* This review is spoiler free! *

Dear Esther,

I happened upon fragments of washed up letters found amongst the rubbish that the sea brings. Soggy parchments bring word that those on the mainland speak of my lonely plight as some sort of game.

I find it hard to believe that a world exists beyond this island. I am sometimes haunted by human-like figures in the distance, but I know that this is merely my own disillusion taunting me.

I sometimes don't recognise my own words on occasion where I find myself communing with the nature of this place. The car wreckage too seems unfamiliar at times, but again I wonder if it is this island that has dulled my sense.

The mystery surrounding the wrecked boats and ships on the island continue to taunt me. Their once sturdy frames rendered as fragile as paper to the rough seas. Only hollowed skeletons devoid of life remain.

I find myself drawn toward a flashing light like a moth to the flame. I hopelessly hold on to the belief that there lies my salvation. I painfully trek through the bowels of the island in search of answers … or to find a new kind of solace ...

Dear Esther Game Review

A red light beckons; broken boats and shipwrecks mystify.

Dear Esther Game Review - Caves

The atmosphere Dear Esther creates is incredible - it feels cold, damp and lonely.

* * * Dear Esther Game Review * * *

For me, playing a good game is like watching a well written movie but being involved in how that movie pans out. This is immersion at its best. If suspense-injected story-driven gameplay and immersion are what excite you as a gamer, then Dear Esther awaits you.

A mystical mix of good graphics, emotive music and thought-provoking narration is what Dear Esther offers. Although brief (1-2 hours), Dear Esther is a memorable experience from start to finish. The script does vary slightly each time you play, but it is the mature nature of the writing which leaves something new to be discovered each time.

“The script also deserves praise. It charts a course through vastly different topics you never realised you cared about before – folklore, the Bible, shepherding, travel writing, guilt and medicine – and turns them into something meaningful without speaking down to its audience.”
- Dear Esther Game Review by PC Gamer

There isn't much more that needs to be said about Dear Esther. I purchased the game off Steam for $10 and it has been worth every cent. So stay up late, dim the lights, expect no interruptions and enjoy the Dear Esther experience!

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REVIEW: Introducing the Samsung Galaxy Note

IF there is one thing I can say about Samsung, it's that they continue to impress me with their screen technology. I watched a video recently where someone tried to scratch their Samsung smartphone screen with a penknife (violently), which left behind very little carnage.  

The new Galaxy Note smartphone (launched this year) features the world’s first and the largest 5.3" HD Super AMOLED display. This is an expansive high-resolution screen, which is currently the largest screen size available with smartphone portability. The Galaxy Note was designed to combine core on-the-go benefits of various mobile devices while maintaining smartphone portability.

The HD Super AMOLED display offers quality viewing experiences for video, photo, documents, webpages, apps and e-books. The blacks are deep and the colours bright. The superior screen also offers a 180 degree viewing angle, allowing contents to be viewed and shared comfortably from all angles. It is also great for showcasing high resolution PowerPoint presentations and the screen is large enough to allow split-screen operation, which handles well thanks to its 1.4GHz dual-core processor.

Introducing the Samsung Galaxy Note

"The artistic freedom of a paper notebook is coupled with the benefits of Samsung’s smartphone technology and services, allowing users to create, edit and share with more style than ever before," says JK Shin, President and Head of Samsung’s Mobile Communications Business.

Samsung plans to release the S Pen SDK soon which will allow app developers to create new applications and services incorporating the pen functionality. Samsung has also included S Planner - a smart, professional planning tool that makes full use of the device’s large screen. The management planner integrates the phone’s To-Do list and schedule.

The Galaxy Note also features S Memo - a multimedia application designed to record all forms of user-created content. Pictures, voice recordings, typed text, handwritten notes or drawings can all be captured via a single application and converted to a 'memo', to be edited, annotated and shared as desired.

A good smartphone wouldn't be as such without good connections into the online world. Fast network speeds are enabled through the HSPA+ and LTE-enabled connection. This allows users to stream videos in real-time or engage with their friends through online gaming platforms.

This article has been sponsored by Samsung.

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FALLOUT NEW VEGAS DLC: Honest Hearts and Dead Money

Hopefully by now all the bugs in the first two Fallout New Vegas DLC have been stomped out. If you haven’t yet played Dead Money or Honest Hearts here’s a quick review of each.

Fallout New Vegas Dead Money Review

Dead Money was a little disappointing in my opinion. It almost seems like Bethesda were trying to make a zombie shoot ‘em up expansion for Fallout New Vegas. The scenery is dull and eerie and the bad guys mostly consist of bright-eyed ghosts with multiple sclerosis. They have been cleverly named the "Ghost People." There is a lot of dialogue if that’s your thing and, in the case of one companion, none at all. There are a few new weapons on offer, which is nice, especially in the melee department.

So if pawning zombie-like creatures with melee combat in close quarters is your thing, Dead Money is for you.

Fallout New Vegas Honest Hearts Review

Honest Hearts, on the other hand, is something of a marvel. Fresh and expansive canyon scenery will have you immersed into a newly crafted section of the Fallout universe named Zion. Honest Hearts also ties in nicely with stories told back in New Vegas. The legendary Burning Man, who shall not be named according to Caesar, is looking for vengeance. You have the choice of either teaming up with the macho mummy or siding with a soft-hearted evangelical soul on missionary work.

The landscape in Honest Hearts is home to three different tribes who live off the land and have much to teach an adventurous courier. Will you team up with the Burning Man and wipe the White Legs off the face of the planet? Or will you help evacuate the Dead Horses before they fall victim to the same fate?

  • Both Fallout New Vegas DLC are available through Steam for $10 (roughly R70).

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PC GAMES: A quick look at some good game titles this Christmas

IT is the most exciting time of year for retailers and children alike as we are bombarded by adverts from all directions and the kiddy winkles are putting their finishing touches to their Christmas wish lists.

If your children are as demanding as most they’ll probably be nagging for the latest and greatest gadgetry goods this year. I imagine it must be tough having to explain what a recession is to a young child and argue that Apple iPads and Xboxes just aren’t in Santa’s budget this year.

But, if you already have a workable PC installed at home, games as gifts are the perfect solution to making everyone happy this Christmas. PC games are not frightfully expensive these days and I can assure you from experience that there is nothing more exciting than being given a new game to play for Christmas.

I have compiled a list of a few great PC games that cover several genres and are suitable for a variety of ages. It is also useful to know that most PC games today are not gender-specific. What may have once been considered as boys’ games are now being played considerably by the growing number of girl gamers.

Civilization V (ages 16+): R360 (PC)

Civilization VSid Meier’s award-winning Civilization series is a treat to the mind that will appeal to strategy gamers who enjoy turn-based games. Civilization takes one back to the beginnings of time where you can play as one of the great leaders from history. Discover new technologies and lands, build great wonders, forge alliances and sign treaties as you lead your people through time.

Civilization is a challenging game that promises hours of unique gaming. The previous release (Civilization IV) is now available for only R66 and includes three expansion packs.

Fallout New Vegas (R18): R350 (PC)

Fallout New VegasIn a post-apocalyptic world set in the not too distant future, you are one of several survivors who were preserved in underground vaults. After humanity emerges from living underground for generations, they have already begun to form tribes and allegiances. Conflict is inevitable as different tribes compete for clean water and survival, but one city has mysteriously been preserved from complete destruction. That city is New Vegas.

Stunning visuals and complete immersiveness make this game a personal favourite of mine. Outcomes differ depending on how you play the game and engage with its moral choice system. Just a warning: Fallout does have a gambling component and suggestions of prostitution — hence the age restriction.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (ages 16+):

The Elder Scrolls IV: OblivionThe Elder Scrolls places the player in the fantasy realm of Cyrodil — set in the Middle Ages. Made by the same company as Fallout 3, this game is equally stunning and immersive. Players are given endless quests which may see you fighting in the arena or battling mythical creatures with both magic and steel.

The Elder Scrolls is a great example of a sandbox game, whereby the player can literally venture where he or she pleases until the edge of the map. Like Fallout 3, it also features a weather system­, whereby players will experience rain, snow or shine and changes between day and night.

The game is not excessively violent or naughty, but perhaps a little complex for younger players.

Zoo TycoonZoo Tycoon 2 (ages 3+): R309 (PC)

From Railroad Tycoon to Zoo Tycoon — these games are great educational simulators. Players will learn the fundamentals of zoo upkeep and design in a fun and visually stimulating way. Zoo Tycoon is available with four expansion packs, namely the Zookeeper collection, the Marine Mania collection, Endangered Species and the Extinct Animals expansion pack.

Need for Speed Hot PursuitNeed for Speed: Hot Pursuit (ages 12+): R303 (PC)

If your offspring are into fast cars and adrenaline rushes (i.e. racing games) you need look no further than the Need for Speed series. Hot Pursuit is one of the more popular releases that will make car fans drool at the well-rendered graphics and sporty cars they get to drive.

Fifa 2011 (ages 3+): R308 (PC)

Fifa 2011The ever successful Fifa series is back with Fifa 2011 released this year. Football games are a lot of fun with a lot of effort put into their design. Players look like the real deal, stadia are modelled­ accurately and the roar and buzz of the fans creates a high-energy atmosphere.

Fifa 2010 is a good choice considering that the World Cup was hosted by our country this year. Unfortunately this release is currently out of stock; but if it becomes available again before Christmas it is selling for just R129.

GAMES BARGAIN BIN:

(these are games I haven’t personally played, but have certainly heard of. Suitable for all ages):

  • Ultimate Monster Trucks         R14
  • Football Manager 2007           R14
  • Winter Games                            R14
  • Puzzle Quest                             R90
  • Zoo Tycoon (stand alone)        R66

NOTE: All PC games mentioned here are available at www.take2.co.za which is also offering free shipping this festive season on all orders over R350. Games may be available in stores or on other shopping websites, yet prices may differ.

Happy gaming and Merry Christmas!

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GARMIN OREGON 450 REVIEW: Your GPS guide on & off the beaten track

SATNAV (satellite navigation): where would we be without it? A good question for marketers of such devices. Satnav is extremely useful for those of us who are considered to be ‘geographically impaired’. (I’ve been known to get lost in my own home town of Eshowe, which only has one main street).

Garmin Oregon 450 ReviewUnfortunately, satnav also happens to be responsible for a significant portion of traffic-related accidents — largely a result of people following their Navigatrix too blindly. A lot of people have found themselves driving off the road and into ditches by obeying misleading satnav instructions.

If you are going to make use of satellite navigation, it is therefore vital to get a good device. Garmin is the more popular and trustworthy brand on the market that has spawned a whole range of GPS devices. I personally wouldn’t pay less than R2 000 for a good Garmin. Anything below that price tag might just direct you into a sugarcane field.

But if you would rather rid yourself entirely of any navigational worries and get a state-of-the-art device, the Garmin Oregon 450 is one of the newer GPS devices released this year that comes bundled with extra features.

The device retails for just under R5 000, but apart from the necessary mapping software, the Oregon features a tri-axial compass and a barometric altimeter. These offer support on and off the beaten track and can aid you in unfamiliar cities as well as during off-road adventures and marine voyages.

Garmin Oregon 450 Review: Features

The Oregon has a single button that turns the device on and off. The rest is fully touch-enabled and the touch interface offers all the features one would ever need in a GPS device. With so much on offer, it does take a little getting used to, but there is the option of fully customizing the interface to suit your needs.

Garmin seems to have taken things a few strides further by making the Oregon 450 more than just a satellite navigation device. This GPS gadget comes with useful extras such as the tri-axial compass, photo viewer, calculator, calendar, stopwatch and alarm clock. The Oregon can also be used to track the behaviour of the sun, moon and tides as well as determine altitude and measure water depth.

Garmin Oregon 450 Review: Touch Interface

Garmin Oregon 450 Interface

Hand-held GPS receivers typically offer lots of options, and can be overwhelming for a first-time user. The main menu is spread across five screens, but these can be customised to suit your needs.

I was particularly fond of the compass which is entirely accurate and shows no delay whatsoever. The device also sits snugly in the palm of your hand and I imagine it would be very useful for the more outdoorsy types. The barometric altimeter is useful for hikers and can also be used to plot barometric pressure over time, which can help you keep an eye on changing weather conditions.

A unique feature of the Oregon 450, which has become popular among American huntsman and fisherman, is the “hunt/fish” feature. This provides the best times to hunt and fish in the area and offers a variety of cartography for boating and fishing excursions. It also provides both extensive offshore coverage and detailed lake coverage.

For the outdoor adventurer, the Oregon 450 makes use of topographic maps, which are ideal for hiking, hunting, camping, climbing and even snowmobiling. Once a nice collection of routes or hikes is created and stored, one is able to share their waypoints, tracks, routes and geocaches wirelessly with others that have compatible Oregon devices. Connect your Oregon to your PC and you are also able to view all your activities on a map using Google Earth.

Garmin Oregon 450 Review: The verdict

I don’t imagine that anyone could break an Oregon without trying really hard. This Garmin feels really solid and break-proof and is resistant to bumps, dust, dirt, humidity and water. Having only one pressable button on the device also stops the risk of buttons breaking.

Battery life is said to be 16 hours, but note that this is likely to be the life of really good quality batteries when the device is on standby and not in full use. What is lacking in this regard is the option of being able to charge the device while you drive.

Overall the Garmin Oregon 450 is certainly a great GPS to get if you’re willing to meet the price tag. It may be a bit overwhelming for those who prefer a more minimalistic device, but the Oregon does come with a very useful, six-page quick-start guide that will familiarise you with the device in less than a week.

Whatever GPS device you decide to use, just remember to apply some common sense when driving too. Driving into ditches is no fun; been there, done that.

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