Month: October 2014

Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth – My thoughts.

Hello there! I wholeheartedly apologise for such a lack of content recently and I’m not going to bore you with excuses but I will say that this isn’t so much of a review rather than my thoughts and experiences with the game so let’s just get on with it.

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If you own a computer or are in to strategy games and haven’t heard of the behemoth that is Sid Meier then where the fuck have you been? The strategy game giants have graced us with another instalment to their Civilization series this time however there is a twist. It’s set in the future! Instead of doing the usual business of building a famous empire from the ground up over thousands of years this time we take on the job of setting up a colony on a distant planet. Each Civ is funded by a sponsor so instead of having separate countries you have different corporations. Now for the interests of impartiality I will admit that I am quite the Civilization fan but for the sack of this article I have put aside my preconceptions and tried to play this game with an open mind.

First off I am going to address an issue that I have seen a lot of people have with this game and that is that there is a lack of personality from the A.I. leaders. I don’t really think this is as big a deal as what some are making it out to be. Yes their aren’t as many leaders(as of yet) as there have been in previous games so most playthroughs are similar but you can clearly see patterns in behaviour and individual characteristics of each one. I think the major difference in this game is that none of the names are recognisable as in previous Civ games so we have no previous ideas of what that person is like. I do agree that the level of personality isn’t as high as in previous games but it is undeniably still there. I found myself many times getting angry with how certain factions were acting and even being very spiteful in different playthroughs because of how a leader acted in a different game. Anyway rant over.

The game plays a lot like any other Civ game so if you aren’t a fan of the previous ones then this probably won’t float your boat however if you are a fan of the earlier games or the genre in general then this will be a happy edition to your collection. For most part the game is almost identical to Civ V as they run on the same engine however it is the new setting and tweaks that they have made that make the game feel drastically different. The most notable change is the tech web, previously being a tech tree, allowing for much greater variation in advancements and giving science an even greater level of strategy as it makes each technology you research that little bit more significant. It also separates the different countries/corporations quite drastically as there are now hundreds of different orders to unlocking things like buildings and new units. The next most significant feature is probably the Affinity system. By acting in certain ways or researching certain things you gain affinity points and increasing your chosen affinity will lead to stronger units, new perks and also affect how other Civs react to you. This is a welcome addition however can prove a bit distracting as sometimes you focus on growing your affinity rather than your own Civilization.

There are so many choices to make in this game that it borderlines on the ridiculous. One of the reasons there aren’t that many starting leaders(in this game they are called sponsors) is because after picking which one you want to be there are then three more choices for you to customize your Civ with such as starting bonuses etc. This can be really fun as it really feels like your Civ is your own however as all the A.I. also customize themselves can make it difficult to work out how the opponents will play. The game also runs a quest system helping you to feel like there is a progression to what you are doing and with certain quests you are given a decision to make which will change what certain buildings output or give different buffs again further customizing your Civ.

Level design is a bit lacklustre as most places feel very similar however knowing Firaxis, the company behind the game, they will be releasing a bunch of dlc maps as they normally do. This is cushioned as from day one this game came with steam workshop support so modders have already been hard at work making the game have even more content.

Civilization: Beyond Earth is another good instalment in the franchise and is well worth a play if you are a fan. There are a few things that I think don’t make this a less fun game but do impact replayabillity and so I doubt it will eat up as many hours as say Civ V will/has/is but given the history of these games once a few large expansions have been released I would not be surprised if this game could eat away around 60hours+. Let me know what you guys think and what things you would like to be included in the expansions or made as a mod, thanks for reading!

Civilization: Beyond Earth is out now for PC.

 

-Joe

Blackfish – a review

blackfish1Many of you may be familiar with the movie ‘Blackfish’, an eye-opening documentary film released in 2013 that depicts the shocking events that have occurred at SeaWorld, which have resulted in the deaths of multiple people including several of the animal trainers. The film synopsis really stood out to me when I stumbled across it on a website last year, and so I was anticipating something hard-hitting and honest when I arrived at the cinema in London where it was being shown. My anticipation did not prepare me for what I was about to see.

The movie, which begins by showing the procedure used to kidnap whales from the wild to bring them into captivity, focuses on the whale that is infamous for his aggressive and sometimes fatal run-ins with people – Tilikum, a six-ton, 22-foot orca who was caught in 1983 off the coast of Iceland. The first few scenes document the arrival of Tilikum into his first captive environment – a scene showing him being taken from his mother is included, and this scene is not pleasant at all. Through a gritty camera lens, we see the baby Tilikum being hoisted out of the water in a harness, while his mother floats beside it, her cries plain for all to hear. A man who was involved in the capture of Tilikum, or ‘Tili’, speaks about the ordeal, saying that he was just following orders, and the regret in his voice is clear as he explains how they snatched the whale calf away from his mother and his home to bring him into his new life of floating lifelessly in a tank that is much too small for an animal of his size, that is until he is needed to perform for miniscule buckets of fish and monetary gain for his captors.

The movie then moves on to show Tili in his various homes before SeaWorld – after being kept in a tiny concrete holding tank for a year, the orca was moved to Sealand of the Pacific, a small aquarium in Canada. There, Tilikum suffered severe physical abuse from the bigger female whales he was housed with, and this stress is thought to have contributed to the violent actions we see him commit later on in the film when he is transferred to SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida. 

Tilikum in the performance pool at SeaWorld, Orlando

Tilikum in the performance pool at SeaWorld, Orlando

‘Blackfish’ is essentially a look into the life of captive killer whales, and serves as an expose into the treatment of these animals and whether a life in captivity leads to emotional trauma and eventually violent outbursts from these animals, who have been known to very very rarely attack any humans in the wild, and these attacks were deemed to most likely be accidental and a mistake made by the whale in thinking a human was another animal like a seal. The film is a mixture of interviews with previous SeaWorld employees and people involved in the attacks, blended with footage from the whale shows and even some original tapes which contain harrowing footage of some of the attacks.

However, this film isn’t an attempt at picket-fencing orca whales – on the contrary, it delves into the idea of whales suffering from psychosis due to being kept in cramped conditions with little to no stimulation, and looks into how SeaWorld’s treatment of these animals is not up to par. Evidence from lawsuits involving animal rights agencies is also included, and this makes for a fascinating look-in to how the attacks were handled and, in some cases, justified, albeit poorly and wrongly.

I personally think this film is crucial in terms of educating people on the dangers and immorality of keeping animals like killer whales in captivity for our own entertainment, and I urge any animal lovers out there to give this movie a watch – not only is the story important, but the whales themselves are beautiful, majestic creatures, and some of the footage of these wonderful animals is just too good to miss.

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5/5 – (This is a random titbit that may not even be prudent to this review, but the original ending to the upcoming animated film ‘Finding Dory’ involved the depiction of a marine park, but it was revised after Pixar’s employees saw the film and spoke with the director – I just thought this was a very cool thing for them to do as it’s not perpetuating this form of ‘entertainment’ as a thing that should happen and it’s therefore not going to be teaching kids that this kind of treatment of animals is acceptable.)

~Steph.

Lawless QUICKPICKLE

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“I don’t understand what the fuss was about.”

It was a late addition to my must watch pile and one that people kept raving about. “Oh Luke” they said; “It was great,” they said. “You must watch, I heartily recommend it.” Lawless stars Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, Jason Clarke, Guy Pearce, and Gary Oldman in a film set in depression-era Franklin County. And for the life of me I don’t understand what the fuss was about.

The story revolves around three bootlegging brothers (Hardy, LaBeouf and Clarke) during the prohibition in America. Things are all well and good, until the brothers are threatened by a new special deputy (played by Guy Pearce) and other authorities angling for a cut of their profits. I felt Guy Pearce to be the strong element in the film, successfully pulling off a sinister malevolent psychopath, hiding under the virtuous veil of the law. However the same cannot be said for Hardy, who adds little more than grunts and brooding stares to the film. The other worthy mention is Shia LaBeouf who pulls off a much more convincing role as the youngest and most ambitious brother.

For me this was a film that took far too long to cut to the chase. Scenes of people sat in bars or on front porches looking moody were used to excess, and really didn’t add much to the film. When it does finally get going, and piece-by-piece the malevolent special deputy kills and destroys what the brothers hold dear, the climax of the film doesn’t really end with the impact I’d thought it would. Instead it opted for the cliché happy go lucky ending where the fate of the main characters, is all summarily summed up in a single voiceover. As for Gary Oldman, what little (and I really do mean little) time he has on screen, his character really didn’t seem to have any real purpose other than to buy booze off LaBeouf. This is a shame as his character really did show signs of stylish promise, and could’ve made for a memorable ending as opposed to a Hollywood-esque attempt to but more bums on seats in theaters.

Final Verdict

An interesting premise that comes off half-heartedly and really could’ve done more.

2/5

 

‘Light Me Up’ album – a review

The_Pretty_Reckless_-_Light_Me_UpQuickpickle time!

Now, when I say ‘The Pretty Reckless’, I know most of you will automatically think of their hit song ‘Make Me Wanna Die’, which was released in May of 2010 and soared to the top of the charts. It was even used in the movie Kick-Ass, and the band were known far and wide thanks to this song. But, this isn’t the only great song to have come from this band, and I think people ought to know this. I actually stumbled across some of their other work by accident one night a few months ago, when I was perusing the internet and looking for some new music. A song popped up that I’d never heard, and recognising the band, I decided to give it a listen, and boy, am I glad that I did that! The song, which has the same name as the album, immediately got stuck in my head and I couldn’t stop listening to it. This then prompted me to listen to the rest of the album, which I devoured in one non-stop session of grungy guitar riffs and beautifully angsty lyrics.

Some of the songs are brilliant right off the bat – Just Tonight is particularly poignant, with a stunning instrumental performance by the band accompanying Taylor Momsen’s raw vocals. But there are some more toned-down songs which definitely should not be overlooked; ‘You’ is a personal favourite of mine, harnessing the loveliness of soothing acoustic guitar with Momsen’s gritty yet melodic voice.

Taylor Momsen, lead singer and rhythm guitarist

Taylor Momsen, lead singer and rhythm guitarist

The band itself also deserves some accolade – the instruments are all played and harnessed in such a fantastic way, so that each song has its own distinctive sound and feel to it. All in all, this album certainly needs more recognition than it has received over the years; it is a throwback to those angst-ridden teen years we all remember, and yet it still retains a feeling of relatability and credibility even now.

5/5 – A must-listen for anyone who wants something new to expand their musical horizons.

~Steph.