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Summer Games

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In Whistler, we don't seem to get weather as much as we get systems that tend to stick around for days, weeks and sometimes months. If it rains then it rains for days. If the sun comes out, it stays out. We can go from two weeks of straight rain to a heat wave and drought with no in between.

It's made me appreciate the good weather when it's here all the more because there are no guarantees. When summer ends, it's over.

When it's nice by all means head outside and stay out there as long as you can. But if it rains then sometimes it helps to have a few video games around to pass the time.

In fact, summer video game launches typically do pretty well. It makes sense: young people home from school and university have a lot of time on their hands and, sadly, no jobs to go to; there's nothing on television but reruns; sometimes the heat and bugs are enough to drive people indoors for short periods of time; and if you work hard outside all day then sometimes the couch is all you can manage when the evening rolls around.

This year's crop of summer games is actually pretty weak, but there are a few highlights:

If you have a PS3, the hot game at the moment is The Last of Us, a zombie-survival horror game released on June 14 that is blowing people away with its compelling story and incredible set pieces. It's essentially a long escort mission with the tough main character acting as guide for a young girl, sneaking around and occasionally fighting zombies and other survivors.

For Xbox 360 owners, the big zombie game of the moment is a $24 arcade game called State of Decay, a sandbox zombie thriller that's getting top reviews. It's being called a survival role playing sandbox game with gameplay and has you going from place to place, setting up bases, arming your supporters and defending against waves of zombies. In between attacks you venture outside of defended areas to discover more survivors and find supplies.

The graphics are arcade quality and jaggy, but critics agree that it's a refreshing take on a rapidly aging genre.

July is a bit of a wasteland for games, although Dynasty Warriors fans (PS3 only) will get number eight in the series on July 15.

August looks pretty good

A short list of games includes Payday 2, Disney Infinity (family friendly for all platforms), The Bureau: XCOM Declassified (a first person companion to the critically acclaimed XCOM: Enemy Unknown), Saints Row 4 (an over-the-top sandbox game that takes Grand Theft Auto gameplay into space aliens/superhero territory), Lost Planet 3 (first person shooter) and Killer is Dead (an intriguing Japanese game that has the coolest art style I've seen in a long time).

September's big titles are Rayman Legends (kid friendly), Total War: Rome II, Killzone Mercenary, Kingdom Hearts HD (kid friendly) and Grand Theft Auto V (not kid friendly). October's all about Batman: Arkham Origins and Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag. November's top titles are Call of Duty: Ghosts and Watch Dogs, bookending with new console releases by Sony and Microsoft.

Mobile costs dropping?

A few years ago Canada was among the most expensive of all OECD nations when it came to the cost of broadband Internet and wireless services, but there's been some progress. A new study from Wall Communications released last week has found that government efforts to increase competition might be working as planned, with the cost of mobile phone services dropping 13 per cent, year over year. Data plans have only dropped about five per cent, but it's still significant.

As for Internet, the cost has dropped around six per cent — although with all of the major carriers capping broadband usage, the drop isn't much for heavy users to sing about.

The one exception is for super high speed networks promising 15 megabits per second download times. Canada is second to the U.S. in price.

Windows 8.1 fixes the bad

Windows 8 hasn't won a lot of fans, and no wonder — the decision to boot people to the tiled start screens is off-putting and there are some glaring issues for power users. Apps are hard to navigate without shortcuts, while search tools, from my perspective, kind of suck.

Like most Windows 8 users I spend 99 per cent of my time on the desktop and downloaded a third party app to bring back the start menu with its handy search bar. I started with Pokki but now use StartMenu8.

The good news is that the latest update, Windows 8.1 (code-named Windows Blue, and only available in preview at this point), fixes some of these annoyances. The search tools are easier to access, which is a slight improvement, and you can opt to load straight to the desktop. A new window icon on the bottom left of the desktop view also puts the Shut Down/Restart and Search commands back at your fingertips. You can customize how navigation tools work, and even customize your SkyDrive app to automatically backup certain files. Microsoft has also tweaked the already fast software to be even faster.

If you've upgraded to Windows 8, this is a must-have upgrade.

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