Tech round-up for December 19: New MacBook Air is essential, take console gaming portable with Gaems Sentinel, video game gift guide

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Categories Consumer technology | Video games

This week, Gaems makes it possible for console gaming to be portable and video games for the holidays. But first, the new MacBook Air is the new must-have laptop.

New MacBook Air is the gold standard for productivity laptops

I was one of the first people to use a MacBook Air when Apple introduced the line of laptops back in 2008. It was weird operating a system without a DVD drive and without a port for a network cable, but now it seems strange and off-putting to have those things in a laptop.

The entire point of the Air was that it was as light as air. With a dramatic knife-edge and wedge design, it provided incredible portability and functionality, even if some of the functionality was dropped in favour of greater portability.

Over the years, the Air continued to be my workhorse. Over a few iterations it improved, but then Apple seemed content to just sustain the lineup, not improve on it.

That changed this fall. The latest MacBook Air (starting at $1,499) to be released was a fundamentally different machine, and it is packed with the best of the improvements that Apple has been rolling out to its other products.

The case, for example, is smaller (and made entirely of recycled aluminum), but still contains a crisp 13.3-inch Retina display with the thin bezel that is in the MacBook Pros. There’s also a butterfly keyboard which allows for a thinner device, and a large and responsive trackpad with a haptic motor allowing for Apple’s Force Touch feedback.

Instead of the full-width touch bar found on the MacBook Pro, the Air has a touch button instead. That means you can use your fingerprint to unlock the computer with Touch ID, which is the only thing many people use the touch bar for anyway.

There’s still some sacrifice in the MacBook Air. You’re not getting the biggest hard drive (off-the-shelf models have solid state drives in either a 128 GB or 256 GB sizes, but you can upgrade up to 1.5 TB) or the fastest processor (it features the 8th-generation Intel Core i5, not the i7). For those things you need to look to the MacBook Pro lineup.

I’ve been using the latest MacBook Pro for months, and while it’s a powerful and capable computer, I’d trade it in right now for the new Macbook Air. If you’re a typical laptop user, and you want a robust, useful, beautiful laptop, that’s what you’d do, too.

In the last few years, as the Air lineup dwindled, other computer manufacturers have been coming up with rival laptop designs that were better in terms of power, functionality, and design. But with the new Air, Apple has leapt to the front once again, setting a new bar, higher than before.

New Gaems Sentinel makes console gaming portable

With the new Sentinel system, Gaems has again provide gamers with a way to take console gaming with them wherever they go.

The Sentinel is like a small briefcase, and inside is a 17.3-inch high-definition screen, stereo speaker system, and space for a PS4 or Xbox One. Plug your console into the included HDMI and power adapter, and you can play Red Dead Redemption II anywhere.

The Sentinel is going to cost US$350, and while it’s not going to be available until mid-January, you can pre-order now. Just print out a picture of the set-up and put it in a stocking.

Video game gift guide 2018

There were astounding games released this year. Dozens of them. I’ll make it easier for you to decide on gifts for the person on your list with my list. I’ve chosen to focus on console experiences, here, which captures most gamers, and not VR or PC-only titles.

Games made in Canada

Social media was abuzz a couple of weeks ago when Capybara Games announced that its latest game, the long-awaited Below (rated teen), was about to launch (on Friday, December 14). It’s got a distinct art and atmosphere, elements the developer brought to earlier games Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery and Super Time Force. Fans have been waiting for this since it was first revealed in 2013, and now you can play it on Windows and Xbox One.

While The Long Dark (Hinterland Studio, rated teen) has been playable in one form or another for the past couple of years, it’s now in a final release form for all consoles. There’s lots of game here, from the first-person narrative experience to the pure survival mode, and the one thing shared among then all is the setting: a stark, beautiful northwestern landscape that takes inspiration from the B.C. wilderness the developers spend time in.

Starlink: Battle for Atlas (Ubisoft, rated everyone 10+) is the latest game to integrate physical toys with the digital play. In this action game, developed in Toronto, you can purchase spaceships that can be configured with different types of wings and weapons. And you can get pilots with different skills they bring to the experience.

If you were playing games seven years ago, you may have come across this side-scrolling action game in an earlier incarnation. Now remastered by the Vancouver developer, Mark of the Ninja (Klei, rated mature) is playable on PS4 and Xbox One, and it’s just as much fun as ever.

The best Assassin’s Creed game in years is Assassins Creed Odyssey (Ubisoft, rated mature), which is set in Greece and features two Canadians portraying the protagonist. Play as the female Kassandra and you get Melissanthi Mahmut. Choose to play as Alexios and you get Michael Antonakos. Both are top notch.

Games for teens and grown-ups

This year’s instalment of the first-person wartime experience is Battlefield V (EA, rated mature), which takes the franchise to the Second World War. The single-player experience is presented in the vignette “War Stories” that was introduced in 2016’s Battlefield 1. Multiplayer modes include “Grand Operations,” which takes place over multiple stages.

Set in the American west, Red Dead Redemption 2 (Rockstar, rated mature) is a slow burn. The beautiful and compelling open world invites you to spend time in it, and the game, which puts you in the shoes of a gun-slinging outlaw, gives you plenty of excuses to stay there.

One of the best games of the year, God of War (Santa Monica, rated mature) is a tender exploration of fatherhood that happens to occur in the middle of an often vicious third-person action game. Steeped in Norse mythology, it is an essential and unequaled gaming experience.

You’ll spend hours playing Marvel’s Spider-Man (Sony, rated teen) before you even get to the story simply because it’s so much fun swinging through New York. The mechanics of traversal and combat are sublime and satisfying, and when you do get down to the narrative, you’ll find it sophisticated.

Games for everyone

Perhaps the biggest release as we approach the holiday is Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (Nintendo, rated everyone 10+), which collects nearly 80 characters, including every fighter that’s ever appeared in the fighting franchise from Nintendo. It’s the first time the game has appeared on the Switch, and it’s a good reason to get that console in your household.

Another Switch exclusive are the latest games in the Pokémon series, Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee! (Nintendo, rated everyone). The physical disk edition of the game comes with a Poké Ball controller that really sells the notion that you’re capturing the pocket monsters.

Spyro Reignited Trilogy (Activision, rated everyone 10+) packages up remasters of three action platforming games, Spyro the Dragon, Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage! and Spyro: Year of the Dragon. The new experiences feature enhanced graphics and new audio mixes.

Hardware

The PlayStation 4 Pro ($500) is essential because Sony has so many exceptional exclusive games. It’s the only console on which you can play God of War, Marvel’s Spider-Man and last year’s best game, Horizon Zero Dawn. In 2019 it will be the console you’ll need if you want to play The Last of Us 2.

A smaller investment gets the PlayStation Classic ($130), a mini version of the first PlayStation console. It comes with two controllers and 20 games pre-installed, including Grand Theft Auto, Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil Director’s Cut, Ridge Racer Type 4, Syphon Filter, Tekken 3, and Twisted Metal.

If there’s not already a Nintendo Switch in your household, this is a great time to get one. Not only are they portable, but there are more and more games being released for the system. This holiday the big Nintendo game is Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, an essential, but in recent months titles for myriad audiences have hit, including Broken Age, Diablo III: Eternal Collection, Gone Home, South Park: The Stick of Truth, and Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery. The Switch is available starting at $380, and there are sweet bundles available for Diablo III ($450), Mario Tennis Aces and 1-2 Switch ($470), Pokémon: Let’s Go! ($460), Super Smash Bros Ultimate ($450), and Fortnite ($380).

If you’ve got a brand new flatscreen TV with 4K resolution and HDR you’re going to want to connect it to an Xbox One X, the most powerful console available right now. Models with a 1 TB hard drive can be had for between $500 and $600, depending on which bundle you get. You can also design your own controller at the Xbox Design Lab, which is now offering paint gradients and camouflage colour patch options.

Microsoft is also selling the Xbox Adaptive Controller ($130) which makes video games accessible to everyone. In development for a few years and released this fall, the device was designed with the help of differently-abled gamers to make it easier for people who aren’t able to use traditional game controllers.

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