How to watch AMD’s CES 2021 keynote with CEO Lisa Su

This year CES is a virtual event. The impact of COVID-19 has meant the annual tech pilgrimage to Vegas has been replaced by a more sedate affair. The good news is that it’s much easier for everyone to watch the most important presentations, including the main CES 2021 keynote by AMD’s Dr Lisa Su. The official patter goes something like this:

“During the keynote, Lisa Su will outline the company’s innovative vision for the future of research, education, work, entertainment, and gaming and will be joined on stage by key partners sharing how AMD technology allows them to offer some of the most exciting products, services, and experiences to people around the world. Throughout the keynote, you can expect a showcase of product demos and groundbreaking innovation, as well as new additions coming to AMD’s high-performance computing product portfolio.”

That doesn’t give away too much about what is going to appear on the virtual show floor, although I expect AMD to focus on its new Zen 3 powered laptop processors. These Ryzen 5000 laptop APUs (codename Cezanne) are rumoured to be everywhere at CES 2021, and you can expect them all to break cover after the keynote finishes.

There may also be a mention of AMD’s Epyc server chips (codename Milan), but we’ll have to see on that front. Either way, you can bet that Dr Lisa Su will hold up at least one chip in her keynote.

AMD had a great 2020, and while its releases of Ryzen 5000 CPUs and Radeon RX 6000-series GPUs were the things that stand out most, it’s also worth remembering that it had some great wins on the laptop front as well. The likes of the AMD Ryzen 4900HS made it into the Asus Zephyrus G14 to great effect, and suddenly Intel’s vice-like grip of the PC laptop market wasn’t quite so dominating. If 2021 continues this trend, that can only mean good things for gaming laptops.

These are the Intel Z590 motherboards desperate for your attention

Motherboards aren’t always the most exciting prospect for your average PC builder, but if you’re willing to spend a pretty penny then you’ll find plenty more, let’s say, extravagant options. None more so than the line-up of Z590 motherboards for Intel Rocket Lake CPUs announced just yesterday, which really, really want your attention.

But down below I’ve picked out the flagship motherboards doing everything they can to catch your eye.

ROG Maximus XIII Extreme Glacial. This is a motherboard with supreme ‘look at me’ energy, and comes with an EK water block ready to cool the CPU, VRM, M.2 drives, and chipset. This is truly an immense motherboard, with equally generous RGB to match.

Then there’s the Z590 Taichi from ASRock. This motherboard is one of the more understated flagships of the lot. It looks lovely enough in full RGB fare, too. But it, like a few others in the ASRock Z590 line-up, comes with its own flash novelty with the hopes of swaying PC builders to its shores. That’s its built-in GPU scaffolding, otherwise known as the ASRock Graphics Card Holder.

This optional rigging keeps your GPU steady from the back-rear of the card, which should help keep today’s monstrous units from putting all their weight on your poor PCIe ports.

Furthermore, MSI is back with a brand new GODLIKE motherboard and it’s really pushing the boat out with the Z590 design. With no more floor space to conquer, MSI is building up. The GODLIKE is donned from head to toe in shielding, heatsinks, and RGB lighting. It’s surely going to be a pricey motherboard when it launches on January 27, and probably as heavy as all hell, too.

Intel’s promising a 19 percent instructions per clock (IPC) boost with its latest Rocket Lake CPUs over existing 10th Gen Comet Lake chips. That seems to be paying dividends in the single-core performance racket going off early benchmarking figures, with the Core i9 11900K and Core i7 11700K looking like they lead the way in gaming for now—we’ll have to ratify those numbers for ourselves before we can say anything for definite, however.

Gigabyte is bringing perhaps one of the most restrained Z590 flagships to the market, but even the Aorus XTREME isn’t wholly free of some generous ‘thermal reactive armor’, or metal plating as it’s known in the biz. With a rather subdued and sleek design, however, it’s my favourite of the lot, too.

We’ve also heard from Colorful regarding its Z590 designs, the iGame Z590 Vulcan Q and iGame Z590 Vulcan X. These motherboards come with all the trimmings in a simple format, but that white clean-cut aesthetic is sure to win over a few folks.

All of the above offer PCIe 4.0 support with Intel’s latest 11th Gen chips, which means Intel fans can make good use of the wave of PCIe 4.0 SSDs now flooding the market.

But while some of these motherboards appear to be raring to go, Intel isn’t expected to have Rocket Lake on the shelves until March. Plenty of time to decide which motherboard fits best then, and don’t forget that there are also those with the H570, B560, and H510 chipsets available in the near-future, too

Viewsonic unleashes new 144Hz 4K and 240Hz QHD gaming monitors

Viewsonic has unwrapped its new-for-2021 range of high-refresh gaming panels at CES. Highlights include a pair of 32-inch 4K models with 144Hz refresh rate, and a 27-inch 1440p panel running at 240Hz.

Kicking off with the Viewsonic Elite XG320U, but has been taking its sweet time to actually become available. Still, it might just be the most appealing of the bunch and worth the lengthy wait.

It’s a 32 incher with a 4K IPS panel running at 144Hz and offering DisplayHDR 600 certification. The latter is a relatively low level of HDR support and suggests the XG320U could be relatively affordable. Critically, it also includes HDMI 2.1 support, enabling high refresh larks with both PC and console.

Its sister screen in the new range is the ViewSonic Elite XG321UG. It too is a 32-inch 4K IPS model running at 144Hz, but this time with DisplayHDR 1000 certification and a peak brightness of 1400cd/m2.

That crazy brightness is enabled by a 1,152-zone mini-LED backlight, so the XG321UG promises to be quite the eye-popper. We imagine the price will be startling, too.

Oddly, the XG321UG does not come with HDMI 2.1 support, implying that this model is aimed primarily at PC rather than console gamers.

For fans of even higher refresh rates, may we suggest the new Viewsonic Elite XG271QG. It’s a 27-inch QHD monitor with 2,560 by 1,440 pixels and 240Hz refresh rate. It also comes complete with Nvidia G-Sync support including Nvidia Reflex Analyser. That’s a new feature from Nvidia enabling gamers to precisely measure screen latency, the better to fine-tune rigs for fast responses.

It also ties in with the new Nvidia Reflex SDK, which is designed to help game developers reduce latency. Developers of titles including Apex Legends, Fortnite, Valorant, and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare have all used the Nvidia Reflex SDK to minimise latency. Our very own Alan Dexter went hands-on with the technology recently, declaring it useful for helping out lower-end graphics cards with their latency issues.

This gaming PC with a GTX 1660 is only $820 right now

With AMD still dealing with some shortages of its newer Ryzen CPUs, and basically all graphics cards being out of stock everywhere, more people than ever are turning to pre-built desktops to get up-to-date hardware. Now you can get a desktop with Nvidia’s mid-range GTX 1660 graphics card for just $819.99 on Newegg. That’s $30 off the previous price, making it the cheapest PC with a GTX 1660 on Newegg.

This desktop from ABS has an Intel Core i5-10400F processor, a 6-core/12-thread CPU with a maximum turbo clock of 4.3GHz. That’s not one of Intel’s newer 11th-gen chips, but it’s still more than capable of playing games and managing Chrome tabs. You also get 16GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD (of an unspecified type), a 500W power supply, and an Intel B460 motherboard.

The graphics card on offer is the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660, a mid-range GPU that works best at 1080p or 1440p gaming. We have a review of the GTX 1660 if you’re interested in exact performance details. The 1660 was succeeded by the GTX 1660 Super later in 2019, but PCs with that card are at around $100 more expensive than what you can get here.

ABS is also throwing in a “gaming keyboard and mouse” in with your purchase, though the accessories probably aren’t as good as any gaming keyboards or gaming mice made by a big-name manufacturer.

Intel’s creating a new level of Ultraportable gaming laptop all its own with 35W Tiger Lake CPUs

Intel has announced a whole new segment of gaming laptops, with specifically designed, higher-performance, 10nm Tiger Lake processors. The new Ultraportable gaming laptops are designed specifically to offer “great mobility with enthusiast level of gameplay”, according to Intel’s recent CES 2021 event. 

The takeaway specs Intel is touting cover machines under 18mm thick which are capable of delivering 70+ fps at 1080p with game settings on High. In current PC gaming parlance ‘High’ settings are a step or so down from the top graphics presets in most titles.

To enable such performance this new kind of gaming laptop gets its own Tiger Lake H35 series of 10nm CPUs. They are essentially the same quad-core Tiger Lake chips but running at 35W as opposed to the 28W maximum of the current Ultrabook range. That will deliver single threaded performance around 4 – 5 percent higher than the top 28W Tiger Lake chips around today, and with around 10 percent higher multi-threaded performance too.

There are three new chips in the Tiger Lake H35 range, all ready to be dropped into new Ultraportable gaming laptops presumably from now, with the promise of over 40 designs in the first half of the year. 

The Core i7 comes in plain 11370H and Special Edition 11375H trims, which means you get a single-core max of 5GHz with the SE and 4.8GHz with the standard chip. There is also an Intel Core i5 11300H, which comes with a lower maximum frequency and less L3 cache, but all three are four core, eight thread chips.

Interestingly they can all be configured down to hit 28W, with correspondingly lower frequency potential, which means that they should be able to be retro-fitted into any current Tiger Lake laptop that is using the 28W SKU. The obvious benefit being that even configured down to 28W the new H35 chips are capable of higher clock speeds than their forebears. 

Intel Core i7 11375H SEIntel Core i7 11370HIntel Core i5 11300H
Cores | Threads4 | 84 | 84 | 8
cTDP Up Base clock3.3GHz3.3GHz3.1GHz
cTDP Down Base clock3GHz3GHz2.6GHz
Max 1-Core Turbo5GHz4.8GHz4.4GHz
Max 2-Core Turbo4.8GHz4.8GHz4.4GHz
Max 4-Core Turbo4.3GHz4/3GHz4GHz
L3 Cache12MB12MB8MB
cTDP Up35W35W35W
cTDP Down28W28W28W

The Core i7 1165G7, for example, has a 28W base clock speed of 2.8GHz, while the Core i7 11370H comes with a 28W base clock of 3GHz. 

The new mildly higher-spec Tiger Lake CPUs ought to pair up nicely with the less thirsty members of Nvidia’s soon-to-be-unveiled RTX 30-series laptop GPUs, as they also come with PCIe Gen4 and support for Resizable BAR.

Intel says it has “partnered closely with Nvidia and ecosystem to bring more performance leveraging standard PCIe protocols.” In case you’ve forgotten, Resizable BAR is the protocol AMD brought to the fore with its Smart Access Memory feature, where it allows the CPU unfettered access to the GPU’s memory pool, rather than just in 256MB chunks as it is now.

Nvidia is expected to announce support for Resizable BAR in its own CES presentation tomorrow, and Intel is also promising that support will cover select 10th Gen chips too. Given that a lot of this year’s new laptops will still be sporting 10th Gen Intel CPUs that is handy. Realistically it’s not going to make a huge difference in performance terms, but every little helps, especially within the tight constraints of an Ultraportable gaming laptop.Image 1 of 2

This whole Ultraportable schtick is a smart play, as it allows Intel to talk about its 11th Gen gaming laptops and claim it’s now launched the 11th Gen Tiger Lake-H series at the start of the year. That’s vital in marketing currency when AMD is about to unleash a whole slew of new Ryzen-powered laptop APUs tomorrow. Sure, Intel still dominates gaming laptops, but the majority of new machines we’ll see at CES 2021—all sporting the new Nvidia RTX 30-series GPUs—will be shipped with the last-gen H-series versions of its Comet Lake processors.

That’s because its high-end 10nm gaming laptop chips aren’t coming for a while yet—probably well into the spring or even summer—because the real Tiger Lake H-series of mobile gaming CPUs is still ‘coming soon.’

Those will eventually be the full-fat eight-core, 16-thread notebook chips, with 5GHz+ clock speeds, and “desktop caliber performance.” This delay before we get to see genuine 10nm gaming laptop CPU SKUs from Intel likely explains why it had to backport its 10nm architecture to 14nm for the Rocket Lake, else it would have been a very long time before Intel could wrestle back the top gaming CPU crown from AMD.

If it could have gotten the 10nm production process running to a level where it could release high core count mobile CPUs hitting over 5GHz at the start of this year, then surely it wouldn’t have needed to backport anything, and we’d be seeing the same Tiger Lake core hitting the desktop.

As it is, it couldn’t and the result is Tiger Lake-H later in the year, a mild 35W update launching today, and Rocket Lake sometime later.

LG outs 160Hz 1ms 4K panel, plus first OLED monitor, 40-inch 5K2K model and more

LG has a new 160Hz 4K monitor to behold, the LG UltraGear 27GP950. It’s an update of the already-awesome LG 27GN950. But that’s not all, LG’s new screens for CES 2021 include a new 34-inch 160Hz ultrawide model, a 32-inch OLED display and a 40-inch 5K2K monitor. Phew.

As its name implies, the LG 27GP950 is a 27-inch monitor and as with most premium LG models, it uses a Nano IPS panel. According to Displayspecifications, highlights include VESA DisplayHDR 600 certification, 1ms G-to-G response times and 98 percent coverage of the DCI-P3 gamut. Nice. But the kicker is support for up to 160Hz refresh. LG says the 160Hz rating is available via ‘overclocking’.

The extent to which overclocking a monitor is comparable to, say, overclocking a CPU, and likewise whether it amounts to much more than marketing, is debatable. But thanks to a firmware update late last year, the outgoing LG 27GN950 was already capable of 160Hz, though many users reported that the 160Hz mode was sensitive to DisplayPort cable quality and needed to buy new cables to get the full 160Hz running reliably.

Anyway, 160Hz is currently as good as it gets for 4K. So if you want maximum resolution and refresh rate, put the LG 27GP950 on your shortlist. Also worth noting is HDMI 2.1 support, making this a good match with the new 4K@120Hz capable consoles.

Other intriguing new displays from LG include the new LG 40WP950 and LG 32EP950. The former is a new 40-inch ultrawide model with 5,120 by 2,160 pixels, otherwise known as 5K2K. The 32EP950, meanwhile, is LG’s first OLED monitor, measuring 32 inches and packing a full 4K pixel grid.

LG 34GP950

LG’s 34GP950 combines ultrawide 1440p resolution with 160Hz refresh
The catch? Both models are limited to 60Hz refresh rate. Not ideal for gaming, but then you’ve go to start somewhere. Existing high refresh ultrawide displays, for instance, started off at 60Hz. So here’s hoping these panels become the basis of high-refresh models in future.

Rounding out LG’s line up for CES 2021 are a pair of more conventional gaming monitors. The LG UltraGear 32GP850 combines 180Hz refresh with 1440p in a 32-inch form factor, while the LG UltraGear 34GP950 is a 34-inch ultrawide 3,440 by 1,440 model with 56 local dimming zones and up to 160Hz refresh.

Pricing hasn’t been announced for any of the new models, but you can expect the LG 27GP950, LG 40WP950 and LG 32EP950 to all carry hefty four-figure price tags, while the LG 32GP850 and LG 34GP950 will be more affordable.

New benchmarks show Intel Rocket Lake chips leading Comet Lake and AMD Zen 3 in single-core

Early benchmarking results for Intel’s Core i7 11700K are in and it’s showing promising signs for performance gains over current Intel 10th Gen processors—even with a couple cores shy of the 10-core compliment on Comet Lake’s top chip. Similarly, figures from Core i9 11900K testing suggests it’s also taking the lead in single-threaded performance, which could make for two venerable gaming chips out of Rocket Lake, at least.

The Core i7 11700K result (spotted by Tum_Apisak) comes from Geekbench 4, which you might know isn’t the most representative benchmark around. Still, it offers a rough picture of performance for the upcoming Rocket Lake processors. 

With a single-core score of 7,857, the Core i7 11700K would sit comfortably above the Intel Core i9 10900K, which is still largely dominate in single-threaded workloads today and tends to score upwards of 6,900 in the single-thread test on a relatively comparable system. 

As a benchmark, Geekbench 4 measures memory performance as a part of its CPU test, which can mean comparable scores aren’t always readily available, especially in the case of the Core i7 11700K result here today, which doesn’t specify the exact memory speed for the benchmarked system.

Yet it’s looking promising for Intel Rocket Lake in terms of single-core performance, and that shouldn’t come as too great a surprise considering Intel is touting a double-digit instruction per clock (IPC) improvement with the shift to the Cypress Cove architecture from Comet Lake, itself a derivative of the Skylake architecture.

Cypress Cove is actually a blend of 10th Gen Intel Ice Lake CPU cores (Sunny Cove) and 11th Gen Tiger Lake graphics (Intel Xe), ported over to the 14nm process node from the more advanced, but not yet readily available on desktop, 10nm process node.

One side effect of that transition has been the reduction of total available core counts with Rocket Lake. While the Core i9 10900K offers 10 cores and 20 threads, the top Rocket Lake chip, the Core i9 11900K, is an eight-core, 16-thread part. The same goes for the Core i7 11700K.

Even a rather significant IPC increase can’t overcome the lack of two physical cores on die, and it looks like the Core i7 11700K can’t quite match the Core i9 10900K in multi-core tests, at 42,011 to 49,107. The equally-threaded Core i7 10700K, however, it should have beat relatively easily.

As for the Core i9 11900K, that chip is reportedly in the hands of Chinese YouTuber ChaoWanKe a little early (via Videocardz). It, too, is showing signs of a slight lead in single-threaded performance, but once again falls a little behind the more core saturated Comet Lake and AMD Zen 3 parts.

It looks like Intel’s new Rocket Lake Core i9 11900K could maintain a lead over at least the Ryzen 9 5900X in single-threaded performance, if only by a hair. That’s potentially a good sign for gaming, but we’ll have to wait until more conclusive data to say for sure.

Intel Rocket Lake processors are expected to arrive in March, at least according to a Gigabyte press release, although we are set to hear more at CES 2021. We’ve also seen a handful of Z590 motherboards ahead of the launch, all indicative of a Q1, or thereabouts, release date.


Giant robots. Stick those two words in front of one another, in that order, and something deep in the human brain lights up. Make them fight one another (what else are they good for, after all?), and you might even get an involuntary squeak of delight. This game is about nothing but enormous mechs punching, kicking, and shooting one another; but something’s not quite right. And I’m not talking about the wrestler fish with nipples the size of transit vans.

To understand what Override 2 is, it helps to understand what it isn’t. It’s a beat ‘em up and, sure, that immediately tells you a lot about the experience. Given the clear influence certain Japanese movies and TV shows have had (this sequel wears its heart on its huge metal sleeve with Ultraman DLC), you’d be forgiven for expecting something akin to an anime beat ‘em up. The speed is a far cry from the lightning pace of such games, however; and while 20 mechs to choose from is a decent selection, it’s not a patch on the encyclopedic cast of, say, a Naruto title.

It’s no Street Fighter, either. Generally speaking, each mech is limited to four to six special moves and an ultimate, no one of which can be chained smoothly into another. Some basic punch and kick combos are possible, but nothing particularly lengthy or flashy. With each arm and leg assigned to a separate button, it’s closer to Tekken than anything else, although the system here lacks the depth and flexibility of Bandai Namco’s legendary series.

The game you’d expect Override 2 to resemble most closely is, well… Override 1. Which it does. Sort of. The first game didn’t exactly set the fighting game scene alight, but it was full of great ideas ripe for further development. A story mode about repelling kaiju, balancing quick but weak strikes with charged, more powerful blows, a co-op mode where up to four people controlled the same mech, a heat meter that prevents constant button bashing—none of which is present here.

Bots and pieces

Override 2 moves along on the unpredictable trolley wheels of bizarre design decisions, the most noticeable of which is the one to drop almost everything that made the first game interesting and unique. With a little tweaking, the combination of giant monsters and co-op mech piloting could have given us the quality Pacific Rim tribute that the first game had in its sights. Sadly, that was not to be. 

Instead of a story mode, there is Leagues, an awkward and underwhelming hybrid of online and offline gameplay. There’s chatter from your ‘agent’ between matches—the idea is that the mechs are fighting in a kind of future sport—but it’s thoroughly uninteresting, and fails to tell any kind of coherent story. That wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if Leagues was… you know…. better.

Each game mode is presented as its own league. The idea, basically, is that you repeatedly play matches in each to work your way up from F to S. You also earn in-game cash as you go, with bonuses won for meeting optional objectives such as blocking a set number of hits. This currency is used for unlocking more mechs for use in Leagues, as well as customisation bits and bobs. I never feel the need to do much customising, though. I’m simply not invested enough to care what picture is used for my avatar, and the majority of mech decoration is limited to different coloured arms, legs, etc.

After each match, a random selection of game modes are made available to play, rather than all of them. Why? I have no idea. It’s yet another inexplicable decision. It certainly doesn’t help in the game’s greatest challenge; finding somebody to play against. Each time you trigger a match in Leagues, Override 2 tries to find online opponents for you, with the option to skip the search and battle bots instead. Despite playing across several different days, I only once found a human opponent.

Circuit breaker

The painfully small number of people playing at any one time perhaps can’t be helped in a niche game, but the fragmentation and distribution of modes could’ve been. There’s a Quick Play option at the main menu to jump into any available game, but I’m not sure if this includes Leagues matches. Either way, it didn’t help.

The struggles are a shame because, once you dig past the baffling design decisions and inexplicable omissions from the first game, there’s a decent fighter in Override 2. The mechs (most of which return from the first game, largely unchanged) are all pleasingly unique and all play very differently. You wouldn’t expect a robot with a huge CRT monitor for a head to fight in the same way as a metal Roman centurion, after all. Well I wouldn’t, anyway.

Override 2 is a faster-paced fighter than the first game, and as a result, loses much of the sense of enormous, weighty mechs clashing. Initially, it feels a bit like a mindless button-basher. Combine the extremely limited combo opportunities with special moves activated by simply hitting two buttons at once, and there doesn’t seem to be much room for skill. Stick with it, though, and you’ll realise that’s not quite true.

There’s a split-second delay before the activation of each special move. As the attacker, you need to make sure that you don’t leave yourself vulnerable. As the defender, you can use that briefest of pauses to block or, better yet, reposition yourself to counterattack. Even the basic element of throwing your opponent can work to your advantage in ways you won’t find in other beat ‘em ups. Arenas contain environmental hazards and, in modes with more than two players, fallen mechs explode after a short time. Time a thrown metallic corpse correctly for a satisfying advantage.

My favourite map is Cakeland. Wonderfully silly name? Check. Strawberries big enough to crush a large family? Check. Sections of the ground that move up and down? Also check. Moving platforms such as this add another layer of strategy, and it’s a shame that they’re not used in more of the game. They limit when and where certain moves can be used effectively. 

Needs rust

One thing that’s survived from the first game is the scattering of limited-use weapons across the maps. This doesn’t add as much as you might hope, and in fact, the game is at its best when you ignore them. Guns feel unfair thanks to generous auto-targeting, and melee weapons tend to be too slow, or afford you an unfairly long reach.

Returning to Leagues, most of the modes can be classified as simple 1v1, 2v2, or 1v1v1v1 fights. The two most interesting deviations are Control—a mode for four players, where the mech which stays inside a shrinking, moving circle for the longest wins (so long as they survive)—and Xenoswarm. The latter is the most challenging mode as the game currently stands. With multiple alien mechs after you (none of which, sadly, are playable), it’s a fight for survival that asks more of you than usual.

In fact, Xenoswarm’s challenge serves to highlight the damage that a lack of players is doing to Override 2. This mode’s difficulty comes solely from the fact that there are more opponents than usual to defeat before the match ends. In any other mode, it’s painfully clear that the AI isn’t quite up to scratch. Whack it up to maximum, and opponents are more aggressive—and pay more attention to the randomly placed glowing circle that slowly charges Ultimate meters—but still doesn’t require mastery of the systems to overcome. There is a good fighter in there somewhere, but it’s difficult to see when you’re stuck with bots that are only putting in a half-hearted effort. 

It really is a shame, because I have a genuine fondness for many of the mechs. One of my favourites is the returning Metageckon, who is basically Mechagodzilla but red. I mean, come on. A robot dinosaur? If you don’t think that’s cool, you’re dead to me.

Other mechs include a giant robot unicorn (that stands on two legs), a breakdancing frog, a mech that could have fallen straight out of Power Rangers, and that wrestling fish with star-shaped metal nipples that I really can’t get over. It may fall short in several other areas, but Override 2 gives its mechs character in spades.

There’s a solid fighting foundation here and, sometimes, you can see it in moments of victory (or even rare instances of defeat) when you find a perfect counter to an attack, or fail due to sloppiness. In fact, this would be good for bouts of family fun; and that’s no snide, backhanded compliment. The overarching simplicity opens the experience up to people of varying skill levels and familiarity with videogame controls (for brief sessions, if not enthusiastically lengthy ones). Beyond that, it’s difficult to recommend for now. It’s far from a terrible game—but it mechs no moves towards being a particularly good one, either.


I have built a lot of cities over the years, and I’ve given my citizens plenty of reasons to flee them. In Cities: Skylines, I flooded their homes in liquid poo; In Surviving Mars, I left them to suffocate; In Anno 1800—and this is the one that’s left me most ashamed—I failed to provide them with enough sausages. Airborne Kingdom, however, is the first city builder where I’ve lost people because the city was leaning too much. 

Before this became a review, my plan was to play an hour of Airborne Kingdom to get some gifs, but instead it ended up stealing most of a day, with me finally leaving my floating metropolis at midnight. And then I kept coming back. I’m an easy mark for a city builder and rarely manage to escape their grasp quickly, but Airborne Kingdom lodges itself in its own niche thanks to some unusual experiments and its spectacular style. 

The basics are familiar and conventional: you build simple production chains and infrastructure to fulfil the needs of the city and its denizens, with the demands of both getting more complicated as you expand. Power, food, factories, morale-boosting diversions—there’s loads to build, but you’ll recognise all the categories. All this is happening in the sky, though, and that’s a pretty substantial wrinkle.

Airborne Kingdom doesn’t feature any combat or even a whiff of conflict, at least not with other people. The war against gravity, though, never ends. Physics is a constant obstacle, and more than anything else it’s that force of nature that determines your city’s layout. You start out with just a little town centre, gently bobbing away in the sky, perfectly balanced. But once you start placing houses, hangars for your planes and towering minarets, it’s going to start sinking, so you’ll need to generate more lift. And you’re going to need to make sure it’s all even.  

Too much tilt and your citizens will peace out. And who can blame them? Nobody wants to live in a place where they have to nail down their furniture, or where they’re greeted by a view of the ground, miles below them, every time they look out the window. They can stomach a little bit of tilt, but I can’t. It just looks like a disaster waiting to happen. And it only takes one little building to push it over the edge. 

Since you have to find and directly recruit your citizens, their loss can sting, and you might end up left with too few people to work or explore, necessitating some unwelcome downsizing as you destroy buildings and try to plan your comeback. They’re a precious resource, but it’s coal that keeps your city aloft. All your most important components burn through the stuff, and unlike other resources it can only be stored in one location, limiting how much you can stockpile. Without that resource, the city’s done for—sadly it’s a bit too heavy to gently float to the ground.

Physics ends up being an excellent replacement for terrain. Geography is a defining feature of a city, and thus city builders, but it loses its impact when you can soar above it all. You’ve got infinite space, but thanks to physics you can just keep expanding in whatever direction you want. You have to build methodically, and then make lots of little adjustments. If the city is lying a bit low, maybe chuck in a new fan or some wings. If all the new buildings are creating too much drag, some more propellers could give you a bit more propulsion. All of these things require resources, workers and space, of course, which might inspire yet more adjustments. 

These limitations have forced me to spend a lot more time considering how my city should grow, and it means no section is ever really complete—I’m always redesigning them. The result is something dynamic and organic, constantly shifting to meet new needs. I had a plan for how I wanted my city to look, and it now looks nothing like my vision. Instead it’s something built out of my reactions to imminent disasters, my experiments, my experiments to fix the problems created by my previous experiments, and a few cosmetic flourishes. It’s a bit of a mess, but I love it.  

The world below still plays an important role. It’s where all your resources are found. Absolutely everything you need to build with, continue flying and keep your people alive is found on the ground, and you can explore the entirety of the map at your leisure. To keep your city fuelled and fed, you’ll have to constantly stay on the move, sending down workers in planes to gather up what you need. While Airborne Kingdom doesn’t lean into its survival elements as much as, say, Surviving Mars, the relationship between the world and the survival mechanics is as strong as it is with a pure survival game.

Instead of giving you more places to build, the world exists to be explored. There are small settlements and cities waiting to be discovered and traded with, plenty of hidden bounties, and a few secrets that can be used to unlock wonders that will make your already very impressive city even more enviable. The map is presented as a literal map, with little embellishments like curling, torn edges, and provides just as much eye candy as the city. 

Despite dabbling in survival management, Airborne Kingdom maintains a relaxing pace. There are complications, crises and plenty of ways to cock everything up, but the first biome has all the resources you need in abundance, letting you build up a nice stockpile, and while scarcity can become an issue, you can return to a less challenging area pretty quickly and recuperate. For the most part, it’s light and breezy. Those aren’t typically adjectives I seek out in management games, but it’s really kept me too focused on scouring the map and working on my own projects to notice that the challenges are infrequent and tension rare. 

Importantly, this pleasant pace gives you plenty of room to flex your creative muscles. You’re not just building a city—you’re creating a weird architectural marvel. While there are plenty of concerns that will shape your city, you’re also free to follow your aesthetic tastes. This goes beyond building placement, too, since you’ll uncover lots of paint schemes that you can apply to buildings individually, by type, or all at once. Much like Oskar Stålberg’s enchanting Townscaper, you can approach city design as an artist as well as a planner. 

Sometimes I like to just slow things down to a crawl and stare at my magnificent creation. It’s constantly buzzing with life, from the narrow streets, to the skies around the city. Even the buildings can’t sit still, and they have a tendency to flap and spin and generally make the city look like a madcap contraption built by an out of control toymaker. It’s hypnotic, though I suspect actually living there would be a lot like living in a carnival that never ends, perpetually surrounded by weird noises and arcane machines, which sounds quite stressful. 

The only place the breeziness becomes a problem is when you’re dealing with other cities. See, your ultimate goal is to create your airborne kingdom by forging alliances with all the cities on the ground, unifying the world. It seems ambitious, when in fact it’s a doddle. You fly up to a city, find out what it needs, get directed to the exact spot you’ll find that thing, and then—after depositing some resources—you’re best buds. The process never changes or spurts out any surprises. Every quest feels like an afterthought.  

Nobody seems to have any concerns about this flying city appearing out of nowhere and making everyone join its empire, either. Once you’ve added a city to your list of allies, you never really need to think about it again. Your allies are always content. Airborne Kingdom never really explores its premise or lets you question your objectives. You don’t need to make hard calls or worry about becoming a tyrant, because you’re always presented as a benevolent force that everyone wants to be mates with.  

The ground-based cities also serve as trade hubs, offering up a long list of resources you can barter for. It’s handy in a pinch, but I never found myself needing to go on spending sprees and only went shopping once or twice. The whole system really just seems to exist for emergencies, and there’s no economy to interact with. You won’t be creating trading routes or trying to turn a profit. The cities value different things, so you do need to think about where you’re shopping, but it doesn’t get much more involved than that. 

I can understand, however, why The Wandering Band might have been hesitant to bog the game down with more complications. It’s already got countless buildings, resources, an elaborate tech tree and plenty of novelties demanding your attention, and all of that has impressively been squeezed inside a game that you can wrap up in ten hours. Surprisingly little has been sacrificed to make it something you can devour over a weekend. And you can spend a lot longer with it if you fancy. 

Before I made my final ally, I spent ages just repainting my city. I kept changing my mind. Sometimes I wanted uniformity, but then I’d get the notion to just throw random colours out there to see how it looked. There was a lot of clashing. A pink roof, red walls and green floors? Fine by me. I guess I’m a bad king, but in very mundane ways that don’t lead to an execution—especially since nobody has invented a guillotine yet. I made every building bright blue once, but I’ve never let my people starve. Well, not for long. 


When Dead By Daylight released in 2016, it was received as an outrageously silly Halloween romp, a game to enjoy with friends who wanted to indulge in a brief, terrifying blood orgy before migrating to other, more refined multiplayer experiences. The premise is simple: Four players take the roles of survivors stuck in a ghastly, Saw-like bloodsport, repairing generators to power an exit gate before hightailing it to safety. The fifth player is a killer, either adopted wholecloth from a prominent horror franchise or heavily inspiredby one. The killer’s job is to prevent the survivors from escaping, impaling them on ghastly meathooks and leaving them for a mysterious eldritch force known only as The Entity. It’s pure camp—a cinematic murder simulator—that delivers gauche slasher glee. What I don’t think anyone saw coming was for Dead By Daylight to mature into one of the best cooperative and competitive multiplayer experiences around.

In the five years since Behaviour Interactive released Dead by Daylight on Steam, the game has developed razor-sharp mechanical intrigue, an ultra-complex web of versatile builds and strategies, and a diverse suite of characters, each equipped with relative strengths and weaknesses. What was a comedy-horror romp mutated into something much closer to League of Legends and Dota 2 in terms of depth. It may be bewildering to consider that hardcore players can spend months scrutinizing the relative power-level and optimization path for Ghostface from Screambut that’s where Dead By Daylight finds itself at the beginning of 2021: an esports-worthy venture hosted by Freddy Kreuger, Bubba Sawyer, and Michael Myers.

This is the jostling, hedging, and pre-match sizing up of an uber-competitive MOBA or FPS.

Dead By Daylight launched with three distinct killers and a quartet of survivors. Their unique abilities oozed with character—The Hillbilly, for instance, can rev up his chainsaw into a murderous sprint—but the inflexibility of the roster ensured that the gauntlet played out in predictable ways. Nobody likes a villain who never alters their devious plan, right? But as of this writing, Dead by Daylight includes 22 killers and 24 survivors, each of whom offer radically different toolkits. 

Load up a match against The Huntress, a killer in a bloodstained bunny mask, and expect to dodge the twirling hatchets that she can chuck across wide swathes of the battlefield. Or perhaps you will face off against the famous Pyramid Head—yes, that one, from Silent Hill—who can banish his prey to Cages of Atonement, which are particularly annoying to escape. 

Players outfit their selected characters with complex perks and inventory add-ons—reducing cooldowns, boosting the effectiveness of certain abilities, guaranteeing that there will always be one last trick up your sleeve—which form a phalanx of calculated meta decisions in the game’s most ardent community. It is not uncommon to see a player recognizing a tough matchup in their team comp against the ordained killer, and utilizing a reagent to juice the odds of the game selecting a certain map that they deem to be unfavorable for the opponent. This is the jostling, hedging, and pre-match sizing up of an uber-competitive MOBA or FPS, somehow filtered into a beer-and-pretzels horror game.WHY REVIEW IT NOW?

Waiting nearly five years to review a game is a little unusual, but Dead by Daylight has only become more relevant since it launched in 2016, evolving into one of the best multiplayer games you can play today. The only thing stopping us from examining that evolution in a (very late) scored review was convention, and DBD’s enduring popularity made bypassing convention an easy decision.

This isn’t the first time we’ve revisited an older game with a new review. Back in 2018, we re-reviewed a selection of games that had likewise evolved over time, including Hearthstone and EVE Online.

If you’ve never played Dead By Daylightthis might feel like overkill to you. It’s easy to be exhausted by what we’ll call “progression creep” in modern gaming. Every time we boot up something new on Steam, we’re thrown into a morass of reedy systems—multiple in-game currencies piling up in the top-right corner of the screen, daily log-in bonuses exploding in the menu, flash sales glistening in the store—that can make the days before the MMOification of everything seem especially sweet. To be sure, Dead By Daylight is weighed down by some managerial heft—there are multiple experience tracks, unlocks, and talent trees to attend to—but I also believe that it earns the weight. The game has developed the ability to reward its minmaxing fussiness; that League of Legends-ish obsession to mess around with the Runes for hours before delving into Runeterra. 

The importance of all of those subtle choices becomes abundantly clear once you start playing against people who actually know what they’re doing. Dead by Daylight in its lowest tiers is charmingly rougish: a bunch of survivors running around like chicken with their heads cut off, and bumbling killers who can’t land a hit with their machete to save their lives. But then, after climbing the MMR, the true intricacies in Behaviour’s design reveal themselves.

The Killers, dastardly and ruthless as they are, play from the first-person and are saddled with limited fields of vision. Clever survivors, who are all equipped with third-person cameras, know that the best way to evade them is to find what the community calls a “loop”—a structure or clutter on the map that allows the players to hop through windows and dart back around through open doors over and over again without ever running into a dead end. The killer chases them through that loop in vain, realizing that for all their might, they will always be just out of reach. Eventually, killers attain the mechanical deftness to use those loops to their advantage. “She thinks for sure I’m going to chase her through the door again. What if I instead feint like I’m headed that way, but instead turn around and grab her when she jumps through the window?” 

Dead By Daylight is full of little mindgames like that—akin to Street Fighter and Tekken, where victory is claimed by an innate understanding of what your opponent thinks you’re going to do. It’s at its most invigorating after a long series of counterpunches, stacking up to the ceiling, until one player bungles their movement or lands a decisive blow. There’s scarcely a more satisfying sensation on PCs right now.

If you were pulling the same cheese in a tabletop RPG, you’d earn a sharp reprimanding from your dungeon master for ruining all of the fun.

It’s funny: Dead By Daylight remains a horror game, and there is still a paranoid thrill to skulking around the marshlands and repairing generators, but the more you learn its systems, the less scary it gets. High level players have simply gotten too good, and aren’t playing it like it was played back in 2016. 

I’ll give you an example. In every round, survivors will find certain corridors equipped with a wooden palette. They can throw that palette down in the middle of the killer’s pursuit, impeding their progress and even stunning them in their tracks if the timing is right. It’s a smart quirk, and it fits Dead By Daylight’s inspiration perfectly. But oftentimes, I see survivors camped out in front of palettes, staring directly at their stalker, waiting for them to cross the invisible line so they can drop it on their head. Boom. They teabag a few times before disappearing off into the darkness. It’s a smart strategy, mechanically speaking, but it possesses none of the fear that Dead By Daylight initially invoked. 

Similarly, killers can specifically target one survivor over and over again in order to eliminate them from the game, reducing the numbers disadvantage as early as possible. Again, a sound approach, but not one that feels reverent of the source material. If you were pulling the same cheese in a tabletop RPG, you’d earn a sharp reprimanding from your dungeon master for ruining all of the fun.

What you get depends on who you’re playing with, and that’s part of the beauty of Dead By Daylight and its knotty legacy. For as much praise as I’ve heaped on the competitive scene’s exhilarating cat-and-mouse dynamism, the game is equally enjoyable among a bunch of idiot friends—people who might be playing for the first time—who only want to run away from Leatherface on a Saturday night. In that case, the loftiness of Dead By Daylight’s game-theory intrigue becomes a distant afterthought, and the only thing that matters is the hushed tones between you and your brother as you slip by a murderer undetected. 

I can’t think of many other games that possess both sides of that dichotomy. League and Overwatch are far too steeped in stately precision to ever be charitable to bad play, and it’s impossible to bring a newcomer into Dota 2 without first forcing them to watch an hour-long tutorial video. Dead By Daylight, on the other hand, brilliantly has it both ways, never abandoning its gory slasher flick joys while still laying claim to a rich competitive environment. It’s both Halloween pastiche and Hereditary psychodrama. That, my friends, is a blockbuster.