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Steam Summer Sale 2017 Dates Confirmed

The Steam Summer Sale 2017 begins on June 22. This has been confirmed by PayPal. The company revealed the Steam Summer Sale 2017 start date in a tweet.

“It’s official. The #SteamSummerSale starts 22/06 at 6pm BST and PayPal customers get an extra £5 off *terms apply,” PayPal tweeted.

While no mention on what games will be discounted, we won’t be surprised to see recent titles like Prey, Bayonetta, and Tekken 7 receive price drops in addition to For Honor, Nier Automata, and Ghost Recon Wildlands. Hopefully this year’s sale does not disappoint.

Steam Summer Sale 2017 India time
The Steam Summer Sale starts at 10:30pm IST on June 22 for Indian gamers.

As for when the Steam Summer Sale 2017 ends, a leak via Valve’s developer forums claims that it ends on July 5, which is inline with past sale dates.
Valve is yet to officially comment and we doubt it will. Hopefully this year’s sale will be less dramatic than last year’s Winter Sale that saw the service being offline for awhile.

Steam Summer Sale 2017 Dates Confirmed

This year has seen Valve make a host of changes to how it manages customer support, curation, and games on Steam. While its unlikely that the Steam Sale will be subject to sweeping reform, it’s interesting to see how it treats this year’s Steam Summer Sale amidst changes galore. One of these major changes was removing Steam Greenlight and replacing it with Steam Direct.

First announced in February, Valve had not, at the time zeroed in on how much Steam Direct would cost for developers to use the platform. After much consideration, Steam Direct will cost $100 (around Rs. 6,428).

“We’ve decided we’re going to aim for the lowest barrier to developers as possible, with a $100 recoupable publishing fee per game, while at the same time work on features designed to help the Store algorithm become better at helping you sift through games,” a post from Valve reads. It goes on to say that an element of human curation would be infused into Steam’s processes in terms of content discovery.

 

Nintendo Switch Update Makes It Easier to Find Lost Joy-Con Controllers

Nintendo’s Switch console got a substantial software update that literally helps it keep its act together.

The portable console has detachable controllers – Joy-Cons – two adjectives that are essentially code for “easy to lose.” With the new Switch update, users will now be able to use the main console to make the controllers vibrate, letting you know where you left them after that last heated bout of MarioKart. Finding them could save you $80, after all.

The update also makes some additional adjustments to the console, including a smarter storage system that will sense when the console is out of room and will suggest which things you can delete to make the space for whatever you’re downloading.

Nintendo Switch Update Makes It Easier to Find Lost Joy-Con Controllers

On the social side of things, players will also be able to download their friends’ lists from Nintendo’s previous systems the Wii U and the Nintendo 3DS. More serious gamers will also be happy to hear they can now use the Switch’s Pro Controller, which looks more like a traditional game controller, while charging.

Of course, this doesn’t fix everything about the Switch. There are plenty of people, for example, who would like to see its battery life extended – or to see more games come to it. Neither of those is something a system software patch can fix.

But, as patches go, this is a pretty good one and can at least spare you a panicked moment or two.

 

 

The Kojima Game That Made You Play In The Sun

Hideo Kojima is famous for being the driving force behind stuff like Metal Gear and Snatcher. But today, we’re going to talk about another of his games: Boktai, a quirky little Game Boy Advance title that asked the player to go outside and get some sun.

While that sounds…odd, it was for a very good reason: not only was Boktai the story of a vampire hunter who was more powerful during the daylight hours, but to ensure that these powers were properly timed, the game’s cartridge included a daylight sensor at the top.

The sensor is that little round thing, which would be able to detech sunlight since the GBA’s design meant the end of the cartridge was always protruding | Image: National Museum Of Play

When you first fire up the game, you get this helpful message:

You were then asked to input the time and your timezone, and Boktai would adjust to your location and match the daylight in the game accordingly (so if it was midday outside it’d be midday in the game).

“I wanted to create a game that involved sunlight, and with the Game Boy Advance you can carry it outside, and there are no other games that involve sunlight” Kojima, who designed the game, told IGN in an old TGS interview. “And I love the theme of Dracula and vampires, I’ve always wanted to come up with a game that players can fight vampires. It was a lot of different ideas that came together, and I thought, why don’t I create a game that involves fighting vampires with sunlight?”

Having come up with a game design idea, Kojima then had to find some hardware that could get the job done. “But I didn’t know if it was technically possible, and I didn’t know how much it would be if I could do this because it might be too expensive with the GBA ROM and having a specialized cartridge”, he explains of the solar sensor’s creation. “There’s a division within Konami that makes specialized toys that have odor sensors and humidity sensors, and they’re pretty cheap. And when I was creating Metal Gear Solid 2, I asked them if it was possible to come up with a solar sensor. And when I knew that it was possible, that’s when I said, ‘We’re going to do this.’”

Which sounds like a completely unique and fascinating way to design a video game, and it was! But the game’s quirks overestimated players’ willingness to tailor their playtime to the need to go outside and underestimated a fundamental hardware flaw: Boktai asked you to be outdoors, but the Game Boy Advance’s screen (the improved SP was available by now, but loads of people still had the older system) made playing outside a massive pain in the ass eyes.

When you did play outside, you could store sunlight in batteries, which would allow you to play for a certain amount of time in the dark. When they ran out, many situations could still be overcome by collecting in-game resources. Oh, and players soon found that you could sometimes get enough sunlight by sitting next to a window or on a porch if you had the right conditions.

But while you could postpone the fact, you couldn’t escape it: eventually you had to play this game outside, especially since it was a requirement for overcoming Boktai’s boss battles. And for many players this was just too much of a hassle.

Boktai reviewed fairly well, and while its annoyances have become more famous than the game itself, it did well enough that a sequel was released in 2004. The sequel made some changes to the basic formula—swapping out a gun for melee weapons—but not to the core one, as it still included a daylight sensor and still made you go outside at certain points. Kojima, who designed the first game, was not involved in Boktai 2’s development.

Boktai 2 didn’t do nearly as well in the West, and so when a third game was made in 2005 (again featuring a sunlight sensor in the cartridge, and again sans Kojima), it was released only in Japan.

When the craze surrounding Pokemon Go last year was at its peak, I sometimes thought of Boktai and how in 2003 its need for outdoors play was received by many as something between a joke and a chore. And sure, the main reasons for Pokemon Go’s success weren’t just its “go outside”design, but its GPS tracking and the fact it was based on a series that millions of people grew up with, and not a weird little video game made by Konami. But still…it’s worth wondering what could have become of Boktai if Kojima had come up with the idea now instead of 15 years ago…

 

 

 

 

Dirt 4 Review

For almost two decades now, Codemasters’ Dirt – formerly Colin McRae Rally – has delivered some of the best racing games, and been the final word in rally racing. What started out as a true-to-life portrayal with the help of the late champion has morphed over time into an incredibly exciting and fun-loving franchise, one that extended its off-road wings to appeal to a more broader audience. The critical zenith of that phase was its last numbered Dirt entry – Dirt 3 – which means that expectations from the next game in the series were high.

Dirt 4 released earlier this month, and we took it for a spin to find out if it could live up to our hopes. Given its shared naming heritage, you’d expect it to retain most of what made previous versions click. After all, as the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Codemasters however seem to have done the near opposite of that. The latest Dirt instalment – available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC – is an amalgamation of Dirt 3 and Dirt Rally, the latter being a simulation-oriented return to rallying roots which scored well with the series’ core user base. Dirt 4 borrows a larger chunk of its DNA from Dirt Rally, and eschews fan-favourite features such as the rewind ability, which has found a place in Forza Horizon as well.

Dirt 4 Review

On the surface, it’s meant to serve both sides of the armchair racing community: Dirt 4 allows for two handling options, “gamer” and simulation. The first is designed for people who just want to have fun (à la Dirt 3), and the other for people who wish to be challenged (à la Dirt Rally). Beyond that, you’ve got difficulty options featuring driving assists as befit most racing titles. This includes things like traction control, and ABS braking, as well as AI expertise and the number of restarts available to you.

If you’re not sure of your driving skills, that’s fine. The game starts with a practice rally stage, and depending on your performance, it suggests one of four customised difficulty levels. Dirt 4 nudges you to climb the ladder as you play, pushing you to get rid of assists and adopt a more simulation approach even if you opt for “gamer” controls, as the sponsors rewards tend to come from increasing difficulty at times.

 

The driving mechanics are still solid, more so with simulation than “gamer”. Dirt 4 is after all a Codemasters title, and Dirt Rally showed it hadn’t lost sight of its roots after years of Dirt and Grid titles becoming more mainstream with their heavier arcade approach. While the new Dirt title brings a realistic handling feel and a sense of on-the-edge control that gives rally racing its excitement, it does modify its mechanics a tad to make it slightly more accessible.

But unfortunately, it’s lost all the pizzazz of its numbered predecessors. Where Dirt 2 and Dirt 3 were praised for their presentation and style – some of it earned by bringing in the likes of Ken Block and Travis Pastrana, and embracing the wild side of off-road racing, from gymkhana to the X Games – Dirt 4 is a downright serious racer. The sense of flair and cool-factor is missing from the race designs: gone are modes like Domination and the Free Roam donuts and jumps; and the voice overs and the menus. Sure, some of that is only on the surface, but all of it contributes towards the overall experience. And in its quest for realism, Dirt 4 has brought in unnecessary additions, such as the requirement to drive your car to a marshal after crossing the finish line.

The remaining game modes in Dirt 4 are Rally, Rallycross, and Landrush. While rally is the crux of the experience, Dirt 4 doesn’t have any licenses unlike Dirt Rally. Instead, Codemasters have built a procedural rally stage generator called ‘Your Stage’, which claims to have a billion possibilities from its five variables: length, complexity, location, time, and weather. Some of it might seem moot on the surface – driving a stage in a cloudy late afternoon vs rain at night doesn’t change the underlying route – but that’s only until you experience it yourself. It makes you appreciate the importance of your co-driver’s pace notes – especially on dense fog days – and changes how most are used to playing racing games.

 

For what it’s worth, it’s the official game of the FIA World Rallycross Championship, so it does get five tracks from there: Lydden Hill, England; Höljes, Sweden; Hell, Norway; Montalegre, Portugal; and Lohéac Bretagne, France. Owing to the licensing, rallycross now has the proper structure of its race type. You must pass a ‘Joker’ lap – a slight detour for the route – at least once during the race, with a spotter helping you when to take it.

 

Landrush is optional to career mode, which is probably a blessing in disguise. Codemasters said that they weren’t going to make Landrush the arcade side of Dirt 4, and retain a simulation feel. That shows in the worst possible way, unfortunately. It’s almost impossible to steer without spinning out, with the cars exhibiting wheel-lock and massive over-steer by default. Landrush in Dirt 4 can be a highly frustrating mode to play through, so it’s nice that it’s not integral to career progress.

Another aspect Dirt 4 borrows from Dirt Rally is the focus it places on building a rally team. In the beginning, you start off as a driver for any team that will hire you. After racking up a few wins, you will have enough credits to start your own crew. You don’t have to just buy cars, but take care of the whole shebang. That means deciding branding and maintaining sponsors, who are crucial to financial success in the long run. If that’s not enough of a distraction from the on-road experience, you also have to build up facilities for your team, from accommodation, catering, logistics, R&D, recycling, to workshop. Unfortunately, it’s as sleep-inducing as it sounds on paper, and makes you wonder why Codemasters is so interested in pursuing office-cubicle-level realism with a series that once placed emphasis on making big jumps and spinning in circles. It’s not as if the team building needs a lot of thought, à la Football Manager, but it seems designed as a credits-sink, to keep you thinking about how to earn more out of events.

 

If you’re looking for some Dirt 3-style fun, the only place you’ll find a version of that is Dirt 4’s Joyride section, which does have a fair bit to offer. It retains the smash attacks from Dirt 3, and brings a timed attack challenge on top, where you’ve got to complete a specified number of laps while picking up time boosts and avoiding time delays. Both those game modes are offered with Dirt 4’s full range of cars, from Ford Fiesta and Mini Cooper, to Audi Sport Quattro and Subaru Impreza. However, the variety is nowhere close to the levels of previous Dirt titles, where you were asked to pull off a multitude of stunts.

You’ll also miss Dirt 3’s charm in Dirt 4’s diluted career mode. Gone are the elements that made it so exhilarating – gymkhana, trailblazers, X Games and Winter X Games, and a better Landrush – and it’s disappointing that Codemasters has chosen to focus a lot more on its simulation fans. Ultimately, it makes for a new Dirt chapter that doesn’t share the ethos of its numbered predecessors, and it doesn’t feel right for the game to be called Dirt 4. That’s not to say the game isn’t good; fans of Dirt Rally, Project Cars, and other simulation titles will find enough to enjoy here. But if you’re getting into Dirt 4 to relive the joys of the earlier hits, this is the wrong game.

A word about graphics performance
On top of all that, the game looks nothing like its 2017 peers, so much so that Dirt 3 on the PC (a six-year-old game) looks better than Dirt 4 on the PS4. The PC version is better by comparison, but it still can’t stand toe to toe with Dirt 3. It’s perplexing how Codemasters have managed to go backwards, and hopefully it can be improved with an update going forward.

Pros:

Realistic rally mechanics
Option to switch handling
Endless rally stage variety
Cons:

Missing many race types
Bland presentation
Team maintenance is a drag
No rewind ability
Looks dated on the PS4
Rating (out of 10): 7

We played a review copy of Dirt 4 on the PlayStation 4 and a retail code of the game on Windows PC. The game costs Rs. 1,179 on Steam, Rs. 2,700 on Xbox One, and Rs. 3,999 on PS4, while the PS4 disc version is priced at Rs.3,499. It costs $59.99 across all platforms in the US.

 

 

 

 

Pokemon Go Update to Add Raid Battles, New Gym Features, Items, and More

Pokemon Go’s latest update is set to add raid battles, new gym features, and a slew of new items among other things.

According to game developer Niantic, several changes are coming to Pokemon Go. The biggest addition is the new Raid Battle feature – it’s a cooperative game mode that has users working together to defeat a powerful Pokemon known as a Raid Boss. It’s not too dissimilar to what we’ve seen in massively multiplayer online role-playing games like World of Warcraft or shared world shooters like Destiny and its sequel Destiny 2. Don’t expect it additional tries in a day to be free though.

“Before you can battle the Raid Boss, you’ll need a Raid Pass. You can get one free Raid Pass per day by visiting a Gym, but you can only hold one at a time. You can also get Premium Raid Passes from the in-game shop,” explains Niantic in a post. “Upon using your pass to join the battle, you and up to 20 other Trainers work together to defeat the Raid Boss. If you successfully defeat the Raid Boss within the five-minute time limit, you’ll have the chance to catch an extra powerful Pokemon of your own.”

Pokemon Go Update to Add Raid Battles, New Gym Features, Items, and More

Defeating a Raid Boss nets players unique items like Rare Candies which when used on a Pokemon turns into that Pokemon’s Candy, Golden Razz Berries which let Pokemon assigned to a Gym recover its motivation meter or increase the chance of catching Pokemon in the wild, and Technical Machines that will teach Pokemon a new Fast or Charged Attack.

Also new is how Gyms work in Pokemon Go. Item acquisition will be possible by spinning the Photo Disc and accessing Gym-based features and content won’t be dependent on Prestige and training. Rather they feature six permanent slots that can be filed by the controlling team’s Pokemon and each Pokemon should be unique. Opposing teams will battle Pokemon in the order they were assigned. Furthermore, the company shed light on the game’s new motivation system.

“At the heart of the update is a new motivation system that will significantly change how you interact with Gyms. When a Pokemon is assigned to a Gym, a motivation meter will be displayed. Pokemon assigned to defend a Gym lose motivation over time and as they are defeated in battle. As a Pokemon loses motivation, its CP will temporarily decrease, making it easier for opposing teams to defeat. To help keep the Pokemon motivated and in tip-top shape for their next battle, Trainers can treat their team’s Pokemon to some Berries, which restore their motivation. If a Pokemon loses all motivation, it will leave the Gym and return to its Trainer the next time it loses a battle, so you’ll want to keep your team’s Pokemon motivated by giving them Berries frequently.”

This isn’t all. Interacting with Gyms earns players Gym Badges which players can level up by battling other Pokemon Trainers, giving berries to Pokemon in Gyms, and spinning a Gym’s Photo Disc.

In order for these sweeping changes to come into motion Gyms will be temporary disabled and will return when the update has been rolled out the world over. This will be followed by the Raid Battles added to the game over the next few weeks, first in beta to a small set of players and then via invites to a larger group, gradually expanding to Gyms worldwide.

 

 

Minecraft Nintendo Switch Cross-Platform Play Uses Xbox Live Sign In; Could Explain No PS4 Support

According to Mojang CEO Jonas Martensson, to use Minecraft for cross-platform play Xbox Live is required even on the Nintendo Switch. In an interview with Pressfire.no translated on popular gaming forum NeoGAF, he stated that Nintendo has agreed to this and have been “pretty pragmatic and understanding.”

“We’re tying everything together with Xbox Live. So you log in with Xbox Live…,” he trailed off, further being pressed by the website if this would include the Nintendo Switch to which he said:

“Yes. That’s pretty unique as well! But everyone that’s in on this, all the platform holders, have been pretty pragmatic and understanding of that what we’re trying to do is create a good experience for the players. We needed a good system to connect everyone, and Xbox Live is a good system.”

Minecraft Nintendo Switch Cross-Platform Play Uses Xbox Live Sign In; Could Explain No PS4 Support

Later in the interview he goes on to say that Nintendo has been “very open when it comes to working together” and the process of incorporating Minecraft cross-platform play on the Nintendo Switch has been “very smooth.”

Over the week, Sony has been on the receiving end of criticism for not supporting Minecraft’s cross-platform play functionality. This would have ensured all consoles, mobile devices, VR, and PC can all play together online. If this does require an Xbox Live account to sign in, it would add to Microsoft’s tally of daily active users, essentially driving its business forward.

Understandably, Sony wouldn’t be interested in exposing its consumers to Microsoft’s ecosystem, which could explain Sony’s Jim Ryan using a rather flawed defence that essentially harks back to Nintendo’s overprotectiveness in the 1980s and 1990s. Martensson stops short of saying this when asked, rather replying with the more diplomatically acceptable “you’d have to ask them [Sony].”

This isn’t the first time Sony has been unwilling to bring cross-platform play to the PS4 with football meets cars multiplayer title Rocket League not getting the nod for Xbox One versus PS4 play.

“We’ve been doing that with PS3 and PC, PS4 and PC most recently with Street Fighter 5 and Rocket League and other games. That’s nothing new for us, in terms of working with developers and publishers to allow cross-platform play between PC and PS4,” said Sony Worldwide Studios’ Shuhei Yoshida to Eurogamer at the time.

“Because PC is an open platform it’s much more straightforward,” Yoshida continued. “Connecting two different closed networks is much more complicated so we have to work with developers and publishers to understand what it is they are trying to accomplish… We also have to look at the technical aspect – and the technical aspect could be the easiest. We also have to look at policy issues and business issues as well.”

Eventually Rocket League was made playable for PS4 players to play with those on the PC and not against Xbox One owners. It will be interesting to see if Microsoft is open to a similar arrangement for Minecraft.

 

Microsoft’s AI Mocks Humans by Notching Up Perfect Score in Ms. Pac-Man

If there was ever a doubt that artificial intelligence could one day overtake humans, then what follows should be sign enough that the day isn’t too far away. Microsoft’s AI has managed to hit the one million mark in cult-classic game Ms. Pac-Man, something humans never managed to achieved in the 35 years of the game’s existence.

Maluuba, a deep learning startup that was acquired by Microsoft earlier this year, created an AI system that learned the ways of the game to reach the coveted score of 1 million points by level 201. So, not only does Microsoft’s AI manage to achieve the highest possible score in both human and AI history, it managed to do so before hitting the all-too well known level 256 glitch. In a video posted by Microsoft Research, you can see the AI reach the game’s maximum point value of 999,990 on Atari 2600, after which the game seems to start over.

Microsoft's AI Mocks Humans by Notching Up Perfect Score in Ms. Pac-Man

It will also interest you to know that the highest recorded score in Ms. Pac-Man – by a human, of course – is 266,330 points, as recorded by HighScore.com. This makes Microsoft’s AI look truly remarkable and gives us a glimpse at how machine learning has evolved over time.

Maluuba was able to set the new Ms. Pac-Man record using machine learning and breaking up the game into small problems with “a separate reinforcement learning agent for each problem,” which the team calls Hybrid Reward Architecture. Here, individual agents are rewarded based on their assigned task. Through this ‘divide and conquer’ method, the top agent gets a feedback from the little agents to understand which is the best route for Ms. Pac-Man to take to avoid being eaten by ghosts, the video explains.

Recently, Google’s AI AlphaGo once again defeated a human, Ki Jie, at the ancient game Chinese game, Go.

Games like Ms. Pac-Man and Go, though quite old, are revered for their complex gameplay, which is why companies in the field of AI test out their machine learning algorithms on them.Maluuba sees an expansive, practical real-world applications though the Hybrid Reward Architecture used in the game, like helping a company predict which potential customers to target, or advancements in natural language processing.

 

Arms, Despicable Me 3, and More – The Weekend Chill

Last Friday, Marvel released the first teaser trailer for Black Panther during the fourth game of the NBA Finals. Starring Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa aka Black Panther, who reprises his role from Captain America: Civil War, the teaser provides a look at how director Ryan Coogler has dreamed up the technologically-advanced African nation of Wakanda. Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Martin Freeman, Forest Whitaker, and Andy Serkis star alongside. Black Panther opens February 16, 2018.

On Saturday, Star Wars’ John Boyega showed up at EA’s pre-E3 2017 event via a recorded video to announce that Captain Phasma and his character Finn would be present in Star Wars Battlefront II. The game’s multiplayer will span all three eras of Star Wars, and unlike the original, it will have a single-player campaign that will bridge the gap between Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, and Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Star Wars Battlefront II releases November 17.

Arms, Despicable Me 3, and More – The Weekend Chill

Netflix has added two new cast members for the second season of A Series of Unfortunate Events, in Nathan Fillion (Castle, Firefly) and Tony Hale (Veep, Arrested Development). While Hale’s role is unknown, Fillion will play Lemony Snicket’s (Patrick Warburton) older brother, Jacques Snicket. Production is now underway on the 10-episode second season, with a Q1 2018 scheduled release.

Game of Thrones’ seventh season is just a month away at this point, and HBO’s marketing wheels has given us an official look at the special effects behind the new season. Meanwhile, new promotional images have popped up as well, giving us a look at Bran Stark, Samwell Tarly, Podrick Payne, and Tormund Giantsbane among others.

Thanks to Sony’s PlayStation event at E3 2017, we got an extended look at the upcoming Spider-Man game on Tuesday, which seems to be taking its cues from Batman: Arkham series. There are some stealth-based moments here, followed by a long helicopter chase that stretches Spidey’s capabilities. The game doesn’t have a specific release date, just 2018.

Despite the disappointing X-Men: Apocalypse, Fox is moving forward with a new entry titled X-Men: Dark Phoenix. It has now decided on a director in Simon Kinberg, who has been a writer on three of the last four X-Men films, in addition to the failed Fantastic Four reboot. Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Nicholas Hoult, and Sophie Turner are expected to return. Dark Phoenix will be a directorial debut for Kinberg, which is currently scheduled for November 2, 2018.

After the turnaround to the reception for films in the DC universe with Wonder Woman, DC Films co-chairman Geoff Johns has agreed that their initial grittier approach might not have been the best idea. In an interview with The Wrap, he described their future vision as: “Get to the essence of the character and make the movies fun. Just make sure that the characters are the characters with heart, humour, hope, heroics, and optimism at the base.”

Lastly, after two weeks of teasers, director Neill Blomkamp (District 9, Elysium) has released the first in his series of short films, Oats Studios. The 22-minute film, starring Sigourney Weaver as a resistance leader, is called Rakka. In it, an alien race arrives on Earth to conquer the planet, enslaving and torturing people, while a group led by Weaver puts up a fight. Rakka is available for free on YouTube and Steam.

That’s all the entertainment news for this week. Welcome back to The Weekend Chill, your one-stop destination for what to watch, play, or listen to this weekend. Here are the best picks:

TV:
The Handmaid’s Tale
Hulu’s new original – from creator, showrunner, and executive producer Bruce Miller – is based on Canadian author Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel of the same name. It’s set in near-future New England where a totalitarian military dictatorship has overthrown the United States government, and established a rigid system that subjugates women in the name of declining fertility rates.

The show follows a handmaid named Offred (Elisabeth Moss), who is enslaved to produce a child for Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) and his wife Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski), while protecting herself from the ills of the society around her. Handmaids are supposed to not speak up, or read in Gilead, and Offred follows the rules without a meep so she can one day find the daughter taken from her.

It’s easily one of the best shows to come out this year, and has developed beyond Atwood’s book during the first season. If you’re the kind who likes to wait for the season to get over, and then binge-watch it at once, you can do that now with The Handmaid’s Tale.

How to access: Hulu
Time commitment: 10 hours

American Gods
Based on Neil Gaiman’s multiple award-winning book that brings together Americana, fantasy, and ancient and modern mythology, American Gods tells the story of a war brewing between the Old Gods and New Gods, as the former fear becoming irrelevant, as their believers are dying off or being seduced by the money, technology, and fame offered by the latter.

The story is told through the viewpoint of Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle), an ex-con who becomes bodyguard for conman Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane), even as Shadow reels from the recent death of his wife. Created by Byran Fuller (Hannibal) and Michael Green (Blade Runner 2049), with Gaiman serving as executive producer, the show brings the meticulous visual style that Fuller developed during his Hannibal years.

American Gods airs its final episode of the season on Sunday night in the US, so it gives you the perfect excuse to catch up before that. The show can be quite confusing at times, so we’ve got episode by episode recaps if you need reading material during your journey.

How to access: Amazon Prime Video, or Starz
Time commitment: 8 hours

Movies:
Despicable Me 3
Two films and $1.5 billion in, the studio – including franchise veteran writers Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul – has developed a blueprint that it knows will work, surrounding its protagonist Gru with his three adopted daughters, and the beloved Minions. With Despicable Me 3, the film gives the villainous Gru two more characters to bounce off his idiosyncrasies.

There’s new villain, Balthazar Bratt (South Park’s Trey Parker), a former child star who’s obsessed with his 80s-style character. See his last name for added emphasis. And the second is Gru’s twin-brother Dru, who is everything Gru isn’t. After Gru and Lucy are thrown out of the Anti-Villain League for failing to stop Balthazar, they enlist Dru’s help.

Directed by Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda, and co-directed by Eric Guillon, Despicable Me 3 has received average ratings from early reviews. Of course, that’s not going to matter to the film’s target audience: kids.

How to access: Out in cinema halls
Time commitment: 1 hour and 30 minutes

The Lego Batman Movie
After Will Arnett’s satirical portrayal of the Dark Knight won many fans in 2014’s The Lego Movie, Warner Bros. and DC gave him the natural upgrade – a standalone spin-off film, where audiences would get more of the zany version of Batman, who only “works in black, and sometimes very, very dark grey.” That’s what The Lego Batman Movie is ultimately about: it lets loose his egomaniac personality, and the seeming obliviousness to anything around him.

The good part? It works, and works great. Supporting Arnett as part of the voice cast are Ralph Fiennes as Alfred, the butler; Michael Cera, who plays Dick Grayson, Batman’s adopted son who adopts the codename of Robin; Rosario Dawson as Barbara Gordon, the new commissioner of Gotham City; and Zach Galifianakis as the crazy Joker, Batman’s arch enemy who wants acceptance of the very thing.

The Lego Batman Movie takes place at a frenetic pace for the most part, but is still clever enough to know when to insert clever pauses that add the requisite emphasis. Kudos to director Chris McKay, and the three editors – David Burrows, Matt Villa, and John Venzon. Now available on Blu-ray, it comes with several animated shorts, making-of featurettes, and deleted scenes.

How to access: Amazon US, Amazon Video US, iTunes US, Microsoft Store, or YouTube
Time commitment: 1 hour and 46 minutes

John Wick: Chapter 2
In the 2014 original, Keanu Reeves’ eponymous character – a retired expert assassin – navigated grief over the death of his wife by connecting with a puppy she left for him as a posthumous gift. So when a bunch of thugs break into his house and kill the dog, Wick is furious. You wouldn’t know it from his demeanour, but his actions are the obvious proof. And that’s what made the movie so exciting – the well-choreographed action.

That film ended with Wick narrowly escaping death after a bounty had been placed on his head. The sequel picks up shortly after, with Wick forced back out of retirement – it just keeps happening to him, doesn’t it? – to help stop a former associate from… let’s be honest, it’s not like anyone cares about the plot anyway.

John Wick: Chapter 2 was rated at a similar level as the first film, with the successor cranking up the action and gore, but with the originality factor dissipating. If you get the Blu-ray, you’ll get access to a commentary track with Reeves and director Chad Stahelski, a fight choreography featurette and fight rehearsals, and deleted scenes.

How to access: Amazon US, Amazon Video US, Google Play Movies, iTunes US, or YouTube
Time commitment: 2 hour and 2 minutes

Neruda
From Chilean director Pablo Larraín – who directed Natalie Portman as JFK’s wife in Oscar-nominated Jackie – comes the story of a Chilean poet with whom he shared a name: Pablo Neruda. Neruda wasn’t just a Nobel Prize-winning poet but also the most famous communist in post-WWII Chile during his life. With Chile’s political allegiances shifting, Neruda disappeared from public life to protect himself.

Neruda, the film, follows a police inspector Óscar Peluchonneau (Gael García Bernal) who hunts down the poet (Luis Gnecco) in his home country. Meanwhile, international pressure grows as Pablo Picasso leads European artists to call for Neruda’s freedom. The poet takes it upon himself to create a game of cat-and-mouse, all while becoming a dual icon of liberty and literature.

Larraín’s film was well-received by most critics, with praise directed towards Gnecco’s performance, and the director’s soft touch and his mastery at delivering a superb third act. Neruda is a film that raises many questions, but doesn’t offer any easy answers.

How to access: Amazon Video US, Google Play Movies, iTunes US, Microsoft Store, or YouTube
Time commitment: 1 hour and 47 minutes

Video games:
Arms
After delivering updated versions of titles designed for the Wii U, Nintendo has finally come out with its first new IP for the Switch. It’s called Arms, and that’s because characters have specially-designed extendable, well, arms that help punch and beat their opponents in a closed arena. Designed to be played using a mix of button presses and quick hand motions, Arms is being called “the first fighting game of its kind”.

Since it’s all about the punch, there’s a lot you can do with them: guide them mid-flight, avoid incoming attacks by dashing, powering-up for extra damage, curving fists around obstacles, and most importantly, fill up a special gauge so you can deal out combinations for a finishing move. But whatever you do, don’t forget to grab your Joy-Con and put on the wrist grip.

The team behind Arms has spent a lot of time trying to give each character special attributes, with different types of arms meant for different styles of play. The game has been generally well-received by most critics, with it being accessible to newcomers, and adjustable to more dedicated players.

How to access: Nintendo Switch
Time commitment: As much as you want, really

 

Destiny 2 Release Date, Beta Date, PS4 Exclusives, and More: E3 2017

At E3 2017, Sony announced Destiny 2 PS4 exclusives. Similar to the first Destiny, fans will get items and a single mission. These are as follows.

Destiny 2 PS4 Exclusives

  • Lake of Shadows Strike
  • Borealis Exotic Sniper Rifle
  • Competitive multiplayer map Retribution
  • Apex Ship
  • Exclusive gear

These items will be for PS4 Destiny 2 players only until Fall 2018.

Destiny 2 Release Date, Beta Date, PS4 Exclusives, and More: E3 2017

Destiny 2 new release date

What’s more is that Destiny 2’s release date has been pushed up. Instead of releasing on September 8, the game will be out on September 6. This was first seen in the Destiny 2 gameplay trailer at Sony’s E3 2017 conference and was confirmed by Destiny Game Director Luke Smith on Twitter. Smith stated the game will be available on all consoles on September 6.

Destiny 2 beta date

The Destiny 2 beta begins on July 18 for the PS4 and Xbox One. It ends on July 23. PC owners will be able to partake in in beta in August. Considering the game is due on consoles on September 6, it’s obvious that Bungie, Activision, and Sony want to push pre-orders.

Destiny 2 PC release date

Keep in mind that the PC version of Destiny 2 will be available on October 24 with pre-orders live on Battle.net right now.

Destiny 2 PS4 Pro and Xbox One X frame rate and resolution

Previously it was discovered that Destiny 2 will be 4K at 30fps on the PS4 Pro. It seems that the Xbox One X version will have the same resolution and frame rate.

“The console, the PS4 Pro is super powerful, but it couldn’t run our game at 60. Our game’s this rich physics simulation where collision of players, networking, etc, and like, it wouldn’t run… [there’s] not enough horsepower there,” said Bungie’s Luke Smith to IGN.

“But there’s tons of GPU power in the PS4 Pro. That’s why we’re doing 4K, right?” Noseworthy added. “It’s on the CPU side. Destiny’s simulation, like we have more AI, more monsters in an environment with physically simulated vehicles and characters and projectiles, and it’s part of the Destiny magic, like that, like 30 seconds of fun, like coming around a corner and throwing a grenade, popping a guy in the head, and then you add like five, six, seven other players in a public event; that is incredibly intensive for hardware.”