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The AirFlo PC, a perspiration-free style of gaming (Review)

Since 1996, Los Angeles-based Nyko has been producing a line of joysticks that disperses air through the chassis of the controller eliminating clammy hands during gameplay. The joysticks, known under the AirFlo branding, have appeared on numerous consoles including the Sony Playstation, Microsoft Xbox and the Nintendo GameCube. PC owners were snubbed by the company until recently when Nyko released the AirFlo PC controller for the masses.

At first glance, the AirFlo PC seems big and clunky, but in actually the device is quite comfortable and precise. The controller’s main feature is its air flow system. This device delivers on its promise of a cool and comfortable gaming experience.

The air flow is circulated through the controller using ventilated pores. An intake fan, which is located at the back of the device, propels air throughout the joystick. The air is then dispensed through ventilated pores found on the joystick’s rubber handgrips.

One of the most interesting features of the AirFlo PC is its ability to customize the amount of cooling necessary for your needs. The intake fan speed can be adjusted using a centralized switch on the device. The switch features two air flow settings, high and low. The cooling mechanism can also be turned off using the same switch. When set at the lower speed, the fan generates a more subtle amount of air through the joystick. On the higher setting, a massive amount of air is dispensed thus eliminating any signs of perspiration during usage.

The disadvantage of using the controller’s cooling apparatus is that it generates a considerable amount of noise. At its highest setting, the intake produces a hair blower like sound that can actually be distracting at first. Even when used at the lowest setting, the AirFlo PC’s fan still generates a considerable amount of noise.

The joystick not only features the standard directional pad, but also comes with dual analog control sticks for maximum control. The joystick looks and feels exactly like its PS2 counterpart, the AirFlo EX. One of the neat things about Nyko’s AirFlo PC is its 13 programmable buttons. With a similar setup, you can program the joystick to mimic your favorite console game’s controls.

The AirFlo PC is a USB based controller that comes equipped with a 10-foot cord for added playability. When compared to a standard gaming controller, the AirFlo PC features an extra 3-feet of wiring. The Nyko AirFlo PC is a great joystick for gamers with elaborate desktop setups.

The AirFlo PC is an excellent purchase for gamers wanting a comfortable joystick with hand-drying benefits. The AirFlo PC retails for approximately $30 CDN and can be found at select retailers in Moncton.

Andre Barriault lives in Dieppe and is co-editor at the gaming website www.XGR.com. Originally published in [here] magazine in Sept. 2004

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The Zalman ZM-RS6F headset, a quiet 5.1 solution

Are you ready to jump into the world of 5.1 surround sound, but don’t want to bother the folks around you? Zalman, who are renowned for their quiet heavy duty computer fans, have a released a set of headphones that create a surround sound environment equivalent to those found in a 5.1 speaker setup. The headphones, known as the “Theatre 6 ZM-RS6F”, achieve the process with the use of six built-in speakers that are implemented in the headset. Each ear piece uses three speakers (front, rear and centre) to give listeners a true 5.1 experience.

The headset works in collaboration with a 5.1 surround sound card or through a 5.1 amplifier for use with a home theatre or gaming console. The headphones use three different jacks that are plugged into your chosen device’s front, rear and centre channels. Each output corresponds with one set of speakers on the headset delivering a real 5.1 reproduction.

For the theatrical aspect, the Theatre 6 ZM-RS6F headset performed relatively well. All of the movies used for testing purposes delivered a satisfactory 5.1 performance. Space vessels blasted their way from left-to-right; creatures crept at you from the rear speakers, while concerts sounded as if you were closer to the performance. Still, a dedicated 5.1 speaker setup would have been better to recreate a moodier feel (more on that later).

For PC gaming, the ultimate test came from the use of “Doom 3”, which features an advanced surround sound engine created by the marvels at id Software. The engine, which mimics real-time sound environments dependent on positioning, created the perfect testing grounds for the headset. The ZM-RS6F once again performed as promised by producing a surround field that enhanced the gameplay experience. Zombies could be heard frolicking from the background, in-game items, such as radio transmissions, emitted sounds from all directions. The headphones complimented the game to perfection.

The headset can also be used with recent video game consoles, but an additional amplifier (the RM-RSA) is needed. The same applies for a living room theatrical setup. In a way, the headphones are better suited for use with a PC equipped with a 5.1 surround sound card (which is now incorporated on almost all sound cards).

As for the music portion, there wasn’t much source material to test the product with as most audio recordings are produced in a stereo setup. Starting in October, a slew of artists will be releasing albums under the 5.1 standard, and since music can be a personal experience, the Zalman ZM-RS6F will be perfectly suited for the standard.

The ZM-RS6F worked utterly well in music production. It’s now easier to mix your creations in 5.1 using software such as Sony’s Acid Pro 4.0. The headphones let you perfect your chef-d’oeuvres and transform them into a modern standard ahead of any home recording. Vocal and guitars can now be set to be heard from the front and centre channels respectively, while your drums and bass sounds can be emitted from the back channel.

On the negative side, you still get better acoustics, spatial and surround sound interpretations out of a 5.1 speaker setup. For example, the Zalman ZM-RS6F won’t make you turn your head to see whether or not someone is actually behind you while watching a movie. The result is a set of headphones that doesn’t produce as much of an atmospheric mood when compared to a 5.1 channel home theatre setup. The headset still manages to deliver a noticeable improvement over a 2-speaker stereo setup.

What truly disappointed me was the lack of setup material. The headphones only come with a basic user’s manual that explains how to hook-up the device to your medium of choice. Afterwards you’re left second guessing whether you’ve setup the ZM-RS6F right. The packaging doesn’t come with a CD that lets you test your 6 channel audio setup. The company website doesn’t even offer a test file either. Luckily, I was able to find a download that indicated the positioning of the speakers, thus helping me configure my surround sound field.

The Zalman ZM-RS6F is an excellent 5.1 setup for those who are living in quarters where noise has to be kept minimal (like an apartment complex). Also, the headphones are a great way to get introduced to the concept of surround sound. The headset retails for approximately $70CDN and can be found through most online Canadian retailers. For more information, visit Zalman’s official website at http://www.zalmanusa.com.

Andre Barriault lives in Dieppe and is co-editor at the gaming website www.XGR.com – Originally published in [here] magazine in Sept. 2004

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Crashing without consequences (Burnout 3: Takedown Review)

I honestly never thought crashing cars could be so much fun, that is until I got my hands on the Xbox version of Criterion Software’s “Burnout 3: Takedown”. Published by Electronic Arts, Burnout 3 delivers some serious arcade-style racing that will put a smirk on any player’s face.

Burnout 3 awards points for crashing into opponents’ vehicles, which either results in minor fender benders or complete take downs. Achieve a takedown and you’ll be awarded with a full boost bar, which gives you a speed advantage over your opponents. Steering your car in oncoming traffic and crash-defying antics will also help you fuel-up your need for speed with some coveted boost power.

The graphics in this game are simply amazing. Everything from the backgrounds to the car models look extremely detailed and are among the best seen in a racing title to date. What sets this game apart from other racers are its crash sequences. The game features the most realistic crashes ever produced in a video game. These crash events utilize real-time physics that result in extravagant sequences that produce different crashes during every instance.

Burnout 3 features some of the most addicting gameplay modes to ever grace a racing title. Not only do you get your typical racing and grand prix modes, but you also have such challenges as Road Rage and Crash. The goal of the Road Rage event is to take down as many opponents as possible until your car is totaled. Meanwhile, the crash mode is an all-round crash fest where the goal is to create the biggest traffic pile-up possible and rake-in the most damage cash amount possible.

The single player experience is amplified thanks to the addition of the World Tour mode, which spans a few continents around the globe. The World Tour mode basically gives you challenges derived from the racing and crash modes. To advance to the next challenge, players must capture the at least bronze medal.

What keeps players coming back for more are the unlockables. In total, the game features 67 vehicles, 17 game modes and 40 race tracks. With such a vast amount of bonuses, Burnout 3 will keep players occupied for months.

The sense of speed in Burnout 3 is unique. You feel like you’re going at break-neck speed. To add to the overall effect, developer Criterion Software added motion blur to complement the overall feel.

The game delivers some of the best sound effects in the racing genre. Everything from the engine noises to the crash effects sound realistic. The sound work even adds to the element of speed by generating lifelike swooshing effects from the oncoming traffic.

On the negative side, Burnout 3 features one of the most annoying commentators I’ve ever seen in a video game. The announcer, known as DJ Striker, delivers line after line of boring monotone dialogue that would put any real-life driver to sleep. Luckily for us, the announcer can be turned off and is only present in World Tour mode.

The game’s soundtrack is also left to be desired. The soundtrack features various alternative artists vying for mainstream spotlight. A little bit of variety wouldn’t hurt. Xbox users will be able to remedy this situation by throwing in their own custom soundtracks. Sadly, Playstation 2 owners are left out in the cold and can’t manipulate the soundtrack to their likings, but they can always turn off the music.

The online portion of the game is also enjoyable. It’s actually rather funny to hear others ramble about their latest take down or crash. It’s also interesting to play against human players instead of your typical, and at times predictable, A.I. Overall, the online portion of the game is among the best I’ve played in the racing genre.

Burnout 3 is definitely one of my favourite titles of the year. There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that Criterion’s latest racer will be among the year’s best titles (if not the best). Not only is Burnout 3: Takedown an extremely fun title, but it’s also a very addicting one. The game is so entertaining that even non-racing fans will enjoy it. Burnout 3 is so good that many major online publications have dubbed the game as the best arcade racer of our generation, which I’d have to agree with. A definite five star title!

Andre Barriault lives in Dieppe and is co-editor at the gaming website www.XGR.com – Originally published in the [here] magazine in Sept. 2004

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