Win this SteelSeries headset and Neverwinter goodies on the PCG forums


Right now you can mosey on down to the PC Gamer forums to get the chance to win a SteelSeries headset and some Neverwinter content thanks to SteelSeries and Perfect World Entertainment.

Neverwinter's 22nd module, Dragonbone Vale, is now available on PC and Valindra Shadowmantle is back. The antagonist is making a return alongside the Cult of the Dragon in the Sword Mountains to bring undeath to dragons. And new content doesn't stop there as this module adds traversal grappling hooks, new faction reputation systems, and a new 10-player trial too. That's a lot of adventuring to be getting on with.

In case you're curious, we've already reviewed the Arctis 7 and loved its performance. We'll be giving away not only the headset but also codes to unlock the Nightmare of Neverwinter Pack and the Dragon Emote Pack too.

Gold Prize (2 winners):

– 1 SteelSeries Arctis 7 Gaming Headset.
– Digital code to unlock the Nightmare of Neverwinter Pack for Neverwinter.
– Digital code to unlock the Dragon Emote Pack for Neverwinter.

Silver Prize (100 winners):

– Digital code to unlock the Dragon Emote Pack for Neverwinter.

How to enter

If you want to be in with a chance to win any of these prizes, you can head to this forum thread and follow the instructions on this competitions page. You have from January 27—February 16 to enter so you better hurry. Note that the physical items will be limited to residents of North America, the United Kingdom and Europe, who are 18 years of age and older as of January 20, 2021.

What is micro stutter and how do I fix it?


Have you ever noticed unexpected choppiness in a game where frame rates and performance otherwise seem fine? This can manifest in many ways, and benchmarks don't always tell the whole story (which is why we include a 99 percentile minimum fps). You can be playing a game with a hard 60fps frame rate cap, but still, you'll be plagued by short, irregular frame dips—often referred to as micro stutter.

There are multiple potential causes for micro stutter, with possible solutions that may or may not work. But let's start by first explaining what micro stutter is.

Importantly, micro stutter isn't the same as the stutter associated with low frame rates, or in some cases massive dips in performance while a game loads new assets. (Kingdom Come: Deliverance had severe stuttering at launch, mostly due to loading new textures and models for a complex environment.) Micro stutter is more subtle and often harder to measure objectively—the best tools like Nvidia's FCAT involve color tagging of each frame received by a high-end capture card.

Blur Busters can be useful to see micro stuttering in action. If you swap between the 'smooth' and 'micro stutter' options, it's immediately obvious which one is better—and if you have a monitor with a high refresh rate, the test supports that as well. Micro stutter most often occurs when the rate of new frames doesn't quite match up to your monitor's refresh rate and vsync is enabled.

Other causes of micro stutter

There are other potential causes of micro stutter, like drivers and/or multiple GPUs. SLI and CrossFire are pretty much dead these days, so I'm going to focus on the most common culprit: vsync and frame rate caps.

Back in 2013, AMD discovered some driver optimizations that could help reduce microstutter. (Image credit: AMD)

With a 60Hz monitor, the screen updates every 1/60 of a second, and either a new frame is available in time or it's not. If it's not, the display shows the same frame as the previous update, giving you 30fps, and if a new frame is ready you get 60fps. Micro stutter occurs when the frame rate fluctuates just enough that you might average 60fps, but some frames come a bit early and others come a bit late. The frame pacing is just a bit off.

That's a reason to prefer much higher frame rate caps. If an engine puts in a hard 60fps cap, it tries to have a new frame ready for each 60Hz screen refresh, and often other parts of the engine 'slow down' so that the frames don't finish too early, physics and netcode don't get messed up, etc. However, if there's a slight hiccup in the engine—a new texture needs to be loaded, or a new model, or maybe just some other background task—you can end up with a frame arriving 0.001 seconds too late. Oops, there's some stutter.

Depending on the game, this can be a frequent occurrence, and some people end up preferring a constant 30fps rather than aiming for 60fps and getting micro stutter. Neither of those is desirable, especially on a fast PC.

How do you fix micro stutter?

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

One way of combating micro stutter is to disable vsync, but that has its own drawbacks. Now when a frame is ready from the engine, it will show up on your display. The problem now is that this can lead to tearing—where the next frame arrives in the middle of a screen update. If there's a lot of movement and action, you get a clear line across your display, and if the game is running at 60fps on a 60Hz display the tearing can remain in roughly the same location on your display for a long time.

There's not much you can do with games that include a frame rate cap, especially if that cap is linked to physics, AI, network code, or other elements—that's generally not the 'right' way to code a game engine, but that's a different topic. You can try lowering your quality settings, in the hope of seeing less frequent dropped frames and stutter, but even that doesn't always work. The more expensive solution is to throw hardware at the problem.

So here's the easy fix for micro stutter: a variable refresh monitor.

Variable refresh rates

(Image credit: Nvidia)

Nvidia and AMD recognize the problem with micro stutter, and the solution is to have hardware that can sync the screen refresh rate to the game's output rather than the other way around.

Nvidia's G-Sync and AMD's FreeSync technologies approach things in a similar fashion. When a frame is finished by the GPU, rather than waiting for the next screen refresh to come along, the GPU sends out the new frame and sends a signal to the monitor saying, basically, “refresh now.” The best such displays have a wide range of refresh rates, from 40 to 144Hz, which virtually eliminates micro stuttering. There may be variations in frame rate, but running at anywhere from 40 to 80 fps without tearing or stutters is far less noticeable than discrete jumps between 60 and 30 fps.

If you don't want to lower settings, disable vsync, or buy a G-Sync or FreeSync display, there are still ways to try to reduce micro stutter. Updating to the latest graphics drivers might help (or in some cases, you might try rolling back to older drivers), though this is often on a game-by-game basis. But AMD and Nvidia have been tuning drivers for years and usually, the drivers aren't the root cause.

Another option is to close any unnecessary background tasks—that includes your browser, Discord, FrameView, and any other utilities. Run as clean as possible and see if the problem persists. If it doesn't, you can start reintroducing background tasks and try to determine the culprit.

Cap your frame rates

(Image credit: Nvidia)

One final option is to impose a frame rate cap. If a game can't maintain 60fps, try running it at 30fps. Or if you have a 144Hz display, aim for half or one-third of your refresh rate. 

Some games have a frame rate cap in the settings; otherwise, you can use the Nvidia Control Panel to set a Max Frame Rate or AMD's Radeon Settings to do the same. Ideally, you want to set the frame rate cap slightly above your monitor's refresh rate (such as 72fps on a 60Hz display) and then enable vsync, but if a game has a built-in cap at or below your monitor's refresh rate, you'll need to go lower. Opinions on whether a smooth 30fps is better than 60fps with micro stutter vary, so give it a shot.

Ultimately, there's no single guaranteed fix to every cause of micro stutter. Some of it is specific to game developer decisions (arbitrary low frame rate caps are bad), occasionally it's caused by drivers, and sometimes it's caused by the multi-tasking nature of modern operating systems and fluctuations in the game environments.

Hardware like G-Sync and FreeSync can be part of the solution, and you can just try faster graphics cards and processors, more memory, etc., but throwing money at the problem only goes so far. In situations where micro stutter does occur, the above can help you track down and hopefully cure the problem.

Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s plot twist is genius

Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s plot twist is genius

Final Fantasy VII fans were expecting the 2020 Remake to be a faithful retelling of the original story. Square Enix had other plans: the final few chapters of Final Fantasy VII Remake wildly diverge from the original’s ending, introducing far-reaching consequences for the lore and inciting plenty of outrage from some players as a result. ‘It’s a cop-out’, they complain; ‘just a cheap way to extend the narrative’. They’re wrong. The new ending is utterly inspired, a perfect reimagining of a historic title.

Before we dig through all the details, we should flag that there are some major plot spoilers for both FF7 and its remake ahead – you’ve been warned. And in case you’re still on the fence about picking this up, you can read our Final Fantasy 7 Remake review here.

The plot of Final Fantasy VII Remake mostly follows that of the original anime game until the team escapes from Shinra headquarters. But along the way, there are inklings that something is different this time around, there are forces at work that we’ve never seen before: the Whispers of fate.

IO Interactive offers free Hitman 3 upgrades on Steam after ugly launch


In response to Hitman 3's “mixed” user reviews on Steam, IO Interactive has announced that everyone who purchased the game on the storefront will be given a free upgrade to a higher-tier edition of the game.

Hitman 3 was one of the best games of 2021, but it was hit with a flood of negative user reviews when it launched on Steam last week. The problem isn't the game, but the price: Aggrieved “fans” felt that after a year of Epic Games Store exclusivity, there should have been a launch discount for the Steam release—or that a year-old game shouldn't still be at full price at all.

To be clear, that's not the only issue. Some reviews complain about difficulty connecting to servers (which is particularly frustrating for a singleplayer game), while others say the many different editions on offer are unnecessarily confusing. But pricing is clearly the chief problem: As one recent negative review puts it succinctly, “Wonderful game, terrible pricing and microtransactions.”

After a week of pushback, IO Interactive is taking action to staunch the bleeding. “Our Hitman 3 launch on Steam didn’t go as planned,” the studio announced. “We were excited to bring Hitman 3 to Steam with new content and we knew that anticipation and excitement levels amongst our Steam players was high, especially as the game had been an Epic exclusive for a year.”

“Ultimately, we didn’t meet our own expectations of a launch experience and we don’t like that our Steam community is beginning their Hitman 3 journey in this way.”

See more

To address the complaints, everyone who owns the standard edition of Hitman 3 on Steam, or purchases it there prior to February 19, will be upgraded to the deluxe edition, while owners of the deluxe edition or the Hitman Trilogy on Steam will get an upgrade to the Seven Deadly Sins Collection.

The upgrades will roll out automatically through Steam beginning today, January 27. “Simply launch your Steam copy of Hitman 3 and the new content from your free upgrade will be waiting for you to enjoy,” IO said.

GTA 5 car cheats – PC console commands for GTA V

GTA 5 car cheats – PC console commands for GTA V

Are you looking for GTA 5 car cheats? Be honest, if you could spawn any type of vehicle right at your feet, you’d have a sports car on every corner in GTA. Sure, you could steal a car from a random pedestrian, but where’s the fun in that? Only the most expensive vehicles are worth your time, and if you use GTA 5 car cheats, you never have to drive a cheap car ever again.

The beauty of playing GTA 5 on PC is that you have three options for entering car cheats: the cheat console menu, your in-game mobile phone, and using old school cheat inputs with a controller. The easiest method depends on what input device you’re using – even if you’re using a pad, it might be faster to keep a keyboard nearby as the PC cheats are easier to remember.

Entering GTA 5 cheats disables achievements, so we highly recommend making a backup of your save before proceeding. Here’s every GTA 5 car cheat to instantly spawn cars, motorbikes, and much more.

RELATED LINKS: GTA 5 mods, GTA 6, Buy GTA V

Epic’s next free game is a platformer from Donkey Kong Country vets

Epic’s next free game is a platformer from Donkey Kong Country vets

It’s Thursday, and you know what that means – another round of free PC games from the Epic Games Store. This week, you can grab the post-apocalyptic action game Daemon x Machina, and as ever, Epic has revealed next week’s freebie, too, which isn’t to be missed if you like platform games or Donkey Kong Country.

You’ll be able to grab Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair from the usual Epic Games Store promotion page on Thursday, February 3 at 8am PST / 11am EST / 4pm GMT. It’ll be there for one full week, at which point it’ll be replaced by another freebie. As always, you’ll ‘purchase’ the game at a price of zero dollars, and it’ll remain in your library just like any game you might pay money for. It’s been available once before, so this is a good chance to pick it up if you missed out last time.

Here’s the Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair blurb from the Epic Store: “Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is a platform adventure from some of the key creative talent behind ‘Donkey Kong Country’. With their arch-nemesis Capital B up to no good the buddy duo needs to spring into action once again to save the day!”

Mod makes Kratos the God of dad jokes


The excellent God of War has been out in the wilds on PC for a few weeks, which means that the mods are starting to get more interesting than the (always welcome) saves and shader packs. Step forward God of Dad Jokes which restores a bunch of jokey audio recorded by Christopher Judge, Kratos' voice actor, that for tonal reasons wasn't included in the final game.

There's not a whole treasure-trove of material here: But what there is, is good. The mod adds the unused lines and edits the localisation files to keep it consistent. It is also English language only. You can see it in action below and, even if you're not that interested in installing the mod yourself, the second line is very funny indeed.

This is the first audio mod for God of War: There are plenty of others that make minor visual tweaks, as well as rather bizarrely one that removes Kratos's facial hair and makes him look like Ben Kingsley. With the game's success on PC, expect much more to come: Personally speaking, I'm looking forward to someone replacing Jörmungandr with Thomas the Tank Engine.

Apex Legends’ flying city is getting a violent relocation next season


Olympus has been conspicuously absent from Apex Legends during Season 11. But while we're all excited to return to the fan-favourite floating city, it's looking a wee bit worse for wear in the new launch trailer for Season 12: Defiance. 

Earlier this week we were reintroduced to Mad Maggie, a tooth-spitting rebel who'll be joining the Apex Games in Season 12 next month. Today's Defiance launch trailer sees her add throat-tearing to that rather grizzly resume—but our hungry hungry anti-heroine isn't the only star of the coming season.

Respawn previously teased that Olympus, Apex's flying city and best arena, would be returning in an altered form. That form, as it happens, appears to be the result of plot shenanigans punting it across the galaxy and plummetting out of the clouds. Olympus now floats tentatively above a city sprawl, with teasers for the game's third anniversary showing lines of flying cars passing just underneath. While we don't get a good look at the overall shape of Olympus post-warp, it looks like the phase machinery that sent it there will likely become a new map location (replacing Rift, at a glance).

Apex has a habit of utterly blowing up maps with map changes, mind, and not always for the better. The last thing I want is for Olympus to go the way of World's Edge—I adore the map for its clean, sleek design and compact layout, so here's hoping it hasn't been too knackered by the trip—though those red skies and falling houses are giving me plenty cause for concern.

We do also get a hint at some of Maggies abilities, from a kind of dart gun that fires thermite through walls to what appears to be a Junkrat-style tyre she can send screaming at opponents (like poor Fusey here). We'll likely get more details next week, though fans have already noted that Maggie's key art does also look like she's about to launch the mother of all Beyblades.

See more

On that note, get ready to let 'er rip when Apex Legends Season 12: Defiance launches on February 8.

New Apex Legends: Defiance trailer shows off a wrecked Olympus

New Apex Legends: Defiance trailer shows off a wrecked Olympus

Apex Legends’ Olympus map is going to look pretty different next season. Following some teases, Respawn Entertainment has now shown off a new trailer that puts Olympus’s newly wrecked state front and centre.

The trailer starts with Mad Maggie being thrown from a dropship into the map for a typical battle royale game. After fleeing from one team, she soon stumbles across a mysterious figure below the surface, who you may recognise from Maggie’s reveal trailer. The man soon initiates a sequence on a terminal before sending the new tooth-spitting fighter back to the surface of Olympus. Things start to go wrong as the floating map then teleports to a new location before it begins to plummet from the sky. The floating mass of land soon stabilises to avoid smacking the floor below, though it’s not enough to stop everything from being tossed about the place.

The trailer also all but confirms that the mysterious man is Octane’s father, Eduardo Silva – the CEO of a pharmaceutical company. Maggie manages to swipe the mysterious man’s glasses before meeting with Octane later, who asks “papa?” when noticing the green spectacles.

RELATED LINKS: Apex Legends characters guide, Apex Legends skins, Apex Legends map guide

How to get into PC gaming without actually having a PC


It's no secret that there's a component shortage ravaging the PC building market, with demand exceeding supply by a long shot due to a boatload of depressing factors I'm not going to get into here. Currently, thanks to this fact, there's a less-than-useful PC sitting in my cupboard, with a great big hole where the GPU used to be. My partner, the cheeky bastard, having sold his Nvidia GTX 980 Ti for some spare dollar, decided to 'borrow' my GTX 1080 Ti (for science). 

I'm now faced with the harsh reality that once my RTX 2070 Super test rig is ripped away from me and sent back into the office, I'll be left totally GPU-less.

I'm sure many of you are in the position of trying to acquire a new graphics card at a time where that feels almost impossible. New, supposedly high volume 'budget' GPUs have just been launched—the Radeon RX 6500 XT and GeForce RTX 3050—but are already way above MSRP or completely out of stock. 

So, it seems to me that game streaming services could be the best way to get us through. I could just replace my physical gaming rig with one in the cloud until I'm able to buy a new graphics card. 

While I wait for my fantasy GPU to ship from a place in the future where silicon dreams are made, and drown in 'we haven't forgotten about you' emails from component retailers, I've been checking out some alternative ways of PC gaming without actually having a gaming PC. 

I've put together my impressions of some top game streaming services out there, and how effective they might be at quenching our thirst for gaming while we wait out the great GPU shortage of 2021. 

Some GeForce Now devices

(Image credit: Nvidia)

Nvidia GeForce Now

There are three options for an Nvidia GeForce Now membership: 'free' which, if you hadn't guessed, costs nothing; 'Priority' which is a paid service costing $49.99 (£44.99) for 6 months; and a top-tier RTX 3080 package costing $99.99 (£89.99) for 6 months. All options let you rent a cloud server to play your games, but the two paid for options give you higher spec RTX level GPUs to play with, higher resolution gaming, and longer play times.

Otherwise, you only get to play for one hour at a time and don't get access to any of those shiny ray-traced effects in the games which support them.

(Image credit: Nvidia)

The service gives you access only to games you already own on Steam, Battle.net, Epic, and UPlay, although Steam Family Sharing works perfectly well, and GFN Thursday rewards can include some free games, too. Either way, it's a service best suited for those who already have a bursting game library. If you're just getting into PC gaming there's no way to test out games you don't already own, unless a generous loved one will let you have a go through Steam Family Sharing.

Still, the number of GFN supported games is potentially a little lacking due to some controversy causing upset between GeForce Now and certain game developers. Though the library is regularly growing. There have been instances of unsupported games working, but a lot of that has now been patched out, with Origin games being the only ones left with a workaround.

Although you're somewhat limited by your hardware with GeForce Now, it will work on even some of the lowliest of PCs and laptops, and there are a host of options that mean you can access GeForce Now from loads of different platforms. 

If you have a desktop machine or laptop to play on, it'll need Windows 7 64-bit or above, a dual-core CPU that runs at 2GHz or faster, 4GB of RAM or more, and a GPU that supports DirectX 11. That could either be an Nvidia GeForce 600 series and up, AMD Radeon HD 3000 series or newer, or it can even run solely on your CPU's integrated graphics—the requirements page lists Intel HD Graphics 2000 or newer. 

There's also a GeForce Now app for Android 5.0 (including Android TV boxes, though that's still in beta), as long as you have 2GB of RAM and a controller that plugs into your device. And if you only have access to *shudder* a Mac, the service has also been tested on MacBook models from as far back as 2008. As long as you're running macOS version 10.10 or above, you should be fine.

You can even download the app or access GeForce Now through your Chrome browser, or Safari browser on your Mac or iPhone.

GeForce Now PC app

(Image credit: Nvidia)

Users with an Nvidia Shield TV can also play games through GeForce Now, and the service now offers low-res auto upscaling to 4K on the big screen at 60 fps. It's possible to use the 4K upscaling functionality from 360p through 1440p—it was previously limited to just 720p and 1080p. That means less bandwidth is eaten up, and less opportunity for lag to creep in, but the image fidelity is still there.

You can also play in native 4K HDR on the Shield device, too, where on PC and Mac it's limited to 1440p at 120 fps.

GeForce Now has a few streaming quality modes, each of which will automatically set your game's graphics to the most optimal settings, depending on how much bandwidth you're willing to allocate to the service. Or you can create a custom streaming quality, and GFN will try to predict how much data usage it'll eat up per hour. We always recommend using an ethernet connection where possible to alleviate lag, but a 5GHz Wi-Fi connection should be fine too.

My major gripes with GFN, aside from its stunted list of supported games, is the UI. Navigating it is a bit of a pain; it's like it tries to make you believe you already own certain games when they're not actually in your library. It could do with a tidy up honestly, to make it clearer which games are available to play, and perhaps easier for you to organise your games the way you want.

But GeForce Now is one of the cheapest game streaming services to date, and the free membership option makes it all the more accessible, though it can be a little off-putting with what I've heard of the peak server wait times. The technology, however, is unsurpassed, with games looking and playing as good through the streaming service as they do played natively on your own PC.

Generally though, the service does what it says it will: it gives you access to most of your games, and removes the need for high-end hardware, or downloading, in order to play them.

Google Stadia

(Image credit: Google)

Google Stadia

Stadia is Google's own game streaming platform. The main difference between Stadia and other game streaming services is, because it's a platform, you cannot play games you already own on other game launchers. Everything must be purchased through Stadia and will remain on the platform. So, if you already have an extensive game library on a different platform, and don't feel like forking out for a second copy of your favorite games, it may not be the service for you.

The games can also be hideously expensive too.

If you're just starting out, though, and have gotten past the initial shock of not being able to import games you already own, the Pro subscription has a little more to offer. Google offers a free month of Stadia subscription, which otherwise costs $9.99 (£8.99) per month. For that, you gain access to a host of free games, with more being added every month, along with discounts, 4K streaming, HDR, and 5.1 surround sound for your games.

There's also a Premier Edition bundle that comes with a Stadia Controller and Chromecast Ultra. Nowadays, you can find the latter for around $99 (£89.99) instead of its original RRP of $129 (£119), but you still need a Stadia subscription to play. The accompanying Bluetooth Stadia Controller can wirelessly link to your TV through the Chromecast Ultra, though, or to your computer at stadia.com, or even to your mobile device. 

And while the list of compatible devices is in no way exhaustive, it's the only controller on the market that works wirelessly with Chromecast Ultra TVs.

Google Stadia Specs

Min network: 10 Mbps minimum, 35 Mbps for 4K
Standard:
$9.99 (£8.99)/month 1 month free, 4K, 60fps, HDR, 5.1 surround sound
Premier bundle: Controller + Chromecast Ultra

The site recommends a 10 Mbps internet connection as a minimum for standard gaming, but there are several data usage options listed on the support page to help you figure out how much bandwidth Stadia will be eating up. And although there are plenty of accounts of people getting 60 fps at 4K through the service through an ethernet connection, it still may not be enough to keep up with some of the more competitive games.

Just as an aside, if you're thinking of spending some of your Google Play balance—a Google platform will surely let you use your Google Play credits, right?—currently you can only use your Google Play balance to purchase games via the Stadia Android app and not via Stadia.com. You also can't purchase games at all through the Chromecast Ultra.

So while there are some drawbacks to the service, particularly in having to re-buy any games you want to play through it, Stadia will at least give you a decent streamed gaming experience that's an awful lot like a gaming PC. And it does so in style, but still with a lot of caveats.

The main fear I have in considering signing up is that, should Stadia be discontinued, I'd lose access to any games purchased through the platform. Poof, gone, just like that. There's a lot of discourse online about exactly how committed Google is to the game streaming service, and, although you'd expect there to be some form of replacement if Stadia did go under, I'm not into the idea of having that eventuality hanging over my head.

It has, after all, recently disbanded the big internal studio headed by Jade Raymond, which was going to create bespoke games specifically for Stadia. So all the fancy effects only to be found on first-party Stadia games that Google promised at launch will never be seen on your screen.

Blade Shadow

The Blade Shadows many devices

(Image credit: Blade)

Blade's Shadow cloud streaming is a little different to the others; rather than being a game streaming service, it's a full PC streaming service. There are three options for a subscription here, though sadly with no free option available. The standard Shadow Boost monthly subscription costs $14.99 (£14.99), or $11.99 (£12.99) if you sign up for the 12-month contract. 

Already that's miles above the others, but that price gives you access to essentially your own fully functioning Windows 10 PC, packing a GeForce GTX 1080 equivalent, 12GB memory, a four-core, eight-thread CPU, and 256GB of storage. Even with the lowest config then, you should be able to run anything you own at 1080p at decent frames.

Okay, colour me intrigued. 

Looking down the specs page, there are some much juicier upgrades to come. Listed as 'available soon,' Shadow Ultra will set you back $29.99 (£29.99) per month, or $24.99 (£24.99) with the 12-month plan. That should kick things up a notch, with access to a GeForce RTX 2080 equivalent, 16GB memory, a four-core, eight-thread CPU, and a 256GB SSD and 256GB HDD. This kind of config should guarantee some decent 1440p gaming or something like 144fps at 1080p—Ray Tracing included. You also have the option to upgrade your storage, on this plan, to host a 2TB HDD instead.

Now, Shadow Infinite would be a big step up from there. For $49.99 (£49.99) per month, or $39.99 (£39.99) on the 12-month contract, you'd unlock the equivalent power of a 24GB GeForce RTX Titan graphics card, a six-core, 12-thread CPU, 32GB memory, and 256GB SSD storage, plus a 768GB HDD. Again, storage upgrades are available up to 2TB HDD, but more importantly, this config will provide some juicy performance if you have the bandwidth to support it. 

Blade Shadow Specs

Min network: 15Mbps
Standard:
$11.99 (£12.99) – GTX 1080, 4-core 8-thread CPU, 12GB memory, 256GB storage
Ultra: $24.99 (£24.99) – RTX 2080, 4-core 8-thread CPU, 16GB memory, 256GB SSD, 256GB HDD
Infinite: $39.99 (£39.99) RTX Titan, 6-core, 12-thread CPU, 32GB memory, 256GB SSD, 768GB HDD

The main benefit to all this is that no matter what plan you're on, you'll be given access to your own high-end PC. That means you can download and play any game or application as if you had the PC right there in front of you. Not being limited to games opens up a whole world of potential for the processing power now at your fingertips. 

No, you can't mine with it so don't get any ideas, but you can get access to any creative programs, 3D modelling, or rendering software you own. Oh, and when you download games onto your cloud PC, you get a 1Gb/s download speed, regardless of your home connection speed.

The main issue is the small amount of storage space for the standard subscription. Doesn't matter how good the download speed is, you're still only going to have space for a select few AAA games. This is an issue the options above have managed to circumvent, but it's still pretty cool that you have your own PC in the cloud at all.

Shadow can be accessed through Windows, macOS, Android, Android TV, iOS, tvOS, and Linux, via the Shadow app. There's also the Blade Shadow Ghost, a little dock for use with a standard TV, which boasts 4K streaming at 60fps and 1080p at 144fps, and can run over WiFi where its predecessor (the Shadow Box) could not.

Blade recommends around a 15Mbps connection for standard, and the service supposedly works via 4G LTE (just make sure you're on unlimited data or you'll be in the red, in no time).

Originally, with servers based only in France, the service was limited to use in and around that region—being far from your rented PC is unfortunately likely to incite lag. Now though, datacenters in Amsterdam, Chicago, Dallas, New York, Paris, Santa Clara, Gravelines and Seoul, mean there are a lot more server options available. As the service improves, so should issues with server lag. 

There is some concern around Blade's financial stance at the moment with the company having filed for bankruptcy recently. It's convinced this will have minimal impact on the servers, though, and the service is set to keep running as normal, with Blade feeling 'strengthened and emboldened' by its experience. So hopefully it's able to bounce back and keep doing the incredible work it does. 

Conclusion

Cloud game-streaming still has a long way to go, but with more options springing up all the time, it's clear companies see the benefits. Xbox has even jumped on the bandwagon with Project xCloud now becoming Xbox Cloud Gaming inside Game Pass Ultimate for $15 per month. And with the competition heating up, services will be pushed to improve—we hope. 

Personally, I'm more likely to back a small startup company with big, brilliant ideas like Blade. Right now there may be some hiccups, but it's a fantastic and ambitious business model that gives users what they want without forcing them to buy their own games again, or learn to navigate a new UI (unless you're coming over from Mac, I guess). And if it goes under, you really have nothing to lose. All your save games are likely to be on the cloud anyway, and you can freely access cloud storage spaces to save your files, too.

At the end of the day, I'm still pretty skeptical about playing competitive games through any of the above game streaming services. Even paying for higher specs can't save you from the scourge of terrible ping, but the more we believe and invest in small-time businesses like Blade, the less we'll have to worry about that kind of stuff.