Watch will track your steps and activity level, and use that data to track your daily movement via three rings that you’re encouraged to close. The “move” ring is how many active calories you burn in a day, the “exercise” ring tracks activity at or above a brisk walk, and the “stand” ring tracks whether or not you get up and move for a minute or two each hour of the day.

When you set up your Apple Watch, it’ll suggest daily goals for each of these, and the Activity app (or the Fitness app on your iPhone) will show how close you are to hitting them. If you’ve never used an Apple Watch before, it’s fine to just go with the defaults — every week, you’ll get a recap of how you did and it’ll even suggest bumping up your Move number if you’re easily surpassing it. The exercise and stand options default to 30 minutes per day and 12 hours per day, but those too can be adjusted.

For extra motivation, the Fitness app lets you connect with other friends who use an Apple Watch and see how much progress they’re making against their three rings. Naturally, you can use this information to taunt them about their couch-potato habits, but you can also challenge them to informal competitions. You earn points based on the percentage you close each of your rings every day, and the person with the most points after a week wins. It’s pretty casual, but it’s also a fun way to stay motivated.

If you want to track a specific workout, like a run, walk, or weight-training session you do that in the “workout” app. There, you’ll find the many different types of workouts that the Watch can track. If you already have a favorite way to track exercise on your phone, though, chances are you can find it for the Apple Watch too. Nike Run Club, MapMyRun, Peloton and others all have Watch apps that let you track workouts using the wearable’s sensors. Also, a lot of apps can now connect with the Health app on your iPhone. It’s a database of all your activity and workout data from your Watch, so you might be able to easily sync workout data from there into your service of choice. As with most things Apple Watch, it’ll just take a bit of playing around to see what works best for you.

Music

One of my favorite things about the Apple Watch is that it can stream music and podcasts – not just from Apple’s services but others like Spotify and Pandora as well. You’ll need a cellular-capable Watch to stream music without your phone, but the good news is that Apple Music, Spotify and Pandora all allow you to save music directly on the Watch as well. Regardless of whether you spring for the cellular model or not, there’s a way to listen to tunes and leave your phone behind.

If you’re an Apple Music user, you’ll manage downloaded music through the Watch app on your iPhone. Pop that open and go to the “Music” section and you’ll see a big button to add songs to your watch. There’s also a setting that’ll automatically download albums and playlists you’ve listened to recently – turn that on and you’ll always have some music on your wrist.

It’s easy to choose specific albums or playlists you want saved, too. Just hit the big plus button and you’ll see your Apple Music library. From there, just navigate to what you want, hit another plus button and it’ll be downloaded to your Watch. Note that music only transfers when your Watch is charging, so you’ll need to take it off your wrist to sync.

If you’re using Spotify, just navigate to an album, playlist or podcast on your phone and tap the three dots icon – you’ll see an option to “download to Apple Watch” there. Then, on your watch, there’s a clearly-marked “downloads” section where you can play content without a connection.

Experiment, experiment, experiment!

Cherlynn Low / Engadget

Like many Apple products, the Apple Watch has a lot of functionality and hidden complexity beneath its user-friendly surface. But I’ve found that the Watch hides a lot of features, so it’s worth checking out the built-in Tips app for suggestions on what you can do. Without a guide like that, you’ll probably never realize that clicking the side button twice summons Apple Pay, or that you can display the grid of icons in a list if you prefer. Chances are good you’re not going to irrevocably mess something up, so tap and swipe and scroll and dig into the settings.

'Alan Wake 2' will arrive in 2023

It's been more than a decade since Alan Wake first captured gamers' attention, and now it's finally official: the game is getting a sequel. At The Game Awards, we got a first first minute-long look to set up Alan Wake 2, which Remedy Entertainment says will arrive sometime in 2023. Yep, it's going to be a long wait, but at least we know for sure it's coming. Remedy says that the game will be released for PC, Xbox Series X/S, and the PS5.

This announcement comes a couple months after Alan Wake was remastered and released across multiple platforms, and that game contained the tease found in the original game that claimed "Alan Wake's journey through the night will continue." Some speculated that it would be removed from the remaster, but it was in kept intact. Turns out, the line is correct — it just took a long time to come true. 

As for what we'll get from Alan Wake 2, the trailer doesn't give us a whole lot of detail. It's more of a vibe-setting video, and it does a great job at setting up some seriously creepy vibes. While there's not much more to learn about the game right now, you can plan the remastered original on the Xbox One, Series X/S, PS4 or PS5 now. Remedy also says that it'll have more details about the game to share in the summer of 2022.

Nick Offerman will play Bill in 'The Last of Us' on HBO

Ron Swanson is coming to the world of The Last of Us. Yesterday, Murray Bartlett, a cast member on the upcoming HBO show based on the video game, said that he recently shot scenes with Nick Offerman, a person who hadn't yet been linked to the production. Now, Naughty Dog has confirmed a report from Variety that Offerman is playing the loner Bill in The Last of Us. Bill had a small but crucial role in the original game that was played by W. Earl Brown, who said earlier this year he wouldn't be reprising the role in the HBO show.

Offerman is not the first person to be cast as Bill. The role was originally offered to Con O’Neil, who previously had worked with show runner Craig Manzin on his Chernobyl series (also on HBO). According to Variety, O'Neil had to back out of the role due to scheduling conflicts.

Welcome to The Last of Us, @Nick_Offerman! We're so stoked to see you bring Bill to our TV screens!https://t.co/oxluGsllMU

— Naughty Dog (@Naughty_Dog) December 7, 2021

In addition to filming scenes with Bartlett, Offerman should get plenty of screen time with series leads Pedro Pascal, who is playing Joel, and Bella Ramsey, who plays Ellie. While there have been plenty of leaks from location shooting around Canada that shows this production is well underway, there's no word yet on when The Last of Us will arrive on HBO. It's expected sometime in 2022, though. 

The Hubble telescope is fully operational again after a month-long nap

NASA's Hubble telescope has been in a "coma" since going into system failure in late October — but today, the agency announced that it is waking Hubble up. After multiple instrument sync failures that required putting Hubble into safe mode, NASA says the telescope is now functioning as normal, with all four active instruments collecting data. 

On October 23rd, NASA first noticed that Hubble's instruments weren't receiving sync messages from the telescope's control unit. Communications issues continued for several days, which led NASA to put the telescope into a sort of safe mode — something that takes a long time to come out of because of the sensitivity of Hubble's hardware. Rapid power or temperature changes aren't good for its lifespan, so NASA took its time here.

This shutdown was the second that was required in 2021, with another month-long "coma" taking place in July to deal with an unrelated issue. Given the 31-year-old telescope's age, it's entirely possible that Hubble is nearing the end of its useful life in space, but for now NASA expects Hubble to work in tandem with the Webb telescope "well into this decade." After numerous delays, the Webb telescope is expected to finally launch on December 22nd.