Musing #57: Steam Link on Fire TV

The release (or lack of it) of the Steam Link app caused a lot of brouhaha in the past month. While it it is meant for mobile devices, it undeniably adds a lot of value to the Fire TV and for that matter to all Android devices. It is a must-have that would have certainly made it to my list of  'The Essentials' were it available back then. It is not officially available on Amazon, so your best bet is to sideload it.

As I mentioned previously in my review of the AFTV3, the Ethernet adapter doesn't make a whole lot of sense as it is limited to 100 Mbps. However, it would be more than enough in this case as Steam Link requires a maximum of 30 Mbps for streaming. Unfortunately, I had to rely on the 5 GHz WiFi network (Steam Link doesn't support 2.4 GHz) with the TV being 25 metres away from the router, separated by a wall. This issue is compounded by the fact the 5 GHz receiver on the AFTV3 is exceptionally weak.

After playing with the settings, the only way I could get Steam Link working on the AFTV3 over such a long distance was by switching the 5 GHz channel bandwidth to 20 MHz. This significantly reduces the throughput but is a necessity for my current setup which I hope to change soon. Over the 20 MHz channel and at a distance of 25 metres, Steam Link works unimpeded in the 'Balanced' mode which uses 15 Mbps. I was even able to get the 'Beautiful' mode, requiring 30 Mbps, to work over the 20 MHz channel but it was inconsistent. On the other hand, it worked exceptionally well over the 40 MHz channel as can be seen below, but the AFTV3 was unable to sustain the signal over the distance, resulting in frequent disconnections. Nonetheless, this is an issue that can be easily resolved through some rearrangement.

Steam makes it quite evident that the software is in beta and that AFTV is not officially tested.

 However, as long as the network is up to it, the AFTV is more than capable of streaming.

Inability of the network to stream properly is indicated with the frame loss and network variance.

Setting up Steam Link is extremely easy as it essentially requires pairing the TV with the host PC using a PIN.

Additionally, the Steam Client on PC requested the installation of additional audio drivers once the setup was done, but I presume this might depend on the setup. I had sold my Xiaomi Bluetooth controller a few months back so I didn't have a controller to pair with Steam. However, I did have my Apple Wireless Keyboard and Logitech M557 paired to AFTV which ought to have done the job. 

While the keyboard worked fine with the Big Picture mode, v1.1.3 of Steam Link that I installed initially didn't support the mouse which was subsequently rectified in v1.1.4, indicating that Valve is actively paying attention to user feedback. At present, the lag isn't too bad, but the mouse controls are too sensitive which I presume is due to the fact that the tuning has been done as per analog controllers. It might make sense to pick up the Xbox One S or Steam controller for universal compatibility.

With the initial impression being quite good, one can only hope for Steam Link to work seamlessly once it comes out of beta. Perhaps the Steam Sale will become a lot more attractive for AFTV owners.

Review #23: Deus Ex Mankind Divided

I didn't imagine that it would be this long since the preview till I came up with the review, but such are the vagaries of life. Having said that, Steam puts the play time for my first playthrough at a little over 60 hours at the 'Give me Deus Ex' level with the 'Desperate Measures' DLC (not including the Breach Mode). This length is simply a reflection of my playing style which involves a stealth only approach and exploration of the complete map the first time I enter it, including hacking all doors/computers and finding alternate paths. I must add that this style of playing might only be for fans of the franchise since it really tends to get tedious after a while. It has exceeded the time I spent on Human Revolution only on account of the larger, free-roaming maps. For those playing through the main story alone, I can't imagine the game length even extending 15 hours.

So what's the verdict on this one? On the plus side, the gameplay has certainly been improved if you consider the changes to the cover system, hacking, health and bioelectric energy systems. The game stays true to the Deus Ex template of having alternate quests, conversation choices and alternate pathways. However, this is not necessarily good as it feels really stale in its implementation and seems to be there just for the sake of it. Also, the decisions made in conversations, especially concerning high profile characters like Miller seem to have little effect on the overall story as against the situations with Paul and Jock in the first game of the series. The developers have tried to bring in some degree of freshness through experimental augmentations but I didn't need or want to use any of them apart from Remote Hacking. I have a particular gripe with the way the side missions are handled which are more of a "go there and do this" kind of a thing. An open-ended approach (as in the original game) wherein you discover and choose your path without worrying about a checklist would have certainly been more engaging. To me, it seems that the developers have put too much focus on unessential aspects at the expense of a good story which has always been Deus Ex's strong point.

The game's marketing did a great job of hyping up the game's premise through the live action trailers but the game fails miserably to deliver on that front. The game stands a notch below Human Revolution and quite some way away from the original game in terms of its story. The previous game epynomously focused on the idea of human evolution through augmentation. Even then, Purity First depicted the fracture in the society as not all conceived augmentation to be an evolution of humanity. Mankind Divided, on the face of it, takes this concept to the next level where the society is already deeply divided with the "evolved" beings being on the side of repression after the Panchaea incident. One can draw analogies to the current state of society which is divided on race and caste rather than augmentation. However, this tension is never really felt through the game. It tries to enforce the feeling through police checks throughout and poverty at Golem city but none of them really strike an emotional cord. In fact, the variety across the locations is sorely lacking, especially when the original Deus Ex managed to convey much better ambiance through its rudimentary graphics but awesome soundtrack. There is just one antagonist who appears at the end and even then I inadvertently defeated him in seconds with weapon misfire that brought him right next to me. What's worse is that the game has been left open for a sequel without a proper ending. The Marvel-like in-credit cutscene makes it even more unbearable since the game could have definitely used a conspiracy story arc and if it was thought of, it should have been part of the main game rather than DLCs or sequels. I am not too enticed at this moment about playing as Adam Jensen once again only to have the story tie up somehow with the original game and JC Denton. This is pretty much evident by the desperate attempts being made to put in to play all the main characters from the original game.

Moving on to other extraneous aspects of the game, the pre-order consumables turned out to be absolutely unnecessary since the game is benevolent with XP if you engage in exploration. Also, the micro-transactions are thankfully unneeded. Stealth gameplay does not require any ammunition, so you are left with a lot of cash as well. As far as augmentations go, hacking and invisibility are the only ones I ever needed to explore the entire map at a decent pace.The Breach mode also deserves a mention here since I am least enamoured by it having experience it partly during the main game. This makes it pretty evident that there is hardly any depth to this game and as I mentioned previously, the developers are blindly following the Deus Ex template without proper thinking and integration. I almost forgot to mention DX12 which was unusably buggy till recent patches and just as it has finally reached a level of polish, it is essentially useless since the game doesn't offer much replayability and I am not inclined to spend on DLCs unless there is a bargain-basement sale. A post-game check revealed that I missed just one side mission - " 01011000" and hence I am satisfied with my gameplay. Also, there is only one "either or" mission selection scenario in the game and a properly timed save allows one to try out both, even though you have to eventually select one of the options.

To conclude, on its own, this would be a "just above average" game. Being part of the Deus Ex universe only makes it even worse and is more or less a slap on the face of long term fans. For the sake of the franchise, I hope they abandon the protagonist and somehow complete the story arc (even if through DLCs) before the next iteration so that we can have a Deus Ex game that doesn't have to follow the shadow of the original game and fail miserably while doing so.

Musing #16: Steam sale time!

It's that time of the year again when the wallets start begging for mercy. I am of course speaking of the Steam sale. The thing is that I look up to it in equal parts glee and horror. The latter, not because of the damage to the wallet but for the fact that my games collection now stands at 252 and I haven't even completed 10% of it. It suffices to say that even launching all the games in my collection will be an achievement I shall never accomplish.

So then, I will be completing my 3rd year on Steam next month and I have somehow managed to maintain a clean sheet as far as my friend's list is concerned. The problem is that not until a few months ago, there was no pricing in the native currency that made Steam purchases unlikely for the majority. Also, there wouldn't be too many PC enthusiasts willing to drop a bomb on the GPU, though mine has served me well for over 3 years now at 1080p. In spite of this, I have always waited for the Steam sale with bated breath for there were always bargains to be had. Of course, paying in dollars meant a huge penalty because of which I was perennially restricted to games discounted to the $5-$10 range and that was no bad thing for it meant being able to pick up hits going only a year or two back, not to speak of the classics. A small proportion of my collection comes from region locked discs sold by online retailers, but I must admit a majority of my collection is made of Humble Bundles which happened to be my saving grace time and again in the past..

Now, with the Steam sale in native currency, even Humble Bundles with dollar pricing have become expensive, though no one can resist a good deal and the altruism that comes with it. Hence, this particular sale holds greater significance. For someone whose fertile gaming period coincided with the genesis of Hitman, Deus Ex, Thief franchises, you can imagine what games will be on my wishlist. Even so, one of those acclaimed indie titles is bound to find a way in and I have Firewatch on my list for now.

Inevitably, the sale will end in contemplation of the lifetime that is destined to be inadequate to ever enjoy it to the extent desired.

P.S.: Day 1 of the sale indeed turned out to be the highest single day purchase I have made to date. They are certainly well regarded titles, so I really hope I can at least start off with all of them within this year.
  • SOMA
  • Life is Strange
  • Black Mesa