Review: Urban Cafe

Posted by Patrick

P1060083

Post by Patrick

I’ve been wanting to try out Urban Cafe ever since I found their Instagram account which has a lot of good looking photos of the food they serve. I finally passed by earlier in the week to try it out and had a fairly pleasant experience. I went in the evening with a friend and the place was fairly packed. The weather was pleasant so there weren’t any places to sit outside and so we ended up inside. Sitting inside wasn’t a bad thing because the place is bright and seating is comfortable although I did find the music to be a bit too loud.

Urban Food

We ended up ordering the Baked Portobello and the Quinoa Salad for starters and the Wild Mushroom & Truffle Pizza and Basil Pesto Fusilli for our main course. What I found disappointing about the menu itself was that there aren’t many choices if you don’t want a sandwich. The Quinoa Salad arrived first and I thought it was okay. I found it weird that they mixed in large pieces of lettuce since this made the salad slightly awkward to eat but I did think the addition of rocca leaves was a nice touch. The Baked Portobello which comes stuffed with mozzarella cheese and mushroom was pretty good and flavorful and once we were done with the starters the pizza and pasta both arrived around the same time. The pizza looked and smelled really good and it tasted similar to the mushroom pizza at OFK which I also like. On the other-hand the pesto fusilli was a bit too creamy and a little boring. There was an option to add grilled chicken to it, so maybe that would have made some difference.

Bread Pudding

After we were done with our main course we decided to try out the bread pudding with Nutella for dessert. It took long for the bread pudding to come out and when I finally asked for it, it was obvious they had forgotten that we ordered any dessert. The waiters were pretty apologetic about it and the bread pudding got to our table pretty quick after that. I didn’t think the bread pudding was that good, and I’m a big fan of Nutella. There was just too much Nutella and it ended up feeling too heavy on the stomach. On the other hand, my friend really enjoyed it and said they would order it again. Urban Cafe isn’t short on desserts though and they had quite a few cakes on display besides the various dessert items available in the menu.

Even though I wasn’t a big fan of the pasta or the dessert I would be interested in trying the other items on the menu like the Barbequed Beef Brisket and their breakfast which they serve until 2PM. I found their prices to be pretty reasonable, the mushroom & truffle pizza was KD3 while the pesto fusilli was KD2.500. One thing that might be an issue is parking. When I went in the evening I was able to find a spot behind the cafe in a small sandlot, but I would imagine that during the day time it might be difficult to find parking in the area. If you’re interested in Urban Cafe they’re located in Sharq, you can find their location on Google Maps.

Post by Patrick


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Best Video Games 2013

Posted by Patrick

2013 was a pretty good year for gaming consoles since there was a pretty large variety of AAA and indie games to enjoy. I’m generally not very picky when it comes to video games and I enjoy a wide range of genre’s but when one genre is over-saturated (like first person shooters), I tend to choose something that tries to offer something unique. My time was evenly spent between four consoles, the Wii U, the PS3, the 360 and the 3DS and picking my favorite game was not as challenging as I originally thought it would be. But, two games in particular stood out from the whole range of games that got released this year and both these games deserve more awards than any of the other games.


1 – The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

What’s not to love about this game? It’s Challenging, beautiful to look at and features a captivating world filled with secrets and dungeons.


2 – The Last of Us

A brutal, intense and emotional roller coaster. There really hasn’t been a game (in a long time, or really just ever) that has affected some of us like The Last of Us has. I used to just play it two or three times a week because I knew there was always something bad around the corner. You would find and pick up a journal entry or a note you to either read a great story of survival or a really sad story about death or loss. The amount of detail that went into the environments to support these stories were also impressive. This is one game I loved, but would probably never play it a second time.


3 – Super Mario 3D World

When the E3 trailer was revealed, most of us had written this off as a quick-cash in before Nintendo released the true successor to the Galaxy franchise, but since its release its been getting rave reviews. 3D World includes some of the most unique and entertaining level designs while pushing the series forward making it one of the most enjoyable gaming experiences of the year.

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The Playstation 4 Review

Posted by Patrick

The Playstation 4 was released in North America on the 15th of November and sold a million units in 24 hours. We’ve had to wait until earlier this week to see the PS4 officially released in Kuwait and the Gulf and as of this post, it’s pretty much sold out with supposedly no new shipments arriving until early January. So what’s the noise all about? Do you need to own the PS4 now? Are the launch games worth it? These are some of the questions I’m going to be answering in this post.

The PS4 itself is designed nicely, it’s as small as the slim Playstation 3 (maybe even a bit smaller) and it’s pretty light. Complete opposite of the first iteration of the Playstation 3 which was huge, bulky and ugly.

The second thing I’m going to talk about is the new controller, the Dualshock 4. I wasn’t a big fan of the Dualshock 3 and preferred the 360 and Wii U controllers over it. The Dualshock 3 felt light, cheap and didn’t fit well in my hands. I also wasn’t a big fan of the design as it was difficult to clean due to the dirt getting caught on all the edges. The Dualshock 4 changes all of that – the design is nice, sleek and clean, it fits comfortably in my hands and it doesn’t feel cheap. The small touchpad on the face of the controller works well and isn’t overly sensitive to touch (unlike the Sony Vita’s rear touchpad). The controller also features a mono speaker that plays some sounds as you’re playing games. It takes a few minutes to get used to the fact that the controller doesn’t feature a “START” and “SELECT” button like the majority of controllers have had throughout the years, those buttons have been merged into one “Options” button. One of the new additions that’s been making some headlines is the “SHARE” button. When you press it, the PS4 will create a screenshot of the moment and a video clip of the last 15 minutes of gameplay. You then decide where you want to upload them to Facebook or Twitter. If you also feel like broadcasting what you’re playing to the rest of the world, you can also do that through the services of Twitch or USTREAM. All this is done seamlessly and I was surprised to see how Sony have simplified the process.

One thing I dislike about the controller is the light bar which is located on the back of the controller. The light bar displays different colors to alert you on things like low health (it’ll glow red), but it’s kind of a useless feature unless you’re looking at your controller as you’re playing. If you sit directly in front of your television as you’re playing, the controller creates an annoying reflection on your TV when the games you play feature dark levels or segments – it just breaks the immersion. Hopefully there’ll be an update in the future that’ll allow us to choose whether we want to keep the light on or not.

The next thing I want to bring up is the Playstation 4’s user interface. This is another feature that I think could be improved. I’ve never been a huge fan of Sony’s user interfaces, whether it’s the Playstation 3’s menu or the Vita’s terrible use of bubble icons. The Playstation 4’s user interface has three sections. The first is the main menu; icons for your games, the browser, music, video, etc are all accessed from there. The second section (when you press down on your D-pad) is specific to the application or game you’ve selected. So for example, if you press down when Killzone: Shadow Fall is selected, a menu will appear that shows your recent activity, a shortcut to the community, multiplayer modes, and the game manual. If you press up on the main menu, the third section of the menu system appears and this is where you can access the Playstation Store, Friends List, Trophies, Settings and a few other options. I just don’t find this system to be intuitive at all. Why is the Playstation Store icon not located in the main menu and instead hidden in the upper section? Why aren’t the menus customizable? Nintendo and Microsoft both offer menus that are somewhat customizable, so why can’t Sony?

Moving on to launch games. I was given two games to try out by Sony that were launched exclusively for the Playstation 4, Knack (a 3D platformer adventure game) and Killzone: Shadow Fall (a first person shooter). Knack was developed and designed by SCE Japan Studio and Mark Cerny, both have an impressive repertoire of games and so I was surprised to see the below average reviews for this game. An hour into the game and you could see why it’s been getting poor review scores. First off, all the characters (especially Knack) are bland. Think of all the great characters in 3D platformers that we’ve seen in the past; Super Mario, Sonic the Hedgehog, Crash Bandicoot, Banjo-Kazooie, Ratchet & Clank, Jak and Daxter, These games featured a whole cast of colorful, interesting characters and most importantly, the main characters were memorable. Knack’s design is forgetful and pretty ugly. He’s made up of all these tiny pieces and shapes and as you progress through the levels you start to grow as you gain more of these pieces until you’re huge and you’re able to do massive amounts of damage. The combat in this game is just “X, X, X” repeated, until you fill up your special power gauge and then you can perform a special move. The level designs are incredibly linear and lack any sort of inspiration. How linear are they? Well, there’s only one path through the level – no little deviations, no hidden paths, no shortcuts. There are “secrets” behind walls that have very large cracks to visually tell you that the wall can be smashed. Those are placed along the paths so they’re not even really hidden. There’s literally no sense of exploration and the platforming segments aren’t even challenging. Very young kids (younger than 10) might enjoy it, but I recommend most of you to skip this game if possible.

Onto Killzone: Shadow Fall. Before playing this game I had only ever played and beaten Killzone 2 which I thought was fun with very intense firefight, but also had a forgettable story with forgettable characters. The characters were beautiful and had fluid animation but the level layouts (which were well designed) were visually boring to look at. Everything seemed to be just a variation of grey with some brown tacked on. Shadow Fall seems to continue the trend of having forgettable characters and horrid writing but has much more beautiful and varied level layouts. The first level you play is vivid and colorful (there’s a bit too much lens flare for my taste though), the second level is the opposite, it’s dark, gloomy and kind of freaky. The shooting and firefights are really fun. Graphics? Not a massive leap from the PS3 but for a launch game it looks really good. You’ll enjoy this game if you go in expecting a straight up first-person shooter with a fun single player experience and multiplayer modes. But, you’ll be disappointed if you’re looking for a FPS that has an interesting plot with memorable characters.

Now the important question, is it worth buying the Playstation 4 now, or should you wait? The controller has been improved, the console is designed nicely, it isn’t heavy, it isn’t bulky and it has a promising line-up of upcoming new games. There’s no doubting the potential of the console, just one look at Killzone: Shadow Fall will tell you that. 2014 will be a good year for gaming with titles like Tom Clancy’s The Division, Witcher 3 and Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes coming out. My issues with the PS4 are minor. The light bar on the controller, the menu system and the lack of a media server wont affect my enjoyment that I’ll get from playing games on the machine. Still though, I’ll wait a few months before purchasing one. None of the exclusive launch games interest me and the ones that aren’t exclusive I’ve already played on my 360/PS3/Wii U. If you can’t wait and want to pick one up now, the games I recommend are Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Killzone: Shadow Fall, FIFA 14, Battlefield 4, and Lego Marvel Superheroes.

Posted by Patrick


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Gravity, it’s cut but it’s ok

Posted by Patrick

Gravity was finally released in Kuwait on the 17th of October, but for some odd reason it wasn’t released in IMAX (instead they chose to show some Metallica documentary in IMAX, how are they even still relevant?). Gravity can be seen in the majority of theaters in Kuwait and I highly recommend to watch it in 3D since I haven’t seen any movie make use of 3D as well as Gravity has.

Gravity has a beautifully simple premise. Two astronauts have to fight for survival after a catastrophe strikes their space shuttle mission. Alfonso Cuarón directs this brilliant movie and does a spectacular job at creating one of the most realistic space movies and possibly the best space movie ever made.

Now the problem with watching Gravity in Kuwait (besides it not being in IMAX) is the fact that two scenes were censored. One scene was briefly cut due to dialogue (which wasn’t important to the narrative) and the other scene that was cut was at the very end, the last scene to be exact. The movie was already done and the story resolved by the time that scene came about but it was still an annoyance. Would I still have watched the movie knowing about these two details? Yes. Definitely.

If you enjoy a good movie experience then you should definitely not miss this even though there are two scenes cut. Watching this movie at home wouldn’t do it any justice.

Posted by Patrick

Note: The comments below might contain spoilers so don’t read them if you haven’t watched the movie


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Review: The Nintendo Wii U

Posted by Patrick

Wii U 1

It’s pretty impressive that a company founded back in 1889 still exists today and is considered one of the most innovative and creative companies in their field. Nintendo has survived throughout these years not by sheer luck, but by being able to adapt to markets and get ahead of the game. Nintendo didn’t always make video games – it started out making playing cards and when that business was waning the CEO of the time Hiroshi Yamauchis decided to move into other businesses like instant noodles, a taxi company, and even a TV network. Eventually, Nintendo made its way in the video game business and released the NES; 27 years later, Nintendo has finally released its sixth console, the Wii U.

Nintendo’s philosophy has never been about creating the most powerful console with the best graphics, but to create a console that anyone could enjoy, developers could create fun games for, and is affordable. They constantly try to innovate without going overboard. The Nintendo 64 was the first console to introduce analogue sticks and 4 player controller ports right out of the box that competitors adapted in the future. We’re seeing similar advancements with motion controls that Nintendo introduced with the Wii and now Nintendo has taken another step forward by introducing the Wii U and the Game Pad.

Mark was able to hook me up with a Wii U from X-cite to review and I got the chance to test it out by playing Super Mario Bros U, ZombiU, Nintendo Land and Batman Arkham City.

Wii U + gamepad

The first thing I was curious about was Nintendo’s new social network called the Miiverse and so far it’s been informative, entertaining, and pretty promising. For those who don’t know, the Miiverse is where you interact with other Wii U users through a community for every app or game out for the Wii U. So if you want to discuss some Youtube videos, you can go to the Youtube community and post about it there and other users can reply or give you a “Yeah!” (equivalent to a Facebook “Like”). If you want to discuss a specific game and you’re unsure about buying it, you can go to that game’s community and ask them about it. Other times, people will draw some really elaborate drawings using the Wii U’s gamepad and the community walls turn into a temporary art exhibit. And it works well – comments are posted instantly without delay. People will comment and try to solve things. For example, I was going through the ZombiU community and found a thread with over 25 comments of gamers trying to decipher some code someone found spray-painted on a wall in the game. I wouldn’t be surprised if communities like this sprang up in the next iteration of consoles Microsoft and Sony release.

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Grand Cinemas and Skyfall

Posted by Patrick

Skyfall

Last night I got the chance to watch the premier of the new James Bond movie Skyfall at Grand Cinemas in the Al Hamra Tower. As soon as I got to the floor Grand Cinemas was located on we were given a goodie bag by Aston Martin, that included an iPhone 5 case with the Skyfall logo on it and some other Aston Martin branded merchandise. The attendants were quite helpful, answering our questions and giving us directions to which theater we’d be seated in. We then were able to get some popcorn and soda. They only had regular popcorn available and no water, that will obviously change once Grand Cinemas opens. The first thing I noticed as soon as I entered the theater was just how cold it was. Movie theaters tend to get chilly, but it was incredibly cold, much colder than other theaters. The seating was quite comfortable and the only real negative thing (beside it being too cold) that bothered me was that they kept the “Exit” signs lit up throughout the movie which caused a green glare on the side of the screen which was slightly distracting at times.

Seats

Once the show started, about 15 minutes of advertisements for Aston Martin played which wasn’t a big surprise since it seemed like they were the ones who helped put this event together. Once the movie began, I instantly noticed how the image seemed crisper and sharper on the screen. It was a good sign. Then about 10 minutes into the movie, the sound was acting up, we couldn’t hear what the characters were saying but we could still hear the music and the sound effects. It felt like we were watching a silent movie. After a few minutes of that the entire sound cut which happened a minute or so before the movie intro credits started rolling. This situation also made things kind of awkward because you could hear people all around you just crunching away at their popcorns while the theater stayed surprisingly quiet throughout this whole ordeal. This went on for a good 10 or 15 more minutes, I was thinking of walking out of the theater because the movie was basically being spoiled. Then one of the guys in charge walked in and made an announcement that the theater amplifier blew out and that they needed a few minutes to switch it out. Not sure how an amp could blow out at the very first show, but apparently it did. As soon as he left they thankfully stopped the movie. Sure enough a few minutes afterwards the movie had started, the movie was rewinded to where the technical errors began and the sound was working. After that it was smooth sailing, I really liked how crisp the image was and the volume of the movie was just loud enough. Did I mention how it was cold? It became nearly unbearable near the end to the point that it became distracting.

JB

Now about the movie. I’m going to come out and say this right away, Skyfall is probably my favorite Bond movie. Daniel Craig and Javier Bardem were both fantastic and seemed to feed off each others on-screen energy. Bardem’s role as the villain was really memorable and his character will be remembered for a long time. Sam Mendes did a great job at directing this movie which includes one of my favorite fight scenes that I’ve experienced in a movie, the cinematography, the lighting, the intensity of the scene, it was just beautifully shot. The movie had some amusing moments, some charming Bond moments, it was aggressive when it needed to be and it was surprisingly dark at times, especially for a Bond movie. Bond movies are usually more upbeat and they’re typically about Bond being nearly superhero like, saving the day. Let me put it this way, Skyfall is to Bond as The Dark Knight was to Batman. This movie release is going to coincide with the 50th anniversary of James Bond and the movie features some neat little nods to past Bond movies and in a way, there were segments in the movie that felt like old-school Bond. It’s a little on the longside though, running at about 2 hours and 30 minutes long but it is definitely worth the watch.

Theater

So all in all, I feel like Grand Cinemas will be a great addition to Kuwait. Except for that little incident regarding the sound which was fixed, the only downside of last night was how cold it had gotten, I’ll just remember to bring a coat next time I decide to watch a movie there.

Posted by Patrick


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Review: Borderlands 2

Posted by Patrick

We live in an age where releasing sequels is the norm because it’s more profitable and less risky than releasing a brand new original title. So, it should be no surprise that some sequels start to feel like expansion packs to the original game instead of a true sequel. They might add a little content here and there but end up using a very similar (or the same) graphics engine and avoid fixing what could have been wrong in the first game. The good developers learn their lessons and attempt to improve every facet of the game instead of rehashing the original. I was a huge fan of the first Borderlands since I felt that it stood out among the other shooters out there mostly for its role-playing elements, random loot, a great shooting mechanic, and stylistic visuals. Even though it did a lot of things right, I felt the game had a lot more potential. The world itself felt small, the towns felt dead, and although the enemy A.I. was decent, there weren’t many variations of enemies. Add to that it had a weak storyline and a brutally disappointing ending. So when a sequel was announced, I was hopeful that Gearbox Software would learn from their first outing and release a sequel that was even better than the original. I had high expectations and I can safely say that Gearbox Software are one of the good developers since they have delivered a solid sequel that improves nearly every aspect of the original, while expanding on the formula they set up in the first game.

The premise of the game is quite simple. The villain, named Jack, wants to open a vault that is said to be home of something powerful. With this power, Jack hopes to become the all-supreme leader of Pandora. The game doesn’t take time to push you into the action; you start off on a train headed to your destination when a “complication” arises.

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Review: Sleeping Dogs

Posted by Patrick

There was a time when open world games like Grand Theft Auto III were a big deal. Nowadays, it seems like there’s an open world game being released every year. There was also a time when open world games were flat 2D worlds like Super Metroid or The Legend of Zelda. Today, it’s vast and deep 3D landscapes with big cities (or deserts if we’re talking about the great Red Dead Redemption). The problem with most games that share this genre is that they’re automatically labeled a “GTA-clone”, so in order to be successful, the developer needs to create something unique or at least innovative. Sleeping Dogs might not be incredibly unique (a cop and gangster game set in Hong Kong), but it does take the GTA formula further by innovating it, making it its own.

Sleeping Dogs is played as an over-the-shoulder, third-person perspective action-adventure game with role-playing elements. The player controls Wei Shen, a Chinese-American police officer, as he goes undercover to infiltrate the Sun On Yee Triad organization. – wikipedia

There were a bunch of things I really liked about Sleeping Dogs. One example that pops right into mind is that the game lets you cycle through your objectives without the need to pause or go to the map screen. To add to that, it’ll show you how to get to your objective and how far your destination is. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it helps with the pacing of the game. There’s no need to pause, go into a menu, and look through a big map. One thing that bugged me about GTA was that there was no reason to pay attention to traffic laws and pedestrians, but in Sleeping Dogs you lose points if you vandalize, steal or kill pedestrians while you’re on a mission. These points can help you level up and unlock more items and moves and they’re part of your overall mission score that gets uploaded and shared with your friends. That’s another thing the developers have added: the “Social Hub”. The Social Hub basically uploads your mission scores and other stats (longest wheelie for instance) and compares them to your friends who are also playing the game.

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Review: Persona 4 Arena

Posted by Patrick

P4A

This past week saw the release of one of the strangest mashups of game genres that I’ve ever come across: a role-playing game transformed into a fighting game. The game is called Persona 4 Arena which is available on the Playstation 3 and the Xbox 360.

I’m just a casual fan of fighting games; I don’t spend hours upon hours practicing to spend even more time in the online modes. Growing up, I was a fan of Street Fighter, Tekken & Soul Edge/Soul Caliber. Later on, I got into Guilty Gear and a little bit of BlazBlue. If you’re a fan of those last two games, you’ll be interested to know that Arc System Works the developer behind them also developed Persona 4 Arena. I love the Persona franchise (as well as the other games in the Shin Megami Tensei series); it was one of the first games to really make me fall in love with role playing games on the Playstation at the time (with the help of Wild Arms and Final Fantasy VII later that year). I was a little skeptical when I read about the game and thought they were just trying to milk the franchise for all it’s worth, but after spending some time with the game I’ve come away quite impressed.

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Review: Spec Ops – The Line

Posted by Patrick

Some of you might already know that playing video games is a favorite hobby of mine and now I’ll be able to write about my thoughts on games as they get released here in Kuwait. Mark worked out a deal with the local online game rental service Digumz.com who will be providing the games for me as soon as they’re out. I’ll be reviewing a game every week or two depending on when they get released and if there aren’t any new releases I’ll probably write about an older game I find worth sharing.

This week I’ll be reviewing a fairly new release called Spec Ops: The Line, spoilers will be kept to a minimum.

[YouTube]

Spec Ops: The Line is not your ordinary war themed video game. It isn’t anything like Call of Duty, Battlefield or Medal of Honor. Spec Ops: The Line has a proper, mature script that will have you talking about the game long after you put the controller down. The gameplay is flawed and has trouble dealing with the issues that the script raises, but it’s still a lot of fun to play. Think of it this way: if Call of Duty is a Michael Bay movie, Spec Ops: The Line is Apocalypse Now (which it has been compared to). There was some controversy in our region due to the fact that the game takes place in a destructed Dubai. Personally, I don’t see what the big deal is. All major metropolises get destroyed in games and movies; how many times has New York, Los Angeles and Tokyo been demolished by either a giant monster, war or aliens? As far as I’m concerned, the fact that Dubai is destroyed in this game is a good thing. If the UAE government is concerned about the portrayal of their citizens, then they have nothing to worry about. In the game, Dubai may resemble real Dubai, but it’s not an exact replica. You’ll see skyscrapers that look like they should belong in Dubai, but you won’t see an exact copy of Burj Khalifa.

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