TIME Video Games

The Order 1886 Review: Sony’s Exclusive Blockbuster

Ready at Dawn

Ready at Dawn's latest revisits the "interactive movie" concept with mostly positive results

“When you play a game, one moment you’re just controlling it and then suddenly you feel you’re in its world,” said Nintendo luminary Shigeru Miyamoto in a recent interview, adding that playing a game is thus “something you cannot experience through film or literature.”

What to make of developer Ready at Dawn’s gloomy, Victorian, supernatural pastiche The Order: 1886 then, a game that frequently takes player control away?

On the one hand, The Order: 1886 is an interactive drama (or what we might have called an “interactive movie” back when Under a Killing Moon and Phantasmagoria were in vogue) that spends Hideo Kojima quantities of time in the driver’s seat. It’s a kind of participatory film with occasional bursts of third-person action, in other words. But are games only games when we’re manipulating the action? Is player agency the be-all, end-all? Or is there something potentially fascinating when simply watching what happens is a large part—or most—of the experience?

All I can tell you is that I generally enjoyed The Order: 1886‘s hybrid approach to whatever it is we want to call what we’re doing these days when we play/receive/experience/watch a game. In fact the more I delved into Ready at Dawn’s Arthurian legend retelling, the more I appreciated the way the studio seemed to know just the right moments to step forward and tell its story, then back away to let you maneuver through its James Bond-meets-Nikola Tesla ballistic scenarios for yourself.

Ready at Dawn

If there’s one thing The Order: 1886 does very well, it’s providing that sense of continuously inhabiting a detailed world. Call it a PlayStation 4 tech demo if you like, it’s still an achievement: the render complexity of Square Enix’s Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within finally realized in realtime, any lingering benefits of pre-rendered cutscenes extinguished in one gorgeously shaded and illuminated swoop.

Sometimes that leads to overindulgence. You can pick up items and glean vague plot-related details, for instance, but they’re window dressing (and at best worth a few PlayStation 4 trophies). The Order: 1886 isn’t an adventure game where you sleuth for clues to solve puzzles, but hefting objects for admiration’s sake alone feels like a missed opportunity. I spent a fair lot of time perusing doohickeys, papers and photographs, finding nothing gameplay-related, and wondering if I’d missed the point (or joke).

But there’s undeniably something more intimate about this sort of carefully controlled, story-emphatic, single-player approach that’s absent from freeform games: the shifting abilities (sometimes you can walk, run, climb, shoot, sometimes one at a time, sometimes all together) that ironically increased my involvement with my surroundings, and the way the studio uses the game’s slower pace to unpack the characters and plot.

Ready at Dawn

Not that Ready at Dawn’s design choices are unimpeachable. The story, however well told, feels a bit too Underworld in an era of hackneyed monster mashups. The quicktime events are as derivative and lifeless as quicktime events have ever been, and the only minor innovation–having to swing the camera around to unmask which button to push–feels like a pointless tack on.

That goes double for all the repetitive input. Game studios still haven’t figured out that asking players to jam on a button to make whatever mechanism work (like moving an elevator) is a cliched and frankly impoverished substitute for actual interactivity. If, for instance, you’re going to make sending Morse Code integral to the game, great, but if you’re just asking me to tap out a few letters on a control surface once and for novelty’s sake, then as Hume said, to the flames.

I’m also a little conflicted about the game’s gunplay. A few of the weapons are halfway interesting (in particular a monstrous thing that lets you fire combustible powder, then ignite it with a followup flare). The enemies are more than competent, and the difficulty spikes satisfyingly brutal. But there’s something a little formulaic about the way enemies appear during these sequences—like pop-ups in a carnival game, the deadlier heavies arriving only after you’ve passed a threshold, making battles less about learning to react shrewdly than pattern recognition.

Ready at Dawn

But then I also love the way low cover obscures your view during shootouts, encouraging you to seek taller cover (you can see more, standing and shooting around corners), or to find cover that’s a mix of both so you can alternate fluidly. I love that snipers won’t shoot until you pop up, that if you’re not using cover judiciously bullets can hit and knock you into the open, that shotgunners flank at close range and that you can dodge grenades.

A word about the ending, which didn’t work for me. As spoiler-free as possible, I can say it comes down to a choice, or the lack of one, and at the only point I wanted the freedom to choose. I get that Ready at Dawn needs to tell its story, that as far as its concerned the choice made is the only one possible, but boy oh boy that ending…it’s the one place where auteurism and agency feel most like matter touching antimatter, and not in an artsy or revelatory way.

Some players are going to buck Ready at Dawn’s approach no matter what I say, and by all means steer clear if “interactive drama” isn’t your thing, but I submit that’s the wrong place to raise bulwarks. The Order: 1886 has flaws enough without conflating personal taste and flawed presumptions about game design—though it’s also a promise, assuming Ready at Dawn gets the go-ahead to make a sequel, of what this sort of author-player partnership could yield, better tempered, down the road.

3.5 out of 5

Review using the PlayStation 4 version of the game.

Read next: This Museum Is Building a Video Game Hall of Fame

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TIME Tablets

Here’s How to Pick the Best Tablet For You

Apple Unveils New Versions Of Popular iPad
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images An attendee looks at the new iPad Air during an Apple announcement at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on October 22, 2013 in San Francisco, California.

What to look for—and what to avoid

Five years ago, no one knew quite what to make of the tablet. Was it the future of the laptop? Was it made for creation or consumption? And in the end, was it just a bigger version of the smartphone? For the next several years, we saw almost every device you could imagine, from a 2.8-inch micro-tablet (the Archos 28) to a 27-inch beast (the Planar Helium). A few new ideas stuck. Most flopped.

Jump ahead to 2015, and the market has largely settled. Customers seem to want one of three kinds of tablets, and the best devices almost all fit neatly into one of these categories.

In that spirit, we’ve broken down these three tablet groups, then picked a handful of products we would recommend for each. We’ll let you know what to look for—and what to avoid—depending on your preferences. Finally, we’ll highlight a few trailblazing tablets that don’t belong in any of these categories.

1. The General-Purpose Tablet

Pros: Can do a little of everything
Cons: No obvious strengths
Typical screen size: 9-11”
Typical starting price: $400-500

The most popular category for tablets, these models are jack-of-all-trade devices, designed to do a little bit of everything. Want to snap family photos? Each of these models comes with a decent camera. Need to give an off-site presentation to a client? You’re getting a nice mix of lightness and screen size. Just want to share status updates and YouTube comments? Post away.

The only problem: none of these tablets truly excel at any one thing. Products in this category tend to be just a bit too big for a purse or coat pocket, but a little too small for completing serious work.

So grab a general-purpose tablet if you plan to use it for all sorts of tasks, but consider another category if you have one or two particular uses in mind.

(Read more: Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review)

2. The Mini Tablet

Pros: Extremely portable, great for reading
Cons: Underpowered and bad at productivity
Typical screen size: 7-8.5”
Typical starting price: $200-400

The mini tablet is the ultimate travel and leisure device. Pop it in your backpack, slide it out for some poolside browsing, or place it on your nightstand for some bedtime reading. They’re so light you’ll forget you’re holding a tablet, and thin enough to squeeze in almost any nook, pocket, closet or cranny.

Better yet, they’re the cheapest tablets on the market. The iPad Mini 3 is Apple’s least expensive new tablet, while Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD 7 has a price tag under $150.

But you also get what you pay for. Miniature tablets tend to be the least powerful models, less capable of running high-end mobile games with a smooth, consistent experience. And forget about productivity. Trying to update a spreadsheet or compose a presentation on a mini tablet is frustrating and time-consuming.

Finally, consider that smartphones are getting bigger every year. Do you really need a 7-inch tablet if you plan to buy a 6-inch phone next year? The biggest phones and smallest tablets are practically becoming the same device, and you certainly don’t need both.

So consider a mini tablet if you want something leisurely and affordable, but make sure that’s all you want — or else you’ll wish you purchased something bigger and more capable.

(Read more: Hands-on with Apple’s new iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 3)

3. The Productivity Tablet

Pros: Gets work done
Cons: Expensive and bulky
Typical screen size: More than 11”
Typical starting price: $600-1,000

The answer to the mini tablet is the productivity tablet—a device built for getting work done. Typically equipped with massive screens and sold with optional accessories (ex: keyboard and stylus), tablets in this category are designed to replace your laptop.

The best customer for these tablets is the on-the-go professional. You can work up a client presentation at your desk, slide the tablet into your briefcase, then travel to an off-site presentation, all with just a couple pounds of technology in tow.

On the flip side, are these devices really good enough to replace a laptop? Sure, they might be the most productive tablets available, but most laptops still do the same tasks just a bit better, making the productivity tablet a hard sell for seasoned business people.

And then consider leisure activities. Even if you don’t plan to use your tablet for fun very often, those few moments will quickly become obnoxious as you attempt to hold up a 900-gram device through all 58 minutes of Game of Thrones.

So buy a productivity tablet if you’re serious about getting work done (and don’t need or want a laptop), but save the fun and games for another device.

Bonus: The Trail Blazers

Pros: Creative, outside-the-box
Cons: Unproven

Microsoft Surface Hub
Nvidia Shield Tablet

You might say the tablet market has matured, but Microsoft and Nvidia aren’t convinced. Microsoft’s freshly announced Surface Hub comes in two massive sizes—55- and 84-inches—an office touchscreen designed to reinvent brainstorms, conference calls and collaborative meetings. We’ve never seen anything quite like it, complete with Skype integration and stylus compatibility. The device is set for release sometime later this year.

Meanwhile, Nvidia isn’t satisfied with angry birds and crushed candy: the company’s Shield Tablet wants to bring the power of expensive, modern gaming to a tablet device. As such, the tablet comes packed with a 2.2 GHz, quad core processor—the sort of internals you’d normally expect only on a laptop. While it’ll be tough to lure PC and console gamers from their keyboards and Dualshock controllers, Nvidia is committed to the cause.

It’s entirely possible that both Microsoft’s and Nvidia’s pioneering devices will flop. But if either hits, we’ll be looking not at three, but four tablet categories in 2016.

This article originally appeared on FindTheBest.

More from FindTheBest:

TIME Reviews

This Is the Best TV You Can Buy Right Now

Sony Sony X950B Series

The Sony X900B series has the most lifelike picture of any TV on the market

This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the full article below at TheWirecutter.com

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If you’re looking for a really great, solid TV, the Sony X900B series is the one we recommend for most people, plus it has near universal praise from the top reviewers. It has a colorful, rich, vibrant image that is lauded by experts from across the web. It has the most lifelike picture of any TV on the market, and has few (if any) real issues.

It is, however, very expensive: $2,800 for a 55-inch television. So if you don’t absolutely need the best picture quality available today, we have a cheaper recommendation too.

Who should get this TV?

Someone looking for the best picture quality currently available without spending even more per-screen-inch on an OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) TV.

If you just want a good-looking TV, one that doesn’t have quite the X900B’s contrast, brightness, or resolution, check out our pick for Best $500 TV.

If you’re looking for something bigger, consider a projector in $500, $1,000, or $2,500 “Awesome” forms. These will give you a great and significantly larger image than any TV.

Our pick

The Sony X900B starts at about $2,800 for the 55” version. It has an incredibly dark black level compared to the rest of the competition, creating a powerfully contrasty image. It’s less like you’re watching a TV, and more just a movie floating in your room. The colors are lifelike and accurate. While there are many great TVs on the market this year, in review after review, the X900B edges out the others (often by just not doing anything wrong).

It also has great sound quality thanks to a rather large, built-in speaker array. Think of it as having a halfway-decent soundbar built into the TV. Those without an existing setup will appreciate the fact that it actually sounds good, but if you already have a sound system, it’s just an unnecessary added expense that takes up extra space.

David Katzmaier, from CNET, gave the X900B 3.5/5 stars, including a score of 9/10 for performance (though only 5/10 for value). In his review, he says “the Sony XBR-X900B series provides the best picture quality of any 4K TV we’ve tested so far, competing well against the better plasmas.”

Who else likes it? Robert Heron reviewed the X900B for HDGuru.com, concluding, “as a product that delivers an audio and visual experience with 4K, HD, and streaming sources, I cannot think of another LCD television that has impressed my ears and eyes more than the Sony XBR-X900B series.”

The X900B comes in 55- ($2,800), 65- ($3,800), and massive 79-inch models ($8,000).

Flaws but not dealbreakers

Those ears, man. Those ears. Each side of the X900B’s screen features big speakers. They’re incorporated well, but make the TV much bigger than it needs to be, and are rather useless for anyone adding a soundbar or surround sound system (which we always recommend). You’re not paying extra for the speakers (at least not any meaningful amount), so it’s really just the aesthetics that are the issue.

The X900B is also on the expensive side. With the demise of plasma, the sweet, sweet low-priced, high-performing television is gone. LCDs that were close to plasma’s picture quality were always much more expensive. They needed features like local dimming and high refresh rates to compete with plasma’s inherent strengths. So the next step down, into what we’ll call the “mid-range” of LCDs on the market (say, $1,000-$1,500 for a 60-inch), is a big step down in price, and a fairly sizeable step in picture quality.

A Budget Pick

If the X900B is out of your price range, check out the Vizio M-series ($1,150 for a 60-inch). It’s not perfect, but there’s no single standout for the “best” mid-range LCD. The M-series offers very good picture quality, a little better than its competitors, and is a great price for its size.

There are two main issues with the M-series. The first is its motion resolution, which means objects that move onscreen, like a car driving from the left of the screen to the right, will blur more than a stationary background. And Consumer Reports says the motion blur reduction feature “also activates the smooth-motion effect that gives movies a “video-like appearance.”

That “smooth-motion effect” is also called the Soap Opera Effect (SOE), which many (including me) can’t stand. It makes everything look like an ultra-smooth soap opera. This is often the tradeoff with LCDs: poor motion resolution, or SOE. Some higher-end TVs have additional settings that reduce motion blur but don’t cause SOE, but the M-series doesn’t have those. Sports and gaming won’t look weird with SOE enabled, but movies and TV shows will. If you’re bothered by motion blurring, and you hate SOE, but don’t want a plasma (which don’t have this issue), consider the Samsung H6350.

The other issue with the M-series is that it’s only a little better-looking than Vizio’s less expensive E-series. CNET thinks “[the] picture is not significantly better than less-expensive E-Series.” They rate the two the same, Consumer Reports gives one extra tick to the M-series. So if you want to save a little money, the E-series is about 30% cheaper for only slightly worse picture quality. The consensus is the M-series does look a little better, though.

If money is no object…

OLED technology has been on the cusp of a breakthrough for many, many years. OLED’s biggest improvement over plasma and LCD is an even better contrast ratio, which is the most important part of a TV’s picture quality. The contrast ratio on OLED is effectively infinite. The image is better—it’s more lifelike and “window-to-another-world” than you’ve ever seen on any TV technology.

At an MSRP of $3,500, this year’s OLED, the LG 55EC9300, is significantly cheaper than last year’s, which was $15,000 when first available (that model is now on clearance at $3,200).

CNET’s David Katzmaier is effusive in his praise of the new TV, saying in his review that it has “the best picture quality” of any TV he’s reviewed, with “perfect” black levels, and “exceedingly bright whites.”

Our take on 4K TV Ultra High Definition TVs

Yes, our pick is a 4K TV, but we didn’t pick it for that reason—it’s a beautiful TV, that just happens to also be 4K. Resolution, in itself, isn’t a reason to upgrade your TV; it’s just one aspect of picture quality. The best 4K TVs do look good, but that’s because they also have all the best technologies their manufacturers can put in them (local dimming, etc). Cheap 4K TVs only have resolution going for them, so you’re getting a mediocre TV. Or to put it another way, you’re getting a Kia with Pirelli P-Zeros on it. It’s still a Kia. Wouldn’t you rather a Porsche for a little more money?

Further, the claims about an increase in picture quality due to the increase in resolution are somewhat dubious as well. Your eye can’t resolve the increased resolution in anything but very large screen sizes. Wirecutter contributor Chris Heinonen has an excellent 4K calculator to determine if you’ll get any benefit going with a higher-than-HD resolution display. Basically, if you’re sitting where most people are (9 or 10 feet from your TV), then you’ll need way more than 70-inch TVs before you even start to see a difference.

For a 50-to-60-inch TV, 4K is just going to be a waste of money, unless you’re sitting really, really close. If you want to dive into the science behind it, check out my articles over at CNET.

Wrapping it up

If you’re looking for the best TV, I recommend the Sony X900B in 55-, 65-, and 79-inch sizes. It has the best picture available right now. Too expensive? Check out Vizio’s M-series.

This guide may have been updated. To see the current recommendation please go to The Wirecutter.com

TIME movies

Oscars 2015 Best Picture Nominees: Read the Original Reviews

From 'American Sniper' to 'Whiplash' and everything in between

This year’s Oscars nominations were announced Thursday morning and, despite a few snubs and surprises, the Best Picture nominees were mostly the usual batch of well-received prestige pics—though they also received reviews that weren’t always 100% positive. TIME’s critic Richard Corliss reviewed each of the nominees as they were released, and here’s what he had to say:

American Sniper, reviewed Dec. 31, 2014: “It’s a gritty, confident portrait of a man whose life may have been somewhat messier than this Hollywood version.”

Read the full review here

Birdman, reviewed Oct. 27, 2014: “This isn’t truly a one-take movie, like Alexander Sokurov’s enthralling Russian Ark–here, scenes lasting 10 minutes or more are edited together with invisible transitions–but Birdman is still a unique technical accomplishment. Shot in 30 days, with the actors’ and the camera’s movements calibrated to the inch and the millisecond so that the action flows smoothly, the picture has the jagged energy of a sustained guerrilla raid choreographed by Bob Fosse. It’s a precision ballet whose most impressive effect is that it plays out like real theatrical life.”

Read the full review here

Boyhood, reviewed July 10, 2014: “A home movie of a fictional home life, an epic assembled from vignettes, Boyhood shimmers with unforced reality. It shows how an ordinary life can be reflected in an extraordinary movie.”

Read the full review here

The Grand Budapest Hotel, reviewed Mar. 10, 2014: “A dizzyingly complex machine whose workings are a delight to behold, the movie has a wry smile for frailties, a watchful eye for tyranny and a heart that — under the circumstances of this dark, fanciful tale — must be called heroic.”

Read the full review here

The Imitation Game, reviewed Dec. 1, 2014: “Alan Turing in The Imitation Game may be [Benedict Cumberbatch’s] oddest, fullest, most Cumberbatchian character yet. The Cambridge genius who fathered the modern computer, known as the Turing machine–and who presciently asked, “What if only a machine could defeat another machine?”–seems part machine himself.”

Read the full review here

Selma, reviewed in Jan. 19, 2015, issue of TIME: “This is a film set not on great lawns but mostly in back rooms, where a forceful whisper can have more effect than a pulpit homily. Oyelowo gives a warm, acute performance and lends King a presence that makes everyone from his wife Coretta (Carmen Ejogo) to LBJ feel the power of his argument, the singe of his soul.”

Read the full review here

The Theory of Everything, reviewed Nov. 17, 2014: “For a movie about the author of A Brief History of Time, this is a doggedly chronological retelling of Stephen and Jane’s 30-year marriage. Theory finds its saving nuances in the story of a vigorous young man transformed by disease into his wife’s invalid child.”

Read the full review here

Whiplash, reviewed Oct. 9, 2014: “A hit at Sundance and the Toronto Film Festival, where it was nicknamed Full Metal Drum Kit, Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash adds welcome flavor to the fall movie season, like Raisinettes sprinkled on a tub of popcorn. Directing with a cool, steady hand that renounces shaky-cam the way Fletcher would denounce rock ‘n roll, and getting strong performances from his two leads, Chazelle provides a potent metaphor for artistic ambition as both a religion and an addiction.”

Read the full review here

See the full list of 2015 Oscars nominees

TIME Tablets

This Is the Best Tablet You Can Buy Right Now

Apple Unveils New iPad Models
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images An attendee inspects new iPad Air 2 during an Apple special event on October 16, 2014 in Cupertino, California.

It's Apple's iPad Air 2. Here's why.

This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the full article below at TheWirecutter.com

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The new iPad Air 2 is the best overall tablet for most people. Apple’s new iPads are always better than last year’s, and the things that have made all the iPads strong tablets — like unbeatable app choices — are still present in this generation of the tablet. But with the latest update, the iPad Air 2 is thinner, lighter, and faster than the previous version, plus it gained fingerprint identification features, making it an even better user experience. And right now, the iPad (and iOS ecosystem) still offer the best overall customer experience when compared against Android.

Who Should Buy This?

If you bought the 2013 Air and are a heavy user and content-creator, the faster processor and expanded RAM of the iPad Air 2 will help with performance. If you bought the Air and use it for email, web browsing, and lighter tasks, you can hold off. If you have the original iPad Mini, then the Air 2 will be barely larger, but much faster with better Wi-Fi and Apple’s fingerprint authentication feature, TouchID.


Why we like this above all else

The 2014 update has hardware that makes it faster, thinner, and more versatile than last year’s model or the new iPad mini 3. The iPad Air now has fingerprint authentication, and is thin and light enough to hold one-handed as you would a paperback. It has the best selection of tablet-dedicated apps thanks to iOS. If you’re not particularly into Android or tinkering with your setup, there isn’t a better choice.

Why the iPad Air 2 over the updated iPad mini 3? The iPad Air 2 has a higher-quality camera that can do panoramas and burst mode, and it has the 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard which allows for faster file transfers and improved range. The iPad mini 3 did not receive the faster processor that was added to the iPad Air 2. For $100 more, you get a lot more features, faster overall performance, and a larger, nicer screen with the Air 2.

But what about other, non-Apple tablets? For service and support, it’s difficult to beat Apple today. Their Apple Stores and Genius Bars are equipped to handle almost all tablet repairs on the same day. Our own experiences with the Genius Bar have seen my iPhone screen and a MacBook Air battery replaced within 30 minutes. Other companies might have as long a warranty, but they cannot do the instant turnaround that Apple can.

Most importantly, though, is Apple’s iOS ecosystem. Though the Android (Google Play) ecosystem is catching up, Apple continues to offer the largest selection of high-quality, dedicated tablet apps. While the selection of tablet-designed apps is constantly growing, that ecosystem and extremely clean user experience is still behind what iOS offers to its users.

Flaws (but not dealbreakers)

The iPad Air 2 is more expensive than its closest competition. The closest non-iPad competition is probably the $400 16GB Nexus 9. The iPad Air 2 starts at $500 for the Wi-Fi 16GB version, but 16GB is barely enough for most people and makes installing updates harder down the road, so you should probably get the the 64GB version at $600. Siri is still not as good as some Android voice control systems, and Google Now (which gives you an overview of your day and things you care about) is great if you use Android. But these are just nits to pick.

In Closing

The iPad Air 2 is the best tablet because choosing it means you’re not compromising on anything. The hardware is fast, thin, and light, it has a great, upgraded camera with useful video capabilities, TouchID, and the best tablet software ecosystem on the market today.

This guide may have been updated. To see the current recommendation please go to The Wirecutter.com

MONEY Amazon

Amazon Launches a New Service to Take On Yelp and Angie’s List

handyman in moody lighting
Monty Rakusen—Getty Images/Cultura

The retail giant's latest product aims to match shoppers with service professionals.

Amazon has launched a new service to connect consumers with handymen, installation technicians, and other professionals.

The new product, called Amazon Services, was originally reported on by Reuters in June, but appears to have only recently made its public debut.

Services works by monitoring certain search terms, such as “Television,” and then prompting users to shop for “a top rated technician” using a Services interface that looks a lot what you see when shopping for any Amazon product. Customers can then pick from a range of TV installation businesses, add a particular business’s service to their cart, and checkout as normal.

According to Amazon’s website, businesses wishing to participate in Services must pay for a background check, and give the online retailer a cut of all services sold. Amazon gets 20% of services priced more than $1,000, and 15% of any less expensive offerings. A monthly subscription fee will also be introduced, but is being waived by Amazon until July of 2015.

All services sold through the site are backed by Amazon’s “Happiness Guarantee,” which promises a full refund if customers are unsatisfied with their purchase.

While Services appears to be currently limited to installations, the Wall Street Journal reports that Amazon hopes to expand their product to cover fitness instructors, music teachers, and a wide variety of other service providers.

Following initial reports on Amazon Services, there was speculation as to whether Services would hurt existing review platforms like Yelp and Angie’s List. In the latter case, the unveiling of Amazon’s product could not have come at a worse time. Angie’s List stock has lost over 30% of its value since late October, following a slowdown in paid memberships and missed profit expectations. As of press time, shares of Angie’s List were down 5% for the day.

In Yelp’s case, however, Amazon Services may have chosen to co-exist rather than compete. Amazon includes Yelp reviews of all services offered through the site, in addition to reviews by Amazon users.

This integration could give Yelp a boost in its ongoing battle with Angie’s List, especially in the services sector, where many industry watchers consider Yelp to be weaker. Of course, Amazon could opt to remove Yelp reviews once it builds a sufficiently large review archive of its own.

Services is currently operating in 15 cities across nine states. According to Reuters, the company plans to gradually expand the program as it measures demand and tests logistics; a strategy similar to how the company launched its grocery delivery service, Amazon Fresh.

The review platform is just the latest instance of Amazon taking on a new market. In the last year, the company has entered the mobile industry with the Amazon Fire smartphone, challenged Square with its own credit card reader, taken on Roko and Google with the Amazon Fire TV Stick, and released Alexa, a voice-based digital assistant and clear competitor to Apple’s Siri.

On Tuesday, Skift reported that Amazon plans to announce a travel service that would compete with Expedia. Amazon did respond to Skift’s request for comment. Amazon has now debunked the report (“We have no intent to launch a travel site,” an Amazon spokesperson told MONEY), but the rumor’s pervasiveness shows how the company’s willingness to go after new markets has infiltrated the public consciousness.

This article has been updated with a statement from Amazon.

 

TIME Video Games

Far Cry 4 Review: The Best Far Cry Yet

Ubisoft

Ubisoft's latest offers gorgeous Himalayan views, immaculately well-balanced gameplay and cathartic pandemonium

This is how crazy Far Cry 4 can get: I’m droning just above the treetops in a ramshackle gyrocopter, scouting for macaques, when I spy a trio of the pale-furred primates loping near the edge of a precipice. I descend slowly through stands of firs, my rotors audibly clipping branches, preparing to leap out, when I hear the telltale tattoo of machine guns talking—the country’s militia trading gunfire with insurgents.

Bullets suddenly smack into my body, thump-thump-thump. My vision narrows. I jab a greenish syringe into my arm and bail out of the copter—still hovering at the lip of the cliff—spreading my arms and legs and arcing in a wingsuit toward the terrain below like a fired missile. With seconds to land, I deploy my parachute and tumble into more trees, rocks, snarled undergrowth…and the sights of one pissed honey badger, which growls like it definitely cares, then leaps at me, cobra-like, to eat my face off.

Surviving Far Cry 4 often feels like that, abrupt and slightly mad and sequentially unhinged. It’s you in a jam band, an improvisatory celebration of net-less oneupmanship (versus your own best performances) as you vector from mission to mission. The experience is somewhat like being a pinball, lured off course by too-cool-to-ignore distractions, bounding into bedlam with the fleet-footedness of a huntsman by way of an exuberant toddler.

MORE: Sweden Considers Special Labels for Sexist Video Games

And lo, what distractions in this brave new world of drivable elephants, scalable summits, sartorial safaris and literal B-movie stunt quests. As named, the Far Cry games are about hurling you into slight caricatures of otherworldly milieus full of both serious and utterly frivolous things to do. The first and third entries in the series were staged in sultry equatorial spaces (the former eventually turning full-on Island of Dr. Moreau), while the second channeled Kurtzian jungles and savannah through a lens Anton Chigurah. Think part first-person shooter, part Lonely Planet, part Tarantino abattoir.

Far Cry 4 sculpts its vamp on that equation out of Nepalese remoteness and Himalayan verticality, and the results are predictably head-turning. Look out from any point in Kyrat, Ubisoft’s fictional Nepal, and you’ll note the sunlight glinting naturally off ornate bronze prayer wheels, throngs of thousand-leafed autumnal trees and undulating highways of calligraphic prayer flags fluttering in the wind.

Look further and you’ll spy plumes of distant smoke drifting stratospherically, blinking radio towers on miles-away hilltops and the intricately scalloped terraces of far-flung vertical farms. Then look up to where the horizon line should be to find the Himalayas towering like upthrust fangs, each snowy crag or escarpment crisply articulated, every draped and drifting cloud bank ethereal. There’s a sense of visual continuity here that seems only matched, in hindsight, in Bethesda’s 2011 hit Skyrim.

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Set the game’s new look aside, and you could argue Far Cry 4 hasn’t changed much since players strained to salvage Jason Brody’s Pacific vacation. Kyrati-American Ajay Ghale wages a parallel, accidental campaign against a maniacal (but endlessly amusing) despot. He’s returned to scatter his mother’s ashes but then, whoops, he’s wrestling tigers, scaling mountains and squaring off with a megalomaniacal fashionista! But that’s an oversimplification. This is both the game Far Cry 3 was and wasn’t.

Ubisoft

You still play a stereotypically displaced Westerner (Kyrati-American or no) in a freely explorable danger-scape, leveling up superhuman abilities and weapons as you fight to liberate thug-filled outposts. And you still do so by glassing enemies with binoculars, mulling over different attack approaches, hypothesizing ideal takedown scenarios and tripping auxiliary triggers like freeing lethal animals in cages, or lobbing “bait” to summon others.

Those animals still haunt regions of the world map, and you still hunt them to craft upgrades that pad out your ability to schlep stuff. And overlying that, you’ll still have to scale and sabotage nearly two dozen towers (here broadcasting propaganda) to de-fog swathes of the map and spotlight new activities. These are what Ubisoft’s taken to calling “pillars” in its primary franchises, and you’re either into the idea or not.

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But Far Cry 4 also builds gainfully on what Ubisoft’s learned about crafting freeform microcosms. Take your guides through the game’s main story: two parental sides of a Kyrati rebel force (after Nepal’s maoist insurgency) calling itself The Golden Path. The friction between their prosecutorial styles unlocks unique missions and rival story paths, some of which culminate in extremely discomfiting moments as you’re dressed down by the game’s incisive writers and get-under-your-skin voice actors, the strategist you shunned arguing the other’s illogic witheringly. As usual, there are no right or wrong choices here, only more or less relatable ones.

Ubisoft

The rest comes down to well-executed fan service. You can zip to almost anywhere now in the handy gyrocopter, or survive impossible falls and cobble together breathtaking impromptu maneuvers with the wingsuit. The new “hunter” class enemy basically has thousand-yard x-ray vision, can nail you from as far off and, in a bit of inspired insidiousness, turns animals against you. All of this adds delightful emergent wrinkles to combat scrums.

The most difficult outposts are now called fortresses, and they’re so brutally and brilliantly difficult the game actually recommends performing other tasks to “weaken” them before you muster and assault (but you’re always welcome to try sooner). Vehicles now have an auto-drive feature that turns control over to the A.I. so you can focus on shooting, solving an ages-old problem. (Expect this one to be emulated in other games.) And cooperative play now happens in the main world, not adjunct to it, so while friends can’t co-play story missions, they can drop in or out at will to tackle anything else in your version of Kyrat, or vice versa.

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That the war’s progress still comes to a standstill as you gallivant around the countryside is no more a problem here than any of the game’s other non sequiturs: hundreds of loot chests that lie in the open waiting just for you; that you groan with disgust as you gut animals but make not a sound when head-popping thousands of enemy soldiers; your ability to wield non-metaphorical superpowers for goodness sake; and the idea that everyone else prattles on while you say almost nothing. (Though, it’s perhaps the better compromise if you’re not a manic quipster.) You could pretentiously call any of that ludonarrative dissonance, or just settle for “game design circa 2014.”

Ubisoft

But my favorite parts of Far Cry 4 lie in its quieter, unscripted moments, ones where I’d notice an inconspicuous grapple point glinting at me from high above, only to climb thousands of feet and find myself swinging between precarious protrusions toward terra incognita, inching up or down my grapple rope and angling to land just so on a silver of ledge-space.

There’s another kind of game that lives inside Far Cry 4, one that’s not about the hails of bullets or checking off victory points or slicing open a stockade’s worth of wildlife. You can play that game for hours here if you like, exploring Ubisoft’s Kyrat in trancelike quietude, but the gameplay rewards are marginal–exploration for its own sake has to suffice. How much longer before someone offers a viably nonviolent parallel path through one of these games? One that involves playing not as the guns-a-blazin’ savior, but a character more like the war correspondent in David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks—the person whose perilous job it is to chronicle the war instead of waging it, and perhaps bring a sense of accountability to the chaos and madness.

5 out of 5

Reviewed using the PlayStation 4 version of the game.

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TIME Reviews

This Is the Best Cheap Wi-Fi Router You Can Buy

TP-Link TP-Link TL-WDR3600

The TP-Link TL-WDR3600 is your best low-budget option.

This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the original full article below at TheWirecutter.com.

If I wanted the cheapest good Wi-Fi router I could get, I would buy the TP-Link TL-WDR3600. It’s a wireless-N router that costs $60 but outperforms some routers that cost twice as much. It took more than 150 hours of research and testing to find our pick. Of the 29 routers we looked at and the seven we tested, the TL-WDR3600 had the best performance for the lowest price.

Our Pick

The TP-Link TL-WDR3600 is a dual-band, two-stream router that’s faster, more consistent, and has better range than other routers near its price range. Unlike many cheap routers, it supports both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, and it has Gigabit Ethernet ports and two USB 2.0 ports for sharing printers and storage with your network. It’s a great upgrade from your ISP-provided router, and it supports a connection type that’s six times as fast as wireless-g (the previous standard found in routers from 2007 or earlier).

Since the TL-WDR3600 is a wireless-N router, wireless-AC devices won’t be as fast as they could be on a wireless-AC router. We don’t think that’s a dealbreaker yet. Wireless-AC only started showing up in high-end laptops, smartphones, and tablets in 2013. Wireless-N devices are still much more common. Wireless-AC devices work just fine with a wireless-N router, though. In our tests, the TL-WDR3600 even outperformed some more expensive wireless-AC routers at long range.

The TL-WDR3600 is easy to set up, but beyond that its user interface is complex and unintuitive. This is a common problem with TP-Link routers, but we think this router’s performance and low price make it worth the hassle. At this price, performance is more important than an interface with which you’ll rarely have to deal. And if you can manage the interface, you’ll find features common in more expensive routers, like parental controls, guest networks, and a DLNA server for streaming media.

 

Other Options

If the TL-WDR3600 is not available, consider the Edimax BR-6478AC ($70). It’s a dual-band, dual-stream wireless-AC router with an interface that’s much easier to use than the TP-Link’s (which solves our two biggest complaints about our main pick). Unfortunately, its range isn’t quite as good as the TP-Link’s. If you have wireless-AC devices and spend a lot of time on high-bandwidth tasks — like backing up your entire laptop to a network drive — you’ll want the Edimax’s speed. If you just surf the Web a lot, you’ll want the TP-Link’s extra range—wireless-AC speeds don’t really matter unless you have a very fast Internet connection to begin with.

If you can afford to spend $100 on a router, get the TP-Link Archer C7, our favorite router. It has the same complex, unintuitive interface as the TL-WDR3600, but it supports three-stream wireless-AC devices and its speed and range are incredible. It’s more than twice as fast as the TL-WDR3600 and the Edimax on most of our tests, and it’s even faster than some $200 routers. Just make sure you’re getting the v2 version.

In closing

For the devices you’re most likely to own, TP-Link’s inexpensive TL-WDR3600 delivers great performance at the longest distances. It’s the best cheap router for most people. If you have lots of wireless-AC devices but are still on a budget, check out Edimax’s $70 BR-6478AC. Neither router is as good as our favorite router, the $100 TP-Link Archer C7 v2, but you’ll pay more for the extra performance.

This guide may have been updated. To see the current recommendation, please go to The Wirecutter.com.

TIME Video Games

Dragon Age Inquisition Review: This Is the One You’ve Been Waiting For

Bioware / EA

BioWare's latest RPG is a grand romp through a breath-taking fantasy setting. And it features some of the most interesting characters we've yet seen in a Dragon Age title

Scouting the rain-hammered shoreline of a coastal region in Dragon Age: Inquisition, one of my companions spies a giant with tusks thick as logs trading blows with a dragon. “Badass,” he says, chuckling. And I stop to watch, because it is badass, like so much else in this alien otherworld: the sun flaring like a UFO in a forest of trees tall as redwoods; skies that look by turns cerulean or bloomy or haunted or storm-wracked; phantasmagoric landscapes with deranged rock cities and archetypal motifs out of a Jungian nightmare; dragons spitting fireballs like meteors.

Which is strange, because you could argue the Dragon Age games up to now have been the opposite of impressive, with pedestrian visuals, anticlimactic battles, fiddly interfaces and narrative non sequiturs. Theirs were societies saved not by long-slogging armies or international diplomacy, but scrappy squads of godlike activists.

Bioware’s best known for the latter, devotedly tilling ground popularized by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson in the 1970s. The Canadian studio’s second game in the late 1990s was a licensed Dungeons & Dragons homage, which begat a minor renaissance in computerized D&D-play. But the studio slaved itself to that system’s ideas, and when Dragon Age: Origins arrived over a decade later, we were still, in essence, replaying Baldur’s Gate: a choose-your-own-adventure bricked together by peripatetic exploration, reductive arithmetic and relentless conflict resolution.

Bioware / EA

Dragon Age: Inquisition, the latest installment for game consoles and Windows, isn’t a seas-parting rethink–it’s invested in the same basic ideas about roleplaying as its predecessors. But here it employs them on a scale we haven’t seen since a meme about career-ending missiles graced one of the most popular shows on TV.

This, finally, is Bioware world-building with the mythic sweep of a Peter Jackson or Todd Howard, cultivating a sleek, reimagined, wildly blown up rendition of writer David Gaider’s fantasy preserve that feels at once grander and more holistic, a world whose craftsmanship you can admire and at points obsess over and occasionally even gawp at. If Dragon Age II was a weird, turtling retreat to button-mashy, bam-pow brawls in a village-sized city patched together from generic, recycled components, Dragon Age: Inquisition feels like the yang to its yin. On an epic scale.

Some may worry, hearing the setup, that it borrows too much from Bethesda’s Oblivion. As in that game, breaches in space-time have appeared around the world from which demons pour forth. Your job, as the amnesiac leader of a group that calls itself an “inquisition” but behaves more like a magnanimous oligarchy, is to go around sealing the holes and righting wrongs.

But The Elder Scrolls games take fewer risks, and though the writing isn’t appreciably better here, Inquisition engages edgier concerns: religious belief (or lack thereof), same-sex relationships, the psychological horrors of war, racial bigotry and economic classism to name a few. Yes, you’re still obliged to de-villain caves and dungeons, and there’s still too much errand-running, but you’ll also get to wrestle weightier subject matter. So for instance: the fractious relationship between a father and, in the series’ first treatment of an openly gay character, his son. If the writing in the end hews nearer Tolkien than Peake when it’s trying to subvert cliché, at least it’s trying.

Bioware / EA

For all its Game of Thrones flavoring, you’re either fighting stuff or getting ready to fight stuff between Inquisition‘s story beats, and combat hasn’t been a series strong point. Dragon Age: Origins, the first game, saddled an already fiddly battle system with a laborious interface, while Dragon Age II dispensed with tactical nuance and went for mediocre leap-and-dodge combat instead.

Stumble into a clutch of bad guys in Inquisition, by contrast, and yes, you can still hammer buttons to conjure ability flourishes or batter opponents, but you’ll get better results if you pace yourself in the rejiggered tactical view. Tap a button and the game freezes, letting you glide over the battlefield like a steadicam operator, inspecting friend or foe at leisure, finessing melee or distance attacks and coordinating flanking maneuvers. Once you’ve finished, you can hold another button to roll the clock forward or shift back to real-time mode. It’s a remarkably elegant system that’s both lively and nuanced, scalable complexity on a gamepad that works.

Eventually the game you thought you were playing–the one where you pingpong from quest to quest and battle to battle–becomes a game within a game, as you’re asked to deploy allies to complete timed missions to gain power or influence, which you then spend at a home base “war table,” unlocking new areas or increasing the rank of the inquisition or selecting perks with effects that ripple through the other gameplay systems. Without spoiling plot points, I can say that what starts as a thing about making do with what’s at hand eventually becomes a thing about building bigger and better. Home improvement in a game is nothing new, but it’s handled competently here, and has its own satisfying wrinkles.

Bioware / EA

A few problems remain: Why can you “rest” and refresh your party just a few yards from attacking enemies? Why place lengthy background text on ephemeral loading screens that vanish after a few seconds? Why can’t I follow more precisely the impact of my dialogue choices? Why are folks still leaving treasure-filled chests in the middle of nowhere? Must so many quests still depend on the quest-givers being fundamentally lazy? And why, in a story about an inter-dimensional apocalypse, would anyone ask a bunch of super-beings to slaughter a dozen rams to load up on ram meat?

Dragon Age: Inquisition didn’t work for me at first, but then I realized I’d been playing it too much like Dragon Age II, mashing through battles and racing between to-dos and ignoring the filler because why would Bioware know anything about riveting world design? Then I slowed down, and in slowing down discovered how wrong I’d been–how much more the design team managed to fill this iteration with. Sometimes gaming’s as much about the caught-you-off-guard zen moments as the lunatic action ones, and sometimes the workmanship’s enough.

4.5 out of 5

Reviewed using the PlayStation 4 version of the game.

TIME Google

Google’s Amazing New Email App Is Missing This 1 Feature

It doesn't yet work with Google for Work

Learning how to use Inbox, Google’s new algorithm-based email app, is like learning how to drive stick: It’s intimidating at first, but once you get the hang of it, it’s hard to imagine going back.

I’ve been using Inbox for about a week now as my only means of checking my personal Gmail account, and what I like most is that it treats your email as what email has essentially become: a to-do list. Instead of marking messages as “read,” Inbox lets you cross off items once you’ve accomplished whatever task was asked of you in them:, be it paying a bill, calling your mom, RSVPing for an event. Building an entire email app around that basic concept is not only wise, it also hints at the future of your inbox in a pretty profound way.

Probably my favorite smaller feature is Inbox’s habit of pulling relevant information out of your email and getting it right in your inbox’s home screen. This is particularly handy for things like purchases and flights, where you’ll see data like tracking numbers, expected delivery dates and departure times without even having to open the related email. It’s a similar concept to Google Now, a Google app designed to predict and display information you’ll want at a given point in space and time without you ever having to request it, thanks to an intimate knowledge of your search history and other data.

Inbox also nicely sorts your messages into categories like “Finance,” (read: bills) “Purchases” (receipts) and “Low-Priority” (newsletters). Low-Priority reminds me of another service I’ve used and loved for a few months, Unroll.Me, which takes all the newsletters and daily deal emails that have a nasty habit of languishing in your inbox and collects them into an easy-to-consume daily digest. So far, I’ve been using Unroll.Me in tandem with Inbox, but Inbox is good enough that I might turn Unroll.Me off completely.

What’s wrong with Inbox? Well, for starters, it’s a little hard to learn, mostly because it looks so different than other email software you’ve used before. But really the one thing holding Inbox back is that it doesn’t yet work with Google for Work apps—meaning, if your office is Gmail-based, you can’t use Inbox for your work email yet. That’s a shame, because most of my personal email isn’t actionable, whereas the vast majority of my work email is. Google is considering expanding Inbox to play ball with Google for Work, but a company spokesperson wasn’t able to shed light on when that might happen.

Google Inbox is currently available only by invite on desktop, iOS and Android. It works nicely on both desktop and mobile, but it really shines on phones. Learn more and request your invitation here. Invites were scarce at first, but the word on the street is Google’s been sending more as Inbox interest builds. Google doesn’t have a timeline for when Inbox will go fully public.

 

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