Gaming

ASUS ROG Strix GL503 Review: Too little or too much?

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As much as we enjoy reviewing new-age, hyper-expensive gaming laptops, we have to go back down to earth and look at machines that regular consumers can actually afford.

For this round, we’re looking at the ROG Strix GL503. The name is a little daunting at first, but it’s quite memorable after what we’ve been through.

It’s one of ASUS’ midrange gaming laptops, armed with a sleek and solid body that gives it a premium feel beyond its price point, as well as a CPU and GPU pairing fit for certain types of AAA video games.

That’s the gist, but there’s a lot more to it.

What does it feel like?

Despite being on the more affordable side of gaming laptops, the brushed metal casing of this Strix takes some cues from the far more expensive Zephyrus of ASUS. That’s a good thing, because the Strix GL503 feels like it can take a beating but doesn’t feel that heavy at 2.3kg.

And since we’re dealing with a 15.6-inch model here, it fits perfectly in a backpack designed for slim 15-inch notebooks. Its power brick is on the heavy side though, adding weight to what could’ve been a more travel-friendly gaming machine.

How many peripherals can you connect?

This being a relatively standard-thickness gaming notebook at 23mm, input-output ports weren’t compromised:

  • 3x USB 3.0
  • 1x USB 2.0
  • 1x USB-C
  • 1x HDMI
  • 1x mini-DisplayPort
  • 1x Ethernet LAN
  • 3.5mm headphones/microphone port
  • SD/SDHC/SDXC card reader

That’s as complete as it gets for a mobile computer. ASUS labels the ROG Strix GL503 as VR-ready, but getting acceptable frame rates might be a stretch with this configuration.

What’s inside?

Here’s a quick rundown of the specifications:

  • 15.6-inch 1080p display (60Hz)
  • Intel Core i7-7700HQ processor (2.8GHz)
  • 8GB DDR4 memory (2400MHz)
  • 128GB M.2 SSD, 1TB HDD
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 (4GB)

Looking at the standard refresh rate of the display, high-speed Core i7 processor, and entry-level graphics chip, we already know what we’re in for: low to medium visual settings for graphics-intensive games, yet smooth frame rates for MOBA titles and first-person shooters.

You could also argue that the RAM is lacking. Fortunately, installing more is as simple as popping open the panel underneath and sliding in an additional stick.

How does it perform on benchmarks?

We ran our standard selection of synthetic and gaming benchmarks to see what the Strix GL503 could do. Here’s what we got:

  • Unigine Superposition: 4212 (1080p, Medium)
  • Cinebench R15: 85.74fps (OpenGL), 744cb (CPU)
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider: 59.4fps (1080p, Lowest)
  • Deus Ex: Mankind Divided: 48.1fps (1080p, Low)

That’s close to what we expected even before running the stressful software. For the two games listed, you’d have to tone down every major graphics settings to achieve frame rates close to 60fps at a resolution of 1080p.

Clearly, gameplay is a lot smoother when playing titles such as Overwatch and CS:GO, which are what this laptop targets in the first place. The same goes for MOBA games like League of Legends and Dota 2, which demand more CPU power than graphics processing.

Can it stay cool?

One advantage of using a non-anorexic gaming notebook is the extra space allotted for a possibly better cooling system. Indeed, the Strix GL503 can keep itself cool for the output it delivers, though it’s still best left on top of a table rather than on a lap.

Not once did the CPU or GPU exceed 70 degrees Celsius during intense gameplay. Of course, fan speeds had to kick it up a notch to stay consistent, yet it was never really loud enough to fill up a room — something a Predator would do.

Are the keyboard and trackpad up to par?

Benchmarks give you a rough idea of what to expect performance-wise, but they don’t paint the entire picture. How you interact with the games plays a big part, and this is handled primarily by the keyboard and either the trackpad or bundled mouse.

My experience with the keyboard wasn’t so great. While I liked how I could customize the RGB lighting to nail certain keys more precisely, I found the buttons to be overly squishy because of the soft material. It didn’t gel well with the trackpad, which felt too tough to press in comparison to the keyboard.

ASUS must have anticipated these complaints and included a decent gaming mouse in the package. It’s mandatory to use even while you aren’t gaming. Its ergonomics are actually quite good for right-handed use and it never failed me while playing something as fast as Overwatch.

Anything else to know?

We don’t normally bother to extensively test a gaming laptop’s battery, although it’s worth noting that the Strix GL503 has satisfactory endurance for its class. When taking it to a coffee shop to get some writing done, I was always surprised to get almost four hours of life out of it. That’s double what gaming laptops this size used to get me, and nearly as much as what power-hungry convertibles do for me now.

On the downside, I was disappointed by how the speakers cracked at high volumes. It doesn’t just happen during explosive moments in video games, but also while watching YouTube videos at max volume. For something that has all this space for proper acoustics, having ample audio output to match the colorful display and keyboard would’ve only been fitting.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

It’s easy to get blinded by the glitzy designs and incredible thinness of higher-end gaming laptops, but it’s mobile machines like the Strix GL503 that are perfect for playing popular games at optimal settings.

With a starting price of US$ 1,199 — or PhP 69,995 for this particular model provided by ASUS Philippines — you definitely get what you pay for out of a sub-US$ 1,500 laptop. No design cues are going to wow you and there aren’t any special features that make this an instant buy.

There are configurations available to upgrade the graphics chip up to a GTX 1070, but that’ll make the price dangerously close to US$ 2,000 and would hamper the per-buck performance the lower-end models offer.

When it comes down to it, the ROG Strix GL503 is the gaming-optimized notebook you’d travel with for quick gaming sessions. Just don’t forget to bring a decent pair of headphones and mouse along.

SEE ALSO: ASUS ROG Strix GL702VM Review: Portable gaming powerhouse

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Gaming

Final Fantasy VII Remake review: A fresh experience of a timeless tale

Nostalgic and new at the same time

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Easily one of the most hyped and anticipated video games over the last five years, Final Fantasy VII Remake has arrived and it is everything I hoped it would be.

It manages to preserve the spirit of the original game while modernizing it in every way imaginable. It feels so close to the Final Fantasy games I grew up playing — those being VII, VIII, IX, and X — while also definitely being a game for 2020. Nostalgic and new at the same time.

Before we proceed, some important declarations: GadgetMatch received an official copy of the game specifically for the purpose of this review. This article will have no spoilers — just a general overview and assessment of the Final Fantasy VII Remake experience.

The devil is in the details

One of the more obvious differences is how the game looks. In 1997, Final Fantasy VII, was a visual breakthrough. It was the first time for a Final Fantasy game of this scale to switch from 2D to 3D.

Being preceded by games like God of War, Horizon Zero Dawn, and Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End just to name a few, the Remake won’t have the same kind of video game graphics impact. But make no mistake, it serves up a visual experience that is utterly breathtaking.

LADIES’ MAN. Cloud is pretty popular with the ladies. A true visual 😉

It starts with the little things. The way the game treats light when you go indoors or outdoors is reminiscent of how your eyes would behave when doing the same. It takes a second before your eyes fully adjust to your surroundings. And this treatment of light is consistent throughout the game.

The cinematography is also a masterclass in visual storytelling. There’s a sequence during the beginning of the game where Cloud Strife and Tifa Lockhart (two of the main characters) were interacting and the way they were positioned in relation to each other and to the environment tells you a lot about the current standing of their relationship.

SOCIAL DISTANCING? Cloud and Tifa meet again after 5 years

It’s a classic show-don’t-tell technique and it works wonders. It’s also pretty consistent throughout the game. The shots used for each scene were carefully and meticulously thought out. It adds not only to the cinematic flair, but also to the emotion of the game.

Midgar feels alive 

This level of attention to detail is present all over Midgar — the place where most of the game will take place. The way the camera zooms in and out of the city during certain scenes gives you a good grasp of the life and status of Midgar and its people.

The class divide between those living in the upper levels versus those relegated to the slums is very evident in one of the earlier missions. Not just with how the levels are designed, but also with the dialogue of the NPCs (non-playable characters).

There’s a stark contrast between how people from the upper level reacted to the bombing of the first Mako reactor to how the people in the slums reacted. People in the upper levels mostly support the authoritarian Shinra — the city’s ruling organization. They also happen to be direct benefactors of Shinra’s exploits.

Meanwhile, the people in the slums are a mixed bag — some are indifferent, only caring about how they will get through the next day. Some are rightfully afraid of how they will be affected by the ensuing conflict.

By the way, for the uninitiated, the story basically kicks-off with a radical group called Avalanche carrying out the first of a series of bombing missions. The group believes Shinra is syphonying off the planet’s life through the Mako reactors. Mako is the planet’s lifestream. If it runs out, the planet will most likely wither away.

Action-RPG combat with turn-based feel is extremely satisfying

One of the biggest points of discussion is how the Remake will handle combat. The original game — in true JRPG fashion — was turn-based. That was 23 years ago, and outside of Persona 5, the turn-based style hasn’t really attracted plenty of gamers.

What Final Fantasy VII Remake did is fuse that turn-base feel to the more popular Action-RPG type. Something that a lot of gamers today prefer. I wouldn’t say it’s perfect, but it’s pretty darn close.

Here’s how it works: When you go into battle, you have direct control over moving around as well as the character’s physical attacks. Dealing physical damage raises your ATB meter. Your ATB meter then gives you access to using Abilities, Spells, Items, and whenever they become available — Summons and Limit Breaks.

When you trigger the use of your ATB meter the game goes into this slo-mo mode. It sort of reminds me of “bullet time” from Max Payne or that brief slo-mo in Marvel’s Spider-Man that gives you enough time to plan your next move. Except in Final Fantasy VII Remake, that slo-mo is longer, giving you ample time to issue commands for every character in your party.

The whole combat system might also remind you of Kingdom Hearts III, but unlike that game, there’s no way you can just charge in and button mash to win fights. Each enemy has to be dealt with differently and you’ll have to be very careful and tactical in your approach to win battles.

A great way to jump into Final Fantasy

Another thing that Final Fantasy VII Remake masterfully does is not overwhelm you with all the Final Fantasy things you need to know. It slowly introduces you to the story and the franchise’s concepts throughout the game.

VR MISSIONS. New summon materia can be acquired through this method

The Final Fantasy franchise is full of lore. While each game is a stand alone story, some items, summons, skills, and magic are consistent across all the games.

If you have zero knowledge going in, you’ll feel right at home. The franchise’s lore is carefully integrated into the main story. If you’re a Final Fantasy veteran, the introduction of these concepts flow well enough that they’re not at all boring.

It perfectly walks the tightrope of keeping franchise fans happy without alienating any potential newcomers.

A fantastic remake

It was the Final Fantasy franchise that first had me dreaming what it would be like when in-game graphics would finally match cutscenes. Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children — the computer-animated film that served as the follow-up to FF7’s story — sparked that dream further.

Final Fantasy VII Remake made that dream come true. The way it transitions from free-roaming to battle to cutscene is seamless. It literally feels like you’re playing a computer-animated film.

While we’ve seen this play out in other games, just the fact that it’s an iconic game with iconic characters given new life by modern technology makes it extra special. Playing it made me feel like a kid again. It’s exactly the jolt that my jaded adult version needed more than anything.

There’s a lot more to this game that can be discussed. So much more can be dissected. Everything from how each character is treated, how the story almost feels like a reflection of society today, the intricacies of its battle system, and many more. I’m excited to have these conversations with fellow gamers.

If you came here looking to find out if you should pick this game up, the answer is a resounding YES. If you pre-ordered (and have already preloaded) the game, let this be a primer for what you’re about to step into — a game that’s carefully crafted to give you a fresh experience of a timeless tale.

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A Japanese company tried doing work meetings in Animal Crossing

WFH just got better

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Image source: Livedoor

Today, New York City banned the use of Zoom in schools and universities. In the past few weeks, the city trained its teachers and employees in using the platform to maintain some sort of semblance amidst the pandemic. However, after numerous reports about Zoom’s security, the world is quickly changing its perspective on easily accessible teleconferencing software.

Naturally, with Zoom’s quick exit as the world’s most reliable platform, everyone is looking for an alternative. In Japan, a company tried a meeting in the cutest possible place today, Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

Over the weeks since its debut, Animal Crossing: New Horizons took the world by storm. In short order, the adorable simulation game invited friends to virtual desert island paradises from all over the world. It replaced a sense of community lost in today’s pandemic.

Reported by Livedoor, a Japanese publication, the Japanese company tried the game as a platform to work from home. According to the report, an employee invited its editorial staff to a single desert island. Besides meeting, the staff even went on a fishing trip together.

Image source: Livedoor

Though fun, the experiment was less than stellar. After concluding the meeting, the writer listed down the few but critical disadvantages at working in Animal Crossing’s island paradises.

For example, the game can’t facilitate file transfers or private person-to-person chats. Also, usernames are almost impossible to recognize. Adding contacts on the island involves alphanumeric codes assigned to each Nintendo Switch user. And, of course, it’s hard to focus on actual work with island chores always lurking in the background.

As an adorable game, Animal Crossing: New Horizons fails as a productivity pusher. That said, the game is one of the most relaxing gaming experiences on this side of the pandemic era.

SEE ALSO: Nintendo announces Switch ports for Borderlands, Bioshock, and more

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Final Fantasy VII Remake final trailer

Get hyped!

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From the time it made a huge splash in E3 2015, we’ve been glued and have been waiting anxiously for this game to come out. And now, it’s finally upon us. The Final Fantasy VII Remake is coming and this is the final trailer with just days away from the April 10, 2020 release.

If you pre-ordered the game, you already pre-load it now so you can play right away on April 10. Square Enix also shipped the game early to some areas earlier than scheduled considering the Coronavirus situation that has everyone on lockdown.

With the game coming, it’s highly likely PlayStation gamers will now have more incentive to stay home.

Watch the final trailer.

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