TIME Windows Phone

30 Days with Windows Phone 8.1

Microsoft

Microsoft's latest smartphone software makes some big improvements to keep pace with iOS and Android. Is Windows Phone worth another look?

When Microsoft announced Windows Phone 8.1 a couple months ago, it seemed to have finally caught up to iOS and Android in many meaningful ways.

I’ve had bad experiences with Windows Phone in the past, but I wanted to give Microsoft’s underdog platform another shot. So in mid-May, I asked the company to loan me a Nokia Lumia 1520, and installed the Windows Phone 8.1 Developer Preview when the handset arrived. Over the next month, I used it as my primary phone, with my own AT&T SIM card.

For me, Windows Phone 8.1 has been a mix of delight and frustration. I can finally see the appeal of using Windows Phone, but spending some quality time with the platform also revealed major cracks in an otherwise solid foundation. Here’s what I liked and disliked about Windows Phone after living with it for a month:

Start Is Still the Best Part

After using Windows Phone for a while, I’m convinced that Microsoft has come up with the best app launcher, even if it takes some adjustment coming from iOS and Android. The Start screen, as Microsoft calls it, lets you set up your favorite apps–or “Live Tiles”–in a vertical stack. You have a choice of three sizes for each tile, and the larger each one gets, the more information it can show you directly on the Start screen. At a glance, I can see the day’s forecast, recent social networking updates from a group of friends and the latest Techmeme headlines.

Of course, Android has a similar system with widgets, but they aren’t as neat and orderly as Windows Phone’s tiles. You also have to spread them across multiple screens, instead of having one compact, flowing list, so it’s more of a chore to see what’s happening. With Android, you’re more likely to forget what you’ve put on those far-flung screens. I’ve said this before, but the Windows Phone’s Start screen is fun. It’s begging you to check out this or that diversion, which is perfect when you’re killing a few idle minutes.

Nice Touches Are Everywhere

This is a tricky thing to quantify, but Windows Phone has a lot of little clever designs to help users feel at home. Some of it’s cosmetic, like the way everything scrolls smoothly, and how the screen seems to squish together as you scroll past the edge of a page. But there are also little breadcrumbs that make Windows Phone easier to use.

For example, in most apps you’ll see a few action icons at the bottom of the screen, along with a “…” button next to them. Pressing that button may bring up more options, but it also slides the other buttons upward and shows some text to describe what they do. This prevents you from resorting to trial-and-error as you figure out how to use an app.

Also, I like how Internet Explorer puts the address bar at the bottom, making it easier to reach with a large phone like the Lumia 1520. And the new gesture keyboard is one of the best I’ve ever used, as it builds on Microsoft’s responsive, clutter-free touch keyboard. Things like these don’t show up on a spec sheet or feature list, but they show how Microsoft has really thought things through.

Notifications Need a Lot of Work

The Start screen is no replacement for a proper notification center, so I was happy that Microsoft finally added “Action Center” in Windows Phone 8.1. Similar to the notification bars on iOS and Android, Action Center is a condensed list of all incoming messages, e-mails and alerts, which you can swipe down from the top of the screen. You can also toggle a handful of quick settings from this menu, such as rotation lock and airplane mode.

As a high-level way to see what you’ve missed, Action Center is a fine start, but it has one huge problem: When you tap on a notification, many apps don’t actually take you to the thing they’re notifying you about. For example, if you tap on a Twitter alert, it only takes you into the main screen of the Twitter app, not to the actual message. I suspect this is a matter of developers programming their apps to handle notifications properly, given that Microsoft’s Mail app handles notifications just fine. But because Windows Phone has weak developer support (more on that later), I’m not holding my breath for widespread improvements.

Microsoft also has another notification problem: Just as it’s finished playing catch up with Action Center, it’s falling behind again on actionable notifications. With Android, for instance, you can delete e-mails, reply to messages or “favorite” a tweet straight from the notification bar, and Apple will add similar capabilities in iOS 8. Microsoft’s notification system is lifeless by comparison, and that could become a big disadvantage if notifications become a key aspect of wearable tech.

Apps Are an Annoyance

A common argument from Windows Phone fans is that the app gap has closed considerably over the last couple years, and that most users don’t need a ton of apps anyway. While it’s true that you can get by with Windows Phone’s app selection, you’ll probably still have some headaches when the app you want doesn’t exist on Windows Phone, or isn’t as well-supported compared to iOS and Android. Here are some of my app issues:

  • We at TIME use HipChat to communicate during the day. There’s no Windows Phone version, so I have to use the desktop-optimized website, which doesn’t work well.
  • I would have liked to use Uber or Lyft for transportation while I was in Los Angeles covering E3, but those apps aren’t available for Windows Phone.
  • I subscribe to Rdio for streaming music, but the Windows Phone app is garbage compared to the iOS and Android versions. Many features, including radio and the ability to shuffle an album or collection, aren’t available.
  • Spotify has a free version on iOS and Android that includes radio stations and shuffled playlists, but you need a subscription to use the Windows Phone app.

None of these things keep me from being able to use Windows Phone. They just make the experience more annoying.

There’s Still No Great Gmail Experience

Technically, the default Mail app in Windows Phone works with Gmail, but it’s far from perfect. It takes a long time to load long conversation threads, and it’s slow to sync any messages you’ve deleted, so you might see those messages again if you sit down at your computer a few minutes later.

I worked around this by using a third-party app called MetroMail for those longer threads, but this app doesn’t handle notifications properly (see above), and it takes several seconds to load new messages each time you open the app. In other words, I’m stuck with two half-solutions instead of one really good Gmail app, like the one Google offers on iOS and Android.

There’s a Well of Untapped Potential

If there’s one thing that would really help sell me on Windows Phone, it’d be greater connectivity with Microsoft’s other platforms. So far, Windows Phone still feels like its own little island. OneDrive cloud storage isn’t built into the file system like it is in Windows 8.1, and there are not enough strong ties back to the Xbox for gaming. (I’m still dreaming of a way to attach a game controller and take smaller-scale Xbox games on the road.) The version of Office that comes with Windows Phone is still a shadow of what’s available on Windows devices. Microsoft likes to tout “one experience across all devices,” but Windows Phone needs more work for that promise to become a reality.

The Verdict

Like I said earlier, I can see some appeal in Windows Phone now. It might especially make sense for novice smartphone users that don’t want an iPhone (mainly because of differences in price and available screen sizes), and aren’t looking to use a lot of apps.

But for me, Windows Phone needs a better hook than a great app launcher and some clever design flourishes. It could be in the form of killer hardware that no other platform has, but more likely, it’d have to be through tighter integration with the rest of Microsoft’s ecosystem. I already use a Surface Pro on the road and Windows desktop at home, so more “continuity” (to borrow a term from Apple) might convince me to forgive Windows Phone 8.1′s other shortcomings.

TIME deals

Microsoft Is Giving Apple Users Hundreds To Buy the Surface Pro 3

Microsoft Surface Pro 3
The Microsoft Corp. Surface Pro 3 tablet computer is displayed during an event in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, May 20, 2014. Jin Lee/Bloomberg—Getty Images

Microsoft is once again throwing huge sums of money at customers to try to convince them to buy its products. The company is offering up to $650 toward the purchase of its new Surface Pro 3 to customers that trade in a MacBook Air that’s in decent condition. The deal, which runs through July 31, is only available in Microsoft’s physical retail stores.

The Surface Pro 3 has been billed by Microsoft as a true laptop-tablet hybrid. That Microsoft is targeting the MacBook Air rather than the iPad with the new promotion indicates the company believes its new product can go toe-to-toe with laptops in terms of functionality.

Even in the best-case scenario where a customer gets the full $650 deal (the actual discount depends on the model of MacBook and its working condition), the cheapest model of the Surface Pro 3, at $799, will still require $150 out of pocket. MacBook Airs start a bit pricier at $899, but the base model has 128GB of internal memory compared to the entry-level Surface Pro 3’s 64GB.

TIME video streaming

Apple TV Just Got an Upgrade That Makes It Way Better

Apple TV
Apple

Apple TV scored a big get today with the arrival of ABC News on the set-top box. The new app will function as a kind of online network, delivering ABC News content to Apple TV users 24 hours a day. The video coverage will be a mixture of live news updates, original programming and edited clips from TV properties such as Good Morning America. In nine major markets such as New York and Chicago, news reports from the local ABC affiliate will also be available. In total the new channel will have about eight hours of live programming each day, according to Mashable. Unlike many online apps from TV networks, this one won’t require users to prove that they have a cable subscription in order to use it.

In addition to the new ABC app, Apple TV also added AOL On today, a video network by the Internet company that features mostly short-form web video. PBS also added a kids’ network, PBS Kids, and cricket broadcaster Willow TV also added an app. Yahoo’s Flickr app also got a redesign to make it more appealing for the big screen.

Apple TV has sold more than 20 million units since it first launched in 2007, beating out competitors such as Roku and Amazon’s new Fire TV set-top box. Rumors persist that Apple will eventually launch a streaming or pay-TV service that competes more directly with cable.

TIME Smarthome

Google’s Nest Is Coming After the Rest of Your Home

Nest Labs, maker of the “learning” thermostat, is opening its platform to outside developers in a bid to expand the range of Internet-connected home devices it can interact with. Through Nest, which search giant Google acquired for $3.2 billion in January, users will be able to communicate with Mercedes-Benz vehicles, Whirlpool appliances, Jawbone fitness trackers and other gadgets.

Google is among the partners announced as part of the program. Google Now, the company’s personal digital assistant, will be able to set the temperature on a Nest thermostat automatically when it detects that a user is coming home, for example, or through voice commands. Nest said it will share limited user information with Google and other partners. Nest co-founder Matt Rogers told the Wall Street Journal that users have to opt in for each new device.

The move allows partners to link their software and applications to Nest’s thermostat, which will act as a hub for devices in the home. For example, Jawbone’s UP24 band knows when its users are about to wake up in the morning. Now, a Nest thermostat can automatically raise or lower the temperature just before a user gets out of bed in the morning. Likewise, a connected Mercedes-Benz can tell Nest when a user will be home from work, timing the house’s temperature correctly.

Nest is independently operated from Google. But the device maker is leading Google’s charge into the connected home market. Earlier this month, Nest announced it was acquiring Dropcam, a maker of connected cameras, for $555 million. The company’s founders have also said they are looking for unloved or poorly designed devices to reinvent.

TIME Tech

These Human Robots Will Haunt Your Nightmares

Japan hopes lifelike robots will be as common as laptops

Meet Otonaroid and Kodomoroid, two eerily lifelike robots who can read fluently, recite tongue twisters, blink, move and twitch their eyebrows (natch).

Japanese android expert Hiroshi Ishiguro unveiled the female cyborgs on Tuesday at the National Museum of Merging Science and Innovation. The two will be on display at the Museum for visitors to interact with.

Ishiguro’s robotics are the latest confirmation of the uncanny valley hypothesis, which posits that humans find discomfort when robotic and animated humans approach a natural human appearance.

With Softbank’s commercialization of robots, Ishiguro—who’s previously designed his own doppelgänger robots—hopes that robots will soon become a part of everyday life in Japan.

TIME Innovation

Smart Home Gadgets for Stopping Disasters Before They Happen

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Whether I’m traveling or anticipating the arrival of guests, I worry something will happen while I’m gone. Did I forget to turn off the iron? Will my guests arrive while I’m out picking up more milk?

With a smartphone or computer I can easily allay these fears by checking on that iron or even unlocking the door. In fact, there are products that provide remote control or monitoring of most of the important systems in a home. Better yet, you can install most of these yourself.

Wireless video monitoring camera

Dropcam

Do you want to make sure the neighbor fed your fish, that packages aren’t sitting on your front porch or that Fido isn’t sitting on the sofa again? With a wireless video-monitoring camera, you can perform a visual check on your home while you’re away. The new Dropcam Pro is a good choice with its 130-degree field of view and ability to digitally pan and zoom (8x) in on a scene. Plus, it has enhanced night vision and two-way audio communication (for chastising Fido or otherwise). Video is encrypted and can be saved, based on your needs.

If you want to take your Dropcam Pro to the next level, take a look at the $29 Dropcam Tab wireless movement sensors. They attach directly to your door or window, sending an alert to your smartphone if someone opens or closes one. They’re also rated for outdoor use, so you can attach them to a gate or garage door if you’d like.

Price: $199.00 on dropcam.com, $199.99 on amazon.com

Belkin

Remote control electrical outlet

Plug any device into the Belkin WeMo Home Automation Switch and you can turn it on or off with your iOS or Android device. So you can make sure the iron is off and the front lights are on wherever you happen to be. You can also set the WeMo outlet to work on a schedule, turning on or off at certain times of day.

Price: $49.99 on belkin.com, $49.95 on amazon.com

To automate hardwired light fixtures, you’ll need aBelkin WeMo Light Switch instead. It looks and functions similar to a standard wall light switch, but also adds the same kind of functionality you get from the Home Automation Switch. The only catch is that you’ll need to do a bit of wiring to install it (or pay an electrician do it for you).

Price: $49.99 on belkin.com, $44.00 on amazon.com

Nest

Remote control thermostat

There’s no need to turn down the thermostat when you leave town for the weekend. The Nest thermostat has sensors built in so it knows when you’re away and will automatically go into energy-saving mode. You can also turn up the heat remotely with your iPhone or Android phone so your home is just the right temperature when you arrive. And best of all, it learns your preferences as you use it, eliminating the need to deal with complex scheduling.

Looking for an even smarter smart thermostat? Check out the Honeywell Lyric. The Lyric automatically turns your heat or air conditioning on based on the GPS location of your phone. If you’ve got a schedule that fluctuates wildly, the Lyric can make sure your home is the perfect temperature the moment you step through the front door, whenever that happens to be.

You’ll need to wait until August to pick up the $279 Lyric. The Nest, meanwhile, is available now wherever home improvement goods are sold.

Price: $249 on nest.com or amazon.com

Wally Home

Water and flood alert system

Will the leaky pipe you just fixed in the upstairs bathroom hold over the long weekend? With the Wally Hub, wireless sensors will monitor for changes in humidity and temperature under the sink, next to the hot water heater or by any other appliance or pipe you’re worried about. An included smartphone app will keep an eye on all your sensors at once, with mobile alerts delivered the moment a change in wetness is detected. With Wally, you can address small problems before they turn into a catastrophic ones, even when you’re away from home.

The Wally Hub comes with 6 sensors included for placement around your house. Additional sensors are available at wallyhome.com for $35 each, or 6 for $199.

Price: $299.00 on wallyhome.com

Chamberlain

Smartphone garage door opener

Did you remember to close the garage door? Eliminate any question with new Chamberlain MyQ Garage System, a simple-to-install add-on to most major garage door systems made after 1993. It connects to your home Wi-Fi, letting you use your smartphone to check whether you left the door up no matter how far you travel from home. And as we mentioned in our Father’s Day Gift Guide, the device can also deliver alerts to your phone whenever the door opens, letting you know exactly how long past curfew your teenager stayed out.

Price: $110.49 on amazon.com

UniKey

Remote control door lock

Expecting guests to visit while you’re away? You could hide a spare house key under the welcome mat, but that’s pretty dangerous — that’s the first place most thieves look. Instead, take a look at the Kwikset Kevo powered by UniKey, a deadbolt that can be unlocked with a key, an included Bluetooth key fob or a Bluetooth capable smartphone. Giving guests access to your home is as simple as using the Kevo app to send a digital key to their phone. You can choose to receive alerts when keys are used, and digital keys can be retrieved when the visit is over.

In Techlicious’s review of the Kwikset Kevo, we discovered the lock can be installed in 15 to 20 minutes. It’s powered by four AA batteries, which will need to be replaced about once a year.

Price: $219.00 on amazon.com

First Alert

Smart smoke/carbon monoxide detector

Having a working smoke and carbon monoxide detector in your home or apartment isn’t just smart safety sense. In many places, it’s the law. Get in compliance with the First Alert ONELink Carbon Monoxide and Smoke Detector with Voice. Should the detector sniff out smoke or a dangerous quantity of CO gas, an audible voice alarm will sound. And if you pair the device with an optional INSTEON Smoke Bridge and INSTEON Hub, you can have email or text message alerts sent directly to your phone. The system can even be set up to turn your home’s lights on in case of fire emergency, so you won’t need to worry about fumbling through the smoke.

Price (First Alert ONELink): $69.99 at smarthome.com, $61.75 at amazon.com
Price (INSTEON Smoke Bridge): $34.99 at smarthome.com, $34.99 at amazon.com
Price (INSTEON Hub): $129.99 at smarthome.com, $129.99 at amazon.com

This article was written by Fox Van Allen and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME Tech

Apple Is Planning to Make a Huge Break With Its Past

Is Apple about to play the celebrity game at a new, all-pro level?

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This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at Fortune.com.

Steve Jobs liked to court celebrities, but he did it quietly. He might give Sean Lennon a Mac, Bob Dylan an iPod or Barack Obama an iPad, but you wouldn’t hear about it from Apple.

That may be about to change. According to Mark Gurman, a young reporter at 9to5Mac who has broken more stories about Apple’s “iWatch” that the rest of the pack combined, Apple is teaming up with a raft of sports celebrities to test — and perhaps market — what the Street and the tech press expect will be Apple’s next big thing.

Gurman mentions in particular L.A. Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant, L.A. Kings right wing Dustin Brown and a player from the Boston Red Sox to be named later. Bryant was a key spokesperson for Nike, which is winding down its FuelBand business, and he was spotted last month on Apple’s Cupertino campus, where he reportedly met with Apple design chief Jony Ive.

In a similar vein, Jimmy Iovine, the well-connected music producer who came to Apple, along with Dr. Dre, as part of the $3 billion acquisition of Beats Electronics, spoke at an industry conference in late May about having music stars “curate” playlists on a new Apple streaming music service. Iovine knows a lot about cashing in on celebrity, something he did regularly at Beats, using exclusive tracks from the likes of Robin Thicke, Britney Spears and Wil.i.am to promote his company’s brand.

For the rest of the story, go to Fortune.com.

TIME Companies

6 New Products Google May Show Off This Week

Moto 360, Powered by Android Wear
A press handout photo shows Motorola's Moto 360 watch, powered by Android Wear, displaying a map. Motorola

Though the event is geared towards software developers, Google often uses the conference to unveil big new consumer products—Google Glass got its first public demo at the 2012 conference, and Google’s paid music streaming service debuted last year

Google will offer the world a peek at its future this week during its annual technology conference, Google I/O. Though the event is geared towards software developers, Google often uses the conference to unveil big new consumer products—Google Glass got its first public demo at the 2012 conference, and Google’s paid music streaming service debuted last year.

There’s no way to know exactly what Google has planned for this year’s I/O, but we can make some educated guesses. Here’s a guide on what to expect from the 2014 Google I/O conference, which begins Wednesday:

Android Wear

Google will likely put its operating system for smartwatches and other wearable devices front and center this year. Android Wear, announced in March, is a version of Google’s Android operating system fine-tuned for watches and wearables. It’s expected to incorporate digital assistant software Google Now and accept voice commands, among other features.

The development kit for Android Wear hasn’t yet been released, so it’s likely that programmers will get their first crack at the software during Google I/O. Google’s also likely to demo the first consumer watches to use the software, such as LG’s upcoming G Watch or Motorola’s Moto 360.

Android in the Car

Google doesn’t just want Android on your wrist—the company eventually wants its software on virtually every device you interact with — and cars will be one of Google’s first targets. Google announced a partnership with automakers such as Honda, General Motors and Audi earlier this year to bring Android software to their vehicles. The fruits of this deal may finally be unveiled this week.

YouTube’s Music Service

At last year’s Google I/O, the company unveiled the unfortunately named Google Play Music All Access, a subscription-based music streaming service similar to Spotify. Since that time, though, Google subsidiary YouTube has quietly been working on its own paid music service. The YouTube service was originally slated for release early this year, but it’s been pushed back partially because of tense negotiations with record labels. But the project is far enough along now that Google has begun letting its employees test the service. Now might be the time to let the broader world take a peek.

Google Fit

Google will reportedly use I/O to debut its own health tracking app, called Google Fit. According to Forbes, Google Fit will gather data from various fitness and wellness apps, and it’ll be able to link up with other services in the Google ecosystem. The idea is hardly new—Apple recently announced its own health software, called HealthKit, which will launch later this year as part of iOS 8. But many of the big players in tech seem to be betting that high-quality fitness software may help spur the adoption of wearable devices.

Android TV

Google has been trying to finagle its way into the world of television for a while. Google TV, a platform for smart TVs, failed to gain wide adoption, while its Chromecast streaming stick has been more successful. The next attempt may be Android TV, a set-top box similar to Apple TV or Roku that would let users easily switch between streaming apps from companies like Netflix and ESPN. Though rumors about Android TV have persisted for months, it’s not clear how Google would differentiate the product significantly from Chromecast, which already supports a variety of video apps.

Google Glass

Glass has been getting a serious push from Google this year, with promotional short films and ads starring tennis star Roger Federer. The company will likely show off some new apps for the headgear, and perhaps even reveal a timetable for broader distribution of the devices. People can currently buy Glass in the U.S. and the UK through Google’s website, but the product is still in beta.

TIME Video Games

R.I.P. Diablo 3 Auction House, and May You Never Return

After today, any items left on Diablo 3's auction block will be gone forever.

You have to respect Blizzard for knowing when to fold ‘em: the Diablo 3 auction house will today disappear from the game for good, after a long drawing down period that saw it shift from developer mea culpa to functional cessation to its visual (and final) removal from the game today, June 24.

Diablo 3‘s auction house was supposed to be about reducing fraud, stamping out illicit item-trading by effectively legitimizing it under Blizzard’s auspices. But in the end, it became a stultifying gameplay-bypass tool. Blizzard obviously wants Diablo 3 to be a game about taking down Diablo, a game of skill steeped in assimilating and vamping on its design principles. But like any game that incentivizes players to kit out characters with ridiculously high-spec, hard-to-find items, the real game in Diablo 3 is about the loot hunt: about finding that kit, then extrapolating to multiple character builds and executing variations on a theme.

The trouble with systems that let you arbitrarily cut in line — and there’s probably a crude economic metaphor here — is that we know with all but scientific certainty that many of us will do whatever we can get away with in a game, and why should the ones “getting away with it” see that as a problematic? Diablo 3‘s auction house allowed players to spend as well as make real money playing the game. When the potential — some would argue of necessity, given how rare legendary items were in the beginning — to buy past gameplay (and eventually make money doing so) by a substantial population conflicts with everyone else’s sense of gameplay fairness, what do you think’s going to win: wishes or cash?

There were no momentous player-led rallies to oust Diablo 3 moneymaking. No mass boycotts of the auction house occurred. In the end, it took Blizzard’s not-so-invisible hand reaching down of its own volition to excise the auction house from the game, turning Diablo 3 back into something that now, finally, feels more like a game worth thinking about competitively.

I’m sure “illicit” external trading’s already going on, and so be it. No one’s yet built an exploit-proof game. But the lesson here — and this has implications for free-to-play apologists — may be that trying to corral and formalize a system fundamentally at odds with the game’s own design principles doesn’t make it any less of a problem. I’m surprised Blizzard didn’t see that coming a mile off, and I just hope the lessons learned pay their way forward in all the company’s games to come.

TIME Video Games

Now You Can Be ‘Frankenstein’s Monster’: Evolve Inside Scoop

Gamers can finally understand what Frankenstein's creation felt as the angry and armed mob hunted it down

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Developer Turtle Rock, Creator of Left 4 Dead, will soon launch a new multiplayer experience, Evolve. The game is set in a futuristic frontier-like galaxy, where Humanity has colonized a planet called Shear. That’s when the monsters come in. A group of hunters are enlisted as a last ditch effort to save the planet’s colonists. On paper Evolve is a simple concept — four player-controlled hunters versus one player-controlled monster — but from this simple idea for a gaming mechanic, something novel and complex has been created.

“Even prior to creating Left 4 Dead, Turtle Rock Studios was keenly interested in the idea of a team of players fighting a giant boss battle, but with the boss being controlled by another player,” said Michael J. Boccieri, Senior Producer at 2K. “Compared to a standard boss battle, this 4v1 multiplayer results in unique gameplay every single match due to the human mind controlling the monster, so no match ever plays out the same way…[Turtle Rock] then drew inspiration from other mediums including film, comic books, literature and more, which was a core driving component to a lot of the aesthetics that make Evolve what it is today.”

The notion of playing as the monster in a game isn’t new, but never before have developers embraced the idea of giving players control quite like this. In Shelly’s Frankenstein (as well as its film adaptations), Frankenstein’s creation is always on the defensive, despite its impressive power. The creature, misunderstood and unmoored, is hunted by an angry village mob, which views it as an implicit threat. But in games, players haven’t really experienced the persecuted monster’s point of view.

Though developers have occasional embraced a “monster” as a narrative’s lead, but those instances are few and far between. In these cases, the game is usually constructed in either two ways:

1) The monster is the protagonist in an anti-hero role, who is tasked with fighting a worse evil, or it is empowered by the developers to hunt and slay others. This can be seen in titles such as Altered Beast, Splatterhouse, Overlord, Demon’s Crest, Alien Vs Predator 2, and more.

2) The monster is just a stock character in a gameplay centric title within either the Fighting or Sidescrollling genres, like Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters Melee or Rampage World Tour.

In all of these titles the developers empower the player to be on the offensive, hunting and killing with minimal regard for the protagonist’s life beyond the threat of restarting a level. Players are rarely, if ever, given an experience where they can inhabit the mind of a monster who is being hunted by an an overwhelming force. That’s where Evolve steps in.

During this year’s E3 gaming expo, the game’s publisher 2K gave TIME the opportunity to competitively play the game. I took control of a monster named Kraken. During my match, I finally understood what Frankenstein’s creation felt like as the angry and armed mob hunted it down. Because Evolve a strategic competitive multiplayer title, I was able to feel the fear of being hunted. At the onset of each match the monster is weak and vulnerable. I was forced to avoid confrontation and scavenge on local wildlife, and in doing so, I could “evolve” (three evolutionary stages in total). With each subsequent evolution I was granted more abilities, and gained the strength necessary to push back my attackers.

“Certainly when you start a match as the monster at Stage One, you are underpowered compared to the hunter team; a savvy hunter team knows this, and will attempt to corral, contain and destroy the monster as quickly as possible,” said Boccieri. “Much as Frankenstein’s creation comes into his own over the course of the novel, so too does the monster player over the course of a match as they feed on the wildlife and evolve, growing more and more powerful. By Stage Two the monster is equal to the hunters, and by the time the monster reaches Stage Three, the hunters actually become the hunted. It’s an interesting parallel to the plot of the novel — by the time we are at the ice flows at the novel’s conclusion, we wonder whether Dr. Frankenstein is hunting the monster, or he himself is the hunted?”

But in those early moments of the game, I was overwhelmed by paranoia. Every move and action I made could be used by the hunters to track me down: my footsteps, birds that had been startled or dead animal carcasses my character left behind. Each time I stopped to eat wildlife, I feared that just beyond my field of vision — the hunters lay in waiting. And that is what’s so unique about Evolve. That perspective flop that gamers rarely have the opportunity to enjoy.

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