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How psychedelic science fiction conquered the world

The mention of “science fiction” likely conjures images from Star Wars or Star Trek, dystopias ranging from The Hunger Games to The Handmaid’s Tale, or Westworld-ian futuristic societies where technology has altered what it means to be human. But a psychedelic strain of sci-fi, present for decades in the genre, is becoming more pervasive in the mainstream — and promptly refracting the world into an impossible and mind-bending pattern.

As psychedelics themselves take center stage in a larger cultural moment in the United States, from the increased popularity of microdosing to the city of Denver decriminalizing psychedelic mushrooms, psychedelic science fiction has emerged as a space to discuss, debate, and explore the ecstatic and embrace the ambiguous. The murky definition only helps the pursuit. “While easy to recognize, ‘psychedelic’ remains harder to define,” Mark Cole wrote in a 2016 Clarkesworld article looking at psychedelic science fiction’s roots in the 1960s. Cole ultimately arrives on a vague yet succinct definition: “What defines psychedelic matches the physical effects of hallucinogens.”

The advent of visual effects has opened a door for modern psychedelia. The recently concluded television series Legion has prominently featured psychic warfare, ambiguous realities, and surreal time travel, among other forays into the odd. Stranger Things, while less overtly esoteric, indulged in the bizarre imagery of psychic experiments and sensory-deprivation tanks, straight out of Ken Russell’s 1980 cult classic Altered States. Ant-Man director Peyton Reed said in interviews that he also lifted from Altered States for Ant-Man and the Wasp. And the Quantum Realm scenes in Avengers: Endgame featured some of the headiest visuals ever seen in a movie of that scale — as well as a plot line centered around traveling to a microscopic dimension where the flow of time is fundamentally altered.

The psychedelic stretches beyond blockbusters. Alex Garland’s adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s novel Annihilation made use of narrative ambiguity and groundbreaking visual effects to tell its story about exploration, betrayal, and evolution. Independent films like Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color and Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson’s The Endless transport viewers to bizarre and harrowing corners of the world, where the borders of consciousness blur and the nature of physical laws bends into something incomprehensible. This fall will bring even more forays into the strange and sublime on screens both small and large. Richard Stanley, no stranger to the bizarre corners of cinematic science fiction, is adapting one of H.P. Lovecraft’s most bizarre stories with Color Out of Space.

And Raphael Bob-Waksberg and Kate Purdy’s upcoming series Undone, which premieres this Friday on Amazon, uses hallucinatory imagery to depict the life of a protagonist who navigates space and time in increasingly surreal ways as she searches for the truth about the death of her father. The show’s trailer promises a host of surreal visuals — including prominent use of rotoscoping, albeit of a very different variety than what showed up in Richard Linklater’s adaptation of A Scanner Darkly.

Ant-Man floats in the multicolored, cloudy Quantum Realm in Ant-Man and the Wasp
Ant-Man in the Quantum Realm.
Marvel Studios/Disney

Much has been written about the influence of the late Philip K. Dick on contemporary science fiction, and given Dick’s forays into psychedelia and religious visions, it’s not difficult to detect some overlap. But the rise of psychedelic science fiction on a larger scale isn’t as directly connected to Dick’s legacy as it first seems. By and large, the phildickian qualities that have trickled into TV and film adaptations of his work are those that focus on shifting identities and a sense of “but is this the real world” — as opposed to some of the even headier and more psychedelic characteristics of his work. It’s telling that an adaptation of Dick’s hallucinatory Ubik has never made it to the screen, for instance, despite numerous attempts.

One exception is A Scanner Darkly, which tells the story of an undercover cop, Bob Arctor, investigating a strange new drug. While undercover, Arctor develops a second personality — meaning that he is, for all intents and purposes, his own quarry. That the undercover officers meet while wearing an ever-changing garment that hides all identifying qualities adds another layer of ambiguity and visual weirdness to the proceedings.

The animation is largely subtle: The animated versions of the cast, including Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., and Winona Ryder, generally resemble themselves. Sometimes, however, the visual effects rapidly shift things into the realm of the uncanny, echoing Arctor’s fraying mental state. In one bizarre scene, Downey Jr. briefly transforms into a humanoid cockroach.

Creating the right visuals for such a distinctive narrative posed a challenge for the filmmakers. Bob Sabiston, head of animation for the film, created the software used for rotoscoping, and had previously worked with Linklater on Waking Life. To hear him tell it, having an established visual style helped considerably with the film’s more surreal elements. “For the most part Scanner was realistic,” he recalled. “There were only a few distinct scenes where it became surreal, and even those were done within the bounds of the style laid out for the movie.”

alma and her mother stand outside a hospital as the sky breaks into shards like glass in Undone
The sky shatters in Undone.
Amazon Studios

“I think the animators wished there was more craziness going on in the visuals,” Sabiston added. “But even though it’s a sci-fi story, it’s rooted in the mundane, banal life of that household.”

While A Scanner Darkly’s visuals are distinctive and stylized, Sabiston considers the work of the animation team to be a kind of collaboration with the cast. When asked about creating visuals that reflect a character’s particular mental state, he replied, “I think that sort of thing happens very naturally if the artist is given freedom to interpret the scene, at least with rotoscoping. You have the underlying video performance, which anchors it to reality, so everything the artist layers on top is a sort of an interpretive mask.”

“I think the animator’s inclination is to push it in whichever emotional or psychological direction is indicated by the character,” Sabiston added. “It may seem like it would be a challenge, but often it’s the organic result of an artist being in the flow, doing their thing.”

On the other side of the psychedelic science fiction spectrum from A Scanner Darkly is Annihilation. Here, a research team — played by Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, and Tuva Novotny — ventures into “The Shimmer,” a region where the boundaries between life forms have broken down and the laws of time and space no longer apply.

The process for creating the pearly barrier involved abundant trial and error, according to visual effects supervisor Andrew Whitehurst. “The Shimmer was described in the screenplay as being like a heat haze but with a ‘glassy liquid quality,’ which gave us an insight into the kind of thing Alex [Garland, the director] was looking for,” Whitehurst explained. “We knew that it needed to keep what was inside fairly hidden to build up mystery, so it couldn’t be too glassy. We knew that it needed to have movement because it is described as continuously expanding, and that it would have, in some way, to reflect the alien presence in the film.”

Eventually, Whitehurst said, a chance encounter on location sparked inspiration. “We happened upon a large puddle which had a thin film of petrol on the water surface,” he said. “That film gave a striking rainbow effect which we all commented on at the time.” Combine that with a number of other aesthetic touchstones, including the Mandelbulb and Antoni Gaudí’s Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família, and the design was finalized.

The process of creating distinctive effects for Annihilation wasn’t limited to individual scenes, though — and it was, much like the Shimmer itself, in constant flux. “As the edit evolved, we had to redesign the effects so that the overall filmic flow was maintained,” Whitehurst recalled. “We started to see design themes emerge as we, and the art department, worked on the visuals for the film. For example, as we homed in on using a Mandelbulb variant as our physical representation of an alien, the art department took it on and started to make mandelbulb-shaped fungi and lichens to dress the sets.”

For Whitehurst, this process was both holistic and taxing. “Ideas were always sparking other ideas for different sequences, and this continued after the shoot as the edit evolved,” he said. “I think the film’s evolution and in design mirrored what the characters went through on screen, and the complexity of the relationships between every design element in the film was more complex than anything else I’ve ever worked on.”

the prismatic rainbow shimmer drips down into the grass in annihilation
The Shimmer in Annihilation.
Paramount Pictures

How did we get here? In the new book High Weirdness: Drugs, Esoterica, and Visionary Experience in the Seventies, Erik Davis, no stranger to the intersection of the strange and the cultural, ventures into the history of a quartet of writers and thinkers — Philip K. Dick, Terence McKenna, and the Illuminatus! trilogy authors Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson — to find answers. Despite their focus on the 1970s, a number of Davis’ observations resonate with the current cultural moment as well, and help to explain the foothold that psychedelic science fiction has right now.

Early on, Davis discusses the effect of the Nixon administration on, well, everything. “What Nixon and his cronies initiated did go on to warp American reality,” he writes, citing the “uncanny tropes [that] are inextricable from the matter of Watergate,” among other things. A residential administration whose upending of norms causes observed reality itself to splinter? That has a familiar ring to it. Davis also ties the psychedelic movement discussed in High Weirdness to the early days of the internet — and if one believes that the internet has a pocket of psychedelia hidden away deep inside of it, it’s not too much of a stretch to envision that the circa-now omnipresence of all things online might have also created a subtle craving for the same thing in mainstream pop culture as well.

“Today, as memetic noise eats consensus reality, and conspiracy thinking is weaponized by parties across the political spectrum, a sort of existential vertigo has opened up beneath our feet,” Davis writes toward the end of his book.

It’s a succinct description of the contemporary condition, and a recipe for just why psychedelic science fiction narratives have begun to resonate for such an audience. What the coming years will bring for American culture remains to be seen, but pop culture’s forays into the deeply strange show no signs of abating.


The Best Strategy Games On PC

The PC is home to just about every type of video game under the sun, but few are as quintessentially PC as strategy games.

Because it’s such a popular (and important) type of game for the platform, and because I’ve spent way too much time playing them over the past few years, I thought I’d help folks out by putting together a list of what I consider to be the very best strategy games for the very best system to play them on.

So what counts as a strategy game? That’s a good question. One that, thanks to video gaming’s ceaseless drive to remove all meaning from its genre names, we may never be able to settle on. The lines blur so much between “strategy” and “RTS” and “grand strategy” and “management” and “simulation” that I’ve tried to restrict this list to games that, well, most people would simply agree (through a gut feeling) were OK with being called “strategy games”.

Here, then, are the best games to play if you feel like taking charge of something, ruining an economy and/or driving an army across the fields of your enemies.

Note: Originally published in November 2016, this list has been updated in September 2019 with new additions (Hearts of Iron IV) and honourable mentions (Endless Space 2).


What more can I say? A titan in the field, it stands as not just the best Civilization game, but one of the best games ever released on the PC. Whatever your strategic cup of tea, be it war, diplomacy or exploration, Civilization V has you covered.

And yes, I know that Civilization VI is out now and is very good, but I think its obsession with yields and its lesser AI means it can’t quite match the complete package of its predecessor.


While most strategy games will have you manage wars and economies, Crusader Kings II does more. It also has you manage the heart. When a game can marry the traditional strategic concerns of running a medieval Kingdom with stuff like affairs, assassinations and, well, marriage, it deserves its place in the pantheon of greats.


On the one hand, it’s a lot like Civilization! On the other, it’s one of the freshest strategy games on the market, building on Civ’s foundations with a lot of cool, new and interesting ideas, from its slick user interface to the way its fiction results in some absolutely insane faction characteristics. It’s also great to see a strategy game with a genuine sense of style.


For me, the RTS genre died in 2006. Not from a cataclysmic event, but because that’s the year Company of Heroes was released and perfected the formula, basically saying “shut it down, we don’t need any more of these.” No game—even it’s own drab sequel—has come close to matching it since. Replacing frantic mouse-clicking and boring build orders with a constant need for actual tactics, its slower pace and more realistic battlefield conditions mean that even ten years on this is still an absolute classic.


The Total War series remains a pillar of PC strategy gaming, and while Empire is my personal favourite, I tend to recommend Shogun 2 first. It’s more functional and focused than the Total War games before (or since), and it still looks absolutely gorgeous. Bonus: its big expansion, Fall of the Samurai, is probably the best thing in the entire Total War series.


The art. The music. The way it confronted a difficult control challenge—moving around a fleet of ships in empty 3D space—and absolutely nailed it. The recent remakes really only touched the sound and visuals, because everything else about Homeworld remains almost perfect.


Inspired by the classic Panzer General, Panzer Corps is a (relatively) simple turn-based game that still manages to pack an amazing amount of depth (and content) away. If you want to fight the entirety of the Second World War but don’t want to spend hours learning complex rules or menus, this is the game for you.


This may seem a surprising choice, but World in Conflict is a very good strategy game. It picks a spot in the genre—somewhere between Blizzard’s chaotic immediacy and Total War’s big-map tactics—and nails it, constantly taxing both your small-scale reactions and broader strategic concerns. It’s also got a weirdly goofy, lovable feel to it you don’t often get in this most serious of genres, from its over-the-top adherence to its 1989 setting to Alec Baldwin’s “Jack Donaghy in fatigues” campaign narration.


I didn’t think XCOM 2 had any wiggle room left to improve on the first game. How wrong I was. Turns out that by adding stealth/visibility systems, honing the strategic metagame and greatly increasing the cinematic flair of the game you can make something great greater.


I don’t think any game, even up to the contemporary StarCraft II and Deserts of Kharak, has been able to excel at the traditional RTS model—mine, build and deploy—better than Age of Kings. The scale of the maps, and the armies you could build, and the emphasis on fortifications…it all just came together perfectly. If you’re curious, the 2013 HD remake is nice and faithful.


Let Captains and Colonels handle the small-scale stuff. Hearts of Iron IV puts you in command of an entire nation’s war effort, from the production of weaponry to the deployment of armies. It’s an intentional logistical nightmare, and once tamed can produce some of the most rewarding experiences in all of video games, especially with its endless variations of alternate history.


I love these games, and think they’re all excellent (and representative of different types of strategy game), but they just couldn’t quite make the cut.

StarCraft II, The Banner Saga, Endless Space 2, Alpha Centauri, Command & Conquer Red Alert, WarCraft III, Europa Universalis IV & Sid Meier’s Colonization.

The Bests are Kotaku’s picks for the best things on (or off) the internet.


Borderlands 3 Endgame Explainer: What Can You Do After The Campaign?

Borderlands 3’s campaign takes a little over 30 hours to complete, putting its runtime just over that of Borderlands 2’s story. However, there’s still stuff to do once the campaign is complete as Borderlands 3 does have an endgame. Below, you’ll find a general overview of all the content you’ll unlock at the end of Borderlands 3.

Borderlands 3 launches for Xbox One, PS4, and PC via the Epic Games Store on September 13. The game is scheduled to release on Google Stadia later this year and on additional PC storefronts in 2020. If you’re still trying to figure out whether or not you want to buy it, read GameSpot’s Borderlands 3 review.

Circle Of Slaughter

Long-time fans will recognize Torgue’s Circle of Slaughter arenas as the franchise’s traditional horde mode, which is renamed with a different title in every game. In Circle of Slaughter, you face off against waves of enemies, each of which are divided into phases. Each phase also has optional tasks you can complete to earn even greater rewards once you’ve completed every wave.

If you die, you’ll have to start over from the first phase on the first wave so Circle of Slaughter is much more feasible to complete as a team as opposed to by yourself. As you fight, your exploits will be praised or condemned–depending on your performance–by Mr. Torgue himself. The man loves when people use his guns or kill enemies with grenades, so if you want to make him happy, be sure to bring along all your explosive Torgue weapons.

True Vault Hunter Mode

If you immediately want to jump back into Borderlands 3’s campaign and replay it from the very beginning, you can do it without losing all your progress. Obviously you can just start over with a brand-new Vault Hunter if you prefer, but Borderlands 3 also has a new game plus called True Vault Hunter Mode.

In True Vault Hunter Mode, you retain all of your skill points, weapons, grenades, and cosmetic unlocks. The enemies you fight will drop significantly better loot and grant you larger chunks of experience so you can level up faster. However, all enemies will have additional health and you’ll encounter badass variants in greater frequency. In Borderlands 2, True Vault Hunter Mode actually changed some enemies, giving them brand-new identities, weapons, and combat strategies. Borderlands 3 probably does the same, but we haven’t tested True Vault Hunter Mode yet as we want to try the game’s other endgame content first.

Mayhem Mode

Mayhem Mode allows you to add interesting additional effects to combat while you’re mopping up any remaining side quests. By default, turning on Mayhem Mode increases loot quality by 200%, which decreases the likelihood of finding common and uncommon loot and increases the probability that you’ll get rare, very rare, and legendary. The amount of experience, eridum, and cash that drops from enemies and that’s found in chests increases by 200% as well. However, enemy health increases by 15% and shields and armor both increase by 25%.

With Mayhem Mode turned on, potential gameplay mods are activated as well. Some enemies may become moderately bullet-proof, for instance, or you’ll become a wizard that deals less damage with normal bullets and far more with elemental attacks. You can unlock two more additional levels of mayhem in Mayhem Mode, with each evolution increasing the possibility of gaining good loot but also making the potential gameplay mods significantly more drastic.

Guardian Ranks

Borderlands 3 does away with the traditional Badass Ranks for Guardian Ranks, and you’ll unlock this second level of progression once you’ve completed the campaign. In previous games, your Badass Rank was increased by spending tokens you unlocked through completing challenges. In Borderlands 3, you also increase your Guardian Rank with tokens but they’re earned through experience that’s tied to a progression bar that’s separate from the one for your level.

Once you’ve unlocked your Guardian Rank, you can evolve it in different ways by investing tokens into three different classes: Enforcer, Survivor, and Hunter. Putting points into Enforcer increases your overall damage and fire rate, while Survivor is geared towards health and shields, and Hunter focuses on your active skills and luck (luck being the stat that determines how often you get rare, very rare, and legendary loot drops). Investing in each class also unlocks certain weapon skins and other cosmetics.

Once you’ve invested a token, you can’t get it back but you can put points towards any class you want and you’re not locked out of the other two if you heavily invest in one. The full list of stat boosts that come with each class are listed below.


  • Critical Damage
  • Grenade Damage
  • Gun Damage
  • Gun Fire Rate
  • Melee Damage
  • Vehicle Damage


  • Fight for Your Life Duration
  • Fight for Your Life Movement Speed
  • Max Health
  • Shield Capacity
  • Shield Recharge Delay
  • Shield Recharge Rate


  • Accuracy
  • Action Skill Cooldown
  • Luck (Rarity Rate)
  • Recoil Reduction
  • Reload Speed

Proving Grounds

The Proving Grounds are designed as cooperative-focused missions, but you can take them on solo if you prefer. You unlock several Proving Grounds upon finishing Borderlands 3’s campaign and though each one is different, they all follow the same time-based challenge format.

In Proving Grounds, you’re tasked with beating three waves of enemies. Completing all the waves sees you go up against a boss, and defeating said boss rewards you with some excellent loot. The loot’s rarity and power is dependent on both how quickly you beat the entire mission and how many times you died throughout. It’s strongly advised you take on the Proving Grounds as a team instead of on your own. Though you’ll be able to take on the Proving Grounds alone and most likely beat them without dying (provided you’re at the recommended level), it can take a while to defeat the bosses by yourself, and that can make it more difficult to win within the optional time restrictions.

Post-Release Content

The Fall/Winter 2019 post-release content roadmap for Borderlands 3 has already been revealed. You can expect two free pieces of content first, Bloody Harvest (which sounds Halloween-themed) and Maliwan Takedown. Bloody Harvest is an event that will add new side quests and thematic awards and Maliwan Takedown adds a brand-new map, enemies, a boss, and rewards. Borderlands 3’s first piece of paid DLC arrives at the end of 2019, adding new campaign story missions. All four pieces of major DLC are included in Borderlands 3’s season pass.

Though exact details haven’t been revealed, Borderlands 3 is scheduled to get raids down the line as well, which may be what makes doing most of the aforementioned endgame content worthwhile. “We’ll have special events as well as raids,” Borderlands 3 lead boss designer Matt Cox said in an interview with VG247. “The details on how that shakes out will be announced later, but there’s plenty of endgame.”


Pokemon Go September Community Day Move And More Details Revealed

Pokemon Go‘s next Community Day is just a few days away, and developer Niantic has now shared a few more details about the event. We already knew the featured Pokemon this month will be Turtwig, the Grass-type starter from Pokemon Diamond and Pearl, but you’ll have even more opportunities than usual to catch some during the event.

Not only will Turtwig spawn in the wild more often than normal throughout this month’s Community Day, you’ll also be able to encounter it as a Raid boss. On top of that, any 2 km eggs that you receive from PokeStops during the event will have a chance of hatching into Turtwig, giving you plenty of ways to add the cute turtle Pokemon to your collection.

Niantic has also revealed what this month’s special event-exclusive move will be. If you’re able to evolve Turtwig’s evolved form, Grotle, into Torterra up to two hours after the event ends, the Pokemon will automatically known the powerful Grass-type attack Frenzy Plant. These event-exclusive moves are a staple of Community Days, but in the past, you only had an extra hour after the event ended to obtain them.

September’s Community Day takes place this Sunday, September 15. This time around, the event will be held much earlier than usual, from 11 AM to 2 PM local time. You can read more details about the Community Day on the official Pokemon website.

In the meantime, Pokemon Go’s second wave of Ultra Bonuses is now live. Until September 16, all four forms of the Mythical Pokemon Deoxys will appear in five-star Raid Battles, and you’ll have a chance to hatch the region-exclusive Pokemon Farfetch’d, Kangaskhan, Mr. Mime, and Tauros from 7 km eggs. The third wave of Ultra Bonuses will go live on September 16, and it’ll introduce the first Gen 5 Pokemon to the game.


These Nintendo Switch Grips Make Handheld Play A Million Times More Comfortable

The Nintendo Switch is technically a portable console. It can be pulled out of the dock, taken with you to the bathroom–or anywhere else–and played in handheld mode. But it’s not the most comfortable portable experience. Even Nintendo seems to agree, with a smaller, handheld-only version of the Switch releasing on September 20. Considering how often my hands cramp or fall asleep while holding my launch Switch, this is a godsend, as I’ve grown tired of shaking the feeling back into them.

However, there is a solution to that tingling hands problem that makes the original Switch model more comfortable to play in handheld mode: a grip case. These work much in the same way as protective cases do, except they add a little something to grab on to, turning them into something that feels a lot more like a controller. Handheld mode is my preferred method of playing the Switch, and after using a grip case I knew I could never go back to playing without one.

Now, while there are a couple of grips we absolutely love, not all of the ones we tested were winners. RDS Industries’ Goplay Grip put my hands in an awkward position for most games, while the Orzly Comfort Grip didn’t provide enough of a handle to hold comfortably. Most grips fell somewhere between these two.

But there are a few standouts, and you can read on for an overview of the best Switch grip cases we’ve tried and can vouch for. Note that all pricing indicated below is subject to change–Amazon slashes prices all the time, so you may see a discount when clicking through. Of course, we’ll keep this article updated if we try out any new Switch grips worth buying.

Skull & Co Grip Case

$19 | $40 with carrying case

No Caption Provided

The Good:

  • Extremely comfortable, ergonomic design
  • Interchangeable grips to help you find the best fit for your hands
  • Easily removable

The Bad:

  • Not very dock friendly
  • Right-stick positioning feels a little awkward

The Skull & Co grip case is exactly what I was looking for for my Switch. It’s a slip-on case just like the one you’d put on your phone, except it also turns your Switch into something that feels a bit more like a proper controller–a much more ergonomic handheld device. The case comes with three pairs of interchangeable grips so you can decide which shape best fits your hands. The Snap Grip is the smallest of the three options, equipped with rounded edges. The Plus Grip is a bigger version of the Snap Grip that protrudes much further out. Lastly, we have the Trigger Grip, which is my personal favourite as it feels the most like a normal controller and fits my hands perfectly. It also has a little hooked peak for your middle finger to rest in, which makes your Switch very easy to hold onto, even with one hand. The Skull & Co grip case is a huge improvement over the flat and gripless Switch, especially for Super Mario Maker 2, which previously gave me constant cramps while making levels.

In addition to the handles, the Skull & Co grip case covers everything but the front of the Switch. This means the shoulder buttons are covered as well, requiring you to press on the case’s button covers to press the L, R, ZL, and ZR buttons. However, the distance between the button cover and the button itself is so small that it doesn’t feel much different from just pulling the trigger.

I don’t want to play my Switch in handheld mode without this grip case. However, that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. I found the shape made it slightly more difficult to position my thumb and use the right analog stick. It’s not an insurmountable issue, but I did feel a little soreness in my joint while playing certain games that rely on the right stick a lot.

Skull & Co claims this grip case is “dock friendly” and doesn’t need to be removed for TV mode. However, there tends to be a slight bend in some people’s docks, causing it to have a slightly smaller opening. The slight difference is enough to keep this case from being completely dock-friendly. While I was able to force my Switch into the dock and get it to output to the TV, it took a considerable amount of time and the Switch would sometimes undock itself. I can’t recommend this grip case enough when it comes to playing in handheld, but if you want to output to your TV, be sure to take it off before sliding it into your dock. | Mat Paget

$19 at Amazon $40 with carrying case

Satisfye Grip

$26 | $48 with carrying case

No Caption Provided

The Good:

  • Comfortable, ergonomic design prevents cramping
  • Doubles as a sturdy stand with room for charging cable
  • Bonus thumb tabs for extra grip and customization

The Bad:

  • Doesn’t fit in many carrying cases

For a long time, I shied away from taking my Switch out of its dock, and that’s largely because I’ve always found playing Switch handheld to be incredibly uncomfortable. The long, slender tablet forces your wrists into a cramped, unnatural position, and it weighs just enough that I always find myself gripping it too hard to keep from dropping it. I’ve spent a few months with the Satisfye grip, and I can honestly say I’ll never go back to playing the Switch without it.

First of all, the Satisfye grip is extremely lightweight–it doesn’t make the console feel any heavier when I hold it (in fact, because it makes holding the Switch so much easier, it almost feels lighter). The Switch slides into the grip easily but firmly, and it hasn’t left any scuff marks on my Joy-Cons, as some Amazon reviewers have mentioned. The bottom of the grip has two hooks for additional console support, and they also allow the Switch to stand securely upright on its own with enough room for the charging cable to run underneath.

While the change in hand positioning takes some getting used to, the grip features a more ergonomic design that fills your palms and keeps your thumbs in their natural resting positions. There’s a nice little spot on top of both handles for your index fingers to rest when you’re not using the triggers. The handles are also rubberized on the back, which helps you grip them even better. Plus, it’s way easier to use the buttons, as your thumbs have more space and support to move around. Additionally, the Satisfye grip comes with four bonus thumb tabs. I don’t personally use them, but they’re intended to add extra grip to the analog sticks.

At this point, I’ve traveled cross-country multiple times with the Satisfye grip, and even though I store my Switch in a protective case when I travel, the grip was easily transported in my backpack without any damage. (Note: Satisfye also offers a bundle with the grip, protective case, and USB charging cable for $48.) Now, it feels weird when I play without the Satisfye grip, and I’d recommend it to anyone who currently finds handheld play a bit uncomfortable. | Jenae Sitzes

$26 at Amazon $48 with carrying case


WRC 8’s transfixing career mode makes it a rally contender to remember

Let’s get this on the record first: WRC 8 is a very challenging racer, even with big-time driving assists like full traction control, in races against the easiest AI setting. It also has an outstanding career mode that makes me want to keep trying.

Sure, I gnash my teeth when the slightest thumbstick correction sends me into an irrevocable fishtail. I have so much car revving underneath me, it’s like only half of the right trigger accelerator is available for use. Counter-steering, such that I can sustain it, is the finest of lines between an intentional drift and a prolonged spin-out, making a lot of tight corner exits seem like luck more than skill.

After about six hours of driving, though, I felt like I had at least a clear idea of what could keep the car on the trail, which, thanks to the third-person camera position, always looks to be rail thin until you’re right over it. But I can count on two hands the number of times I’ve been in fourth gear, dry pavement or not. While you can play WRC 8 on a gamepad (it’s available for PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One and Windows PC) and have a good time with it, I feel like a full blown driving wheel rig is necessary to get the precision this game demands. Understeer at high speeds and oversteer at low is more way more pronounced than in other driving games, for example. It makes recovering the vehicle, whether in motion or crashed out at a stop, difficult and perilous.

Luckily for KT Racing, I happen to be in a transitory period with my gaming where I actually like the reward of repeating a task until I get it right. And there is a real sense of ownership in the time I post at the end of a stage, whatever it is and particularly if it comes with no penalties for resetting to the track. The two dozen or so stages I’ve raced so far are all legitimately breathtaking, and the lighting, as much as anything, delivers a sense of time as well as place. An early afternoon winter sunset in Scandinavia and the sun-dappled seclusion of a Corsican hillside greet newcomers in the first two races on the career calendar. Dirt Rally 2.0 had a sameness problem with its stages, which reconditioned, reversed, or made different excerpts of about a dozen base courses. Thanks to a dynamic weather system (making a series debut) you never feel like you’re in the same place with WRC 8, which sports 14 real-life rallies offering seven or eight stages each.

From my first stage I could tell this is a game with a lot of polish, and that’s been a crapshoot for this series. Not to disparage past entries, but even with the FIA rally racing license, the WRC series has been largely a nominal competitor to Codemasters’ more established Dirt franchise, which launched Dirt Rally 2.0 earlier this year. The gap is smaller than ever this year, because Dirt has nothing like WRC 8’s career mode. F1 2019, also by Codemasters, doesn’t have anything like it, for that matter.

In career, I am in charge of all aspects of team management — from my relationship with the car’s constructor (and others, should I want or need a new ride) to hiring roles as granular as a booking agent (gets me more events and training) or meteorologist (deeper and more accurate reads on upcoming weather). There’s no such management layer in F1, where my attention is more focused to a perk tree of car development. WRC 8 has a perks tree for career advancement, too, but it can be molded more to a player’s style and priorities, rather than just be a linear arms race of development like F1.

Perks that smooth out dents in my team’s morale for a middling finish, or boost it for the times I really bring the groceries, are just as important as those that affect vehicle performance, I’ve found. That’s because even a respectable top-10 finish runs the risk of dinging my team’s morale by -2 — and my relationship with the constructor even more. This kind of arbitrary, severe punishment is really tough to accept, but there are ways to ameliorate it. My unhappy constructor can be pleased by meeting some kind of performance goal, such as coming in under a dollar figure for repairs in one race, or using only one type of tire for another. But players have to keep an eye on what incentives they have active, because the short-term objective and long-term incentive can sometimes conflict. WRC 8 lets drivers choose from a list of goals, rather than feed you one at a time, and I appreciated this twist on a common progression tool for sports video games.

Just the manner in which KT Racing presents the management layer of WRC 8 makes me want to fuss around with it and role-play Mr. Big Rally Driving Bigshot. It’s an isometric, Sims-style cut-out view of an office and a garage. There’s the shop floor, what looks like a live-streaming studio, and a truck backed up to the loading bay when you’re ready to haul off for the race in Chile. WRC 8 may not be accessible to newcomers in what the racing model expects of you, but if it didn’t have this kind of detailing and was just a hard-as-hell off-road racer going from event to event, I would write it off as a niche product for the hardcore as opposed to something worth checking out.

And after all, I suppose it does get boring when, even in an F1 career where I’m 11th in the driver standings for lowly Alfa Romeo, everyone still has a high opinion of me and I can sign with Ferrari at the drop of a hat. Ford, on the other hand, is an implacable presence in my WRC 8 life, with my dismissal always on the table. So there really is no stage where ninth-is-good-enough-this-time. It has me restarting my stages a lot — hell no, I am not taking this game’s perma-wreck option where you can’t — but the best thing I can say for WRC 8 is that it’s worth that kind of frustration.


New Freebie For Nintendo Switch Online Subscribers Now Available

Nintendo is offering another freebie to Switch Online subscribers. The company is giving away a bundle of 100 Gem Apples for its new free-to-play Kirby title, Super Kirby Clash. Gem Apples are Clash’s form of in-game currency, and they’re used purchase items, craft gear, and open new levels in the game.

To claim the freebie, head to the Switch Eshop and highlight the Nintendo Switch Online option on the left sidebar–you’ll find the Gem Apple bundle listed under “special offers.” You can only claim the freebie if you have a paid Nintendo Switch Online subscription, so you won’t be able to download it during a free trial.

Super Kirby Clash was one of the games surprise-released after this month’s big Nintendo Direct presentation. Unlike traditional Kirby titles, Clash is a cooperative game in which up to four players–each controlling a different colored Kirby–can team up to battles bosses and other large foes. You’ll receive materials after each job you complete, which you can then use to craft new weapons and gear for your Kirby.

That isn’t the only freebie available right now for Switch Online subscribers. Nintendo is also giving away a second Spirit Board Challenge Pack for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. That pack can likewise be claimed through the Switch Eshop, and it contains a handful of helpful items for the game’s Spirit Board mode.

Switch Online subscriptions are available for US $4 / £3.49 / AU $6 for one month, US $8 / £7 / AU $12 for three months, and US $20 / £18 / AU $30 for one year. Nintendo also offers an annual Family Membership for US $35 / £31.49 / AU $55, which covers up to eight Nintendo Accounts across multiple systems. In addition to occasional freebies, the service gives you access to online play, cloud saves, and other perks, such as a library of classic SNES games with added online play.


Yakuza 7 Mini-Games Include Go-Karts, Slot Machines, And Boring Movies

You’ll be able to race go-carts, play PachiSlot, and try to stay awake during movies in Yakuza: Like a Dragon–when you aren’t summoning a crayfish to help you through a battle. The latest issue of the Japanese magazine Famitsu (via Gematsu) shares a slew of new details about the upcoming action-RPG.

We already knew the game would adopt a turn-based combat system, and now we have a little more info about how those battles will take place. When a fight breaks out, the regular citizens will transform into RPG enemies, sporting mohawks, wearing different (or less) clothing, and brandishing weapons. If you need a hand in battle, though, you can pay some money through your smartphone to summon help. A few summon examples include Gary Buster Holmes, Gonda Wara, and a crayfish.

When you aren’t beating up hooligans, you can relax with the new suite of mini-games. Those include a “Dragon Kart” mini-game where you race through the streets and pick up boxes with weapons like a rocket launcher or Gatling gun. Another game has you pressing buttons to stay awake during a traditional movie. Finally, you can play PachiSlot machines, a specialized Japanese slot machine.

Yakuza: Like a Dragon, aka Yakuza 7, stars Ichiban Kasuga, after Yakuza 6: The Song of Life wrapped up the story of the previous protagonist Kazuma Kiryu. Sega is adopting a turn-based battle system as homage to Dragon Quest. To match thematically, the new hero is canonically a huge DQ fan. he game is due in January in Japan, and sometime in 2020 in the West.


A New Division 2 Update Lets You Target Specific Loot

Developer Massive Entertainment seems to be addressing concerns of randomized loot drops in Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 with a new update, adding greater transparency about the loot you receive.

Title 6 Update, scheduled to launch just before the looter-shooter’s second episode releases this fall, will allow you to target specific loot as you replay missions, complete open-world activities, and tackle the Dark Zone. According to a post on The Division 2’s official website, every mission and named zone will feature specific loot associated with it. Areas and missions with targeted loot will drop items as normal, with targeted loot getting a guaranteed chance to drop from named bosses and a smaller chance to be obtainable from all NPCs and containers.

The same loot drop rules apply to the Dark Zone, but be aware that you must extract loot before it’s added to your arsenal. Check below for an idea of what targeted loot looks like on the map and in the game world.

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The Divison 2’s second episode, titled Pentagon: The Last Castle, is scheduled to launch on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One sometime this fall. The looter-shooter’s first episode, DC Outskirts: Expeditions, was made public to all owners of The Divison 2 earlier this summer. DC Outskirts: Expeditions added two new main missions and a new Expeditions experience, which introduces weekly, exploration-driven challenges.

In other Division 2 news, Massive outlined its DLC roadmap for the looter-shooter during E3 2019. Currently, The Division 2 has three pieces of post-launch content planned, which sees you heading back to New York City, the setting for the first Division game.


The Nintendo Switch Is Getting Overwatch Pro Controllers

In a recent Nintendo Direct, the company revealed a slew of new games coming to the Nintendo Switch in late 2019 and 2020. One of the most exciting announcements was Overwatch: Legendary Edition, which releases on the Switch October 15. To celebrate, PowerA is adding two new Overwatch-themed controllers to its enhanced wireless Switch Pro controller collection, which we’ve written about previously and highly recommend as a more affordable, third-party option. PowerA will also offer a protective Overwatch-style Switch case. All three Overwatch accessories are officially licensed by Blizzard and Nintendo and will be available this fall at major retailers in North America, Europe, and Australia.

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The first controller features Reaper and has a black-and-red design. You can pre-order the Reaper controller for $50 USD at Amazon, which lists the release date as September 20.

See Reaper Switch controller at Amazon

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The second controller is for D.Va fans, featuring pink buttons, D-pad, and thumbsticks against a baby blue background. So far, it’s only listed at the EB Games Australia website for $89.95 AUD and is slated to release in October. According to PowerA, the D.Va controller should appear at more retailers in other countries soon.

See D.Va Switch controller at EB Games AU

PowerA’s enhanced wireless Bluetooth controllers have a similar ergonomic design to the first-party Pro controllers and are comfortable to use. While there’s no rumble or NFC reader, these controllers do allow for motion controls and custom button mapping. The main drawback is that they use two AA batteries, but that still provides up to 30 hours of gameplay and isn’t a huge loss if you use your Pro controller only occasionally or need a backup. The PowerA enhanced wireless Switch controllers always launch at $50 USD, but you can get this black-and-red design for only $35 on Amazon right now.

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If you’ve yet to buy a protective carrying case for your Nintendo Switch, you now have another option available: this new Overwatch-themed pouch. With a hard outer shell, padded screen protector, and game card storage, this travel case will shield your Switch from any damage when you take it on the go. It costs $25 USD and will be available on September 15, according to Amazon.

See Overwatch protective Switch case at Amazon

Overwatch: Legendary Edition is available to pre-order now for $40 USD and comes bundled with 15 character skins and a three-month Switch Online membership, which you’ll need to play. Anyone who pre-orders the game will also receive the bonus Noire Widowmaker skin. Note that this is a digital download, so there won’t be a physical game card with your purchase.

See Overwatch: Legendary Edition at Best Buy